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Lou Dobbs Tonight

Interview With Illinois Senator Richard Durbin; Senator Larry Craig Under Fire; President Bush Visits New Orleans

Aired August 29, 2007 - 18:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, the Virginia Crime Commission wants federal help for state law enforcement dealing with criminal illegal aliens, but there's opposition from the governor.
And new questions tonight about the Food and Drug Administration's ability to protect the American public. Now the agency wants to outsource jobs to private contractors.

And protecting American children from unsafe toys made in communist China. Senator Richard Durbin will be here to discuss his measures to keep dangerous toys out of the hands of children.

All that, all the day's news and much more, straight ahead tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate, and opinion for Wednesday, August 29.

Live from New York, sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Christine Romans.

ROMANS: Good evening, everybody.

The Pentagon says it will provide President Bush with at least five separate opinions about what to do next in Iraq. The goal, to give the president the benefit of a number of views as he weighs whether to continue the surge or begin to bring U.S. troops home.

And the U.S. military in Iraq today released eight Iranians who were detained by U.S. troops. The Iranians were detained yesterday after their vehicle was stopped and searched in Baghdad. And U.S. officials are raising questions about the U.S. role in that incident.

We begin with Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, the Pentagon tonight says that there will not be one single recommendation going to President Bush, but rather, he will be given a wide array of views, because the goal, they say, is not consensus.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): First off, the Pentagon says there will be no written report from General David Petraeus next month, only Petraeus reporting his assessment directly to Congress and the president. GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for printed material from this building, as I understand it.

MCINTYRE: Defense Secretary Robert Gates is concerned that formal reports which aim for a consensus end up watered down by bureaucratic massaging, so he's arranged for Mr. Bush, the decider, to get at least five separate Pentagon opinions, from Gates himself, General Petraeus, CENTCOM Commander Admiral William Fallon, outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace, and the new chairman, Mike Mullen, as well as the entire Joint Chiefs of Staff.

MORRELL: The secretary is determined that each of these people will be able to present their advice directly and in an unvarnished way, so that the president will be getting each person's individual assessment on where we are and where we should be going.

MCINTYRE: That's why the Pentagon says a report the White House will ask for $50 billion to fund the surge is premature. It all depends on how long Mr. Bush decides the surge should last and when troop cuts should begin. Defense Secretary Gates reportedly expressed surprise at the front-page "Washington Post" report.

MORRELL: He picked up the paper this morning and said, that's news to me.

MCINTYRE: But the $50 billion figure is not out of line if the surge continues full strength until April. Already, the Pentagon is trumpeting the strategy for a drop in U.S. casualties in July and August.

MORRELL: And, thankfully, American men and women in uniform there are right now the beneficiaries of a slightly safer environment, thanks to the surge.


MCINTYRE: So, while General Petraeus will not be issuing a formal report, there will be no shortage of reading material next month. In addition to an independent review of Iraqi forces, both the White House and the Government Accountability Office will issue separate reports on Iraqi benchmarks. But while the GAO will be looking to see if the benchmarks have been met, the White House criteria will be a little lower, just looking for satisfactory progress -- Christine.

ROMANS: Jamie, no shortage of reading material, indeed. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon -- thank you, Jamie.

The U.S. military in Iraq today released eight Iranians who were detained by U.S. troops. The Iranians were arrested yesterday after their vehicle was stopped and searched in Baghdad.

But, as Barbara Starr reports, the incident is leading to more questions than answers.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The latest American confrontation with Iran might have been a mistake by the U.S.

Eight Iranians and seven Iraqis blindfolded and cuffed, taken out of a Baghdad hotel by U.S. troops under orders from their commanders to arrest the men after they initially had let them go.

MORRELL: As for an apology, I'm certainly not in a position to offer one from this podium, nor do I know at this point whether one is appropriate.

STARR: All of the detainees were finally released hours later, and a senior U.S. official tells CNN the whole episode never should have happened; there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

No one will say which U.S. commander ordered the Iranians arrested.

BRIG. GEN. KEVIN BERGNER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: None had any documentation authorizing them to be armed. Later, some of those individuals were identified to be Iranian citizens, and all of them were detained until an investigation could be completed.

STARR: All of this comes a day after President Bush's latest rhetoric.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran's actions threaten the security of nations everywhere.

STARR: At a Tehran press conference, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad confidently shrugged off worries the U.S. would launch military operations against his regime.

One analyst says it's all turning into an explosive mix between Bush and Ahmadinejad, especially in light of the latest Baghdad incident.

TRITA PARSI, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL IRANIAN AMERICAN COUNCIL: Clearly, the paranoid leadership in Tehran are not going to view it as a mistake; they're going to view it as a deliberate effort to provoke Iran. And at one point, a mistake may occur, and there may be some poking back, and then suddenly, things can escalate out of control.


