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Lou Dobbs Tonight

White House Defends Conduct of Iraq War; Rumsfeld Faces Tough Questions on Iraq War; Candidates Try To Convince Voters They'll Be Tough On Illegal Immigration; James Sensenbrenner Interview; Electronic Voting Machines' Testing Unreliable

Aired October 26, 2006 - 18:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, insurgents have killed five more of our troops in Iraq. Now nearly 100 Americans have been killed this month.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today tells his critics to "back off."

We'll have live reports for you from the White House, the Pentagon, and Baghdad.

And President Bush signs legislation to build a 700-mile-long fence along our 2,000-mile border with Mexico. Is this legislation election year politics? Will Congress fund the fence? And wait until you hear what the government of Mexico is saying.

We'll have that special report, a great deal more.

And, oh, yes, we won't be backing off here.

All of that straight ahead.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Thursday, October 26th.

Live from Washington, D.C., Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.

Tonight we're in Washington, D.C., where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today acknowledged that the United States faces an enormous challenge in Iraq. In what was at times a heated news conference at the Pentagon, Secretary Rumsfeld declared that no one can predict the future of Iraq with absolute certainty and he said critics of U.S. policy should "back off."

Secretary Rumsfeld's comments came as insurgents killed five more of our troops in Iraq. The number of our troops killed so far this month has risen to 96. That is the largest number of Americans killed in any one month this year, one of the highest of the entire war.

Suzanne Malveaux tonight reports from the White House on the administration's efforts to downplay friction between the United States and the Iraqi government.

Barbara Starr reports from the Pentagon on Rumsfeld's struggle to defend U.S. strategy and the conduct of the Iraq war.

John Roberts reports tonight from Baghdad on our troops' hard- fought campaign to stop insurgent and terrorist attacks in the Iraqi capital.

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

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, both of these leaders of course have a lot at stake in appearing united, but they also face competing interests as well. President Bush needs to appear to be flexible and cooperative, while the Iraqi prime minister needs to appear strong and independent.

So was it a case of lost in translation or lost in politics? You decide.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): The Bush administration is slamming media reports that there is any disagreement between the president and Iraq's prime minister. It was a-full court press to set the record straight.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Not only was it lost in translation, but it was taken out of context.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We ought to just back off, take a look at it, relax, understand that it's complicated.

MALVEAUX: Indeed, it is. Two leaders, two languages, talking to two different audiences, but both invested from singing from the same song sheet.

It began Tuesday in Baghdad when American officials announced that the U.S. and Iraq reached an agreement on security and political benchmarks to quell the violence in Iraq.

ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMB. TO IRAQ: Iraqi leaders have agreed to a timeline for making the hard decision needed to resolve these issues.

MALVEAUX: But Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, gave his own news conference in Arabic. The U.S. media picked up on a comment he made which seemed to contradict the U.S. deal.

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

MALVEAUX: Hours later, President Bush was confronted with Maliki's statement.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's right. This is a sovereign government. MALVEAUX: But when papers hit the newsstands, with headlines suggesting a split between Mr. Bush and Mr. Maliki, the White House press machine revved into high gear, issuing talking points and sending out its spokesman to dispute the claim.

SNOW: Somebody took a question about whether the U.S. would withdraw and somehow twisted it into something entirely different.

MALVEAUX: Translations by the White House and by CNN show the position of the two leaders closer than initially reported. But Maliki also criticized the U.S. for raiding Baghdad's Sadr City, which he originally said occurred without his authority. He later pulled back from that accusation but said the raid was conducted in a heavy- handed way that could undermine his political deal with the influential militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

The White House acknowledged there were problems.

SNOW: Prime Minister Maliki described it as a miscommunication problem, and we're going to fix it.

MALVEAUX: But fixing the bad publicity is also a priority for an administration that needs to appear in lockstep with the Iraqi government. Iraq is the number one issue for American voters in the upcoming midterm elections, and President Bush needs to convince them that a victory for his party will bring victory in Iraq.


MALVEAUX: And Lou, Maliki made additional news today when he spoke to Reuters, saying that if he was in charge of his Iraqi forces instead of the international coalition, he'd been able to establish security in his country not in the 12 to 18-month time frame, as American officials predict, but in six months. And then he goes on to say that if there's anyone responsible for the poor security situation in Iraq, it is the coalition forces.

Well, White House Press secretary Tony Snow tried to downplay those comments today, saying, "We like a guy of action, one who wants to be in charge" -- Lou.

DOBBS: Suzanne, thank you very much.

Suzanne Malveaux from the White House.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today faced tough questions from reporters at the Pentagon when he tried to defend the administration's conduct of this war. Secretary Rumsfeld appeared visibly irritated when he was asked about reported differences between Washington and Baghdad over timelines and benchmarks.

Barbara Starr reports from the Pentagon.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Rumsfeld, the skeptic, made clear he isn't so sure Iraq has agreed to a timetable for political and security improvements.

