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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Interview With Fran Townsend; Interview With Khurshid Kasuri

Aired July 22, 2007 - 12:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 11:00 a.m. here in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4:00 in London and 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
Worries are growing here in Washington that a key U.S. ally in the war on terror may be on the brink of some political implosion. A growing pro-democracy movement on the one hand, and emboldened Islamist extremists on the other threatening right now the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's government.

Just a short while ago, I spoke with Pakistani foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, who had some tough words for the U.S. assessment of Pakistan's handling of the Taliban and Al Qaida.


BLITZER: Foreign Minister, thanks very much for joining us. Will the Pakistani military go into that tribal area along the border with Afghanistan and crush the Taliban and Al Qaida?

KASURI: The Pakistani military is already there in the tribal area. We had 85,000 earlier. Two divisions have been sent recently in the tribal area and in some other areas adjoining the tribal areas.

Pakistan's commitment cannot be doubted by anybody, and that is why some of our people do not like what we read in some of your newspapers, which are more like leaks and calculated leaks. And we hear of safe havens in Pakistan.

It really makes us very angry when we are suffering so many casualties, when our troops are suffering so many casualties. You know, I know you're a friend, but the way you frame your question is something that people in Pakistan don't like.

BLITZER: Here is what the National Intelligence Estimate, Foreign Minister, that the Bush administration released this past week, said. It said, "We assess Al Qaida has protected or regenerated key elements of its homeland attack capability, including a safe haven in the Pakistan federally administered tribal areas, operational lieutenants and its top leadership." And the president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said that the plan that you had in the works for most of the past year simply failed. Listen to what Hadley said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER STEPHEN J. HADLEY: And the truth is, it did not work, and what we've seen, pooling of the Taliban, training, operational planning.


BLITZER: It's not just leaks. These are official statements from the U.S. government, including the president's national security adviser. So the question is, what do you do now?

KASURI: OK. Wolf, here's my response. You were quoting me the National Intelligence Estimate. Is that what it's called?


KASURI: Yes, now, here -- and against an estimate, we have the 9/11 Commission report, which was a bipartisan commission report. It took stock of the entire situation, and it came to a conclusion that it would be completely counterproductive, if, as we hearing in American newspapers -- and that's what I meant by leaks, that there are some people who are talking irresponsibly of attacks in the tribal areas of Pakistan by the United States.

And that's what I had in mind. After all, one is supposed to pay a much, much greater attention to the 9/11 Commission report, which is a bipartisan report, which takes into consideration all the intelligence that they had and, in fact, the best, you know, your think tanks could produce. And I think the deliberations lasted over months.

All I'm saying is this: I am not trying to underestimate the situation. I know it's a difficult situation. We've suffered casualties in the last three days. What we need is actionable intelligence. We do not want, you know, something said just for the purpose of having an effect on American public opinion.

Now, I want to say one thing very clearly. The whole purpose of this exercise: to win hearts and minds of the people. Now, we are aware of that, and we have to carry our public opinion with us. And here is a figure which I would like you and the American audience to ponder over. Look at the ratio of casualties between your troops and Iraqi civilians.

And do you know what our casualties have been? When 500 or 600 of our soldiers died -- and I'm talking the past year and not the recent ones -- we were able to get hold of about 800 or 900 fatalities by the militants. Which means the ratio is 1:1.2, whereas the ratio in Iraq, I do not even wish to mention.

The difference is that we cannot afford what is conveniently called collateral damage. We have committed to controlling terrorism. We have demonstrated that at the time of Lal Masjid, recently, the Red Mosque, and it lasted over six months. We've tried our best to save human lives. It was only as a last resort that force was used.

And people in Pakistan get very upset when, despite all the sacrifices that Pakistan has been making, you know, you have the sort of questions that are sometimes asked by the American media.

And as far as the media is concerned, I don't wish to be more frank that I'm going to be in this interview. We heard a lot of what was said before the Iraq war. A lot of newspapers now have been gracious enough to admit that they made certain mistakes. Maybe they are making bigger mistakes at this moment.

BLITZER: So basically, are you questioning the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Al Qaida and the Taliban...

KASURI: No, I'm not questioning anything.


KASURI: No, I'm not questioning. When there are friends, you don't question. What I don't like is the tone that I am now hearing, and that I am now reading in the American media. And as far as that is concerned, I will wish to make it very clear that Pakistan is committed.

So what one wants is not simply, you know, some estimates. One wants very targeted -- one wants evidence, actionable intelligence. Let the United States provide us with actionable intelligence, and you will find that Pakistan will never be lacking.

BLITZER: I want you to listen, Foreign Minister, to the president's Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend, who made it clear that if the U.S. had actionable intelligence on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, the U.S. would strike even if it meant striking targets inside Pakistan.


TOWNSEND: There is no question. The president's made perfectly clear if we had actionable targets anywhere in the world, putting aside whether it was Pakistan or anyplace else, we would pursue those targets.


BLITZER: Is that acceptable to your government, Foreign Minister?

KASURI: Well, I would like to make it very clear: Pakistan army is one of the most organized armies in the world, it's one of the largest armies in the world. It has a track record prior to First World War. What we can do, nobody can do better. So if you have superiority in technical intelligence, please share that with us. And then you talk of going after targets -- you will lose the war -- the battle for hearts and minds. It is much better to rely on Pakistan army. Pakistan army can do the job much better, and the result will be that there will be far, far less collateral damage, as I tried to prove by the figures that I've earlier given during my interview.

BLITZER: One final question, Foreign Minister, before I let you go. How would you describe the U.S.-Pakistani relationship right now?

KASURI: It is very good. And I say it with authority, because I deal with the highest American officials who meet me frequently, people who meet the president, people who meet the prime minister, people who meet me. We have so many congressional delegations that visit Pakistan. We have so many high American officials that visit Pakistan.

And all I would like to ask to you, Wolf, is for the American public to realize that Pakistan has been in the frontline, it has suffered major casualties, and we would like those to be acknowledged. We quite appreciate when you give a lot of time to American soldiers who've died in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I think there would be far greater understanding if you've devoted one-tenth the space to the casualties that Pakistan is suffering, and I think American media and American public would then much better understand the sacrifices that Pakistan has made.

KASURI: Our commitment is total. But this war, or whatever you would like to call it, can only be won if we have hearts and minds on our side, and not the other way around.

BLITZER: Kurshid Kasuri is the foreign minister of Pakistan. Foreign Minister, thanks for joining us on "Late Edition."

KASURI: It's a pleasure to be with you, as always, Wolf.


BLITZER: And later in our program, the Iraqi government caught between angry legislators in Baghdad and angry legislators here in Washington. So what happens next? I'll ask the Iraqi deputy prime minister, Barham Salih.

And a preview of tomorrow's Democratic presidential debate. Top advisers of the three candidates leading in the polls facing off. You're looking at live pictures from Charleston, South Carolina.

The debate over Iraq, meanwhile, went all night, but this week -- this past week, but was it, at the end, was anything accomplished? Later, we'll get the view of the Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin. Coming up next, the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back. The pressure for progress in Iraq grew stronger on Capitol Hill this week as the Senate held an all-night session to debate a change in war policy. Democrats again fell short in their efforts to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, dismissed this week's all-nighter as, quote, "political theater." He's joining us now from Louisville, Kentucky. Senator, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome back...

MCCONNELL: Good morning, Wolf.

BLITZER: ... to "Late Edition." Before we get to the specifics of that debate, I want your quick reaction to what Senator Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, said earlier today on "Meet the Press," recommending censure of the president. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, D-WIS.: I think we need to do something serious in terms of accountability. And that's why I will be shortly introducing a censure resolution of the president and the administration.

One, on their getting us onto the war of Iraq -- in Iraq and their failure to adequately prepare our military, and the misleading statements that have continued throughout the war in Iraq. And the second on this administration's outrageous attack on the rule of law.


BLITZER: All right. You want to respond to Senator Feingold?

MCCONNELL: Yeah. You know, today marks the 200th day of the new Congress. And I'm kind of stunned that Senator Feingold just recommended on the heels of the all-night theater of Tuesday night gives you a sense, Wolf, of why this Congress now has a 14 percent approval rating. We think it's the lowest in the history of polling.

All they do is have Iraq votes and investigations. On the legislative side about all we've been able to accomplish is to keep the lights on in the Capitol, 19 or 20 post office renamings, and we have passed a very important troop funding bill, thank goodness.

But the American people are looking at this Congress and saying, where's the legislation? What are you going to do to make America better? I think Senator Feingold's suggestions are right in league with the all-night session the other night, which the American people are looking at with disbelief.

BLITZER: Here's what the specifics of his charges. And I'll briefly go through them. Among other things, for the incorrect information on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, incorrect information about any Al Qaida links to Saddam Hussein, failure to plan for a civil conflict in Iraq, overstretching of the Army and the Marine Corps, justifying military involvement in Iraq by repeatedly distorting the situation in Iraq.