STARR: But mistake or not, tensions are rising between both sides. CNN has learned the U.S. military is now considering what changes it might have to make in its own operations in the Persian Gulf if President Bush goes ahead as he is expected to and declares Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization.

That's an organization, Christine, the U.S. military, especially the Navy, often encounters in Persian Gulf waters -- Christine.

ROMANS: OK, Barbara Starr -- thank you very much, Barbara.

Iran today strongly protested the detention of those eight Iranians. Iran claims the detainees were mistreated by the U.S. military. Pictures showed the Iranians were blindfolded as they were led away by U.S. troops, and as Barbara Starr just reported, a senior U.S. military official said the whole episode should never have happened.

Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr today suspended armed activity by his militia. The action comes a day after more than 50 people were killed in fighting between his followers and a rival Shiite sect in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala. U.S. military officials said they welcome any organization that works toward peace in Iraq, but U.S. officials have previously called Sadr's army one of the greatest threats to peace in Iraq.

Three GOP lawmakers today called for Senator Larry Craig to resign. Senator John McCain said, when you plead guilty to a crime, you shouldn't serve. Senator Norm Coleman and Congressman Pete Hoekstra also said Craig should step down. Senator Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in an airport bathroom sex sting. Yesterday, Craig said pleading guilty was a mistake.

And Senator Craig late today under pressure from Republican leadership said he will temporarily step down from his committee leadership assignments. Further calls for his resignation echoed on talk radio across the state of Idaho.

Dana Bash is in Boise, and she has our report.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An exciting Wednesday, not so exciting for Larry Craig.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tune in to Idaho conservative talk radio, and it sounds like Larry Craig's days may be numbered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really don't think he will survive this. I think that within the next week to 10 days he will step down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you read the police report, which is available online, it is clear that he had intent to do something questionable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator Craig needs to quit being a chump and resign.

BASH: Idaho is a Republican state steeped in conservative values. But it also has an element of live and let live. On Tuesday, Craig vehemently denied rumors that he is gay.

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), IDAHO: I am not gay. I never have been gay. BASH: Democrat Nicole LeFavour is the only openly gay member of the Idaho legislature. She says Craig's credibility, not his sexuality, is the issue, and people don't believe Craig's explanation he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, even though he's innocent.

NICOLE LEFAVOUR (D), IDAHO STATE REPRESENTATIVE: Voters are going to look much more harshly on lying, really, frankly, than anything else. I think his honesty always will be the most important thing to them. It always is.

BASH: Privately, influential Idaho Republicans tell CNN they think Craig will be forced to step down. Publicly, they are taking a wait-and-see approach -- the Idaho GOP chairman saying, "I would encourage all Idahoans to avoid rushing to judgment and making brash statements about a man who's dedicated his life to public service."

Several Idaho Republican sources say Craig's problems here are compounded because many supporters are already angry about his stance on immigration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The reason I would like to see him go is because he voted for amnesty, despite what Americans, or what Idaho citizens wanted.

BASH: He supports a measure giving legal status to illegal immigrants, not a popular position here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Idaho's congressional delegation is only four. We're not that big of a state. The other three are against amnesty, and he's for it. And so he gets criticized by a lot of Republicans right here in Idaho.


BASH: Make no mistake about it, Republicans here are angry and disappointed with their senator, but most here say that if Senator Craig does resign, it will be because of pressure from Washington, his colleagues in the Senate who are still stinging from corruption controversies that helped cost them the majority last November -- Christine.

ROMANS: Dana, from that, and from what's happening on talk radio at least, it sounds as though he doesn't have much political capital, if any, left. Were there any voices of support today?

BASH: Sure, there were. There were definitely voices of support, but by and large, what you heard from those calling in to the radio station and really in talking the radio hosts who have been dealing with this all week long, they say by and large, they are hearing from their listeners, most of whom are conservatives here in Idaho, that they are just not happy with Senator Craig. Many now say that he should go, as you heard.

ROMANS: All right, Dana Bash in Boise -- thank you, Dana.

And the White House today issued a brief statement on the Senator Craig scandal -- quote -- "We're disappointed in what's going on. It's a matter for the senator and the Senate Republican leadership to address."

The state of Virginia is divided on how it should deal with criminal illegal aliens.

Lisa Sylvester is here with more -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, Virginia families are paying millions to house illegal aliens in jails for offenses like DUIs. Now a new state crime commission has come up with ideas on what to do about it, but the governor objects. We will have that story coming up.

ROMANS: All right, Lisa's got that story in just a moment.

Elvira Arellano, twice deported to Mexico, she has a plan now for the Mexican government to send her back to the U.S. again. We will have the details.

And the FDA decides to outsource its obligations to protect America's food supply. We will have a special report there.

Stay with us.


ROMANS: Virginia is a state divided over how to battle illegal immigration and our broken borders. The Democratic governor and the Republican attorney general have opposing views over how to enforce laws regarding illegal aliens. The attorney general is taking a hard line, but the governor says immigration laws are a federal responsibility.