RUMSFELD: Well, it's a political season. And everyone's trying to make a little mischief out of this.

STARR: The secretary was answering reporters' questions about a statement 48 hours earlier by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

KHALILZAD: Iraqi leaders must step up to achieve key political and security milestones on which they have agreed.

QUESTION: And have they agreed to establish this process by the end of the year, as I think Ambassador Khalilzad said?

RUMSFELD: I don't know. I don't know. No.

QUESTION: They haven't agreed?

RUMSFELD: Well, they're still in discussions. These things are -- no, it is not something that starts and ends.

STARR: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki already was downplaying the so-called agreement and Rumsfeld seemed to agree with Maliki.

RUMSFELD: One would have thought they might have announced that if they decided all of that.

STARR: He also rejected the notion of penalties if Iraq failed to meet deadlines.

RUMSFELD: You're looking for some sort of a guillotine to come flowing down if some date isn't met. That is not what this is about.

STARR: But one thing it now is about, increased involvement by U.S. troops and stopping raging sectarian violence. Rumsfeld seemed to struggle with trying to explain why American military forces should stop Shia and Sunni killings.

RUMSFELD: I'm not going to try to characterize and begin at one end of the spectrum and go to the other end of the spectrum and say, when is it or is it not appropriate for U.S. military personnel to be involved in the conflict?


STARR: So, Lou, what's really going on here? Well, a lot of experts and analysts say, look, Nouri al-Maliki's government is still extraordinarily fragile. It is, by all accounts, somewhat beholden to the militia groups that some -- to some extent put it in power.

So what the Bush administration knows, what Don Rumsfeld knows, is they don't want to press the al-Maliki government of it collapsing now. It's a very tough situation for them.

DOBBS: What did Secretary Rumsfeld mean when he said he wouldn't get into when it would be appropriate for U.S. forces to be deployed? STARR: You know, that -- that -- let's go back to what the question was. What the question was to him at that point was, look, if U.S. forces now are stepping up their raids on death squads and militias in conjunction with the Iraqis, but U.S. soldiers are getting involved in operations against death squads and militias, are U.S. soldiers then stepping into the civil unrest, into the fight between Shia and Sunni, and is that the military job for the United States? And you saw the answer he gave. He didn't really want to get into it -- Lou.

DOBBS: Well, it's -- it's great that he doesn't want to get into it. He also apparently doesn't want his critics to be very vocal. In fact, telling critics to relax and to "back off"? What in the world is he doing there?

STARR: Consider the audience he was talking to. It was those of us who make up the Pentagon press corps, and it is vintage Rumsfeld, I can tell you first hand.

One of the things that he likes to do in those press conferences is make sure that we feel our questions aren't really up to his academic par. Let's be clear, it doesn't really bother us in the press corps, we keep asking our questions. That's our job.

DOBBS: Vintage occasionally can turn to vinegar.

Thank you very much.

Barbara Starr from the Pentagon.

STARR: Sure.

DOBBS: Insurgents have killed four more of our Marines and a sailor in Al Anbar province west of Baghdad. Ninety-six of our troops have been killed in this month in Iraq, making it one of the highest monthly totals, in fact, of the entire war.

2,809 of our troops have been killed since the war began. The Untied States military today said our troops are taking "an aggressive approach" to defeat insurgents in Ramadi now, the capital of Al Anbar province. A top U.S. intelligence officer in the province recently said the United States has already lost the political battle in Al Anbar province.

The U.S. military today presented a much more optimistic assessment of the security situation in Baghdad than just a week ago. Major General William Caldwell said there's been a sharp decrease in violence since the end of Ramadan earlier this week. One week ago, General Caldwell said U.S. strategy to stop the violence in the capital had failed.

John Roberts, embedded with U.S. troops in the 172nd Stryker Brigade, reporting now from Baghdad -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Lou. Yes, it was a much more optimistic assessment by General William Caldwell today, but he also did admit that Baghdad is now the center of gravity in the battle against sectarian violence in Iraq.


ROBERTS (voice-over): As Baghdad goes, many military experts believe so goes much of Iraq. If the capital is lost to civil war, it could take the entire country with it.

Iraqi police, not yet up to the job, have been losing ground in this neighborhood. Privately, some American soldiers wonder if they'll ever be ready for prime time. But they are the centerpiece of a plan so critical to the future of this country that the American commander, General George Casey, makes a personal visit to the police chief to check in.

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES IN IRAQ: Who is the enemy in this part?

ROBERTS: The strategy is for the Americans to chase out the militias and restore order to the point the police and Iraqi army can one day take over.

CASEY: It takes time, though. I mean, don't expect something to happen overnight here. This is a long-term proposition.

ROBERTS: Hariya (ph) is but one neighborhood in this caldron of growing sectarian violence pitting Sunni against Shiite, even Shiite against Shiite.

