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The Situation Room

A discussion of Bush's political situation; Roy Moore is running for mayor of Alabama; Both sides weigh in on Harriet Miers

Aired October 04, 2005 - 16:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a question of confidence. President Bush hits the hot stories in his wide-ranging news conference. But with his political strength sapped, has he lost his post-election swagger?
Harriet Miers under the microscope. Mr. Bush defends his Supreme Court nominee against criticism from the left and the right. This hour, new clues about her views on abortion rights.

And Tom DeLay's double-whammy. The ex-House majority leader now is facing a second indictment in Texas. And he's taking his anger out on the prosecutor. We're sorting through the legal and political strategies in a case that has the Capitol spinning.

I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This hour, New Orleans pays a new price for Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Ray Nagin says the city will be forced to lay off 3,000 workers because of the financial hardship caused by the storm. Here's what the mayor said just minutes ago.


MAYOR RAY NAGIN (D), NEW ORLEANS: But unfortunately, we have searched high and low. We've checked with federal sources. We checked with state sources. We've talked to local banks and other financial institutions. And we are just not able to put together the financing necessary to continue to maintain our City Hall staffing at its current levels.

So after weeks of working to secure these funds to make payroll, the city of New Orleans today announces it has been forced to lay off up to 3,000 classified and unclassified city workers as a result of the financial constraints in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.


KING: More on that in the hour ahead. Mayor Ray Nagin, there, announcing 3,000 city employees will lose their jobs in New Orleans because he says the city has no money in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina.

Thanks for joining us here in the SITUATION ROOM. I'm John King.

Now, when the president holds a news conference, it's a safe bet he has an agenda. Mr. Bush clearly felt there was quite a bit to talk about, with polls showing his leadership in question and with a new Supreme Court nominee under tough scrutiny.

Harriet Miers is promoting herself on Capitol Hill to the senators who can confirm or reject her nomination for the high court. Mr. Bush today insisted Miers is the best qualified person to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor even though many in the president's own party have their doubts.

To the White House now, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, despite the fact that the president is facing many challenges both at home and abroad, President Bush today insisted he still has political capital -- that he is still very much a conservative. But the president, anticipating many questions of his controversial pick over Harriet Miers started with that first, coming out in full swing.


MALVEAUX (voice over): Under fire from both the left and the right over Supreme Court Nominee Harriet Miers, President Bush defended his pick.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She's a woman of enormous accomplishment. She's -- she is -- she understands the law. She's got a keen mind. She will not legislate from the bench.

MALVEAUX: A big concern among some conservatives who suspect Miers may tip the balance of the court. Mr. Bush repeatedly tried to reassure them that won't be the case.

BUSH: She shares my philosophy that judges should strictly interpret the laws and the Constitution of the United States, and not legislate from the bench.

MALVEAUX: The wide-ranging press conference was aimed at helping the president regain his political footing. Since his last one in May, he's been hit with rising gas prices, sinking poll numbers and violence in Iraq; a Republican leadership charged with wrongdoing; and scathing criticism over his own handling of Hurricane Katrina.

Today, he gave mixed reviews for the ongoing recovery efforts and continued to hold himself accountable for the government's missteps.

BUSH: I'll take responsibility. I'll take all the responsibility for the failures at the federal level.

MALVEAUX: But he also expressed disappointment for the first time that those failures may have affected his standing with the African- American community who his party had been courting heavily, especially during his reelection campaign.

BUSH: I was disappointed, frankly, in the vote I got in the African-American community. I was. I've done my best to elevate people to positions of authority and responsibility.

MALVEAUX: While Mr. Bush implored Americans to support his foreign policy in Iraq, he admitted the centerpiece of his domestic policy, reforming Social Security, has stalled.

BUSH: Social Security, for me, is never off. It's a long-term problem that's going to need to be addressed. When the appetite to address it is -- that's going to be up to the members of Congress.


MALVEAUX: As you know, John, that is a big admission for this White House. The centerpiece of his domestic agenda perhaps not even going to be on the table for this fall.

One question the president did not address was the CIA leak investigation that's expected to come to a close fairly soon. As you know, several top White House officials involved in that, as well, John.

KING: Suzanne, hard to tell from a distance, but I watched the president today. He seemed to warm up when the questions came, but as he walked out and gave that opening statement, seemed to be missing the spring we usually see in his step. A fair assessment?

MALVEAUX: You know, John, a lot of people are saying whether or not that swagger we're used to seeing, whether or not he has lost that. A lot of criticism has come down to the White House the last couple of months. We saw a man who is looking rather tired, weary of answering a lot of those tough questions.

The White House certainly hoping they can turn the corner here. They are working very hard both in front of the cameras as well as behind the scenes to basically turn the corner on this one.

KING: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House, thank you.

