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The Situation Room

Senate Forced into Closed Session; Democrats Use Arcane Rule; Avian Flu Pandemic?; Charles and Camilla in New York

Aired November 01, 2005 - 15:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Kyra, we're going to be continuing to monitor these stories on Capitol Hill. Breaking News, 25 years or so it's been since this rule has been invoked, to go into secret session. The Democrats demanding answers on the intelligence that led to the war in Iraq, the Republicans accusing the Democrats of engaging in a stunt.
Let's listen to the Republican leader, the majority leader, Bill Frist.

QUESTION: ... talk to Senator Roberts. I mean, is there any compromise here?

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We'll work through the issue. I'm confident we'll work through the issue. This is the United States Senate. If they don't let us work through the issue, we'll go into a private session. We're not going to be able to comment on -- we'll work through the issue in an appropriate way. Final comment.

Thank you all. I've got to go figure out what we need to do. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: And there you have it, a dramatic development in the U.S. Senate, unexpected. The Democrats invoking a procedure to shut down the Senate, to go behind closed doors for national security considerations. The Republican leadership accusing the Democrats of bad faith, saying this is unprecedented.

You just heard the Republican leader Bill Frist say he doesn't know if he can ever trust the minority leader Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, once again.

Let's bring in our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry. He's watching all of this here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Ed, for our viewers just tuning in right now, this has come as a big surprise to all of us. Explain what exactly has happened.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Basically, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid went to the floor less than an hour ago and said that he was tired of the fact that the Republican Congress has not investigated the issue of whether or not the Bush administration manipulated intelligence on the eve of the Iraq war, intelligence to justify going into Iraq.

And this was precipitated, of course, in part by Friday's indictment of Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney. Democrats partly trying to make some political hay out of that and also partly saying that they want answers as to whether or not the intelligence was manipulated.

So what Senator Reid did was, without letting his Republican counterpart, you heard it there, Majority Leader Bill Frist know about it -- normally they would know when they invoke this rule -- Senator Reid invoked Rule 21, which basically locks down the Senate chamber, shuts down all the doors. They kick out the staff, the doorkeepers, the media. Yhere's absolutely no effort -- no ability for the public to see what's going on. All 100 senators are then called in. They have to give up their phones, their Blackberries because they're going to discuss national intelligence behind closed doors. That's what he basically did.

Now, the Republicans can end that with a simple majority vote and go back into a public session, which is what you saw Frist trying to do to get back before the public. Frist was furious. I've never seen a leader in either party basically say the other leader had stabbed him in the back. Take a listen to how graphic Senator Frist was.

Maybe we don't have that sound. But Senator Frist basically said...


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: ... time has gone by. I demand on behalf of the American people that we understand why these investigations aren't being conducted. And in accordance with Rule 21, I now move that Senate go into closed session.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, I second the motion.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R) NORTH CAROLINA, CHAIRING: The motion has been made to go into closed session and it is seconded. The motion having been made and seconded, the Senate will go into closed session. The chair, pursuant to Rule 21, now directs the sergeant at arms to clear all galleries, close all doors of the Senate chamber, and exclude from the chamber and its immediate corridors all employees and officials of the Senate who under the rule are not eligible to attend the closed session and who are not sworn to secrecy. The question is non-debatable.

FRIST: I'll have to say, not with the previous Democratic leader or the current Democratic leader have ever I been slapped in the face with such an affront to the leadership of this grand institution. Every other time -- and again, we'll have to go back and look at the history -- there has been at least consideration for the other side of the aisle before a stunt -- and this is a pure stunt that is being performed by Senator Reid, Senator Durbin, and their leadership.


HENRY: Now, just when you thought civility could not break down even further in the Senate, you saw it right there, Senator Frist basically saying over and over this was a scare tactic, a stunt, he had been slapped in the face by Senator Reid.

Let's not forget, a year ago Democrats, would fire back, I'm sure, that it was Senator Frist who broke protocol and went to South Dakota and campaigned against the then-Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, something a leader in either party had not done basically in the history. That was something that got Democrats really frustrated last year.

This has been going back and forth, back and forth, probably at least back to the Bork hearings in 1987 for the Supreme Court. And I think you can tie that into what's going on. That's part of what is happening in the atmosphere. Democrats already throwing around the possibility of a filibuster of President Bush's latest nominee to the high court, Judge Alito. And that is infuriating Republicans, just the talk of a possible filibuster. Republicans are saying if that were to happen, they would invoke the nuclear option which would change the Senate rules to end filibusters.

