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THE SITUATION ROOM

Iraq Opposition at New High; President Bush Suffers Major Setback; Interview With Ron Paul

Aired November 8, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a surge in opposition to the war in Iraq. We have new poll numbers out this hour and the Democrats are pouncing. But do they have any new hope of forcing the president's hand?
Also this hour, the underdog Republican is simply rolling in cash right now. Ron Paul's supporters are set to drop another so-called money bomb. I'll ask the Republican presidential candidate if all those dollars will get him anywhere in the polls.

And critics are questioning Barack Obama's patriotism, pointing to this picture and to the Democrats' hands. Is it all just a dirty trick, as Obama claims?

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

Right now the American people are turning against one of the most unpopular wars in U.S. history in record numbers despite reports of progress on the battlefield. Opposition to the Iraq conflict reaching an all-time high in our new poll.

Take a look at this.

Soon after the war started, more than four years ago, about three-quarters of Americans favored it and one-fourth were opposed. And now it's almost a total reversal.

Look at this. Our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows a record 68 percent of Americans oppose the war and just 31 percent support it.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching the story for us.

The numbers are pretty dramatic, although they have been relatively consistent showing the steady drop in support for the war, Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's true. And the war remains deeply unpopular in this country, and also intensely partisan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice over): The Bush administration says the troop buildup in Iraq is working, but the American public doesn't see it. Last month, 64 percent said things were going badly for the U.S. in Iraq. And now, 65 percent say they are going badly.

Some Republicans are blaming the media.

JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You won't know it from some of the media, my friends, but we're making progress in Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: But there's another explanation: partisanship. Republicans and Democrats seem to be hearing different views.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My own view is that the war in Iraq has been an absolute mess.

SCHNEIDER: Seventy percent of Republicans believe things are going well in Iraq. Only 13 percent of Democrats agree. Independents tend to side with Democrats on Iraq.

As a result, support for the war in Iraq has declined to its lowest point ever, 31 percent. Iraq is an intensely partisan war. Seventy percent of Republicans favor the war. And Democrats? Seven.

Iraq looks very different than Vietnam. Go back to January 1971 when Richard Nixon was president. Thirty-one percent of Americans supported the war in Vietnam. Same as support the war in Iraq now. But there was no difference by party. Republicans, Democrats and Independents all opposed Vietnam.

Partisanship effects view of Iran, as well. Some Republicans are saying...

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will not allow them under any circumstances to become a nuclear power. They are too irresponsible.

SCHNEIDER: While some Democrats protest the administration's statements.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Clearly pointing in a direction that would call for military action in Iran. It is a dangerous move, in my view.

SCHNEIDER: More than 60 percent of the public opposes air strikes against Iran. Talk about ground troops, and public opposition grows to more than 70 percent.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Iran is as deeply partisan as Iraq. Republicans favor military action and Democrats oppose it. We live in a bitterly partisan environment, far more partisan than the Vietnam era -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's no doubt that a lot of the opponents of the war and the public at large, they are deeply frustrated that the Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate so far have been unable to stop this war.

SCHNEIDER: That is exactly right. And a lot of voters are angry because they elected a Democratic Congress to stop the war, and they have been unable to do that. And that's created a lot of anger at Congress as well as at the administration.

BLITZER: All right. Bill Schneider, thanks very much for those numbers.

The president suffered a major setback today. The U.S. Congress, the House of Representatives earlier, and now the Senate overwhelmingly rejecting his presidential veto, the first time they have managed to override a presidential veto. This on a major water projects spending bill. It does represent a change in course six and a half years into this administration.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president has vowed to keep using his veto pen to restore fiscal responsibility here in Washington, but Mr. Bush himself doesn't necessarily have such a good track record on spending.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice over): President Bush found out his veto pen is not always mightier than the Democratic sword. Congress for the first time ever overriding a Bush veto on a bill okaying $23 billion in water projects, including money to rebuild the Gulf Coast after Katrina.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), MAJORITY WHIP: The president's veto pen is defining his presidency. As it comes to a close, it is really telling us his priorities.

HENRY: White House spokeswoman Dana Perino has insisted this was a principled stand to protect taxpayers.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESWOMAN: The president vetoed this bill because he felt it was fiscally irresponsible.

HENRY: But how can the president draw a line in the sand over $23 billion when he's spending $200 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, not to mention signing into law the $400 billion prescription drug bill or the $286 billion highway bill when Republicans ran Congress?

