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Lou Dobbs Tonight

Samuel Alito Appears Before Senate Judiciary Committee; Cheney Briefly Hospitalized

Aired January 09, 2006 - 18:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody.
Tonight, Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito appears before a deeply divided Senate Judiciary Committee for the first time. We'll tell you what the judge said. And I'll be talking with a leading member of that committee.

Also tonight, a leadership battle on the right side of the House. It's one last chance to reshape the Republican Party before the midterm elections. My guest, a Republican congressman who says the party needs a serious course correction.

Also tonight, a new health scare for Vice President Cheney. The vice president goes to the hospital in the middle of the night. We'll be live at the White House with that story.

Also, the rising threat to U.S. interests from leftist governments across Latin America. How some Hollywood liberals are rushing to support Latin American's new extremists.

And reports that gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs are on the brink of extinction, those reports turn out to be decidedly premature. Environmentalists taking note, Americans still want those big trucks. We'll have a special report.

We begin tonight with the first appearance by Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito before the Senate Judiciary Committee 70 days after he was nominated. In a brief statement, Judge Alito today avoided any specific mention of contentious issues such as abortion and the power of the executive branch.

Instead, the judge gave senators a short overview of his judicial philosophy and personal history. He declared a judge can't have an agenda and can't have a preferred our outcome in any case before him.

Ed Henry on Capitol Hill with a report -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lou, Democrats very much on the attack on day one here in the Samuel Alito confirmation hearings on issues ranging from civil rights to the use and abuse of executive power and, of course, the red-hot social issue of abortion, zeroing in on that 1985 job application in which Alito as a young lawyer said he does not believe that the Constitution guarantees the right to an abortion.

As you mentioned, Alito not addressing that directly. But indirectly, trying to blunt the criticism he's gotten that he would be a rigid conservative on the high court for the first time in an 11- minute opening statement. He addressed the criticism.


JUDGE SAMUEL ALITO, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: When I became a judge, I stopped being a practicing attorney. And that was the big change in role. The role of a practicing attorney is to achieve a desirable result for the client in the particular case at hand. But a judge can't think that way.

A judge can't have any agenda. A judge can't have any preferred outcome in any particular case. And a judge certainly doesn't have a client. The judge's only obligation, and it's a solemn obligation, is to the rule of law.


HENRY: Judge Alito not getting specific on any issues, though, as you mentioned, Lou, because he's walking a political tightrope on the bitterly divided Judiciary Committee. If he tries to run away from his past views, like from that 1985 job application, conservatives on this committee will push him hard back to the right. Also, if he does not show that he's open-minded enough in the eyes of Democrats, senators like Edward Kennedy made it clear today that not on the issue abortion, but on issues like domestic spying, they are going to hit him and the administration hard.

Here's Senator Kennedy.


SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D-MA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Where the White House are now using power is excusing and authorizing torture and is spying on American citizens. I find Judge Alito's support for an all- powerful executive branch to be genuinely troubling.


HENRY: Now, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, right after Judge Alito's opening statement was done, went to the cameras outside of the hearing room to complain what he believes to be senators in both parties digging in, almost having their feet in cement already on the opening day before the questioning has even started. The questioning actually starts Tuesday morning, 9:30 Eastern Time.

Specter concerned that both sides are so dug in, that they're not even going to really listen to what Judge Alito has to say. We'll see what he does have to say, how he answers those tough questions tomorrow morning -- Lou.

DOBBS: You mentioned concerns that Judge Alito might be a, as you put, rigid conservative. Are there rigid liberals on the Supreme Court? HENRY: Certainly there are. I think what he was trying to do was address the criticism, though, from Democrats on this committee who are trying to paint him as an extremist, frankly. And you had Republicans like Chuck Grassley today saying that this is a caricature that's really been put together by liberal interest groups and it really does not, in the words of Chuck Grassley, meet what the actual record is, 15 years on the federal bench -- Lou.

DOBBS: Ed Henry. Thank you very much.

A new opinion poll shows most Americans say the Senate should confirm Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. The CNN-"USA Today"- Gallup poll showing nearly half of voters want Judge Alito confirmed, less than a third oppose his confirmation. However, the poll also says more than half of all Americans would oppose Judge Alito's confirmation if they believed Judge Alito would vote to overturn Roe versus Wade, an important hypothetical question polled.

Joining me now, our CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, covering these proceedings throughout the day.

Jeffrey, this -- this rigidity that has set in amongst the partisans, will it influence the outcome here?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Very noticeable today, Lou. You know, in the justice -- the Chief Justice Roberts' hearings, which were just completed this fall, there were three Democrats, Leahy of Vermont and Kohl and Feingold of Wisconsin, who voted for Chief Justice Roberts. Today, this looked almost set in stone.

Ten Republicans for Judge Alito, eight Democrats against him. It's a very polarized committee.

