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The Situation Room

Senate Behind Closed Doors; Bush Unveils $7 Billion Plan to Fight Possible Bird Flu Pandemic

Aired November 01, 2005 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're here in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reports across the United States and around the world to bring the day's top stories.
Happening now, an extraordinary secret session puts the U.S. Senate behind closed doors. The move designed by Democrats who want to investigate the handling of intelligence on Iraq. Outraged Republicans calling it a stunt and a slap in the face.

President Bush unveils a $7 billion plan to fight a possible bird flu pandemic. That may buy a lot of vaccine and anti-viral drugs, but can it keep it keep all of us safe?

And in New York, Britain's royals kicking off a U.S. tour. Americans adored Diana. Do they care about Camilla? You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thanks very much for joining us. Anderson cooper is off tonight and we're here all week in his place. The secret session is now over, but you can bet the Senate smackdown over the Iraq war, the CIA leak, and today's November surprise, as some are calling it, will go on.

Democrats found a stunning way to press their allegation that Republicans are blocking probes into pre-war intelligence. The GOP fired right back, accusing members of the minority party of hijacking the U.S. Senate and slapping them in the face. Up first, our congressional correspondent Ed Henry. He's joining us now live -- Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm hearing that in fact this plot was hatched late last night in the office of Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid. There was a regularly scheduled leadership meeting there where a small group of Democratic leaders decided that they feel they are emboldened in the wake of Friday's indictment of Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff to the vice president.

They feel that it's now time to pounce and demand some answers, not just from Libby but also from Karl Rove, Vice President Cheney, President Bush as well, to find out whether or not this administration manipulated intelligence in the lead up to the war in Iraq.

So Senator Reid today, unannounced, no heads up to his Republican counterpart Bill Frist, the majority leader, marched down to the Senate floor this afternoon, and in a rare maneuver, invoked Rule Number 21 of the Senate rules that basically, as you said, put the Senate into a secret session.

They basically kicked out all the staff. Senators had to give up electronic devices because Reid wanted a debate on sensitive intelligence and find out why the Senate intelligence committee has not finished so-called phase two of its investigation as to whether or not this intelligence was in fact manipulated.

As you can imagine, Senator Frist reacted in very direct, personal terms. He said, basically, he was stabbed in the back by Reid. That drew a sharp rebuke from Reid in response. Take a listen to the flavor of what went down.


SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: The Democrats use scare tactics. They have no conviction, they have no principles, they have no ideas. But this is the ultimate. Since I've been majority leader, 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.



SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: It's a slap in the face to the American people that this has been -- this investigation has been stymied, stopped, obstructions thrown up every step of the way. That's the real slap in the face. That's the slap in the face. And today, the American people are going to see a little bit of light.


HENRY: Now, in the short term, things may cool down a bit because Democrats got what they wanted for now, which is Senator Frist has now agreed that there will be an update by November 14th on exactly where the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation stands right now. But in the long term, I can tell you, it's unlikely things are going to cool down.

Democrats privately saying this is not just about Iraq. They were also trying to send a message across the aisle that they're also serious about the potential for a filibuster against Judge Alito, the president's pick for the Supreme Court. They want Republicans to know that they're tired of what's been going on and they're ready to stand up on Iraq, on the Supreme Court nomination, and a whole range of other issues.

Of course, that could provoke Republicans, if there's a filibuster, to invoke the so-called nuclear option, change the Senate rules to prevent filibusters. This is not the last we've heard of this, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much. Ed Henry on Capitol Hill. Today's secret session exposed some fault lines in the usual collegiality that takes place up in the Senate, especially in the Senate Intelligence Committee. Joining us now is chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Republican Pat Roberts of Kansas.

Senator Roberts, thanks for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The Democrats say you blinked, and you're finally going to start cooperating and get this intelligence investigation underway, that you were engaged, if you will, in a conspiracy to cover up misdeeds on the part of the Bush administration. Your response?

ROBERTS: Well, Wolf, those are -- that's pretty harsh language. I know politics is not bean-bagged, but that's a little rough. I'm involved in no conspiracy. We have no cover-up. We agreed some time ago to do phase two. As a matter of fact, we had a business meeting on phase two May 17th. We started way last February.