STAN COLLENDER, QORVIS COMMUNICATIONS: Yes, it's far too late for the president to declare himself a fiscal conservative and have anyone believe him. Spending in this administration has gone up faster than any since Lyndon Johnson.

HENRY: Plus the water bill has money for many domestic needs, from providing safe drinking water to flood control in the Gulf Coast, a major reason 34 Senate Republicans voted to override.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: These are good, deserved, justified projects that should go forward. And so I will vote to override the veto. HENRY: With some Republicans up for reelection, nervous about supporting the president on politically unpopular votes, this veto override could spark more.

COLLENDER: That's going to make the next override and the override after that much easier because the Republicans are going to see the world is not coming to an end when they do it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: The president's credibility may be further damaged by this fact: the national debt reached $9 trillion for the first time ever this week. To give you an idea of the magnitude of that, it took from George Washington to Ronald Reagan to reach the first trillion dollars of debt -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, thanks very much.

We're going to be talking a lot more about this in the next hour with Ed Gillespie, the counselor to the president.

Let's get a closer look at some of the projects included in that water resources bill -- a 100-year levy protection project in New Orleans estimated to cost some $7 billion; improvements in the system of locks along the upper Mississippi River, price tag $1.9 billion; a project to restore the Indian River Lagoon in the Florida Everglades at a cost of $700 million.

All that included in what is now the law of the land.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's watching all of this from New York, "The Cafferty File."

The president is trying to be fiscally responsible.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, come on. Don't start with me about being...

BLITZER: I'm just telling you what the White House...

CAFFERTY: ... fiscally responsible.

BLITZER: He wants to make sure that the Congress doesn't spend too much money.

CAFFERTY: I'm not interested in hearing it.

President Bush s has accumulated more debt in his seven years in office than all of the presidents that preceded him combined -- $200 billion a year in Iraq, and we're actually going to spend some chump change on rebuilding the Gulf Coast. Hang a medal on those guys.

Military brass in Washington are apparently worried that Israel might bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. This comes as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced to the world that his country has now passed a milestone. They have 3,000 working uranium-enriching centrifuges. Ain't that good news?

According to the British newspaper "The Times," U.S. officials say the existence of such a large number could be a tipping point for an Israeli air strike. Although the Pentagon is reluctant to take military action against Iran and the U.S. stated policy is to engage in negotiation, Israel could be a different matter.

Expert says 3,000 of these centrifuges could make enough enriched uranium for an atomic bomb within a year. And Israel has made it patently clear it will not tolerate a nuclear Iran, and that's because Israel would most likely be under the biggest threat if and when Iran goes nuclear. After all, Ahmadinejad has declared his stated intention to wipe Israel off the map.

One Israeli expert tells "The Times" newspaper he wouldn't be surprised if Israel carried out a strike, adding, "I think we are preparing for it." That's a quote.

Israel also has a record of doing this kind of stuff in the past, and doing it well, we might add. A recent Israeli air strike on Syria obliterating a suspected nuclear plant there, and back in the '80s, the Israelis destroyed Saddam Hussein's Iraqi nuclear reactor.

So here's the question: Should Israel attack Iran's nuclear facilities?

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

Wolf, what's the Defense Department's budget in this country? Six hundred and fifty billion dollars a year?

BLITZER: Yes, it's a lot. It's huge.

CAFFERTY: Good. Just checking.

BLITZER: It's a huge, huge Defense Department.

You know, a lot of people think that Israeli air strike on that suspected Syrian facility in early December was at least in part designed not only to destroy whatever was there, but to send a message to the Iranians that the Israelis still have that kind of capability if they were going to go down that road.

CAFFERTY: Well, and given the neighborhood they live in, they have to have that kind of capability. That's not a very nice street they live on over there.

BLITZER: A tough neighborhood, indeed.

CAFFERTY: Yes, you bet.

BLITZER: As we know and as you've pointed out to our viewers often in recent days.

A lot of stuff going on in the Middle East. Jack, stand by.

Jack's going to be with us, obviously, throughout all of THE SITUATION ROOM, including at 6:30 for our roundtable. That's coming up later, 6:30 p.m. Eastern.

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani admits today he made a mistake. The target of his misgivings? New York's former top cop who could -- could be facing indictment this week.

But coming up next the fund-raising phenomenon Ron Paul. I'll be speaking live with the Republican presidential long shot and I'll ask him if there's any way he can turn all his newfound cash into votes.

And our CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll coming out with new approval numbers for President Bush. That's coming out in our "Strategy Session" later this hour.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul raised a record-breaking $4.2 million on Monday from more than 35,000 individual donors, all thanks to his dedicated army of supporters.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She is watching all of this.