DOBBS: A polarized committee, yet there is nothing here so far that suggests any -- at least in these early stages, anything that should block it, correct?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, the question that Judge Alito seemed to be addressing in his comments were, you know, I've been a judge for 15 years. That's what you should judge me on.

The thing that the Democrats are most exercised about are his statements when he was a young lawyer in the Reagan Justice Department, saying things like he does not believe there is a right to choose abortion in the Constitution. The -- which Judge Alito we see, is it the 1985 version, or the last 15-year version, that's going to be one of the big struggles that's played out tomorrow.

DOBBS: How many of those senators would like us to go back to what they were saying, 20, 25, 30 years ago, their actions, as well as their words, and then compare them to the people they are today?

TOOBIN: Well, I think they would say, sure, go ahead and do it, that's part of the political process. What Judge Alito is saying, look, I'm a judge. I'm not part of the political process. I am not a partisan. I have been a judge, and you should evaluate me based on my fairness rather than whether I'm to the left or to the right.

DOBBS: Jeff, you said also that they were most exercised on the committee. What they're really most exercised about, though, it seems clear from their statements, is that a Republican president has put forward his nominee and is not a Democrat.

TOOBIN: You know what? Elections have consequences. And Bush won and Kerry lost, and this is the kind of Supreme Court justice you're going to get. And even if Alito somehow is not confirmed -- and it certainly seems like he will be confirmed -- the next nominee will share much the same views, because that's why we have elections.

DOBBS: Jeffrey Toobin, thank you very much. We'll be following your analysis throughout.

We'd like to know what you think about all of this. In tonight's poll, the question is: Do you believe, based on what you now know about him, that Judge Samuel Alito should be confirmed to the Supreme Court?

Cast your vote at We'll have the results later here.

A health scare for Vice President Cheney. The vice president, who has a long history of heart problems, went to the hospital in Washington in the middle of the night. Suzanne Malveaux with the story from the White House.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Vice President Dick Cheney is back at work after a brief health scare landed him in the hospital early Monday morning. Around 3:00 a.m., Cheney was struggling to breathe and was rushed to George Washington University Hospital. His office said he was retaining fluid and experiencing shortness of breath, side-effects from an anti- inflammatory drug he'd been taking for a recurring foot problem.

A spokeswoman said Cheney's doctors monitored his heart condition which they found unchanged and treated him with a diuretic. The president was notified about Cheney's condition before his early morning Oval Office meetings and soon after gave a thumbs up on his condition.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's doing fine. I talked to him this morning. His health is good. He should be coming into work a little later on today.

MALVEAUX: Later in the afternoon, Cheney's office released more details, saying he has occasional bouts with inflammation in his left foot, sometimes in the heel, which has been diagnosed as tendoninitis sometimes in the joint of his big toe. Some doctors suggesting gout or osteoarthritis. The 64-year-old vice president has a long history of heart problems: four heart attacks, quadruple bypass surgery, and an implanted pacemaker. Last Friday, Cheney was seen hobbling through several stops in Kansas using a cane, making light of what his aides say was a stiffening of his Achilles heel.

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Secretary Rumsfeld bit me in the ankle.


CHENEY: Not to worry.


MALVEAUX: And Lou, the vice president has been playing a very high-profile role lately. Just last month, visiting Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, promoting the war on terror. Also, just last week, defending the administration's controversial domestic spy program.

We do not expect that that is going to change -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much. Suzanne Malveaux.

Amongst the most significant vice presidents, one that's left with a long list of possible contenders, including Theodore Roosevelt. But we will defer to the historians.

The condition of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remains serious but stable tonight in the hospital in Jerusalem. Doctors have begun to bring Sharon out of a medically induced coma after multiple surgeries, but they say it's too early to say whether Sharon will ever recover from the massive stroke he suffered last Wednesday.

In Iraq, military officials are trying to find the cause of a helicopter crash that killed 12 Americans in the northern part of the country. The Black Hawk helicopter went down Saturday near the city of Tal Afar, close to the Syrian border. Four of the 12 Americans were civilians.

Insurgents today launched a new wave of attacks across Iraq. Two suicide bombers killed at least 23 Iraqi police officers at the Interior Ministry in Baghdad. This the latest in a series of deadly bombings over the past few days. Thirty Americans, nearly 200 Iraqis have been killed since last Thursday.

Still ahead here tonight, the rising danger from left-wing governments in Latin America. Tonight we take a closer look at this new and escalating threat to U.S. interests.

And then, outrage over calls for the United States to hand over nearly the entire Southwest to Mexico. We'll have that special report.

And the deadly bird flu spreading rapidly in Turkey, raising new fears that a global pandemic could be near. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Tonight, a growing concern in the United States over Latin America's hard turn to the left. Relations between the United States and Latin American nations are at the lowest point in years as communist China gains new influence in the region.