(on camera): Gaining control of Baghdad security is an overwhelming task. It is so big, there are so many people, so many weapons and so many competing interests.

(voice-over): The task is complicated by Iraq's tangled web of politics. More and more Iraqis are embracing private militias as their only source of real security. And U.S. forces believe some militia leaders will kill people in their own religious group just to increase their power.

This deadly car bomb in Hariya looks like a typical insurgent attack, but the Americans who had been trying to put the local Shiite militia out of business smell a setup.

CAPT. EDWIN MATTHAIDESS, U.S. ARMY: As we come in to help with security and do some assessment with the Iraqi army, the militia leader and his sheik brother are right there. They're the first people that talk to me, and they tell me this is why they need a militia.

ROBERTS (on camera): So you think he was trying to make a point?

MATTHAIDESS: A little too convenient.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROBERTS: It might sound a bit like conspiracy theory, but so many factions are fighting so hard for a piece of the pie here in Iraq that U.S. forces are taking nothing for granted -- Lou.

DOBBS: And that is very, very wise of them, sound strategy and tactics.

Thank you very much, John.

John, if you would, John Roberts, please stay with us, if you will.

Joining us now is General David Grange.

General, I appreciate you being here.

Let's -- if we may, let's go to this new idea of benchmarks. And I want to go to something that Secretary Rumsfeld said, if we could listen to what he said today. And I'm going to ask you to see what you make of it.


RUMSFELD: The military is continuing to adapt and to adjust as required. Yes, there are difficulties and problems, to be sure. But the goal of a secure Iraq with a representative government that's at peace with its neighbors is the challenge. It will require more work. It will mean giving our troops and the Iraqi people the time to get the job done.


DOBBS: General Grange, what do you make of it?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think that the secretary is correct that forces have to adapt and adjust to the battlefield. I mean, that's what warfare is about. But I think what's critical here is -- is changing the mindset and the strategy.

And this is not an easy task to take on, but to get the enemy to adapt and adjust, not us. We want them to dance to our tune and not us to theirs. And that's the hardest part in warfare, and that's what needs to happen.

DOBBS: John Roberts, is there that sense there that that's what's occurring on the line?

ROBERTS: Not yet, Lou. The insurgents, the militias, the terrorists are not yet dancing to the tune that the American military is broadcasting out there.

In certain neighborhoods it's working. I was down in the Hariya neighborhood, which is where that report took place. It has been a growing hotbed of Shiite-on-Sunni and Sunni-on-Shiite violence. The Stryker Brigade has only been in there for a week now and they've been pretty effective. This young captain that I was out with, Edwin Matthaidess, wants to be the tough new sheriff on the block, and he's doing a pretty good job of it, too.

He's letting people know that he's the one that's going to provide security there and they can't be running around the neighborhood with guns. But while the Hariya neighborhood has shown some improvement, Lou, there just aren't enough boots on the ground to cover all of Baghdad. So many neighborhoods here are just descending into chaos.

DOBBS: General Grange, you just heard John Roberts' report, his comments there. Is it your judgment we're going to see a -- from anything that Donald Rumsfeld, President Bush has said here, any change in strategy that we're likely to see, more boots on the ground?

GRANGE: I think you're going to see -- see a lot of change. I think it's such a critical time right now.

Forget the political aspects. I know that influences it, but, I mean, for combat, such a critical time that I think you will see some changes. And the thing is, you've got these great young captains that John talked about, and they'll make a difference, because whoever provides the security gets the trust, confidence and loyalty of the community that they operate in.

But once they leave, if you don't have a viable Iraqi government force to move in, then the same thing starts again, the same cycle. You know.

DOBBS: I want to ask you both one quick question.

First to you, John Roberts.

Is there any -- is there support there? Is there any kind of judgment on the part of those line officers that they should be disarming Muqtada or any other militia?

ROBERTS: You know, Lou, going head to head with the militias is difficult, but in the local neighborhoods they're certainly saying that they want to get the weapons off of the streets. I've seen them taken from mosques.

But, you know, just the other day, they had this operation against that -- that Shiite-run television station where they captured a bunch of weapons that they did not have permits for. The Iraqi government forced them to give those weapons back.

DOBBS: General Grange, your reaction.

GRANGE: My reaction is it would take -- it would cause a fight. There's no doubt about it. But unless you want a situation like the Hezbollah and Lebanon, which is the Iranian strategy right now in Iraq, you have to take them on some time by negotiation and combat. And so it's going to happen. DOBBS: Is that time now, in your judgment, General Grange?

GRANGE: It's better now than later. They're going to get stronger. Better now than later.

DOBBS: General David Grange, as always, thank you.

John Roberts, as always, excellent work tonight in Baghdad.

Thank you.

Still ahead, President Bush signs the border fence legislation. Mexico is howling in protest. New questions arising on whether that fence will be built.

