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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Interview With Dick Cheney; Interview With Senators Rockefeller, Kyl

Aired January 28, 2007 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11 a.m. here in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4 p.m. in London and 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition." We'll speak live with senators Jay Rockefeller and Jon Kyl in just a few minutes, and later we'll run my full, unedited interview with Vice President Cheney.
But first, let's go to Susan Roesgen. She's in Atlanta for a quick check of what's in the news right now.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Susan. In Iraq today, deadly attacks in the capital as we just heard, as well as across the country, targeting both the U.S. military and Iraqis, including civilians. Our correspondent, Arwa Damon, is joining us now live from Baghdad. Arwa, first of all, what are we hearing about this fighting? Very disturbing developments in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, the southern part of the country. What are you hearing on that front?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that cell phone footage did just come out. It was just released, filmed at the scene of this battle that lasted for about six hours. Now, we are hearing some mixed reports, but the governor of Najaf told the Associated Press that a U.S. helicopter did crash during that fighting that took place between Iraqi security forces and armed gunmen on the ground, with U.S. air support.

We spoke to a senior Iraqi police officer in Najaf, who told us that he had eyewitness reports from his people on the ground that a U.S. helicopter did indeed crash. In fact, that rising plume of smoke is believed to be the wreckage. However, the U.S. military at this point saying that they're still investigating reports of the incident.

Now, who were these gunmen that the Iraqi police and army were fighting? According to this police officer, he is saying that they were Sunni insurgents that were trying to attack Shia clerics in the holy city of Najaf just before this upcoming Shia ritual of Ashura. Wolf?

BLITZER: That certainly has a potential for dramatically escalating this already really, really bad sectarian violence. What's the latest now? Give us some more details about the latest violence in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad. DAMON: Wolf, it's really been a tragic day here in Baghdad, pretty much as every day is, especially for Iraqi civilians, which again bore the brunt of the violence here. One of the more disturbing attacks, though, was when two mortar rounds slammed into a girls' high school in a western Sunni Baghdad neighborhood. Now, that is an area that is controlled by the Iraqi army. They are not currently releasing casualty reports, but we spoke with an Iraqi police officer who said that residents from that area were saying that at least one student was killed, dozens more wounded. Other reports put the casualty count as high as five. And separately in the Shia district of Sadr City, car bombs exploding in a marketplace are killing at least eight Iraqis, Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon, thanks very much for that. In this situation that is clearly unfolding right now, the political spotlight here in Washington continues to unfold. The debate for and against the president's strategy happening right now.

Joining us now to discuss President Bush's plan and much more, two U.S. senators with very different perspectives. In Phoenix, Senator Jon Kyl, a Republican of Arizona. He strongly supports the president's new strategy. And here in Washington, Senator Jay Rockefeller. He's the new chairman of the Select Intelligence Committee. He disagrees with the president.

Senators, thanks very much for coming in. Let me begin with you, Mr. Chairman, first of all. And congratulations on becoming the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. You were the ranking member, as all of our viewers know, for a long time.

I want you to listen to this exchange I had earlier in the week with Vice President Cheney.


BLITZER: You're moving forward no matter what the consequence?

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are moving forward. We are moving forward. The Congress has the control over the purse strings. They have the right, obviously, if they want, to cut off funding, but in terms of this effort, the president's made his decision.


BLITZER: All right. Are you going to go ahead with the so- called purse strings? Because that's really the only binding way you can reverse what the president is planning on doing? Is that right?

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Wolf, it's a mistake to underestimate the power of a resolution.

BLITZER: A nonbinding symbolic resolution.

ROCKEFELLER: Nonbinding.

BLITZER: All right. Explain to our viewers why.

ROCKEFELLER: Because it puts the American Congress on record. The American people are already on record as of the last election, but you know, to talk about cutting money right now, they've already sent some of those troops over, I'm sure. I mean, I think what you're seeing is the beginning of a process, the Congress and the White House for the first time really engaging each other on the tactical military implications for Iraq. I don't agree with the surge. I think it will only create more targets...

BLITZER: But you acknowledge it will go forward, irrespective of a resolution of disapproval?

ROCKEFELLER: That's what I believe, yes, but that doesn't mean that I have to be happy about it, or that I can't prepare more for the future, because maybe this is the first of several.

BLITZER: And so you disagrees with someone like, say, Senator Russ Feingold, who says, go ahead and use that power of the purse right now?

ROCKEFELLER: I don't know how we would do it, because it's probable that some of those troops are already over there. In other words, how would you pick them out? We have to support the troops that have been there, so how would you isolate these out? That, nobody's figured out.

BLITZER: Senator Kyl, as you know, there's increasing criticism, concern, skepticism, not only from Democrats, but even a number of influential Republicans, including the former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, John Warner. Listen to what he said.


SEN. JOHN W. WARNER, R-VA.: I feel ever so strongly that the American G.I. was not trained, not sent over there, certainly not by resolution of this institution, to be placed in the middle of a fight between the Sunni and the Shia and the wanton and just incomprehensible killing that's going on at this time.


BLITZER: All right. You want to respond to Senator Warner, because he's obviously very, very concerned.

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Well, everybody is concerned, Wolf, but the question is, what's the alternative? He talks about what our troops were trained for. Our troops weren't trained to train Iraqis, either, but that's what he and the Iraqi Study Group and others believe should be the mission of our troops. So, this is not really clear thinking.

The reality is, from your news report earlier, al-Qaida terrorists are fomenting much of the violence in Iraq today. You talk about the Sunni insurgents going over and attacking the Shiite clerics. That's how a lot of the sectarian violence started, as the president pointed out.

When the operatives went and bombed the Golden Mosque in Samarra, intending to provoke the Shiites, and indeed they did. It's also al- Qaida in Anbar Province, and the troops are going to be going over there to fight there, and I don't see a whole lot of opposition to that.

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second, Senator Kyl, because some intelligence analysts -- and I want Senator Rockefeller to weigh in on this sensitive point, as well -- have argued that yes, al-Qaida in Iraq is a very, very significant player, and they're causing a lot of destruction and damage, but the insurgency goes beyond that.

And the Sunni insurgents, the Saddam loyalists, if you will, they're playing a much more active, violent role against the U.S. and its allies. Senator Kyl?

KYL: Well, of course, there is -- not all of the violence is al- Qaida. Not all of the violence is sectarian. What I was doing is commenting on -- you asked me to comment on what Senator Warner said. There is a larger mission than simply getting in between Sunni and Shiite insurgents, or people fighting what some have called a civil war.

That was my point. The reality is that there is violence all over Iraq that can be quelled if Iraqis are properly trained and if the United States stays for awhile to help them do that. Nobody believes the Iraqi military could stand on its own today.

And so the question at the end of the day is, do we pull out, do we leave, leaving Iraq a failed state Because nobody believes the Iraqis themselves can create the stability, regardless of where it's coming from, or do we stay long enough to create that stability for the political conditions to exist?

BLITZER: Let me let Senator Rockefeller respond. Go ahead.

ROCKEFELLER: Well, it's a question of is our destiny to spend the rest of our years in Iraq trying to train their police and train their military? And the answer is we can't possibly do that, because it's not a military problem, it's a political problem.

What we need to do is to get -- I think is within four, six months, gradually, over the period of a year or so, make it very clear to the Iraqis that if they don't get their act together, we're going start redeploying some of those troops to where the Al Qaida and the war on terror really are, which is in Afghanistan and other places in the world.

BLITZER: The argument is made not only by Bush administration officials, Senator, but also by many Iraqis in the government that they can't really get to a political settlement under the current violence. If there is no security, how can they have negotiations?

ROCKEFELLER: Well, what you're bringing up is the possibility that nothing works. And so what we're trying to figure out is what is the most probable cause of a chance -- and I think that's all it is -- of success.

And I think that is for the Shias and the Sunnis to understand that we're not going to be there, we're not going to tamp down, we're not going to be a backdrop for them. They have to confront each other in what is not an ideological battle, but a literal, brutal slaughtering battle for who controls Iraq.

And when they discover that we're not going to be there to help them, they'll come to terms on that, or they won't and they'll continue killing each other as they have for thousands... BLITZER: All right. Let me let Senator Kyl respond to that suggestion.

Go ahead, Senator.

KYL: Well, first of all, the consequences if they don't are not just the slaughter of thousands and thousands of Iraqis, and instability in the region, and a shift in the momentum in the on terror, but our own national security being jeopardized. And that's one of the reasons why we need to give the president's strategy a chance to succeed.

The thing that's most disturbing to me is the acknowledgment, as Senator Rockefeller said, that the only thing that this resolution does is to put Congress on record. Have you ever had a hard time understanding that, you know, what senator say, they're on record all the time, every day? Jay Rockefeller and I are talking to you today. We can go on record.

The problem is that the passage of a resolution has ramifications. It sends a message not just to the president, but to our enemies, to our allies, and most especially, to the young men and women who we're putting in harm's way to achieve a mission.