Christine Romans has the report.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Growing leftist Latin American politics meets Hollywood hyperbole.

HARRY BELAFONTE, AMERICAN SINGER, ACTIVIST: And no matter what greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush, says, we are here to tell you, not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people, millions, support your revolution, support your ideas, and, yes, we are expressing our solidarity with you.

ROMANS: He's talking about radical Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, steering Latin America sharply to the left.

VICTOR CHAVEZ, VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Only united can we defeat imperialism and lift our people from misery.

ROMANS: Chavez, using his country's oil bonanza to fund a populist agenda across South America, vowing a new regional economic model, free from what he calls American imperialism.

With contempt for capitalism, he's seizing vast tracks of farmland to turn over to peasants, and further insulting the White House by giving discounting heating oil to America's poor.

LARRY BIRNS, COUNCIL ON HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS: Hugo Chavez is far more important know that the United States is prepared to acknowledge him as being. He is trusted by the people of Latin American. And he's grudgingly admired by his counterparts.

ROMANS: The drift to the left continues to spread, with Venezuela leading the march. Foreign policy of the new Latin American left means insult to the United States and homage to Fidel Castro.

Bolivian socialist Evo Morales won in a landslide with a stated mission to be "The United States' worst nightmare." He pledges more cultivation of cocoa, used to make cocaine. "Long live cocoa!" he shouts. "No to the Yankees."

And Morales declaring China his ideological ally.


ROMANS: And that ideology and China's cold hard cash inspiring numerous strategic partnerships between communist China and Latin and South American companies -- countries. China eagerly stepping into a diplomatic breach.

Larry Birns of the Council of Hemispheric Affairs, says it's a breach caused by Washington's many years now of inadequate diplomacy.

DOBBS: It's interesting. We've got the Monroe Doctrine, the Roosevelt adjunct to that. It's an interesting situation, and one which is all about ignored by our politicians and the national media.

ROMANS: But at least Hollywood is paying attention.

DOBBS: Absolutely. Harry Belafonte on point.

Christine Romans. Thank you.

Federal officials today announced that they have arrested the masterminds of two major illegal alien smuggling networks. Immigration officials say Mike Lynn Price (ph) and Samuel Walter Jarvis (ph) smuggled as many as 600 illegal aliens into this country over the past two years. They took in more than $1.5 million for doing so. Fourteen other people were also indicted today for their role in those two networks.

Also tonight, U.S.-based fringe groups with bizarre notions about Mexico's right to American territory are at it again. These groups say much of the southwestern United States actually belongs to -- you guessed it -- Mexico. They say Mexican illegal aliens have every right to make the Southwest their home.

Casey Wian has the story.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Border security activists held protests over the weekend at day laborer sites in six southern California cities. Some were confronted by counter- protesters such as this man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Mexico. This is our land, you racist pigs. Go back to Germany.

WIAN: The idea that the southwestern United States rightfully belongs to Mexico has become the rallying cry for a growing number of agitators demanding open borders and expanded rights for illegal aliens.

They were in Costa Mesa last week protesting the city's decision to help enforce immigration laws. They desecrate the American flag, clash with police, chanting, "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us," and harass the Minutemen civilian volunteers with signs saying, "Smash the border and free Aztlan." Aztlan is their name for U.S. territory they claim was stolen form Mexico.

The Treaty of Guadeloupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War in 1848. Mexico agreed to give up much of what's now the American southwest to the United States in exchange for $15 million. Five years later, the U.S. purchased a smaller portion of Arizona and New Mexico for $10 million. In today's dollars, that adds up to $120 billion. In retrospect, a good deal, perhaps, but hardly a steal.

Though the so-called Reconquista protesters are becoming more vocal and visible, scholars say they don't represent the views of most Latinos.

HARRY PACHON, UNIV. OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: The Latino community is very proud of its patriotism to the United States. Look at the percentage of Latinos in the Marine Corps, for example. Fourteen percent, one out of every six Marines in Iraq, is now of Hispanic descent.

So when you hear this rhetoric about the fact that there should be open borders, it just escalates the issue.

WIAN: Casey Wian, CNN, Los Angeles.


DOBBS: Tonight, the author of a best-selling memoir heavily promoted by Oprah Winfrey is standing accused of making it all up. James Frey wrote about his drug and alcohol addiction in a book entitled "A Million Little Pieces," which was chosen for Winfrey's book club last year. The book, in fact, sold almost two million copies last year, thanks to Oprah.

It's been on the best-seller list for months. Even Winfrey says it kept her up all night. But now says the book is filled with fabrications, include made-up accounts of his criminal history. And his publisher is standing by book. We called Winfrey's Harpo Productions for her reaction. They didn't return our calls.

Still ahead here, the bird flu crisis in Turkey. It's worsening. More citizen are now ill. Residents fear this is the beginning of an epidemic.

