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Lou Dobbs Tonight

Bush 'Not Satisfied' With Progress of War; Chaos in Iraq; PR Offensive; Are Politicians Ignoring Middle Class Americans?

Aired October 25, 2006 - 18:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, HOST: We are coming to you live tonight from San Antonio, Texas. We're preparing now for what we believe will be a very special broadcast tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. "America Votes 2006" coming to you. It's a town hall meeting. It's like one you've never seen before on our broken borders and illegal alien crisis.
Here at the Empire Theater in downtown San Antonio, protesters are outside getting ready for the night's events. And we want to point out to you that some of those protesters -- if we could go to that video to just show you live pictures of what is beginning here -- those protesters starting to assemble this afternoon. We're told more on the way.

We want to be clear. Many of those protesters I'm told will actually be part of the audience tonight. We -- they're forming what they call informational pickets on the issue of illegal immigration and our border security crisis. And so we've invited them in to share in our exchange of information and facts tonight.

But let's turn now to today's top story.

President Bush now admits he is not satisfied with the progress of the war in Iraq and declares America's patience with Iraq is not unlimited.

We'll have complete coverage from Washington, D.C., and Baghdad.

Employers in this country are now blatantly discriminating against U.S. citizens. They are not only ignoring our immigration laws, but hiring millions of illegal aliens, and doing so with impunity.

We'll have that special report and a great deal more, all of the day's news straight ahead here.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Wednesday, October 25th.

Live from San Antonio, Texas, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.

President Bush today publicly warned the Iraqi government that American support for the war may not continue forever. President Bush said U.S. patience, in fact, is not unlimited. But the president again called upon the American people to support the war. Meanwhile, in Baghdad, there are widening divisions between the United States and the Iraqi government. The Iraqi prime minister today declared that no one has the right to impose timetables on Iraq. His remarks come one day after the United States announced a series of benchmarks for progress on this war in Iraq.

Suzanne Malveaux tonight reports from the White House on the president's news conference today.

Arwa Damon reports from Baghdad on the Iraqi government's failure to crack down on radical Islamist groups and to disarm the militias.

Barbara Starr reports from the Pentagon on the administration's public relations campaign to defend its conduct of this war.

We turn first to Suzanne Malveaux at the White House -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, this was the second press conference in two weeks. What you are watching here is an extraordinary effort by the White House to frame the election debate, to make sure that Republicans maintain control of Congress.


MALVEAUX (voice over): With midterm elections less than two weeks away, and as parties struggling to maintain control of Congress, President Bush hastily gathered the press for a second news conference in two weeks to try to convince voters he gets it.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know many Americans are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq. I'm not satisfied either.

MALVEAUX: The president once again is using the bully pulpit to try to frame the election debate.

BUSH: Who best to protect this country and who best to keep taxes low? That's what the referendum is about.

MALVEAUX: The gamble is Republicans will go to the polls and keep the GOP in power if they still believe in Mr. Bush's war on terror.

BUSH: They will support the war as long as they see a path to victory.

MALVEAUX: But with October being the deadliest month for American troops this year, and increasing pressure from Democrats and Republicans alike for a change in course, Mr. Bush is trying to portray his path to victory as a flexible one, one way to draw distinction between the Democrats' call for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops and his own plan to set benchmarks for the Iraqis to take over their own security.

BUSH: The benchmarks will make it more likely we win. Withdrawing on an artificial timetable means we lose. MALVEAUX: The president also tried to project confidence in the Iraqi government while reassuring the American public there would be an end in sight to the Iraq war.

BUSH: We're pressing Iraq's leaders to told bold measures to save their country. We're making it clear that America's patience is not unlimited.

MALVEAUX: Polls show America's patience has already begun to wear out, with two thirds no longer supporting the Iraq war. The president's strategy has been to highlight Iraq as a central front in the war on terror.

BUSH: If I did not think our mission in Iraq was vital to America's security, I'd bring our troops home tomorrow.


MALVEAUX: And Lou, President Bush also deflected criticism away from his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, as well as other Republicans in Congress, for the Iraq failures, saying that he takes full accountability, responsibility for this. But as you know, Lou, it really doesn't cost him anything politically because of course his name is not on the ballot in two weeks -- Lou.

DOBBS: Although the cost may be high in other quarters.

Thank you very much.

Suzanne Malveaux from the White House.

The United States tonight faces rising opposition to its policies in Iraq from the Iraqi government. Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al- Maliki, today said no one has the right to impose timetables on Iraq. He also said he was not consulted about a U.S. and Iraqi raid on an Islamic neighborhood of Baghdad.