Separately, you have this situation on Iraq, Democrats basically shutting down the chamber in order to try to get an investigation of whether intelligence was manipulated leading up to the war in Iraq. Wolf, basically it has completely broken down.


BLITZER: Ed, as far as the Senate Democratic leader, the minority leader, Harry Reid is concerned, in his statement, which I have now read -- in his statement, he goes after the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Pat Roberts, saying that Pat Roberts and the intelligence committee promised a year and a half ago to come up with answers to investigate why the U.S. went to war, the intelligence on which the administration claimed that there was a need to go to war.

And he says despite the fact that he -- referring to Senator Roberts -- restated that commitment earlier this year on national television, he has still done nothing. Question to you is, what's the delay? Why is the Senate Intelligence Committee not moving forward with their promised report on this very sensitive issue?

HENRY: Good question. I put it to Senator Roberts before I came over to this camera. I caught him in the hallway, I said, what's going down here? The Democrats saying you're not handling this. He said, I don't know what they're talking about, and basically moved on.

Now, maybe he was still getting reports about the Senate being shut down. I can tell you, it was chaos off the Senate floor. And I don't think anyone had a clear idea what was going on. I did not get a clear answer from him as to why they're not moving forward.

If you listen to the Democrats, they feel that Republicans up here, not just on this issue but a whole host of issues, are sweeping things under the carpet and that they're not holding a fellow Republican administration accountable on Iraq or any other issue, basically, including Katrina. And that's why you're seeing basically Democrats saying they're mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. But the problem is, there's political risk for the Democrats as well. If they're shutting down the chamber now, if they eventually try to filibuster the nomination of Judge Alito, you heard Senator Frist saying, we're trying to get the nation's business done. We're trying to deal with gas prices, deal with the budget. Democrats are standing in the way. They're going to bring that obstructionist charge back, and that's something the Democrats are going to have to deal with.


BLITZER: Democrats taking an extraordinary step on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Ed, stand by. The Democratic Leader Harry Reid saying simply this -- he says, "Our troops and the American people have sacrificed too much. It is time this Republican-controlled Congress put the interest of the American people ahead of their own political interest."

The Democratic leadership and all of them were gathered there, all very carefully coordinated to undertake this rule to get the U.S. Senate behind closed doors, to shut down the U.S. Senate before the cameras and everything, basically accusing the Republican leadership and the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee of failing, failing to come up with answers on the U.S. intelligence that led to the war.

Let's go over to the White House. Our Bob Franken is standing by over there. He's getting some reaction from the White House. I suspect they're pretty angry at the White House as far as the Democrats are concerned, Bob?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're certainly trying to get some reaction, but as a reflection of the fact that this was quite a surprise, when we called the press office, the only response we've gotten is -- quote -- "We'll get back to you." So we're waiting for that.

But it's a White House on a day that it was trying to change the subject by having the president talk about avian flu and the possibilities of a flu pandemic.

The Democrats have now brought to the forefront again the whole question about the use of intelligence and alleged misuse of intelligence in the time leading up to the war in Iraq. And of course, that was the larger context of the investigation that we saw come up with some indictments on Friday in the matter of the CIA leaks.

Today, when Scott McClellan at his press briefing was repeatedly asked for comment about the possible role of Vice President Cheney and other, he continued only to say that there would be no comment because this was an ongoing investigation, which many here regard as the same mantra that has been repeated ever since this whole matter came to the public forefront.

So the Democrats have forced this issue once again. And for the moment, at least, have made the lead story something besides the president and his comments about efforts to take on avian flu -- Wolf? BLITZER: All right, Bob, stand by because we're going to be getting back to you. I suspect the White House is going to be reacting very much along the lines of the Republican leadership in the U.S. Senate.

We heard some very dramatic comments from the majority leader, Bill Frist, effectively saying that the Democrats are pulling a stunt. He's never seen anything like this before, and he certainly can't ever again, he suggested, trust his Democratic counterpart the minority leader Harry Reid.

Jacki Schechner is watching all of the story unfold online, as well. Jacki, what are you picking up?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE) trying to get more information about these secret sessions. There's a full comprehensive report, a brief historical overview. Gives you an idea of what it is we're talking about here, available through this site That's the Federation of American Scientists.

On the left hand side of the page, there's a section called government secrecy. And if you click on here...

BLITZER: All right, Jacki, hold on a second. Your microphone. Your microphone apparently is not picking up what you're saying. We're going to come back to you in a moment. We'll get that technical problem fixed.

Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst, is watching all of this unfold, as well. It's pretty dramatic stuff -- the Democrats clearly changing the subject on this day. Bill, what's going on?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This is a revolt, Wolf. It's a full scale revolt by the Democratic minority. What they're fed up with, what they're angry about here is the fact that the Libby indictment did not produce the debate that they want to have, which is a debate over the entire Iraq war.

Senator Reid said the Libby indictment provides a window -- Senator Reid said -- into what this is really about, how the administration manufactured and manipulated intelligence to sell the war in Iraq. That's the debate the Democrats want to have and they're shutting down the Senate, in effect, in order to have it.

It's also a signal, Wolf. It's a signal to the Republican majority that if the Democrats decide to try to invoke a filibuster in the case of the nomination of Judge Alito and the Republicans then come back with the nuclear option to outlaw, to ban filibusters, the Democrats are sending a signal, look what we can do.

BLITZER: The rule is Rule 21, Bill Schneider, and it simply says -- and let me read this to our viewers so they know what the standing rules of the Senate in this particular regard are all about - "On a motion made and seconded to close the doors of the Senate on the discussion of any business which may, in the opinion of a senator, require secrecy, the presiding officer shall direct the galleries to be cleared. And during the discussion of such motion, the doors shall remain closed. When the Senate meets in closed session any applicable provisions of these rules, including the confidentiality of information, shall apply to any information and to the conduct of any debate transacted."

We haven't seen this in, what, 25 years or so, Bill Schneider? But obviously, something the Democrats have thought long and hard about doing, and pulling this maneuver right now behind the backs of the Republican majority.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. The way they're doing it is what's particularly controversial and why it provoked such an angry reaction on the part of the majority leader. This was used early in the days of the Republic, but it's been rarely used -- this closed session -- in modern times, primarily to discuss national security. Well, that's exactly why Senator Reid said a closed session is appropriate, because he wants to discuss the national security implications of the Libby indictment.

BLITZER: And the Libby indictment sparks all of this, that came down on Friday. Bill, stand by.

I think we've cleared up some technical problems with Jacki Schechner's mike. Go ahead, Jacki. Tell us what you're picking up online

SCHECHNER: I'll try this again, Wolf. First, you were just reading that Rule 21. That's available for people online at

If you want to learn more about the secret sessions we've been talking about, you can find that here, a brief historical overview, through this website This is the Federation of American Scientists. On the left hand side of the page, there's a link for government secrecy. That will take you to this, which is a collection of documents. And in there, again, you can find this brief historical overview. It'll tell you everything you need to know about secret sessions, covers everything from Panama Canal discussions to Laos to Nicaragua to Nixon.


BLITZER: All right, Jacki. We'll get back to you.

Jack Cafferty is watching all of the drama unfold here in Washington. And you're laughing about this, but on the floor of the Senate, this is pretty dramatic -- the Democrats and the Republicans fighting over a subject very, very important, namely, going to war.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there's no question that they're all serious down in Washington. I was laughing at, sort of sardonically, that it's wonderful to see that our lawmakers are working together in the spirit of cooperation on the national agenda.

That being said, the Democrats did a little clever spinning of their own here, Wolf. They got that bird flu news conference out of the news in about four hours. They smell blood following the Scooter Libby indictment. He's the first sitting White House staffer in 135 years to be indicted. And the indictment charges that there was a payback attempted because Joe Wilson debunked some of the stuff the administration was putting out to buttress the decision to invade Iraq.

I don't recall any of the questions about the intelligence being satisfactorily answered at this point. Was there a nuclear weapons program? Did Saddam Hussein attempt to reconstitute it? Were there chemical and-or biological weapons? Were there dirty bombs in the making that were going to be smuggled into the United States, perhaps to be set off in some American city?

The 9/11 Commission investigated a lot of the stuff that we're talking about and made a whole list of recommendations, many of which have been ignored by the administration. The Senate Intelligence Committee has promised an investigation, so far it hasn't happened. And now all after sudden, Fitzgerald has caught Libby, he says in a couple of lies, in a couple of cases of perjury. And the Democrats are saying now's the chance to maybe get our foot in the door, kick the door open, kick the door down, and do a full scale investigation on what led up to the war in Iraq.

I remember Colin Powell sitting at the table at the United Nations, and you do too, showing all these pictures, and now three or four years later you look back and say, gee, were those the real deal? I wonder.

The question this hour, for those of you who want to email, is whether or not you think it was wrong for the Democrats to shut down the United States Senate?

As our people, Schneider and Wolf and others have been suggesting, this isn't something that's done trivially. It's not something that's done very often. And without notifying Bill Frist, the leader of the opposition, it's a very dramatic gesture on the part of Harry Reid.