First of all, remind our viewers, Abbi, how did this all go down?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, you can see the results right here, at the campaign Web site. Over $7.5 million this quarter, and over half of that raised on line on November 5th.

That was a fund-raising date, a fund-raising drive dreamed up by volunteers, the online poll supporters that you'll find populating forums, blogs, and unofficial Web sites dedicated to Dr. Paul. The creator of the Web site (INAUDIBLE) told me there was no overall organization, just a lot of people pitching in.

Well, if you go back to the forums today, you see that they are not giving up. There might be more to come.

They are discussing dates for other fund-raising drives there, Veterans Day is one. And it looks like the weekend of December 16th, the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, is another. A Web page already dedicated to that weekend promises it is coming soon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now. The Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is joining us.

Congressman, I can only say congratulations. It's really an unbelievable thing that you've achieved right now. First of all, how do you attribute it -- what do you attribute to this amazing financial support within 24 hours?

REP. RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it is amazing and I don't claim a whole lot of credit for it. I think we have a very good platform that's very appealing to the people who care about what's happening in the country. I think we're also tapping into the sense of frustration that people are feeling.

I think it's much more intense than anybody realized. Probably more intense than I had expected. So it's coming together and people have rallied around it.

But I think it's a strong message, strong (INAUDIBLE) of what is happening here in this country. I happened to being there, and the grassroots have really put this together. So it's a grassroots effort, and I think that makes it even stronger.

BLITZER: In our latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, among registered Republicans nationwide you have gone up to five percent, but you're still way behind the top tier.

How do you plan on using the new cash to try to challenge Giuliani, Thompson, McCain, Romney, some of the others?

PAUL: Well, the money was sent to us to be spent, and we will be spending it. We've started to do that.

We're buying television in the early primaries, we're doing a lot of direct mail. We're on the radio. And we're hiring a few more people.

I know the other campaigns have had huge staffs, but I think they waste a lot of their money. But now we are getting more reasonable staffing positions. And we're spending the money in many ways in an ordinary way, but we will continue with this grassroots effort that has been going on, that's been ongoing here on the Internet.

BLITZER: Are you going to support Nancy Pelosi's new effort to have some partial funding for the war, $50 billion stop gap to underscore her opposition, a lot of Democrats' opposition to the war and trying to get a timeline in there? Are you going to support that?

PAUL: No, not really, because I think that's ducking the issue. As long as you're funding the war you're supporting the war, and it's been going on for all the years. I didn't support it before the war, and I haven't supported any money for the war.

I support the troops. The troops should come home. And amazingly, I get more money from the troops than any other candidate. So...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt you, Congressman. If you support the troops, the administration argues, how can you not give them the funding they need for the body armor, the weapons they need to protect themselves?

PAUL: Well, we have $500 billion, $600 billion in the pipeline. We have all the money we need to bring the troops home. And that's the best way to protect the troops.

They're not going to run out of money. The money is there. This is all fluff for expanding the war and playing on war, going into Iran, all these things. So there's no shortage of funds to get the troops out, believe me.

BLITZER: All the other Republican candidates not only support the funding, but they are basically with the president on this surge, this strategy that he's using now in Iraq. Let's say Rudy Giuliani gets the Republican nomination. Could you support him as the Republican nominee?

PAUL: Well, I've been asked that question a lot. And I can't support a candidate that has -- will contradict everything I've stood for for 30 years. The supporters I have couldn't make any sense out of that.

So, you know, if they change their policy and say that they are now supporting bringing the troops home and ending the war, which on occasion, you know, politicians do change their mind, then I would reconsider. But the odds of that happening are pretty slim.

BLITZER: So what happens then -- let's say -- and obviously you want to get the Republican nomination, and you don't get it, but Giuliani or Thompson or Romney or McCain, somebody who supports the president's strategy in Iraq gets it? What do you do then? Do you run as a third party, Libertarian, for example, which you have done in the past back in, what, 1988?

PAUL: I have no plans, no intention of doing that. We have a very biased system here in this country against democracy really working. It's hard to get on ballots. Unless you're a billionaire, you might as well forget about it.

You're excluded from the debates so it's very difficult. And I, right now, don't have a stomach for that, so I'm concentrating on exactly what I'm doing. And as long as we have this expansion of our campaign and these funds just rolling in without us doing very much, I better stick to my guns and what I'm doing right now.