If I could just make a point, last Friday on "NBC Nightly News" there was a story interviewing several of our troops in Iraq. And to a man, they all disliked this notion of expressing the will in opposition to the mission that they're fighting. They said, look, you can't support the troops and not support the mission that you send us in harm's way to achieve.

BLITZER: That's a serious charge that's now been made not only by Senator Kyl, but effectively by the president, the vice president. General Petraeus made the same kind of statement when he was testifying in his confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The new secretary of defense, Bob Gates, said what you're effectively doing by passing this kind of resolution is undermining the overall U.S. military mission, undermining the men and women who serve over there, and giving aid to the enemy, if you will. You've heard that.

ROCKEFELLER: If I had the Shakespearian quality to tell you how many times I've heard that argument used, that we've ratcheted up, we've changed this, we've tried that, nothing has worked over there. What's undermining the morale of the troops is not going to be the absence of a surge -- which is, in fact, going to take place -- but the fact that 60 percent of all shots taken at individuals in Iraq are taken at American soldiers.

So if we send over 21,500 more, we already have over 3,000 dead, it's going to be a lot more than that. Don't even tempt me to try to tell you that 21,500 troops make any difference whatsoever in the military outcome of the war or in the political outcome. BLITZER: Because a lot of experts do say, Senator Kyl, that 21,500 or any number around that is really, when all is said and done, not going to make a difference, that if you really want to get the job done, you have got to send 100,000 more troops or 200,000 more troops, and maybe even that, when all the dust settles, wouldn't make much of a difference.

KYL: Well, I think it is true that there's a good argument that more troops than 21,000 would give the strategy a better chance to succeed, but General Petraeus was asked about this, and he said, I believe that this new strategy has a chance to work and if we need more troops, he said, I'll ask for them.

Remember that the increase in American troops is only part of the larger strategy, which includes twice as many new Iraqi troops in an entirely different position and strategy by the Iraqis themselves, finally cracking down on primarily the Shiite militias. We're beginning to see that working, but the Iraqis themselves have a big part to play in making this strategy a success. They've got to do their part, too.

BLITZER: All right, senators, I want both of you to stand by. We have a lot more to talk about, including Iran. What role is Iraq's neighbor playing right now in the raging violence in Iraq?

Then, will lawmakers on Capitol Hill and Americans oblige President Bush and give his new strategy a chance to work? We'll get analysis from our political panel.

And later, some very hard questioning for the vice president about the war and the country. My wide-ranging, hard-hitting, exclusive interview. We're going to run the whole thing for you, unedited. Stay with us.



PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We're not the first to come here with a government divided and uncertainty in the air.


BLITZER: Pledging bipartisanship during his address to the nation, his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, but are his actions matching his words?

Welcome back to "Late Edition." We're continuing our conversation with Senators Jon Kyl and Jay Rockefeller.

The president also challenged you and other Democrats, other critics, to come up with a plan if you have a better idea. Listen to what he said. Listen to this.


BUSH: I know there's skepticism and pessimism and that they are -- some are condemning a plan before it's even had a chance to work, and they have an obligation and serious responsibility therefore to put up their own plan as to what would work.


BLITZER: All right, so give us some specifics. What is your plan that would work better than the president's plan?

ROCKEFELLER: First of all, as he said the other day, he is the policy maker. Secondly, I have been a number of times with him suggesting what I think ought to happen, along with Carl Levin and Joe Biden and others. He doesn't hear it. He pays no attention to it.

He's polite, but he just continues -- as Vice President Cheney says, it doesn't make any difference what they say, we're going forward.

My plan would be what I just told you before. And that is that you take about three to four to five months, and then you tell the Iraqis that after that point, if they haven't shown substantial progress in settling their military problems and their political problems, that they can't count on us for being there.

And we begin very gradually over a period of a year or so to deploy to Afghanistan, where we really need to be, and other places, and force the Sunnis and the Shias to face each other without us as a protective backdrop and decide whether or not they're going to continue killing each other as they've been for hundreds and hundreds of years, or whether they're going to do something about a country called Iraq.

BLITZER: And Senator Kyl, your Republican colleague, Senator Hagel, who's been outspoken on this for some time now, he has a similar notion as well. His conclusion very pessimistic. Listen to what he says.


HAGEL: There is no strategy. This is a ping-pong game with American lives. These young men and women that we put in Anbar Province, in Iraq, in Baghdad, are not beans. They're real lives. We better be damn sure we know what we're doing.


BLITZER: As you know, there's a lot of skepticism that the administration does know what it's doing, given the track record, the missed calculations, the failures over the past 3 1/2 years. Are you, Senator Kyl, 100 percent convinced that this administration knows what it's doing in Iraq?

KYL: Well, first of all, I would say that to my colleagues who have this different point of view, if they really believe that this mission has no chance to succeed, that it's not the best way to go, then instead of just going on record yet another time saying that, they have the authority to cut off the funds to say that that mission won't go forward. If they're really concerned about the lives of our soldiers and they believe this is a futile effort, then cut off the funds now so that no more lives are lost.

But that is a plan, and with all due respect to my colleague Senator Rockefeller, his is a plan is for withdrawal, not a plan for success. The alternative that the president has announced is a strategy that has a chance to succeed. Nobody can say that it's got a 100 percent chance to succeed, but it takes the element that Senator Rockefeller talked about, which is to explain to the Iraqis that they don't have much time to get their act together.

But importantly, it adds our troops to help them gain security and stability in the meantime. Everybody agrees they don't have that capability today, so we begin withdrawing today, or in six months, and they don't have the ability to create this political stability that everybody agrees is necessary. That's why I think the president's strategy ought to be given a chance to succeed.

It's what we did -- when we confirmed General Petraeus, we were, I think, saying to him, go perform the mission that the president has outlined for you. We have confidence you can do it. It seems to me a little odd that we would confirm him to begin a mission which we told him in advance we don't support.

BLITZER: All right. You want to respond to that? Because we're hearing that a lot now, that on the one hand, you don't support the new strategy. On the other hand, you're voting to confirm the man nominated by the president to go ahead and implement it, General David Petraeus.

ROCKEFELLER: Absolutely. I support him, and I continue to support him. And I don't agree with his statements about the surge. But, look, the president makes those decisions. That's Petraeus's job. I think he's a superb military officer, and I think he's going to make the very, very best leader of what I think is a very uphill climb.

BLITZER: Let me pick your brain, Senator Rockefeller, on this new development that we learned about this past week, although it apparently had been going on for some time. A kill order, if you will, to give the U.S. military in Iraq the authority to kill Iranian agents who might be in Iraq right now involved in preparing for activity or violence against U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Some are fearing this is potentially an escalation of the war that could drag in Iran, if you will. Give us your sense. ROCKEFELLER: It's a two-stage answer. Number one, no, I do not have a problem with him giving that kind of order if it affects Iranians trying to do damage in Iraq. Number two, I have a great deal of worry that this could expand, just through rhetoric and then through momentum, and then through the way the Iraq war expanded, into some kind of an action with respect to Iran, which I think would be an enormous mistake.

BLITZER: You've said, correct me if I'm wrong, you think that before the U.S. were to engage in any military activity against Iran, another Senate resolution would be necessary. Explain what you mean.

ROCKEFELLER: Actually, I haven't said that, but I do believe it. Most importantly, I'm one of those people who refuses to give up on talking directly to countries like Iran and North Korea. Chris Hill in North Korea has done... BLITZER: The negotiator.

ROCKEFELLER: ... the negotiator, has done a tremendous job at bilateral talks at a very high level. The White House is saying we don't do those until they, you know, give up all of their military and the rest of it. The same thing can happen with the European countries plus Germany with respect to Iran.

It doesn't do any harm to talk to your enemies. There are a lot of people in Iran who don't agree with their president. In fact, he's been slapped down by the mullahs recently.

There's a lot of dissent in that country, a lot of maybe beginning to pull back because of the fear of some of the sanctions that we have put on them and should continue to put on them. I don't think they're a lost cause.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Kyl, what about you? Should there be another Senate resolution that would be required to authorize military action against Iran if it comes down to that?

KYL: I'm not sure. I would have to go back and look at our first resolution. It would depend upon the circumstances, what the action proposed against Iran might be. Clearly, if Iran or Saudi Arabia or Yemen or any other country has terrorists from those countries coming into Iraq creating problems for our troops, we have a right to deal with them in Iraq.

There's been no talk about attacking Iran, so I think this is really quite premature and hypothetical. On the matter of negotiating with Iran, there's a big difference between talking and negotiating. They know what we mean, and we know what they mean. We have ways of communicating, and we do that, but there's a big difference between that and negotiating, where you're expected to give up something in order to get something.

And I would just ask my friends that are in favor of negotiating with Iran what it is that we're willing to give up. I know what the Iranians want. They want us to give up our effort to stop them from acquiring nuclear capability, and that's not something we should do. BLITZER: One final question, because we're out of time, Senator Rockefeller. Is there any progress at all in the hunt for Osama bin Laden?