We announced yesterday to their staff that we would proceed next Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, as long as it takes to complete phase two. And it's going to be handled just like we did the WMD report, whether or not Saddam Hussein had actual weapons of mass destruction. I said at that time, along with Senator Rockefeller, it would be bipartisan. We voted 17-,0 and we got the job done.

It was a seminal study. It led to intelligence reform and all of the good things that we've done. So there's no cover-up. I was really surprised by this -- I don't know what to call it -- a stunt, I guess. And we'll proceed. We'll have to put things back together, have to calm a little tempers, smother people with the milk of human kindness and just hope it doesn't curdle.

BLITZER: I spoke earlier with Senator Durbin, the minority whip, the number two Democrat, Senator Reid, the minority leader, Senator Rockefeller. They all say they were begging you for months and months and months to do this but you were delaying, you were dragging your feet, they believe because you were trying to help the White House.

ROBERTS: That's just simply not the case. We had a business meeting May 17th. We have 500 statements from both the administration officials and members of Congress. We had the intelligence laid out that will either justify or not justify that statement. We started to go down the list and all I could hear about process.

We've had several other -- there are four other provisions to phase two. We've had some problems with some information that we need to get it done. We are in a process now to get that done. We were in a process to start on May 17th, but that just didn't happen.

But rather than really focus on the negative and all of this rhetoric, which I understand is looking through the rearview mirror, and it's a rather cracked glass, I would rather let's go forward. I can work with Senator Rockefeller. He can work with me. We can start next Tuesday, and we'll stay as long as we need. We'll have some differences of opinion, but I think we can work it out.

BLITZER: Because I don't remember a time, and maybe you do, when there's been such public bitterness, partisan bitterness, on the Intelligence Committee, which is supposed to be above politics because it deals with the most important issues facing our country.

ROBERTS: Well, I think that's exactly right. I think it's unfortunate. I was a little stunned. I walked onto the floor, I did not know what the executive session was about. I did not know what the independent investigation was about. All of a sudden, it was me. And I sort of blinked a little bit. And then I read the whole speech and virtually everything from Katrina and high gas prices and Pat Roberts, were the subject of the speech by Harry Reid.

But as I say, we can put that aside. Senator Rockefeller and I can work together. As I say, it will be tough, but we will finish phase two just exactly like we said. We started this in February, and I think the strange thing is that we let their staff know that next week this was going to be the week that we could finally get this done.

It isn't like we haven't been busy in regards to intelligence authorization and other things where we look forward. There's a part of me that says if you look in the rearview mirror, there's a little crack in regards to partisan lines, and figure out what somebody said two or throw years ago, and was it justified by intelligence. I don't know the relevancy of that.

BLITZER: One final question because we're almost out of time. When will the American public get your final report on the pre-war intelligence, this so-called phase two?

ROBERTS: Well, there's five provisions to it. I think that three will be relatively not easy, but I think we can get those done. There are others -- there are two other provisions where I think we're going to have some strong differences of opinion. But we're going to work through it. And then at the end of it, why, Senator Rockefeller and I will make this public and we can get beyond this and do our work like we're supposed to do on the Intelligence Committee.

BLITZER: Senator Roberts, thanks very much for joining us. A difficult day for everyone here in Washington today.

Coming up in just a moment, we'll get the other side of the story, Senator Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.

First though, for more on today's events on Capitol Hill, let's turn to our Internet reporter, Jacki Shechner. She's checking the situation online. And I assume the bloggers are buzzing -- Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, INTERNET REPORTER: We'll get to blogger reaction in just a second. But first, Senator Reid wants to delve into the Senate Intelligence Committee report. That's available for you to take a look at online. That's through This is what the report looks like, it came out initially on July 7, 2004.

If you want to learn more about secret sessions, Wolf, you can go to this Web site right here, That's where you can find a brief history. It's got every secret session that's ever taken place from 1929 all the way down until 1999 with the impeachment trial deliberations on President Clinton.

As for early blog reaction, of course, the right is disappointed, but even John Podhoretz at the "National Review Online" points out this was not a bad move. Why? Well, over to the "Washington Note" where they say it shifts the focus back on to the war on Iraq, onto Patrick Fitzgerald, and onto the CIA leak investigation and indictments -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Jacki, thanks very much.

Let's get some other reaction now, the other ranking Democrat, the vice chairman of the intelligence committee, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia joining us live from Capitol Hill.

