Return to Transcripts main page
CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer
Interviews With Barham Salih, Tim Russert
Aired May 28, 2006 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 8:00 a.m. here in Los Angeles, 11:00 a.m. in Washington, 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad and 10:00 p.m. in Jakarta, Indonesia. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
We'll bring you the latest on the devastating earthquake in Indonesia in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now, CNN's Fredricka Whitfield joining us from the CNN headquarters. Fred?
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.
Let's get some more details now on that severe earthquake in Indonesia, where the death toll is approaching 4,000. Thousands more are injured. Tens of thousands are homeless.
CNN's Dan Rivers is in the quake zone. He's joining us live via video phone from Jakarta. What's the latest on the scene, Dan?
DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We spent the day, Wolf, touring some harrowing scenes of destruction.
We've been to villages where 95 percent of the houses have been destroyed or damage, where the wounded are still lying untreated and where people are having to bury their loved ones who've been killed.
They are terrible scenes here in Indonesia, reminiscent, of course, of the tsunami a year and a half ago which I covered as well.
The scale of the destruction is perhaps not as big, the number of deaths, of course, not that big. But nevertheless, there are awful scenes, traumatic scenes for the residents of this province which has been devastated by this earthquake measuring 6.3.
BLITZER: Dan, are the people getting the supplies, the emergency supplies, the food, the water, the medicine that they need, or is that just beginning to come in?
RIVERS: It's only beginning to come in. We saw some Indonesian soldiers out on patrol here, clearly affecting the situation. Obviously, a huge aid operation is beginning to swing into place. A lot of aid agencies were here because they were concerned about a volcano that was going to explode further north, Mount Merapi. That never happened. But because of that, a lot of aid agencies were in the area. So perhaps the situation is better than it could have been, in that a lot of the NGOs are here on site. But clearly, they are overwhelmed by the sheer number of people. I mean, almost 4,000 people are now confirmed dead. And the death toll is rising all the time.
BLITZER: Dan, are they expecting the death toll to rise significantly or is the worst of it, hopefully, just there?
RIVERS: I think the feeling here is that the worst of it has happened now, that a lot of the bodies have now been recovered, certainly the places we visited today.
This is a huge area, by the way, that's been affected, about 80 kilometers across, 50 miles across. But the villages we visited today, they'd already buried most of the dead and were, obviously, clearly very traumatized and saddened by what's happened.
I didn't get the impression that there are a large number of people still waiting to be discovered below the rubble. A lot of the buildings that have collapsed are small houses, single-story houses.
And basically, a soon as you have a quake happen, people came out, they regrouped, they worked out who was missing. And then they, sadly, discovered those who had perished or who were injured.
So, while I think the death toll will rise significantly, I think it will creep up slowly. I think the worst has probably come to light now.
BLITZER: CNN's Dan Rivers, on the scene for us. Dan, we'll check back with you. Thank you.
International relief agencies are already on the ground in Indonesia, And joining us now by phone from Jakarta is Howard Arfin. He's the reporting coordinator for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent. Mr. Arfin, thanks very much for joining us. What are the greatest needs right now?
HOWARD ARFIN, REPORTING COORDINATOR, INTERNATIONAL RED CROSS/RED CRESCENT: Well, we're in a significant mobilization, as you might imagine.
And the immediate needs, as is often the case with this scale of disaster, is to provide safe, clean drinking water so that people don't get unnecessarily further sick from water-borne diseases such as cholera or diarrhea, which is a killer of young children; basic food, when you have your food services disrupted; shelter, which we're beginning to provide for people who are having to sleep outside -- we've already gotten 10,000 blankets distributed and there's more on the way -- and just basic first aid services, which are being provided now by about 400 local Indonesian Red Cross volunteers in the disaster zone.
BLITZER: Are planes able to get in with these emergency supplies? This is a relatively remote area area. ARFIN: Up until late this afternoon, the answer was no. And we got one large emergency field hospital into the Yogyakarta area by truck during last night.
But the government authorities were quick to begin reparations on the airport. And we believe that, within the last couple of hours, the airport has been prepared for the arrival of humanitarian flights, which will mean that some of the large aircraft that we are preparing to ship in more quantities of tents will be available to begin doing that, and beyond that to continue bringing in food and medical supplies by truck.
BLITZER: What is the latest estimate as to the number of people who have been made homeless by this earthquake?
We know about 4,000 have been killed, thousands others injured. What about the numbers of people who are without homes right now?
ARFIN: The numbers that we've been receiving just recently, the United Nations coordination meeting, with figures provided by the government -- and these are very early figures in these very early days -- is about 25,000 homes that have been seriously damaged or in fact destroyed, which represents well over 100,000 people.
And of course, the circumstances are that the entire population is staying out of doors because of the continuing aftershocks. So it is very difficult to determine how many people are just staying out of their homes to avoid further collapse and injury and how many in fact have no homes left to go to.
As things settle down and people return to their homes, we'll have a better idea of how many people actually need temporary shelter.
BLITZER: Howard Arfin is the reporting coordinator for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent.
Good luck to you and all the people who work with you, Mr. Arfin. Thank you very much.
Let's get some more now. The United Nations is stepping in to try to provide relief, as well, to these earthquake victims.
Joining us now by phone from Oslo, Norway is the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, Jan Egeland.
Mr. Egeland, thanks very much for joining us. What about the international response?
Is it forthcoming or is it lacking?
JAN EGELAND, U.N. EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR: There is an enormous international response. Many countries have pledged funds. I think the whole world sees that Indonesia is now struck by its third major catastrophe in just one and a half years: the tsunami, then the earthquake that struck the island of Nias and then this earthquake. There have also been hundreds of other quakes and aftershocks. So Indonesia needs our help. But Indonesia is doing most of the job itself. We should not overestimate the importance of international assistance. What we're doing is complementing what the army is doing, what the Indonesian government is doing.
The president himself is now in the area directing this effort. And of course, this is Indonesian heartland to the extent that this is heavily populated, it has a big infrastructure, and there are much Indonesian supplies there because we were all preparing for a possible outbreak of the volcano in this area. And those supplies are now benefiting the quake victims.
BLITZER: You're coordinating the international relief. How much money have you been committed to so far from the United States, from Europe, from Japan, from other countries, some of the more wealthy countries?
EGELAND: Well, there is already considerable sums initially pledged from North America, from Europe, from Australia, from several Asian nations. We will issue an appeal for our work after we get the report from our assessment teams, who are already in place. We had a plane arriving with coordinators, experts, you know, people who can set up operations coming in yesterday and today.
We had people there who started work because they were there to prepare for the possible volcano outbreak. I think there will be an enormous need for assistance because, yes, there have been perhaps 4,000 killed so far but there will be tens and tens of thousands without a home, and there are already at least three times as many wounded as those -- and injured as those who are confirmed dead.
BLITZER: Are you going to be making your way toward the scene, Mr. Egeland?
EGELAND: That may well be. But I have already teams coming in from the area where we have lots of people working on tsunami relief and the follow-up of the earthquake at Nias last spring. So this is not Aceh tsunami land in the sense that here we have people, we have coordination structures up and running, and the 100 international organizations who are either involved or planning to get involved have gotten a clear message that we need to be well-coordinated in clusters, concentrating on water and sanitation, health, food and emergency shelter.