And the makers of e-voting machines say their machines are secure. But wait until you see tonight how those machines are tested.

Stay with us for all of that, a great deal more, straight ahead.


DOBBS: President Bush today signed the Secure Fence Act to build a 700-mile fence along our border with Mexico, but critics say the law lacks support and funding. The fence, they say, might not be built.

In some border areas, however, fences are already up and they're working.

Today's legislation, a public affair in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, with a great deal of fanfare in this election season. But what is the celebration about?

Lisa Sylvester reports.

The new law doesn't provide funding and homeland security may have other uses for the money that is available.

At the Mexican border tonight just south of San Diego, California, there already is a fence. It runs around a 14-mile section of the border east from the Pacific Ocean.

Casey Wian tonight reports this small fence has had great success in slowing the flow of illegal aliens across our border.

But first, Lisa Sylvester is here with me in Washington, D.C. -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, Republican lawmakers insisted on a public signing ceremony with the election less than two weeks away. The congressional members want to send a message to voters that the federal government is serious about tightening U.S. borders, but not everyone is as certain.


BUSH: I'm pleased that you all are here.

SYLVESTER: If it was a showdown between House Republicans and President Bush, congressional lawmakers won this round. The president signed the Secure Fences Act that authorizes 700 miles of border fence beginning in California, sealing off Arizona, and stretching through parts of New Mexico and Texas. The White House wanted more, so-called comprehensive legislation that would have also legalized millions of illegal aliens and set up a guest worker program.

Still, the president refused to back away.

BUSH: We must reduce pressure on our border by creating a temporary worker plan. Willing workers ought to be matched with willing employers to do jobs Americans are not doing.

SYLVESTER: Mexico lobbied hard to defeat the fence bill, this week taking the issue to the Organization of American States, asking the White House to veto the legislation. Republican lawmakers say Mexico does not have a say in this fight.

REP. JIM HENSARLING (R), TEXAS: Every single evening in America there's over 1,000 people who try to cross illegally, and many succeed. And we don't know who they are, where they're going, and what their purpose is.

This is a matter of border security. I'm sorry if Mexico gets offended, but we have to secure the American homeland for Americans.

SYLVESTER: It's a victory for immigration reform advocates, but they're not ready to celebrate just yet. They want to make sure the fence, as promised, is delivered. They have their doubts.

MICHAEL CUTLER, FORMER INS AGENT: Now the question is, will they deliver it or will they simply deliver an illusion of providing what the people want? Unfortunately, for this administration it seems as though we get a lot of sizzle and very little steak.

SYLVESTER: Right now there's $950 million earmarked that will build at best half of the fence.


SYLVESTER: The Department of Homeland Security is scheduled to issue a report to Congress in early December that spells out how that money will be used. Then congressional appropriators will have to sign off on that proposal.

So, still, a few more steps before an inch of that fence is built -- Lou.

DOBBS: It's remarkable how long it has taken to get to even this point. But we've got -- as critical as we are in this broadcast of an administration that has refused to provide border security and to do anything on illegal immigration, this, one can reasonably hope, was an important first step and not gamesmanship. SYLVESTER: Well, that's what everyone keeps saying, it's an important first step. And they want to keep reminding that you have to have the funding, you have to have the will, you have to follow through and build this fence, and then you've got to go and do the other things, employer enforcement and all the other things that have been promised to the American people.

DOBBS: First security the borders and our ports.


DOBBS: Thank you very much, Lisa Sylvester.

Mexico today blasted the United States for its decision to build that fence along the border. Mexico's president-elect, in fact, Felipe Calderon, compared it to the building of the Berlin Wall. If you have a sense of where this relationship with the government of Mexico is headed, Calderon also added, "Today the United States is committing a grave error in building the wall on our border."

And 27 members of the Organization of American States adopted a Mexican declaration condemning the move.

And along the California border with Mexico there is a 14-mile portion of fence that perhaps explains why the government of Mexico is so opposed. It is working. It's making it far more difficult for illegal aliens to cross into this country.

Casey Wian reports now live from San Diego -- Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, that 14-mile double stretch of fencing you can see behind me stretching all the way to the Pacific Ocean is perhaps the best argument that supporters of the fence idea have for expanding fencing along the southern border.

Ten years ago, before this fence was built, it probably wouldn't have been safe for us to be standing here. This area was in the absolute control of drug and illegal alien smugglers. Robberies, rapes, murders even happened here on a regular basis.

But now, because of this double fencing, the Border Patrol is in firm control of this region. Some of the statistics are absolutely astounding.

Ninety percent of the illegal aliens who attempt to cross along this 14-mile stretch of border are caught. Now, if you compare that to the estimated 30 percent of illegal aliens who are caught, or even lower than that in other areas of the border, it's clear that this is working. The Border Patrol's apprehension rate, which is its best official measurement of how many illegal aliens are trying to cross the border, the number of Border Patrol apprehensions has dropped 95 percent since the mid '90s, when the fence project was started.