And reshaping the Republican Party. I'll be talking with Congressman Jeff Flake. He says Republicans could lose the House this fall unless they reform.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: Tonight, the number of people infected with the deadly bird flu in Turkey has risen by more than a third. At least 14 people have contracted the disease. Two of them are dead. And now health officials are rushing to stop the bird flu from spreading throughout Turkey's largest city.

Kitty Pilgrim reports.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The cases in Turkey stretch across 10 provinces, and some of those cases are not in rural areas, but in the capital. DR. HENRY NIMAN, RECOMBINOMICS: The number of confirmed cases is now up to 14, but there is approximately 100 people that have been hospitalized and are being tested. Those numbers are likely to go up, and the clusters are very large. And when the clusters are large, that's an indication that the virus is efficiently infecting humans.

PILGRIM: The deaths in Turkey are the first outside of China and Southeast Asia.

Turkey is part of a now dangerous neighborhood. Ukraine and Romania have had outbreaks. Bulgarian officials saying today the possibility is high of an outbreak. Bulgaria has been told by Romania they have H5N1 infected birds flying across the border. A large migration of a quarter of a million geese is of concern.

Wild bird migration is also heading south from Turkey through the Middle East and Africa in coming weeks. The European Union is taking precautions to ban imports of feathers from many areas.

MICHAEL MANN, HEALTH SPOKESMAN, EUROPEAN COMM.: The commission is now going to adopt a decision probably hopefully tomorrow to ban untreated feathers from Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Syria, Iran and Iraq.

PILGRIM: China today, through its news agency, confirmed its eighth case of bird flu since last year, with three confirmed human fatalities. But some scientists say those numbers sound too low considering China has sustained more than 30 outbreaks in poultry in the last year.


PILGRIM: Indonesian officials confirm the 12th death in that country today.

Now, there's a big difference between confirmed cases and suspected cases. Many times people are admitted to the hospital with symptom, but if they're not tested and just treated and recover, those cases do not show up in the data.

So world health officials are fighting hard to test anyone who shows any symptoms and have that data shared with the rest the world -- Lou.

DOBBS: Kitty, thank you very much. Kitty Pilgrim.

Coming up next here, a Republican congressman with a dire warning for his party, a party he says is facing defeat unless changes are made. Congressman Jeff Flake joins me here next.

And Senate Democrats versus Judge Samuel Alito. What to expect tomorrow as opponents begin their questioning of the Supreme Court nominee.

And American bucking conventional wisdom? Still on the market, it turns out, for those gas-guzzlers. We'll have a special report for you still ahead.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: Still ahead, I'll be talking with Republican Congressman Jeff Flake. We'll be talking about the Republican leadership crisis.

But first, looking at the top stories of the hour.

Grass fires burning again tonight in Oklahoma and Texas. Thousands of acres are in flames. Oklahoma officials say some of the latest fires may have been deliberately set. Some rain is in the forecast for the drought-stricken area, but that rain won't arrive until sometime tomorrow.

The lone survivor of last week's mine explosion is said to be making slow but steady progress in a West Virginia hospital, but Randal McCloy still has not spoken, and he remains in critical condition tonight. McCloy has also developed a fever.

And another legal setback for former House majority leader Tom DeLay. The Texas court of criminal appeals today rejected DeLay's request to drop money laundering charges filed against him. The court also refused DeLay's request for an immediate trial.

The fight to replace Tom DeLay as majority leader of the House is well under way on Capitol Hill. House Majority Whip Roy Blunt and Congressman John Boehner have already declared they are candidates for the post. This leadership contest gives House Republicans one last big opportunity to reshape their party before the midterm elections.

Bill Schneider has the report.


REP. TOM DELAY (R), TEXAS: How you doing?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice over): Republicans know they have a Tom DeLay problem.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Right now it appears that this is isolated to individuals who have misbehaved. And they ought to be investigated.

SCHNEIDER: But the problem is bigger than DeLay. Here's why.

Only 42 percent of the public now say that most members of Congress deserve to be re-elected. That's far lower than the majority who have felt that way during the last four congressional elections.

In fact, you have to go back to 1994 to find the same level of discontent with Congress. 1994, that was the year of the great revolution, the last time voters overthrew the majority party in Congress.

Republicans better think about reshaping the image of their party before this year's midterm election.

A new majority leader may not be enough, because Democrats have their argument all ready.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We're talking about a culture of corruption, not just an individual. And I think that's the issue that we have to deal with.

SCHNEIDER: House Speaker Dennis Hastert is already talking about new lobbying rules, but it's unclear how far the changes will go, at least one candidate for DeLay's post is cautious.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), OHIO: There are ample laws, in my view. There are ample rules. But what we need to do is to renew our commitment to live by those rules that we've all agreed to do.