BLITZER: Jan Egeland is the U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the people involved in this emergency relief operation. Thanks very much for joining us. We're going to have much more on this story coming up throughout "Late Edition." Terrible tragedy unfolding in Indonesia.
Just ahead, though, the new Iraqi government wants security and democracy, but can it control the violent insurgency and the sectarian warfare? Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, weighs in live on his country's next steps. And he's interviewed countless newsmakers. Now it's NBC's Tim Russert who's meeting the press. I'll talk with him about President Bush, the upcoming Congressional elections, and his new book, "Wisdom of Our Fathers."
Plus, my special conversation with former President Jimmy Carter. He shares some very strong opinions on the nuclear standoff with Iran, human rights and lots more. "Late Edition" continues right after this.
BLITZER: Our web question of the week asks this: Do you agree with the U.S. Senate measure making English the national language of the United States? You can cast your vote. Go to cnn.com/lateedition. We'll have the results at the end of this program.
Straight ahead, with a new Iraqi government in place, what lies ahead for that country? My conversation with Barham Salih, Iraq's deputy prime minister. That's coming up live. You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting today from Los Angeles. With Iraq's new unity government finally in place, its top priority is trying to bring order and security to the country. But relentless attacks from insurgents, coupled with widespread sectarian violence, is making all of that extremely, extremely difficult.
Joining us now from Baghdad is Iraq's deputy prime minister, the acting national security adviser, Barham Salih. Deputy Prime Minister, welcome back to "Late Edition." A difficult moment in Iraq's history. There is, though, some hope. First of all, what's the latest on the inability, at least so far, to have a permanent defense minister or interior minister? Where does that stand?
BARHAM SALIH, IRAQI DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well, one can say the search goes on. The difficulty lies in the fact that the prime minister and the government has committed to bringing in two people that will be agreed to by the main parliamentary blocs, people who will be competent and who will be able to work together and with the prime minister, to help with the security file.
These criteria makes it difficult to really narrow down the search. I just spoke to the prime minister, and he's committed to make the decision very soon, and I hope we will bring into the team of the government two competent Iraqis who will help bring about security and help resolve many of the security challenges before us.
BLITZER: I know last weekend when they announced the new government, the hope was within a week there could be a new defense minister and a new interior minister. That week has now come and gone. When do you think there finally will be these appointments? SALIH: My hope is that people outside would understand the scale of the difficulties that we're dealing with, certainly on the security file. There is a turning point in Iraq, and this government is a manifest of Iraq's national unity. For the first time since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, we have credible representatives from the Sunni community taking part in the government.
And we have committed as part of that compact to include all communities of Iraq, that the ministers of defense and interior will be agreed to by the main communities. That is a difficult challenge because in this polarized society, there are different views about particularly the issue of security. But the prime minister and the government has committed to this.
And one note of caution. You should not judge Iraqis by timetables that from afar may sound easy to meet. We are dealing with a difficult, difficult political and security challenge, and while we are making progress, we need to overcome these things, and sometimes we need more time than people are willing to give us.
BLITZER: Is it a foregone conclusion,Mr. Minister, that the defense minister will be an Iraqi Sunni and the interior minister, who's in charge of the police and homeland security, if you will, will be a Shia?
SALIH: That, I would say, is a safe bet, a conventional wisdom, generally agreed to principle, but it is not by any means a foregone conclusion.
The searches have been within those parameters, but if a good Shia were to come and be agreed to by the Sunnis to that particular post of defense minister, I'm sure that it would be considered favorably.
But at the moment, the search is within the parameters that you just mentioned but not a foregone conclusion as such.
BLITZER: The British defense secretary said this on Tuesday. Des Browne said, "Armed militias are widespread and a grave threat to the stability of Iraq and the rule of law. Any government, if it is to survive, must establish a monopoly on the use of force. At the moment the Iraqi government clearly lacks this."
Is the new Iraqi government of Prime Minister al-Maliki taking steps already, right now, to disband, to disarm the various militias?
SALIH: The prime minister made this issue a priority. And this is one of the most difficult issues that will face this government and perhaps this government will be judged by.
We know who the terrorists are. And the terrorists are on one side and the rest of the people of Iraq are on the other. Everybody should be united in tracking the terrorists.
But the issue of organized armed groups who are acting outside the state and outside the law are becoming a serious problem for our politics and our society. And we have to deal with it.
The prime minister has committed to taking serious steps in that direction. And all the key parliamentary blocs are supporting him in this mission.
I cannot say that this will be done easily because we have a serious problem in that context and certainly in certain areas of Iraq. But the prime minister and the government are determined and committed to resolving this issue.
We know that it will be a bit difficult, but we are committed to doing so because without that, there will be no stability in Iraq.
BLITZER: Let me play for you what the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, told me last Sunday here on "Late Edition." Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Well, it's still a challenge, an important challenge.
The prime minister has said, and we agree with him, that those ministries should be occupied by people who are unifiers, that are not people with ties to militias, people who are broadly accepted by the Iraqis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: This militia issue, clearly a critical issue. I assume you want the Badr militia, the Mahdi militia to be disbanded. What about the Peshmerga?
You're a Kurd. The Peshmerga is the militia of the Kurds in the north, some 70,000 militia members in the Peshmerga.
Will that be disbanded as well?
SALIH: I've just come back from Kurdistan. I was on a short trip to Sulaymaniyah and Erbil. Thank God the situation there is stable and secure because the Peshmergas have been enrolled in the security services, the police.
And in accordance with the Iraqi constitution, there is a provision that every federal region in Iraq can have its regional guards, very much like your National Guards in the United States.
So the Peshmerga is really not an issue in dispute as such. The issue of militias and the issue of bringing in people in charge of the security portfolio that are unifiers and are seen by most Iraqis as competent and non-sectarian will be an important challenge for this government.
And this is why the prime minister really has taken his time and is consulting and consulting. And I hope, at the end of this process, we will bring in people who can do this difficult task. And we'll deal with the issues of militias by laying ahead of us a road map for rehabilitation and reintegration of these people back into public life of Iraqi politics or Iraqi state.
BLITZER: So let me just press you on this point. So there's one standard, as you see it, for the Peshmerga, which will be integrated into the new Iraqi security force, another for the Shiite militias, the Badr militia, the Mahdi militia?
Is that what you're saying? Those militias should be disbanded but not necessarily the Peshmerga?
SALIH: No, I'm not saying that at all. The Peshmerga -- and you have to remember the historical context as well. The Kurdistan regional government has been in existence over the last 14 years. And this issue of militias has been dealt with for almost a decade now. That has been dealt with, by and large.
But even with the Iraqi constitution that was ratified a few months back, there is a single provision calling for the establishment of regional guards, very much like the United States, where you have a national guards for the states.
But these, all military units of Iraq, including the Peshmergas or the regional guards of Kurdistan, will be going back to the same chain of command, ending in Baghdad at the ministry of defense and the prime minister.
BLITZER: Here's what Nouri al-Maliki, the new Iraqi prime minister, said on Wednesday. He said, "Our forces will be able to take over the security file in all Iraqi provinces in a year and a half."
Assuming he's right, what does that say about the U.S. and coalition troop deployment in Iraq?
When do you believe significant numbers of foreign forces in Iraq will start leaving?
SALIH: I will not want to talk about timetables, really, for one fundamental reason. The Iraqi situation is a complex one. And we are dealing with a tough war against international terrorism and the remnants of the Saddam regime.