And then he goes into the whole second part of the illegal, he says, NSA warrantless wiretapping program, the extreme measures used on terror detainees, violating, he says, the Geneva conventions. He goes point by point by point. As you know, that will resonate with a lot of Americans out there.

MCCONNELL: I think it's safe to say Russ Feingold is not a fan of George Bush. I think that's the best way to sum that up. Look, the fundamental problem that the Democrats have is, they aren't passing any legislation. They aren't doing anything to make the country better.

They had one opportunity to stop the war in Iraq if they really wanted to. And that was to cut off the funding for the troops. But they didn't do that. They funded it. The troops are now in the middle of the surge. There is some indication that the surge is going well, although the Iraqi government continues to be largely an embarrassment, it strikes me.

And most members of the Senate are willing to wait until September to get the Petraeus and Crocker reports to make a judgment about where we should go from there.

BLITZER: Is September the key month for you? Because there have been, as you know, suggestions saying, September, they're really not going to know for sure. They may need November, they may need a year from now. One commanding general suggested they need another two years before they can really determine if this new strategy's a success. How important is the report that the administration is promising by mid-September?

MCCONNELL: Well, you know, that report was written into the troop funding bill. It's a date of legislative significance, a date that virtually all Republicans are looking to. And there are a few Democrats who actually may be interested in the facts.

Most of the Democrats, regretfully, have already made up their mind. They're not going to pay any attention to General Petraeus's report. They want us to leave tomorrow with all the dangers that that envisions, Wolf, for new attacks on the homeland here in the United States.

I mean, we know, the one thing we know for sure, is the decision to get on offense in the war on terror, to go into Afghanistan, to go onto Iraq, has protected the homeland, the United States of America for almost six years. That part we know has been a huge success.

It has been more difficult, however, obviously, having a government set up in either Afghanistan or Iraq, that can function for the future and not become another unimpeded haven for these terrorists.

BLITZER: So let me just be precise, Senator. You're saying mid- September, that's when major decisions have to be made about perhaps changing course?

MCCONNELL: Sure. I think the president himself has suggested that. We're all looking to September. And I think most members of, at least of my party in the Senate, are willing to wait until then to make some definitive judgment, feeling that the facts are actually important.

BLITZER: You've been very critical of the Iraqi government, not only today but in recent weeks and months, indeed, for their not living up to their part of the bargain as far as the U.S. is concerned. Do you really believe by mid-September, they're going to make the kinds of decisions on disarming militias, oil-sharing, having elections, local elections?

Do you think they're really going to get those decisions done by mid-September? MCCONNELL: Well, they've certainly been unimpressive so far. But they have until September to make progress. And we'll take a look at the report from Ambassador Crocker about the political situation in September and maybe make judgments based on the actual facts rather than speculating in July what happen in September.

BLITZER: But you know they're insisting that the parliament's going to go on vacation for the whole month of August. So it doesn't look like they're going to be able to have any roll-call votes, not that they have a whole lot right now, given the fact they very often can't even get a quorum necessary to pass legislation.

MCCONNELL: Yeah, I mean, that's why I and others feel the Iraqi government's been largely an embarrassment. I mean, it's ridiculous to suggest that they would be out of session in August while our troops are over there in 120-degree weather hunting down Al Qaida.

BLITZER: A majority of the Senate did vote for a timetable for withdrawal. The vote was 52-47 after that all-nighter that was approved, that went forward. Four Republicans voted with the Democrats: Susan Collins, Chuck Hagel, Gordon Smith and Olympia Snowe. I want you to listen to what your counterpart, the majority leader, Harry Reid, said after that.


REID: Regrettably, Republicans chose to block this amendment. They chose to block a bipartisan amendment, Mr. President, to deny the American people an up or down vote. They chose to continue protecting their president instead of our troops, no matter the cost to our country.


BLITZER: When you were in the majority, you always complained that the Democrats as the minority wouldn't let you have up and down votes on judicial nominees or other issues. Why are you standing in the way of an up and down vote on this really important issue?

MCCONNELL: The minority always complains about the life in the Senate. That's the way it works.

But, you know, for years, at least as long as I've been in the Senate, controversial measures require 60 votes. Actually, we had fewer Republican defections on the Levin-Reed amendment, the troop withdrawal amendment, the other night than we had on other Iraq votes. There have been 19 of them this year.

We've actually lost more Republicans on other votes than we did on that one. I think it was significant that most Republicans -- overwhelming majority of my conference of 49, there are 51 Democrats, one of the Democrats actually voted with us -- are willing to wait until September to see what the facts are before making a final judgment about which direction we ought to take.

BLITZER: We're going to leave it right there, Senator McConnell. Thank you very much for joining us.

MCCONNELL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And in the next hour here on "Late Edition," we'll get the Democrats' game plan for Iraq following their failure to get a vote on the war this week. The majority whip, the number two Democrat in the Senate, Dick Durbin, he's standing by to join us live.

But up next, the race for president has been heating up this summer between the Democratic front-runners. We'll get a preview from the fireworks you might be seeing from the candidates tomorrow night at CNN's YouTube debate from the camps of Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama.

You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Tomorrow night, the Democratic presidential candidates square off in Charleston, South Carolina, in a groundbreaking CNN/YouTube debate. The candidates will respond to your videotaped questions.

Here to discuss tomorrow's face-off and the issues expected to come up, representatives of the three Democratic front-runners. In Traverse City, Michigan, Clinton campaign adviser former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, in Montgomery, Alabama, with the Obama campaign, Congressman Artur Davis, and here in Washington, Edwards campaign manager the former House Democrat whip David Bonior of Michigan.

Good to have all of you here. Thanks very much for joining us. Governor Vilsack, let me start with you and ask you a flat-out question I assume a lot of people ask you. What the biggest difference between the candidate you support, Senator Clinton, and the two other front-runners?

VILSACK: Well, Wolf, we are very blessed with a great field of candidates. No question about it. But I think the thing that sets Senator Clinton apart is her enormous experience, both in the White House during her husband's administration and six years in the Senate.

It is an experience factor I think that makes a fundamental difference in her ability to get things done.

BLITZER: All right. Congressman Davis, what's the biggest difference between your candidate, that would be Senator Obama, and the two other front-runners?

DAVIS: Wolf, there's something electrifying about Barack Obama. I saw it the first time I met him at Harvard law school 17 years ago. I saw it two Mondays ago in Birmingham, Alabama. I see it every time I talk to people. I've been to South Carolina campaigning for him. Barack Obama is touching people who don't normally engage in the political process. And if Democrats are going to win in November -- and all of us on this panel agree it's so imperative that we do -- if we're going to win in November 2008, we need someone who can expand the playing field.

We need someone who can draw on people who've not been engaged by the political process before. I have no doubt that Barack Obama is that person.

BLITZER: David Bonior, you're working with John Edwards. What's the biggest difference that you see between him and senator Clinton and Senator Obama?

BONIOR: Two differences I think between Senator Edwards and the other candidates we're talking about today. Number one, he's a leader. He's led on the issue of health care. He was the first one to come out with a universal health-care bill. He was a leader on the issue of global warming and energy. He's been a leader on poverty. He just finished a tour.

The others are following him on these very important issues around the country. And the other thing is electability. John Edwards can win. Against the four top Republican candidates, John Edwards polls better than Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. And electability and the fact that he's a leader and not a follower are very major pieces in this campaign.

BLITZER: Those are two specific points. Governor Vilsack, do you want to respond to Congressman Bonior?

VILSACK: Well, first of all, there's no question a vast majority of Americans expect Hillary Clinton to be the next president based on the most recent polls. She, too, is beating all of the Republican candidates, and she's doing quite well against all the Democratic candidates.

And in terms of following, I think Senator Clinton can make the case that she was far ahead of everyone in terms of health care when she began her proposing the concept of universal coverage back in the early '90s. And as a result of that experience, she's in a position to actually get it done.

BLITZER: Congressman Davis, I guess electability. What about that? Can Barack Obama -- respond specifically to David Bonior that John Edwards, he says, is electable. And I assume he means that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton might not necessarily be electable.

DAVIS: Well, I think they're all electable. Let's look at the poll numbers. Frankly, we have an embarrassment of riches, gentlemen. All of our Democratic candidates are leading. We're in a wonderful position.

But I do want to respond to something else my friend Dave Bonior said. This election is going to test leadership. It's going to test judgment. And the best measure of someone's capacity to lead and make good judgments is what they've done before. Barack Obama was right about the dominant issue in this campaign before, frankly, any other major figure in this party, at least who's running for president was. And it's the question of the war in Iraq.

BLITZER: David Bonior...

DAVIS: Barack Obama in 2002...

BLITZER: Let me let -- hold on one second, Congressman, hold on one second. I want David Bonior to respond. John Edwards supported the war going into that resolution in October 2002. Barack Obama, who was not in the Senate, publicly opposed the war.