SCHNEIDER: Will that be enough? Maybe not. When Democrats have a 12-point advantage of the corruption issue. Democrats intend to link the lobbying scandal with unpopular Bush policies, like businesses that oppose a minimum wage increase and favor a guest worker program. And this issue.

KENNEDY: The lobbyists were influential with the drug companies, so we got a very poor prescription drug program for our senior citizens.

SCHNEIDER: Congressional Republicans have to clean up their act and show voters they're independent, not just to the lobbyists but also of a president's whose policies are not very popular right now.

The public is split over whether policies being proposed by Democrats in Congress would move the country in the right direction. Do they believe Republican policies would move the country in the right direction? The answer is no.


SCHNEIDER: President Bush is supposed to lay out his new agenda in his State of the Union speech in a few weeks. The message to congressional Republicans is, you'd better think about a new agenda as well, because it's your jobs that are on the line. Lou?

DOBBS: Bill Schneider, thank you very much. Interesting numbers to say the least.

Congressman Jeff Flake had this to say about the Republican leadership crisis last week. He said, quote, "We don't just need new leaders, we need a serious course correction or we're going to be in the minority. It's a different ball game. We've crossed that Rubicon."

Congressman Jeff Flake, who's pushed aggressively for new Republican leadership in the House and for new congressional lobbying curbs, joins me tonight from Washington (sic). Congressman, you've been working for months to replace DeLay. It's happened. Is this a victory for you now that he's stepped aside? REP. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: Well, what we've got to do is get down to the business of actually having an agenda that will move us ahead. I think we need to understand that we've done some things wrong, that we've allowed a culture to develop that isn't healthy. And we've got to move ahead and correct that. It's not going to happen just with putting more curbs on lobbyists. We have to recognize that we need to put our own House in order.

DOBBS: Congressman, I want to first of all -- I misspoke, I said you were in Washington. Obviously you're in Phoenix.

FLAKE: Right.

DOBBS: Turning to another course correction that is, you know, the Republican Party has become the -- if you will, the straightforward, the poster boys for corporate America. There is very little that is not being done by the Republican Party that corporate lobbyists haven't asked. What -- how are you going to change that perception right now?

FLAKE: Well, certainly we're spending too much money. That's the biggest course correction we have to go after. We simply spend far too much. We can't sustain this trend we're on.

At the heart of that, I think is this earmarking culture that we've developed where individual members of Congress can designate specific projects for their home district. And that simply breeds corruption. We can't have that anymore. We've got to reverse course there.

DOBBS: The opinion poll suggests -- we focused on the president's approval rating, and appropriately so. But the fact is, Congress has a lower approval rate. Both parties, a lower approval rating than the president by a wide, wide margin.

But as we look at what's happening in Congress, half of the people who leave your institution and retire or defeat at the polls rarely, but occasionally it does happen -- become lobbyists. The fact is, you are actually allowing, not you, but Congress is allowing, in many instances, for lobbyists to write the doggone laws that you're passing. How are you going to turn that back?

FLAKE: Well, there's nothing wrong with being a lobbyist, certainly.

DOBBS: Well, that's your opinion. I happen to think there is a lot wrong with it because I don't see the middle class with a lobbying group representing them. I don't see working men and women with real lobbyists working for them.

FLAKE: Our Constitution protects it. The problem is, when we allow our own members to designate specific money for specific projects, it allows those lobbyists to have too much influence and control. That's the problem. And so we need to look within. I could tell you, just beating up on lobbyists isn't going get the job done. DOBBS: Oh, I'm not just beating up on lobbyist, Congressman. I don't think you guys in Congress have done -- you guys -- you guys and gals, I guess. I don't think you have done a terrific job, either.

I think, as a matter of fact, when you go back it 1976, you threw away your responsibility to vote on trade agreements in this country. You got fast-track authority, which is an advocation to the executive. You don't have oversight of intelligence agencies. You have not been effected on a host of issues. Believe you me, I think there's a lot more involved than lobbyists.

FLAKE: Well, definitely. We have an agenda that we can't pursue that involves limited government, economic freedom, individual responsibility and free trade. I'm a believer in free trade. We may differ there.

But, we need to get to a position where we can pursue that agenda. And in order to do that, we need to make sure that our own House is in order. And there are things that we need to do, including, and first at the top of the list is get ahold of earmarks. If we can do that, then we can pursue our agenda.

DOBBS: If you get ahold of earmark, you think this is going to just sort of fill the people back home with passion and they're going to look down, they're going to see public education is a mess. They're going to see 29 consecutive years of trade deficits are a mess. They're going to see federal budget deficits roaring out of control. You think that ...

FLAKE: ... Oh, no. No, that's not all. I'm just saying, you've got to start somewhere. And then we need to continue on the path that we're on to make tax cuts permanent, make sure the economy keeps growing, and to make sure that we have local control in public education. That's the ticket.