BLITZER: But I can assume from your answer, therefore, if you don't get the nomination, you stay in the Congress, you stay in the House of Representatives, you continue doing what you're doing in the Congress?

PAUL: That is true. And my plan B is I am still running for Congress in Texas. I'm allowed to run for both. So, yes, I would be glad if my people vote for me to stay in the Congress. I would.

BLITZER: We have done some checking of your record, and it's amazing, Congressman. You know this. On so many pieces of legislation you are the only, only member of the House, Democrat or Republican, that has opposed some legislation, some resolutions.

For example, a bill calling on the Arab -- the League of Arab States to step up efforts to stop genocide in Darfur. The vote was 425-1. You were the one.

A bill calling on Vietnam to release political prisoners, 425-1. You were the one.

Condemning the Robert Mugabe violence against Zimbabwe citizens, 421-1. You were the one.

Awarding a gold medal to Rosa Parks.

We could go on.

Why -- tell us -- explain why you so often have been the sole voice in the U.S. House of Representatives on what everybody else supports and what to so many people would seem like a no-brainer?

PAUL: Right. No, I think maybe I'm the only strict constitutionalist because I look at that from the Constitution.

It's not that I'm against what they're proposing, but some of those resolutions is just interference, unnecessary. Carry that to the next step of that resolution between, you know, condemning the Turks about Armenia. Just think of the chaos that created.

Getting ourselves involved in some event a hundred years ago, it makes no sense at all. I should -- we should deal with our problems here, with our defense, and not pretending that we know what is best.

So it's a principle that I defend. I don't think I have the authority. It's meddling where we shouldn't and it usually leads to trouble. Of course, the Armenia vote was much more troublesome, and look at what -- the chaos it's caused between Turkey and the Kurds.

BLITZER: Congressman, I can understand your principle stance on the foreign policy-related issues, but what could be unconstitutional about giving the gold medal to Rosa Parks, the civil rights activist and leader that all of us are quite familiar with?

PAUL: Well, you know, that wasn't easy for me because I think she's a real hero because I believe in civil disobedience. And I believe peaceful change has come about that way.

But I was dealing with the money. Why should I tax you to give her a medal?

I went to my members, fellow members of Congress and I said, "I'll be glad to give her a medal. Let's each put in a hundred bucks, and I'll put in a hundred bucks and we can pay for it."

But to do good by taking money from the people, that is not a precise authorization in the Constitution. So the principle is that you don't have this right to do it, but to say something good and to, you know, honor people like that would be fine. But we ought to do it with our own money, not with your money.

BLITZER: Congressman Ron Paul has become a phenomenon.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. We'll see you out on the campaign trail.

PAUL: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Here's a question. Are you supposed to put your hand over your heart during the National Anthem? That issue is at the center of an e-mail attack on Barack Obama that he's calling a dirty trick.

Also coming up, Mitt Romney's rise in South Carolina. Can a Mormon from Massachusetts really compete in the South? John King investigating that critical primary state.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush is critical of Congress for its spending priorities. But how is his own record on spending? You may be surprised.

We're going to take a closer look on that on this day that Congress smacks down one of the president's wishes for the first time ever.

And who says being from a blue state will hurt in a red one? Not Mitt Romney. He's doing well in one politically important state.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, President Pervez Musharraf comes around regarding a top sticking point, but will it be enough to quell the crisis? We'll go to Islamabad.

To make money you must spend money. That's what some experts say about the economy, that it will improve if you buy things. But how can you if your cash is stretched thin by high oil prices and a mortgage mess?

And are you a terrorist? Airports think maybe so, if your name matches one on the so-called no-fly list. But, if it's a mixup, how can you clear your name? We're going to tell you. It's not easy.

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

Let's get back to our top story, opposition to the Iraq conflict reaching an all-time high in our brand-new CNN poll. And Democrats in Congress are seizing on that.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's up on Capitol Hill. There's a new push by the Democratic leadership in the House to try to force the president's hand to stop the war.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

And it might not be quite so new. You might call it more of a rerun or a sequel to their prior efforts. What they are trying to do is show their base they are making every effort to change the course of the war in Iraq. Democrats have proposed that, instead of giving the president the $200 billion he asked for the war, instead, they give him $50 billion and they have attached terms to it, like he would have to start withdrawing troops within 30 days. He would have to set a goal of withdrawing almost all troops within a year, and also outlawing water-boarding by any U.S. agency.