Lisa Sylvester reports.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): A new report finds that as many as one in 10 jail inmates in Virginia has questionable legal status and is believed to be an illegal alien. That works out to some 21,000 inmates commonly held for alcohol-related crimes like DUI. Taxpayers are footing the bill. Each one costs $23,000 a year, according to the Virginia State Crime Commission. But because immigration falls under federal jurisdiction, little has been done.

DAVE ALBO, VIRGINIA DELEGATE: If you see somebody out in the street and the person is jumping up and down and saying I'm an illegal alien, a state Virginia police officer or a local police officer cannot do anything about it.

SYLVESTER: The commission's immigration task force is recommending that anyone arrested in Virginia be checked to make sure they're a legal resident. If not, sheriff and jail administrators would have a new authority to detain them. Local jurisdictions, including Loudoun and Prince William counties, are moving in this direction. Other localities are considering doing the same, after an illegal alien driving drunk killed two teenagers in Virginia Beach on March 30.

JEFF FREDERICK, VIRGINIA DELEGATE: Nearby localities would say, wait a second, we have got a big problem, too, and we need to do something about this. And so they're putting pressure on their local governments to also do something about it.

SYLVESTER: But efforts to expand these enforcement programs statewide have stalled. Democratic Governor Tim Kaine opposes using state troopers as immigration officers. A spokesperson said state agencies, including the Department of Corrections and State Police, are already undermanned -- quote -- "The governor doesn't want to expand their responsibility in a significant way at this time in an area everyone agrees is a federal responsibility."

Immigration reform groups say states have to confront the mounting price of illegal immigration.

WILLIAM BUCHANAN, AMERICAN COUNCIL FOR IMMIGRATION REFORM: The costs of illegal immigration are very substantial. You have hospital costs. You have schooling costs. If Mr. Kaine is worried about his budget, he ought to be thinking about the effects of illegal immigration on all of those areas.


SYLVESTER: Virginia's attorney general, Robert McDonnell, a Republican, also disagrees with the governor's position, saying state police can enforce federal immigration law, and in the absence of federal action should be authorized to start deportation procedures -- Christine.

ROMANS: And, Lisa, therein lies the rub for this whole thing. You have got the federal government that hasn't enforced immigration law to the fullest extent for I don't know how many years, and so you have got state and local authorities who are struggling trying to figure out what to do on their level, and then you have some people, you know, in the local communities, saying, it's not our job.

But the job has been handed to them essentially.

SYLVESTER: Well, it's very frustrating for state and local officers, because they may have someone, someone perhaps arrested for a DUI. They call up Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Customs Enforcement, immigration officials may not have someone that they can send to pick this person up. So, essentially, that person is let back out on the streets.

And that's what happened in the case of Virginia Beach of the illegal alien who killed two teenagers. He had actually been arrested multiple times for DUI, but he was back out on the streets again -- Christine Romans.

ROMANS: All right, Lisa Sylvester -- thanks, Lisa, for that report. A twice-deported illegal alien and activist is looking for a new role and a new way into the United States as an ambassador for peace and justice. For a year, Elvira Arellano was the darling of the open borders advocates after seeking sanctuary in a Chicago church. When she left the church in a blaze of publicity to take part in a Los Angeles rally, she was arrested and deported back to Mexico.

During a meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, she has asked for a diplomatic visa now to be an ambassador for peace and justice to the United States.

Well, that brings us to the subject of tonight's poll: Do you think it is outrageous that Elvira Arellano wants to be an ambassador for Mexico when she has spent years doing everything she could to avoid deportation back to Mexico, yes or no? Cast your vote at We will bring you the results later in the broadcast.

Time now for some of your thoughts.

Roger in Canada: "Can you explain to me why these so-called Christian organizations and churches support illegal aliens? The Bible calls for people to obey the law of the land. So, these organizations and churches who stand behind the veil of Christianity are in fact doing the opposite of what the Bible teaches."

Matt in Illinois: "Our government can't track illegals, can't track weapons in Iraq, can't fix health care, can't be honest, you know, but they can make sure you pay your taxes."

Terry in Illinois: "Senator Craig is another prime example of do as I do" -- sorry -- "do as I say, not as I do. He votes one way but favors another."

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

Middle-class workers may be earning less money, but some of the country's executives have never done better. According to a new study by United For a Fair Economy, the average CEO earned 364 times more than the average worker. That's more than $10 million in 2006. And this doesn't include many of the perks and pension benefits that CEOs receive.

The gap is even wider between private equity and hedge fund managers and the average worker. Those managers earned more than $650 million each last year.

It was whiplash on Wall Street, as stocks rebounded today, after an awful day of selling yesterday. The Dow Jones gained almost 250 points after plunging 280 yesterday. The Nasdaq was also up today, climbing 60 points.

Coming up, President Bush on a whirlwind visit to a city still struggling to recover two years after Katrina. We will find out just how bad it is.