ROCKEFELLER: Not that I know of. You know, I mean, you remember those wonderful days when we closed down the CIA Osama bin Laden unit and then reopened it, but, no, there isn't. We know approximately where he is, on the western slopes of Afghanistan or the eastern slopes of Afghanistan or the western slopes of...

BLITZER: Someplace along the Afghan-Pakistan border, but you don't know if he's in Pakistan or Afghanistan.

ROCKEFELLER: No. But the figuring is he's somewhat there.

BLITZER: And the hunt will continue.

ROCKEFELLER: And Zawahiri.

BLITZER: The number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Thanks very much, Senator. Thanks for coming in. Good to have you back. I know you had a little back problem. Glad to see you're healthy and back in action. Congratulations once again on becoming chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

Senator Kyl, congratulations to you as well, not only on getting re-elected, you're the number three Republican in the U.S. Senate. Always good to have you on the program as well.

KYL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, as more take the plunge into the presidential pool, are the waters becoming too crowded? Our political panel will wade right in. Donna Brazile and Michael Steele, they're standing by live.

Up next, though, a quick check of what's in the news right, including the latest on the deadly fighting involving U.S. troops in Iraq. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.





SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: I'm in. I'm in to win.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER, R-CALIF.: Let's begin this race for the American presidency, and let's win.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, D-N.M.: I want to be able to change things in the right way in right direction.

SEN. SAM BROWNBACK, R-KAN.: I'm declaring today my candidacy for president of the United States.


BLITZER: More and more candidates every day in the U.S. presidential race. Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Here now to help sort through all the politics, all the candidates and the issues, our guests, CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Maryland's former lieutenant governor, Michael Steele. He's a Republican.

Welcome back to both of you to "Late Edition." Thanks for coming in.

Senator Clinton was out in Iowa yesterday. She's there all weekend. Here's a little clip of what she had to say in Des Moines yesterday.


CLINTON: I am in. I'm in to win. I'm going to do everything I can to meet as many people throughout Iowa as I can reach. I want to do this exactly along the lines that Iowa caucus-goers have gotten accustomed to. I want to be in your living rooms and in your church basements and your union halls.


BLITZER: Donna, our latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll has her way ahead, 36 percent, Barack Obama at 18 percent, John Edwards down at 16 percent, Al Gore, who's not running at least not yet, 12 percent. Everybody else in the low, single digits.

Here's the concern a lot of Democrats have that you know well, that she can certainly get the Democratic nomination, bus she's not electable when all is said and done. What do you say to those critics of hers who say she's not the best candidate in a general election as opposed to a strictly Democratic contest?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, Wolf, as you well know, Hillary Clinton has some of the broadest support of any Democrat in the race. Not only is she able to capture the support of women, but minorities, organized labor. I think that Mrs. Clinton will not only do well in the Democratic primaries, but she will also do well across the country.

If you look at the electoral landscape, Mrs. Clinton only needs to flip a couple of states in order to get to the magical 270. And I think she'll be very competitive in Ohio, New Mexico, Nevada perhaps, and Iowa of course, and Florida. So I think she is electable, she can beat John McCain, Rudy Giuliani. The polls suggest that she's very competitive.

BLITZER: All right, we're speaking of Rudy Giuliani, Michael. He is the Republican front-runner in our poll CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. He's got 32 percent, John McCain with 26, everybody else in single digits. He's been in New Hampshire this weekend. Let's play a little clip of what he's been saying to potential voters out there.


RUDY GIULIANI (R), FMR. NEW YORK MAYOR: As we look toward the future, we have to reassert the basic, core principles of the Republican Party. We've got to be -- you know, we have got to be about being Republican strong, not Democrat light.


BLITZER: All right, here's the criticism of Giuliani. It's the opposite of the criticism of Hillary Clinton. Namely, he could win a general election a lot easier than he could the Republican nomination, given his views on abortion rights for women, same-sex marriage, issues like that, where so much of the Republican base is diametrically opposed to him.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER LT. GOVERNOR OF MARYLAND: And that's -- you hit his challenge right on the head. His problem is going to be going to the base of the party and saying while I disagree with you and you disagree with me on some of these social issues, that we have a bigger cause before us, we have a bigger challenge before us, and that's a world in which there are great dangers.

And as long as he's able to make that argument, what I've been finding in New Hampshire and in other places where the Republican Party view on these issues is very strong, is that he's been able to chip away a little bit.

I said in 2004 that the party would have to come to grips with a new reality, and that is presidential candidates who aren't necessarily cut out of that traditional Ronald Reagan mold that fit right into the platform of the party, but who bring to the table the concept of the big tent, who may be pro-choice but also against the death penalty, who may be in favor of the Second Amendment, but against something else.

So you've got to now see this party deal with this, this Giuliani effect, if you will, as his strength grows. And I think he will become more and more competitive. Certainly he and McCain will probably really bring it together.

Then you have got Mitt Romney, who is sitting out there, who the social conservatives kind of gravitate towards, so the mix in the Republican primary is going to be very different than for Hillary.

BLITZER: Who do you, from a Republican perspective -- and you're a good, strong Republican -- would be the most formidable challenge on the Democratic side? Who, in other words, would run the biggest threat to you?

STEELE: Well, you know, that's -- I've been sort of going through that question in the last few weeks. And I flip back and forth between a Rudy and a McCain.

BLITZER: No, no, no, I'm talking on the Democratic side.

STEELE: On the Democrats?

BLITZER: Yes, who would be the strongest Democrat that would challenge you?

STEELE: I think Edwards is going to be the nominee. That's just where I kind of look at the landscape and I think Edwards would present a real challenge to the Republican Party.

BLITZER: Donna, who would be the strongest Republican who would instill the greatest fear among Democrats like you?

BRAZILE: Well, look, I think it's a combination of Sam Brownback catching fire in some of those early states. He is now...

BLITZER: You think he would be a bigger threat to a Democratic presidential candidate than Rudy Giuliani or John McCain?

BRAZILE: You know, I think McCain has a lot of problems right now, with his strong support of the president's troop surge and with McCain seeming not to be willing to listen to what the American people are saying on Iraq. I don't think McCain has that maverick appeal that he once had.

And, look, again, I don't -- Giuliani is more of a liberal Democrat than I am on many of the social issues, so I don't think he's going to get out of the Republican primary. So you have to look at people like Mitt Romney, and he's flip-flopped on abortion and he's come a long way on some of those other issues.

STEELE: You see this on both sides. I mean, you know, you look at the maturation of Hillary Clinton from, you know, the left to the center to the right. I mean, she's doing the same thing that you see happening on the Republican side with the Mitt Romneys and the others.

They are trying to get a feel on where the country is on a number of key issues, and they're trying to tone their message to that particular point. And you'll see this back and forth.

BLITZER: There's no doubt that there's a lot of adjusting, as we shall say.

BRAZILE: Shifting.

STEELE: Shifting.

BLITZER: By our count, there are at least eight Democrats who have already announced that they're running, created exploratory committees, or said they'll do that this week. They'll put them up there. There you see them right there.

John Kerry missing in action right now. He announced this week he won't be running for president. Here's what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASS.: I've included this isn't the time for me to mount a presidential campaign. It is the time to put my energy to work as part of the majority in the Senate, to do all I can to end this war.


BLITZER: Why did he make that decision? Because a lot of us thought, you know, he only lost Ohio -- what -- by 120,000 votes the last time and he still had that burning desire to run again. If he had captured Ohio, he would be president of the United States right now.

BRAZILE: You know, I think the challenges for all of these candidates, especially those who have run before, is to come back and say, OK, here is what I learned and this is why I want to do it again.

And John Kerry didn't really have a compelling reason to run again. Although he's been staunchly opposed to the war, he's spoken out about global warming and other issues, you know, John Kerry just didn't really knock them dead, so to speak. So I think he made a wise decision to remain out of the race and to run for reelection for Massachusetts.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to pick up that thought. I want both of you to stand by. We have a lot more to discuss. We'll take a quick break. More with our political panel, including how the parties are trying to position themselves for 2008.

Then, in our next hour, we'll talk to one who's already jumped in. That would be Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. I'll ask him why he is running, why he thinks he can win.

And remember, I'll be moderating the first Democratic and Republican president debates in New Hampshire in early April. Mark it down on your calendars, April 4th and 5th. That will air right here on CNN. We'll be right.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

There's two years to go until the presidential clock, but it's already a very crowded political field less than one year until the Iowa caucuses. We're continuing our political debrief with Donna Brazile and Michael Steele.

Michael, let's talk a little bit about the Republican side. By our count, right now, at least nine Republicans want to be president. They either announced, created exploratory committees or are about to do so this week.

Missing right there is Chuck Hagel. Chuck Hagel been outspoken in his opposition to what the president is doing in Iraq right now. That sort of distinguishes him from a lot of these other guys right now. He's thinking, he's said publicly he's considering a run. What do you think?