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is blasting his second indictment by a grand jury in Texas as -- quote -- "an abomination of justice." The new charge? Money laundering, but it's essentially a different take on the campaign finance conspiracy indictment DeLay was hit with last week.

Let's check in now with our congressional correspondent Ed Henry for the latest.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. To the prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, this is simply a second take on that first indictment which basically charged Tom DeLay of being part of a criminal conspiracy to evade this Texas law banning corporate contributions in state races.

But to the DeLay camp, it's much more sinister. They say it's a sham, do over -- that Ronnie Earle knew that basically his case was built on nothing, that it was not going to hold up in court. Now he's throwing anything he can at Tom DeLay hoping that something will stick.

But the bottom line is when you cut through all of this legal back and forth, it is a widening political problem for Tom DeLay. He spent the last few days saying, in fact, that he expected to get this behind him quickly and that he thought he would get his majority leader job back in the next few months.

But today, DeLay himself acknowledged, on a radio station KTRH, that it might be difficult for him to reclaim power.


REP. TOM DELAY (R) TEXAS: The longer this goes, the tougher it is for me to step back in as majority leader, although, we are driving a very aggressive agenda for the next eight weeks. We're going to do something about gas prices. We're going to cut spending, cut taxes, reform entitlements, protect our borders, enforce the immigration laws. That's a very aggressive agenda.


HENRY: Now, the DeLay strategy is clear. He's pushing back very hard against Ronnie Earle, taking some tough shots at him, almost laughing off this second indictment. That is because he knows the clock is ticking. He wants to push back as hard as he can. He knows Republicans are already whispering that regardless of the merits of either one of these indictments, this could turn into a situation like Newt Gingrich, from a few years ago, where at some point, the Republican Party regardless of the case decides he's an albatross and needs to be pushed aside.

On the other hand, though, it also could be the second indictment so inflames the right that it actually rallies more support from DeLay's hard-core supporters. For example, today he appeared on Rush Limbaugh's radio program. At the end of that, Limbaugh said he was praying for the congressman. Obviously, Limbaugh, with his millions of listeners, not a bad ally for Tom DeLay to have right now.

KING: Still though, Ed, a striking change of tone from Tom DeLay in that radio interview. You know as well as anyone what he's best at is counting votes. Has Tom DeLay's tone changed because it's his decision? Or is he looking around the Republican Caucus and saying they don't want me back, maybe?

HENRY: You're absolutely right, John. The bottom line is as more time goes on here, it becomes harder and harder. There are a lot of people itching for a chance to move up within the Republican leadership.

Again, as you know, the Republican Party already having some problems on Iraq, Katrina, also the Senate majority leader under investigation himself over those stock sales. They realize -- and Tom DeLay realizes, more than anyone, as you mentioned -- the votes eventually may not be there. He has to get this behind him as quickly as possible.

Even if the second indictment is a sham, the longer it takes to get it behind him, the more difficult it will be to get that majority leader job back.


KING: Ed Henry for us on Capitol Hill.

And we should note, DeLay's lawyer will be with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour for more on this highly politically charged case.

Right now, former President Bill Clinton is in Louisiana preparing to tour the largely destroyed Ninth Ward of New Orleans. He began the day talking to hurricane survivors at a shelter in Baton Rouge.

Mr. Clinton has been somewhat critical of the federal government's response to Katrina, while at the same time, he's working with the president's father to raise money to help storm victims. Many people Mr. Clinton spoke with today complained about needing showers, clean clothes, privacy, and medical care.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm glad to be down here, and I really thank you for taking time to meet with me.

But my concern here is just to do -- to listen to you, and talk about your problems and try to figure out how we can best spend this money we've got to help the largest number of people who would not otherwise be helped by the government programs, or by the incredible work that the Red Cross has been doing.

So that's all I'd like to say, except I'm really sorry for what you've been through and honored to be here.


KING: The Bush-Clinton Hurricane Fund has so far raised $100 million to help hurricane victims.

Coming up, the Supreme Court and the culture wars. Harriet Miers' nomination is pushing a long-time hot button, abortion. We'll have the latest information on her views, her record and the controversy.

Plus, the Roberts Court convenes with a lot of big decisions to make on abortion and much, much more.

And did President Bush seem less energetic than usual during that conference today? People are talking about his tone and his political problems.


KING: Some conservatives are calling Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers a Texas mystery. One of the unanswered questions they're most concerned about is her stand on abortion rights. Just one day after President Bush chose Miers, she's helping to re-stir the "Culture Wars". (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: I have no litmus test.

KING: Abortion without a doubt will be a confirmation flashpoint, one of the key questions as the Senate and America try to determine just who is Harriet Miers.

BUSH: She shares my philosophy that judges should strictly interpret the laws and the Constitution of the United States, and not legislate from the bench.