Now, one of the co-sponsors of the legislation, Brian Bilbray, a congressman from San Diego, he's one of the co-sponsors of the legislation the president signed today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BRIAN BILBRAY (R), CALIFORNIA: You stop the ability for criminals to just cross the border at will. They have an obstruction that has really slowed them down. The American people will see that a well-defined fence on our border is a way of telling people, come here legally, don't come here illegally.


WIAN: Lou, one other -- one other fact. It hasn't just impacted the border region here. Entire San Diego County, the crime rate is down 56 percent since this fence was built -- Lou.

DOBBS: Those are impressive results. The idea that this fence will not be built, the Fence Act, which the president signed today, Congressman Duncan Hunter there in southern California, also, he swears it will be done, that he has absolute assurances and safeguards within the legislation to build out this fence.

Should we be reassured?

WIAN: Well, Congressman Hunter pushed for this fence to be built. It took him over 10 years to get it done. There's a small portion of it that still isn't finished, and he's gotten that done. So if he says he's going to stick to it, I think we ought to believe him -- Lou.

DOBBS: And Casey, one of the reasons -- I think it's fascinating that the government of Mexico is literally howling about the approval to go ahead with this fence, which suggests to those -- those of us who have been reporting on this issue that there must be a reason for that. And the fact that the government of Mexico itself has not built a fence to stop its people from crossing over into this country, but rather encouraging them, the fact that Mexico's the recipient of more than $25 billion in remittances, and at least that much, perhaps as high as $45 billion in drug money, this -- this looks like a straightforward commercial interest on the part of the government of Mexico, doesn't it?

WIAN: Well, it sure does. And one of the things that Congressman Bilbray said to us earlier today was, under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo from back in the 1800s, when the U.S. acquired this land from Mexico, both countries were given the absolute right to fortify their border. He says the United States didn't complain when Mexico sent troops 10 years ago to the -- to the northern border, and Mexico should not complain when the United States tries to fortify its southern border -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much.

Casey Wian reporting from San Diego.

That brings us to the subject of our poll tonight. Which political party do you believe will secure our borders and end the illegal immigration crisis? Which party, the Democrats or the Republicans?

Cast your vote at We'll have the results for you later here in the broadcast.

Still ahead, Congressman James Sensenbrenner, he's the powerful chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the author of the tough House border security legislation. He's our guest here. He'll tell us whether he believes that 700-mile fence along our southern border will ever be built, whether this administration is now serious about border and port security.

Explosive conflict of interest charges being leveled tonight against the nation's electronic voting machine firms. It's another example of how e-voting is putting this democracy at risk.

That special report coming up.

And the death toll is rising in a California wildfire sparked by arsonists. The latest tonight from southern California.

A great deal more still ahead. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Our illegal immigration and border security crisis is a major issue in these upcoming elections. Many Democratic and Republican candidates in races all over the country are trying now to convince voters they'll be tough on illegal immigration. Bill Schneider reports.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Back in June, Republican Brian Bilbray won a hotly contested election for a House seat in California by demanding tougher border security. Republicans finally had an issue. Voters' biggest complaint? The burden on taxpayers. Candidates know it.

GABRIELLE GIFFORDS (D-AZ), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: There is a big concern right now that health care is not being delivered properly, that education is not being delivered properly, and that illegal immigrants are the benefactors of taxpayers' dollars.

SCHNEIDER: Wait a minute, she's a Democrat. By stressing her commitment to border security in this Arizona border district, she's undercutting the appeal of her Republican opponent, who's running virtually a one-issue campaign on border security.

Look at the Tennessee Senate race. The Democrat takes a hard line on border security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Harold Ford Jr. will get control of our borders, get tough on illegals, and employers who break the law.

SCHNEIDER: The Republican calls him a phony. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Votes against border security and against putting troops on the border. Then says he wants to fight illegal immigration? What kind of man is Harold Ford?

SCHNEIDER: In Colorado, a Republican House candidate is running as the tough guy on illegal immigration.


SCHNEIDER: No, they're not, says the Democrat.

ED PERLMUTTER (D-CO), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I don't think we differ by much.

SCHNEIDER: He points to tough action by Colorado's Democratic legislature.

PERLMUTTER: We made it tougher for employers to continue to hire illegal aliens. We limited benefits to the bare bones for people who are here illegally.

SCHNEIDER: And what has the federal government done?

LYNN BARTELS, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS: It's perceived that a Republican president and a Republican Congress haven't done anything about immigration.


SCHNEIDER: Well, the bottom line, we asked people which party would do a better job handling illegal immigration -- the same question you're asking your viewers. And our results show, neither party has any clear advantage on this issue.