BONIOR: He did publicly oppose the war, and we will give him that. But over the past two years, John Edwards has come out very strong against bringing our troops home and ending this war. He did an op-ed piece two years ago in The Washington Post. First words were "I was wrong."

BONIOR: We need leaders who admit when they make mistakes and then move forward. And I would say on the war issue, one more point, if I could, Wolf, and that is the fact is the fact over the last couple of months -- and we had the vote in the United States Senate -- Senators Obama and Senators Clinton were relatively silent.

They voted at the end. They didn't speak out. They didn't implore their other colleagues to vote against this position that George Bush wanted. And John Edwards was leading the pack in saying, "Listen, we can't give him this bill unless we have a timetable to withdraw our troops."

BLITZER: Governor Vilsack, there's a variation of that with the Republican Party chairman, Mike Duncan. He submitted a question for the CNN/YouTube debate going after your candidate and Senator Obama. I want you to listen to his submitted question.


MIKE DUNCAN, RNC CHAIRMAN: Senator Kerry was criticized for his contradictory positions on the war. How do you expect to win this election by taking a page from his playbook?


BLITZER: He's referring specifically to the notion that Senator Clinton, Governor Vilsack, was for the war before she was against the war, was against the timeline before she was in favor of the timeline and those kinds of contradictions.

VILSACK: Wolf, I'll tell you, I was in Des Moines last week when the senator give the most comprehensive speech on Iraq that I've heard any candidate give. The reality is, the American public is not interested in what happened yesterday. They are very interested in what's going to happen today and tomorrow as it relates to the war.

Senator Clinton has clearly stated her position. It's time to take the troops out. She has outlined a political resolution using diplomacy. She's talked about how economic aid needs to be directed to the national government if it doesn't work, to local governments and NGOs. And she's also talked about the emerging humanitarian issue of the refugees.

This is, by far, the most comprehensive approach. And I think we'll hear this tomorrow during the course of the debate, as the candidates talk in response to citizens' questions about Iraq, you're going to hear a very comprehensive program from the senator.

BLITZER: Congressman Davis, I'll let you respond to the same criticism that Senator Obama was against the timetable before he was in favor of a timetable. He was against linking any funding -- cut off of the funding before he was in favor of doing that. What's going to be his response?

DAVIS: Wolf, I would rather have our candidates evolve and learn from the evidence than get in a hole and keep on digging which is what the president is doing. But above all, I would rather have a candidate who understood these issues from the beginning and got them right from the beginning.

The presidency is, above all, a job about making tough and very difficult judgments. Barack Obama looked at the same facts and made a very tough and difficult judgment when it was politically unpopular.

Senator Edwards and Senator Clinton, I give them credit. They responded to the public on this issue. And they've moved as they've seen Democratic voters move. Barack Obama didn't have to move. He was there from the beginning. He said the war was wrong as a matter of strategy and wrong as a matter of morality. And his judgment has been proved right.

That's the dominant issue right now in our country: "What can we do to extricate ourselves from another country's civil war?" And I would rather have a candidate who's been consistently right, consistently forceful about this issue, as Senator Barack Obama has been.

And that's part of the reason so many people are responding to his candidacy. They see the vitality. They see the intelligence and the judgment.

BLITZER: Guys, stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to have a lot more to discuss, more on the policy differences between the three leading Democratic candidates in presidential polls. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment.

Also, right after "Late Edition" later today, you can get a preview of the questions the candidates for president may face from our own John Roberts and Kiran Chetry, as well as the best political team on television. That airs at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, right after "Late Edition" for our North American viewers. We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're talking about the issues, the candidates in tomorrow night's CNN/YouTube Democratic presidential debate in Charleston, South Carolina with the former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack of the Hillary Clinton campaign; Congressman Arthur Davis of the Barack Obama campaign; and John Edwards' campaign manager, the former House Democratic Majority Whip David Bonior. And let me begin with David Bonior who supports John Edwards. Elizabeth Edwards, Congressman, making a lot of news for, in part, these comments she made the other day in an interview with "Sometimes you feel you have to behave as a man and not talk about women's issues. I'm sympathetic. She wants to be commander in chief, but she's just not as vocal a woman's advocate as I want to see. John is."

She is referring to Senator Hillary Clinton, to which Senator Clinton's husband, the former president, responded this way.


FORMER PRESIDENT WILLIAM J. CLINTON: It's inconsistent with being a woman that you can also be knowledgeable on military and security affairs and be strong when the occasion demands it. That's -- I don't consider that being manly. I consider that being a leader.


BLITZER: All right. What exactly is she talking about, Elizabeth Edwards, here? Because that's caused quite a stir, suggesting that Hillary Clinton may be trying to behave as a man.

BONIOR: Well, I think what Elizabeth Edwards is talking about -- and by the way, they've had a 30-year love affair. They are going at this campaign, both of them as a team.

BLITZER: John Edwards and Elizabeth.

BONIOR: John Edwards and Elizabeth Edwards, of course, I'm speaking about. And what Elizabeth was talking about was that on the issues that really matter to women -- poverty, of the 37 million people in poverty today, 21 million of them are female. On the issue of health care -- John Edwards has led on poverty, he's led on health care.

Hillary Clinton has had 15 years, with all due respect to Governor Vilsack, to come up with a plan for health care. Where is it? I give Senator Obama credit. At least he followed John Edwards and put out a health care plan, although it leaves 15 million people out. But we haven't even seen a plan from Senator Clinton.

BLITZER: All right. Let's ask Governor Vilsack. Where is Senator Clinton's health care plan?

VILSACK: Well, with due respect to my good friend, there are over five to six million children in this country that benefited from Senator Clinton's work on health care. The SCHIP, or Children's Health Insurance Program, that we're now battling the Bush administration to expand, started with Senator Clinton. So there's no question about the fact that she's been right on that issue from the get-go.

And clearly, she has talked about the need for greater efficiency in health care, the need for electronic medical records, taking those resources and putting it back into the health care system. The difference between Senator Clinton and Senator Edwards on this issue is that she doesn't think it's necessary to put more money into the system until you make the system more efficient.

And that's very clear that there is a tremendous amount of inefficiency in our health care system today.

BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt, Governor Vilsack...

VILSACK: And we ought to take those resources...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt and just pose the simple question, is she going to release a comprehensive health care plan?

VILSACK: Over the course of this campaign, you will absolutely know where Senator Clinton's position is on every issue: health care, education, the war in Iraq, energy, as she has.

It's not just the plan, Wolf. It's also the implementation and who can actually get it done. We have plenty of plans in Washington, D.C. and plenty of candidates who have talked about plans. But the reality is in health care, Hillary Clinton delivered for the children of this country and she's going to deliver to the citizens of this country.

BONIOR: Wolf...

BLITZER: Go ahead.

BONIOR: With all due respect, if I could interrupt here, the Clintons did not deliver on health care. They had a very important choice to make back in '93, whether to do the North American Free Trade Agreement or health care.

BLITZER: They tried health care, but it failed.

BONIOR: They implemented the North American Free Trade Agreement that put literally millions of workers out of work in this country and destroyed basically a good trading relationship we had around the world...

VILSACK: Wolf, let me jump in for a minute.

BLITZER: Hold on.

BONIOR: ... and then the interim -- and I'll finish with this -- and then the interim, they lost any capital they had to get health care passed. Now, the fact of the matter, it's been a disaster on health care for either Clinton (inaudible).

BLITZER: I want Congressman Davis in a moment, but I'll let Governor Vilsack respond.

VILSACK: In fairness, I've seen it as a governor. I've seen the impact and effect of the health-care work that Hillary Clinton did in terms of the children's health insurance program.

That is real. That is real relief to families that matters. Now, the first step in this process to make sure that every child is insured. And she has talked about that. She's talked about taking efficiencies and rolling it back into the system to expand coverage so that indeed we do have universal coverage.

BLITZER: All right.

VILSACK: Not almost universal coverage, but universal coverage.


BLITZER: Let me bring Congressman Davis into this conversation. Congressman Davis, the criticism that's been leveled by some Democrats against Senator Obama is that his plan doesn't provide universal health care coverage. It expands the coverage, but it doesn't necessarily guarantee coverage for everyone.

DAVIS: Wolf, I think the plan will result in universal coverage for all Americans who can't afford it. But I want to make a more fundamental point.

The last exchange you've heard is exactly why Barack Obama's candidacy is so important. We just spent two minutes arguing about who did what in 1993. Democrats will not win the election in 2008 if we are frozen in an argument about who did what in 1993, who did what between 1993 and 2001. That's a stale argument for a lot of people.

As much as I admire the Clintons, people are hungering for a new discussion in this country, and they want to look forward. Now, as far as health care goes, Governor Vilsack said something I do agree with. There are going to be a lot of plans flying around. The question is not whose experts come up with a plan, it's who's got the political dynamism to sell that plan.