Senator Rockefeller, thanks very much for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM. Was this really necessary to jump-start this investigation, this maneuver that the Democrats engaged in today on the Senate floor?

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: It was. Wolf, it was necessary. I'm not saying it was pleasant, I'm not saying it was fun, but it was necessary. For 20 months, we had been accomplishing absolutely nothing on phase two, which gets into the very deepest matters of whether the administration was shaping intelligence or using intelligence to bring the American people closer to going to war.

BLITZER: Are you blaming Senator Roberts, your chairman, directly for that delay?

ROCKEFELLER: I don't want to have that kind of a cast on it, but he did indicate a number of times that phase two was on the back burner in private conversations, which we obviously have a lot of since we sit next to each other. We get along very well.

But you know, in the end, everything is about accountability to the American people. Accountability of the executive branch, where I think they've not been strong, accountability of the oversight of the Congress where I don't think we've been strong. That's why today was necessary.

It was not pleasant, but it accomplished a result, because we now have an agreement where three people from each side are going to sit down and work out a timetable to do phase two thoroughly.

BLITZER: This is very, very difficult because of the collegiality that is so traditional in the U.S. Senate. But your leader, Harry Reid, basically accused your chairman, Pat Roberts, of conspiring with the White House to try to cover up some of the intelligence mistakes that resulted in the U.S. going to war. Do you agree with Harry Reid on that?

ROCKEFELLER: Wolf, it's not so much what Harry Reid thinks, although I respect him enormously. I myself, as an individual, prior to investigating the situation, which is why I wanted to do phase two, I have a feeling that the White House has -- anything which has begun to sort of tread on their territory, they call down to the Congress and the Republicans back off. I don't respect that at all.

We haven't done that, as far as I know, in the Democratic Party. And I may be wrong, but we need to find out. The American people deserve to know this. It's accountability. It's the basis of democracy. And we have not shown ourselves strongly.

And, yes, you know, we're -- I'm a minority vice chairman. We're a minority in the House, the Senate, the White House. And so they can pretty much do what they want. But I don't think we have to sometimes do things which call attention to the fact that we're being run over. And some very important questions of the American people are not being answered.

BLITZER: At issue in this investigation, basically, is whether the Bush administration, the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States, either manipulated the intelligence in order to justify going to war or lied to the American public. What do you believe?

ROCKEFELLER: There's not much of a difference between the two. And it isn't just a question of going to war, incidentally. It also has to do with how much attention did the administration pay to the pre-war intelligence that was done, predicting what would happen in a post-war Iraq. And I think we did -- they did not listen to the intelligence, the so-called, you know, waiting for flowers and kisses and candies. It didn't work out that way.

We know that, 22,400 people plus have -- 2,045 Americans have died, 15,000 wounded. This is not trivial stuff. It's not a matter of politics. We felt that we had to do -- I felt that we had to take the step that we did today, as drastic as it was, because it came out with a good result that Pat and I, with two others, will sit down starting next week and map out a way to reach agreement on how to proceed with this investigation. And it has to be completed.

BLITZER: Senator Rockefeller, thanks very much for joining us.

ROCKEFELLER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's go up to New York. Jack Cafferty is joining us now live. He's watching all of this and thinking about it -- Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed. You know, this thing, Wolf, had all the earmarks of a Karl Rove operation. Only this time, it was the Democrats. Within hours of the president making a speech about bird flu, getting the media focused on something besides the Scooter Libby indictment, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid used a parliamentary maneuver and called the Senate into closed session. The reason, Reid and the Democrats want answers on whether they were lied to during the run-up to the war in Iraq. Well, within minutes, the decision was made then to lead THE SITUATION ROOM 3:00 this afternoon with this breaking story, and boy was there ever an appetite for it.

When I asked if you thought it was a mistake to ask the Democrats to do this, call the Senate into closed session, the e-mails began pouring in, thousands of them. Here's the question once again. Was it wrong for the Democrats to close the Senate?

BLITZER: Let's see how many thousands of e-mails you get this time, Jack. Thanks very much. We're going to get back to you very soon.

Coming up, the president's plan of action to keep Americans safe from bird flu. We'll tell you what he wants to do and whether it's enough if there's a global epidemic.