I think we are making progress. There is significant progress in the way that Iraqi forces are trained and are recruited.
I mean, if you were to compare the situation now compared to where we were a year ago, you will see significant progress.
And I think, if this pace is maintained, we will be seeing more reliance on Iraqi troops and Iraqi security organizations as opposed to the multinational forces.
And I think the challenge for this government and, for that matter, the international coalition will be to place Iraqis in the front to assume security of their own country.
I have reviewed plans that the multinational forces will be handing over full security responsibilities to Iraqi security organizations and police and military in various provinces of Iraq at different parts of the year.
And I think you will see more and more emphasis on Iraqi troops as opposed to multinational forces.
In terms of significant reductions of the American and other forces, this, again, depends on the situation on the ground. But I don't think it will be impossible to see significant reduction in these troops in the foreseeable future. But we should not commit to a specific timetable because we do not want to give the terrorists any hints or any ideas that they can wait us out. This war against international terrorism in Iraq must be won and must be won decisively. Failure is not an option here in Iraq.
BLITZER: Barham Salih is the deputy prime minister of Iraq. You've got a huge challenge ahead of you. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the Iraqi people, Mr. Minister.
SALIH: Thank you.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."
And still ahead.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're the last word in Sunday talk. You know that, right?
TIM RUSSERT, HOST, MEET THE PRESS: Because if it's Sunday, it's "Meet the Press."
BLITZER: And we're the only one that's seen live around the world in 240 countries.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: A special conversation coming up with my Sunday morning talk show colleague, Tim Russert. He'll talk about his new book, politics in the United States, lots more.
Up next, though, a quick check of what's the news right now, including the latest on the pope's visit to Poland. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting today from Los Angeles. He's a familiar face on Sunday morning for millions of television viewers. That's because, for the past 14 years, Tim Russert has interviewed a host of newsmakers as the moderator and managing editor of NBC's "Meet the Press."
Now he's the author of a powerful new book, "Wisdom of Our Fathers." I spoke with Tim Russert about his new book, as well as his take on President Bush, the prospects for Democrats in this year's Congressional elections and lots more.
BLITZER: Tim Russert, welcome to "Late Edition." Good to have you back on the program.
RUSSERT: My Sunday morning partner.
BLITZER: Good. Thank you. You've got two excellent books now. "Big Russ and Me," you made it number one. This new book, "Wisdom of Our Father's: Lessons and Letter from Daughters and Sons," we're going to get to this new book momentarily.
I've got to pick your brain. It's Sunday morning. Let's talk politics a little bit. Our latest CNN poll has Bush job approval at 36 percent approve, 57 percent disapprove.
If you take a look at some all-time low presidential job approval ratings, Nixon was at 24 percent in mid July '74, Jimmy Carter was at 28 percent, Bush 41 was at 29 percent. Clinton's lowest was at 37 percent in early June 1993. Bush 43 was a 34 percent earlier. Some polls, not ours, have him even down at 31 percent.
Can this guy come back anytime between now and the mid-term elections so that the Republicans presumably might be helped?
RUSSERT: It's going to be very hard. He needs the right confluence of the sun, the moon, the stars all aligning and adjusting. The White House is very relieved there's now a new prime minister, a new government in Iraq. And they're hoping that they can secure that country, which would allow, prior to the mid-term elections, the withdrawal of a significant amount of American troops. That would be good news.
Secondly, there's going to be another hurricane, Wolf. And can this administration and the local government of Louisiana perform better than they did during Katrina, and show the American people they've earned something? Third, what's going to happen to gas prices? If they go down a little bit.
And the president gets lucky on those three issues, if you will, can he get up above 40 percent? Possibly, but no one can predict it.
BLITZER: Here's a -- you're talking about Iraq, which is hovering over this administration like no other issue. His approval as far as the handling of the situation in Iraq is at 34 percent, 62 percent disapprove.
But you talk about a new government emerging now in Iraq. Here's what the president said the other day. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our nation's been through three difficult years in Iraq. And the way forward will bring more days of challenge and loss.
The progress we have made has been hard-fought, and it's been incremental. There have been set backs and missteps like Abu Ghraib. They were felt immediately and have been difficult to overcome. Yet, we've now reached a turning point in the struggle between freedom and terror.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's trying to balance a realistic assessment. At the same time, he uses the phrase "a turning point," which may or may not happen.
RUSSERT: We do not know if this will be a turning point. The reason is, are there enough young Iraqis who will step forward and say, "I believe in this new democracy. And to prove that, I'm willing to shed my blood and give my life."
It is then and only then can Americans start coming home. That's the unanswered question. Do the Iraqis believe, across the board, in their government and willing to take on the insurgency without any question?
BLITZER: Here's the poll on Democrats and Republicans, the generic poll as far as Congress and the mid-term elections are concerned. Among registered voters in our CNN poll, 52 percent say they prefer Democrats, 38 percent say they prefer Republicans.
But that's the generic. When it comes to specific races, obviously people sort of like their own personal congressman or congresswoman, even though they might not like the Congress as a whole.
RUSSERT: But that number indicates right now we'll have a preference for the Democrats. There's no doubt about it. In 1994, we saw similar numbers. And for the first time in 40 years, the Republicans captured the House and the Senate.
The highest number predicted in '94 was that the Republicans would capture anywhere from 35 to 40 seats. They wound up winning some 55, 56, 57 seats.
Who knows what's going to happen? But right now, the Democrats are very well-positioned. Why? In the words of Newt Gingrich, the Republican who led the '94 revolution, the Democrats's best bumper sticker is "Had enough."
BLITZER: Well, let me play you a clip from what Newt Gingrich said on "Meet the Press" on May 14. Because he's a smart guy, obviously. And he was the architect of turning that Congressional situation from Democrat to Republican back in '94. Listen to what to he said to you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER REPUBLICAN HOUSE MEMBER: Congresswoman Pelosi could not explain what her speakership would be because it'd be so far to the left they would guarantee the Republicans re-election. So I was saying partly, they can't possibly put together a Contract with America because Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi and their allies are so far to the left they can't be clear what they would do: raise taxes, create more big bureaucracy, have a much weaker system of defending America, just go down the list.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's Newt Gingrich.
RUSSERT: Yeah. I think you'll see a lot of Republicans saying, "OK, you know what we've done. But what will they do if we hand over power? Where do the Democrats stand on taxes and on gasoline prices and Iraq? They're opposed to us, but what do they stand for?"
Some Democrats want to put together a plan to show the American people a contract, if you will, with the American people, 2006 vintage.
Other Democrats are saying that's suicidal. We don't have to say anything. Sometimes nothing's a real cool hand. We're not the Republicans. Vote them out. Send us in. Time for a change.
BLITZER: Karl Rove, the president's top political strategist, is a very smart guy. He wins elections. He won in 2004 for the president. Here's what he said at the American Enterprise Institute on May 16.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KARL ROVE, PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Ultimately, the American people are a center-right country, presented with a center-right party with center-right candidates, will vote center-right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is that still applicable, as they used to say?
RUSSERT: Well, people will look at ideology and say, does the country tilts that way, center-right, a bit? Perhaps. But people are also very pragmatic and result oriented. And they see a problem with Iraq and the management with the war, a problem of Katrina and the management of that situation, a problem with gasoline prices. I happen to think that performance and concerns and anxiety really does trump ideology.