Arwa Damon reports from the Iraqi capital.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The Mehdi militia loyal to radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr demonstrating its control of Sadr City, parading around the streets, boldly brandishing weapons just hours after Iraqi special forces and their U.S. advisers launched a raid against, according to the U.S. military, a top death squad commander.

Later in the day and less than four miles away, fighter jets screamed overhead as the Iraqi prime minister, desperate to establish his authority to his people, reacted harshly to new benchmarks the United States have set for his government.

NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I have found that this government represents the will of the Iraqi people and the national will, and no one has the right to impose timetables on it.

DAMON: But many of the U.S. benchmarks are goals the prime minister set himself over the summer. Topping that list, dealing with the militias.

AL-MALIKI (through translator): This state is the only one that has the right to carry weapons, and we will deal with anybody who is outside the law. Everyone now realizes that the existence of armed groups and militias harms the stability and unity of the state.

DAMON: But complicating the situation is that al-Maliki owes his prime ministership largely to the support of al-Sadr's bloc. Its military wing, the heavily armed and largely lawless Mehdi militia.

Besides, his words are nothing new. And many here feel that it's time for al-Maliki to stop talking and start acting decisively.

(on camera): It's going to take action, not more promises from the Iraqi government, to change the perception that the militias are in control.

Meanwhile, Operation Together Forward intended to secure the capital, stopped right on the edge of Sadr City. The U.S. military waiting for the Iraqi government to move against the Mehdi militia.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Baghdad.


DOBBS: The White House and the Pentagon are publicly maintaining their support for the Iraqi government. Officials are also strongly defending American strategy and tactics. Their show of unity comes amid rising criticism of their conduct of this war and the rising number of American casualties.

Barbara Starr reports from the Pentagon.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The president and his generals are on the same page.

BUSH: And that is why we're taking new steps to help secure Baghdad and constantly adjusting our tactics across the country to meet the changing threat.

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: I can tell you that we have continuously adapted to stay ahead of the enemy.

GEN. PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Every part of the security equation is being reviewed by General Casey, by General Abizad, and by the Joint Chiefs.

STARR: But for the troops, what is new? Still on deadly patrols, caught between Sunni and Shia violence. Are there new tactics that might make a difference? CASEY: And we have also increased our targeting efforts against death squads to match our efforts against al Qaeda.

STARR: An Iraqi army raid in Sadr City Wednesday did target a death squad commander. U.S. troops still had to provide backup. The general's only hint at what they say are changes to come.

PACE: We talked about clearing, protecting and building, but we haven't said exactly how we're going to do that.

CASEY: I think you can expect us to continue to hold on to the focus areas with the Iraqi security forces.

STARR: But was the president signaling a personnel change? There was perhaps a lukewarm response when asked about Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's running the war and the Pentagon.

BUSH: And I'm satisfied of how he's done all his jobs.


STARR: Now, Lou, Pentagon sources tell CNN, of course, still the question to be decided is whether to send more U.S. troops to Iraq. The president says he will do that if that's what the generals tell him they need, but many military commanders still say the biggest tactical change that they want to see is more Iraqi troops on the job -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much.

Barbara Starr from the Pentagon.

U.S. officials have frequently accused Iran of supporting the insurgency in Iraq. Today there is new evidence Iran was involved in a terrorist bombing in Argentina that killed 85 people in 1994. Argentine prosecutors today called for the arrest of former Iranian president Rafsanjani for that bombing.

Argentine officials say Iranian officials at the highest level authorized that terrorist attack on the Jewish Cultural Center in Buenos Aires.

Still ahead here, from San Antonio, Texas, tonight, employers all across the country betraying millions of American middle class workers and their country, ignoring U.S. immigration laws and putting illegal aliens first.

We'll have that special report.

And hundreds of election workers are being sent back to school because of rising fears tonight about the threat of electronic voting machines, machines for which they're not trained to operate.

And as President Bush defends his conduct of this war, three of the country's brightest political minds join me.

And who has the edge going into these midterm elections, the Democrats or Republicans? Some say, in fact, it's a tossup.

What's the truth? Stay with us.


DOBBS: Welcome back to San Antonio, where we're now less than an hour away from our special town hall meeting tonight to hear what you have to say and the people of San Antonio have to say about our broken borders and illegal alien crisis.

A new poll out tonight shows you are concerned about illegal immigration but not so certain about how we should deal with the problem. Tonight we'll be talking about those issues and the solutions. And while it's against the law for businesses in this country to hire illegal aliens, many are doing just that.