Do you think it was wrong for the Democrats to do this? Email us at and we'll read some of your thoughts here before the first hour of THE SITUATION ROOM is complete.

BLITZER: I've got tell you, Jack, it's getting pretty acrimonious among those gentlemen, mostly gentlemen, a few ladies of course, as well, in the United States Senate.

CAFFERTY: Yes. I'd like to hear the dialogue now that they've kicked everybody out of there. I bet you the language wouldn't be fit for a family program such as this.

BLITZER: Yes, well, you might be right, Jack.

Stand by. We're going to continue to monitor this story -- a feud erupting on the floor of the United States Senate. The first time in some 25 years a rule is used to shut down the doors, kick out the cameras, kick out the visitors from the galleries. The Democrats charging the Republican majority with trying to cover up the causes for going to war in Iraq. The Republican majority fighting right back, saying the Democrats are engaged in a political stunt.

We're going to continue to watch this story for you. We're also watching another very important story, namely the global fight against bird flu. What could be done to stop a pandemic from breaking out? I'll ask the man in charge over at the United Nations.

And later, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the NIH.

Plus, royals in America. Charles and Camilla on a whirlwind eight-day tour to the United States. They're kicking it off right now in New York City. We'll take you there live.

And a little bit later, the Bush-Bloomberg ad that's raising eyebrows. Did a political opponent go too far? We'll show you the ad and we'll tell you what's going on in New York.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: This is just coming in from Austin, Texas -- a major victory, at least in the short term, for the former House majority leader Tom DeLay. The judge who was supposed to preside over DeLay's trial has been removed from the case. The Associated Press is reporting that the judge who had supported some Democratic Party causes in the past was challenged by lawyers representing Tom DeLay and he has now been removed.

A visiting judge, according to the AP, has decided that Judge Bob Perkins won't handle the case after all. DeLay's attorneys argued that the judge might not be seen as impartial because of his support for Democrats, including some financial contributions. So at least in the short term, a legal victory for Tom DeLay.

The indictments against him will continue to be pursued by Ronnie Earle, the prosecuting attorney in Austin, Texas. We'll get more information on this, bring it to you as we get it.

But let's turn to a very important story we're watching today, our CNN "Security Watch" and a deadly threat that could strike terror around the world and literally could put millions of lives at risk. This threat comes from nature, a possible pandemic evolving from the influenza virus now attacking birds.

President Bush today announced an emergency plan to meet the threat. Where has the flu spread so far? And if it does begin to target the human population, who's the most vulnerable?

For that, let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's joining us here in Washington. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we know there have been more than 120 human cases documented, all confined at the moment to four countries in Southeast Asia. More than 60 people have died from avian flu, but some of those cases are the ones now raising alarms about who might be most susceptible if a pandemic breaks out.


TODD (voice-over): If the deadly avian flu has the potential to be as dangerous as President Bush says...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A pandemic is a lot like a forest fire.

TODD: ... then who is most likely to get burned? Officials from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control tell CNN it's very difficult to tell who would be most vulnerable to bird flu until a pandemic strain actually emerges.

There are what one official calls traditional risk groups -- the elderly, people with significant health problems like AIDS or heart disease, and very young children -- who experts say might also be at greater risk of getting avian flu. But they mirror the president's cautious approach when describing the more than 120 human cases reported in Asia.

BUSH: Most of the people in Southeast Asia who got sick were handling infected birds. And as of now, unless people come in direct sustained contact with infected birds, it is unlikely they will come down with avian flu.

TODD: But one health official points out, in the 1918 flu pandemic which killed at least 20 million people worldwide, the young and healthy were especially susceptible to the disease. He says that was due to the fact that many of them were crowded together in places like troop ships and trenches during World War I.

Public health experts tell us certain strains of flu at pandemic stage can attack young to middle-aged people with healthy immune systems.

DR. GEORGES BENJAMIN, AMERICAN PUBLIC HEALTH ASSOCIATION: On occasion, our immune system becomes not only an attacker of the foreign agent, but it also attacks us. Or it attacks the foreign agent in such a vigorous way that the byproduct injures our own bodies and own cells and organelles. And that's the biggest concern about this H5N1 virus.

TODD: Dr. Georges Benjamin of the American Public Health Association says that happened during the 1918 pandemic, and experts are worried it might crop up again because some bird flu patients who died in Asia were younger people who had strong immune systems that turned on them.


TODD: But Dr. Benjamin and other public health experts keep stressing we will not know who's most vulnerable until we see a mutated version of bird flu that can transmit easily in humans. That has not happened yet, even in those four Asian countries where human cases have been reported. Wolf?