BLITZER: Here's what some strategists, Republican strategists think the Republicans need to do. They need to energize their base to get out the vote in November.
One hot social issue is gay marriage. Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, told me on "Late Edition" just the other day...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR BILL FRIST, MAJORITY LEADER: Right now, marriage is under attack in this country. And we've seen activist judges overturning state by state law. That is why we need an amendment to come to the floor of the United States Senate to define marriage as that union between one man and one woman.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you suspect that this constitutional amendment is going to get anywhere in the Senate or the House?
RUSSERT: It won't pass in the Senate. There's certainly not enough to sustain any kind of signature by the president. It won't happen. The votes aren't there.
So what happens then? The Democrats know the Republicans are forcing them to go on the record in favor or against gay marriage. Because they want to go to the voters -- the GOP does -- and say, "Look, you don't know what they're going to do if they take over the government. They won't tell you. We're going to tell you who they really are."
The Democrats, however, have some weapons in their arsenal. They can continue to introduce resolutions about Iraq, resolutions about Katrina, resolutions about gas prices. They can talk about immigration.
This Democratic Party now is playing very openly for the Hispanic vote not only in this election, but in future presidential elections. That's why you see such a battle for the soul of the Republican Party as they try to wrestle what to do with 11 million illegal immigrants.
BLITZER: And still ahead, Tim Russert talks about what inspired him to write his new book, "Wisdom of Our Fathers." And we're standing by to speak live with the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. And my special interview coming up with Jimmy Carter. "Late Edition" will be right back. But first, this.
BLITZER: Ken Lay, what's his story? The Enron founder was convicted by a Texas federal jury this week on conspiracy and fraud charges stemming from his energy company's 2001 collapse. Lay, who's expected to appeal the verdict, served as chairman of what was the seventh-largest company in the United States when Enron declared bankruptcy in 2001. Federal prosecutors accused him of orchestrating a conspiracy to artificially inflate profits and hide millions in company losses. Lay is scheduled to be sentenced on September 11. He faces up to 45 years in prison.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We return now to my conversation with NBC's "Meet the Press" moderator and managing editor, Tim Russert.
BLITZER: It's never too early to talk about presidential politics 2008. Our CNN poll had Hillary Clinton -- that was back in February -- with 39 percent, everybody else a lot less, John Kerry, Al Gore, John Edwards.
As you can see on the Republican side, back in February, Rudy Giuliani was at 33 percent, John McCain at 28 percent, everybody in single digits. What do you see shaping up right now?
RUSSERT: A wide-open race in both parties. The first time in a half century where you won't have an incumbent president or vice president seeking the nomination.
Hillary Clinton, the front-runner of the Democratic side. She'll raise $60 million in her re-election bid in New York State, spend $20 million, and have kitty of $40 million for the presidential race.
But John Kerry, John Edwards, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Mark Warner, Tom Vilsack, Bill Richardson, Evan Bayh, they're not going away. Russ Feingold. One of them believes that there's going to be an alternative to the front-runner, an alternative to Hillary. And they want to position themselves for that role.
On the Republican side, I see John McCain, Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, George Allen of Virginia kind of in the top tier, waiting to see Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, is going to get in. And then Governor Huckabee, Senator Brownback, others contending.
I think eight to 10 candidates in each party running for president of the United States.
BLITZER: That's great for us.
RUSSERT: Every Sunday morning.
BLITZER: Fabulous. A couple of other things before we get to the book. Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general, he said something last Sunday that got a lot of journalists and others nervous.
"We have an obligation," he said, "to enforce the law and to prosecute those who engage in criminal activity. If the law provides that that conduct is in fact criminal and evidence is there to support it, we have an obligation, of course, to look at that very seriously." Asked whether the Justice Department was going to prosecute journalists, specifically New York Times journalists for reporting that story about warrantless wiretaps. It looks like this Justice Department, this Bush administration is taking steps that previous administrations, as far as journalists are concerned, wouldn't take.
RUSSERT: And it has a real chilling effect on our ability to report the news. We rely on people who are going to talk to us, in confidence, about something that they believe, in terms of government policy, is not right.
Some people call them whistle-blowers. Other people call them confidential sources. But we rely on that information. It is necessary for the American people to become informed in the whole context.
I've been to countries, Wolf, you've been to countries where the papers and the news airwaves are filled only with official government information. You want to want to live there. I know my own situation with the Valerie Plame case where I was asked about a conversation of complaint. A White House official called me -- Scooter Libby -- to complain about a cable TV news program. And after that people would say, well, gee, you know, if we say anything to you, are you going to be called before a grand jury to testify? It has a chilling effect.
BLITZER: That Scooter Libby testimony, the prosecutor said this in the indictment of Scooter Libby, the vice president's former chief of staff. "Mr. Russert said to me did you know that Ambassador Wilson's wife works at the CIA. And I said no, I don't know that. And then he, Russert, said, yeah -- yes, all the reporters know it. And I said again, I don't know that."
That's what the prosecutor quoted Scooter Libby, as having told the grand jury. That's how your name got involved in this whole uproar.
RUSSERT: Yeah, much to my surprise. And what we now have learned from Patrick Fitzgerald is that Mr. Libby talked to the vice president, at least six other government officials, several reporters and two officials of the CIA about Valerie Plame before he even talked to me.
BLITZER: And the whole Valerie Plame, the wife of Joe Wilson -- that never came up in the conversation that you had with Scooter Libby, based on your testimony?
RUSSERT: It did not. It was a conversation of complaint about something that had been on the air.
I wish I had known about Valerie Plame. I wish I had known who she was. Because it would have been an interesting discussion to have within NBC. Hey, I have a great tip, a great story. Should we report this?
I found out about her when I read Bob Novak's column on that Monday in the Washington Post.
BLITZER: Let's talk about this new book, "Wisdom of our Fathers." You wrote this almost as an after thought to "Big Russ and Me," which became the number one bestseller on the New York Times list.
How did that come about? What made you decide you needed a follow-up with these letters that you got from sons and daughters?
RUSSERT: After I had written "Big Russ and Me," I went around the country. And people said, you know, Big Russ is a great guy. Would you make out the book to my dad though, Big Stan, Big Mike, Big Herb, Big Mario, Big Manuel? They perceived it as an invitation to talk about their dad.
And then I received 60,000 letters and e-mails from all across the country, daughters and sons, talking about not a special vacation or a material gift but "let me tell you, Tim, about what I learned from my dad."
And in fact, a friend of mine from Oklahoma put it this way, "The best advice is I want to see a sermon, not hear a sermon." They taught us through their actions, their hard work, their sacrifice, their devotion.
One father said to his daughter, "You worry too much." He built her a little box and said put all your worries -- write them down and put them in this box. Two weeks later he opened up and said, "This one's gone. Don't worry about it. This one's gone. Don't worry about it. You have to understand; don't let these worries get to you. Understand what's important in life and deal with it." Best advice ever. Wolf, we had a Web site, wisdomofourfathers.com. It still exists, wisdomofourfathers.com. People flooded it saying let me tell you about my dad.
One daughter said her mother died at an early age. Her father became Mr. Mom. He sewed the dresses and he went off to work. She sent him a Mother's Day card and a Father's Day card.
And my goal in reading these letters was that, one, they deserved to be read. Two, they deserved to be remembered.