Bill Schneider is here in San Antonio with us, and will report on the latest evidence that Americans want stronger action at our border.

Lisa Sylvester tonight reporting on employers who obey -- imagine that, obey our immigration laws but are penalized by those who don't.

We turn first to Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Lou, on the problem of illegal immigration, Americans agree on this generalities but they disagree on many of the particulars.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): Illegal immigration is really two issues. One is border security. Americans generally favor stronger border controls in a new CNN poll taken by the Opinion Search Corporation.

Put more agents on the border with Mexico? Nearly three quarters of Americans say yes.

Impose fines of tens of thousands of dollars on employers who hire illegal workers? Fifty-eight percent say yes.

Congress has approved building a 700-mile-long fence on the border, although they have not funded the project. Does the public favor a fence? They're sitting on the fence.

Democrats are critical.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Voting for fences may be good politics for some, but it's bad policy for America. It's a feel-good vote that will do more harm than good.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans, including President Bush, tend to support it.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER: I think building a fence along the border, doing whatever it takes to control the border, is an important step. It's not the entire process.

SCHNEIDER: There is a second issue.

GINGRICH: We're clearly going to think through what you do with people who are already here.

SCHNEIDER: Generally, the public agrees with President Bush.

BUSH: There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigrant and a program of mass deportation.

SCHNEIDER: But the public is divided over where to draw that line. Half say they'd like to remove all or most illegal aliens. Nearly half say they'd like all or most to remain in the U.S.

Given that division, it's not surprising that neither party has a decisive advantage on the issue. Forty-five percent say Democrats in Congress would handle illegal immigration better. Forty-three percent say Republicans would do a better job.


SCHNEIDER: There is agreement on one big point: something has to be done about this problem -- Lou.

DOBBS: Bill, thank you very much.

Bill Schneider.

Bill Schneider will be joining us for our special report and town hall meeting coming up at the top of the hour here on CNN.

President Bush tomorrow is scheduled to sign the Secure Fence Act of 2006 into law. That new law authorizes the construction of a 700- mile-long fence along part of our 2,000-mile border. That signing to take place in the White House Roosevelt Room, a victory for Republican lawmakers, particularly in the House of Representatives, who wanted a high-profile event with Election Day now less than two weeks away.

And I'll be in Washington for that signing ceremony.

As Bill Schneider just reported, almost two thirds of us favor punishing employers who hire illegal aliens. Businesses and corporations that do obey our immigration laws find themselves under enormous competitive pressure from companies that simply ignore our immigration laws.

Lisa Sylvester reports.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Florida, like many states, has seen a dramatic change in its construction industry in the last decade. Illegal aliens have flocked to the Sunshine State to find work. American workers have been shut out.

Brent Zdun was a general contractor in Florida who was told by builders to hire illegal aliens.

BRENT ZDUN, CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTOR: They came up and told us that we had to cut our price in half or leave, or give up our contract. And I asked them why. And he said, "We just hired a crew of 14 men from Guatemala that just game into the United States and they're willing to work for half the price."

SYLVESTER: According to the Pew Hispanic Center, more than one out of four drywall installers in the United States is an illegal alien, a quarter of all housekeepers, a quarter of all meat packers and poultry workers, and a third of all farm laborers.

It is against the law for an employer to knowingly hire illegal aliens. But phony green cards and Social Security cards are a dime a dozen.

CLARK KENT ERVIN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: It's a dirty little secret that our present ambiguous immigration state really benefits the business community because they can hire essentially whoever they want with no consequences.

SYLVESTER: Immigration and Customs Enforcement has only recently started a modest crackdown on employers who hire illegal aliens. For years, immigration authorities looked the other way.

CRAIG NELSON, FRIENDS OF IMMIG. LAW ENFORCEMENT: We want immigration to reflect what we want, not what the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants and not what the American Immigration Lawyers Association wants. Yet for 40 years, we've been getting something exactly opposite.

SYLVESTER: The Bush administration has argued these are jobs Americans don't want. Brent Zdun has formed a grassroots group to debunk this notion.

ZDUN: And then saying that Americans are not willing to work? I'm sorry. You know what? That's just an insult to me and every American in our land.

We are not lazy. We are willing to work. We built this country with our two hands, and now they're coming over our borders and taking our jobs away.

SYLVESTER: Zdun's message is simple: Americans are willing to work hard for a fair wage.