Policing our ports to stop the flood of deadly imports. We will talk to Senator Dick Durbin.

And while we're being deluged by that flood of deadly imports, the Food and Drug Administration wants to outsource jobs. We will have a special report. All that and more coming up.


ROMANS: Faced with a surge in tainted food and dangerous medicine, the Food and Drug Administration is actually outsourcing your health and safety. The FDA is proposing outsourcing more than 300 jobs. At least two congressmen are outraged and demanding an investigation.

Bill Tucker has more.


BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The list of product scandals the Food and Drug Administration has faced just this year is staggering, deadly pet food contaminated with a chemical used in the manufacture of plastics, tainted seafood loaded with banned antibiotics, poisonous toothpaste made with a key ingredient used to make antifreeze.

Now is not the time to outsource jobs, not in the eyes of Michigan Representatives John Dingell and Bart Stupak. They fired off a no-holds-barred letter to the Food and Drug Administration, announcing an investigation into what they call the adequacy of the efforts of the FDA to protect the safety of the nation's food supply.

Their anger is clear -- quote -- "Frankly, we were incredulous when we recently learned from press reports of your new plan to outsource hundreds of FDA jobs to private companies."

A spokesman for the FDA acknowledges that 322 positions are being considered for outsourcing to private contractors and says a response to Dingell's and Stupak's letter is being prepared. The spokesman also insists that the positions in question are not lab positions, not lab techs and not people involved in regulatory oversight. The positions are described as administrative in function.

Opponents call it the wrong move at the wrong time.

TONY CORBO, FOOD AND WATER WATCH: There must be a tin ear over at FDA, because this is definitely something that I don't think the public and definitely the Congress is not going to tolerate.

TUCKER: News of the outsourcing follows closely on the heels of attempts by the agency to close more than half its field labs in order to meet budget-cutting initiatives.


TUCKER: Now, in the face of an outcry, the agency backed down from closing those labs, at least any time soon. But it has refused to say it won't close the labs, only saying that the decision is being held in abeyance while it awaits a final decision on the matter from the president's Import Working Group -- Christine.

ROMANS: So, let me get this straight. There is essentially a crisis brewing over the imported food safety, and the Food and Drug Administration is talking about closing labs and hiring some other third party to do -- to do work?

TUCKER: Well, they give it a very broad nondescript description.

ROMANS: Right.

TUCKER: They say it's administrative and support staff, like anywhere from secretarial people who -- who run the office.

But they couldn't give me a good clear definition on what that was, and they still haven't committed to absolutely not closing seven of the 13 labs they have in the field.

ROMANS: Right, at the same time consumer advocates and parents and consumers are saying, wait a second here, we have got to make sure that our agencies are doing their job and are really on top of all this.

TUCKER: That's it.

ROMANS: All right, Bill Tucker -- thanks so much, Bill.

Members of the Senate are also investigating the recent wave of product recalls and safety inspection concerns. Later on in this program, we will talk to Illinois Senator Dick Durbin about his plans for comprehensive safety standards and revamping the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Coming up, President Bush, criticized for his slow response to Hurricane Katrina, was in New Orleans for the second anniversary of that disaster. We will have a report.

Senator John McCain, looking to energize his struggling campaign, is voicing strong views on border security now. We will have that story.

And new problems for local communities trying to deal with the crisis caused by illegal immigration. We will have a spirited debate, I hope, on this issue. Stay with us.


ROMANS: Federal regulators have ordered airlines to speed up safety inspections of Boeing 737 jetliners. The Federal Aviation Administration reported loose parts had been found in the wing slat area of two more 737s. The inspection order came after a Chinese Airline 737 burst into flames and exploded after landing in Japan.

Investigators said a loose bolt that pierced the fuel tank was the likely cause of that incredible inferno. Unbelievably, all 165 passengers and crew escaped that burning plane. President Bush was in New Orleans today on the second anniversary of the hurricane that devastated the city and the region, leaving more than 1,500 dead.

And, as Suzanne Malveaux reports, the president tried to look past the mistakes that were made in the aftermath of Katrina -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, it's the fifteenth visit to the region since Hurricane Katrina hit for President Bush. And today was really the day to try to convince the people here in New Orleans that he is good on his word -- that he would bring back this city better than before.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Deeply tarnished by his administration's failures in responding to Hurricane Katrina, President Bush used the two year anniversary to put the focus elsewhere.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When Hurricane Katrina broke through the levees, it broke a lot of hearts. It destroyed the buildings, but it didn't affect the spirit of a lot of citizens in this community.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush tried to paint an encouraging picture of the city's progress...

BUSH: New Orleans, better days are ahead.

MALVEAUX: speaking at a newly opened charter school in the Lower Ninth Ward, offering a moment of silence for the hurricane's victims and the day before exchanging hugs and kisses with Louisiana officials.

But New Orleans' recovery has been a big disappointment for many who live here. Huge sections of the city remain in shambles. Unemployment and crime are rampant while schools and hospitals have been slow to reopen.