STEELE: Well, I think, you know, Chuck Hagel has a lot to present to the people, particularly the party, given his opposition to the administration. He too will have a hard time working his way through a Republican primary, because the one thing you'll say about a lot of our folks is that they don't forget. And while they may agree with some of his rhetoric and his points, the way he's presented it, the way he's challenged, the way he's pushed back and not really been helping the administration through this process but really taking positions of the Democrat opponents more and giving, feeding that frenzy, I think it will be hard for him, which is why, I think, he's hesitating right now jumping in this thing. It will be hard for him to justify to the base why they should vote for him.

BLITZER: You think maybe one of those candidates like Giuliani would have an easier time winning an election than winning a Republican contest? You think?

BRAZILE: But he's a maverick. I mean, I mentioned Brownback because he's a man of strong convictions, and I think voters are looking for -- on both sides of the political aisle, they're looking for someone who is strong, who's a leader, who can handle tough.

STEELE: So who's the maverick on the Democrat side?

BRAZILE: Oh there's a number of mavericks on the Democratic side. I think Barack Obama because he's running a different kind of campaign.

STEELE: But nobody knows where Barack is on anything, so I mean...

BRAZILE: Because he's new to the national scene, but I think that voters will get a chance to know Barack Obama. But Chuck Hagel is someone that I admire just for his courage, for standing up for his values, for his principles and standing up against this war.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what Democratic -- or now independent -- Senator Joe Lieberman, who caucuses with the Democrats, said earlier today. Listen to this.


SEN. JOSEPH I. LIEBERMAN, I-CONN.: I'm open to supporting a Democrat, Republican or even an independent if there's a strong one.

(UNKNOWN): You're saying you might vote Republican in 2008?

LIEBERMAN: I am, because we have so much on the line.


BLITZER: All right. He was the Democratic vice presidential nominee not that long ago.

STEELE: Now there's your maverick.

BLITZER: What do you think about that?

BRAZILE: Well, he said he's open. He didn't say he's willing, but he said he's open. Look, Joe Lieberman is a Scoop Jackson, Harry Truman kind of Democrat. He's a strong supporter of the president's current strategy on the war, and I'm sure right now he's trying to bring other Democrats along with him. But at the end of the day, I think Joe Lieberman will continue to caucus with the Democrats and embrace a Democratic nominee.

BLITZER: Do you agree?

STEELE: Somewhat. He will continue to caucus with the Democrats. I don't know if he's going to embrace their agenda, particularly with respect to the war. I mean, if you're going to talk about the maverick on the D-side, it would be Joe Lieberman.

And I think that he has a lot that both parties should listen to, quite frankly, because he really -- as I've seen him over the past year, really methodically laid out and has stated very clearly his view and the important of taking the course we're taking.

So it's going to be an interesting dance, no doubt about that. But I think he is one to watch in this upcoming election because what he says, I think, will begin to carry more and more weight on both sides.

BLITZER: Democrats chose Senator Jim Webb of Virginia to deliver the Democratic response to the president's State of the Union Address. He's a freshman senator, although he's very experienced, a former Navy secretary, during the Reagan administration. Here's a little clip of what he said.


SEN. JIM WEBB, D-VA.: The president took us into this war recklessly. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable and predicted disarray that has followed.


BLITZER: Is he going to emerge as a major spokesman now on national security issues for the Democrats?

BRAZILE: You know, after listening to his nine-minute speech, I went on his Web site to send him a note and say thank you so much. I mean, for the first time, I heard a coherent, Democratic narrative about who we are, our values, and what the Democratic Party hopes to achieve in terms of opposing this war in Iraq. So Jim Webb did a great job.

And this week the Senate will go on record, a bipartisan group of senators disapproving of the president's current strategy in Iraq. BLITZER: But that's just a symbolic, nonbinding resolution, although as a lot of senators know, that the vote they take could have a huge impact on what happens if they're up for re-election in 2008.

STEELE: It could. And that's why it's such a crazy, dangerous thing to do at a time of war. I mean, I just sit back -- if I'm an enemy of the U.S., I'm loving this. I'm seeing further and further dissension, starting at the top and filtering throughout the body politic.

And I just generally am concerned when senators eschew their constitutional responsibility in this sense that, we're at a time of war. While you may not agree with the president, to go and do some symbolic know-nothing, mean-nothing vote I think is rather dangerous. And I saw Jim Webb's speech, and quite frankly I think it was a one- shot note, because I don't see the Democrats rallying around anything he said.

BRAZILE: You know, we're finally getting the president to do something, to really address the challenges in Iraq, to put pressure on al-Maliki and to remind -- and to force the administration to really try to get it right this time. So I think this resolution is important because we'll have a debate.

And that's important. We're a democracy. What are we fighting for over there? We believe in freedom of thought...

STEELE: I don't hear so much a debate...

BRAZILE: ... and this is their constitutional responsibility to debate where we are in Iraq.

STEELE: Donna, I don't hear so much a debate. All I hear are Democrats posturing and name-calling and blaming. I mean, you just saw the clips. I mean, you know, reckless and all this crazy stuff.

I mean, you know, there's a way to say I disagree with the president's policy without calling him names, without using pejorative terms to describe that policy to the rest of the world.

BRAZILE: Michael, I don't believe anyone is calling the president anything other than the commander in chief. It's his decision...

STEELE: Oh, come on, come on. Where have you been the past year? BRAZILE: It is his decision to escalate -- I've been right here -- escalate the troop surge. And I think it is very telling that the Republicans, John Warner -- no one would call him a dove...

STEELE: I love -- everyone wants to name one person, every time I hear...

BLITZER: No, there's more, there's, no, there's a bunch of Republicans.


BRAZILE: There's a growing chorus, and that's because...

STEELE: There's a chorus. I don't know how much it's growing.

BRAZILE: The Congress of the United States have a responsibility, a constitutional responsibility...

STEELE: Right.

BRAZILE: ... to inform and advise the president of the United States. And they're going to get (inaudible)...

BLITZER: I want to change the subject for a moment. Something that was missing from the president's State of the Union address, any reference to Katrina or the aftermath. And the Louisiana governor, Kathleen Blanco, was upset about that. I want to play her little reaction.


GOV. KATHLEEN BABINEAUX BLANCO, D-LA.: In that message, I certainly was surprised and very disappointed that the president didn't have a single thing to say about the Gulf Coast, about Louisiana. He didn't have anything to say about the massive recovery effort that we are all struggling to effect. It certainty is a disappointment.


BLITZER: You're from Louisiana, from New Orleans, Donna, so I'm sure you were upset. But he didn't want to go through a whole laundry list of all the issues, as a lot of presidents do, on a yearly basis in that address.

BRAZILE: Well, the president made a strong statement, as you well know, in September of 2005 that he was going to rebuild the Gulf Coast. And let me just tell you, I was surprised that the White House did not put any reference to Katrina.

The White House has been very supportive in providing the resources to rebuild the levees and providing the resources to rebuild the homes. And all the president had to say was that the money is on the way. It's in the pipeline. And we hope the government spends it.

BLITZER: Was that a mistake?

STEELE: I think there should have been a reference to Katrina, absolutely, just to let the nation know that there is, as Donna noted, an effort under way to get the dollars in place and address that issue.

BLITZER: On that note of agreement, we'll end it, guys. Thanks very much, Donna, and Michael, thanks for coming in. And we'll have much more coming up here on "Late Edition." Is Vice President Cheney more optimistic than his boss and the American people about what's going on in Iraq? My exclusive, sometimes confrontational sit-down interview with the vice president. That's coming up at the top of the hour. We're going to run the whole thing unedited.

"Late Edition" will be right back.


BLITZER: There's much more coming up on "Late Edition." Why did the vice president say my questions were hogwash and out of line? My exclusive interview. That's coming up straight ahead. We're going to run the whole thing for you.

And one of the administration's sharpest critics, Democratic Senator Chris Dodd, he weighs in on the war and his own presidential ambitions. Much more "Late Edition" coming up right after this.


BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.


BUSH: Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, and I ask you to give it a chance to work.


BLITZER: President Bush appeals for patience on his Iraq plan, but some in Congress are not willing to wait.


HAGEL: There is no strategy. This is a ping-pong game with American lives.


BLITZER: How will the White House handle Capitol Hill?


CHENEY: The fact of the matter is, we need to get the job done.


BLITZER: The vice president speaks out on the war in Iraq, Iran, and the race for '08.


CHENEY: Wolf, I simply don't accept the premise of your question. I just think hogwash.

BLITZER: That what, there were no blunders?


BLITZER: You won't want to miss my exclusive interview with Dick Cheney.


SEN. CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, D-CONN.: It's not pretty. It could be nasty. It could be difficult, but we've got to take action here.


BLITZER: Democrats debate a way to stop the troops increase in Iraq. But will it mean a vote to cut funding for the war? We ask Democratic presidential candidate and a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Chris Dodd.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

BLITZER: Welcome back. Vice president Cheney fires back at his critics in my exclusive interview with him. That's coming up in a few moments.