Also ahead. She's a duchess, not a princess. But Camilla is queen for a day in New York City with Prince Charles at her side. The royal newlyweds making their U.S. debut. We'll take you there live. We'll tell you what's happening this hour.

And how long can they go with the holidays approaching? We'll take the wraps off Wal-Mart's pricing plans. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: You're back in THE SITUATION ROOM. Welcome back. We turn now to our CNN security watch and a deadly threat that could strike terror around the world and 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 try to meet the threat. Our medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is standing by. But let's go to the White House first. Our Suzanne Malveaux will update us on what happened today -- Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, clearly, after many people in the White House felt that the president experienced his worst week of his presidency, Mr. Bush is trying to pivot to his agenda. Yesterday, he rolled out a Supreme Court nominee. Today, it was his bird flu plan.

But the White House thinking perhaps it would escape criticism is thinking again.


MALVEAUX: A prescription from President Bush to battle a possible flu outbreak, a $7 billion plus emergency plan.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no pandemic flu in our country or in the world at this time. But if we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare. And one day, many lives could be needlessly lost because we failed to act today.

MALVEAUX: Today, cases of bird flu have been documented in Europe and Asia. But Mr. Bush warned the U.S. could be next. The administration's plan is to provide more than $1 billion for vaccine against the current strain of bird flu to protect 20 million Americans, $1 billion to stockpile more drugs to treat flu symptoms, close to $3 billion to speed development of new vaccines, and more than $580 million for states and local governments to plan for an outbreak. Mr. Bush's proposal is being received well by the medical community as a first step.


MALVEAUX: Some Democrats who had been pushing for stronger action from the administration for the past year called Mr. Bush's plan inadequate.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: They've acted late, they've acted too little, and they have not recognized that simply having vaccine available doesn't mean it will get where it's needed.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Mr. President, the United States cannot afford to have a Katrina-level of preparedness or a Katrina-like response to an international outbreak of avian flu.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush is using the bird flu to make the case he's prepared for the next national disaster.

BUSH: And by putting in place and exercising pandemic emergency plans across the nation, we can help our nation prepare for other dangers such as a terrorist attack using chemical or biological weapons.

MALVEAUX: Political observers say the president's focus on the bird flu won't necessarily insulate him from the administration's recent political problems.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: No one should suppose that this is going to be an elixir, that it's immediately going to get the president back to full health.


MALVEAUX: And of course, Wolf, the question is whether or not the government can handle such a pandemic as the bird flu, the possibility of that. The latest CNN-Gallup poll showing that the American public is split -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much.

How real is the bird flu threat? Real enough. Let's turn to our medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. She's standing by at the CNN center in Atlanta.

You have more on this threat, and it is very real, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly is, Bush -- I'm sorry, excuse me, Wolf. But it's important to remember that the avian flu is not here in the United States. It's not in animals, it's not in people. But that possibility is real.


COHEN (voice-over): Avian flu, or H5N1, has infected more than 120 people so far in at least six countries.

ROBERT WEBSTER, ST. JUDE CHILDREN'S RESEARCH HOSPITAL: The virus in Asia is killing more than 50 percent of humans infected. If this virus learns to transmit human to human and maintains that level of killing humans, we've got a global catastrophe.

COHEN: Under an electron microscope, flu viruses look like spiky creatures akin to tiny hedgehogs. H5N1 may seem unassuming in the lab, but to be sure, it has the ability to cause a public health crisis.

In fact, experts say that H5N1 resembles the strain responsible for the 1918 flu pandemic. That strain mutated to spread between people and ultimately killed as many as 50 million around the world. Today, there have been a handful of human-to-human transmissions of avian influenza. Symptoms so far have included sudden high fever, coughing, sometimes with blood, difficulty breathing, and diarrhea.

Avian flu certainly does not spread easily, but scientists warn that H5N1 could change to become an explosive killer. It could mutate on its own like the 1918 flu did, or it could combine with the common flu that circulates every year.

Let's say this chicken farmer has the regular flu, which always spreads like wildfire from person to person. Then he gets infected with H5N1 from one of his chickens. Now, both viruses are in his cells, where they exchange some of their eight genes. It's called reassortment. If they shuffle the genes just right, the H5N1 strain can pick up the gene that would help it pass from person to person like the winter flu does. That's the biggest fear of all.


