Return to Transcripts main page

Lou Dobbs Tonight

David Beckham's Special Pass; Once Mighty Dollar Plunging

Aired July 13, 2007 - 18:00   ET


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: Our once mighty dollar is plunging in value against other currencies. We will tell you what the greenback's fall in value means for working men and women in this country.
Also, a new warning that tens of millions more jobs could be exported to cheap overseas labor markets. We will have a special report, "War on the Middle Class."

And soccer superstar David Beckham launches his U.S. career in a blaze of publicity. And we will have an angle on this story that you will see nowhere else -- all that and much more straight ahead tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate, and opinion for Friday, July 13.

Live from New York, sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Kitty Pilgrim.

PILGRIM: Good evening, everybody.

We begin tonight with a new challenge to President Bush's conduct of the war in Iraq. Two leading Republican senators, Senator John Warner and Senator Richard Lugar, called on the president to offer a plan for troop withdrawals, but the senators stopped short of calling for an immediate change of course.

Now, the White House said it would review the senators' proposals, but insisted the surge strategy needs more time to succeed.

Dana Bash reports from Capitol Hill -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kitty, John Warner and Richard Lugar carry a lot of weight around here. In their new legislation, they don't specifically call for a timeline for troops withdrawal from Iraq.

Instead, they say it's time for the president to come up with a plan.


BASH (voice-over): Two of the Senate's most influential GOP senators unveiled legislation demanding the president give Congress a new war plan by this fall to start redeploying troops from Iraq.

The bill would require the president to deliver the plan by October 16, and be ready to implement by the end of the year. However, the measure by senators John Warner and Richard Lugar would not mandate the president actually put this plan in place.

In the face of GOP rebellion, the White House has been intensely lobbying lawmakers for patience to give the surge more time.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This September, as Congress has required, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will return to Washington to provide a more comprehensive assessment.

BASH: Lugar said he and Warner are -- quote -- "attempting to ensure that U.S. military and diplomatic policy is prepared for change when General Petraeus' report arrives in September."

It is a direct challenge to the president's war strategy from two prominent fellow Republicans who have been increasingly outspoken about the need for change, but by waiting until this fall to require plans for a new Iraq policy, Lugar is giving up on his high-profile urgent plea just last month.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: A course change should happen now while there is still some possibility of constructing a sustainable bipartisan strategy in Iraq.

BASH: The Republicans' legislation also calls on the president to seek a new authorization for the war, because the 2002 authorization, which talks of weapons of mass destruction and toppling Saddam Hussein, is obsolete.


BASH: Now, it is important to emphasize that this legislation does challenge the president to come up with a new war plan, but not until the fall. So, at the end of a week where the White House was trying very hard to head off a GOP revolt, the president did seem to get one thing he was looking for. Most Republicans say they're at least willing to give him that one thing, and that is, Kitty, just a little bit more time.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Dana Bash.

Now, the White House today accused the Congress of political posturing on the issue of Iraq. The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, said lawmakers are passing a lot of resolutions, but those resolutions are going nowhere.

Elaine Quijano reports from the White House -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kitty, on this Warner-Lugar resolution, the White House isn't saying a lot right now -- spokesman Tony Fratto saying that the White House certainly respects Senators Warner and Lugar and will carefully consider the language that they have proposed.

But Fratto also reiterated what the president said yesterday during his news conference, and that is the administration believes lawmakers need to give the surge strategy a chance to succeed. Fratto also stressed that officials want to hear what the General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker have to say when they deliver their reports come September.

In the meantime, in the Roosevelt Room earlier today, President Bush tried to stress the positive during a videoconference meeting he had with top military and reconstruction officials in Iraq, the president looking at political progress not at the top levels in Baghdad, but at the local level, this, of course, coming on the heels of that interim Iraq report that showed the Iraqi government still has not met key political goals.

Well, today, the president did not mention Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. Instead, he focused on what he calls bottom-up progress, including in Al Anbar Province.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have briefed us on the grassroots effort to improve services, to improve the economy, to encourage local government, all aiming at enhancing this concept of reconciliation from the bottom up.


BASH: Now, the president also once more tried to argue that Iraq is vital to U.S. national security, but at the same time clearly, Kitty, this is a White House that understands Republican patience on this issue is wearing thing -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Elaine Quijano, from the White House.

Well, a top U.S. commander today predicted our troops could begin withdrawing from northern Iraq in January. Major General Benjamin Mixon said the number of our troops in the region could be cut significantly over the next two years.


GENERAL BENJAMIN MIXON, U.S. REGION COMMANDER IN IRAQ: I currently have five or six brigades, depending on how you count the numbers, of battalions, that given the enemy situation and as you move forward, after about an 18-month period of time, you could probably reduce that by about half.


PILGRIM: General Mixon said the full effects of the surge are now being felt in northern Iraq, and he said there's definitive progress, as he put it.