And can I construct a book like "Wisdom of our Fathers," which is a road map for every parent, young or old; this is how to get it right. What will your kids say about you 10, 20, 30 years from now?
They remember the small moments that make the big difference in their lives. That's what the book's all about.
BLITZER: "Wisdom of our Fathers: Lessons and letters from Daughters and Sons," the follow up to "Big Russ and Me."
Tim Russert, thanks for coming in.
RUSSERT: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Congratulations and good luck.
RUSSERT: Go Buffalo.
BLITZER: And still to come, Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa and former president, Jimmy Carter.
And don't forget our Web question of the week: "Do you agree with the Senate measure making English the national language of the United States?" Log on to CNN.com/lateedition to cast your vote. The results at the end of the program. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's a very serious mistake when the United States refuses to have talks with problem regimes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: From the nuclear standoff with Iran to alleged abuses at Guantanamo Bay and anxiety about the high cost of gas. What moves should the U.S. make? Former President Jimmy Carter speaks out in a special interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. SENATOR BILL FRIST, R-TENNESSEE: This is a success for the American people. It is a success for people who hope to participate someday in that American dream.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICK SANTORUM, (R-PA) This legislation, I think, is well outside what I would consider responsible reform.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The U.S. Senate takes a step toward immigration reform, as the issue shifts to the House of Representatives. Perspective on the immigration battle and the growing political power of Hispanic Americans, from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Plus, the latest on the devastating earthquake in Indonesia. Nearly 4,000 people are confirmed dead.
Welcome back. We'll go live to Indonesia in a moment. My interview with Jimmy Carter, that's coming up, as well. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now. CNN's Fredricka Whitfield's standing by from the CNN Center. Fred?
BLITZER: It's been a devastating 36 hours for tens of thousands of people in Indonesia left homeless by a powerful earthquake. The death toll right now around 4,000. Thousands more are injured. CNN's Dan Rivers is in one of the hardest-hit areas. Where exactly are you, Dan?
RIVERS: We're in the city of Yogyakarta at the moment, which is right in the center of this region that's been devastated by the earthquake. We spent the day traveling further south towards the very heart of the devastation. And really harrowing scenes that we saw.
We went to one village, where almost every single building had been flattened by the force of the earthquake. There were wounded people at the side of the road awaiting treatment. One elderly gentleman with a really bad break on his leg and cuts and lacerations all over his face. And in that one village alone, of the 4,000 people that lived there, 2,000, that's half the population, had been treated for serious injuries and taken to hospital. So that gives you an idea of just the sheer number of injuries, let alone the number of people that have died.
BLITZER: I know we have a long delay. But a quick follow-up question. Is there a sense that emergency relief operations are arriving, as needed? Or is there a huge, huge delay and that lives could be lost in this interim?
RIVERS: I think emergency aid is beginning to filter in. But the sheer scale of this has obviously overwhelmed the Indonesian authorities. We were in one village today, and the Indonesian army came past. But there wasn't much sign of them actually doing much to help these people. The airport has been knocked out of action here. The runway is actually cracked, which has really hampered getting a large amount of aid into this area. We understand that may be repaired tomorrow, which will dramatically help get more aid to the people that really need it.
BLITZER: Dan Rivers on the scene for us in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Dan, we'll get back with you. Thanks for your important work for our viewers. Much more on this story coming up here on CNN. Stay with CNN for all the latest on the fallout from the disaster from that earthquake in Indonesia.
Since leaving office in 1981, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has been very active and very outspoken on international and domestic issues. This past week, I had a chance to speak with him about human rights around the world. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The nuclear standoff with Iran and lots more.
BLITZER: And joining us now is the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter. Mr. President, thanks so much for joining us. Welcome back. CARTER: It's good to be with you again, Wolf, and the folks in the situation room.
BLITZER: Thank you. I know you have a major conference that you're involved with, it's human rights. I read your remarks on human rights. I want to get to all of those issues, including the human rights aspects of this enormous immigration debate that we've seen unfold in this country over the past several weeks.
You recently wrote in the Miami Herald this. You said, "Competing legislation from the House of Representative on immigration has strong racist overtones." What specifically are you referring to?
CARTER: Well, it's such a punitive approach to the very sensitive issue of immigration. And I try to point out in my editorial that these people who come to our country, and even the ones who employ them are good, honest, hard-working, dedicated people, and they don't need to be punished.
And so, I think whenever you single out a particular category of people for just punitive legislation, as I believe was done in the House version of the bill that might be passed, it does have overtones distinguishing between a particular class of people.
BLITZER: So you're referring specifically to the House legislation, which would categorize these illegal immigrants as felons?
CARTER: That's correct. And also calls for the deportation of all of them and the categorization as you just said, of every one as a convicted criminal. This is not the proper approach to a nation that prides itself on being the champion of democracy, freedom and human rights.
BLITZER: The president, the current president's plan calls for strong border security, a guest-worker program and a path towards citizenship. It's sort of -- pretty much coincides with what senators Kennedy and McCain have in mind with the Senate. Certainly supports, but there's strong opposition in the House. On this issue, I take it you don't have a lot of disagreement with President Bush.
CARTER: No, that's exactly right. I think that the approach that has been put forward and they're currently being considered, the bill in the Senate as supporting, the way I understand it, by President Bush is very compatible with my own views.
BLITZER: What about English as the official language of the United States? Should there be legislation that makes English the official or national language of the U.S.?
CARTER: No, I don't think so. You know, we've gotten along for more than 200 years without excluding other languages. This is a country that's kind of a melting pot for languages around the world, and I don't think there's any need for it.
It's just kind of one of those emotional issues that can turn one part of America against another. You know, we've survived OK without such language, and I think just to specifically say that it's the only language that we will accept officially is a wrong approach.
BLITZER: The speech you delivered on human rights this week was a powerful speech. It included an indictment of current U.S. policy on many sensitive issues in terms of human rights. Let me read an excerpt from what you said at the Carter Center.
You said, "In the last few years we've seen an embarrassment come to my own country in the realm of human rights." And you went on to say, "The equation that used to be taken for granted between a great democracy and a great champion of human rights has certainly been brought into question."
Specifically, what are you referring to? What is embarrassing to you as far as America's current human rights policy is concerned?
CARTER: Wolf, what we have here is a group of human rights heroes that come to us from troubled nations; that is, nations within which human rights abuses are a common thing. And in the past, I've always been inspired almost without question by the fact that United States was the champion of the protection of human rights, the declaration of human rights, the Geneva Conventions.
And recently, of course, as is well known, it's been covered on CNN as well as it has in all news media in the world, we have been guilty of having people in this country and in our own prisons, in Guantanamo and even in the Gulf region, without accusation being made against them, incarcerated for now years without a trial, without access of lawyers, sometimes even deprived of access to their own families.
Now, it's been highly publicized that there have been many instances of torture. And I don't think there's any doubt that the United States has, indeed, on occasion, when attention has been focused on those prisons that are ours, some of them still secret, that we have actually taken prisoners and transported them to other countries where they have very well been tortured.
So these kinds of signals that go from the United States, defended by some of the top people in our government, have sent a wave of consternation and disappointment and disillusionment to people who are applauding for human rights in their own countries.
And they see their own oppressive governments using these examples from the United States to condone similar activities against helpless people.