COHEN: Now, viruses are smart, they do learn how to mutate over time. And every time a virus infects a person, it gives that virus another opportunity to learn how to change -- Wolf?

BLITZER: In the president's plan that he announced today, Elizabeth, he spoke of the need to isolate this disease if it were to strike. Is that realistic, though, in a country like ours?

COHEN: That is going to be a huge challenge, Wolf, on several fronts. First of all, there aren't enough isolation rooms in hospitals. Take New York City. Each hospital has about five isolation rooms. Well if there were a pandemic, you would need hundreds upon thousands of isolation rooms. There just aren't enough. That's one of the many challenges that would happen if that pandemic came to this country.

BLITZER: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much for joining us.

And to our viewers, please stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

Let's go to the CNN center once again. Our Zain Verjee is standing by with a closer look at some other stories making news.

Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Do you have letters and postcards to mail?


VERJEE: Well, you should really do it now because it could soon cost you more to send them. Today, the postal rate commission approved a two cent postage rate increase. If it's passed, a first class stamp will increase from 37 cents to 39 cents. The postcard rate would rise a penny to 24 cents. The rate increase is expected to go into effect in January.

Indicted Congressman Tom DeLay scores a bit of a legal victory. His legal team managed to have the judge who was supposed to preside over DeLay's trial removed from the case. At issue whether District Judge Bob Perkins could be impartial since he's made contributions to the Democratic National Committee and a group critical of DeLay.

The Bush administration picks the chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to head the federal government's disaster recovery efforts on the Gulf Coast. Donald Powell will coordinate long-term plans to rebuild the states hit hard by Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. Powell will coordinate relief efforts among Congress, state, and local governments.

And today in Michigan, prayers and praise for Rosa Parks. Thousands are paying their respects to the woman who refused to give up her bus seat in 1955, thereby igniting the civil rights movement. Parks' body is on view at an African-American history museum in Detroit. She died last week at the age of 92, and her funeral is set for tomorrow morning -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Zain Verjee reporting for us

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, an eruption worth watching. How far would you go to see a volcano in action? For now, you can stay right where you are, right in front of your TV, because we're going to show you.

And was it wrong for the Democrats to force the Senate into secret session and into a tailspin, at least for several hours today? We want to keep reading your e-mail. Jack Cafferty is doing precisely that. He's going to share some of your thoughts. All of that, still to come.


BLITZER: A suicide bombing in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk injured the head of emergency police there today. And about the same time, a roadside bomb nearby wounded two Iraqi police officers.

Similar bombs are partly to blame for the high death toll among U.S. troops in Iraq in October, which turned out to be the deadliest month for American forces since January. CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has more.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Senior U.S. military commanders confirmed to CNN that a new generation of sophisticated roadside and suicide bombs has appeared in southern Iraq in recent weeks. These bombs, although small in number, are causing great concern. They have explosive charges that can penetrate armored vehicles, including the up-armored Humvees on which the U.S. Army has spent billions of dollars.

In a closed-door congressional briefing, senators were told the powerful new bombs can be made with materials bought off the Internet. And that insurgents are also getting outside help, possibly from Iran and Syria.

After that hearing, the head of the military's task force talked about the insurgents.

BRIG. GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, IED TASK FORCE DIRECTOR: He's varying the methods that he's using to initiate them. He's varied the employment techniques that he's employing them with. And he started to bury the targets that he's going after.

STARR: The number of attacks by improvised explosive devices, IEDs, has risen. But officials say the attacks are less effective.

GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: And the numbers of casualties per effective attack has gone down. That said, there are more overall IED attacks by the insurgents.

STARR: In October, there were about 100 attacks per day, compared to 85 to 90 attacks a day in September. About half of all attacks are IEDs.

EA-6B aircraft have now been outfitted with an onboard electronic jammer to stop some types of IED detonation. Thousands of jammers on vehicles have also been sent to Iraq.

The Army's chief of planning offered remarkable candor about just how worried military leaders now are about declining public support for the war.

LT. GEN. JAMES LOVELACE, ARMY DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: I think that's something that we think about all the time. But as you share, as the polls start to reflect, this is something that we do concern ourselves with. It's probably a little bit more prevalent.

STARR (on camera): Officials believe the October rise in attacks is related mainly to insurgents trying to derail the referendum. But these same officials are already privately acknowledging that they expect to maintain high troop levels in Iraq through the December elections.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.