KING: The president has known Miers for a dozen years, but says he has no recollection of ever discussing abortion with her, and said he did not ask her about the landmark Roe v. Wade case when considering her for the high court.

BUSH: In my interviews with any judge, I never ask their personal opinion on the subject of abortion.

KING: So what do we know? In 1993, she unsuccessfully lobbied the American Bar Association to drop its support for abortion rights, calling instead for a neutral position. And she has attended several events organized by the anti-abortion group Texans United for Life.

NANCY KENNAN, NARAL: It sends up red flags for us, absolutely.


KING: While President Bush says he can't recall ever talking to Miers about abortion, the "Dallas Morning News" quotes the woman who managed Miers' only political campaign, Lorlee Bartos as saying she is "on the extreme end of the anti-choice movement."

New information today about Miers' record on another hot-button social issue. During her 1989 run for the Dallas City Council, Miers filled out a questionnaire indicating her support for full civil rights for gays and lesbians, and she backed AIDS education programs for the city of Dallas.

That questionnaire was originally distributed by a Dallas gay rights group and was provided to CNN and other news organizations by the Human Rights Campaign.

Even as some on the right raise questions about her credentials, one conservative group is launching a pro Miers ad. The Progress for America spot praises her as a trailblazer for women and urges an up or down Senate vote on her nomination. The group will spend about a half million dollars to run that ad on national cable stations, along with Internet ads, e-mail and other promotions.

From the war in Iraq to hurricane response to declining poll numbers, it's been a tough two months for President Bush. Has the president lost that post-election swagger? That story next.

Plus, is a new battle brewing over church and state? Roy Moore was ousted as Alabama's chief justice for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments statue. Now he wants to oust the state's current governor.


KING: President Bush faced reporters today not quite the man he once was, at least politically. In the face of missteps, poor poll numbers and other headaches at the White House, Mr. Bush was asked about his clout.


QUESTION: How much political capital have you got left?

BUSH: Plenty. Plenty.


KING: Mr. Bush may still have some political capital -- plenty, as he says -- but many observers thought he seemed a bit dispirited during that news conference this morning. Some say he's lost the old Bush swagger.

We're joined now by a man who has seen that swagger more than once, Mike Allen, from "Time" magazine. Let's start right there. Stylistically, something missing?

MIKE ALLEN, "TIME": The president had a moment of humor when somebody asked him about polls. He is always going to hit that out of the park. He joked about how many polls there were in "USA Today." He says it does take up space, doesn't it?

You could tell at moments the president didn't want to be there. The questions were repetitious. His answers were repetitious. And I think that he thinks that America should have realized, it should have been as obvious to America, as it was to him that Harriet Miers is a great pick. And he didn't just stop there. He said she's the most qualified person in America.

KING: Well, that will be a debate. Let's come back to that in a moment.

Having covered the Clinton administration and then the Bush administration up till a few months ago, I remember the day Bill Clinton was asked, are you relevant? Today, this president of the United States is essentially asked -- I thought I'd never hear the question, but it's legitimate to many right now -- are you a conservative?

ALLEN: He paused. And he may not have heard it. He said am I a what? Terry Moran, of ABC, asked his question again. And the president said probably so, probably so. Repeating it twice. But when you have him being asked if he still has political capital, him being asked, the president did not expect to be here. Just a few months ago, roaring out of that reelection, both electoral, popular. And events have just conspired against him. And what surprises his friends, is that he has not been able to push back more successfully against those events. And they thought the court choice was going to be the opportunity to do it, a chance to get conservatives excited again.

John, I think one thing we've seen here. You've heard the president say, I'm the president. That is very much his style. What he's saying here is, I'm the president. I make the nominations, not the Christian right, not the media, not anybody else.

KING: He seems to be saying to the conservatives, trust me. But that, apparently for the first time in his presidency, is an open question.

ALLEN: Yeah. And part of it is they've been set up for so much more. You have Bob Novak saying in a column later this week, conservatives are deflated, and asking what was the president thinking. And people thought this was something they very much could rally around.

Now what we're seeing is interesting. You've seen Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and you've seen Focus on the Family. They've had positive statements. So what Republicans on the Hill tell me that there may be somewhat of a split. Ms. Miers attends an evangelical church in Dallas, and maybe the Christian conservatives are more strongly for her. The groups that are more focused on anti- abortion, they may keep raising questions.

KING: It was telling to me, that question, about the polls. You were asking, he was making light of it. But he was asked, why don't Democrats like you? His answer was, we're going to stay in Iraq. Telling to me that the hurricane, the Supreme Court controversy, higher energy prices might be dominating the headlines right now, but this president thinks his biggest political problem, at least outside of the Republican Party, is the Iraq war.