First though, check in with CNN's Susan Roesgen in Atlanta for a quick look at what's in the news right now -- Susan.


BLITZER: Thank you, Susan.

We're learning more about an Iraq police report that another U.S. chopper may have gone down. Our correspondent Arwa Damon is joining us now live in Baghdad.

What do we know, Arwa?

DAMON: Well, Wolf, the U.S. military is saying that it's still investigating reports of a downed helicopter. What we do know -- this first coming from the Associated Press quoting the governor of Najaf, and said a helicopter crashed just north of the southern city of Najaf during gun battles there between insurgents, Iraqi security forces that were backed by American air support.

Now, we spoke with a senior police official down in that area. He said that according to his men that were on the ground during that gun battle, a U.S. helicopter was shot down and that they believe it was shot down by insurgent gunfire.

But, again, the U.S. military saying that it is still investigating reports of that incident. According to this Iraqi police official, he says that the gunmen were actually Sunni insurgents intent on storming the holy Shia city of Najaf in the days just before the most holy Shia ritual called Ashura. Their intent was to kill senior clerics that are down in Najaf, Wolf. BLITZER: And if that chopper was shot done, a very disturbing trend. In the recent days, two other choppers have been brought down as well, one involving civilian contractors, one Blackhawk helicopter with 12 U.S. soldiers on board. We'll watch this closely.

Arwa, What's the latest in Baghdad?

DAMON: Well, Wolf, it's been another one of those utterly devastating days here in the capital. There was a mortar attack in a Sunni residential neighborhood that actually hit a girls school, and we do now know from the Iraqi police that five schoolgirls were killed in that attack, their ages between 12 and 15.

According to a senior Sunni politician who lives in that area, he said that the residential area there was being slammed by mortars since Friday. He believes it's coming from a nearby Shia neighborhood. We have seen this ongoing mortal battle between neighborhoods for quite some time now here in the capital.

And also, there was another devastating car bomb in the Shia slum of Sadr City. It exploded in a busy marketplace and killed at least eight Iraqis -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon in Baghdad for us. Thank you.

President Bush on Tuesday spoke about a tragic escalation of the violence in Iraq, and he asked for bipartisan support for his new strategy in the war. The next day I sat down with Vice President Dick Cheney for a wide-ranging interview about the war, terrorism, and lots more.


BLITZER: And joining us now, the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney.

Mr. Vice President, thanks very much for doing this.

CHENEY: It's good to see you again, Wolf.

BLITZER: We heard the president mention Osama bin Laden last night in his State of the Union Address. Why can't you find this guy?

CHENEY: Well, obviously, he's well hidden. We've been looking for him for some time. I think the fact is he's gone totally to ground. He doesn't communicate, except perhaps by courier. He's not up on the air. He's not putting out videos the way he did oftentimes in the past.

BLITZER: His number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is.

CHENEY: Zawahiri's much more visible, yes.

BLITZER: I mean, he's on television almost as much as I am.

CHENEY: Well, I don't know if anybody's on as much as you are, Wolf, but, no, he's more of a public figure than Osama is. But if you've ever been in that part of the world, it is some of the most rugged territory imaginable.

I've flown over it and been on the ground in Afghanistan, Pakistan, up along the Khyber Pass and so forth, and that general area is a remarkably difficult area to get people into. Parts of it have never really been...

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Is bin Laden still alive?

CHENEY: I think so.

BLITZER: And you think he's in Pakistan, Afghanistan, on the border someplace?

CHENEY: I don't want to be that precise.

BLITZER: Because this is so frustrating to so many people more than five years after 9/11, not only that bin Laden is out there, but that his deputy pops up every now and then on television and makes these threats.

CHENEY: Yes, but look what we have done. We have not gotten Osama bin Laden, obviously, because he's very careful. I mean to say he doesn't communicate and he's not in direct contact on a regular basis. But we've taken out several times that whole layer of leadership underneath Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri.

One of the most dangerous jobs in the world is to be number three in the Al Qaida organization because a lot of them are now dead or in custody. So we've done a lot of damage to that senior leadership including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and many others, as well.

BLITZER: The criticism is that you took your eye off the ball by going into Iraq and, in effect, reducing the focus of attention on Al Qaida and bin Laden.

CHENEY: It's just not true. I've heard that charge. It's simply not true, Wolf.

The fact of the matter is, we can do more than one thing at a time and we have. And we've been very successful with going after Al Qaida. They're still out there, they're still a formidable force, but they're not nearly as formidable as they once were, in terms of numbers and so forth. We have...

BLITZER: There are some experts who think they're an even greater threat.

CHENEY: We have successfully defended the country for five years against any further attacks. They've tried. We know repeatedly -- the president talked about it last night in his speech.

We know they tried last summer to capture airliners coming out of the U.K. and to blow them up over the United States or over the Atlantic. There have been numerous attacks that have been disrupted. It's been an enormous performance by the U.S. military, by our intelligence services and everything else.

If you had asked, shortly after 9/11, what the odds were that we could go better than five years without another attack on the homeland, I don't think anybody would have been willing to take that bet. The fact is we've been enormously successful in that regard. We still, obviously, want to get Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri. But we've had great success against Al Qaida.

BLITZER: Here is what the president said last night.


BUSH: We can expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by Al Qaida and supporters of the old regime. The contagion of violence would spill out across the country and, in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict. For America, this is a nightmare scenario.


BLITZER: He was talking about the consequences of failure in Iraq.

CHENEY: Right.

BLITZER: How much responsibility do you have, though -- do you and the administration -- for this potential scenario?

CHENEY: Well, you know, this is the argument that there wouldn't be any problem if we hadn't gone into Iraq.


BLITZER: Well, Saddam Hussein would still be in power.

CHENEY: Saddam Hussein would still be in power. He would, at this point, be engaged in a nuclear arms race with Ahmadinejad, his blood enemy next door in Iran.

BLITZER: But he was being contained as you well know...

CHENEY: He was not being contained.

BLITZER: ... by the no-fly zones in the north...

CHENEY: He was not being contained.

BLITZER: ... and in the south.

CHENEY: Wolf, the entire sanctions regime had been undermined by Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: But he didn't have stockpiles of weapons of...

CHENEY: He had corrupted the entire effort to try to keep him contained. He was bribing senior officials of other governments. The Oil For Food Program had been totally undermined. And he had, in fact, produced and used weapons of mass destruction previously, and he retained the capability to produce that kind of stuff in the future.

BLITZER: But that was in the '80s.

CHENEY: You can go back and argue the whole thing all over again, Wolf. But what we did in Iraq in taking down Saddam Hussein was exactly the right thing to do. The world is much safer today because of it.

There have been three national elections in Iraq. There's a democracy established there, a constitution, a new democratically- elected government. Saddam has been brought to justice and executed. His sons are dead. His government is gone and the world is better off for it.

You can argue about that all you want. That's history. That's what we did and you and I can have this debate. We've had it before.

CHENEY: But the fact of the matter is, in terms of threats to the United States from al-Qaida, for example, attacks on the United States, they didn't need an excuse.

We weren't in Iraq when they hit us on 9/11. The fact of the matter was...

BLITZER: But the current situation there is...

CHENEY: The fact of the matter was that al-Qaida was out to kill Americans before we ever went into Iraq.

BLITZER: The current situation there is very unstable. The president himself speaks about a nightmare scenario right now. He was contained, as you repeatedly said throughout the '90s after the first Gulf War, in a box, Saddam Hussein.

CHENEY: He was, after the first Gulf War, had managed to kick out all the inspectors. He was providing payments to the families of suicide bombers.

He was a safe haven for terrorism, one of the prime state sponsors of terrorism, designated by our State Department for a long time. He'd started two wars. He had violated 16 U.N. Security Council resolutions. If he were still there today, we'd have a terrible situation.

Today, instead...

BLITZER: But there is a terrible situation there.

CHENEY: No, there is not. There is not. There's problems -- ongoing problems -- but we have, in fact, accomplished our objectives of getting rid of the old regime...

BLITZER: And... CHENEY: ... and there is a new regime in place that's been there for less than a year, far too soon for you guys to write them off. They have got a democratically written constitution, the first ever in that part of the world. They've had three national elections. So there's been a lot of success.

BLITZER: How worried are you, Mr. Vice President...

CHENEY: We still have more work to do to get a handle on the security situation...

BLITZER: How worried...

CHENEY: But the president's put a plan in place to do that.

BLITZER: How worried are you of this nightmare scenario, that the U.S. is building up this Shiite-dominated Iraqi government with an enormous amount of military equipment, sophisticated training, and then, in the end, they're going to turn against the United States?

CHENEY: Wolf, that's not going to happen. The problem is you've got...

BLITZER: They're very -- very -- warming up to Iran...

CHENEY: Wolf...

BLITZER: ... and Syria right now.

CHENEY: Wolf, you can come up with all kinds of what-ifs. You've got to be deal with the reality on the ground. The reality on the ground is, we've made major progress.