BLITZER: And let's hope that never happens, period. Thanks, Brian Todd.

There's now a vast international effort to confront the threat of a bird flu pandemic. Can it keep all of us safe, though? What can you do to help protect yourself and your loved ones right now?

Joining us now is Dr. David Nabarro, he was recently appointed as the United Nations' coordinator in the fight against avian influenza. Dr. Nabarro, thanks very much for joining us. You're just back from Asia where this thing is really getting going right now. What's your worst-case fear? Realistic, though, don't go beyond realistic fears.

DR. DAVID NABARRO, U.N. INFLUENZA COORDINATOR: I'm most worried about the continuing epidemic of bird flu at the moment that really is spreading westwards into Europe -- and now we anticipate it will probably go southwards into the Middle East and Africa -- because the more of the bird flu there is around the place, the more likely we are to see the mutation that's just been described that might lead to the human pandemic.

BLITZER: This week there was some suggestion that it's already reached Canada. Is that true?

NABARRO: Well, I read the same report as others. I don't think the variety that's affecting the birds that have been looked at in Canada is the one that we're seeing in Asia, but that does remind us that it could be taken anywhere in the world by wild migrating birds. And therefore, that bird flu really is affecting the whole of the globe and not just a few countries.

BLITZER: So these birds can migrate from Europe, from Asia, all the way to North America, is that right?

NABARRO: The pattern's a zigzag across the world. Currently, what we're thinking we're seeing is migration in the north and westerly direction. We're expecting it goes south again and still further westerly. And then it could come into the western hemisphere, and therefore into Canada and U.S. It's within reason, possible. We're not quite sure when it will happen.

BLITZER: If they get a bird -- one bird or 10 birds or a thousand birds -- in Canada or the United States, what's the next step? What do we do next?

NABARRO: Well, what we think happen is the virus is then introduced from the wild birds into the domestic bird population. So people's chickens, chicken farms, even large chicken production systems can get affected by the virus. And then what we get is more widespread bird flu affecting the world.

BLITZER: Let's listen to what the president said earlier today in announcing new initiative. Listen to this.


BUSH: A flu pandemic would have global consequences, so no nation can afford to ignore this threat. And every nation has responsibilities to detect and stop its spread. Here in the United States, we're doing our part.


BLITZER: What about the international response? It depends. Every country has to participate. Some suggestions, some countries, maybe Vietnam, maybe China, maybe Indonesia, are not necessarily coming clean and doing what they should be doing.

NABARRO: Several parts to this. First of all, each country has to participate because the flu, when it does happen, the pandemic will not know national borders. So it's got to be a total global response. Secondly, there's always been a suggestion that some countries are not doing their full part. I've got no evidence of that. And thirdly, we've got to make sure that the poorer countries have got the resources they need to do the job right.

BLITZER: Listen to what the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services said earlier today here on CNN's AMERICAN MORNING.


MIKE LEAVITT, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES): We have the same problem that every other country in the world has, and we are moving to have anti-viral stockpiles. But alone, they are not a plan. Having Tamiflu or any of the anti-virals does not prepare a nation. We need to have a comprehension plan. The fundamental is vaccines.


BLITZER: All right. Vaccines. First of all, there is no vaccine at this point that can deal, that can prevent bird flu from affecting human beings.

NABARRO: So you're right.

BLITZER: Is that right?

NABARRO: You're right. The absolute step forward is to make sure that when the virus does appear and start to affect humans, that we can quickly move into vaccine production.

BLITZER: How long will that take, realistically?

NABARRO: There are variations. I really don't want to give you an estimate, but it's too long.

BLITZER: Too long to get a vaccine?

NABARRO: To get a vaccine.

BLITZER: Because tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people might die in the process?

NABARRO: That's it. And so what Mr. Leavitt's talking about is developing new kinds of vaccines using new technologies that will give us much more of a chance. And that was, in a way, the backbone of the president's statement.

BLITZER: Now the other suggestion, this anti-viral medicine, this drug Tamiflu. People are running out, they're trying to get horde prescriptions of it. Is that going to save people's lives?

NABARRO: We don't know. We think that it's pretty likely to reduce the symptoms and therefore improve survival it it's taken early on in the case of flu. But as Secretary Leavitt has said -- and I've heard him say it before -- Tamiflu is not to be the sole element of a country's preparedness strategy. The stockpiles of Tamiflu shouldn't be the gauge that we use to judge whether or not a country is ready.