Well, new evidence today that Iran's meddling in Iraq. U.S. troops today smashed an Iranian-backed cell inside the Iraqi police. Now, that cell indicates Iran may be more influential in Iraq than previously thought.

Barbara Starr has our report.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. troops on a pre-dawn raid in Baghdad captured an Iraqi police lieutenant suspected of being an Iranian agent, raising questions about whether elements of the police have not been infiltrated by Tehran.

GENERAL PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: And we're waiting to hear from the folks who are going to investigate this on the ground. I would not want to presume anything, and especially when it comes to that kind of detail.

STARR: But a U.S. military statement said the Iraqi police officer is believed to have close ties to the Iranian Revolution Guard Corps, a group the U.S. says is involved in dozens of attacks against American troops in Iraq.

After the man was captured, a ferocious firefight broke out. U.S. troops came under fire from a nearby Iraqi police checkpoint.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think we have been pretty straightforward in saying all along that the Iraqi police were a challenge.

STARR: It's just the latest example of potential growing Iranian influence in Iraq. A U.S. military drone spotted these rockets ready for launch outside Baghdad. Commanders believe Iranian rockets and mortars are being widely used in the growing number of attacks on Baghdad's highly secure Green Zone and other areas.

Intelligence sources tell CNN, insurgents frequently fire these weapons from populated areas, making it tough for the U.S. to launch counterattacks.

PACE: They hope that there'll be counterbattery fire that will be indiscriminate, that will cause damage from where the mortars are being fired. And we're not going to do that.


STARR: Kitty, Secretary Gates believes all of this is part of an intense campaign by al Qaeda, Iran and other insurgent groups to cause as much mayhem as possible to weaken both the Iraqi government and weaken American resolve about the war -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Barbara, we have seen a series of indications over recent days that there is Iranian influence in Iraq. Is there the perception with the military that it's growing?

STARR: Well, I think there is. They continue to see a trend line where there's more and more involvement by Iran inside Iraq. It simply is not decreasing.

What they are going to do about it remains problematic. There is no policy, there is no guidance for U.S. troops to cross the border into Iran. So far, commanders are limiting their actions to going after these Iranian networks when and where they find them inside of Iraq -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Barbara Starr.

Well, the Senate today voted to double the bounty on Osama bin Laden to $50 million. The Senate resolution on bin Laden also requires the U.S. government to step up its efforts to capture the al Qaeda leader. The increase in the value must be approved by the House and also President Bush to take effect.

Still to come: Senator John McCain's presidential campaign seems to be on the verge of collapse. Can Senator McCain recover? We will have the story.

Also, soccer's first couple, David and Posh Beckham, take Los Angeles by storm. And we will tell you something about the Beckhams that no one else will tell you.

Also, the dollar is plummeting against the euro and the pound. Working men and women in this country could pay a high price.


PILGRIM: Now, the dollar is plunging against most other currencies. The greenback hit a record low against the euro this week, and remains at a 30-year low against the Canadian dollar. Consumers addicted to buying imported goods are feeling the effect of a week dollar.

And, as Christine Romans reports, those goods are now much more expensive.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The almighty dollar isn't so mighty right now. The housing market is weak. There's trouble in the subprime mortgage sector. And a giant international trade deficit just grows.

PETER MORICI, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: The U.S. dollar is terribly weak against the euro, because we haven't done what we need to do vis-a-vis the Chinese. And that is get a fairly valued currency. Everything is wholly distorted.

ROMANS: That tumbling dollar makes the price of imports higher, appliances, car, car parts. And this country relies on a record amount of imports. According to the Labor Department, import prices are up five months in a row, a sign of inflation creeping in.

Meanwhile, oil, already priced in dollars, just gets more expensive. That weak dollar should make it a bargain for foreigners to come to the U.S., yet, travel is down sharply from five of the top eight overseas markets -- even a weak dollar not enough to overcome security hassles and visa woes. ROGER DOW, TRAVEL INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION: The U.S. is on sale and we should by filled with tourists from outside the United States. Yet, those numbers are down 17 percent. In the past five years, we have lost fully 50 million tourists that should be coming to this country from other places around the world.

ROMANS: That travel slump, according to the Travel Industry Association, has cost 194,000 jobs, almost $26 billion in lost payroll and almost $16 billion in lost taxes to federal, state and local governments.


ROMANS: Of course, a weaker dollar helps boost American exports, but not against the country that matters most, China. China's currency is controlled by the communist government -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Christine, the big issue, though, is for U.S. travelers going overseas, isn't it?

ROMANS: Absolutely right. The trip you would take this year to the U.K., to Canada, to any place in Europe is considerably more expensive than even last year or a couple years ago.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Christine Romans.

Well, as our elected officials in Washington fail to rein in an $800 billion trade deficit or address the skyrocketing cost of health care, our middle class is under attack. And there's a new warning that tens of millions more American jobs could be exported to cheap overseas labor markets.

Louise Schiavone reports.