SYLVESTER: And more American workers who are fed up with the federal government not enforcing immigration laws are turning to the courts. This month a judge ruled employees of Tyson Foods can file a class action lawsuit against the poultry company for keeping wages low by hiring illegal aliens. Tyson Foods denies these charges -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Lisa.

Lisa Sylvester from Washington. Some members of Congress tonight are demanding that President Bush pardon U.S. border patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. It's a case that we've reported extensively on here, two border patrol agents sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler, a drug smuggler who was in the country illegally, who was granted immunity from prosecution by the U.S. attorney here in Texas.

Tonight, 12 House Republican congressmen outraged by what they call the zealous and unjust sentences, they've sent a letter to President Bush. They say, "We ask that a full investigation of this case be ordered immediately. We are confident you will find that these border patrol agents were acting within the scope of their duty. We ask that you use your power of presidential pardon to pardon these two border patrol agents."

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow called the idea of a presidential pardon for agents Ramos and Compean "nonsensical". Those same House members are going to hold hearings of their own.

We want to know what you think about this case. And our poll question tonight: Do you believe President Bush should pardon border patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean? Yes or no?

We'd like you to vote at and we'll have the results here later in this broadcast.

Next, attempts to hire and train election workers for Election Day. We need two million of them across the country. Election Day less than two weeks away now, and those efforts to train and to recruit are failing.

We'll have that special report.

Also, the Dow Jones industrial average hitting a new high. Corporate profits are skyrocketing. The middle class left behind once again.

We'll have that story.

And our panel of top political experts join us tonight to discuss whether or not we can expect victory for the Democrats or the Republicans on Election Day.

Stay with us as we continue live, broadcasting to you tonight from San Antonio, Texas.


DOBBS: Welcome back to San Antonio. We're here at the Empire Theater in downtown San Antonio, preparing for our special report tonight and town hall meeting, America Votes 2006, Broken Borders.

People are beginning to file in and take their seats and get ready to participate in a town hall meeting, a public discussion, and part of what we hope will be a vigorous national dialogue on two of the most critical issues facing the nation. And the broadcast airs immediately following this program.

We're going to find out firsthand the problems illegal immigration is causing around the country, whether our middle class are really the victims of illegal immigration. We'll also be exploring solutions, and nearly every argument involved in this issue is represented here tonight.

There are other issues putting our democracy at risk as well. And for that report and the top news of the evening, we are turning to Kitty Pilgrim in New York -- Kitty.


Now, more problems tonight with electronic voting. Just two weeks before Election Day, the state of Maryland had a disastrous primary. Equipment failed. Election judges didn't have a clue how to handle the new brand of e-voting machines.

The electronic machines have to stay, but now poll workers are being sent back to school.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just put that initial there.

PILGRIM (voice over): Election judges in Baltimore, Maryland, volunteer, and then they have to take a class.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will not need a store without a receipt.

PILGRIM: The Schaefer Center at the University of Baltimore has trained 5,000 judges.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Once it fits comfortably and the light turns solid green, stop.

PILGRIM: All the election judges, even if they served before, are being trained. And Baltimore is also recruiting hundreds more to help.

For the September primary, poll workers showed up late. Some didn't show up at all. And many had no clue how to operate the new electronic machines. Election officials say some poll workers hadn't even seen the machines until Election Day.

EDWARD HAILES, ADVANCEMENT PROJECT: Sometimes they're referred to as the weakest link in our democracy. But everyone acknowledges that they are the background of our democracy, and we need sufficient numbers of well-trained poll workers available on Election Day to prevent any potential train wrecks.

PILGRIM: The course includes training on these problematic electronic poll books. After classes election workers know how to check in voters and process votes.

JOHN WILLIS, UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE: It's a very hard task, particularly when you change systems. We just shouldn't be doing this three weeks before the election. We need to start this process well before the election. It's an administrative management problem.

PILGRIM: Baltimore has scheduled more than 80 classes running up to two or three days before the election. The president of the Baltimore Board of Elections says the new equipment had him concerned from the beginning.

ARMSTEAD JONES, PRESIDENT, BALTIMORE ELECTION BOARD: I had anticipated the issues. First of all, Baltimore city was never in favor of getting the Diebold equipment. We fought that issue for two years. And then, of course, mandated by law, the state had the unified system, and we finally had to come on board.


PILGRIM: Now, botched elections with electronic voting machines are often blamed on the poll workers. Voting machine companies defend their technology and blame problems on human error. Now, Baltimore officials say, after these classes, if the technology fails, manufacturers won't be able to blame the poll workers anymore.