DOBBS: But it is instructive that people running for office at least -- while in office, they're ignoring the will of the people on this issue because poll after poll shows people want border security, they want port security, they want illegal immigration curtailed -- it's fascinating to see that Eighth District race in Arizona, where the Democratic candidate, who says she absolutely in support of comprehensive immigration reform -- is now talking about border security. It's quite an impressive turnaround, and it shows the importance of this issue in this election.

SCHNEIDER: And we're finding all over the country that Democrats are taking a very hard line on the issue of border security, if they feel at all defensive on this issue, and they do in many places.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Bill Schneider.

We're here tonight in Washington, where earlier today the president signed the Secure Fence Act. The new law authorizes the building of a 700-mile fence. And GOP leaders among those who attended the signing in the Roosevelt Room at the White House today. One lawmaker who was not there is the congressman who's been leading the nation's fight for tighter border security. He's joining us tonight from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Congressman James Sensenbrenner. He's the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Mr. Chairman, good to have you with us.

REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R), WISCONSIN: Well, thank you, Lou, and we have a victory lap to take today.

DOBBS: A victory lap. A lot of people said you couldn't get even this far, particularly about a year ago. You were being vilified all over the nation because you wanted to secure our borders. Have you noticed, you don't hear that anymore?

SENSENBRENNER: No, and that's because the vast majority of the American public want border security, and they want it now. And not only is the fence authorized, but the first year's funding was approved by the president earlier this month, to the tune of $1.1 billion. And we've also funded 1,500 more Border Patrol officers and 6,700 more detention beds. The Congress got it, the president got it, and we're well on the way to securing the border. There's more to do, and we've got to do that next year.

DOBBS: Congressman, I would like to ask you, the president today actually acknowledged the responsibility of the federal government to secure our borders. The president of the United States today acknowledged the importance of enforcing immigration laws. Are we witnessing a conversion here?

SENSENBRENNER: Well, I think that the president is on the road to Damascus. I can't say that he's gotten all the way there. But you know, let me say that when I started out talking about border security and the fence and enforcing the employer sanctions law, there weren't very many people who were for me.

Now, I think even Democrats who pooh-poohed this all the time are joining people on the road to Damascus, and the real important thing is, is to make sure that when the votes are counted and everybody's been elected or reelected is that people don't go back to their bad old ways.

DOBBS: Let's listen to something else that President Bush said today, if you will.


BUSH: It is against the law to hire someone who is here illegally. We fully understand that most businesses want to obey that law, but they cannot verify the legal status of their employees because of widespread document fraud. So we're creating a better system for verifying documents and work eligibility, and in the meantime holding people to account for breaking the law.


DOBBS: Holding people to account for breaking the law. Congressman, Sensenbrenner, we're not holding people to account, are we?

SENSENBRENNER: No, we're not. That means fining them. That means having raids. And it means getting the Senate to pass that part of the House-passed bill that has a secure verification of the accuracy of Social Security numbers.

Illegal immigrants can't get Social Security numbers, so they either make them up or they get them through identity theft. And by allowing the Social Security Administration to verify a Social Security number, like a merchant verifies your Mastercard or mine when we want to charge something on it, is the next step. And that will flush out a lot of the false documents that illegal immigrants present, and it will give the honest employer a safe harbor when they use that system and get a verification from Social Security.

DOBBS: We have a lot more to discover on this path toward border security and a rational immigration policy and the enforcement of our laws. James Sensenbrenner, everyone owes you a debt of gratitude for your leadership on the issue. We can say safely a modest beginning, but perhaps a positive, constructive beginning that will lead to some success. We thank you, Congressman James Sensenbrenner.

Coming up next, our panel of political experts join us to weigh in on the border fence, illegal immigration. We'll be talking about the impact of that issue and others on this upcoming election. Is it really about the war in Iraq?

Also, will your vote even count? We'll have a special report for you, "Democracy at Risk".

And California wildfires have turned deadly as winds, they are spreading flames unexpectedly. That story, all the details, coming up here next.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: Four firefighters have died, another has been critically injured today in a wildfire in southern California. Those firefighters, trying to protect a home near Cabazon, 90 miles east of Los Angeles when flames engulfed their fire engine.

The out of control fire has burned more than 4,000 acres, forcing hundreds of people to evacuate. Several homes and other structures have been destroyed. Officials say the fires was started. Fire investigators are saying it is pure and simple arson. And the deaths will be investigated as homicides.

Turning now to our special series, "Democracy at Risk", it's a case of special interest over the national interest. The laboratories testing and certifying e-voting machines are paid, paid by the manufacturers of e-voting machines. It's an outrageous conflict of interest that is putting our democracy, tonight, at risk.

Kitty Pilgrim reports. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With only 12 days before the November election, the Election Assistance Commission was begging manufacturers and testers of electronic voting machines to reassure them the election would work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is my vote going to count? Your comment, please?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you go to the polls, yes.


PILGRIM: But at this hearing in Washington, a clear demonstration of just how cozy manufacturers are with the labs who test their machines. Executives sat elbow to elbow on the same panel and testified together.