While work on the levees continues, they are far from ready for the next big storm. Less than a third of New Orleans' residents eager to rebuild have received the federal funding to make it happen.

In the days immediately following Katrina, as these horrendous images emerged, some suggested, like rap star Kanye West, on NBC's Concert for Hurricane Relief, perhaps race played a role in the government's slow response.

KANYE WEST, RAPPER: George Bush doesn't care about black people.

MALVEAUX: Last week, New Orleans Mayor Nagin suggested the slow recovery now and unequal funding for his state was about politics.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: We're tied up in between whether this is going to be a red state or a blue state. And you have a Democratic governor and a Republican president. And there's all sorts of tension there and it's slowed things down tremendously.

MALVEAUX: Answering his critics, President Bush highlighted the billions of dollars the federal government has contributed to both states.

BUSH: Of the $114 billion spent so far in resources allocated so far, about 80 percent of the funds have been disbursed or available.

MALVEAUX: The president later visited Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, which was devastated by the storm.


MALVEAUX: While the president boasts of being closely tied to those impacted by Hurricane Katrina, he used an odd choice of words to describe those in New Orleans, referring to them three times as "the folks in this part of the world".

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, New Orleans.


ROMANS: Turning now to the race for 2008, Republican Senator John McCain now says securing our borders is his number one priority when it comes to immigration reform. McCain once supported amnesty for illegal aliens and expanded guest worker programs, but since the defeat of the so-called Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, McCain says he's getting the message that most Americans don't share his amnesty view.

The senator is attempting to revive his struggling presidential campaign.

John King spoke with Senator McCain earlier today.

John King joins me now from Los Angeles -- John.

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Christine, just striking how chastened Senator McCain is now on the issue of immigration reform. Remember, it was seismic, along with Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, just weeks ago saying on the floor of the United States Senate -- no, you have to have a comprehensive bill. It has to have a path to citizenship, or at least legal status, for the millions of Americans -- millions of illegal immigrants in the United States of America now who broke the law to get into this country. They said that had to be part of the final package.

Of course, conservative opposition killed that legislation in the Senate. It significantly damaged Senator McCain's presidential campaign.

So when I asked him today, if he is elected president or returns to the Senate, would he push that measure again?

And his answer was no.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: No. My position is that we got the message. The message is, we've got to secure the borders.

I'm still for comprehensive immigration reform, but Americans have to have the assurance that we have secured the borders. I promise to do that. I will secure the borders. Then we will move on to other things. That's the message of this last debate. I got it.


KING: Chastened on immigration, but still defiant on the issue of Iraq. Senator McCain has also suffered politically because of his strong support for the war and his strong support for the troop surge now underway in Iraq. That has hurt him among the general electorate, a position that is perhaps popular with Republicans, but not with general election voters.

Still, Senator McCain says he believes his position is right and he said he would oppose one of his key friends in the United States Senate, Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia. Warner says it's time to get President Bush to bring at least 5,000 troops home by Christmas. Senator McCain says bad idea.


MCCAIN: It's a bad idea, a terrible idea. And I'll fight it every step of the way. John Warner and I are very close friends, but that sends the signal to Al Qaeda and the bad people in the neighbor -- in the region -- that we're leaving. And that's not our position.

Our position is we're going to succeed. And the strategy -- the present strategy is succeeding. And why anyone would want to go back to the previous strategy, frankly, doesn't make a lot of sense to me.


KING: Blunt talk there from the senator on this, his 71st birthday.

Christiane, he would be older than Ronald Reagan, who was the oldest president ever sworn into office, if he can revive his campaign and win the Republican nomination and win the White House. He has had a horrible past few months. His campaign is slipping in the polls. It is very low on money.

Still, Senator McCain says he's in great spirits. He believes he can turn all this around. It was an interesting conversation with him today.

And, Christine, many doubt he can turn it around, but the senator says he's still confident.

ROMANS: You know, on immigration, John, I mean this is a senator who's been around a long -- he's been through immigration battles before -- illegal immigration battles, amnesty battles. Was he surprised at how badly this hurt him and does he think he can he think he can put it behind him and convince people that he's going to really go after border security first?

KING: Well, he has already taken some steps in the Senate to support amendments that he says put the money behind his mouth, if you will, that proves he is willing now to do border security first, and then and only then move on to the other issues, like either a path to citizenship or some sort of legal status for illegal immigrants.

Can he move past it completely?

Of course, he can't, and he knows that. What he's hoping to do is turn the page and turn the emotions of the immigration debate now and focus on issues in which he is more in sync with the conservative Republican electorate.

the big question of his campaign is can he raise enough money to stay viable?

And, if he can so, will enough of those voters forgive him?

ROMANS: John, does it feel as though the senator has retaken the offensive here or is he on the defensive with his campaign and his position right now?