LOUISE SCHIAVONE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This Lucent- Alcatel plant, once a hub of jobs and prosperity for thousands of workers in New England, is about to get the axe, another example of how outsourcing, though a big boon in the corporate world, is a blow to the American worker.

LARRY COHEN, CWA PRESIDENT: We don't have any telecom industry in this country anymore that makes anything. And it's not that that all went to China. It's in France. It's in Finland. It's in Germany. It's in Sweden.

SCHIAVONE: While the Lucent-Alcatel jobs went to Europe along with the CEO, the workers, despite their education and training, were left to search for new jobs. Increasingly, there is our American tale.

MATTHEW SLAUGHTER, DARTMOUTH COLLEGE: The mean earnings for a college graduates and even non-professional, 29 percent of payroll jobs in 2005, since the year 2000, their mean, i.e. inflation- adjusted, total money earnings are falling, not rising. SCHIAVONE: The nonpartisan Financial Services Forum reported recently that -- quote -- "About two thirds of displaced workers find new full-time jobs, but at an average wage loss of 13 percent."

Behind it all, the outsourcing of America's manufacturing base, along with the ever-expanding export of all kinds of jobs, including high-tech customer support, paralegal work, accounting, and even radiology, creating a nation, says a leading economist, where previously secure white-collar jobs will have to migrate to personal services, like the trades or the medical field.

ALAN BLINDER, FORMER FEDERAL RESERVE GOVERNOR: I estimated that maybe 30 to 40 million jobs are potentially vulnerable to such competition.

JEFF FAUX, ECONOMIC POLICY INSTITUTE: What does a world look like in which America -- Americans are trading personal services with each other? On one level, it's a definition of an underdeveloped country.

SCHIAVONE: And, as long as Americans believe they are losing ground:

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don't think that we are going to be able to do trade agreements or immigration reform.

SCHIAVONE: They're talking about building homes on this Lucent lot. Question: Where will the residents work?


SCHIAVONE: Kitty, these economists say, before new trade policies, before swinging open the nation's doors even wider to immigrants, stop the bleeding with a fresh national strategy -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Louise, you know, many Americans are personally aware of this trend. And they discuss it endlessly in Congress, but are there policies being proposed at these meetings?

SCHIAVONE: Well, several of these economists, Kitty, suggest the U.S. put the brakes on free trade agreements, for example, and see to the creation of a trade policy that's not reactive, but aggressively pro-American.

Also, health policy a big, big player in this country -- as long as health care costs weigh heavily on American workers and their employers, businesses will be tempted to find other labor markets without the burden. And, of course, job training, retraining key -- and to the extent, that, as one economist says, technology follows production, the suggestion is that it's time to reinvest in American manufacturing -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Louise Schiavone.

Well, time now for some of your thoughts. And Tom in Ohio wrote to us: "I heard that our secretary of homeland security had a gut feeling that there might be a terrorist attack this summer in the United States. I wonder if he has a gut feeling that our southern isn't secured."

Debra in Kansas wrote to us: "We in America have a gut feeling also. It's the gut feeling that Chertoff isn't securing our ports and borders and removing the illegal immigrants fast enough. He's had since 9/11. What more of a wakeup call does this government need?"

And Jane in Colorado wrote to us: "Hi, Lou. How can this government possibility protect us from terrorists, when it can't even protect us from toothpaste?"

We will have more of your e-mails later in the broadcast.

And two examples tonight of the rising threat from Mexican drug cartels on our southern border. The Mexican police chief of a Mexican town right across the Arizona border has pled guilty to trying to bribe a Border Patrol agent. Now, the police chief offered the agent $25,000 for each time he helped allow a drug transport cross the border.

And agents with the U.S. Border Patrol and Drug Enforcement Administration worked together to uncover a cross-border drug smuggling tunnel. The 30-yard tunnel led from a stash house in Nogales to a drainage grate on a major street in Mexico. Two men are in custody tonight facing drug charges.

Up next: an unguarded moment in the presidential campaign trail. Two Democratic presidential contenders are caught on tape discussing campaign strategy, and their hush-hush talk is fodder for their opponents tonight.

Also, a battle over laws trying to stop a scourge of illegal aliens entering this country heating up just outside our nation's Capitol.

Also, special rules for very special people -- a report on how regular immigration laws don't apply to David Beckham and Posh Spice.


PILGRIM: Tonight, another side to this slick David Beckham frenzy consuming Los Angeles. Now, lost amid the hoopla of Beckham's arrival was the fact how easy it was for him and his wife to obtain visas to move to the United States.

Unlike regular immigrants, the world's highest paid soccer star is eligible for a special class of visa that's reserved for elite people.

Casey Wian joins us from Carson, California, where Beckham was officially presented to soccer fans today -- Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, it was a warm welcome today for soccer star David Beckham here at the home of his new team, the Los Angeles Galaxy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is my distinct pleasure and honor to introduce to Los Angeles and the world the newest members of the L.A. Galaxy, Mr. David Beckham.