ALLEN: That's a good insight. And I didn't pick up on that. That's a very good point. You have the irony here of you have Democratic senators all but embracing his nominee for the Supreme Court. I had to call Senator Reid's office and ask them if I could call their statement an endorsement. It was that close to it. Now, they said it wasn't. But it was darn close.

Where have Senator Brownback of Kansas, Senator Thune of South Dakota saying they're going to take a wait and see attitude. That is a total reversal. This certainly was unintended. There's a moment here where maybe the president could work more with Democrats.

I think you'll agree that is the most surprising thing about -- for those who covered him as governor, and those who covered him now -- is there was not more of the reaching across the aisle as he did fairly successfully in Texas. Maybe this is a moment for that, but they certainly stumbled into it.

KING: He also conceded today, despite months spent traveling the country -- I think 40 some events -- saying Social Security reform was number one this year, the president pretty much conceded not happening this year and most would say, very hard to see it happening next year. ALLEN: Well, they sent a real shot at Congress. And he reminded them it doesn't go away by ignoring it. It's only getting worse. He basically made the point; I did my part, now it's time for Congress to step up. He's not in denial. He recognizes it's probably not going to happen in the next few months. The way I took it, when they're ready, I'm here.

KING: More capital to spend, the president said. Mike Allen, we'll have you back as he spends it. Thank you very much.

Our Zain Verjee joins us from the CNN Center in Atlanta with a closer look at other stories making news. Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: John, financial fallout from Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin says he has to lay off 3,000 city workers. He said they won't be essential stuff like police and firemen. At a news conference, just a short time ago, he said the city cannot put together financing to maintain its current staff level. Nagin says non-emergency workers will be placed on leave without pay, and get their final paychecks this month.

There's been a deadly explosion outside Baghdad's Green Zone. Iraqi police say it was a suicide car bomb, which killed two Iraqi soldiers and a civilian. Seven people were injured. The Green Zone houses military and government facilities for both the United States and Iraq, and it's supposed to be the most secure section of Baghdad.

Shia and Kurdish political leaders in Iraq are quietly changing the rules to ensure the approval of the country's new constitution. A source close to the Iraqi government tells CNN the change essentially means that two-thirds of all registered voters would have to reject the charter in order for it to fail. Under 60 percent of registered voters turned out for the January election. The United Nations says the rule change is not acceptable and it won't meet international standards.

Federal investigators are getting their first good look at the tour boat that sank on New York's Lake George on Sunday, killing 20 people. The head of the National Transportation Safety Board says they'll be looking at the hull, the engine, rudder and throttle. Officials say it would likely be months before they determine the cause of the accident.

KING: Zain Verjee at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Thank you.

Was Harriet Miers the safe pick? Coming up, did the president avoid a fight by naming Miers as his Supreme Court nominee? That's one of our topics in today's "Strategy Session".

Plus, the high court has a new boss and has some high profile cases on this year's docket. We'll take a look at some of those key battles ahead.


KING: There are two major political stories causing major buzz here inside the Beltway, and beyond -- Republican Representative Tom DeLay, the former majority leader, facing yet another indictment; and President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

Joining me here at the "Strategy Session" table, radio talk show host Bill Press and Doug McKinnon, former press secretary to Senator Bob Dole.

Gentlemen, let's start with Harriet Miers and the controversy. And let's start with the controversy within the Republican Party. Pat Buchanan, the founder of American Cause, a good friend of all of us, saying this, "Bush capitulated to the diversity mongers, used a critical Supreme Court seat to reward a crony, and revealed that he lacks the desire to engage the Senate in fierce combat to carry out his now-suspect commitment to remake the court in the image of Scalia and Thomas."

Is that what he did, Doug?

DOUG MACKINNON, FMR. BOB DOLE PRESS SECRETARY: No, I don't think did he that at all. I mean, Pat's always had a little bit of an issue with the Bush family to begin with and I think would ...

KING: A little bit?

MACKINNON: A little bit over the last number of years, and this raises the issue. I mean, you know, to be honest, John, a lot of Republicans don't know Harriet Miers from Judge Judy, but they do know George W. Bush. They do know this guy is a man of integrity, of honor. He really is trying to do the right thing and he's someone that knows this woman. He knows her really well. And at what point do you trust his judgment in all of this? Republicans just have to give her a chance to testify.

KING: Well, Bill Press, what do you think about that? I'm maybe a contrarian here, but I think this president is suckering the Democrats, that he sees Scalia and Thomas on the court, sees them as intellectual powerhouses for his cause, sees Roberts to manage the court, and now wants not someone to go in there and be the intellectual powerhouse, but to be a damn good conservative vote and the Democrats saying oh, she's nice.

BILL PRESS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Let me tell you, John, I'll take your point but I'll up you one. I think he's conning the Democrats and I think he's conning the conservatives like Pat Buchanan.