Time now for some of your thoughts.

And Helen in Illinois writes, "I do believe we should leave the borders open... only long enough to send the open border supporters to the other side, and then build the fence fast."

And B. Walker in Connecticut writes, "I'm greatly offended by illegal immigrants attempting to hijack the painful legacy of the civil rights movement. Illegals brand anyone who objects to their amnesty efforts a racist. This is not a race issue, it is a security issue."

Do e-mail us at, and we'll have a little bit more of your thoughts later in the broadcast. Each of you whose e-mail is read here will receive a copy of Lou's best-selling new book, "War on the Middle Class".

And also, don't forget to take a look at Lou's new column. It's online right now at

Coming up, a landmark ruling today in New Jersey. The state's high court opened the door to giving gay couples the right to marry.

And the war on the middle class continues. Politicians are now completely avoiding the subject as they try to stir up votes on the campaign trail.

We'll have a special report.

And then, as President Bush defends his strategy in Iraq, a new biography about Colin Powell details some of the thinking that went into the planning of the war. And the author of that book, Karen DeYoung, will join us.

We'll also go back to Lou in San Antonio, Texas, as we get ready for our special town hall meeting on our illegal immigration crisis. And protesters gather tonight outside the Empire Theater in San Antonio.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


DOBBS: Welcome back to San Antonio, Texas.

In less than a half hour here, we have a very special broadcast tonight, a town hall meeting coming to you from San Antonio, Texas. Our special report, "America Votes, 2006: Broken Borders".

Turning now to the war in Iraq, President Bush today admitted he's not satisfied with the progress of the war. The president's view is shared by a rising number of current and former members of his own administration, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Joining me now is the author of the first complete biography of Colin Powell, Karen DeYoung. Karen wrote "Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell".

Good to have you with us, Karen.


DOBBS: The president today -- let's listen to one phrase -- and see what your reaction was to it -- that he said today.


BUSH: We learned some key lessons from that early phase in the war. We saw how quickly al-Qaeda and other extremist groups would come to Iraq to fight and try to drive us out. We overestimated the capability of the civil service in Iraq to continue to provide essential services to the Iraqi people.


DOBBS: Karen, the president is basically -- he's admitting mistakes were made. He's not saying exactly that he will move away from his "stay the course" statements, but at least is staying away from that language. What is your reaction? And where is Colin Powell in all of this? And why aren't we hearing more?

DEYOUNG: Well, you know, Colin Powell has said virtually nothing about Iraq since he left office, except to talk about the detainee issue. These are all questions that he raised inside the administration about the number of troops, both during the invasion and, in particular, after the invasion; the need to have a better plan; the need to get the Iraqi army back.

He did not raise those issues publicly though. And he has not talked about them now. I don't think he will. He believes that he was part of the administration for better or worse, and it's his obligation to go along with what has happened and take some responsibility for it.

DOBBS: Let's listen to the general's words as he made his case for the war before the United Nations back in February of 2003.


FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL: My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we're giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence. I will cite some examples, and these are from human sources.


DOBBS: You render a terrific account of the forces at work as Colin Powell, Karen, was sort of struggling with that process, the efforts that the State Department -- the secretary were making to make certain that every single I was dotted, T crossed as best it can be in intelligence.

You also give us a vivid portrayal of a secretary of state, who, you made it fairly clear, was handled by the political forces and the dynamics of the administration. How could it be that this contest between what was effectively the administration's number one personality, a man revered by Americans who -- most people, and I have to include myself among them, basically believe he could have been president if he had simply said, I'll run?

DEYOUNG: You know, I think Powell himself underestimated, as you say, the forces against him. Here's a person who had been enormously successful in his career, literally never failed. He came to office with certain things that he wanted to do, certain beliefs about foreign policy. Obviously 9/11 had an impact.

But I think that he completely underestimated the fact that he had no allies. He had no allies in Congress with power, he had no allies in the cabinet. And he had people who wanted him in the administration for political reasons, because he was seen as a vote- getter and someone who would instill confidence in Bush as a candidate, not because of his foreign policy views.

DOBBS: And the general -- I think it is fair to say that Colin Powell is the most revered general, military leader of our generation. And most people, I think, as they looked upon the relationship between Vice President Cheney and General Powell, emerging from the Gulf War, which was a dramatic victory -- that that relationship would stand this administration in great stead.

Instead we saw the axis turn to Cheney and to Rumsfeld. Where did that leave -- where does that leave today, in your best judgment, Colin Powell and why we haven't heard his voice, really, as we hear some of the top generals in the country -- retired in every respect, but nonetheless generals, talking about what we should do in Iraq?