BLITZER: One final question. Michael Osterholm, who's an expert on this subject at the University of Minnesota, he's been a frequent guest here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He says this, "In this day and age of a global economy with just-in-time delivery and no-surge (ph) capacity and international supply chains, those things are very difficult to do for a week, let alone for 12 to 18 months of what will be a very tough time."

You've studied this pandemic fear. How concerned are you that, in the near future, there will be this pandemic, that it won't just go from birds to humans but -- hopefully it will never happen -- but humans will start spreading this flu to other humans, which would be deadly.

NABARRO: SARS, three years ago, on a much smaller scale, showed us how susceptible our modern world is to infectious disease carried over borders. I'm very concerned that Michael Osterholm's words are correct, that we will have to cope not just with the suffering, but breakdown in aspects of our economic, transport and social systems. And that's what we've got to prepare for.

BLITZER: I don't know how you sleep at night, worried about this as you do.

NABARRO: Well, just to be very precise: This is where you need countries to work together. You need a United Nations. We all need it. My job is to show that collectively we can respond to this threat, so that others can sleep, even if I don't.

BLITZER: All right. Well, thank you very much, Dr. Nabarro. Good luck to you. This is a global struggle and you're the point man. Appreciate you joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

NABARRO: My pleasure. Thanks for your interest.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Everybody has got to be interested in this situation.

Stand by. We're watching Breaking News on the floor of the United States Senate. A bitter, bitter fight has erupted between the Democratic minority, the Republican majority. Angry words are being hurled right now as the Senate goes behind closed doors, invoking a rule -- the Democrats have invoked a rule that has not been used in some 25 years to effectively shut down the U.S. Senate. We'll tell you what is going on. Much more of this Breaking News right after a quick break.

Also ahead on THE SITUATION ROOM, on a very different note, a royal tour. Charles and Camilla hit the streets of New York City. We'll take you there live.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: An extraordinary development in the United States Senate unfolding right now. The Democratic minority has called for a rule to put the U.S. Senate behind closed doors, to go into a secret session. Their argument is the Republican majority is trying to cover up for the Bush White House on the explanation for going to war against Iraq. All of this sparked by the indictment last Friday against the now- former vice president chief of staff, Lewis Scooter Libby.

Carl Levin, a key member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the ranking Democratic on the Armed Services Committee said this only moments ago.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The investigation by the Intelligence Committee was divided into two phases. The first phase was completed in July of 2004. And there was a commitment in writing at that time that we would then do the second half of the investigation. That's now over a year ago and there's nothing but foot dragging relative to that investigation. And I think the obvious reason is that one of the five subjects of phase two, the unfinished investigation, is the part which is obviously very sensitive for the administration -- and that is whether public statements and reports and testimony regarding Iraq by U.S. government officials were substantiated by intelligence information.

There's a lot of evidence that the administration went way beyond the intelligence that was provided to them. We know that the intelligence was way off. It was false in many, many ways. But the administration went way beyond the intelligence, particularly as it relates to any relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. And it is that subject which is, I think, quite clearly the reason that the administration has come down hard, probably, to not finish this phase two of the investigation, because of where it might lead. And that has to do with whether or not officials of this government exaggerated the intelligence that was given to them. As bad as that intelligence was, as far off as it was, particularly on weapons of mass destruction, the intelligence was not far off as it related to the nonexistent relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

And it was the commitment in writing by the majority and the chairman to complete phase two of the investigation that has not been kept. And that is the reason why our leader took to the floor today to insist that that commitment be kept.

BLITZER: Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat of the Armed Services Committee, a member of the Intelligence Committee, himself, speaking forcefully together with the other Democratic minority in the U.S. Senate in explaining why they've invoked this rule, Rule 21, to shut down the Senate from cameras, to go behind closed doors, to impose secrecy to try to spur an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee about justification of the intelligence for going to war.

Ed Henry is our congressional correspondent. Ed, the Democrats basically continuing this argument that the Bush White House manipulated the intelligence to justify going to war against Iraq, they should be held accountable for the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found, no effort to develop nuclear weapons by Saddam Hussein has been found. And they are saying they want answers. They are accusing the Republican leadership in the Senate, including Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, of stonewalling, trying to protect George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

HENRY: Absolutely right. And you heard some very harsh words a short while ago from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, basically saying he had been stabbed in the back by the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid, because he had gotten no heads up that this maneuver was going to take place, this invoking Rule 21.