BLITZER: Now, the world in 360, a look at stories making news around the globe.

In Pakistan, officials are trying to figure out if a U.S. military relief helicopter was fired on intentionally, or if it was part of an accident. The helicopter was over Pakistani-controlled Kashmir during a relief mission for survivors of last month's earthquake. It was not hit. U.S. officials suggest a rocked- propelled grenade was involved, but the Pakistani army says it was the result of dynamite being used in a road project.

Parts of Paris are burning, and officials hope to prevent more fire and red rage for a sixth night tonight. Alleged racism, some immigrants have set cars in a school ablaze. At issue, the recent deaths of two teenagers. They were electrocuted in a power substation where they were hiding to escape police they thought were chasing them. Police say they were not chasing the boys, and French officials are trying to repair relations by meeting with immigrant communities.

And it's a really hot tourist destination, literally. On Ecuador's Galapagos islands, tourists are flocking to see the Sierra Negra volcano spew out lava, smoke and ash. The eruption began a week ago, and is still spewing a fiery flow of lava. Hundreds of tourists are visiting the island of Isabela. The last time the volcano erupted, get this, was in 1979.

Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, you've been hearing a lot about bird flu, and surely you have some significant questions. So we're asking one of the world's foremost experts how you can protect yourself right now. That's coming up.

And upholding a principle, or grandstanding political theater? What do you think of today's showdown in the U.S. Senate? Jack Cafferty has your e-mail. He's standing by with that.


BLITZER: What do you need to know about bird flu? What do you need to know to stay safe? Earlier, I spoke with the government's pointman on the influenza threat, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.


BLITZER: Is there any danger for me to continue eating chicken? That's a question that we're getting a lot.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: No, there is no bird flu in the United States. So you can eat chickens, you can eat turkeys. You don't need to worry about that. The situation in Southeast Asia, where there's spreading of bird flu among flocks, people get it actually from handling the birds or the birds' droppings.

But when you buy a chicken, frozen or fresh or what have you, in the supermarket, there's no bird flu in the United States, so we don't need to worry.

BLITZER: The other frequently asked question that we're getting from our viewers, feeding birds at the park, good idea?

FAUCI: Well, if you like to feed birds, there's no problem with feeding birds at the park. We don't have bird flu in the United States. We have to keep underscoring that for the American public. There is no bird flu in the United States.

BLITZER: This most recent incident, the scare in Canada, though, which is very close to the United States, do we suspect that really is the same avian flu?

FAUCI: No. It very likely is not. It seems to be an H5. But we do not think it's the H5N1, which is what we call a highly pathogenic virus for chickens and other birds. The ducks in Canada are well. They isolated a virus from them, but they're not sick, making it highly unlikely that you're dealing with the really pathogenic bird flu in Canada.

BLITZER: A frequently asked question we're getting is: should I not travel to any of the countries where cases of bird flu have been detected?

FAUCI: There are no travel alerts there, but if you go to one of the countries where there is bird flu, the recommendation is to stay away from bird and chicken farms and places where there are birds.

We went there with Secretary Levitt just a couple of weeks ago and, in fact, did side visit in some of those places. But, there are no travel restrictions, except the recommendation to stay away from chicken farms.

BLITZER: Should I be asking my doctor about getting some Tamiflu, which is the anti-viral drug believed to be helpful if you come down with avian flu?

FAUCI: Tamiflu is a drug that is used both for seasonal flu and we would hope that it could be useful for the pandemic flu.

If you don't have influenza, you don't need to worry about Tamiflu. If you get the flu, the seasonal flu, you should go to your physician and the physician will make the determination whether you would benefit from Tamiflu or not. But, you shouldn't preemptively go out and buy the Tamiflu.

BLITZER: Dr. Anthony Fauci offering some important, practical advice for all of us concerned about bird flu.

Let's get some more now. Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, who's checking the situation online.

SCHECHNER: Wolf, President Bush's national strategy for the pandemic influenza is available online at

But, the other Web site that we take a close look at today is This is the Web site that President Bush mentioned in his speech.

It is incredibly comprehensive. They did do a very good job linking to various organizations. The travel and transportation section is of interest. This will link you to the State Department.