BLITZER: The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice said this last Sunday. She said, "Obviously, we don't want to be the world's jailer. We will be delighted when we can close down Guantanamo, but I would ask this: If we do close down Guantanamo, what becomes of the hundreds of dangerous people who were picked up on the battlefields on Afghanistan, who were picked up because of their association with Al Qaida?"
What would you say to Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state?
CARTER: Well, last year, the major recommendation that a similar conference made was that Guantanamo be closed immediately. And, of course, that's been a similar position taken by the United Nations and by other international organizations that are concerned about human rights.
If they close Guantanamo, there are several things that can be done. One is, those prisoners that we accuse of crimes, let them be put on trial openly and -- so that the world can observe the process.
Those that we believe are guilty, let them be sent by their own country -- back to their own countries of origin, some even in Europe, Western Europe, some in the Gulf region, and let them be put on trial there.
Others that are not susceptible to trial and conviction, let them be released. This has been done in the past following previous wars in which the United States has been involved. I think the same thing can be done now.
As a matter of fact, there are top people in the administration now, as you well know, who are seriously considering the closing of Guantanamo. And my prediction is that within the next year or two, Guantanamo will indeed be closed.
BLITZER: Should the U.S., should President Bush authorize direct talks between the United States and Iran on Iran's nuclear program?
As you know, right now, that dialogue consists of others. The Europeans are talking directly to the Iranians, but there's been no direct dialogue. The Iranians apparently want this kind of dialogue. What do you think?
CARTER: I think it's a very serious mistake when the United States refuses to have direct talks with problem regimes. This applies in North Korea and it also applies, now, in Iran.
When we back away from any sort of direct discussion with the leaders of those countries, and threaten either nuclear action against them -- it's been rumored even to consider the use of nuclear weapons -- and either that or very severe punishment through economic sanctions and say, we refuse to talk to you at all about this problem, I think it's a mistake.
And I don't know what would be the result of the discussions, but since Iran, under great pressure now, has offered, for the first time in more than 25 years to have direct talks with the United States, I think it seems to indicate that the Iranian leaders see that they've made a mistake and that they need to make a firm commitment to the United States and to the rest of the world, we want to improve the high quality of nuclear materials, but that they will be used only for peaceful uses.
That is the generation of electricity. And if we work out a good deal between the United States and Iran and Iran and the rest of the world, then we will put them under the observation of the international -- with the energy commission. So I think direct talks would be very helpful.
BLITZER: Here's what the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, says about the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
He says, "Ahmadinejad talks today like Hitler spoke before seizing power. We are dealing with a psychopath of the worst kind, with an anti-Semite. God forbid this man from ever getting his hand on nuclear weapons." That's what he told the German newspaper, Bild, on May 1.
He said similar things to me last Sunday when I interviewed him. If, in fact, this is a new Hitler, what's the point?
I guess that what's the Israelis would say. What's the point of talking to someone if he's simply a new Hitler?
CARTER: Well, I don't disagree with what Prime Minister Olmert has said about the danger of Iran becoming a nuclear power. That's obvious, I think, to everyone in the outside world, that Iran should not become a country with a nuclear arsenal, which I think would be very dangerous to world peace.
But I don't think that has anything to do with the advisability of using diplomatic means which President Bush has endorsed, including direct talks with Iran, maybe with that as a limited agenda item. I don't see any relationship between the two.
BLITZER: Here's what the president said this week, President Bush, in a direct warning to the Iranians. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States and the international community have made our common position clear. We're determined that the Iranian regime must not gain nuclear weapons. I told the prime minister what I stated publicly before. Israel is a close friend and ally of the United States, and, in the event of any attack on Israel, the United States will come to Israel's aid.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Anything in that section that you would disagree with?
CARTER: No. I don't think there's any doubt that, if any of the neighboring countries, including Iran, should make an attack on Israel of a military nature, that we would respond and help to defend Israel. That's been the policy of our country since long before I became president, in those ancient days.
And I believe that what President Bush has said is applicable, relevant, to this present administration, but all the previous administrations, I would say, going back at least 50 years. BLITZER: And coming up, could U.S. drivers see a rerun of what occurred during the carter administration, long gas lines? The former president talks about a potential energy crisis.
Then, the immigration battle and its impact on the political power of Hispanic Americans. The Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa joins us live with his perspective on that and more.
Plus, in case you missed it, "Late Edition's" highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. "Late Edition" continues right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Los Angeles. We return now to my interview with former President Jimmy Carter.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about human rights in the West Bank, in Gaza, the Palestinian/Israeli problem, which is clearly very much on your agenda right now. You say the elections were very free, very fair, the elections that saw Hamas win and become the leader of this new Palestinian government. Listen to what Olmert, Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, said this week at the White House about this new Hamas-led Palestinian government.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EHUD OLMERT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Unfortunately, the rise of Hamas, a terrorist organization which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist and regards terrorism as a legitimate tool, severely undermines the possibility of promoting a genuine peace process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is the peace process effectively dead right now?
CARTER: Well, it depends on a judgment to be made by Israel and the Palestinians, and with a heavy influence from Washington. There is now a very clearly identified interlocutor, or a negotiator, who represents the Palestinian community from two points of view. One is the president of the Palestine National Assembly, and that is Mahmoud Abbas.
And the other point of view is the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the PLO. And that is the same person, Mahmoud Abbas. And so he has been going around national capitals in Europe and other places during the last few months, strongly calling for direct talks between himself and representatives of the Israeli government.
And there have been statements made even by Hamas leaders that they favor these direct talks between Abbas and representatives from Israel. So the problem ... BLITZER: ... Mr. President, excuse me for interrupting you, but Olmert says that he's powerless, he's helpless, he respects him, he thinks he's a good man. But he really has no longer authority to deliver anything.
CARTER: Well, I don't want to get into a debate with the prime minister of Israel, whom I respect very much. But the fact is that there are only two positions that are distinct positions of authority. One is the head of the Palestinian government and the other one is the head of the Palestinian liberation organization. And the PLO is the only organization, as you know, that the government of Israel recognizes.
So Abbas can't speak for the Palestinian community officially. He's also been the one in the past, as you know, that was endorsed by the United States government under President Bush and by the Israel government under the former prime minister of Israel, Sharon.
So if there is a desire to have peace talks, obviously the Palestinians have a representative who can speak for the Palestinian people.
BLITZER: Israel is saying -- the government of Israel, that if there are no negotiations, Israel will take unilateral action to disengage, as it calls it, from the West Bank, at least from parts of the West Bank. I know you've written an article suggesting that would be an illegal land grab, words to that effect, what you said. I asked Olmert about your article on "Late Edition" last Sunday. Here's what he said about your comment. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OLMERT: I have enormous respect for President Carter, who comes to visit me every now and then. When he's in Israel, I think some of his statements are different than the ones that he writes when he's far away. But I think that the basic point is this: Shall we negotiate with the terrorist government? I don't know that there is one serious American representative that will advise Israel to sit with a terrorist government and negotiate with them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you want to comment on that?
CARTER: I think I just have, Wolf. I'm not advocating that Prime Minister Olmert negotiate with the Hamas organization. I'm advocating that they negotiate with Mahmoud Abbas, who is the president of the Palestinian Organization, the government, and also the head of the PLO.