DOBBS: Congressman, I guess what I'm amazed at is we do have an issue of corruption in Congress. We have an issue of corruption among lobbyists. Overwhelming corporate influence on public policy as a result.

We have men and women in this country working every day, usually both mother and father trying to get by, part of the middle class that under just under absolute assault, passing the bankruptcy laws, pushing forward the death tax. I mean, what's the last piece of legislation written by the United States Congress that was in the interest of a working man and woman in this country?

FLAKE: I would certainly say the tax cuts.

DOBBS: You would?

FLAKE: When you give people back their own money to spend, then you have done something for the American family.

DOBBS: What about those folks that are working 20 years from now that are going to have to pay all these debts and deficits that we have run up?

FLAKE: You've hit exactly the point. The reason lobbyists have so much influence is because government too big and it taxes and regulates too much. We have too much power in Washington and that's what our agenda ought to be about, is to limit government.

DOBBS: Well wait a minute, President Bush was elected precisely to do that.

FLAKE: Right.

DOBBS: Government has been growing six percent a year. We've got a bigger government than we've ever had.

FLAKE: That's the point.

DOBBS: My good grief.

FLAKE: You've made my point. We need a course correction. That's where we need to go.

DOBBS: That's what I'm saying.


DOBBS: So -- let's go back to those tax cuts you want to make permanent when we're looking at $300 billion plus deficits.

FLAKE: Well, if you're dealing in a static environment and you assume that you're...

DOBBS: ... Oh, I'm not dealing in a static environment, I'm looking at $300 billion plus deficits. I've seen them growing for the last three years.

FLAKE: Let's look. We have increased revenue. We don't have a revenue problem, we have more revenue coming in than ever. We have a spending problem in Washington. We spend far too much.

If you want to kill the economy and make sure we have less revenue for government, then increase taxes. I don't know who in the world would be advocating that, other than the Democrats.

And frankly, the reason that we're doing as well as we are is because the Democrats simply have no agenda. We ought to be doing better, and what ought to be our agenda, that's limited government, economic freedom.

DOBBS: Well, let me ask you this. Congressman Boehner, Congressman Blunt want to be the leader. Who do you think should be?

FLAKE: We're still looking at it. We haven't yet seen their reform agenda. We need desperately a course correction. And so myself and other people who believe in limited government are going to be looking to see what kind of platform they have. And I hope that my colleagues keep their powder dry until those plans actually come out, instead of committing right up front.

DOBBS: How soon do you think we'll have a new leader?

FLAKE: I think within three weeks.

DOBBS: All right. Well, Congressman Flake, we thank you for being here. We appreciate it.

FLAKE: Thank you.

DOBBS: Still ahead, Judge Samuel Alito arrives on Capitol Hill. Greetings split strictly down party lines. We'll be talking with a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to see whether there's anything that could keep Alito off the bench.

And then, gasoline prices have surged over the past few years. You have heard those gas-guzzling SUVs are out of style. Our special report will make you rethink that view. Stay with us.


DOBBS: More now on the first day of what is expected to be a contentious Senate hearing process for Supreme Court nominee Judge Alito.

I'm joined now by a distinguished member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama. We invited, by the way, several Democrats on the panel to join us tonight. None of them could make it. You are going to have to just represent the nation's interest all by yourself.


DOBBS: Senator, some of today's opening statements, certainly politically charged. What is Judge Alito's fate?

SESSIONS: You know, I saw nothing in the opening statement from the Democrats. Many of their comments were critical, but there really weren't any serious issue that could derail this nomination. It does look like that we may have no Democrats on our committee voting for Judge Alito. That's a sad thing really. A man of such ability.

But I hope and don't believe that they would deny him an up or down vote by a filibuster. I just can't believe that because there's not the extraordinary circumstances that people have talked about that would justify a filibuster.

DOBBS: Well, let's go to a couple of the issues that Democrats are focusing on. One, Samuel Alito's statement back in 1985 saying that he thought Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. How will that effect or influence the vote do you think?

SESSIONS: Well, you know, about that same time Dick Durbin was saying that very same thing. Ted Kennedy had said the same thing early on in this process.

DOBBS: Both members of the Judiciary Committee.

SESSIONS: Both members of judiciary, and who criticized him really for that. But he wrote a memo about that time through to the solicitor general. And he analyzed a court of appeals' decision. And he flat out said they should not make a frontal assault on Roe versus Wade. But the administration did and they lost the case.

So it showed to me that he is a clear thinker, an independent mind. And in fact, the study about several law professors that was published, showed him to be the fourth most independent member of the court of appeals or at least over 100 people that they'd identified.

DOBBS: And the appellate court in this country rises to about 900 people. So it's a pretty impressive position.