WIAN (voice-over): Unlike millions of fans worldwide, there was no waiting in line for soccer star David Beckham to receive a visa to work in the United States. He and Spice Girl wife Victoria both hold O-1 visas, which are reserved for persons who have extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics, or extraordinary achievements in the motion picture and television field.

DAVID BECKHAM, PROFESSIONAL SOCCER PLAYER: My family have now moved to Los Angeles, something we were looking forward to, something we're very proud of.

WIAN: The attorney who arranged for their legal immigration to the United States says Beckham did not bend any rules.

STEPHEN HADER, ATTORNEY: Congress established this visa category for individuals who have reached a certain level within their profession, and obviously David and Victoria have done that. They have qualified for the O-1 visa. And it allows them to come here to the U.S. for the next several years to engage in their activities.

WIAN: The United States granted about 12,600 O-visas last year, more than double the number issued a decade ago -- one reason, the United States limits the number of H-1 guest worker visa it issues. There are no caps on O-visas.

HADER: It's not just in entertainment and sports. Many, many individuals get O-1 visas. I get O-1 visas for researchers who have Ph.D.s, for example, who are trying to cure cancer.

WIAN: It's unlikely the Beckhams will accomplish that. Still, they were welcomed here, especially by a fawning Los Angeles mayor, who put on Beckham's new jersey even before the real player could, and clearly had no question about Beckham's immigration status.

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), MAYOR OF LOS ANGELES: Because we're all Angelenos here, no matter where we come from in Southern California.

WIAN: While the Beckhams' visas were expedited, the couple was still required to submit to an interview with U.S. consular officials.


WIAN: Now it will be up to Beckham to prove the special treatment was warranted by performing on the field and filling these seats -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Casey, any indication how long he will stay on this visa? WIAN: He says he will stay for several years, but he fully plans to return home to England after his soccer career is through -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: All right, thanks very much, Casey Wian.

Well, that brings us to tonight's poll question: Do you believe athletes such as David Beckham should be granted special expedited visas to enter the United States, yes or no? Cast your vote at We will bring you the results a little bit later in the broadcast.

The State Department is no longer distracted by the Beckham visa, so it has a more difficult issue to deal with, killer wasps. Thousands of wasps, some as large as two inches, have infested areas around the State Department's headquarters in Washington. That is causing concern among State Department employees and visitors. The State Department memo says the wasps, despite the name, aren't really dangerous.

But during the mating season, they will attack and sting people. Mating season, by the way, runs through the summer.

Coming up, a well-funded, pro-illegal-alien group tries to intimidate a community on the front line of the battle against illegal immigration.

Also, Senator Hillary Clinton and John Edwards break a cardinal rule of campaigning: Don't say bad things about an opponent if there's an open microphone near you.

And Senator John McCain says he's found the person to prevent his presidential campaign from collapsing, and that person is himself.


PILGRIM: A new threat from the powerful pro-illegal-alien lobby tonight. The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union are threatening Prince William County, Virginia, with a lawsuit.

Now, the threat follows the county's decision to pass a series of ordinances aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration.

As Bill Tucker reports, it's a familiar pattern. A local community takes action to cope with problems caused by illegal immigration, and, from the outside, a well-financed pro-illegal-alien group steps in.


BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The county of Prince William in Virginia simply wants to deny certain social services to illegal aliens in their community.

In passing local ordinances aimed at doing that, the county has invited protests and legal threats from both the American Civil Liberties Union and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

FOSTER MAEL, SENIOR ATTORNEY, PUERTO RICAN LEGAL DEFENSE & EDUCATION FUND: We think that the County should be on notice that what they are doing will have serious legal consequences for the County so they can't say, oh, we're surprised. Because, yes, we do think it violates federal law. And so we think they should be aware of that before they make the final decisions as to how they're going to proceed here.

TUCKER: What the board did was vote to require that a person's legal status be verified before being granted certain public services. They acted after a report in January found that the County is spending at least $3 million in services to illegal aliens.

COREY STEWART, BOARD CHAIRMAN, PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY, VIRGINIA: We've had a lot of problems with illegal immigration in the County. The population of illegal immigrants in the County we estimate to be about 40,000 people. We have overcrowding of homes, overcrowding of schools and a rising gang problem, especially MS-13.

TUCKER: The involvement of PRLDF and the ACLU is not surprising. They've acted to prevent several local communities from enacting similar ordinances, mostly notably Hazleton, Pennsylvania Avenue. Their involvement is usually seen as legally and financially intimidating.

KRIS KOBACH, IMMIGRATION REFORM LAW INSTITUTE: The normal tactic of PRLDF and the ACLU is to threaten -- and with the threat comes of threat of financial penalty, because it costs a lot of money to defense in these lawsuits.

TUCKER: So the County, in this case Prince William, is left with a choice -- spend millions on social services or spend the money on lawyers defending its ordinances.