Mr. Bonior is exactly right that in the 1990s -- and Dave knows this because he was in the Congress -- there were efforts to change health care. They ran into the battering ram that is the insurance sector. They ran into the health-care sector in this economy.

If we're going to make real progress on health care, it's going to require a president who's dynamic enough to change the terms of the debate.

BLITZER: All right.

DAVIS: So when I see Barack Obama drawing 258,000 donors, 2,500 people in Birmingham -- you're lucky if you can get 100 people at a political rally in Alabama -- when I see the enthusiasm around Barack Obama, this is the one candidate who has the opportunity to change the game and to put an enormous amount of public pressure on the very powerful interest groups who dominate Washington, D.C. and who dominated Washington, D.C. all through the 1990s.

BLITZER: Congressman Artur Davis, thanks very much for joining us. Governor Vilsack, as usual, thanks to you as well. David Bonior, thanks to all of you -- to you as well.

And remember, the Republicans will have their chance to face voters' questions in the next CNN/YouTube debate. That's going to be in St. Petersburg, Florida, on September 17th.

But remember, today all eyes are on Charleston, South Carolina, where the Democratic candidates will be on the stage tomorrow night, 7 p.m. Eastern. Lou Dobbs will host a pregame show at 6 p.m. Eastern. I'll be in "Situation Room" for a special program right after the debate at 9 p.m. Eastern. Please be sure to catch all of CNN's coverage coming up tomorrow.

Coming up next, the Iraqi deputy prime minister, Barham Salih. He responds to the criticisms that the Iraqi parliament is about to take a month off when they aren't getting enough accomplished as it is. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." With growing impatience here in Washington and relentless sectarian violence on the ground in Iraq, time appears to be running out on Iraq's embattled government. But more time is exactly what the Iraqi leadership says they need. Just a short while ago I spoke with Iraqi's deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, who joined us from Baghdad.


BLITZER: Minister Salih, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition." Four of the major so-called goals or benchmarks that the Bush administration put forward have clearly not yet been met.

They include such items as the de-Baathification laws, oil sharing agreement, the disarming of the various militias in Iraq, and establishing provincial elections. Do you believe that any of these four will be achieved by mid-September?

SALIH: There are lots of efforts under way. A lot of the political leaders are working hard making those legislations and presenting them to parliament. And one should not underestimate the difficulty of the task because there are many moving parts to the political dynamics in Iraq.

Over the past three, four weeks, the presidency and the prime minister have been meeting regularly, trying to make progress on these issues. On de-Baathification, there is some serious work that is under way.

On the oil law, even though we were hoping to present this to parliament by the end of May, but a lot of the discussions have been accomplished even though we are yet to make closure on some of the issues pertaining to a revenue-sharing law. These are being worked at. And I think the senior political leadership of this country realize the imperative of working to making sure that these will be presented to parliament before long.

BLITZER: Is there any progress whatsoever on disarming the various militias, such as the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr?

SALIH: There has been a lot of operations over the past few months, and certainly in the last month against the militias. Iraqi security forces have been in the lead, attacking the command structures of these militias, whether in Baghdad or in other parts of Iraq.

I remind you, in Nasirya, in Amara, the Iraqi security services, with the help of the coalition, have taken on the militias, and the government and the prime minister in particular is very keen to ensuring that the militias do not continue to terrorize the people of Iraq. At the same time, we have a law on demobilization of militias. The government is committed to that. There are some political impediments to that. But in real terms, we are working on the ground, through our military and security agencies, with the help of the coalition to dismantling the militia operators in Iraq.

BLITZER: There seems to be a sense here in Washington that the Iraqi government is moving way too slowly on almost all of these issues. I want you to listen to one Republican senator, George Voinovich of Ohio, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, what he said in recent days.

Listen to this.


SEN. GEORGE V. VOINOVICH, R-OHIO: It doesn't seem that he understands the urgency of the situation, that he's not taking advantage of our presence and he should be. You ought to get on with the Constitution. You ought to get on with the oil. Is there a sense of urgency? What are you doing to let them know that this time is running out? Time is running out."


BLITZER: He is referring to your prime minister, Nouri al- Maliki, who -- there is this sense he just doesn't understand how urgent the situation is, at least seen from Washington. I wonder what you would say in response?

SALIH: I think I can understand the frustration in Washington. And I can assure you, people in Iraq are also frustrated. The prime minister is also frustrated. We are talking about a complex, political process in Iraq.

There is a parliamentary system. Our parliament has ways. Its ways of dealing with some of these issues, it is no longer up to one man or one political group to decide for the country. We have to bring about some form of national consensus on some of these intractable issues.

Let me also point out to some fundamental changes that are taking place. There is changes in the security environment thanks to the surge. We are taking the fight against Al Qaida to different levels. There have been some very serious successes against Al Qaida and extremists and against the militias.

I agree and I'm willing to acknowledge that we need to do more on the political track. The political leadership of this country, under pressure both from the Iraqi public as well as from the -- our friends in the United States, understand the imperative of making some real, tangible progress.

But people have to understand, things are not easy in Iraq. We are living through a tough transition. We are dealing with the legacies of the past, with hatred, with mistrust. And think of it in the context of your own country.

For a country like Iraq, having been ruled by a dictatorship for so many decades, we are now trying to bring about an oil law that will change fundamentally the character and the structure of management of oil in our country.

In your country, how long will it take to do so? In our country, we are trying to do this in a matter of months. People should really understand that this is not easy, but at the same time should also understand that there are people in this country, leaders in this country who are serious and are committed to making it happen.

BLITZER: Do you understand, Minister, how angry people here in Washington and in the United States are that as U.S. troops are fighting and dying, 160,000 or so in Iraq, the Iraqi parliament is planning on taking a vacation for the month of August?

SALIH: Well, I mean, this is interesting that it is coming from our friends in the United States. And people in Congress appreciate and respect the independence of the legislature and are very protective of the powers of the legislature, the same here.

We were able to convince the legislature here in Iraq to condense their time off to one month from two months. And they have expressed to us as well a willingness to stay in if there were new legislations to be given to them to debate and decide on.

At the end of the day, the legislature here is independent and the members of parliament have constituency responsibilities. We will urge them to stay on. And I hope that in soon, the government will be able to present them with a legislative agenda to warrant them to stay on.

But let's not forget that they were actually -- they were supposed to be away for two months. They cut down to one month. And now they have expressed to us as well a willingness to stay on should there be new legislative items on the agenda.

BLITZER: Barham Salih, the deputy prime minister of Iraq, as usual, thanks very much for joining us.

SALIH: Thank you.


BLITZER: And coming up on "Late Edition," if the Democrats don't have the votes to change the president's course in Iraq now, what makes them think they will have those votes in September? We'll ask the Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin.

"Late Edition" will be right back.


BLITZER: There's much more ahead on "Late Edition." A new report from the intelligence community says Al Qaida is alive and well. Is the group planning another strike against the United States. My interview with the White House Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend, that's coming up. We'll be right back.


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

U.S. intelligence agencies say Al Qaida has regrown, rebuilt and is ready to attack.


TOWNSEND: Al Qaida will intensify its efforts to place operatives here in the homeland.


BLITZER: How real is the threat? And what's being done to stop it? We'll get answers from President Bush's Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend.


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Failure in Iraq would send an unmistakable signal to America's enemies that our country can be bullied into retreat.

SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., D-DEL.: We ain't staying. We're not staying. We're not staying.


BLITZER: The political battle over the war in Iraq intensified this week. We'll get insight from the Senate's number two Democrat, Dick Durbin.

And as we count down to tomorrow's unprecedented CNN/YouTube debate in Charleston, South Carolina, we'll look at the state of the 2008 presidential campaign with three of the best political team on television, Dana Bash, Candy Crowley and John King. The second hour of "Late Edition" starts right now.

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

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." According to the U.S. government's National Intelligence Estimate, released this week, Al Qaida has rebuilt its organization over the past two years, primarily in remote areas of Pakistan and is actively attempting, right now, to strike inside the United States.

I discussed that and a lot more with President Bush's homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, just a short while ago.


BLITZER: Fran Townsend, thanks very much for coming in.

TOWNSEND: Wolf, good to be here.

BLITZER: I spoke earlier with the foreign minister of Pakistan, Khurshid Kasuri. He's very angry that the elements here in the United States, including elements in the administration, questioning the sincerity of the Pakistani government in going after Al Qaida and the Taliban. Listen to what he said to me.


KASURI: One wants evidence, actionable intelligence. Let the United States provide us with actionable intelligence, and you will find that Pakistan will never be lacking.


BLITZER: All right, what do you say to him? Why not simply provide Pakistan with the information that you say you have, let them go out and crush Al Qaida and the Taliban in that border area along the border with Afghanistan?