Electronic voting machines have proven reliability and security flaws. But the labs who test and certify those machines are actually hired and paid by the manufacturers themselves.

WARREN STEWART, VOTETRUSTUSA: The manufacturers contract directly with the laboratories and pay for the testing that is done. So the manufacturers essentially are the clients of the testing labs.

PILGRIM: Sure enough, testing labs at today's hearing refer to the manufacturers as their clients.

FRANK PADILLA, WYLE LABORATORIES: Independent test labs normally do not release test report data to any other source but the client and who the client directs us to release them to.

PILGRIM: Shouldn't the testing labs be more independent of the manufacturers? The government panel ducked the question.

BRIAN HANCOCK, ELECTION ASSISTANCE COMM.: If there are other ways of trying to do that, we would be more than happy to hear from anyone out there that would like to talk to us. Virtually every other governmental program does it that way.


PILGRIM (on camera): Manufacturers say their electronic voting machines are proprietary and the labs can't release the information publicly. But voters are demanding to know why the entire process is so secret, why the manufacturers and the testing labs are defending their relationship and most importantly, why voting machines are failing in elections all across this country -- Lou.

DOBBS: These manufacturers -- the entire government must think that the American people are the biggest fools on this planet. This is absolutely -- there's no other word for it. It is scurrilous, disgusting. It is ridiculous. Why in the world is anyone tolerating this relationship and this entire process?

PILGRIM: Well, many of the voters activists we've been talking to are delighted that some of this is coming to light, because the relationship has been so secret and so quiet that the public has not been aware.

DOBBS: Well, Kitty Pilgrim, thanks for making them so.

Kitty Pilgrim, reporting tonight from New York.

Thank you, Kitty.

Coming up next here, the election is nearing. The stakes are high and we'll have three of the best minds in politics here to tell us what's happening, what's likely to happen.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: Joining us here in Washington tonight, Democratic strategist Robert Zimmerman; Pulitzer Prize-winning "Chicago Tribune" columnist Clarence Page; former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, author of the best-selling new book on this nation's border crisis, "State of Emergency."

Pat Buchanan, good to have you with us.


DOBBS: The president signs the fence bill. All is well.

BUCHANAN: It's a good sign. I heard the Congressman speak that he had started out on the road to Damascus, the president has. The lightning hadn't hit him yet. You could see a real reluctance in what he was saying, but, look, he signed it and, quite frankly, border security is a winning issue all over America. Bob and I are talking about the Democrats are using the issue themselves against Republicans. Everybody's for it.

DOBBS: Clarence, the idea that there should be even a debate in this country over securing our borders, billions of dollars in drug money flowing over the border with Mexico, millions of illegal aliens and we are, after all, in a global war on terror -- why is there an ideological, partisan split on the issue of border security and illegal immigration?

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, I think that's right in terms of that split has narrowed tremendously, especially in states like Arizona, which you focused on, because there's never been a sense of urgency about the borders that we have now that's just really risen in the last couple of years and caught a number of politicians by surprise, including President Bush.

And I think he still wants to push the guest worker program. But that's stalled on Capitol Hill right now. And who knows what's going to happen to it.

DOBBS: Robert Zimmerman, the Democrats in the Senate sided with this president -- they didn't go with him on Social Security and private accounts, but they leaped to comprehensive immigration reform. Are Democrats out of the amnesty business or are they into real border security before any discussion of any immigration reform?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: So much so that Democrats have voted to increase funding for our borders and ports 10 times and Republicans outvoted them and voted them down. But I don't want to rain on Pat's parade here. I don't want to be cynical like some journalists in town ...


DOBBS: Wait a second, you can't possibly attack my craft, Clarence's craft.

ZIMMERMAN: Political people are so idealistic, as you know.

DOBBS: We're going to gang up on you.

ZIMMERMAN: You know something? This bill-signing ceremony is a perfect symbolism of the Bush administration's record on border and port security, because the president signed into law a bill that doesn't have the funding to put it into place.

DOBBS: Well, Congressman Sensenbrenner says $1.1 billion. Congressman Duncan Hunter says this is going to get done. He gives us absolutely assurances. Why are you so negative, Robert?

ZIMMERMAN: Because Bill Tucker's expose on your program which pointed out that for this fence to be built, first you've got to have the local governments and state governments' approval, and native American tribes -- clearly, this is a political strategy.

BUCHANAN: He's got a point. He's got a point. There's a tremendous amount of ...


DOBBS: Of course, he's got a point. He's relying on the reporting of this broadcast.

BUCHANAN: You're right out there in front, Lou. Look, there's no doubt though. This is a -- if they don't start building that fence by spring or summer or something like that, and if it is a bit of a fraud, I think there will be a firestorm that will tear the Republican Party apart, because the House Republicans have been completely converted to this issue. Look, when Hillary Rodham Clinton is voting for 700 miles of border fence, Lou, we're winning the battle.