TUCKER: The persistent involvement by the Puerto Rican Defense & Education Fund on behalf of illegal aliens is somewhat ironic. Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States and therefore not a target of the local ordinances like those in Prince Williams. Interesting, the County already is a participant in the 287G program, which the allows police there to identify illegal aliens in their jails.

And, Kitty, there are no threatened lawsuits over that program.

PILGRIM: Well, you talk about legal and financial intimidation of the local communities.

Has there ever been a legal challenge to 287G, these police powers?

TUCKER: No. And, interestingly, that's a program that is getting more and more popular at the local level and it has never been successfully sued and the program is becoming more popular in communities around the country. PILGRIM: Interesting stuff.

Thanks very much.

Bill Tucker.

Well, House Republicans last night succeeded in passing a motion that would tighten housing regulations for illegal aliens. GOP lawmakers added the motion to a Democratic public housing bill. And this motion would require people applying for public housing assistance to prove that they are in this country legally.

Immigration reform and the war in Iraq are part of the reasons Senator John McCain's presidential campaign seems on the verge of collapse. Now, the senator today admitted he made some mistakes with his campaign and that his support of the Senate's immigration bill had a negative effect.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, I think the fact that my position on immigration was obviously not helpful with the Republican base.


PILGRIM: Now, for more on the problems facing the McCain campaign, we turn to Candy Crowley in Concord, New Hampshire -- and, Candy, what does the senator have to do to rebuild his campaign, which is very much at a low point?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what he has to do is, first of all, convince people that his campaign is viable. He needs more money. Donors don't tend to want to give money to people they think may not make it to the end.

Now, today he sort of started down that road and he saw that, in fact -- and said that, in fact, he is in this to stay.


CROWLEY: (voice-over): He is broke. His staff is skeletal. His poll numbers are sagging. But John McCain is standing.

MCCAIN: We go to the town hall meetings, we fix our financial difficulties and we win.

CROWLEY: In New Hampshire on his first compare trip since the departure of top advisers, McCain signaled his presidential bid will go back to the future -- the template of 2000, when his maverick campaign stunned the political world and he beat George Bush in the New Hampshire primary. Even close friends wonder if anything can save his campaign. But McCain says he's hard pressed to think of anything that will stop him.

MCCAIN: Contracting a fatal disease. QUESTION: Anything short of that?

MCCAIN: Not that I know of.

CROWLEY: Even as he spoke, other top aides in the McCain campaign were preparing to leave and the details of second quarter fundraising and spending are about to be made public. McCain is down to his last quarter million, a campaign pittance.

MCCAIN: Well, we're going to have to do a better job, that's all. I mean it wasn't the money we got, it was the way the money was spend.

CROWLEY: Of all the changes that have and will take place in Camp McCain, the one thing that has not changed is the candidate -- not his position on immigration or campaign finance reform, both of which cost him conservatives, and not his hawkish approach to Iraq, which cost him Independents.

McCain was in New Hampshire to deliver a touch speech on Iraq, criticizing what he called defeatism, asking voters to give the surge a chance, asking them to give him one, too.

MCCAIN: I will stand where I stand today and trust you to give me a fair hearing. There's too much at stake in this election for any candidate to do less.

CROWLEY: John McCain will play the hand he dealt himself.


CROWLEY: Now, Camp McCain has always felt that even if voters disagreed with the candidate, they would support him for standing up for his views. They still believe that -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Candy, you know, everyone all along has said this particular election cycle is about money. You've just reported he has about a quarter million in the bank.

At what point is the fundraising momentum just against you?

CROWLEY: Well, I mean, that's the problem. He had a hard time raising money in the first quarter, a harder time raising money in the second quarter, when immigration really came to a head.

The question now is can he attract enough money?

I have to tell you, he's going out to California soon, which is where, generally, Republicans and Democrats go to raise money. So they have to be on the phone with those donors, convincing them that this campaign is going ahead and that it's viable and that he still has a realistic shot at becoming president.

PILGRIM: It will be an interesting next few weeks for Senator John McCain.

CROWLEY: Yes. PILGRIM: Thanks very much.

Candy Crowley.

And just ahead, more on the campaigns. Three of the country's best political minds will join me.

Also, Senator Hillary Clinton and John Edwards learn the hard way what they believe is a private conversation may not be private at all. You'll hear what they didn't want you to hear.

Also, later, Heroes -- our tribute to a Marine who suffered devastating wounds in Iraq but defied all the odds.

Stay with us.


PILGRIM: Two Democratic frontrunners caught on tape appear to be discussing keeping other candidates from the spotlight. At an NAACP forum in Detroit yesterday, Senator Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, apparently not realizing that microphones were on, discussed restricting which candidates would be allowed to take part in debates.

Let's listen.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: We've got to -- because they are -- they are just being trivialized. You know, I think there was an effort by a campaign to do that -- but it was that somehow - that's all over the news - I just think that our guys should talk.

Thanks, Barack.

So, we --

Thanks, Dennis. I got your call.