DEYOUNG: Well, Powell -- one of the things that's amazing to me about Powell is that he has been redeemed, essentially, with the American public. There are still people who feel like either he was betrayed or he betrayed the country in some way over Iraq. But I think that he has gone a long way to regaining the popularity that he had before he went into the Bush administration, or certainly before he left the Bush administration.

You know, I don't think he's going to speak out. I think that he -- there's a strange kind of formality to him, a belief in institutions. His own people in the State Department were often very frustrated at what they saw as a kind of passiveness. He believes that -- he believes in the institution.

He believes that he owes the president -- he has an obligation not to speak out while Bush is still in office. But I don't think he really will after Bush leaves office. I think it's just not -- it's not in him. It's not the way he operates.

DOBBS: Well, as you have, again, eloquently and elegantly written of one of the men I think is most respected, and certainly over the course of the last quarter century in this country, General Colin Powell -- the book that Karen DeYoung wrote, a very important treatment of his life and the era that he influenced. The book is "Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell".

Karen DeYoung, thanks for being with us.

DEYOUNG: Thank you.

DOBBS: Still ahead here, today in San Antonio, I had the opportunity to speak to some of our brave men and women who are recovering from devastating injuries, and to talk with the wonderful people who are treating them at the Brook Army Medical Center, here in San Antonio, Texas. You'll have the opportunity to meet them as well.

President Bush strongly defended his tactics and strategy in the war in Iraq. Three of the country's top political analysts join us to assess the roar on the midterm elections. Stay ahead.

We have a great deal more coming to you tonight from San Antonio. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Tonight our panel of political experts, the best in the business, in my opinion, former Reagan White House political director and Republican strategist Ed Rollins, Democratic strategist Robert Zimmerman and Mark Halperin, who knows how to win, is the co-author of the book "The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008, the political director of "ABC News". And he's here tonight to help both parties, presumably, proceed to do so.

Gentlemen, early this morning at a press conference, the president said he's not satisfied with the conduct of the war. Does that mean we're truly through, Ed Rollins, with "stay the course" and disavowals of "cut and run"?

ED ROLLINS, FMR. WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIR.: "Stay the course" was the slogan in 1982, when we lost 28 seats. So I'm very pleased so see them dumping that slogan.

I think the disturbing thing to me about the press conference today is, I think realistically, as a Republican candidate or a Congressman incumbent, I would want not to be discussing the war for the next two weeks. And I think the president bringing it back up without any real debate or solution today just sort of forces members to get out there and have to debate it again.

So from my perspective, the less we discuss it, and the less we make it a referendum, the more successful some of these members may be getting back, talking about local issues. If it's an up or down on the war, we're going to lose it, and lose it badly.

DOBBS: Robert?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, I think it's also interesting in terms of the fact that -- this press conference demonstrated that to George Bush, the Iraq crisis is, in fact, a midterm election crisis, not a foreign policy crisis. And that's the fundamental failing of this foreign policy.

And I think ultimately, as you watch him now -- the president now adopt the rhetoric from the Democrats two years ago, when he talks about the fact that they should be benchmarks, which is a Democratic position, and you watch General Casey talk about 12 to 18 months as a time frame, well, that's very similar to John Kerry and John Murtha's position of talking about a 12 month process to remove ourselves from Iraq.

MARK HALPERIN, CO-AUTHOR, "THE WAY TO WIN": Lou, let me try to make a stab at saying what I think the White House was trying to do, having the president come out. When they said he was having a press conference, the assumption was he'd come out and talk about the economy and terrorism, the two issues he wants to fight this on. Instead he gives a long speech on Iraq.

Here's what they're thinking. Bill Clinton and George Bush don't agree on a lot, but they have the same view of presidential politics. They won four straight election, so to dismiss them out of hand I think is a mistake.

They believe you run towards your weakness. They know Iraq is going to be discussed, just like Bill Clinton knew gun control would be discussed when ran for election '96. Bush knew Iraq -- he knows Iraq is going to be on the agenda. He wants to go at it and try to convince people. Otherwise, it's going to be discussed by others. He's got confidence he can discuss it on his terms.

ROLLINS: Midterms are different though than presidential. And, obviously, both Clinton and President Bush were very successful in the presidential races and should not have anything taken away from them.

But midterms are different. And obviously, in 1994, President Clinton lost his majority, and I'm afraid this president's going to have a hard time holding his this time.