TOWNSEND: Wolf, we should be clear: We are providing -- when we have actionable intelligence, we worked very closely both with the intelligence service and the Pakistani military. As you know, the Pakistani military has over 80,000 troops in the FATA. They've taken hundreds of casualties. And we work quite closely with them.

So while I understand his anger, we should also be clear that we believe Pakistan has been a very good ally in the war on terrorism. Musharraf has been the subject of numerous assassination attempts. Al Qaida is trying to kill him. They get what the problem is, and we're working with them to deny Al Qaida and the Taliban the safe haven in the FATA.

BLITZER: The FATA being the federally administered tribal areas, which is this area, the Wild Wild West of Pakistan, if you will.

But what is angering the Pakistani government is statements, including statements from you and the president and others, that you're not ruling out a U.S. strike on Pakistani soil, if necessary, to kill Osama bin Laden or other high-ranking Al Qaida leaders.

TOWNSEND: Well, I understand their anger, but of course, Wolf, the president has made perfectly clear that job number one is protecting the American people. There are no tools off the table, and we use all our instruments of national power to be effective.

BLITZER: So let's just be precise. Are you ready, the United States government, to go in and use direct military force against whether Taliban or Al Qaida elements inside Pakistan?

TOWNSEND: No question that we will use any instrument at our disposal to deal with the problem of Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri and Al Qaida.

BLITZER: Here is what the National Intelligence Estimate said that was released the other day: "We judge that Al Qaida will intensify its efforts to put operatives here" -- meaning in the United States. "As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment."

And I want you to elaborate right now, because that's causing all sorts of confusion, how concerned Americans should be.

TOWNSEND: Well, Wolf, let's be -- let's go back to what the National Intelligence Estimate -- what findings it makes. First of all, it says that our global counterterrorism actions around the world have constrained Al Qaida's ability to act, and Al Qaida now perceives the homeland as a more difficult target to hit.

When the NIE then goes on to talk about what capability that Al Qaida has regenerated, the thing that it talks about that they haven't regenerated, that they will intensify their efforts at, are getting operatives inside the United States.

That underscores why it's so important -- our border security efforts the Department of Homeland Security is undertaking are so critically important, and working with our allies around the world.

BLITZER: Is the United States safer today than it was before 9/11?

TOWNSEND: No question that that's true. First of all, we're stronger. We have more capability, better and more intelligence, better and more law enforcement, better military capabilities. So we're stronger. We've enjoyed a lot of success against Al Qaida. We've disrupted plans here in the homeland, like JFK plot, the Fort Dix plot. August of '06, the airline plot.

By the way, we couldn't have disrupted the August of '06 plot without the help of both the British and our Pakistani allies.

BLITZER: Here's what the homeland security secretary, your colleague, Michael Chertoff, said that caused a lot of controversy. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY MICHAEL CHERTOFF: We're entering a period this summer of increased risk. We've seen a lot more public statements from Al Qaida.

One thing that occurs to me is that they're trying -- they feel a little more comfortable in raising expectations.

These things give me a kind of a gut feeling that we are in period of -- not that I have a specific threat, you know, that I have in mind right now, but that we are entering a period of increased vulnerability.


BLITZER: All right. This gut feeling that he had caused a lot of controversy, as you know. Was he off -- was he right? Was he wrong? What's your gut feeling?

TOWNSEND: Well, the good news, Wolf, is we don't have to rely on my gut feeling or my intuition or anybody else's. We have men and women around the world collecting the intelligence we need in a very focused way to allow us then to take targeted action to defeat those threats.

And so while I'm sympathetic -- I think what Secretary Chertoff was trying to do was communicate that, without revealing sources and methods -- it may have been an unartful way of saying it, but what he was talking about is what you see in the NIE, and that is we're in this heightened period of threat.

BLITZER: And this threat includes chemical, biological, maybe even nuclear weapons?

TOWNSEND: We think it's clear, from the intelligence, that Al Qaida continues to try and acquire those capabilities and, if they were successful, would use them against the United States.

BLITZER: Here's a line that jumped out at me from the NIE: "We assess Lebanese Hezbollah, which has conducted anti-U.S. attacks outside the United States in the past, may be more likely to consider attacking the homeland" -- meaning here in the United States -- "over the next three years if it perceives the United States as posing a direct threat to the group or Iran."

What's a bigger threat to the U.S. right now, Al Qaida or Hezbollah?

TOWNSEND: There is no question when you look at the NIE, that the NIE makes the judgment that over the next three years, Al Qaida is the biggest threat to our security.

But let's remember, Lebanese Hezbollah, prior to September 11th, had killed more Americans than any other international terrorist group. And so we know they've got a capability. We know they are very lethal. And so we watch them with great concern. BLITZER: You are referring to the bombing of the Marine barracks outside Beirut back in the early 1980s, where 241 Marines were killed as a result. Are you 100 percent sure that Hezbollah was responsible for that?

TOWNSEND: Absolutely. The intelligence is incontrovertible.

BLITZER: And the leader, Imad Mugniyah, he is still at large, as far as I know. Are you looking for him? Have you forgotten about him?

TOWNSEND: We have by no means forgotten about him. As the president has said, terrorists get brought to ultimate justice, and so Imad Mugniyah's day will come.

BLITZER: Where is he?

TOWNSEND: Well, he spends time between Lebanon and Syria and Iran.

BLITZER: And he goes back and forth and you can't find him, but you are looking for him.

TOWNSEND: Imad Mugniyah is certainly among the most wanted terrorists in the world.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the detainees. I want you to listen to what Colin Powell said on June 10th about the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He said this: "Guantanamo has become a major, major problem. If it were up to me, I would close Guantanamo, not tomorrow, but this afternoon, and I would not let any of those people go. I would simply move them to the United States and put them into our federal legal system."

Is he right?

TOWNSEND: The president has been very clear that he wants to -- his ultimate goal is to close Guantanamo Bay. We don't want to be -- we don't want the U.S. military to be the nation's jailer. But the fact is, it would be irresponsible to simply close it and let them go. And so, we are working with our allies around the world to take those back that need to be taken back.

But let's remember, the detainee program, particularly the CIA program, has been amongst the most valuable tools in the war on terror, and so we have to be responsible about the way we go forward.

BLITZER: But you're no longer going to be using any of the very, very harsh techniques -- some would call them torture, others called them torture -- like that you've used in the past, for example, waterboarding? That's off the table now?

TOWNSEND: Wolf, I want to be very, very clear. We have not, we do not, and we will not ever use torture. So torture has never been on the table. The president's executive order goes into great detail about giving people the assurances that we will not use cruel and inhuman treatment.

We will use enhanced techniques, but it's under very strict guidelines. You should know that each individual that implements it at the CIA, that program, goes through 280 hours of individualized training.

TOWNSEND: They go through psychological and aptitude testing. We make sure that they have -- that there is a detainee interrogation plan that's cleared by the CIA.

BLITZER: As you know, there are reports that you've stopped using the sleep deprivation -- I'm not sure that's not necessarily accurate -- the extreme hot, extreme cold, the waterboarding.

Without getting into the specifics, because I know you're not going to get into the specifics, is it fair to say that some of the techniques that were used earlier are no longer being used?

TOWNSEND: It's a different program going forward today, that's correct.

BLITZER: And what can you -- can you elaborate and explain to the American public, what you can use and what you can't use?

TOWNSEND: Well, the executive order by its very term says we're not going to use torture, sexual humiliation. We're not going to humiliate anyone or degrade them based on their religious practices or their religious beliefs. It's a whole series, and the executive order is quite explicit about that.

But let's be -- let's really look at this. This is the most critical and vital tool. Better than half of the references in the NIE we were just discussing come from individuals in the detainee program.

The program over its life has had fewer than 100 detainees. Fewer than a third of those have been subject to the enhanced techniques that we're discussing. And we need this program, and it's critically important it must be legal, it must be sustainable, from both a policy and a political point of view.

BLITZER: Fran Townsend, thanks very much for coming in.

TOWNSEND: Thank you.


BLITZER: And coming up here on "Late Edition," the final touches being put on the debate stage in Charleston, South Carolina, right now. We're going to get the latest on how the Democratic candidates are preparing, from our political panel. They're standing by live. Also coming up, the Congressional standoff over the war in Iraq. They argued all night, but was anything really accomplished? We'll ask the Democratic whip, Senator Dick Durbin. He's standing by live when we come back.


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

Perhaps the only result of the Senate debate this week over the president's strategy in Iraq was that Congress now isn't likely to pass anything that would force a change before September's expected reports from General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker coming in by mid-September. Joining us now from Chicago to discuss that and more, one of the leaders of this debate, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. He's the assistant majority leader, the number two Democrat in the U.S. Senate.

Senator Durbin, thanks for coming in.

DURBIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Before we get to that, I want you to respond to what we just heard from the president's homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend. Do you have confidence in her and in the administration's handling of homeland security right now?