PILGRIM: Now, one of those other candidates, Dennis Kucinich, shot back. In a statement he said: "Candidates, no matter how important or influential they perceive themselves to be, should not have and should not have the power to determine who is allowed to speak to the American public and who is not.

So joining me now to discuss all of this and a lot more are Diana West, columnist with "The Washington Times," Errol Louis from the New York "Daily News" and Democratic strategist Robert Zimmerman.

And thank you all.



PILGRIM: Yes, we turn to you.

ZIMMERMAN: Let me just say, I think, on behalf of all Democrats, I wish the organ music was louder.

What can I say?

It was like --

PILGRIM: Yes, it was such pretty organ music.

ZIMMERMAN: Yes, it was.

Look, I can understand the candidates' frustrations being on a stage with 10 other -- with a total of 10 candidates --


ZIMMERMAN: -- and being limited to, really, a Super Bowl of sound bites in these debates, because the time is so short.

But the truth is the public does a very good job, through their contributions, their grassroots activism, to really winnowing down the field. And the primaries take care of that, too. So that process will work itself forward.

PILGRIM: It seems like it.

Errol, any thoughts on this?

ERROL LOUIS, NEW YORK "DAILY NEWS": Yes, I think they probably jumped the gun. It's one thing if it were June of next year, when things are really kind of moving along and the American people have to start making choices. We're so far out, there's really no reason to sort of get all that excited about it.

I do share, though, the concern that these forums, when you've got a cast of characters, it looks like 10 people up there, you've got no time to really develop any ideas. I don't know how much good it does to hold those kind of casting calls in public. I mean we certainly shouldn't call it a debate.

PILGRIM: It becomes a personality contest when you have this many people.


DIANA WEST, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": Well, I guess it does. It probably seems sort of like an annoyance to some of the major candidates. But I think that Mrs. Clinton and John Edwards both seem to forget that to go back into the smoke-filled room for this kind of a discussion -- I mean it really had that sound of fixing things, making sure that the big people get to talk. And that's not attractive to people.


ZIMMERMAN: Considering the fact that we're going to have all of our major primaries by February 6th, I don't think smoke-filled rooms are really an option for -- for either party, at this point.

And, ironically, too, what's interesting, too, is that Hillary Clinton, according to every poll that's been done after the debates, has really gotten a bounce from these debate appearances.

PILGRIM: Interesting.


PILGRIM: You know, let's take a look.

We have some Gallup Polls -- "USA Today"/Gallup polls. And the Republican choice for president is really intriguing to me, because we have someone who's not even actually in the race yet turning up on this poll.

And so let's take a look at this. Giuliani, 30 percent. Fred Thompson hasn't even really declared. They thought he would maybe July 4th. Not yet. And McCain, again, whose campaign is really, really struggling.

What's your view on the McCain issue?

LOUIS: You know, it's very interesting watching this play out. We saw, in 2004, John Kerry was running, at one point, 30 to 40 points behind in New Hampshire and was able to come back and, of course, went on to win the nomination. And was not doing well in Iowa, but he was able to build it through message and through organization.

I think where McCain is in trouble -- it's not just on the fundraising front, but, more important than even fundraising is on the I.D. And philosophy front, his being so closely tied to President Bush in support of the immigration reform and in support of the war in Iraq. That should be a warning sign to candidates in both parties.

LOUIS: Oh, for sure. The fact he stayed with the president as the Iraq War deteriorated and other longstanding conservatives are all jumping ship. McCain chose to stay where he was. That's who he is. He's not a cut and run guy. He's paying the price for it.

I think the extraordinary thing, though, is the burn rate on that campaign. I mean they must have been spending $100,000 a day for months and very little to show for it.


LOUIS: I mean that's just a piece of just sort of political, technical incompetence that you don't normally see at his level of the game.

PILGRIM: Diana? WEST: Well, I think that the amnesty position, with that, he alienated the base. And with his war stand, he alienates his other base, which is the media. So he doesn't really have very much -- any place to go at this point.

PILGRIM: He's got a tough haul. And, as Candy Crowley just reported, he's got to make up some ground in California or it's really difficult for him going forward.

Let's look at Democrats' choice for president. Again, the "USA Today"/Gallup poll.

We have Clinton still leading the pack, 37 percent; Obama, 21 percent. And then, again, it's mind boggling in this personality contest, we have Gore, who has not even declared with 16 percent.

I find this phenomena really intriguing, that everyone keeps voting for people who have not declared.

ZIMMERMAN: But I think there's an underlying message behind poll, as in the Republican poll. Ultimately, right now, both races are wide open. And when you see Hillary Clinton at 37 percent, that means 63 percent are still shopping around and listening and hearing other candidates.

So I -- and I said this back on the show in November, I don't think -- I think it's a mistake to regard her as the frontrunner. She's obviously very competitive, but she recognizes she has a real race on her hands and I think she is approaching it from that perspective.

PILGRIM: And we're also keeping track not only in polls, but also in fundraising, Errol. And Obama has her marginally beat in fundraising at this point.