KING: I would say it's a little bit of both. Certainly, he's on the defensive, because he has slipped so significantly in the polls from his 70th to now, his 71st birthday.

But he is a fascinating character in American politics, Christine. And he put it today, win or lose, he's going to go out fighting, in the way he is most comfortable. He's a very easygoing man to talk to. Of course, many of his positions are controversial, but I will tell you, he seems very comfortable in his skin.

He says he will fight, fight, fight. He's not going to back down. And the odds are significantly against him right now. But the senator says he likes being in that position.

ROMANS: All right, John King in Los Angeles.

Thanks, John.

KING: Thank you.

ROMANS: Coming up, cities and states across the nation that have taken action on their own to deal with the crisis caused by illegal immigration are now facing new lawsuits from pro-amnesty groups. We'll hear from both sides of this issue.

And dealing with the threat of dangerous toys from China -- Senator Dick Durbin is proposing legislation to deal with this crisis.

He'll join me later in the broadcast.

Stay with us.


ROMANS: Pro-amnesty advocates have taken on several local communities who have acted on their own to crack down on illegal immigration. Towns like Riverside, New Jersey have backed down under the threat of a lawsuit.

Now one group says it may sue the State of Oklahoma because of its immigration law. The law denies state welfare benefits to illegal aliens. It also denies state identification to those who are in the country illegally.

Joining me now to discuss this are Reverend Miguel Rivera, the president and founder of the National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders.

He says our program, LOU DOBBS TONIGHT has not been constructive in the immigration reform debate.

And from Oklahoma City, the author of Oklahoma's bill to get tough on illegal immigration, State Representative Randy Terrill.

Thank you both, gentlemen, for joining us.

Randy, let me start with you first, since you were the architect of this bill and it's the bill that is raising this specter of, perhaps, a lawsuit from this organization.

What are you aiming to do here?

RANDY TERRILL (R), OKLAHOMA STATE HOUSE: Well, real simply, we're aiming to cut off access to official government I.D. to illegal aliens, whether that's driver's license or I.D. cards or occupational licenses. We're aiming at terminating public assistance or entitlement benefits to illegal aliens, giving state and local law enforcement the ability to enforce federal immigration law, and, finally, requiring employers to verify employment eligibility of all new hires, as well as penalizing them if they knowingly and willingly hire illegal aliens.

ROMANS: And this why, this is because you think that illegal immigration has been negative for the State of Oklahoma?

TERRILL: Well, I think that's quite clear -- not only that the federal government has fallen down on their responsibility to protect our nation's borders, but their failure to protect our nation's borders functionally imposes a tax on each and every citizen, whether it's in Oklahoma or any other state, particularly in the areas of health care, education, welfare and corrections.


Reverend, you say this law and others like are -- cause racial profiling and discrimination against Hispanics. These states say -- and the local communities say -- they're just doing what the federal -- the federal government hasn't done its job, so now they're stepping in to do something.

Is it discrimination and racial profiling?

REV. MIGUEL RIVERA, NATIONAL COALITION OF LATINO CLERGY: Well, let me start by saying that the National Coalition of Latino Clergy is a conservative organization formed of over 16,000 Evangelical Latino churches in 33 states. So the point that I would like to make to Mr. Randy Terrill is that what he's aiming is to create more animosity, which is hurting brothers and sisters who support conservative issues, just like he supports.

And in this case, especially, the law in Oklahoma -- maybe it's well-intended, but it is definitely the wrong approach to an issue that is supposed to be resolved at the federal level by our Congress in Washington, D.C.

ROMANS: Do you agree that the federal government, though, has not enforced immigration law, has led to an immigration free-for-all, illegal immigration being treated the same, almost, as legal immigration and created this crisis?

I mean do you agree that there's a problem on the local level that people are trying to address?

RIVERA: Oh, there's definitely -- this big problem has been created because of the lack of professionalism from members of Congress. That's our position, by the way. We support that we need to strengthen our borders and we support that we have to secure our nation.

But we also support that there is a need to address the issue of 12 million undocumented people that are not going to be deported from this country.

ROMANS: Right.

RIVERA: They are not going anywhere but stay in this place. And by the way, what Mr. Terrill is doing is just trying to score political points for his personal political future using this sensitive issue.

ROMANS: Mr. Terrill, I'll let you respond to that charge, because I mean that is a pretty serious charge.

TERRILL: Well, Oklahoma's version of immigration reform is exactly the right approach. It's a model not only for the other states, but for the nation, as well.

Listen, both -- both attempts at the federal level for this phony baloney version of immigration reform -- what we need to be focusing on is on real meaningful immigration reform, cutting off access to jobs, public -- cutting off access to public benefits and giving state and law enforcement the ability to enforce the immigration law.

Our bill is, in fact, the toughest immigration bill in the nation. That's what makes it a huge symbolic target for folks like the reverend.

ROMANS: Right.

TERRILL: and that's why it's important that we succeed in this legal battle that they're trying to mount.