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I think both are facing the same problems. Clinton in '94 suffered from a severe lack of credibility, and certainly George Bush in 2006 is suffering from a severe lack of credibility. That's what makes his rhetoric about Iraq so destructive. There's no substance, no credibility to it. And ultimately, it's getting in the way of the local candidates getting their message out.

HALPERIN: And I said it was the White House explanation. I didn't say it was a good explanation. But that's the way they're defining why they're doing -- why they did...

ROLLINS: Listen, I've sat in that job. They have a very, very tough environment. And I don't -- I give Karl Rove a lot of credit, and obviously this president's done everything he can to help candidates. It's a very, very tough environment, and it's -- I've never seen worse numbers in the 40 years I've been around politics.

DOBBS: Yes. We're seeing, Ed, a lot of confusion about these poll numbers. Suddenly people are talking about, well, some of these races are tighter than they thought, that it isn't a shoe-in that Democrats are going to take the House and the Senate or and/or the Senate.

ROLLINS: Numbers always close, Lou, in the closing weeks of a campaign. First of all, you have television, you have mail, it's a whole variety of things. And I think if it was any mistakes the Democrats may have made is they started waving their victory flags too early.

And I think to a certain extent, it gave some Republican incumbents an opportunity to get back in the trenches and work very, very hard. And I think some of them may be able to salvage their campaigns.

ZIMMERMAN: Well, you know Ed, the one benefit of being a Democrats these past six years is that we're not exactly suffering from overconfidence. So I don't think that's going to be a particular crisis for us as we approach the midterms.

I think the real challenge for Democrats is to be able to show they have the field operation in place. And the encouraging aspect of these polls is showing that the Democratic voter consistently remains the more motivated voter.

HALPERIN: Lou, until we shut the border down and you make sure we're not being overrun by immigrants, save your anguish and energy for that. Don't worry about the polls. They are going to bounce around. We know which races are in play, and the polls from day-to- day are not going to be as big a deal as watching, as Bob said, the ground game.

DOBBS: You know, I'm less interested frankly in the polls than all the pundits and savants like yourselves who are casting very different cants on these same numbers.

Let me ask you, as you concern yourself with illegal immigration, it's another issue in which there's a huge disconnect between the people and their elected representatives. But there's no disconnect between the people and Republicans and Democrats who want issues (ph). Poll after poll shows the American people think both parties have no solutions for the issues that matter to them most.

What are we to make of that?

HALPERIN: That's absolutely right, Lou, and I want a little credit for pandering to you on immigration. But that's all right.

DOBBS: You get credit always.

HALPERIN: One of the surprises to me in this election is Democrats are poised to take the House, and potentially the Senate, without having come forward with their alternatives. I don't even know what the Democrats' plans are on things like Iraq, health care, jobs, education. You can look and get some idea.

But they are poised to win this without specifics. It's a credit to their strategist, who said, we've got to hold back, we don't need specifics to win.

ZIMMERMAN: Bottom line is, the only one out there with a plan for Iraq has been the Democrats. They've been out there articulating a program of redeployment, of federalization. So I think they deserve credit for that.

But let's be realistic. The Democratic strategy has been to focus on having their Congress there to provide oversight on the White House. That's been their major theme.

ROLLINS: I think the president...

DOBBS: Are you persuaded, Ed?

ROLLINS: No, I'm not persuaded.

The bottom line is, I think the president's signing of the immigration -- the security of the fence tomorrow will help some Republicans, and sort of give them something to talk about other than Iraq for the next couple weeks. I think that's important.

DOBBS: Ed Rollins, Robert Zimmerman, Mark Halperin. We thank you very much, gentlemen.

Coming up, the Dow Jones Industrial's at record highs, corporate profits soaring, working Americans the most productive they've ever been. Then why aren't they sharing in the rewards?

We'll have that special report, "War on the Middle Class," next.

Stay with us.


PILGRIM: The Federal Reserve announced today it is leaving interest rates unchanged for now. This is the third consecutive meeting that the Fed has held rates steady at 5.25 percent. The Feds said it remains concerned about inflation, but not concerned enough to raise rates immediately.

Well today's Fed decision helped propel the Dow Jones Industrial average to yet another record high. Wall Street is celebrating as the war on this nation's middle class intensifies. Politicians are now completely ignoring the concerns of middle class Americans on the campaign trail. Christine Romans reports.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president says the midterm elections are a referendum on two things.

BUSH: Which party has got the plan that will enable our economy to continue to grow and which party has a plan to protect the American people?