LOUIS: Yes. And it's -- it's more than a margin. I mean it's -- for two periods in a row, he's best her. He's much less well known. He's not supposed to be able to pull this off. He's got tons and tons of small donors. He's really excited something. He's tapped into something out there. And it's a piece of that discontent.

Now, you've got the same thing on the Republican side. You know, some of these polls are still putting in Newt Gingrich, who's doing fairly well for somebody who's not running, allegedly, although he says he might run.

I think, though, the everything's up in the air sort of atmosphere that we have is something we're probably not going to see for another generation. We might want to savor this a little bit.

PILGRIM: It's an incredibly interesting campaign season.

And if Gore does go into the pack, it would make it even more intriguing.

Diana? WEST: Well, it would, although I would love to see a poll or poll results that correlated the temperature and the heat waves across the nation with votes for Gore, just because he's so identified with the global warming issue that if it's a very hot day, do then people think, you know, he's got a point?


WEST: Or, you know, what will happen in the winter?

PILGRIM: You know, but to -- to his credit, he has really put this discussion back in the forefront.

ZIMMERMAN: Oh, absolutely.

PILGRIM: I mean --

ZIMMERMAN: In any poll, he's running hot, no matter what the climate may be. He is just -- he's put this issue front and center.

But I think one thing about the polls that's important to remember, national polls don't pick nominees. What's important to focus on is those early contests and how, starting in September, tracking those polls in those early primaries, because that's where your nominees emerge from.

And so far, Barack Obama has been able to raise funds, but he's not raised his standing in the polls in those early contests.

PILGRIM: That's interesting.

Well, let's talk about the guys who have the job right now. And their approval ratings are terrible, actually at a low point. So we have President Bush at 33 percent. Congress even lower at 24 percent.

What is going on that Congress is -- is getting bashed like this?

Is it just ineffectiveness?

LOUIS: Well, I think it's a number of different factors. One, I think that the Democratic leadership has got to manage expectations better. And I think that's clearly a factor here.

I think -- and, also, an important factor to explore here is how the Democrats are hoping to achieve their agenda. There's been this focus on compromise with the president. And the reality is that the promises are going to be made by building more support amongst the Republicans.

I think Democrats hurt their base by ignoring the will of the people and ignoring popular sentiment, ignoring their core beliefs and trying to compromise with President Bush. They're much more effective, I think, by building Republican support, by changing the mission in Iraq, by bringing up vote after vote and holding Republicans in Congress accountable. ZIMMERMAN: I think they've been a little too slick in how they've tried to accomplish their agenda, the Democrats have. I mean they -- they had an ambitious agenda. They won. Now they're in power. But that doesn't mean you don't hold hearings. That doesn't mean you don't sort of get around the country, work the media, try to explain what you stand for and the new direction you're going to take the country in.

It's very different from winning a series of elections around the country, which they did very expertly. But now there's a time, I think, where you have to sort of make the case for why we need to change the tax structure or why we need to sort of talk about Iraq in an entirely different way, not these -- these sound bites and press conferences on the steps and sort of trying to play sort of gotcha with the president.

I think if they try to look toward a sort of a governing strategy that goes beyond just the next news cycle, they'll be in much better shape.

PILGRIM: And running on a negative, saying I'm against the war in Iraq is quite a different thing when you have the job and you have to come up with solutions, right?

WEST: That's exactly right. And I think that the polls probably reflect people's understanding that the Congress is not offering a plan. Withdrawal is not a strategy. And yet the president's numbers are also dismal, because he, too, has not really broken through with the notion -- beyond the notion of a surge. So we have this -- these two cycles that we seem stuck on. And people -- people are upset. They want to see leadership emerge and it has not.

LOUIS: Well, I think what's not emerging is, really, in fact, the message over the sound bites. No one is advocating withdrawal. What people are talking -- what the Democrats have put forward is a change in plan focusing on phased redeployment and refocusing the efforts on fighting terrorism.

WEST: Well, just as they called the bill an amnesty bill, I mean it comes down to withdrawal.

LOUIS: No, it doesn't.

WEST: It comes down to not fighting, you know, on that front and bringing troops home. I mean that's the big talking point --

LOUIS: No, the major --

WEST: -- bringing troops home.

LOUIS: No, the big -- the major focus is rede -- refocusing our troops now and focusing against al Qaeda. We now see -- our own intelligence estimates show that Al Qaeda has regained strength along the western provinces in Pakistan. We certainly have seen a rise in terrorist activities around the world. And the failure of our administration to, in fact, focus on fighting terrorism, as opposed to, refereeing a civil war, is truly the issue here that has to be addressed.

WEST: Well, it's been a big problem. It certainly has been.

PILGRIM: You know, this -- the American public, though, the opposition to the war among the American public is at an all time high -- 62 percent now are saying that it was a mistake -- Iraq troops a mistake. Also, the generals are saying wait until September for the assessment. So we're going to have this period of waiting in almost a vacuum.