We've still got a lot of work to do. We've got a lot of provinces in Iraq that are relatively quiet. There's more and more authority transferred to the Iraqis all the time.

But the biggest problem we face right now is the danger that the United States will validate the terrorists' strategy, that, in fact, what will happen here, with all of the debate over whether or not we ought to stay in Iraq, with the pressures from some quarters to get out of Iraq, if we were to do that, we would simply validate the terrorists' strategy that says the Americans will not stay to complete the task...

BLITZER: Here's the...

CHENEY: ... that they don't...

BLITZER: ... Nouri Al-Maliki...

CHENEY: That we don't have the stomach for the fight.

BLITZER: Here's the problem we have...

CHENEY: That's the biggest threat right now. BLITZER: Here's the problem that I see, and tell me if I'm wrong: That he seems to be more interested right now, the prime minister of Iraq, in establishing good relations with Iran and Syria than he is with moderate Arab governments, whether in Jordan or Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

CHENEY: I just think you're wrong, Wolf. He's been working with all of them. They're all in the neighborhood. He's got to develop relationships with all of them, and he has. BLITZER: Because he's a Shia, and these moderate Arab governments are Sunni.

CHENEY: He's also an Iraqi. He's not a Persian. There's a big difference between the Persians and the Arabs, although they're both Shia. Now, you can't just make the simple statement that he's Shia, therefore he's the enemy.

The majority of the population in Iraq is Shia. And for the first time we've had elections, and majority rule will prevail there. But the notion that somehow the effort hasn't been worth it or that we shouldn't go ahead and complete the task is just dead wrong.

BLITZER: Here's what Jim Webb, the senator from Virginia, said in his Democratic response last night.


U.S. SENATOR JIM WEBB, D-VIRGINIA: The president took us into this war recklessly. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable and predicted disarray that has followed.


BLITZER: And it's not just Jim Webb. Some of your good Republican friends in the Senate and the House are now seriously questioning your credibility because of the blunders, of the failures. Gordon Smith -- Gordon Smith...

CHENEY: Wolf, Wolf, I simply don't accept the premise of your question. I just think it's hogwash. Remember...

BLITZER: What, that there -- there were no blunders?

CHENEY: The -- remember...

BLITZER: The president himself says there were blunders...


CHENEY: Remember me -- remember with me what happened in Afghanistan. The United States was actively involved in Afghanistan in the '80s, supporting the effort against the Soviets. The Mujahedeen prevailed. Everybody walked away.

And, in Afghanistan, within relatively short order, the Taliban came to power. They created a safe haven for al-Qaida. Training camps were established where some 20,000 terrorists trained in the late '90s.

And out of that, out of Afghanistan, because we walked away and ignored it, we had the attack on the U.S.S. Cole, the attack on the embassies in East Africa, and 9/11, where the people trained and planned in Afghanistan for that attack and killed 3,000 Americans. That is what happens when we walk away from a situation like that in the Middle East. BLITZER: But there were blunders that were made.

CHENEY: Now, you might -- you might have been -- you might have been able to do that before 9/11. But after 9/11, we learned that we have a vested interest in what happens on the ground in the Middle East. Now, if you are going to walk away from Iraq today and say, well, gee, it's too tough, we can't complete the task, we just are going to quit, you'll create exactly that same kind of situation again.

Now, the critics have not suggested a policy. They haven't put anything in place. All they want to do, all they have recommended is to redeploy or to withdraw our forces. The fact is, we can complete the task in Iraq. We're going to do it. We've got Petraeus, General Petraeus, taking over.

It is a good strategy. It will work. But we have to have the stomach to finish the task.

BLITZER: What if the Senate passes a resolution saying this is not a good idea. Will that stop you?

CHENEY: It won't stop us. And it would be, I think, detrimental from the standpoint of the troops, as General Petraeus said yesterday. He was asked by Joe Lieberman, among others, in his testimony, about this notion that somehow the Senate could vote overwhelmingly for him, send him on his new assignment, and then pass a resolution at the same time and say, but we don't agree with the mission you've been given.

BLITZER: So, you're moving forward no matter what the Congress does?

CHENEY: We are moving forward. We are moving forward. The Congress has control over the purse strings. They have the right, obviously, if they want, to cut off funding.

But, in terms of this effort, the president's made his decision. We have consulted extensively with them. We'll continue to consult with the Congress.

But the fact of the matter is, we need to get the job done. I think General Petraeus can do it. I think our troops can do it. And I think it's far too soon for the talking heads on television to conclude that it's impossible to do, it's not going to work, it can't possibly succeed.

BLITZER: What was the biggest mistake you made?

CHENEY: Oh, I think in terms of mistakes, I think we underestimated the extent to which 30 years of Saddam's rule had really hammered the population, especially the Shia population, into submissiveness. It was very hard for them to stand up and take responsibility, in part because anybody who'd done that in the past had had their heads chopped off.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Coming up on "Late Edition," more of our exclusive sit- down interview with the vice president. I'll ask him if he trusts the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. And we'll also get his early word on the presidential candidates.

Then, Lewis "Scooter" Libby on trial here in Washington. We'll ask the vice president about his former top aide.

And later, will Democrats try to cut funds for additional U.S. troops for Iraq? My live interview with Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Chris Dodd. That's coming up as well. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Here now is more of my exclusive interview with Vice President Dick Cheney. Issue number one, the war and the ability of the Iraqi government and its prime minister to take on more of the fight.


BLITZER: Do you trust Nouri al-Maliki?

CHENEY: I do. At this point, I don't have any reason not to trust him.

BLITZER: Is he going to go after Muqtada al-Sadr, this anti- American Shiite cleric who controls the Mehdi Army?

CHENEY: I think he has demonstrated a willingness to take on any elements that violate the law.

BLITZER: Do you want him to arrest Muqtada al-Sadr?

CHENEY: He has been active, just in recent weeks, in going after the Mehdi Army. There have been some 600 of them arrested within the last couple days.

BLITZER: Should he be arrested, Muqtada al-Sadr?

CHENEY: That's a decision that's got to be made...

BLITZER: Because, as you know, the first U.S. general there, Ricardo Sanchez, said this guy killed Americans, he has blood on his hands, he was wanted basically dead or alive. Whatever happened to that?

CHENEY: Wolf, you've got to let Nouri al-Maliki deal with the situation as he sees fit and I think he will.

BLITZER: You think he's going to go after the Mehdi army?

CHENEY: I think he will go after all of those elements in Iraq that are violating the law, that are contributing to sectarian violence. There are criminal elements, there are Baathist, former regime elements. All of them have to be the target of the effort. He'll have a lot of help because he'll have 160,000 U.S. forces there to work alongside the Iraqis to get the job done.

BLITZER: Here's the problem that you have, the administration, credibility in Congress with the American public, because of the mistakes, because of the previous statements, the last throes, the comment you made a year-and-a-half ago, the insurgency was in its last throes.

How do you build up that credibility, because so many of these Democrats and a lot of Republicans now are saying they don't believe you anymore?

CHENEY: Well, Wolf, if the history books were written by people have -- so eager to write off this effort, to declare it a failure, including many of our friends in the media, the situation obviously would have been over a long time ago.

Bottom line is that we've had enormous successes and we will continue to have enormous successes. It is hard. It is difficult. It's one of the toughest things any president has to do.

It's easy to stick your finger in the air and figure out which way the winds are blowing, and then to try to get in front of the herd. This president doesn't work that way. He also will be very clear in terms of providing leadership going forward for what we need to do in Iraq.

Now the fact is, this is a vitally important piece of business. It needs to be done. The consequences of our not completing the task are enormous.

Just think for a minute, Wolf, in terms of what policy is being suggested here. What you're recommending or at least what you seem to believe the right course is, is to bail out...

BLITZER: I'm just asking questions.

CHENEY: No, you're not asking questions.

BLITZER: Yes, I am. I'm just asking questions...

CHENEY: Implicit in the criticisms.

BLITZER: ... your critics are asking.

CHENEY: Implicit in what the critics are suggesting, I think, is an obligation of saying well, here's what we need to do, or, we're not going to do anything else, we're going to accept defeat. Defeat is not an answer. We can, in fact, prevail here and we need to prevail. And the consequences of not doing so are enormous.

BLITZER: You've said that Iran as a nuclear power is unacceptable.

CHENEY: Right. BLITZER: Are you ready to go to war to stop that from happening?

CHENEY: Come on now, Wolf. You know I'm not going to speculate on something like that.

BLITZER: Well, how are you going to stop that?

CHENEY: Wolf, we've got a policy in place that, I think, is producing results. We've gone to the United Nations. We've got a unanimous agreement to a sanctions resolution that's now in place with respect to the Iranian uranium program. And we're continuing to work the problem.

We want to solve the problem diplomatically. We'll do everything we can to achieve that, but we've also made it clear that all options are on the table. Now, no administration in their right mind is going to answer that question you just asked.