I've gotten some reaction. We haven't heard from Harry Reid directly, but I got in contact with his staff. They are saying -- just as you said, Wolf -- they want to raise pressure. They said they had to go to this level to get everyone's attention, as they obviously have now. They say the Scooter Libby indictment on Friday showed once again, in the minds of the Democrats, that there needs to be some answers as to whether or not intelligence was manipulated in the build up to war. They say the only way to do that is to go into this very rare secret session of the Senate.

Let me also make one other point on how rare this is. We were talking about how it has been a couple of decades, about, since this has been used as a maneuver. There have been times in the last 25 years where the Senate has gone into secret session, but that was on a bipartisan basis. For example, you'll remember in 1999, there was a secret debate -- we all knew it is happening, but it was secret, behind closed doors, debating the Articles of Impeachment against President Clinton. That was not done in the public view.

In 1997 they did it to debate a treaty banning chemical weapons.

To give you an idea -- dating back to 1942, a secret session held on Navy plans to build battleships and aircraft carriers during World War II.

Very, very rare, Wolf.

BLITZER: What is interesting and fascinating is, the Democrats clearly feel emboldened to use this rule right now. I suspect they see a weakened Republican leadership in the Senate, a weakened Republican White House right now, given all the problems the president faces, especially in the aftermath of Lewis Scooter Libby's indictment last Friday. They are saying they should basically go ahead and pounce while they can.

HENRY: You're absolutely right, Wolf. You hit the nail on the head, because I just got off the phone with a Democratic strategist who said this was also a message to the White House on Judge Alito, that the Democrats -- there has been some suggestion maybe they would not go forward, they'd be too scared to go forward with a filibuster of a Supreme Court justice. I just heard from a Democrat, saying take a look at this -- we're ready to go to war.

And you're right, the Democrats are fed up, they want to fight back. Again, there could be some risk politically for them to do this, but they feel they need to use these guerrilla tactics, basically, as the Republicans did when they were in the minority, if you think back to Newt Gingrich and other leaders.

This is a message on judicial nominations as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed Henry, we're going to continue to watch this Breaking News -- a real rift unfolding on the floor of the U.S. Senate right now. Acrimony, angry words being hurled. Democrats against Republicans, Republicans against Democrats. We're watching this story.

Your e-mails coming in. Jack Cafferty's being flooded with e-mail on this specific subject. He's going to be joining us shortly with some of your e-mail.

Also, this hour, we're getting some live pictures in from Prince Charles, he's in New York right now. He's over at the United Nations, together with Camilla. We're watching this story. We'll update you on what the royals are doing in the United States right now.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: We get back to the U.S. Senate, the Breaking News on the floor of the Senate. An angry, angry debate has broken out between Democrats and Republicans.

Strong words being hurled by the majority leader, Bill Frist, against his Democratic counterpart, the Minority Leader Harry Reid. And, they're fighting right back. We'll tell you what's going on.

But, on a much happier note, we're watching what is happening in New York City right now. Britain's Prince Charles and his wife Camilla are in the Big Apple, starting a week-long tour to the United States. Equal parts pomp and P.R.

CNN's Mary Snow is joining us now live from New York. You're smiling, Mary. This is a positive story, the royals come to New York City.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot tamer, Wolf, at The U.N. than in Washington.

But, as you mentioned, some pomp, some P.R., lots of press though as Charles and Camilla arrived in New York today. This is the first trip to the U.S. since they married back in April.

Despite the fact that recent polls say 81 percent of people here in the U.S. say they are not interested in this visit by the royal couple at all, there is still no shortage of cameras.

Among some of their stops today, Charles and Camilla visited Ground Zero, where they were met by New York Governor George Pataki. Prince Charles also went to the United Nations, as you just saw. He's been meeting with Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Tonight, the couple will attend a reception at the Museum of Modern Art, here in New York.

The official reason for the trip, Buckingham Palace lists it as recognizing the importance of the relationship between the U.S. and Great Britain.

They head to Washington, D.C., tomorrow and their trip also includes a visit to New Orleans on Friday.


BLITZER: They have a big dinner tonight in New York City. A lot of stars are going to be there. What do you know about that?

SNOW: Well, it is a big dinner. And we're actually heading over there now and we'll see you later on in this show with who will be there.

BLITZER: You'll be there, I suppose. There will be a red carpet. Big dinner here in Washington tomorrow night at the White House, a big state dinner for Prince Charles and Camilla.

We're going to be watching all of this for you. We're watching lots of other developing stories right now, including the fight that has erupted in the United States Senate.

Jack Cafferty has been taking your email. He's standing by to tell us what you have in mind on this whole issue of the Democrats now wanting an investigation on why the U.S. went to war in Iraq.