I haven't advocated that assistance of an economic character be given to the Hamas government. What I've advocated is that humanitarian assistance only be given directly to the people in the West Bank and Gaza through the United Nations agencies, perhaps, through the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, through UNICEF and other organizations, bypassing the Hamas government. So there's a difference between Hamas on the one hand, with whom Israel will not negotiate and which the United States cannot recognize, and the Palestinian people on the other and their own chosen president and the leader of the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas.
BLITZER: We're almost completely out of time, Mr. President, but I was going through some research the other day, and I went back to your State of the Union address in 1980 and found this passage. And I want to play a clip for you from what you said, what, some 26 years ago. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARTER: Our excessive dependence on foreign oil is a clear and present danger to our nation's security. (Applause). The need has never been more urgent. At long last, we must have a clear, comprehensive energy policy for the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But 26 years later you could say -- the current president could say exactly the same thing. What has gone wrong? Why has this country failed over these past 26 years to come up with a clear, comprehensive energy policy that will reduce what you call our excessive dependence on foreign oil?
CARTER: Wolf, during my four years in office, this was always a top priority, and we were able to reduce dramatically the U.S. dependence on foreign oil by increasing production in this country and other means, and primarily by conservation. We started out with 12 million barrels a day being imported. We reduced it down to four million barrels over a long period of time.
Now it's back up to 12 million barrels a day. And this is increasingly making our own country dependent upon and almost forced to collaborate with regimes that would not otherwise be acceptable. And I think it puts the security of our own country in danger, as I said, as you say, 25 years ago.
So, a heavy emphasis on conservation, which I pursued when I was president, would be the first major step, and that's a main step so far that has not yet been taken in recent years.
BLITZER: We have to leave it right there, Mr. President. I want to leave it on a happy note. This week you and your former vice president, Walter Mondale, became the longest living ex-president and ex-vice president in American history, beating Adams and Jefferson. Congratulations to you on that. We hope both of you are around for many, many more years to come. Thanks for all your good work.
CARTER: Thank you, Wolf. All you have to do is live a long life and chose a healthy vice president.
BLITZER: And coming up, do calls for the United States to make English its national language or official language have racial overtones? We'll talk about that and more with the mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa. He's standing by live.
Up next, though, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on that devastating earthquake in Indonesia. Stay with "Late Edition."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You can't secure our border with thousands trying to sneak in. And therefore, this country needs a temporary worker program that will allow foreign workers to enter our country legally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Bush, renewing his call for an overhaul of U.S. immigration laws. Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're reporting from Los Angeles.
And joining us, now, is the city's mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa. He made history last year by becoming the first elected Hispanic mayor of L.A.
Mr. Mayor, good to be in your beautiful city.
MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA (D), LOS ANGELES: Good to be here with you. Welcome to Los Angeles.
BLITZER: Thank you very much. Lots to talk about. Let's get to the Senate. The U.S. Senate, back in Washington, approved immigration reform. It brought together this odd coalition, the president and other Republicans like Bill Frist, the majority leader, John McCain, a lot of Democrats, including Senator Kennedy.
Are you on-board, basically, with what the Senate has approved?
VILLARAIGOSA: I'm on board, basically, with what they've approved. Not all of it is...
BLITZER: What don't you like?
VILLARAIGOSA: Well, I think the amendment that deals with English as a national language was unnecessary. We already know it's the language of commerce and success.
You and I are speaking English now. They didn't allocate money so people can learn English. I can tell you that, here in Los Angeles, there are lines, thousands of people waiting to learn English in our adult schools.
BLITZER: Let me read to you what the amendment says, specifically, on English as a national language. It says, "The government of the United States shall preserve and enhance the role of English as the national language of the United States of America. Unless specifically stated in applicable law, no person has a right, entitlement, or claim to have the government of the United States or any of its officials or representatives act, communicate, perform or provide services, or provide materials in any language other than English."
Practically speaking, what does that mean for Los Angeles, in terms of providing services, information, in Spanish?
VILLARAIGOSA: Well, what it means is you won't be able to communicate with people for badly needed services. They could be emergency services. They could be services for medical care.
And again, it was one of those things that you see Congress do quite often. It's probably why this Congress and its majority is doing so poorly with the American public right now.
With all of the things they have to do right now, they're going to pass amendments like this.
Having said that, I do support the overall -- this broad immigration reform, comprehensive immigration reform. As you said, it was a coalition put together. And I do support it.
BLITZER: The Senate version does have immigration reform, a guest worker provision, a path towards citizenship for 11 million or 12 million, at least a lot of illegal immigrants, right now.
And it has a border security aspect. The House, which already passed immigration reform, basically deals almost exclusively with the issue of border security and enforcement, doesn't deal with other issues.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, James Sensenbrenner, said this on Friday. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIR: I can't predict how anything is going to play out in the conference.
Let me say that amnesty is wrong because amnesty rewards someone for illegal behavior. And the system that has been set up in the Senate will also result in gross document fraud.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What he's referring to is that, if an illegal immigrant has been here for five years or longer, they would be eligible toward this path toward citizenship.
And what critics are suggesting is there's going to be widespread fraud. Even those who have been here a few months or only a few years, they'll be able to prove they've been here for five years or longer.
VILLARAIGOSA: Well, actually, Mr. Sensenbrenner agrees with many of the proponents of the Senate version of this immigration reform. And that is that amnesty is not what we're talking about here. Nobody is talking about amnesty.
There will be a fine, a $1,000 fine on the front-end and a $1,000 fine on the back-end. You don't automatically become a citizen in this country. You've got to earn citizenship and this proposal allows for that.
It does not provide for amnesty in the way that he has said. And so maybe there is an opportunity for us to come together, because nobody is proposing amnesty at this time.
BLITZER: What they are saying, the critics, as you know, that's basically, a slap on the wrist. Those aren't serious issues, $1,000 here, $1,000 there. People will be able to come up with that money and become citizens.
VILLARAIGOSA: When you're making minimum wage and less, coming up with $2,000 is a lot of money. I can tell you that. And what they like to do, look, this is a way for them to create a wedge issue, to polarize the nation. Leaders are supposed to bring people together. This immigration proposal, as proposed by the Senate, is a middle ground, make no mistake about it. The Sensenbrenner proposals which would make 12 million people felons is not a middle ground. It's an extreme position.
BLITZER: Your friend, the governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, originally said he didn't like the idea of dispatching National Guard troops to the border with Mexico. He's reluctantly come around to a -- listen to what he said on Wednesday, when he was meeting with the Mexican president, Vicente Fox.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA: I oppose the using of military for law-enforcement duties. However, I am prepared to commit the California National Guard troops in support of border- patrol operations. But as I said, it has to be on a temporary basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You agree with him on that?
VILLARAIGOSA: Absolutely. And I'll say this. I think our National Guard is already stretched too thin. I don't think it's an appropriate use of the National Guard. As I said on your show a couple of weeks ago, the Bush administration was authorized 10,000 positions for border-patrol agents. They've only filled 250. They need to get on the job of providing the border security the people want.
A lot of people recognized there are homeland security aspects hovering over this immigration debate, if terrorists, for example, could simply walk into the United States along the Mexican border. Representative Duncan Hunter, the chairman of the House armed services committee, said this. Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE DUNCAN HUNTER, (R-CA): People now understand, if you want to get into the United States illegally, you no longer come through L.A. International Airport. You come across the land border between Mexico and the United States. So there's a dimension of homeland security that's concerned about terrorism that needs to be focused on this. And this no longer is simply an immigration issue. It's a security issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: How worried are you, Mr. Mayor, that terrorists will come into the United States from Mexico along the border with California?