Look, this is one of the slickest con jobs I've ever seen. He wants an extreme conservative on there. He's not going to take one everybody knows is an extreme conservative. He takes a Scalia in sheep's clothing. He puts, you know, Harriet Miers up there.

Nobody knows anything about her. And I'm afraid the Democrats are going to fall for it just like they fell for John Roberts and say we don't know much about her, she seems like a nice person, and therefore, she's got to be maybe another Sandra Day O'Connor. arl Rove and George Bush would not have nominated her if they didn't know here well, and know where she stands on the issues and she's the extreme ...

KING: So a debate within the Republican Party. Will there be one in -- over this nomination within the Democratic Party as well? Dianne Feinstein, the only woman on the Judiciary Committee, saying this of the majority leader -- the Democratic leader, Harry Reid who says, oh, she's nice. Oh, I like her. Dianne Feinstein says, "I think it would have been better not to have said that until we get to the hearing. The Judiciary Committee has a job to do."

PRESS: Democrats are split -- either hold back or go after her now. Here's what I would hope we agree, that we get rid of this nonsense that you cannot ask these judicial nominees where they stand on the issues. I think conservatives and liberals ought to say these people work for us. The hearings are the time to find out who they are and where they stand. And if she doesn't match-up, then vote against her.

MACKINNON: And I think, John, you know, a lot of the media, a lot of Republicans and Democrats talk about the legacy of George W. Bush in his second term. I honestly believe this president does not give two hoots about his legacy. He cares about doing the right thing. And for him the right thing right now is to put Harriet Miers in that job over probably the course of the next 20 years or so.

KING: Well, let's talk about something that will have a great impact on the president's legislative legacy, and that is the trouble that Tom DeLay is in right now, forced to step aside as majority leader, still though a very powerful and influential person in the House of Representatives, now facing a second indictment.

Here is something -- I want you to listen to Representative Chris Shays, a moderate Republican from the state of Connecticut, not afraid to poke it to the Republican leadership on occasion. But he makes what is a legitimate point in the eyes of many.

Let's listen to Chris Shays.


REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: Tom's problem isn't just this. It's a continual -- acts that border and go sometimes beyond the ethical edge. They may not be illegal but he's always pushing that ethical edge to the limit.


KING: Pushing the ethical edge to the limit. Doug Mackinnon, A, do you agree with that? And B, is Tom DeLay a liability not just for himself but for the broader party?

MACKINNON: Well, I don't agree with it in total. I think the Democrats also have to be very careful with this. Instead of gloating about the indictments of Tom DeLay, they have to be very careful also. You know, the coin could be turned on its other side, and what if there's some nut job Republican prosecutor who wants to go after the Democratic leadership? At a certain point, the American people want to get past this. You know, ever since 9/11, they really do care about doing the right thing.

KING: But is the way to get past this, to vote the Democrats in '06?

PRESS: Wait, look. It's not just Tom DeLay. That's what the Republicans have to face up to. It's Tom DeLay, it's Bill Frist, it's Karl Rove, it's Scooter Libby, it's Jack Abramoff, it's David Safavian. They're all in legal trouble. This is spreading. And I think the Republicans, to say blame this on the Democrats isn't going to work. On your question about Tom ...

KING: I want to ask you before it jumps into my Blackberry. We used to have this thing called innocent until proven guilty.

PRESS: Well, they're all in -- let's say they're in legal trouble. That's got to mean something. It's a cloud over their head and over the entire administration.

KING: He raised a very legitimate point, that perception matters in politics. Maybe not in court, but it matters in politics.

MACKINNON: You know, John, I've been preaching for a long time -- for the last two years -- perception does matter in politics. And if you ask me, you know, do the Republicans have something to worry about going up to the '06 and the '08 elections, I would say yes.

Too many Republicans are whistling past the graveyard in all this stuff, and they have to take this stuff seriously. I do believe the main issue that's still in the presidential election that comes down to terrorism -- who can defend this country best against terrorism. And I still believe it's Republicans.

KING: Quickly on Tom DeLay ...

PRESS: I think Chris Shays is right. Look, he's an albatross around their necks in my judgment right now, not that they ask me for advice. But he may go down himself. I think the sooner they get rid of him and walk away from him, the less likely he is to take everybody else down with him.

KING: I was almost surprised this didn't come up at least directly at the news conference today. Is it the president's job -- you mentioned the Republicans have this problem right now. He's the leader of the Republican Party. Is it his job to somehow, whether it's public or private, find a way out of this?

MACKINNON: Well, I would like the president or Karl Rove or some of the political people to privately talk with some of the leadership in the Republican Party and say look guys, whether we agree with it or not, there is a perception problem out there. We have to fix it. We owe it to our party. And you can't put party before country, and we owe it to the American people to get this fixed.