ROMANS: Mr. Terrill, let me ask you, can you write this in such a way that you can make sure that there isn't discrimination, there isn't racial profiling, and sort of make sure that this is something that is essentially doing what the federal government can't, won't or hasn't been able to?

TERRILL: Oh, absolutely. In fact, that's what the federal databases that we take advantage of in House Bill 1804 are exactly designed to do.

Listen, this bill is nationality neutral. It doesn't target any particular race, ethnicity or national origin. We don't care, frankly, what your skin color is or if you speak with an accent.

What we do care about is whether or not you're in this country legally or illegally.

The only people who have anything to be concerned about under House Bill 1804 are those people who have voluntarily made the decision to come or remain in this country unlawfully.

RIVERA: Mr. Terrill, this bill, what it is doing is giving the opportunity to police officers -- and even the Sheriff's Department of Tulsa, Oklahoma -- to practice racial profiling, to flag people in the streets just because of the color of their skin. We already have over 30 cases that will be brought to the federal Justice Department in the next few days, just asking for them to start an investigation right away.

By the way, I would like to stress the point that the Tulsa, Oklahoma Police Department was already investigated in 2001 for this same issue.

On the other hand, what this bill is creating is polarizing and more animosity among people who don't like to be in this issues...


RIVERA: ...and that's why I strongly believe that we're going to see you in court and we hope to succeed.

ROMANS: Randy, you've got 25 seconds to respond, sir.

TERRILL: Well, and, of course, Christine, that's absolute and complete nonsense.

The reality is, there is no racial profiling that's going to take place under House Bill 1804. I understand this is part of the concerted effort that they're making to legally challenge the law.

ROMANS: All right...

TERRILL: They will not be successful in that effort. I'm 99.99...

ROMANS: Gentlemen, we have to leave it there.

RIVERA: If there is no racial profiling...

TERRILL: You bet.

RIVERA: ...I would like to see the sheriff of the Tulsa Police Department, who is saying that they deported Puerto Ricans.

I am a Puerto Rican. I hope that he will explain that to me at some point.

ROMANS: Gentlemen, we have to leave it there.

TERRILL: The only thing that matters is whether you're here legally or illegally.

ROMANS: I promised a spirited debate.

And, gentlemen, we have it.

I thank you both so much.

Reverend, thank you so much for joining us.

RIVERA: Thank you for having me.

ROMANS: And we've just lost our signal there in Oklahoma.

Thank you so much, Mr. Terrill, as well.

A reminder now to vote in tonight's poll -- do you think it is outrageous that Elvira Arellano wants to be an ambassador for Mexico when she spent years doing everything she could to avoid deportation to that country, yes or no?

Cast your vote at

We'll bring you the results in just a few minutes.

Up next, Senator Dick Durbin on his plan to keep dangerous imports from flooding into the U.S.


ROMANS: Dangerous imports from Communist China have raised concerns over safety inspections in this country.

Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is among those calling for comprehensive safety standards for all products.

Senator Durbin recently spoke with the CEOs of Mattel, Toys"R"Us, Walgreens, as well as the head of Wal-Mart's toy division about dangerous toy imports.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), DEMOCRATIC WHIP: I think they understand the severity of this problem. We're about to launch the holiday season, the purchase of toys by families all across America. And there's some real misgivings, as I've said over and over. Families don't want to play Chinese roulette when they go into a toy department.

And I think that you're going to find more and more retailers and manufacturers that are going to be inspecting their products, they're going to be demanding higher standards in production. They're going to try to restore confidence in a very short period of time.

ROMANS: Well, one of the problems with demanding higher standards and restoring confidence is I am assuming that's going to cost money. And one of the reasons why you've had manufacturing go overseas is because that's where the labor savings are.

Do you think that the American people are going to say we'll pay more, but these companies have got to make sure that labor standards, environmental standards and the like, and safety standards, are followed?

DURBIN: I think American families, understandably are willing to pay whatever it takes to have a safe product, a safe toy. And they're worried.

Let's put it in perspective. It isn't because lead paint is cheaper in China that they're using it. It's because the workers are paid about $80 a month. They don't know where these toys are headed. They don't know the families and their expectations and their safety standards and their health standards. They're really looking for a much higher level of a quality.

ROMANS: Let's talk a little bit about our safeguards in this country, because we do have safeguards for food safety, for product safety. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is responsible for some 15,000 different products. And you have been corresponding with this agency, trying to sort of find out what's going on here and whether this agency is doing its job and has enough resources and a big enough budget.

You've now written two letters to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

In response to the first letter, suggesting that the agency test for lead in children's products, the acting chairwoman, Nancy Nord, responded, saying that they could not replicate a program of this magnitude within its current resources and statutory authority.

What does that mean and what's your reaction?