DOBBS: The national dialogue is changing.

PAGE: There's still a lot of miles to go though, realistically. Do you know what kind of length we're talking about here? You know, the distance from Washington to Chicago? This is a long fence we're talking about.

BUCHANAN: It's 2,100 miles, yes.

PAGE: Twenty-one hundred miles. We're talking a long border ...

DOBBS: You're starting to sound like President Bush. You sound like ...

PAGE: Well, realistically, you know ...

DOBBS: This is hard work.

PAGE: ...will the public -- well, it's a lot of money. Will the public really pay for it?

DOBBS: Well, a lot of money.

PAGE: I'm waiting to see that.

BUCHANAN: Two weeks of what we spend fighting in Iraq will build the entire fence.

DOBBS: Well, I think if you want to talk about pulling out of Iraq to pay for the fence, a lot of people would support you. I'm waiting to see if that's going to happen.

ZIMMERMAN: You know, if this Republican Congress was serious about border and port security, the leadership would have -- before the floor of the House and Senate, 9/11 Commission recommendations ...

DOBBS: I want to turn to Harold Ford running in Tennessee against Corker. That is one nasty race. Give us your sense of who's going to win there?

BUCHANAN: I think Corker is going to win. Harold Ford is down by a couple of points, and let's face it, when the -- there's sort of a hidden vote there. A lot of people will tell pollsters that they're going to vote for Harold that aren't going to vote for him.

And I think this ad has stopped Harold Ford's momentum. There's a backlash against the ad, obviously. But I think it stopped momentum, the ad. And I think Ford made a bad judgment when he interfered with the Corker rally.

PAGE: That was probably more damaging, that episode -- interfering with Corker's news conference.

DOBBS: You wonder what possessed him to do that.

PAGE: I'm a cynic again. Believe it or not, a cynical journalist in Washington. Unless you've got -- when you've got a black candidate running statewide, you'd better have a cushion of about five percent of that vote statewide. Doug Wilder found that out and many others. Carol Moseley-Braun was a notable exception. She fooled everybody by getting more votes than expected, but she was an exception. DOBBS: Then she fooled them again.

PAGE: She fooled them again, right. I think this is going to be down to the wire in Tennessee. The polls we're seeing are right there on the edge.

ZIMMERMAN: You know what's interesting about Harold Ford? He always came into these races behind when he first got started. I would not underestimate his field operation. I think he can pull it out.

BUCHANAN: He's run a good campaign. He really has.

ZIMMERMAN: He's run a perfect campaign.

PAGE: He has. He has.

DOBBS: Menendez and Kean, in New Jersey, one of the races the Democrats have to hold, irrespective ...

BUCHANAN: There's a very rough ad out on Menendez now, very tough -- I'll go with Kean winning that.

DOBBS: You will? All right.

PAGE: I don't know if I'd go that far, but Kean is very popular though, no question about it. But this is a good government for Democrats.

BUCHANAN: He's down. Kean's down, but I've got a hunch he might take it.

ZIMMERMAN: New Jersey has a great history of flirting with Republicans, and when it comes to Election Day, lining up with Democrats. Bush has a 30 percent approval rating.

DOBBS: Just a 30-year -- you don't want to leap to any conclusions here. The idea that we're going into this election with concerns about e-voting machines that we've been reporting on this broadcast for some time, as you know, all of the mix here on these polls on what seemed like a certainty two weeks ago now seems like a possibility, what do you expect on Election Day?

BUCHANAN: I think it's down basically to Tennessee and Virginia. If Republicans get both of those, I think they hold the Senate. I don't see how the Republicans can hold the House. There's too many things out there rolling against them. Every single major ...

PAGE: Are you conceding Missouri? Do you think the Democrats are going to carry that. Yes, I agree.

BUCHANAN: I say two out of three.


DOBBS: Robert Zimmerman gets the last word on Missouri. ZIMMERMAN: Missouri, I think we're going to carry. Tennessee and Virginia are the swing, tossup states.

DOBBS: Gentlemen, we thank you very much. Clarence Page, Robert Zimmerman, Pat Buchanan.

BUCHANAN: Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: Thanks for being here. Congratulations on your best- seller.

BUCHANAN: Congratulations on yours, Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you.

BUCHANAN: A little higher than mine.

Coming up here in just a few minutes, it's THE SITUATION ROOM with my friend, Wolf Blitzer. And tune into CNN tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern for a very special hour, CNN presents another in our series of special reports on our broken government. CNN chief national correspondent, John King, tonight anchors America votes 2006, "POWER PLAY." Tonight 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Right here on CNN. American votes 2006. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Seventy-three percent of you say the Democrats would secure our borders and thanks for being with us tonight.

Good night from Washington D.C. Wolf Blitzer with THE SITUATION ROOM -- Wolf.