DURBIN: No. We've made some significant steps forward, but we had recommendations from the 9-11 Commission to do specific things to make America safer. And they've given a report card to this administration year after year, a failing report card. The administration has failed to enact the laws, to enact the appropriations necessary to make these recommendations the law.

This new Democratic Congress has passed these measures in the house and Senate. We're headed to a conference committee. I want to see these enacted into law. We will be safer as a result.

BLITZER: We've received the page-and-a-half declassified summary of the latest intelligence estimate, the National Intelligence Estimate. But many members of Congress now have been briefed on the declassified version. Have you?

DURBIN: I've certainly been briefed on the declassified version. What it tells us is that we still have a dangerous threat to America in terrorism, that Al Qaida is stronger today than we were in 9/11. And of course we understand, after putting massive resources into a war in Iraq, we have lost sight of the goal of capturing Osama bin Laden and closing down Al Qaida. We've turned Iraq into a training ground, unfortunately, for Al Qaida terrorists who are practicing on our soldiers.

BLITZER: I guess the question is, do you think this NIE, this product of the various U.S. intelligence agencies, is accurate, given the track record of some earlier NIEs, including Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, which didn't prove to be accurate?

DURBIN: I'm skeptical, of course, because of what we went through. When the American people were misled into this war in Iraq, it was based on faulty intelligence findings and a lot of political statements by the administration that weren't backed up by fact. And so there is a building skepticism. But I would have to say that there is a new confidence in the head -- national director of intelligence, Mr. Mcconnell, who briefed us several weeks ago. I thought it was one of the most positive and complete briefings we've received since I've been in the Senate.

BLITZER: Here's what the president said on Wednesday about Al Qaida. Listen to this.


BUSH: Al Qaida is -- would have been a heck of a lot stronger today had we not stayed on the offense. And it's in the interest of the United States to not only defeat them overseas so we don't have to face them here, but to spread an ideology that will defeat their ideology every time.


BLITZER: The president points out, we heard Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, in the last hour point out that there's been no major terrorist attack against the United States in nearly six years on U.S. soil, since 9/11. What's wrong with the president's assessment?

DURBIN: Well, of course we're blessed and fortunate as a nation not to have suffered another terrorist attack. And we have to be vigilant every single moment. We can't let our guard down.

But even the president's intelligence agencies can see Al Qaida has used the war in Iraq to increase its ranks, to bring people from all over the Middle East and other countries to be terrorists threatening not only United States but many other nations. For the president to argue, if he's trying to, that the war in Iraq has somehow blunted the attack of Al Qaida, his own intelligence agencies disagree.

BLITZER: But you acknowledge -- I assume you acknowledge there are Al Qaida-affiliated operations under way in Iraq right now.

DURBIN: There's no question about it. There weren't at the time of our invasion. There was no evidence of Al Qaida in Iraq.

BLITZER: Well, what do you do with the Al Qaida operations that do exist in Iraq right now, those Al Qaida, those foreign fighters who are training there? Do you just walk away from them?

DURBIN: Absolutely not. And in fact, the Democratic proposal, supported by four Republican senators in the last vote this week said that we would retain our responsibility as part of our transition to have a mission to go after Al Qaida terrorists and other terrorist groups within Iraq. I think that is the appropriate thing to do. We can't allow Iraq to become a training ground for Al Qaida.

BLITZER: Russ Feingold, your Democratic colleague from Wisconsin, now saying he's going to introduce a legislation of censure against the president. Listen to what he said on "Meet the Press."


FEINGOLD: I think we need to do something serious in terms of accountability. And that's why I will be shortly introducing a censure resolution of the president and the administration. One on their getting us into the war of Iraq -- in Iraq and their failure to adequately prepare our military and the misleading statements that have continued throughout the war in Iraq. And the second on this administration's outrageous attack on the rule of law.


BLITZER: You think this is a good idea? Will you support Senator Feingold?

DURBIN: I want to read the censure resolution.

DURBIN: Let me say, Russ Feingold e-mailed me this morning with some information about his suggestions. He is a thoughtful, responsible senator. He understands, as I do, this is not only an unpopular presidency, it's a failed presidency. It's a presidency that has abused the Constitution and the powers of the office.

Whether it's misleading the American people into the war in Iraq, not preparing our troops for battle as they should have been prepared, making certain that he endorses a warrantless wiretapping program, telling the Department of Justice not to enforce the law last week when we come to contempt of Congress by members of his administration -- all of these things suggest to me that this administration has gone far beyond the exercise of political power.

They have abused the Constitution in some respects. And I think it's appropriate for us to take the censure resolution up. It is short of impeachment, but it's an important debate.

BLITZER: Several Republicans, who are concerned about the war in Iraq, have suggested that you, the Democratic leadership in the Senate, you and Harry Reid, the majority leader, are more interested in political theater than in substantive policy. That's why you stapled that all-nighter this past week. I want you to listen to what the number two Republican in the Senate, Trent Lott, said.


SEN. TRENT LOTT, R-MISS.: Now, the Senate is spiraling into the ground to a degree that I have never seen before. And I've been here a long time. All modicum of courtesy is going out the window.


BLITZER: What do you say to the criticism that you were more interested in scoring political points than in trying to forge some sort of bipartisan, cooperative legislation, finding a middle ground, if you will? DURBIN: As a result of the work this week, an all-night session, a sleepless night for senators -- and I might remind the listeners that our soldiers and their families spend many sleepless nights. But after one sleepless night, we went from two Republicans supporting our position to four. We need 11.

I think if we continue the pressure of this debate, if we keep it front and center, that we'll have more Republicans joining us. Ultimately, we're going to bring this war to an end in a responsible way. Emotions will run high during this debate. That's to be expected because we're dealing with life and death issues.

BLITZER: But Harry Reid then cut off debate after that one sleepless night and said, "You know what? No more debate on Iraq." Effectively, no more other resolutions that some other members, Democrats and Republicans, wanted to consider, until September.

And you're hearing criticism, especially from somebody like Ken Salazar, who's Democrat from Colorado, Lamar Alexander, who was working with him, on a resolution to enact the Iraq Study Group proposals. Why not let some of these other proposals, these resolutions, come forward for consideration?

DURBIN: Well, we will return to the defense authorization bill. We'll return to the debate on Iraq. I don't know if it will be before the August recess. Most certainly, no later than September we're going to be back on this debate.

We want all of the members of the Senate to go home having cast their votes either for the president's policy or against it, speak to their voters and return, reassess the situation in September. Senator Reid and I, and the Democratic caucus, are committed to a full-scale debate on this war in Iraq. It's the most important single issue facing this nation.

BLITZER: I'll leave you with this quote, this sound bite from Senator John McCain, an ardent supporter of this strategy in Iraq. And I want to get your reaction. Listen to this.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: The Middle East will still be a tinder box which our defeat could ignite in a regional war that will imperil our vital interests at risk there and draw us into a longer and far more costly war. The prospects of genocide in Iraq, in which we will be morally complicit, is still as real consequence of our withdrawal today as it was yesterday.


BLITZER: In other words, he's saying as bad as the situation is right now, Senator Durbin, it could be a lot worse if the U.S. were to withdraw quickly from Iraq. What do you say to Senator McCain?

DURBIN: The key to the Iraqis' future are the Iraqi people and their leaders. They have to step up, decide to make the important political decisions, which they've postponed and avoided. They have to step up and defend their own country. They have to decide who's going to govern, and whether they will be a nation. They have put to rest a civil war, which, unfortunately has been going on way too long.

And then the nations in the region, which have held back because of the United States lead in this invasion of Iraq, need to step forward to stabilize the borders of Iraq. We could keep American troops there 10 months or 10 years. We would still face this same challenge. I think most people across America think it's time for American soldiers to start coming home and for the Iraqis to stand up and defend their own nation.

BLITZER: Dick Durbin is the number two senator. Thanks very much, Senator Durbin, for coming in.

DURBIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: He's the majority whip.

And coming up on "Late Edition," did Senator Hillary Clinton turn a Pentagon official into a political punching bag? We'll discuss that and all the week's politics with three of the best in the business.

But first, the campaign for the Democratic front-runner spoke out in the last hour of "Late Edition." We're going to hear from the two candidates who are trying to make the jump into the top tier. My interviews with his Senator Chris Dodd and Governor Bill Richardson coming up in our "Best of the Situation Room" segment right after this.


BLITZER: You're watching "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington.

Tomorrow night in South Carolina, our CNN/YouTube debate will feature all eight Democratic presidential candidates. You're looking at these live pictures. It's a chance for those who aren't leading in the polls to try to get noticed.

I talked about the struggle to gain attention with two Democrats running for president when Senator Chris Dodd and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson joined me this past week in "The Situation Room."