DURBIN: I'm very disappointed. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has an important responsibility. They'd better wake up to the reality. American consumers expect when they find a product on the shelf, that it's going to be safe. And when I say to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, take this seriously, get aggressive. Let's have a risk analysis of children's jewelries and toys. And if we have to detain these products before they come into the United States, let's do it.

I get some sort of half serious approach from the commission. They're not sure if they have the authority. They want to look at it. We're lean and mean.

I don't buy. It I want to see a much more aggressive approach from this commission.

ROMANS: A commission spokesman recently told me that a bigger government does not necessarily mean better government and they do a good job with the resources that they have.

DURBIN: You know, that statement doesn't reflect reality. In the last 20 years, the inspectors and workers at this commission have been cut in half. At the same time, exports in the United States -- to the United States -- have grown exponentially.

It's obvious that inspecting one out of every 100 shipments is not good enough. And this commission has to wake up to reality. Either they should do the job or get out of town.

ROMANS: So what can Congress do about it?

I mean my question is, so many of these toys have already been designed, manufactured, ordered and are on ships coming here for the holiday shopping season.

You know, what can Congress do to make sure that our agencies are doing their jobs, our retailers and importers are doing their jobs and that, you know, we're just not relying on a fly-by-night supplier of a supplier of a supplier somewhere in China that could make a mistake?

DURBIN: Well, I'm the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee for this commission. They're going to have more resources, more availability for inspectors and testing laboratories and the kind of computers they need to follow these shipments.

But they have to take a much more aggressive attitude when it comes to dealing with these products. And I don't like the responses that I've heard out of this commission over the last several weeks. It is the kind of weak approach which really doesn't give confidence to consumers across America, who count on their government to make sure that products are safe.

ROMANS: Senator, this whole thing started with imported food safety, with the pet foot scandal. And you've looked at this, as well. You've continued to work on improving the standards for food imports.

Last month, you introduced the Imported Foods Security Act of 2007. You want to have import user fees.

DURBIN: You bet.

ROMANS: you want to require food safety research and food import certification.

Quickly, tell me about what this would do to make our imported food more safe.

DURBIN: A modest fee of $20 or $50 will gather enough resources to put more inspectors on the job, so we look at more shipments of food and products coming into this country to make them safe.

It's not going to increase the overall cost of individual units, but it's really going to give consumers more confidence.

Look at this pet food scandal. Innocent dogs and cats across America dying because the Chinese sent us some chemically tainted shipment. That's unacceptable. Toothpaste with anti-freeze in it from China; lead toys that are dangerous; magnets that kids swallow and die; now lead paint on vehicle -- on these little cars that these kids use. All of that's unacceptable.

We've got to have the resources to have the cops on the beat so that American consumers are protected.

ROMANS: All right.

Senator Richard Durbin, thank you so much for joining us.

DURBIN: Glad to be with you.

ROMANS: Coming up, at the top of the hour, "THE SITUATION ROOM WITH WOLF BLITZER" -- Wolf, what have you got?


Exactly two years after Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, President Bush back paying a visit. The mayor of that city of New Orleans, by the way, had accused him of playing politics. We'll update you on what's going on today.

And a CNN exclusive -- the filmmaker Spike Lee joining our own Soledad O'Brien, discussing what he calls Katrina fatigue.

Also, some of his fellow Republicans now openly calling on Idaho Senator Larry Craig to step down after his bathroom bust. Senator John McCain leading the charge. His frank one-on-one interview with our John King. That's coming up.

And Cuban spy case -- five men behind bars right now in the United States. They say they were getting information on potential terrorists in Miami. The U.S. government says they were playing a deadly game of espionage.

All that coming up right here in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Christine?

ROMANS: All right.

Thank you, Wolf.

Still ahead, the results of tonight's poll and more of your thoughts.

Stay with us.


ROMANS: Now, the results of tonight's poll -- 97 percent of you think it is outrageous that Elvira Arellano wants to be an ambassador for Mexico when she spent years trying to avoid deportation back to that country.

Time now for some of your thoughts.

Gary in New Hampshire: "New Orleans? The most corrupt city in the most corrupt state in America, and they want more money? Who do they think they are, Iraq?"

Dan in New York: "Equally critical, if New Orleans got billions of dollars, just what has Nagin and the rest of the people in charge done with it? I hope someone is keeping watch on how the tax money is being used."

Colby in California: "When I see all of the clergy members hiding illegal aliens in their churches, I can't help but wonder why they aren't holding Mexico accountable for its corrupt government and abandonment of its people. Where are the human rights activists that are upset about human rights in China or Darfur? Where is the outrage to a country bordering the United States that allows the majority of its people to live in extreme poverty? I think American citizens deserve answers on why they are being held responsible for another country's corruption."

Tom in Minnesota: "If ICE wants to raid another chicken plant to stem the flow of illegals, they can raid Congress. Five hundred thirty-five documented and demented chickens."

Each of you whose e-mail is read here will receive a copy of Joseph Califano's book, "High Society."

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For all of us here, thanks for watching.

Good night from New York.