BLITZER: Because you've heard Senator Biden, Senator Rockefeller say they think you need more congressional authorization if you're going to take any military steps again Iran. Do you?

CHENEY: I'm not going to speculate on military steps, Wolf. You can ask that question all day long.

BLITZER: All right. There's a lot of good questions we can ask. Let's move on to some other domestic issues.

BLITZER: The whole notion of your long-time aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- he's in the papers, his lawyer now suggesting on opening day of the trial that he was basically set up by people in the White House to protect Karl Rove, the president's political aide.

What do you make of this?

CHENEY: Now, Wolf, you knew when we set up the interview, you can ask all the questions you want. I'm going to be a witness in that trial within a matter of weeks. I'm not going to discuss it. I haven't discussed it with anybody in the press yet, and I'm not going to discuss it with you today.

BLITZER: But you are very close friends.

CHENEY: Wolf, you've got my answer. You've got my answer.

BLITZER: Have you contributed to his legal defense fund?

CHENEY: I'm a strong friend and supporter of Scooter's. I have not contributed to his legal defense fund. I think he is an extraordinarily talented and capable individual. BLITZER: Let's talk about illegal immigration right now, because a lot of your conservative Republican base, they're upset at the president and at you for supporting a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants right now. What do you say to them who are worried that you're going to team up with a lot of Democrats and moderate Republicans and pass this legislation?

CHENEY: Well, we think we need immigration legislation passed. I think it would be irresponsible for us not to try to deal with that problem. It's a serious problem. It's very important from the standpoint of the millions of illegals who are already here, from those segments of the economy that depend upon them, but it's also important that we have secure borders and we have control over our borders.

And we've done a lot already to move in that direction. We've doubled or tripled the size of the Border Patrol force in the budget. We've got border security measures adopted in the last Congress. What we need now is a temporary guest worker program, a comprehensive solution that will regulate that flow.

I think we can do it. I believe that, in fact, there's sufficient support on both sides of the aisle, and I think we'll get the legislation passed.


BLITZER: Still to come, the final part of my interview with Vice President Cheney. I'll ask him about some sensitive subjects, including Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Nancy Pelosi and his own daughter, Mary Cheney. That's coming up.

But up next, we'll get a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on another very deadly day in Iraq. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Here's the final part of my exclusive interview with Vice President Dick Cheney.


BLITZER: Do you think Hillary Clinton would make a good president?

CHENEY: No, I don't.


CHENEY: Because she's a Democrat. I don't agree with her philosophically and from a policy standpoint.

BLITZER: Do you think she will be president, though?

CHENEY: I don't.

BLITZER: Who do you think will be?

CHENEY: I'm not going to speculate.

BLITZER: Won't be you?

CHENEY: It won't be me.

BLITZER: John McCain?

CHENEY: I'm not going to speculate.

BLITZER: Rather critical of you, John McCain, lately.

CHENEY: Well, John's a good man. He and I have known each other a long time, and we agree on many things and disagree on others.

BLITZER: He said the other day, he said, "The president listened too much to the vice president. Of course, the president bears the ultimate responsibility, but he was very badly served by both the vice president, and, most of all, the secretary of defense." That was John McCain. CHENEY: So?

BLITZER: You want to react?

CHENEY: Well, I just disagree with him.

BLITZER: He said about the former defense secretary, "Rumsfeld will go down in history, along with NcNamara, as one of the worst secretaries of Defense in history."

CHENEY: I just fundamentally disagree. You heard my speech when Don retired. I think he's done a superb job.

BLITZER: Your daughter, Mary. She's pregnant. All of us are happy. She's going to have a baby, you're going to have another grandchild. Some of the -- some critics, though, are suggesting -- for example, a statement from someone representing Focus on the Family, "Mary Cheney's pregnancy raises the question of what's best for children. Just because it's possible to conceive a child outside of the relationship of a married mother and father doesn't mean it's best for the child." Do you want to respond to that?

CHENEY: No, I don't.

BLITZER: She's, obviously, a good daughter...

CHENEY: I'm delighted I'm about to have a sixth grandchild, Wolf. And obviously I think the world of both my daughters and all of my grandchildren. And I think, frankly, you're out of line with that question.

BLITZER: I think all of us appreciate... CHENEY: I think you're out of line.

BLITZER: ... your daughters. No, we like your daughters. Believe me, I'm very, very sympathetic to Liz and to Mary. I like them both. That was just a question that's come up, and it's a responsible, fair question.

CHENEY: I just fundamentally disagree with you.

BLITZER: I want to congratulate you on having another grandchild. Let's wind up on a soft note. Nancy Pelosi. What was it like sitting up there with her last night, as opposed to Dennis Hastert?

CHENEY: I prefer Denny Hastert, obviously. I liked having a fellow Republican in the speaker's chair. Nancy's now the speaker of the House. We had a very pleasant evening.

BLITZER: But it's different to have a Democrat in control.

CHENEY: Sure, it's different. They have -- yeah, but it's the way it's been during most of my career in Congress. So I didn't find it all that surprising or startling. BLITZER: How do you feel?


BLITZER: Good. Mr. Vice President, thank you.

CHENEY: Thank you.


BLITZER: My exclusive interview with the vice president, Dick Cheney, earlier in the week. Coming up on "Late Edition," we'll get a different perspective from another Washington insider. This one wants to be president. That would be Democratic Senator Chris Dodd. He's standing by live.

And remember, for all your political news, we field the best political team on television, right here on CNN. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.



BUSH: I'm the decision-maker. I had to come up with a way forward that precluded disaster. I have to think about what's likely to work.


BLITZER: President Bush on Friday mincing no chance to give his new war strategy a push forward. Welcome back to "Late Edition." Will more U.S. troops tip the balance in Iraq, and at what cost? Joining us now, Senator Chris Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut. He's a presidential candidate as well. Senator, welcome back to "Late Edition."

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Thank you, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: What's wrong with giving the president another chance to try to come up with some security in Baghdad, in the al-Anbar province, so that the political process can go forward?

DODD: Well, it isn't just my conclusion. This is a conclusion reached by our military commanders and others. This is a major mistake. It's basically an escalation of the status quo, which is not working at all. That's not my conclusion. That's the conclusion of almost everyone who's looked at this situation, including Jim Baker, Lee Hamilton and the 10 members who made up the Iraqi Study Group.

BLITZER: The U.S. new military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, whom I believe you voted to confirm as a four-star general to go over there, he believes it can work.

DODD: Well, he does, and I've heard him say that. But I've also listened to the commanders who've just been there for about a year and a half taking exactly the opposite point of view here.

Clearly, this is not working. We need a different strategy, a different plan here. The idea of having the U.S. -- 17,000 U.S. troops on the ground in Baghdad, a city of 6 million people, with 23 militias operating, not to mention Baathist insurgents, potentially al-Qaida people as well, and assuming they can somehow bring some order to all of that, belies the fact that there's only going to be a political solution here.

Militarily, you're not going to sort that out. That's what Baker-Hamilton recommended. That's what everyone who's looked at this recommended.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what General Petraeus said on Tuesday, when he was testifying during his confirmation hearing. Listen to this.


ARMY LT. GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCES, IRAQ: Sectarian troops would begin to stake out their turf, try to expand their turf. They would do that by greatly increased ethnic cleansing. There is the very real possibility of involvement of countries from elsewhere in the region.


BLITZER: He was discussing, like the president did in the State of the Union address, the consequences of failure, and that the United States, even now despite the setbacks, has a responsibility to try to win in Iraq. You want to win in Iraq. DODD: Well, we want success in Iraq. And we'd like to -- use the word "win," use the word "success." This is not winning. This is not success.

BLITZER: Is it winnable?

DODD: It's winnable in a political sense. If you're looking for stability there, I think there's a possibility that you can get that. But you're going to have to engage diplomatically, the Syrians, probably the Iranians as well.

You're going to have to really work to get other powers in the region to work with the Shias and Sunnis to try and bring around that internal political settlement. Everyone who's looked at this, Wolf, everyone has said, look, this is not militarily winnable in that sense of the word. If you're going to seek that conclusion, you're going to find yourselves digging a deeper and deeper and deeper hole.

The premise is false. That's the danger in this.

BLITZER: Listen to the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, because he makes a very, very serious charge against you and other Democrats and some Republican critics by what you're doing going forward with these resolutions. Listen to this.


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT M. GATES: A resolution that in effect says that the general going out to take command of the arena shouldn't have the resources he thinks he needs to be successful, certainly emboldens the enemy and our adversaries.


BLITZER: All right, that's a serious charge, that what you're doing now, you and your colleagues are doing, emboldens the enemy and our adversaries.

DODD: I found very dangerous the statements by the secretary of defense. That's the height of irresponsibility.

BLITZER: You voted to confirm him.

DODD: I voted to confirm him. But that's a very dangerous thing to be suggesting that the United States Congress has no business suggesting an alternative here, or recommending a course of action different from the president of the United States. For us not to do that would be the height of irresponsibility if that was the feeling in Congress.