SESSIONS: Well, overall, it's 900. I think I misspoke at the hearing. It's only about a hundred that they examined here.

DOBBS: Surveyed.

SESSIONS: But anyway, he does have a record independence. The ABA, American Bar Association, has carefully scrutinized his record and came out with a unanimous high, well-qualified rating, the highest rating.

DOBBS: And is there, in your political judgment, a reason for aggressive attack on Judge Alito, rated the top, the highest rating from the ABA, remarkable approval, despite his controversial positions, statements from 20 years ago?

Do you think there's a greater enthusiasm, vitality on the part the Democrats, because of the political position the president finds himself in, and the Republican party in terms specifically of the House, finds it with the voters?

SESSIONS: You know, the outside groups are pushing the Democratic senators to fight hard on this. They're going to ask tough questions. And that's good. I salute them for that. But they ought to be fair questions.

I made a rebuttal or two today on some allegations made in opening statements that just weren't correct. So they need to be honest and fair about their complaints. And then when that dust settles and he's given a chance to answer those questions, I believe they'll feel comfortable voting for him. But we'll see how that goes.

DOBBS: OK. Senator Sessions, good to have you here.

SESSIONS: Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you.

Coming up the top of the hour "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer.

Wolf, tell us all about it. WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.

We're following several important stories, including this one. Light at the end of the tunnel. Could the West Virginia miners have made it out alive simply by walking? We're taking a closer look at that story.

Plus, more on the supreme battle. It's a decision that may change the high court for the next several decades. Senator Ted Kennedy and Majority Leader Bill Frist, they'll be my guests here in "The Situation Room."

Also, all banged up, Arnold Schwarzenegger gets stitches in his face after a motorcycle accident. We'll tell you what's going on, why he's still smiling.

And high-tech Viagra. Find out why they are using computer chips to track those little blue pills. All that, lots more, Lou, coming up right at the top of the hour.

DOBBS: Looking forward to it. Thank you, Wolf.

And a reminder now to vote in our poll. The question, do you believe, based on what you now know about him, that Judge Alito should be confirmed to the Supreme Court? Cast your vote at We'll have the results coming up here in a few minutes.

Still ahead, a grim start to the new year for the U.S. Military in the Iraq. I'll be talking with former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, who took part in last week's historic foreign policy meeting with President Bush.

And America's love affair with the SUV, it's still going strong despite those high gas prices and reports of the death of the SUV, which are decidedly premature. Our special report and more coming up next. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Nineteen Americans were killed in Iraq over the weekend. Twelve of them in a helicopter crash in northern Iraq. Two thousand two hundred and eight of our troops have been killed in the war since it began nearly three years ago.

Last week, President Bush discussed Iraq policy with 13 former secretaries of state and defense at the White House.

Among the 13, former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, who served in the administration of President H.W. Bush. He joins us tonight from Charlottesville, Virginia.

Good to have you with us.


DOBBS: The fact that the president brought together a bipartisan, distinguished group of former secretaries of state and defense is a remarkable development. But remarkable in part because he was pushed to the brink and found it necessary to do so. Is that a fair statement?

EAGLEBURGER: Up a point it's a fair statement, yes. I think if he had begun to do that sort of thing six months ago or so, I think we'd be in better shape now.

What I'm saying here is I think that the administration has been late in coming to the point of explaining our Iraq policy more clearly, trying to describe where it's going and trying to hit back at some of the Democratic attacks on him and on our policy with regard to Iraq. He gave the field to the Democrats for too long. I think now it's changed.

DOBBS: And the Democrats have been clear in their call for a withdrawal of whether quick, as Congressman John Murtha talking about six months, or a more orderly withdraw. But nonetheless, the Democratic Party being very clear about its--among its members, a clear call for withdraw. What do you think the impact is on foreign policy and specifically the Iraq War?

EAGLEBURGER: The Democrats -- I'm partisan, I'll say that to begin with. But these attacks, some of them, have been absolutely outrageous. When Governor Dean, the head of the Democratic party, announces publicly that we cannot win this war, I can only assume that Osama bin Laden and others are nodding their heads and saying, isn't that nice?

I think there is a certain legitimate issue of debating the war. To debate it in those terms or has -- even as Murtha has or even as Senator Kennedy has on occasion is, I think, going too far. And I'm not at all sure that I can remember -- I'm a veteran of Korea and the Korean period. I don't think even against Truman that they were as irresponsible as they have been now.

Having said that, the issue is not, I think, the morale our troops. Everything that I can see and hear from people I have talked to, the morale is good. Where the concern is is whether or not it eats away at public support for continuing and winning this war here in this country.

There, my substantial concern is, if public support diminishes to the point that the president cannot continue to fight, keep our troops there as long as is needed, then I think we are in real trouble. And if we -- I will use the word lose in parenthesis -- if we lose that war, the consequences in the Middle East for us and for most the rest of the world will be pretty awful.