Now, not surprisingly, the Republicans say the Democrats are trying to choke off funds for the troops. But Nancy Pelosi says, no, Democrats are trying to draw a line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is not a blank check for the president. This is providing funding for the troops, limited to a particular purpose with a short time frame. So, this is not a supplemental that just says to the president: You asked for it, you got it, no questions asked.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I think that the proposal that we're beginning to hear about, about trying to handcuff our generals, and starve our troops in harm's way is ill- advised.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Now, the White House has already threatened to veto this measure, just like they vetoed a similar measure last May.

I should point out the war can still be funded even without this fund through the Department of Defense. They can move around existing money to pay for the war for a while -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you, Jessica, for that.

Right now, some Republicans are clearly bothered by Mitt Romney. The former governor of a very blue state is doing well in a very red state. And, while some people think Romney's religion might pose a problem with religious conservatives, he's showing that that's not necessarily a political commandment.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King. He has just come back from South Carolina.

There are at least a lot of people, Republicans, down there seem to like Mitt Romney.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A very open mind, Wolf. He is gaining in support. Here is how he looks at it.

Much of the attention on the national front-runner Rudy Giuliani, then on Fred Thompson's entry into the race, but Mitt Romney is ahead in Iowa, ahead in New Hampshire, and thinks, if he can somehow protect those leads, South Carolina could be huge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): He is the methodical tortoise of the Republican field. And conservative South Carolina could prove the defining test.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of the four leading contenders for the Republican presidential nominee, there's only one that is in favor of the federal amendment to have marriage defined as between a man and a woman. And that's me.

There we go.

KING: A year ago, the obstacles for Mitt Romney were many, especially here, a Mormon from Massachusetts, a onetime supporter of abortion rights facing skepticism his conversion to abortion opponent was heartfelt, not a political calculation.

ROMNEY: I think Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

KING: Thirty-two days of South Carolina campaigning later, Romney has climbed from nowhere to contention, impressing people like Spartanburg County Republican Chairman Rick Beltram by methodically addressing vulnerabilities.

RICK BELTRAM, REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIRMAN, SPARTANBURG COUNTY, SOUTH CAROLINA: So, if you look at how he's performed in the last six months vs. all the other candidates, he has made amazing progress going forward.

FRED THOMPSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you very much.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KING: That rivals are taking notice is proof of Romney's rise.

THOMPSON: Now, the governor of Massachusetts apparently has spent $20 million of his own personal fortune and, apparently, a good chunk of that in South Carolina.

And all I have got to say is, Governor, you can't buy South Carolina.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

THOMPSON: You can't even rent South Carolina.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KING: Note the smile and the dig at Thompson's work ethic.

ROMNEY: You want to get strong in these early states, you got to show up; you got to work hard.

KING: He runs it like a business, making constant adjustments.

When Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani, Romney initially went easy.

ROMNEY: Well, there are going to be a lot of people that line up behind different candidates.

KING: But his South Carolina advisers worry Robertson's blessing could help Giuliani with the voters most important to Romney's chances. So, hours later, a tougher line:

ROMNEY: I don't think the Republican Party will choose a pro- choice, pro-gay-civil-union candidate to lead our party.

KING: Progress, but still significant hurdles.

BELTRAM: I would say that, if we didn't have the Mormon issue, that he would be the clear front-runner and almost -- the race would almost be over. So, that definitely is hampering somewhat.

ROMNEY: Thank you. God bless.

KING: More to be done, but methodical Mitt likes the taste of things so far.

ROMNEY: It's good chili. It's hot chili.

Hi. How are you? I'm Mitt Romney.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: You're beginning to see, Wolf, that his opponents are noticing this, not only Fred Thompson criticizing him in South Carolina, a new ad buy by Fred Thompson in Iowa, more spending now by Rudy Giuliani on radio and direct mail in New Hampshire. They are looking for a place to trip up Romney, so that he can't win those two first early states and come rolling into South Carolina.

BLITZER: And, now, John, we have just learned, literally within the past few minutes, that the Republican Party has decided to punish five states, New Hampshire, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan, and Wyoming. They are going to be stripped of half of their delegates because they have moved up their -- their contests in January.

What is going on here?

KING: The Republican Party rules say you can't have those contests before February 5. And these states have moved up. So, the decision today was to penalize them by striping half of their convention delegates. Here are the reactions, Wolf, coming in from the state parties. This is all because everybody has moved up this year. This most likely will be resolved. The states most likely, in the end, won't lose half their delegates, most likely won't lose any of their delegates.

But it shows you the contention, the fight among the state parties, and the fights between the state parties and the national parties over this congested calendar that will bring us a nominee probably by early February. The national parties want to spread it out. The states keep coming up, so they're going to fight about this a little longer.