But as you point out, it isn't just Democrats here. We're talking about Democrats, Republicans. John Warner is not unpatriotic. He is a former veteran himself, former secretary of the Navy. He cares deeply about the condition of our troops. To suggest somehow that John Warner or others are not doing their job or being somehow aiding and abetting the enemy here, I find very offensive, and I'm deeply disturbed that the secretary of defense would make such a statement.

BLITZER: You going to say anything to him?

DODD: Well, if I had the opportunity, I would. I'll say it here. I think it's irresponsibile. He ought to be very careful about statements like that. This is a democratic process in this country. And people are growing concerned that Congress hasn't said enough about this issue, not that we're saying too much.

BLITZER: Here's what The Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial entitled "Senators in Chief" on Thursday: "If they were serious" -- referring to Democrats and other critics -- "and had the courage of their convictions, they'd attempt to cut off funds for the Iraq effort. But that would mean they would have to take responsibility for what happens next. By passing 'nonbinding resolutions,' they can assail Mr. Bush and put all of the burden for success or failure on his shoulders."

Why not do what The Wall Street Journal says, use your power of the purse, which the Constitution gives you, and simply stop funding for the war?

DODD: Well, I don't disagree with that comment. I tried last week in the Foreign Relations Committee to put a ceiling or a cap or a limit on the number of troops we have there in Iraq right now, forcing there to be a new reauthorization to come forward.

I think we should do something meaningful. I don't disagree with the conclusion. The problem with the funds cutoff is you're not going to have an appropriations bill probably for a month or two, so you're going to be limited in your opportunities to do something that would actually have some real teeth into it.

But I don't disagree with that. I expressed that view myself. I did so on the floor of the Senate the other day. I did it in committee. I would like to see the Congress step up.

We had a chance to do it last week in the committee by putting teeth into this thing so you could actually bring this to a halt. I'm worried the further we go down the road, the harder it will be.

BLITZER: All right. The criticism also is that it's easy to snipe at the president's strategy, but you don't have a better plan yourself.

DODD: Well, I disagree with that.

BLITZER: What is your plan? How would you work out the situation in Iraq right now, given the hand that you're dealt? DODD: Well, this is one of my major complaints about your interview with the vice president. There are all sorts of ideas that have been kicking around.

The one that I've suggested, others have had similar ideas, is that we get our troops out of these densely-populated urban areas, have them become border security, training troops, engage in the counter-terrorism, reducing the number there, get more of them to Afghanistan, where we truly need a buildup of troops to deal with the Taliban. That's one idea. Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton suggested, back now several months ago, alternative ideas.

When the vice president said no one's put out alternative ideas, that's just flat wrong. He knows that. I think most people do.

BLITZER: Here's what John McCain, the Republican running for president, he's a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said this the other day.

All right, let me read it to you: "It is a simple reflection of reality that without security, political and economic activity cannot go forward. Security is a precondition for everything we wish to see the Iraqis accomplish. By holding territory with combined U.S. and Iraqi troops, we can't allow the economic and political process to move forward."

In other words, he says the most important thing right now is to get a secure environment in the Iraqi capital, in the al-Anbar Province. That's why more troops are needed. He would like even more than 21,000. He would have liked a whole lot more. But that's a fair point he makes.

DODD: Well, I don't disagree, but you have 300,000 troops. We have now there some 10 divisions, 36 brigades and 118 battalions of Iraqi soldiers in uniform. Now, it's not the 82nd Airborne or the 101st Airborne, but they're getting better trained all the time.

U.S. presence there is becoming a source -- it has been for some time -- a source of growing contention here. It's keeping the parties apart. But they ought to be coming together.

Fareed Zakaria made the good point, the 17,000 probably won't work, but there's even a problem if it does work. If we end up taking on Sunnis, taking on Shias, we make it more difficult for them to come together, which again, everyone suggests is the only way you're going to achieve that stability we're talking about.

BLITZER: You're running for president of the United States. You want to be president. I want to get into why you think you would be a good president.

But you know some of your Democratic opponents for the Democratic presidential nomination are going to throw your vote in favor of a resolution authorizing the president to go to war, they're going to throw it back at you. Here's what you said when you cast that vote. I'll read it to you. Let me read it to you: "There has been no disagreement that Saddam Hussein is anything but a cruel and murderous tyrant. At every critical juncture, Saddam Hussein chose to impede the work of the inspectors. At every fork in the road, he chose to squander opportunities for peaceful disarmament presented to him by the international community. Finally, time has run out."

Now, I know you regret that vote. DODD: I've said that many times. We had the information about weapons of mass destruction, which was the principal reason it was given. Turned out to be totally false, and I wish I could have that vote back. You don't get to get it back.

So, an answer politicians don't like to give is, I was wrong. And I was wrong. I regret that vote deeply. But I'm not going to compound it by making more mistakes as we go down the road here, which is what the president's asking to do.

And Congress has to meet its obligation. Those who seek to lead better have some clear ideas on how to deal with the situation. I want to see us put an end to this before it gets down the road much further.

BLITZER: Your colleague, Senator Clinton, is clearly the front- runner right now. She's got 36 percent of registered Democrats in our last poll. Why do you think you'd make a better president than Senator Clinton?

DODD: Well, I'm not going to get into comparisons. I have a great deal of respect for Hillary Clinton, my colleague in the Senate, as I do the other people who are seeking the nomination or who may seek it.

What I bring to it, I think, is clearly some experience, 26 years in the Senate, which would normally disqualify you in years past. But this time around, I think experience is going to matter to people.

BLITZER: Because senators have a tough time getting elected president.

DODD: Well, as I said, in a previous time, if I said I was in the Senate 26 years, that would be the end of the campaign. But this time around, having been through what we've been through, squandering America's leadership over the last six years, knowing that we have major problems here at home, domestically and with foreign policy, that I have been a leader on those issues, a problem solver.

And the American public is hungry for leadership, candid leadership, that is willing to talk about big issues and has demonstrable evidence that you know how to bring people together. And I think I've been able to do that in 26 years on family and medical leave, on child care, dealing with the conflicts in Central America. I've been involved in every major foreign policy debate and every major domestic debate involving children and families.

I think that kind of evidence is going to help make a case to the American public.

And, frankly, this is a year away from the caucuses and primaries. And I can recall back in previous years candidates -- Bill Clinton I think in 14 weeks out of the caucuses in '91, '92 was at two percent in the polls. So I'm not worried about the polling data right now. And I think people in New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, are going to give a guy like me a chance. They don't want to be told by the national media who their nominee is going to be too early.

BLITZER: So you are in it to win and you're running?

DODD: I am in it to win and you are invited to the White House on January 20.

BLITZER: All right. Chris Dodd, Democratic senator from Connecticut, thanks very much.

DODD: Thank you.

BLITZER: A quick question though, before I let you go.

DODD: Yes.

BLITZER: Joe Lieberman suggesting earlier today that he might vote for a Republican potentially in 2008. He is your good friend.

DODD: He is my good friend.

BLITZER: What do you think? Do you have any reaction to that?

DODD: No, not at this point here. Joe is an independent Democrat. I think that's how he characterizes himself, and at the end of the day I think Joe will be in my corner.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see what he winds up doing. Senator Dodd, thanks very much.

DODD: Thanks very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: And still ahead, in case you missed it, our special "Late Edition" Sunday morning talk show roundup. In case you missed the other shows, we will bring you some of highlights.

"Late Edition" will be right back.


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 NBC, ABC and FOX, presidential hopefuls had a chance to lay out their messages and strategies to claim the White House in 2008.


TIM RUSSERT, "MEET THE PRESS": Are you running for president of the United States?

FMR. GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE (R), ARKANSAS: Tim, tomorrow I will be filing papers to launch an exploratory committee and, yes, I will be out there.



HUNTER: Somebody has got to win this race. And, you know, I think my message of a strong national defense, secure border, bring some of those high-paying manufacturing jobs back that we've given away.



SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., D-DEL.: This is a marathon. If people learn my story, learn my record, I think I can compete. The question is can I raise the money.


LIEBERMAN: I'm open to supporting a Democrat, a Republican or even an independent if there's a strong one.

(UNKNOWN): You are saying you might vote Republican in 2008?

LIEBERMAN: I am because we have so much on the line both in terms of the Islamist terrorists who are an enemy as brutal as the fascists and communists we faced in the last century.


BLITZER: And on CBS, more on the congressional debate over President Bush's new war strategy and sending additional U.S. troops into Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WEBB: This is almost just like a tipping point for a lot of people who are basically saying you cannot continue to give the administration a free hand in the manipulation of troops numbers without a clear end point to a strategy.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: I can pretty well speak for all Republican senators when I say this is the last chance for the Iraqis to step up and do their part.


BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

And that is your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, January 28th. Please be sure to join us next Sunday and every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. Remember, we're in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, another hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up next for our north American viewers, "This Week At War" with guest host Tom Foreman -- Tom.