DOBBS: Nonetheless, Paul Bremer, the former ambassador, the head of the provisional government there, calling for half a million troops, it turns out within months of his arrival in point of fact. The fact that we've had a number of military leaders say there should be more troops.

EAGLEBURGER: I agree with that, by the way. DOBBS: The way this war has been conducted. And not in a bipartisan fashion. This president has not reached out until last week in a meaningful way and in a bipartisan way. To what degree can this president blame himself?

EAGLEBURGER: Well, I think the president and his advisers, it's not just the president, but I think it is true that we didn't have enough troops in there at the beginning. I don't know if we needed half a million but we needed more than we had, I think, and you will find a number of military experts will say that as well.

I think we also misjudged the amount of influence the terrorists were going to have over a period of time. I think in both of those issues, I think we made some serious mistakes. I think most of that has been corrected now. I think the president now has a different approach to this whole question of Iraq and how to explain it.

I'm not trying to excuse the earlier mistakes. I will say, on the other hand, I think it was right to invade -- to go to war in Iraq. I just think we could have done it better. I think we are doing it better now. And everything I can see from people I've talked to that have come back, things are better than the press by in large makes it look.

DOBBS: Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, thank you for being here.

EAGLEBURGER: It's my pleasure.

DOBBS: Just ahead, carmakers are pushing smaller cars. The answer to higher gas prices. You may have heard about the demise of the SUV in America. Well, we'll set the record straight with a SPECIAL REPORT here next and we will have the results of our poll as well. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Well, Judge Alito better be glad that our audience isn't voting on his nomination. Eighty-two percent of you responding that you believe, based on what you now know, that Judge Alito should not be confirmed to the supreme court.

Finally tonight, a look at some your thoughts.

Nancy in Florida wrote in to say, "It appears that politicians from the president on down can't return Jack Abramoff's campaign contributions fast enough. What Americans should be asking is how those same politicians plan to return all of the legislative influence that was bought and paid for with that money.

Don in Kansas said, "Dear Lou, I want to sell my vote, please tell me how."

Cassandra in Minnesota wrote in about the Florida Supreme Court ruling that school vouchers undermine public education, asking, "Aren't vouchers an inherent admission that there is a serious problem within the nation's public schools. Instead of diverting money away from public school's , put on our collective thinking caps and fix the problem" I couldn't agree with you more.

And Melissa Hawkes in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. "Yes, Mr. Dobbs, I agree. God bless the Florida Supreme Court and thank you for saying it first." We love following you. Send us your thoughts at Each of you who's email is right here receives a copy of my book, "Exporting America."

The North American International Auto Show opening in Detroit this week, you'd think the talk would be high oil prices cutting into SUV sales, but Americans apparently unwilling to part with those gas guzzling vehicles. Jonathan Freed heads the story.


JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Small vehicles are a big deal at the Detroit auto show this year. And it's no wonder, with gas prices being what they are. Now, head out to the suburbs and meet Christian Gentry. Father of six. He needs a new car.

(on camera): For some people, gas mileage is everything. For other people, the function of the car is everything. Where are you on that spectrum?

CHRISTIAN GENTRY, CAR BUYER: I think I fall more into the function of the car. You pay what you have to pay for gas mileage to get people places and do things.

FREED (voice over): Gentry would love it to drive a small, inexpensive fuel-efficient car. But he knows that's not going to happen. What his family needs is a wide ride.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a demo. It has 2,400 miles on it roughly.

FREED: Gentry is the kind of consumer that's keeping the full- size SUV market vibrant, despite sobering pump prices these days.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is what the loaded version. It looks like loaded.

FREED: CNN arranged for Gentry and his wife Roxanne (ph) to visit the auto show. Normally closed to the public in its first week.


FREED: For automakers at the show, the Gentry's are statistics come alive. The target market for things like large SUVs.

FRANK KLEGON, EX V.P. DAIMLERCHRYSLER: We definitely see that there's a marketplace that still has a big market pull for people that have functional needs for large sport utilities.

FREED: It's not just SUVs. The industry says the consumers need to pull is translating into steady truck sales, too.

DOUG SCOTT, FORD TRUCK GROUP MARKETING MGR.: These people put a higher priority on things like towing and hauling, and they need full- size pick-ups to perform that task.

FREED: So for people like Gentry's, it's in the a question of, if they'll buy big.

GENTRY: These are nice ideas. Just not for me.

FREED: It's a matter of who's going to get their business. Jonathan Freed, CNN, Detroit.


DOBBS: Thanks for being with us here tonight. Please join us here tomorrow when our guests include former CIA officer Gary Benson, author of the highly-acclaimed new book, "Jawbreaker."

Please be with us. For all of us here thanks for joining us. Good night from New York. THE SITUATION ROOM begins right now with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.