BLITZER: Why is you or Senator Biden, who have been in the Senate for decades, are well-known on a lot of these issues, a wealth of experience, having trouble breaking through, but Senator Barack Obama, who's been in the Senate -- what -- for three years, all of a sudden he's raising tens of millions of dollars and he's in the polls right at the top right there.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, D-CONN.: Well, no, he's not at the top either. And, of course, we're getting a lot of good coverage back in the states where this is being conducted. And I will tell you that people in New Hampshire and Iowa and South Carolina and Nevada are not going to choose the candidate based on how well-known they are or how much money they have.

Remember, only four years ago, John Kerry was at four percent in the polls in mid-December and ended up winning the nomination. Gary Hart got 14 percent of the vote in Iowa some 20 years ago and ended up winning the New Hampshire primary.

I'm stunned, frankly, that people who observe this process here have almost no memory about what's happened historically with people who have not necessarily done well in the polls but ended up doing better as people paid more attention to the race.



BLITZER: You heard the complaints from Dennis Kucinich when Hillary Clinton and John Edwards were talking, at least off-mike -- they thought they were off-mike -- about limiting the forums, limiting the debates. Kucinich saying, as a result of that, "Whispering, trying to rig an election, then denying what's going on and making excuses. It all reflects a consistent lack of integrity."

Where do you stand as someone who's, shall we say, in the second tier, at least right now, according to the polls, of the Democratic candidates?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON, D-N.M.: Well, I am moving into the first tier. And you'll be seeing that in Iowa and New Hampshire too. But I believe, for now, Wolf, everybody should participate.

RICHARDSON: We shouldn't limit who participates and who doesn't, because candidates like Dennis and others have that disadvantage. They don't have the millions the top-tier candidates have. And so this is an opportunity for them to be heard by the public, unfettered without consultants, without money.

So I say leave the debates the way they are. Maybe right before the primary, if a major network like yours wants to do another debate, maybe at that time you limit those with the highest poll numbers. But for now, this is six months away from the election. Let all the candidates show their stuff. The best way to do it is unfettered debates.


BLITZER: And all of the Democratic candidates for president will be at the CNN/YouTube debate in South Carolina tomorrow, 7 p.m. Eastern. The Republicans will have their chance to answer your questions at the CNN/YouTube debate September 17th in Florida. Submit all your questions for both debates at

Up next, now that we've heard from senators in both parties, in just a moment the best political team on television weighs in on whether the Senate's all-night debate on Iraq was serious or simply a stunt. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: At 7 p.m. tomorrow night, eight Democratic candidates will be on this stage at the Citadel's McAlister Hall in Charleston, South Carolina. You're looking at these live preparations under way right now. They'll be facing questions, not from reporters, but from you, the public, submitted over the Internet for the first time.

So since tomorrow night belongs to the voters, let's give our own reporters a chance right now to assess what's going on. Here in our studio in Washington, our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, and our chief national correspondent, John King. Already on the scene in Charleston, South Carolina, our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Dana, what was accomplished? What do they do now, having had this all-night debate on the floor of the Senate? And I know you watched every second of that unfold. Where do they go from here, the Democratic leadership? They got 52 votes, but they need 60 if they're going to go anywhere in the Senate.

BASH: Well, the answer in the Senate is nowhere. They're not going anywhere at least until September. But the thing to watch for this coming week, Wolf, is what happens in the House. This is going to be debated once again in the House.

And I can tell you just from some reporting late last week that there is frustration among Democrats that they are taking vote after vote after vote on a deadline for withdrawal. And there is some high- level discussion about whether or not to do something different, to do something that is a little bit less dug in, if you will, in order to get Republican votes.

Because there is a movement, even among -- I talked to a liberal member, Neil Abercrombie from Hawaii. He's working with one of the most conservative Democrats, John Tanner, on legislation to say, you know what, maybe it's time to force the president to come to Congress with some kind of plan for withdrawal.

That maybe could get Republican support. Because there is a sense that maybe they need to just get the headline, the support for the president in the House of Representative crumbles instead of vote after vote on a deadline for withdrawal.

BLITZER: The president is suggesting this war is going to go on, presumably, for a long time. I want you to listen, John, to what he said on Thursday.


BUSH: There's not a moment of ending. But there will be a moment in Afghanistan and in Iraq where these governments will be more able to support their people. More able to provide basic services. More able to defend their neighborhoods against radical killers. It's going to be a while, though.


BLITZER: That's not necessarily what the American public wants to hear.

KING: No, it certainly isn't, especially when it comes to Iraq. But if you look at the tension within the Democratic Party she just talked about, what the president just said is the next key element in it. It will be interesting to see if it comes up at the debate tomorrow night.

All the Democrats are saying, get the troops out yesterday, begin to get the troops out as soon as possible. And yet, if you go deeper into what they're saying, they all acknowledge too, Wolf, there will be 50,000, 75,000 U.S. troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future, for five years at least, perhaps more than that.

Some of them say, no, they want to get them all out. But most of them concede you just can't do that. You would create too much of a vacuum. And the internal tug-of-war pressures on the Democratic Party right now, satisfy the base, do something about ending the war, and yet deal with the reality for the presidential candidates if one of them will be the commander in chief, perhaps, and you're going to have the troops there. It is a fascinating internal tension.

BLITZER: Candy, you're already down in South Carolina getting ready for the debate tomorrow night. All eight Democratic candidates will be there. Substantively speaking, how much of a difference, though, is there among these eight candidates when it comes to the war in Iraq?

CROWLEY: Well, there are some differences in where -- when they want the troops to come out and that sort of thing. But you're right. I mean, what has happened here, and this sort of plays up what John just said, is that the Democrats and the Democratic Party now know that the policy is to get out and to get out as quickly as possible.

The question also, in addition to, well, how much do you get out and what kind of troops do you get out, how many are going to stay there -- and I think again, we'll hear some of this tomorrow night -- is, well, how are you going to get out without endangering the Iraqis, without having the whole Middle East blow up on you?

So, I think in just viewing some of the questions that we've seen that come in via YouTube, we do hear people saying, well, what next? We know you want out. So, this conversation about Iraq has kind of moved on.

BLITZER: And I think there's a sense, Dana, let me pick it up with you, that what happens next, after there's a withdrawal. Because a lot of people are suggesting, as bad as it is right now, it could get a whole lot worse.

BASH: And you're right. And that is really one of the key questions. And a question, frankly, that Democratic leaders can't answer. They try to sidestep the question by saying, as you heard Harry Reid say this morning, even Dick Durbin on the show, that the chaos is so bad right now, that is what you need to focus on.

Maybe it will get bad, but, you know, it's about as bad as it can get right now. But they can't really answer that question. And that is really the fundamental policy question that Republicans are trying to push harder and harder on, because they can't answer it.

BLITZER: John, John Edwards is going to be on the stage tomorrow night at the CNN/YouTube debate. But his wife, Elizabeth Edwards, has been making a lot of news.

Among other things, saying this on, referring to Hillary Clinton: "She needs a rationale greater for her campaign than I've heard. When she announced her candidacy, she said, 'I'm in it to win it.' What is that? That's not a rationale.

Same with Senator Obama. I've yet to hear a rationale. John is extremely clear about what he can accomplish and why he's the one to do it." Referring to her husband, John Edwards.

This is getting sort of nasty out there. What do you think?

KING: She has proven to be the elbows in the Edwards campaign, Elizabeth Edwards. She's quite articulate. She's quite aggressive. And she has decided to mix it up a little bit, perhaps deciding that her husband will stay above the fray and she will get into it.

Make no mistake about it, this is a power couple, much like Bill and Hillary Clinton. She's not doing this on her own. The campaign is not saying they have a rogue spouse out there doing this. She's doing this for a reason. He's languishing right now in third place. He's trying to break through under the radar by working hard in Iowa.

But it's frustrating if you're John Edwards. You were the vice presidential nominee last time. And so far, most of the attention has been on Clinton and Obama.

KING: She has decided perhaps the best way to move the ball is to dust things up a little bit, and she's throwing elbows at Obama, elbows at Hillary Clinton. And will it work? Who knows, but it is interesting to watch her get in the fray.

BLITZER: At that last Democratic debate we hosted, Candy, up in New Hampshire, John Edwards was pretty blunt, pretty candid in going after Hillary Clinton's stance and Barack Obama's stance. He didn't hesitate at all, but I think it's fair to say nothing like what Elizabeth Edwards has been saying.

CROWLEY: No, nothing, and I think the question here is whether one's spouse can go too far and sort of overshadow the candidate. I mean, it's one thing to say that John Edwards wants to stay above the fray and it's another thing for her to look like she's the only one throwing the elbows.

And you're right. In New Hampshire at that debate, we did see him, and that's what number three does. You're trying to find some chink that you can build upon and you're trying to speak to, as John Edwards is, the base, particularly the left of center base, so that he can make some inroads here. Because as John says, this has been frustrating to John Edwards.

BLITZER: We'll see how it develops up on that stage behind you tomorrow night. Candy, stand by. John, Dana, stand by as well. Much more of our political conversation coming up.