BLITZER: And there's a similar fight going on in the Democratic Party, we should say, as well.

KING: Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, John. Thanks very much.

Rudy Giuliani judgment, it's now being questioned again. Some are wondering why he's still praising a man who now faces possible criminal indictment.

Hillary Clinton appears very vulnerable. A surprising new poll shows a dead heat between her and Rudy Giuliani, potentially. We're going to talk about that in our "Strategy Session."

And an eerily familiar scandal. A German tennis star thinks he lost to a Russian tennis star in Moscow partly because he was poisoned. And some are wondering if the Russians did it.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are questions Rudy Giuliani likely wishes he did not have to answer, questions about his judgment, given his praise and his ties to a man who not only embarrassed President Bush in the past, but now faces some very, very serious legal problems.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She is watching the story in New York.

And it -- it all involves the former New York City police commissioner, Mary, Bernard Kerik.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, a source familiar with the investigation says a public announcement about an indictment against Bernard Kerik is expected tomorrow.

Today, Rudy Giuliani was asked about his former aide on the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): When it comes to tests, political observers consider this a big one for Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani. As his onetime friend Bernard Kerik faces possible criminal indictment, Giuliani is being pressed about his choice of Kerik as New York City police commissioner and his endorsement of Kerik in 2004 to be homeland security secretary.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that voters should look at it. And what they should say is, in that particular case, I pointed out that I made a mistake. I made a mistake in not clearing him effectively enough. I take the responsibility for that.

SNOW: Sources close to the investigation say one of the potential federal charges Kerik faces is tax evasion. In June of 2006, he pleaded guilty in a state court to two misdemeanors. The charges were linked to renovation work he had done at his apartment while serving as the city's correction commissioner.

According to court records, the company doing the work was looking to do business with the city, and gave Kerik a gift that he didn't disclose. Kerik's legal troubles in New York, says one Republican strategist, will now play out in Giuliani's presidential aspirations.

DAVID WINSTON, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Did he make a reasonable decision, or did he make a hasty, unreasonable decision? And that's what people are going to be thinking about in terms of judging him and his ability to be president and make those sort of decisions.

SNOW: And now on the campaign trail, the way Giuliani deals with this, say political strategists, will be telling.

WINSTON: For the Giuliani campaign, what we're also going to find out is how well prepared were they for something that was clearly going to happen. Questions about Kerik have been stirring ever since the sort of short nomination process for Homeland Security.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, attempts to reach Kerik's attorney so far today have been unsuccessful. But, on Tuesday, attorney Ken Breen said, if charges are brought against Kerik, he will fight them, and his lawyer says he is confident he will win -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary.

Mary will stay on top of this story for us tomorrow as well.

In the "Strategy Session": President Bush says he's unabashed and unashamed of his foreign policy. But our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows support for the war in Iraq now at an all-time low.

And how close would the race between Clinton and Giuliani actually be? Too close to call.

Donna Brazile and Terry Jeffrey, they're standing by for our "Strategy Session" -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get some more now on our top story. It appears more of you are now opposed to the war in Iraq.

Let's get some analysis. Joining us, our CNN political analyst Donna Brazile -- she's a Democratic strategist -- and conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey. He is editor in chief of the Cybercast News Service.

Guys, thanks for coming in.

Here's the numbers in our brand-new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. How are things going for the U.S. in Iraq? Thirty- four percent say it's going well. Sixty-five percent say it's going badly.

Look at this, though, Terry. In this, also, this brand-new poll -- and we are just releasing it right now -- how are things going for President Bush overall right now? Thirty-four percent approve of the job he's doing. Sixty-five percent disapprove of the job he's doing. He hovered at those same numbers for a long time.

Interesting that the -- the numbers come out the same on both. So much of this presidency, I think, is -- is attached to what is happening in Iraq.

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE: Well, there's no doubt about that, Wolf. But you know what? Politically, I don't think that's ultimately the number that matters.

I don't think -- I don't think people are going to like the Iraq war until it is finally over and our troops are back. I think the important thing politically is -- is whether it's a significant issue in the public debate. And I think Iraq is a much less significant issue now, in November, than it was last summer.

And I think the reason is because U.S. casualties have dramatically declined since the summer. There were only 38 casualties in Iraq in October, only 31 combat-related. That's down from 90 last October.

BLITZER: Although this year -- to be fair, this year has been the worst death toll for U.S. military forces in Iraq since the war started back in 2003.