VILLARAIGOSA: I'm more worried about terrorists exposing our ports and our airports. And this is a Congress that spent a lot of time about Dubai and all of that, and has failed to give us the resources we need here in Los Angeles and across the country to protect our ports and our airports. They do a lot of talking. They like demagoguing on these issues. And then they don't provide you with the money that you need, as first responders.
I'm the mayor of Los Angeles, and I have a responsibility. I just don't talk about this issue of homeland security. I have the responsibilities the leader of the city to provide the resources, to protect the citizenry. And the federal government has failed. And the Congress has failed. What they do is spend a lot of time on that kind of rhetoric and then not give us the resources we need to protect our cities.
BLITZER: One of the key issues you're dealing with here is education in Los Angeles. And I think it's fair to say, you will acknowledge this city's education system has failed. You recently issued a document, you pointed out that 81 percent of the middle- school students here in L.A. attend failing schools. Eighth graders in L.A. lag two years behind their peers in New York City.
A Harvard University study found that nearly half of the African American and Latino students failed to graduate in four years. You want to revolutionize the education system here and take control from the Board of Education, which is running into a lot of opposition. But you feel strongly on this.
VILLARAIGOSA: Actually, I think this issue of education in our urban schools across the nation, not just here in Los Angeles, is a national security issue. When you look at the fact that too many of our kids can't read and write when they graduate, they can't pass a high-school exit exam that tests you at the eighth-grade level, half of our kids are dropping out, there's no accountability in our schools, we're $27 million under-funded in the Leave No Child Behind Act, 44th in per-pupil spending here in Los Angeles, once again, it's another case of the lack of accountability and responsibility. A lot of talk about what we can and should do. And not enough doing. And so what I've said is, like New York, Chicago, Boston, and Cleveland, the mayor needs to ultimately oversee our public schools so that we can reduce...
BLITZER: Who is fighting you on this?
VILLARAIGOSA: Well, primarily, a group of stakeholders. Right now, it's the teacher's union, even though I've been very, very supportive of the fact we need to empower teachers, empower parents. I want to see parent compacts, student accountability, in terms of uniforms, in terms of more discipline in our schools. We want to give teacher training, focus on principals getting more collaborative in their decisionmaking. Decisions made at the local school site...
BLITZER: Governor Schwarzenegger supports you on this?
VILLARAIGOSA: He is supportive, and so is the leader of the California state assembly, Fabian Nunez, the speaker. And the pro tem.
BLITZER: A lot of people are pointing to this alliance, if you will, this odd couple, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor. What's the story here? Are the two of you political allies right now? Because he's facing a tough re- election. A lot of Democrats would like to become -- would like to see a Democrat take charge.
VILLARAIGOSA: Well, look, I am a Democrat. But I also have a responsibility as the mayor of this city to work with the governor, whoever that is. Just as I have to work with the president of the United States, who's been duly elected. I don't have to have voted for that person. I do have to work with him. Both of us agree the situation around the schools is something that we need to get a handle of -- on, rather. It's unacceptable that the schools aren't working in the way that they should.
We think we can work together on that. We also worked very closely together on the infrastructure bond to provide more money for goods and transportation, for goods movement, for the infrastructure needs of Los Angeles and the state, so...
BLITZER: Are you going to vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger?
VILLARAIGOSA: Well, we're going to work with him all the way to the election?
BLITZER: Well, you're leaving open the door. You might vote for him.
VILLARAIGOSA: No. I'm a Democrat, and the governor knows that I support whoever the Democratic nominee is going to be. But right now, I'm going to focus on the work that he and I can do together. He's a good man. We've been able to develop a good friendship. That benefits the city of Los Angeles and the state of California. BLITZER: Well, you've got a tough agenda out here, tough problems. Mr. Mayor, thanks for the hospitality. Thanks for coming in this Memorial Day weekend.
VILLARAIGOSA: Spend your money here in Los Angeles.
BLITZER: We're spending some money here. Thank you. And coming up, in case you missed it, our highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Danica Patrick. What's her story?
(voice over): The 24-year-old race car driver will be behind the wheel today, trying to become the first female to win the Indianapolis 500.
In 2005, Patrick was voted the Indy Racing League's "rookie of the year," winning $1 million. She also finished fourth in last year's Indy 500, the best performance by a woman in the 90-year-old race's history.
Although she has yet to win a race in 19 starts, Patrick is a fan favorite and says she more than welcomes the challenge of succeeding in a male-dominated sport.
BLITZER: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.
On "Fox News Sunday," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist discussed the immigration bill just approved by the Senate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BILL FRIST, REPUBLICAN MAJORITY LEADER: It's not necessarily politically popular. It's certainly not easy, as we've seen on the floor.
But I can tell you the bill that came off the Senate floor, not perfect -- I don't agree with everything in that bill -- does reflect the overall will of the Senate.
It's a first step. We're going to go to confidence. The president, obviously, is going to get very involved. And with that, we'll be able to address what is a national security, economic and humanitarian issue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: On NBC's "Meet the Press," the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, James Sensenbrenner, explained why he opposes the Senate bill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENSENBRENNER: I want to solve the problem. The American people want this problem solved. But this time, we've got to do it right.
And to do it right means to do things in the proper order. The secret is, first secure the border and enforce the employer sanctions law. If we don't do both of those things, then we will simply get more illegal immigrants coming across the border and taking jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: On CBS's "Face the Nation," the Senate majority whip, Mitch McConnell and Democratic senator, Chuck Schumer, sparred over which party has the upper hand, heading into the November congressional elections.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R) KY: Americans have forgotten what they do when they're in the majority. I can tell you what they'll do. They'll wave the white flag in the war on terror. They'll raise taxes. And they'll try to censure the president in the Senate and impeach the president in the House. This is what their agenda really is.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D) NY: The Republican party, whether it's the president or the Senate leadership, doesn't have anything to say other than these, sort of, fear tactics aimed at Democrats. Now, it's not going to work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Those are some of the other highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.
Our "Late Edition" Web question asks this: "Do you agree with the Senate measure making English the national language of the United States?" Here's the results of how you voted?
Look at this: 82 percent of you said yes; 18 percent said no. Remember, though, this is not, I repeat, not, a scientific poll.
Let's take a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines here in the United States.
U.S. News and World Report, has "Global warming: Can We Live With It?"
Time Magazine features "Congo: The Hidden Toll of the World's Deadliest War."
And Newsweek Magazine is "Rethinking 'The Marriage Crunch.'"
Those are the covers of the major newsmagazines here in the United States.
Let's get a few of your e-mails. Edward from Franklin, Connecticut writes this: "Immigration reform should include community or military service for all illegal aliens if they want U.S. citizenship; they could help with rebuilding the hurricane-affected ares and building border fences. Most Americans believe that the American dreams should not be free for those who are here illegally; make them earn it."
Darrell from Lake Worth, Florida writes: "This immigration bill that passed is amnesty, no matter what the inept politicians say. The real problem is that these big employers are exploiting Mexicans with cheaper wages, thus driving down American's wages. The solution is to make these employers pay the legal minimum wages.
We always welcome your comments here on "Late Edition." And that's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Los Angeles. See you during the week.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com