This in the aftermath of the Lewis Scooter Libby indictment.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back, let's go to the CNN Center in Atlanta for a quick check of some other stories making news. CNN's Zain Verjee standing by with that.


In Philadelphia, transit employees normally manning the city's bus and subway line are instead on the picket lines. Five thousand members of the Transportation Workers Union are on day two of a strike. Philadelphia's highways were clogged with people forced to find alternate ways of getting around. The contract talks centers essentially on wages, work rules and health care.

Hundreds of Syrians demonstrated in Damascus today, protesting a U.N. resolution that orders Syria to cooperate fully with an international inquiry into the killing of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. All face unspecified action. A recent U.N. report suggests that Syria played a part in the February bombing that killed Hariri. Syria denies involvement in the bombing and says the report shows no evidence.

In Iraq, U.S. officials released 500 detainees today, to mark the upcoming Muslim religious holiday, Eid Al-Fitr, that concludes the Ramadan holy month of fasting. The detainees are from the Abu Ghraib prison and they were taken to an Iraqi special forces base. They were given $25, a Koran, a clean white shirt and then released.

Also in Iraq, a lottery involving a different prize of a different kind, the lottery determines the order for more than 200 parties to appear on ballots in the December 15 elections.

The parties are hoping for a low number on the ballot, which would put their name near the top of the list, possibly making their name stand out.


BLITZER: All right, democracy, I suppose unfolding in Iraq. Thanks very much for that, Zain. We'll get back to you soon.

Up next, the showdown in the United States Senate. Was it wrong for the Democrats to trigger a closed Senate session earlier today? It's breaking news unfolding in the Senate right now.

We've asked the question, you've answered. Jack Cafferty standing by with your email. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: About an hour or so ago, the fireworks exploded on the floor of the United States Senate. You've been watching it. We've been reporting it.

Jack Cafferty's been hearing from you, as far as your email is concerned. Jack is joining us now live from New York. Our viewers, have they sent you any email, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Yes, one or two. We got over 2,000 emails in about 20 minutes, Wolf. This is a big story and it's an emotional one. And the question we asked right after this news broke was is it wrong for the Democrats to -- we said shut down the Senate. They didn't shut it down. They took it into closed session. And a lot of you wrote to point it out. I didn't mean to mislead. They shut it down so that they could clear the place, get all the listening devices out. But it's been taken into closed session. The Democrats want answers on what led to the run up to the war in Iraq.

Frances in Anacortes, Washington: "Finally the Democrats have shown a spine. Maybe I don't have to continue to wake up every morning and wonder if I'm living in a surreal alternate universe where only one group has all the power, controls all the dialogue and buries anyone who dares to challenge them. Maybe I really do live in a democracy."

Pat in Sultan, Washington: "Finally, stunt or no stunt, we deserve to know if a fraud has been perpetrated, not just on the American public, but on the world."

Richard writes: "How can it be wrong for Democrats to do this? I ask as an Independent. If Republicans consistently refuse to work with Democrats or compromise on anything, what other options do they have to force debate on the important issues around the Iraq War?"

Peter in Clearwater, Florida: "It is not wrong to shut down the Senate. It's about time that people demand this administration needs to tell the truth. This war was fabricated and we all know it. Fess up to this charade and tell the truth to our families and let us know the facts behind the case."

Michael in Amelia Island, Florida: "This stunt by Harry Reid" -- Democratic leader in the Senate -- "is ridiculous. I would have thought someone from the great state of Nevada would have better sense. We need the wisdom of the Senate, if there is any, working to solve the nation's problems, not having fits of pique."

And Richard in New York: "Do you really think anyone will notice?"

You know, I get a lot of mail, and depending on what I read, they say you're a conservative, you're a liberal, you're a Republican. This isn't about any of that stuff, I don't think. It's about what is right and what's wrong.

There's a perception in this country that we were lied to about the run-up to the war in Iraq. Maybe we were and maybe we weren't, but there are a lot of people who think we were. And a half a trillion dollars and 2,000 of our kids later, we're still there. We're mired in a thing that has no visible end.

If it was necessary and if the threats were real, fine and dandy. But if they lied to us, if there was some kind of intent to deceive, then they ought to find out who did it and tear their fingernails out and then get rid of them.

And it's not about being on, you know, one side of the political spectrum or the other. It's about what's right and what's wrong and what people who are entrusted to govern this country do with the power we give them. If it's being abused, we damn well have a right to know, and something should be done about it -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right. Jack Cafferty, speaking his mind as he always does here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Jack, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you very, very soon.

Much more of our coverage on this breaking news, right after this.