JEFFREY: Right. That -- that's true. But that's because, when the surge started, we had intense combat activity and we had an increase in the U.S. casualties. Now they are going down quite sharply.

BLITZER: Donna, he makes a fair point. People are talking less about the war, but other issues are coming to the fore, domestic, economic issues, the economy, whether it's health care, stuff like that.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's because most voters view the war as a distraction, distraction from things here in America, rising fuel prices. People are concerned about the housing foreclosure. There's a lot of anxiety out there.

The one number that I looked at in this war survey was that only 25 percent believe we're winning the war in Iraq. Every time the president says that we're making progress, he loses people. He's not gaining any support. He's losing the support of the American people.

JEFFREY: You know, there's sort of a catch-22. As the war starts to succeed, as the surge is working, violence is going down, U.S. casualties are going down in Iraq, it's not news.

When Americans aren't killed there, it's not on the front pages of the newspaper. It's not heavily in the cable news coverage. And people start to forget about it. They don't realize necessarily that things are going well.

But to the degree that it's not an issue, it's good politically for Republicans.

BLITZER: You know, I'm -- I'm always reluctant to say things are going well. I hope they are going well in Iraq. Always reluctant to even say it, because I'm afraid of a jinx, because, the next morning...

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... you could wake up and there could be a horrible, horrible disaster over there.

Let's take a look at some other poll numbers, first of all, our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll that came out earlier, the hypothetical contest between Clinton and Giuliani, right now, Clinton at 51, Giuliani 45, a three-point sampling error.

But look at this new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll that just came out, Rudy Giuliani 45, Hillary Clinton 46, a 2.5 percent sampling error.

It shows, Donna, that if the race were today, it would be incredibly tight, and that Hillary Clinton would be very vulnerable.

BRAZILE: Well, look, once again, look at the battleground states. In Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida, she is leading Mayor Giuliani. So, I think this is going to be a close contest.

While she has dropped a little bit in the polls, she is still the front-runner, because people look at her assets. She is a proven leader. She is tough. She can -- she is -- she is strong. She is still the person to beat in this race.

BLITZER: What do you think?

JEFFREY: You know, there was something in that poll, Wolf, that I think points to why Republicans...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You're talking about the "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll?

JEFFREY: The "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll -- that points why Republicans would be glad to see Hillary as a candidate.

People see Hillary Clinton as an extremely intelligent person, and she has the experience to be president of the United States. They don't trust her. They don't think she is honest. They don't like her. And they disagree with her on the issues.

If this race gets into a contest over domestic issues, where Hillary Clinton, and her big-government vision, is up against a classic conservative, I think the Republicans can win this.

BLITZER: They are going to make the point that, if she's elected, tax and spend.

BRAZILE: They have made the point about Democrats for years. And that's why Democrats just the other day won many state legislative races, because that's an old argument.

Right now, they are faced with a country that is on an uncertain course in Iraq. They're afraid of the war in Iran. And, for that reason, I think Democrats are in a good position to win in 2008.

BLITZER: All right, hold your thought. Hold your thought, because we have got to go, but you will have plenty of opportunities down the road.

Donna and Terry, thank you very much.

For some, politics is a very tough sport. Barack Obama's critics are trying to attack him by attacking his patriotism. And the Obama campaign is calling it a dirty trick.

Something we should all be concerned about, near collisions and other problems involving the planes we fly on. We have some brand-new information you need to hear. Miles O'Brien standing by live.

And it was the most intense sustained battle since the war in Iraq started. What lesson is it teaching the U.S. military? And is it helping save lives?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our Political Ticker this Thursday, a new poll shows Rudy Giuliani inching closer to Hillary Clinton in the battleground state of Pennsylvania. The Quinnipiac University poll shows Clinton would get 45 percent in a general election matchup with Giuliani, who would get 43 percent. Clinton led Giuliani by six points in the same poll only a month ago.

Hillary Clinton reportedly is set to land a prized endorsement from her husband's Cabinet. "The New York Times" says former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin will publicly support Senator Clinton's candidacy, despite some early misgivings. Rubin is now chairman of Citicorp and is an influential figure in the financial world. He's considered a deficit hawk. And that could -- could help counter Republican efforts to portray Senator Clinton as simply a big-spending liberal.

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

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You know, the Democrats, over the years, probably deserved that title of big spenders. But how are the Republicans going to realistically hang that on them this time around, after the record of just wanton spending and annihilation of the -- of the treasury of this country by the Bush administration and the Republican Congress?

BLITZER: Good -- good question. I don't know the answer.