PRESS: But you know, John, the president also has to start right in the White House. I think he's got a serious perception problem with Karl Rove and Scooter Libby and this Judy Miller case. And he promised to fire whoever leaked that identity or had anything to do with it. He hasn't done so. So he's got to clean his own house first, I believe.

KING: Well, the president today said let the investigation run his course.

PRESS: Oh, yes, right. That's not what he said last time. He said I will fire anyone who had anything to do with leaking that.

KING: Doug, in the short term, can you see any scenario in which Tom DeLay comes back as majority leader? Or would you recommend that even if he's cleared, that the Republicans say yesterday?

MACKINNON: I mean, my personal opinion is it doesn't happen. I mean, human nature is human nature, and the Republican leadership is going to fill the void, fill the vacuum, is not going to want to give it up.

They're going to do a lot of favors for people over the next -- over the course of the next six months, nine months, year. And so -- and then as each day goes past -- and I think Tom DeLay even talked about this himself -- it's much harder for him to get the leadership job back. And then if he is not leader, does he in fact want to stay in Congress?

PRESS: I'll be majority leader of the Republican Party in the House before Tom DeLay is again.

KING: Put that one in stone. Bill Press and Doug Mackinnon, thanks so much for joining us today ...

PRESS: You bet, John.

KING: ... in the "Strategy Session." And still ahead, the Ten Commandments as a campaign platform for a judge turned candidate for governor. Can Roy Moore win?

And an Iraq war veteran sets his sights on higher office and he has a good deal of company.



KING: Here's a look at some of the hot shots coming in from the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspaper tomorrow.

In Malaysia, firefighters remove a suspicious package outside the Japanese Embassy after the building was evacuated. The contents are being investigated.

In Mexico, blowing winds. Tropical Storm Otis brushed the Baja Peninsula before heading out to sea.

In India, conjoined twins. American neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson says he believes the 10-year-olds can be successfully separated, but he's waiting for more tests before making a final decision.

And in Hong Kong, high priced art auction. This Henri Matisse painting goes on sale next month. The estimated price tag, 10 million to $15 million.

And that's today's hot shots.

In Alabama today, Republican Roy Moore hit the campaign trail for the first time in his newly launched run for governor. If Moore's name doesn't immediately ring a bell, think the Ten Commandments and a legal battle over religious monuments on public property.

Our national correspondent, Bruce Morton, is on this story. Bruce.

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, as you say, a very hot fight for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in shaping up in Alabama.


ROY MOORE (R), ALABAMA GOV. CANDIDATE: I will defend the right of every citizen of this state, to include judges, coaches, teachers, city and county and state officials to acknowledge God as sovereign source of law, liberty and government.

MORTON: That's Roy Moore, the Alabama chief justice who lost his job for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument he'd installed in the state judicial building. He'll run as the anti-establishment candidate and it may be a good year for that.

ANN WALTER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: We're going to see it in Texas, where Kinky Friedman is running as a third party candidate against the establishment. And here you have Roy Moore, who is also running as somebody who is an outsider and somebody who's been kicked out, essentially, of the political club.

MORTON: Alabama's segregationist past held it back for a long time, but businesses started coming into the state and the business establishment probably favors the incumbent Republican Governor Bob Riley. The voters rejected his proposed tax increase, but he has cut spending. And Katrina helped.

WALTER: But I think since the hurricane, the governor has gotten some good press. He's elevated his stature. And I think it has made him a little less vulnerable.


MORTON: Well, it's way too early to have a favorite yet, John. The primary isn't until next May. And for people old enough to remember a historical note, George Wallace, Jr., will be on the ballot, running for lieutenant governor, the son of the segregationist governor back in the '60s and '70s. But he's running as a Republican, not a Democrat like his dad.

KING: And Bruce, one of those fights that national Republicans hope to avoid.

MORTON: Oh, boy, yes.

KING: The Christian conservatives...

MORTON: Yes, indeed.

KING: Tough one. And a great story. Bruce Morton, thank you very much.

Also on our "Political Radar," Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett is taking on a new battle, to challenge Republican senator Mike DeWine of Ohio next year. Hackett was hailed by fellow Democrats this summer for almost winning a special House race in a heavily Republican district. A DeWine spokesman says the incumbent is prepared to run a tough race, regardless of which Democrat runs against him. Hackett may have started a trend. The Associated Press reports six Democrats who served in Iraq are now running for House seats next year in Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush is urging schoolchildren to read the book "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," for a contest timed to the December 9 release of the movie version of the novel. Why would that raise eyebrows? Well, the "Palm Beach Post" reports the film is produced by the Walt Disney Company and Walden Media, which is owned by Colorado billionaire and major Republican donor Philip Anschutz. The Bush camp says its goal is to encourage kids to read, not to help the film's producers.