Normally what they'll have here are travel advisories for countries that are considered hot spots or countries where it's not safe for Americans to travel.

Now, they are not saying that it's not safe to travel because of the avian flu, but what they are doing is linking to the World Health Organization.

They have an avian flu fact sheet. It is this chart, Wolf and essentially, it's the cumulative number of confirmed human cases in southeast Asian countries. Wolf?

BLITZER: Good practical advice. Thanks very much, Jacki, for that.

Up next, royals in the Big Apple. Take a look at this. This is video that we just got in a little while ago. Prince Charles and Camilla, they're at a big dinner in New York right now at the Museum of Modern Art. Lots of celebrities, lots of dignitaries, there.

We're going to go there live. Our Mary Snow is on the scene, we're going to get a full report on what the Prince and Camille are up to right now.

Also, word gets out about Wal-Mart's holiday sales plans. How did word get out? What does it all mean? You'll be interested in this.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the hot shots coming in from our friends over at The Associated Press. Pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

In Argentina, train delay outrage. An angry mob set seven railroad cars and a police vehicle on fire after a train was delayed.

In Gaza City, Palestinians gathering around the wreckage of a car hit in an Israeli missile strike. Two fugitives were killed, nine bystanders wounded.

Not too far away on the other side of Gaza, Israeli soldiers blow off some steam, hanging from the cannon of a tank.

Over in London, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip attend a national service of remembrance for the victims of last summer's London bombings.

That's a look at today's hot shots. Pictures, oftentimes worth 1,000 words.

Let's go back to the CNN Center. Zain Verjee is standing by with another quick look at some of the day's top business headlines.


VERJEE: Wolf, as expected, the Federal Reserve increased a key interest rate today, raising the federal funds rate a quarter of a point to four percent. Now, that's the highest level since 2001. That's the rate banks charge each other for overnight lending.

It almost always gets passed on to consumers in the form of higher loan and credit card interest rates. And the Fed indicated that there are more rate hikes to come.

Some automakers are glad to see October gone. Ford, General Motors and Nissan all reported a big drop in sales last month. The impact, most obvious, in the sports utility vehicle lines. Sales of those gas guzzlers plunged 50 percent or more. Industry-wide sales were down 11 percent.

Wal-Mart looks like it's jumping the gun on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when retailers generally are believed to move out of the red.

Companies usually don't promote their sales until a few days in advance, but someone has leaked information to Web sites indicating Wal-Mart intends to offer deep discounts of consumer electronics, DVDs, home products and toys. The company didn't discount heavily last year and sales fell three percent. Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much.

Zain Verjee reporting for us.

Up next, stars turning out right now to mingle with Britain's Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla. We're going to take to you tonight's gala event in New York City. It's still going on.

Mary Snow will be there live.

Plus, was it wrong for the Democrats to close the Senate today? It's our question of the hour.

Jack Cafferty is standing by. He's going through your e-mail.

You'll want to stick around for that.


BLITZER: There was a nice, old food fight in the U.S. Senate earlier today.

Jack Cafferty has been going through your e-mail on that issue. It's great to see those guys bickering a little bit like that.

CAFFERTY: I love it. We've got the Libby trial coming up, the DeLay trial coming up. We've got this thing now that Harry Reid and the Democrats started in the Senate. This could be a pretty good fall for us in THE SITUATION ROOM because when they get going down there, that's kind of our bread and butter.

BLITZER: That's good for us, is that what you're saying?

CAFFERTY: Yes, absolutely. I love it. The question we're asking tonight, in addition to the e-mails I'm getting saying, where's Anderson Cooper? The question is, was it wrong for the Democrats to close the Senate today and pull everybody into a closed session?

A lot of responses. Even tonight, another 1,500, maybe 2,000 in the last half hour.

Kelly in Omaha, Nebraska, it's so refreshing to see the Democrats behaving as the opposition party they must be to maintain a transparent democracy. I think it's high time that the majority part or that extreme right-wing that controls the Republicans receive a wake-up call.

If this administration lied and deceived to get us into Iraq, there must be consequences.

Sharon in Bristol, Tennessee, writes, it was absolutely wrong for the Democrats to close the Senate today. It was purely a political ploy, which I think will have tremendous backlash to the party, and rightfully so.