Meanwhile, the report comes out the Iraqis have missed 10 out of 18 benchmarks.

ZIMMERMAN: And are about to go on vacation --

WEST: Right. Yes.

ZIMMERMAN: -- the Iraqi parliament.

WEST: The parliament. Yes.

ZIMMERMAN: I mean the -- Petraeus, who is the man in charge, the general that the president says he listens to, he says that the counter-insurgency is 80 percent political, only 20 percent military. The 80 percent is about to go take a break.

WEST: Exactly.

ZIMMERMAN: You know, they're about to go -- to knock off for a month or so. There are other deep political problems along the lines of the fact that the al-Maliki government does not want to hold regional elections, one of the key benchmarks.

But that government is not going to succeed in regional elections. And so it's not in their interests to hold regional elections. And yet we have troops there sort of fighting and dying while -- while this political game plays itself out.

PILGRIM: All right, a last word here, Diana?

WEST: Well, I think one thing I really hope people focus on is the fact that Iran is deeply involved in Iraq. And that is -- that is the issue that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are bringing to the fore.

PILGRIM: The discussion on Iran will go forward. Every day we hear more and more about Iran, and it will be continuing to be discussed, I'm sure, in the media, even while the Iraqis are on break.

Thanks very much for being here, Diana West, Errol Louis, Robert Zimmerman.

Thanks very much.

A reminder now to vote in tonight's poll -- do you believe that athletes such as David Beckham should be granted special expedited visas to enter the United States?

Yes or no?

Cast your vote at loudobbs@com and we'll bring you the results in just a few minutes.

Also, just ahead, the week's hero -- the story of one Marine's remarkable will to survive after a life-threatening wound sustained in Iraq.

Stay with us.


PILGRIM: And now Heroes, which is our weekly tribute to the men and women in uniform who serve this country.

Tonight, we introduce you to Marine Corporal Joshua Pitcher. He served two tours in Iraq, was wounded each time in combat and he's now making a remarkable recovery in Upstate New York.

Philippa Holland has his story.


PHILIPPA HOLLAND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): It's not the three to four miles Corporal Joshua Pitcher used to run every day. But this workout is a lot more than many expected after Pitcher survived devastating injuries in Iraq.

In his second tour of duty, Pitcher was deployed to Ramadi to help train Iraqi police. One day last February, he was on patrol when his team came under attack. An insurgent's grenade exploded inches from his head.

CPL. JOSHUA PITCHER, U.S. MARINE CORPS: And I remember the grenade going off and then kind of like floating to the ground and just everything fading out. And then I woke up in Bethesda, I guess, a month later.

HOLLAND: Surgeons in Iraq removed half his skill to relieve brain swelling. He was rushed directly to Bethesda Naval Hospital, where doctors put him into a coma for a month to heal. During that time, he lost 60 pounds. His family braced for the worst.

JANELL PITCHER, CPL. PITCHER'S WIFE: They could not tell us exactly how he would be, but most likely he would come out of it and have to learn to walk and talk and read.

HOLLAND: But Pitcher defied the odds.

JOSHUA PITCHER: I'm optimistic just because of -- when I was in the hospital, I saw a lot of guys who had the same injury who were a lot worse off than I am right now. And they had been in the hospital for over a year and they were still pretty much just bedridden.

HOLLAND: His therapists say Pitcher's positive attitude is critical.

HEIDI KINNALLY, SYRACUSE V.A. MEDICAL CENTER: He is a great role model for anybody who has a severe injury.

JANELL PITCHER: Dump it out like this.

HOLLAND: His wife always believed he'd come through.

JANELL PITCHER: He came back to us. He fought and fought and fought. He promised he would never leave me and Hannah, and he didn't. So he's our hero.

HOLLAND: A two time recipient of the Purple Heart, Corporal Pitcher expects to medically retire from the Marines. He looks forward to going back to school and helping raise his 2-year-old daughter.

JOSHUA PITCHER: I'm definitely more mature. And I have a little -- a little brighter outlook in life in general because I'm just happy to be here, you know?

HOLLAND: Philippa Holland, CNN.


PILGRIM: An amazing young man.

We wish him well.

Still ahead, the results of our poll and more of your thoughts.

Stay with us.


PILGRIM: Now the results of tonight's poll. Eighty-one percent of you believe athletes such as David Beckham should not be granted special expedited visas to enter the United States.

Time now for some of your thoughts.

And Forrest in Texas wrote to us: "When is the present administration going to stop talking about security and build that fence on our Southern border?"

Charles in Oklahoma wrote to us: "I do not understand why we need to listen to our government complain about the Iraqi government not having the ability to secure their country when our Mexican border is wide open to anyone who wishes to cross it."

We love hearing from you.

Send us your thoughts at

Thanks for being with us tonight.

Please join us tomorrow. For all of us here, thanks for watching. Good night from New York.

"THE SITUATION ROOM" starts right now, with Miles O'Brien.