A new poll suggests the new Medicare prescription drug program is still a mystery to many senior citizens. Only 12 percent of those questioned in our CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll survey say they understand the plan very well. That could change as companies that will offer the plans begin marketing them. Our poll also shows that as of now, only 22 percent of those questioned say they'll join the new program; 61 percent say they won't. Seniors can begin signing up for the new plans next month and they take effect at the beginning of next year.

The first Monday in October has come and gone, and the Supreme Court is back at work, with John Roberts at the helm, and, most likely, some fireworks ahead.

Here's our national correspondent Bob Franken -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're waiting to see if Harriet Miers is going to be joining that court. And for those who have questioned whether she has any track record whatsoever, if she is confirmed, she'll get one real fast.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) FRANKEN (voice-over): The new Supreme Court session with the new Chief Justice John Roberts will waste little time diving into the controversial issues of our times. Wednesday, the justices will hear arguments over whether Oregon's law allowing physician-assisted suicide is constitutional.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We will never turn back.

FRANKEN: And there will be, of course, new fights over abortion. So far, the main case involves New Hampshire's parental notification requirements.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you save Roe? Judge Roberts, we want to know.

FRANKEN: Questions about abortion in the Roe versus Wade rulings were among the issues the chief justice deflected during his confirmation hearings, almost.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: Do you believe today that the right to privacy does exist in the Constitution?

CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS, U.S. SUPREME COURT: Senator, I do. The right to privacy is protected under the Constitution in various ways.

FRANKEN: And there could well be other abortion cases, late-term abortion, for one. And a list of social issues crowds the docket. Free speech, church/state, the death penalty, terrorism and presidential power, and the Pledge of Allegiance and the words "under God," again. That could be a late add. And, of course, Harriet Miers could be a late add, if she is confirmed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My guess is it would be very hard to finish this process by Thanksgiving.


FRANKEN: And, as a matter of fact, John, that's what the president wants, but there are an awful lot of people who believe that that's optimistic. Until then, Sandra Day O'Connor will keep her seat, awaiting her replacement, a new justice on a court debating old issues.


KING: And, Bob, help our viewers who might be confused. If the court has heard arguments with Sandra Day O'Connor on the bench and Harriet Miers takes that spot a month, two months from now, who's in on the decisions?

FRANKEN: Eight justices. That's going to be a bit of a complication. So you can see why they want to get this done as quickly as possible. If there is a tie vote, automatically, the lower court is upheld. KING: And as these cases play out, I assume it affects the tone of the confirmation hearings. You actually have the court in session now. The court was not in session when then judge, now Chief Justice Roberts was in the chair.

FRANKEN: Well, one of the timing matters has to do with the fact that there is some abortion matters to come up before the court. And Thanksgiving would be an effort to try and beat the arguments in that case.

KING: Bob Franken, we'll see how the timetable plays out. Thank you, Bob.

In New York, an oil tanker truck overturns and catches fire. Coming up, we'll have the latest on what happened and how it's affected some Amtrak train service.

And bird flu. Just last hour, I spoke with one expert who said the question is not if it will come to the United States, but when. We'll explore that issue further when I speak with Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health.


KING: Our Zain Verjee joins us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta with a closer look at other stories making news. Zain?

VERJEE: Hi, John.

A fiery mess on a New York City road. An oil tanker overturned on the Bruckner Expressway in the South Bronx this afternoon. No one was hurt, but the accident caused a tremendous traffic mess in the area, and Amtrak had to suspend service on its line to New Haven, Connecticut, which passes nearby.

The Nobel Prize in Physics was announced today. It's being shared by two Americans, John Hall of the University of Colorado and Roy Glauber of Harvard University, along with the German Theodor Haensch. All three men developed methods to measure frequencies with extreme accuracy, which could one day help communication on Earth and in space.

And we showed you their picture just a few minutes ago. More now on the conjoined twins from India. An expert from Johns Hopkins University says an initial exam shows the twins appear to be good candidates for separation surgery. The 10-year-old girls, Saba and Farha are joined at the head. One of them is already developing complications from their condition. A final decision on their surgery will be made after more tests. It's believed the total number of twins joined at the skull worldwide is only between ten and 20.

And Stan is a tropical storm again. It was downgraded from a hurricane after making landfall near Veracruz, Mexico today. Stan is weakening as it moves inland. The storm forced several offshore oil rigs in the Gulf in Mexico to evacuate. Currently, it's not a threat to the United States. John.

KING: Zain, in discussing the conjoined twins story, you mentioned medical complications. What are the issues, the complications involved in that very difficult decision?

VERJEE: Right. Well, one of them has two kidneys, the other has none. They also share a blood drainage vessel in the brain. So essentially what needs to happen is that doctors have to go in there and give them individual drainage capacity from the brain and transfer one kidney to another.