Sherie writes, it's been a long time coming, but better late than never. The citizens of this country have a right to know what's going on up there and if the people who work for us are lying to us.

Gary in Brockport, New York, how could anybody tell if Congress was closed or not? Oh, there were more reporters in the hall than usual. This should have been done long ago, but it's a shame that this is what it takes to get our elected leaders to do the public's business.

Jordan in Austin, Texas, writes, asking such a question is a joke. If you asked 1,000 Americans what the Senate has done lately, probably one or two of them could tell you. Heck, I don't think the senators even know if anything's been accomplished in recent months.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, hold on a second, because Mary Snow is in New York. There they -- these are live pictures of Charles and Camilla.

Mary Snow, you're right there. Get them to come over to your camera.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're trying that, Wolf.

Prince Charles and Camilla were here for about an hour at this gala. They're surrounded by a lot of security people. It's hard to get them over here.

This was a gala event at the Museum of Modern Art. A couple of hundred people came here tonight.

A wide range of guests, everyone from Henry Kissinger to Donald Trump to Sting and also the crowd standing outside waving to the Prince and Camilla as they go into their car.

BLITZER: You know, it's always exciting to see Prince Charles and Camilla. They're in New York, the first time in a long time.

They're going to be here in Washington tomorrow, going through a very different kind of dinner arrangement over at the White House, where the president and the first lady are preparing to receive them right now.

Prince Charles and Camilla making a tour of the United States. They're going to be heading over to New Orleans and they're going to be engaged in all sorts of activities.

Paula Zahn, are you there?

There you are.


BLITZER: You were at that dinner, weren't you?

ZAHN: Yes, at the reception. It was an interesting thing, I had the opportunity to talk both with the Prince and his new bride, Camilla. And we had a brief conversation about television. She knew I was getting back to do the show. And without saying directly that she watched CNN, she said she has caught us on TV.

BLITZER: That's Donald Trump, by the way, Paula, that our viewers are seeing right now with all the hair. There he is. Donald Trump shaking hands. He was there.

Did you get a chance to see him as well?

ZAHN: I didn't see Donald, but it's remarkable how relaxed the two of them were in this crowd. They've been hitting the road pretty hard today and both had quite remarkably accessible, casual conversations.

BLITZER: Always exciting. Tell us, briefly, Paula, what you have on tap at the top of the hour. ZAHN: Well, the story that we're leading off with is one that should send shivers down any parent's back. About 2,400 kids a year are injured because of SUVs. You see a lot of them in driveways.

What you don't see is the deadly danger. These huge vehicles have a gigantic blind spot. When you back up, you can back over anything or anyone, including small children.

I want you all to tune in for the eye-opening results of consumer correspondent Greg Hunter's investigation at the top of the hour.

I think it's important to watch for all of our children's safety.

BLITZER: Very important indeed. Doesn't get much more important than that.

Thanks, Paula. We'll be with you in a few minutes.

We'll take a quick break. More of our coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Jack Cafferty, Mary Snow, they're both in New York.

Camilla and Charles are in New York as well. And, there's Donald Trump.

Let's take a quick break.


BLITZER: Charles and Camille in New York, the royals in the Big Apple.

Mary Snow is there on the scene at the Museum of Modern Art.

Jack Cafferty is still with us. First to you, Mary.

You were probably pretty excited when that little event happened. The red carpet they were walking on.

SNOW: You know, Wolf, this is their first official visit to New York. They were at Ground Zero earlier today, they went to the U.N. A poll showing that about 81 percent of Americans were asked, saying they were really were not all that interested in Camilla and Charles.

Yet, you saw the paparazzi taking the pictures, you saw people parked outside. And, a lot of starts coming out to rub elbows with this royal couple. They're going to be going to Washington, San Francisco, and then even later this week, to New Orleans.

BLITZER: And Jack Cafferty, you were not there. You are one of the stars.

CAFFERTY: I'm sorry, excuse me? I was not there, no, I was here.

BLITZER: I know, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, not with the Prince and Camilla.

CAFFERTY: I have one question. If 80 percent of the public doesn't care about these people, why are we talking about them?

BLITZER: Because 20 percent is still very important, guys.

Thanks very much. We're here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Every weekday, 3-to-6 p.m. Eastern. Every night this week, 7 p.m. Eastern as well.

Here's Paula Zahn, right now.