CAFFERTY: Well, I just -- I didn't expect you to. I just throw these things out there.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: The question that -- that the viewers are wrestling with is, should Israel attack Iran's nuclear facilities?

Michael writes from Florida: "Any nation whose president threatens another nation's existence opens the possibility for conflict. After Ahmadinejad's next news conference threat, Israel should not only attack any nuclear facilities, but view his comments as an invitation for war."

John writes from Glen Burnie, Maryland: "Why not? They have attacked everything else, Iraq, Syria, Palestinians, the British. And the West encourages them and gives their terrorists, Begin, Peres, and Rabin, Nobel Peace Prizes.

Wilson writes: "The better question might be, should Iran attack Israel's nuclear facilities? What gives Israel the sole right to possess nukes and to bomb their neighbors?"

Mary in Blauvelt, New York: "An Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would be just perfect for starting World War III. Then Iran could bomb Israel's nuclear facilities, and Pakistan and India could bomb each other's nuclear facilities, and the U.S. could then attack Russia's, and vice-versa. What demented morons." Now Stan in Illinois: "Israel bomb Iran? Absolutely not. Absolutely not. We already subsidize the Israelis too much as it is. Let them drag us into another trillion-dollar boondoggle? That's lunacy. Iran has the gross national product of Indiana. To consider them a serious threat, even with nukes, is right-wing, Pat-Robertson- style hype."

And W. writes: "Better them than us. It will happen. It's just a matter of when and by whom" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did you say W., Jack?

CAFFERTY: Yes, just the letter W. was the last...

BLITZER: All right.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Somebody here in Washington...

CAFFERTY: Not the -- I don't think it's...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... somebody in Washington that they call W., too.

CAFFERTY: It's not that W.

BLITZER: OK, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I don't think so.

BLITZER: No.

CAFFERTY: Well, maybe he is writing to us.

BLITZER: Maybe he is.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks very much.

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

Happening now: A U.S. ally yields to White House pressure, but keeps the pressure on political opponents. Pakistan's president now says he will take off his military uniform. But he will stop the mass arrests? We're going to Islamabad.

Outside the courthouse, a chaotic circus, inside, O.J. Simpson facing a judge again. A key witness says he led a gun-waving charge into a Las Vegas hotel room. Charges of robbery and kidnapping could put Simpson's freedom on the line.

And a German tennis player loses badly during his country's match in Moscow. Now there are claims -- claims -- that he was poisoned. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A key U.S. ally facing growing international pressure to restore democracy. Now Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf is answering his critics at home and around the world. He's vowing to change, but he's also continuing his crackdown -- the main opposition party now saying hundreds of its supporters have been arrested, and the government is vowing to deal sternly with a mass rally that's planned for the capital tomorrow.

CNN's Zain Verjee is in Islamabad -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, students are now joining lawyers and taking to the streets.

The protests today were not massive, but there's great anticipation that the one tomorrow might be.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): Promises of an election and end to military rule in Pakistan, but, on the streets, religious groups, students and lawyers still clashing with police, from Peshawar to Islamabad.

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTANI PRESIDENT: The issue of elections, there is no doubt in my mind elections must be held as soon as possible.

VERJEE: President Pervez Musharraf promises to hold elections in February, a month later than scheduled. Musharraf is also promising to take off his military uniform, but at some unspecified future date.

MUSHARRAF: On the issue of uniform, I have never been in doubt. This is the third stage of transition, and I must remove my uniform.

VERJEE: Musharraf has made this promise before and hasn't delivered.

BENAZIR BHUTTO, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF PAKISTAN: It's like in 2004. He said, "I will take my uniform off." And he never did. He told me, "I will take my uniform off before I seek reelection as president of Pakistan." He never did.

VERJEE: In an exclusive interview with CNN, Pakistan's foreign minister says, Musharraf will follow through this time around.

KHURSHID KASURI, PAKISTANI FOREIGN MINISTER: He's very much committed to early elections, to -- to his becoming a civilian.

VERJEE: But he also made a startling admission about the daily images of lawyers being beaten and arrested.

(on camera): What kind of message do you think that sends to the world about Pakistan?

KASURI: Now, on the face of it, it looks very ridiculous. How do you justify taking action against militants by rounding up on civil society activists or...

VERJEE: And activists that support you in fighting the militants.

KASURI: I agree with you. In fact, I quite empathize with what you're saying. I'm not even going to disagree.

But what I'm saying is, look at the situation that Pakistan is in. The government has no desire to keep these people in for long.

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