Doctors, John, are also saying if these conjoined twins are left the way that they are, they're almost definitely going to die within 10 years because one of them has a severe heart problem and it could kill the other.

KING: Zain Verjee, a very difficult choice facing those doctors. I thank you very much, Zain.

Are conservatives conflicted over Harriet Miers? We'll check the blogs to see what's being said about the president's Supreme Court nominee. That's next when we get the situation online.

And later, one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress is now facing double indictments. But Tom DeLay says those charges are politically motivated. His lawyer is our guest here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


KING: There's a developing story. Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. We have a report of a synagogue shooting in Florida.

For more on that, we go now to Zain Verjee at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Zain?

VERJEE: John, apparently an argument broke out during Rosh Hashanah services. It happened at a synagogue in Boca Raton, Florida and it led to a shooting between the worshipers in a parking lot of the synagogue, that according to police. Now, the man who was shot was hospitalized and is in critical condition, but police are saying that he's expected to survive.

The two men, John, were apparently engaged in some sort of long- running dispute and they left the afternoon services at the synagogue in Boca Raton and they started fighting outside. And apparently, according to a sheriff's office spokeswoman, one of the men in his late 70s allegedly shot the other one, who was in his 40s, and he shot him twice in the abdomen.

And police took the 70-year-old assailant in custody, apparently without incident at the synagogue. But there's an argument breaking out during Rosh Hashanah services in Boca Raton. It appears though, that the man shot will survive.


KING: Zain Verjee, thank you for that. Zain, in Atlanta. Now, it's been over 24 hours since President Bush nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, more than enough time for bloggers to begin to look into her past.

Our Internet reporters Jacki Schechner and Abbi Tatton take us now "Inside the Blogs". Ladies?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Well, they have actually had a day now to digest Harriet Miers, and she's still leaving a very bad taste in their mouths, especially the conservatives. What they're finding out, they don't like. They say that she is not conservative enough and they say that she was not the most qualified candidate.

James Joyner over at puts it nicely. "Upon further review, still mediocre." This is a lot of what we were seeing yesterday. "As disappointed as I can be right now" from Southern Appeal. From, "Mr. President, you've got some explaining to do." What they did over there, Mike Krempaski and his crew, is they found out that Harriet Miers had given $3,000 to Democrats back in the '80s.

Now, if you're following along online, one of the things you would have found about a week ago was a straw poll that was done by And they asked a couple of questions of conservative bloggers, one of them being who do you really hope President Bush doesn't pick? Well Harriet Miers made that list several times over. There was another question, who do you think he'll choose? She only showed up once on that list, and that was "The Anchoress" online.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: And "The Anchoress" yesterday came out in support of this nominee and reported being flamed by some very ill-tempered folks on the far right. So they're certainly split there.

There's some notable exceptions -- some conservative bloggers, widely read conservatives bloggers, who are coming out in support of Harriet Miers.

One of them is Ruffini was the former Web master of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign. He's stating on his site that she is indeed a conservative, goes through her conservative credentials, and also points out that this is someone that the president has known for a very long time. The president knows her conservative credentials and knows exactly what he is doing.

Another notable, Hugh Hewitt -- this is the radio talk show host who also blogs at -- also coming out in support of Harriet Miers, saying that the reason that conservatives are going against her is they did not know her and they're assuming that she could not be worth supporting.

Hugh goes on to say that he hopes they get over their sulk can very quickly because the left is already organizing online and researching this candidate. He's linking to, the online political action group who sent out this e-mail yesterday evening to their members saying, "we urgently need more information" about this nominee, inviting people to go on to their Web site, compile all the information they can find so their staff can go through and start documenting everything they can that they know about Harriet Miers.

SCHECHNER: As for the liberal reaction, Abbi, many of the bloggers are saying they already know everything they need to know to not like her, and the fact that she is "a Bush crony." What we know about Miers is enough to oppose her. We're seeing this come up over and over again on the liberal blog.

We did want to point out over at dailykos, this is the big liberal blog. It gets half a million hits a day. And what they're saying on -- page views a day -- is that they're saying that if that's the price they have to pay in order to get a moderate onto the court, then they're willing to pay it. But I will say that Markos deserves the right to change his mind -- John.

KING: Abbi, Jacki, thank you very much.

It's 5:00 p.m. now in Washington, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where news and information from around the world arrive in one place simultaneously.

Happening now, it's 4:00 p.m. in New Orleans where some city workers will soon be out of job. Mayor Ray Nagin says the city is strapped for cash and must lay off those workers.

It's among our very worst fears: bird flu in the United States. One expert says it's not a matter of if it will come here, but when, estimating millions of deaths worldwide.