ROMANS: On the campaign trail, the message is Republicans will keep more money in American's pockets. But taking credit for the economy is proving tricky for Republicans. The housing market is cooling fast. Adjustable rate mortgage payments are rising for millions. Health care and education costs are skyrocketing, at the same time employers are slashing benefits. To help this economy too much and candidates risk seeming out of touch with the middle class.

And then there's a credibility issue.

AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: If you already believe this Republican Congress has let you down, if you already believe that the war in Iraq is not going well and you think that the president is not handling Iraq well, then you're going to be very suspect about any message coming from either one of those sources.

ROMANS: Gas prices are falling, the Dow is at a record high, corporate profits are superb, but...

JEFF FRANKEL, FORMER CLINTON ECONOMIC ADVISER: The growth has been at the very top. And if you look at real wages of the average worker or you look at median family income, forget about the poverty rate. Just look at the middle class. They're not doing any better.

ROMANS: A recent CNN poll found two thirds of voters think the Democrats can look out of the economic interests of Americans, 61 percent of voters polled through the Republicans could not.


ROMANS: Now the economy is growing, but trying to sell that on the campaign trail is tough when an anti-incumbent mood and unease in the middle class. if not outright financial pressure, are growing much more quickly, Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Christine Romans.

Here's a reminder to vote in tonight's poll. The question is, do you believe President Bush should pardon border patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean? Yes or no, cast your vote at We'll being you the results in just a few minutes.

And still ahead, we'll have the results of tonight's poll and a little bit more of your thoughts, so stay with us.


PILGRIM: Now the results of tonight's poll. An overwhelming 95 percent of you say President Bush should pardon the border patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. Now we'll look at some more of your thoughts.

Lisa in South Dakota writes: "As a computer programmer, I can only sit back and laugh at the electronic voting machines. Any computer programmer will tell you that this software has bugs. And to think some software groups said, "We can do this with 100 percent accuracy." This is the biggest laugh amongst computer geeks like me."

John in South Carolina: "Lou, this war on the middle class seems lopsided to me. I think it's more like a massacre."

And Charles in Missouri writes: "Hi, Lou. I find in unbelievable. Stay the course and now be flexible. No decision on immigration, and now let's build a wall, but no money for it. Too little, too late for this Congress. I hope people have had enough of being patronized."

We love hearing from you. Send us your thoughts at Each of you whose e-mail is read here will receive a copy of Lou's new book "War on the Middle Class." We'll be going back to Lou in San Antonio in just a few minutes with his town hall meeting "America Votes 2006: Broken Borders."

But first, earlier today, Lou had the opportunity to visit the construction site of the intrepid armed forces rehabilitation center in San Antonio. Now the $35 million state of the art facility will treat our brave military members who have suffered severe injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. The center was built with the help of many of you who so generously donated to the Fallen Heroes Fund. Now Lou also toured the Fisher House, a wonderful place where the soldiers families can stay while their loved ones are being treated at the Brook Army Medical Center. Finally, Lou had the honor to meet some of our brave men and women who are recovering from devastating injuries they received in the line of duty. Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio is a level one trauma center that helps our seriously injured troops, including many burn victims.


STAFF SGT. DANIEL BARNES, U.S. ARMY: I was in my battalion commander's vehicle.

DOBBS: How about everybody else in there?

BARNES: The driver didn't make it out alive and everybody else was wounded. But only two of us were critically wounded.

DOBBS: But you got to that army.

LT. JASON BARCLAY, U.S. ARMY: I was in an IED explosion in Afghanistan on the 19th. Just my driver and myself, we're the only ones that made it. Three others died in the vehicle. It was a pretty bad explosion. But I got pretty lucky, they said.

DOBBS: I would say, I would say.

BARCLAY: My digits and my arms and legs and my face are pretty lucky.

DOBBS: Is there any way to tell folks how tough it is?

CPL. AARON MANKIN, MARINE CORPS: How tough it is? It's unimaginable. Unless you've experienced something -- it's hard to relate, it's hard to understand. I can sit here and throw all the pretty words at you that I can define.

But you're not going to grasp it all. But coming here and seeing these faces and hearing the voices and hearing the stories helps. It helps. But as far as the burden and the pain and the struggle, it's something that only we know and we can share.


PILGRIM: Now we'll have more next week on our brave men and women with a special report and we do hope you'll join us for that.

Now that's the very latest from New York City. Now back to San Antonio, Texas for a LOU DOBBS TONIGHT special report, "America Votes 2006: Broken Borders."