Also, Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, said this morning congressional Democrats weren't giving up on changing the president's Iraq policy. We're going to tell you what he said in our "In Case You Missed It" segment. That's coming up as well. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Our political panel standing by, but let's get to our "In Case You Missed It" segment. We're going to check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

On NBC, the director of national intelligence, Retired Admiral Mike McConnell, offered his explanation for why Osama bin Laden hasn't been captured.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE MIKE MCCONNELL: Think about attempting to capture a single human being whose primary purpose and emphasis is to remain unreserved or hidden. It's a very difficult challenge.

From having been in intelligence for most of my professional life, it's not difficult to find something large. But a single human being that wants to be unobserved who is being assisted in that process, it just makes it very, very difficult.


BLITZER: And on CBS and Fox, talk focused on the way out of Iraq for the United States.


SEN. HARRY REID, D-NEV.: We have been told by a number of Republicans that September is the due date. The Republicans and the Senate must follow the lead of people like owe Olympia Snowe and do the right thing. We're going to do everything we can to put our pressure on the president, that what has happened in Iraq is wrong. We must change course.



SEN. CHRISTOPHER S. BOND, R-MO.: The only option for us is to continue to train the Iraqi security, Iraqi army and Iraqi police, which are getting better. They're conducting missions on their own. And then as they are successful, we draw down the U.S. troops, and there will be significant drawdowns, but it will be based on decisions made by the commanding officers in the field.



SEN. EVAN BAYH, D-IND.: The ultimate question is whether the Iraqis are able to do this and what will make them most likely to make the hard decisions. Continuing to support them in spite of their inability to do that has not worked. We need a better course.


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

Up next, we're going to go back to the campus of the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. You're looking at live pictures, preparations underway for tomorrow night's CNN/YouTube debate. More of our panel discussion with the best political team on television right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Once again, we're joined by our congressional correspondent Dana Bash, our chief national correspondent John King. They're both here in Washington. And in Charleston, South Carolina, our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

I know you're getting ready, Candy, for the Democratic presidential debate there tomorrow night. There's going to be a Republican presidential debate that CNN and YouTube will be hosting in Florida in September.

Take a look at these poll numbers from our CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. In South Carolina, Candy, where you are, Rudy Giuliani ahead with 28 percent, John McCain at 20 percent, Fred Thompson -- who hasn't made it official yet -- he's at 17, everybody else in single digits.

Rudy Giuliani is ahead in South Carolina, is ahead in most of the national polls if not all of the national polls. I guess you have to say, at this stage, among Republican candidates, he's certainly the real deal.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. He has had staying power here, especially in the south, which I think has surprised some people. And if you look sort of inside these numbers as we have in previous polls, what you also find is that Rudy Giuliani is leading among the conservative right.

CROWLEY: That is those who have always seen abortion as a kind of pivotal issue in the campaign. And we spent a little time down here talking to people about that, and find that what Rudy Giuliani's greatest strength is right now is that people think he can beat Hillary Clinton. And that's very key inside the Republican Party. In addition to that, what we're seeing is that some things trump some of these social views for some of these conservative right voters. And one of them is security, and that obviously is what Rudy Giuliani is banking his campaign on.

BLITZER: And I think he's also hoping, John, that if you can get past Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, then you get to those super- duper states, the big ones, like whether Florida, California or New York. That's going to potentially among Republican and independents be a strong reservoir of support for him.

KING: If he has at least one win under his belt coming out of South Carolina and one of the more recent wins -- I think he has to probably win South Carolina. But if he can get some victory and come out of there without somebody being the clear nominee, then he's moving to territory that he thinks is much more friendly, New Jersey, Illinois, California, places where he thinks there are a lot more moderate voters.

So Giuliani's feeling good right now. I have to tell you the McCain people in South Carolina think after some horrible, maybe month or six weeks of time, to be in second place at 20 percent gives them some comfort.

I'll tell you what troubles most people, though. If you look at our poll in South Carolina, the president's approval rating is at 34 percent in the reddest of red states. The Republican base is demoralized. Looking at the long term, that has Republicans worried.

BLITZER: What are you hearing on the Hill, Dana? Because you talk to these Republican legislators all the time, and their staffs. What do they think? Does Rudy Giuliani have what it takes to be the Republican nominee?

BASH: Well, I mean, look, there's a lot of love, so to speak, for Giuliani on Capitol Hill among Republicans just in general for the same reason he's popular across the country, because of his experience on 9/11. But I've got to tell you, there are a lot of Republican, just like Candy was saying, sort of scratching their heads saying, wait a minute. Is this my Republican Party? Are these the voters that helped to get me elected, especially those in the south and in some of the more conservative red states? Because this is not something that they're used to.

Republican voters aligning with somebody who is now openly for gay rights, for abortion rights and across the board for gun rights. It's just not something that they're used to. So, they're thinking maybe this is potentially a change, a shift in their own party.

BLITZER: Candy, let's get back to the Democratic presidential candidates. And you're there on the scene for us in South Carolina. John will be heading out later today. He'll be joining you.

Among the candidates in our CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll, Hillary Clinton in South Carolina still ahead with 39 percent, Barack Obama at 25 percent. John Edwards, who was born in South Carolina, 15 percent. Al Gore, he's not even running, gets 10. Everybody else way down in the single digits.

Same question for you. Hillary Clinton, she's on top of the national polls, the statewide polls. She's doing remarkably well right now.

CROWLEY: She really is. And in part, that's because she is leading in the African-American vote, which is key down here in South Carolina, by 16 points over Barack Obama.

But I think we need to be careful about reading a whole lot, particularly into the South Carolina polls. Because so much depends on what happens in Iowa, what happens in Nevada, what happens in New Hampshire. Because as those contests are completed and the candidates roll here into South Carolina, that changes the mix here.

So, when you talk to people, they say, yeah, that's the way it is right now. But there's a lot of undecideds. And they sort of do watch, because South Carolina prides itself on being either a make or break state. Like one of those states that if someone comes roaring in, perhaps South Carolina may put the brakes on.

But more than likely, there is some momentum that comes in to South Carolina from New Hampshire and from Iowa that could really change the dynamic.

BLITZER: John King, you spent a lot of time covering Bill Clinton when he was president of the United States, when he was a governor wanting to be president of the United States. Listen to what he said this week. Listen to this.


BILL CLINTON, D, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know some people sort of say, well, you know, look at them. They're old. And they're sort of yesterday's news, you know. Well, yesterday's news was pretty good.


BLITZER: I assume he's referring to the economy during the eight years he was president of the United States. But I think it's fair to say that was vintage Bill Clinton.

KING: Love him or hate him, he is the premiere politician of his generation, not just as a candidate but as a strategist. And he knows full well the dynamic in the election is voters want change. If they define his wife as the past, she will not be the next president of the United States.

So what he is trying to do is take that dynamic on, and that's what Bill Clinton is best at. What is the biggest problem I face? Don't run from it, tackle it.

And he's saying, change? You can have change. But if you have change that brings you back to where we were, you'll be lucky. So he's trying to take nostalgia for the Clinton economy and for the good things about the Clinton administration and say, changing back to that is not bad, is it?

BLITZER: Dana, I wanted you to button this up for us. Because as Bill Clinton assesses his wife's chances of becoming president, some people are saying, you know, all these years of a Bush in the White House, all these years of a Clinton in the White House, maybe it is time for someone else to get a shot. What are you hearing?

BASH: Well, it's the same thing. It's Bush, Clinton, Bush, Clinton. It's the same kind of feeling and maybe the same kind of feeling even in the Republican circles that is sort of fueling this idea that maybe it's time for Rudy Giuliani, even though he doesn't agree with the sort of core Republican values.

It's the fatigue. The fatigue with what you have seen, what the American people have seen, whether it is the war or going back, the melodrama, frankly, that they saw inside the White House during the Clinton years. And there is certainly a lot of fear.

Just talk to Democratic voters out there that -- wait a minute. We do like the idea of maybe going back to the ideas Bill Clinton was talking about. But do we really want that kind of drama again inside the White House for another four years?

BLITZER: 2,370 questions have now been posted on YouTube. Questions, not all of them, but some of them, a couple dozen, let's say, will be questions that will be raised tomorrow night. Our Anderson Cooper will be there on the scene, 7 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night. Candy Crowley is already there. John King is on the way. Dana Bash will stay here in Washington with me.

Thanks, guys, very much, the best political team on television.

And if you would like a recap of today's "Late Edition," you can get highlights on our new and improved "Late Edition" podcast. Simply go to

Coming up at the top of the hour, by the way, in a few moments, a special debate preview with our own John Roberts and Kiran Chetry. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: That's it for this "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Thanks for watching. For our international viewers, stand by for world news. For those of you in North America, a special preview of tomorrow's CNN/YouTube debate hosted by John Roberts and Kiran Chetry.