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Kerry Tries for Alito Filibuster; Bush Prepares for State of the Union; Fatah Party Members Protest Palestinian Election Results

Aired January 27, 2006 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information from around the world are arriving all the time.
Happening now, the Supreme Court showdown. It's fizzling again. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington. Even though some Democrats seem certain Samuel Alito will be confirmed, they're taking steps. What, if anything, though, did John Kerry's filibuster threat accomplish? And how does Hillary Clinton figure in the picture?

Also this hour, the backlash from the Palestinian election upset. It's 11:00 p.m. in Gaza where the losing party took to the streets and the winning party is making the Bush administration increasingly nervous.

And the state of the president's public image -- Americans are sharing doubts about Mr. Bush just days before his big speech. Can he say anything to win back their trust?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This hour, the Senate is moving closer to making a final decision about the Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. There's little dispute about the outcome, but there is plenty of second guessing about the 11th hour political maneuvering by Senator John Kerry and some other Democrats.

Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is standing by, but let's get the latest from Capitol Hill. Our Ed Henry is in the Capitol right now with more -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Senator Kerry's filibuster may help him win the hearts and minds of liberals in the 2008 presidential campaign, but other Democrats fear that it could drive middle of the road voters away from the party.


HENRY (voice-over): John Kerry was back on Capitol Hill after a long flight from Switzerland, and tried to cast his Quixotic filibuster of Judge Samuel Alito as a heroic effort.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I know this is flying against some of the sort of political punditry of Washington. I understand that. But this is a fight worth making. HENRY: But as he tried to dodge a pack of reporters, Kerry seemed to vacillate on just how active he is in the filibuster when asked if he's leading the effort.

KERRY: No, I'm just supporting the effort like others. It's -- you know, I'm very supportive of it, obviously.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what do you think you going to get out of it?

KERRY: Thank you.

HENRY: The White House had a field day with Kerry's hasty exit from the World Economic Conference in Davos.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think even for a senator, it takes some pretty serious yodeling to call for a filibuster from a five-star ski resort in the Swiss Alps.

KERRY: And even as Democrats Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid said they would vote for the filibuster, they acknowledged the obvious.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: Everybody knows there are not enough votes to support a filibuster here.

HENRY: That's because Democrats up for election are nervous the move will backfire.

SEN. KENT CONRAD (D), NORTH DAKOTA: But I will not participate in a filibuster.

HENRY: Kerry, however, pushed on.

KERRY: I know it is an uphill battle. I have heard my colleagues, many of them. I hear the arguments, you know, reserve the gunpowder for the future. Well, what is the future, if it changes so dramatically at this moment in time?


HENRY: But Congressman Harold Ford, the former co-chair of Kerry's presidential campaign, came out today against the filibuster. Ford now running for a Senate seat in the red state of Tennessee. He called on his colleagues to, quote, "move quickly to a dignified end" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You need, what, 41 votes to sustain this filibuster. How many realistically do you think Kerry, Kennedy -- Dianne Feinstein apparently now says she is going to support the filibuster -- Harry Reid -- even though they say they don't have the votes, how many votes do you think they have?

HENRY: They could get into the 20s, maybe even in the 30s, if they really whip it up. Liberal activists are flooding all the Congressional offices up here demanding that Democrats join Kerry. But the bottom line is, is the White House clearly has at least 60 -- maybe even 70, according to some Democrats -- votes to cut this off. So I think the Democrats might get about 30, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed. Thanks very much. Ed Henry reporting for us.

We've been -- I want to get to Candy Crowley now. She's standing by also here in Washington with more on what's going on.

Candy, as you look at this situation, is it all about presidential politics, what John Kerry is doing, Hillary Clinton is doing? That's the wrap against them, that they are all looking ahead to 2008.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, let us say that when you talk to those around Senator Kerry, those who are supportive of him, those in his office, they say this is a matter of principle. He did promise, in fact, during the campaign that he would filibuster anybody that he thought would take away a woman's right to choose an abortion.

So having said that, you can only look at the politics of this by who is really enthused about it. The liberal blogosphere where Senator Kerry himself lit the fire there by putting up a posting on a liberal blog saying here's what I'm going to do -- huge support there.

Those are the ones that are leading the kind of flooding of Capitol Hill with phone calls and, most importantly, liberal donors. Now, look, those are the people that if you are going to run for the Democratic nomination for president, that's where you go first.

So you take a look at what Senator Kerry is doing, and then you see that there are others fighting for that same part of the party. We had Hillary Clinton not that long ago speaking to African- Americans, calling the Bush administration the worst in history talking -- describing the Republican-run House as run like a plantation.

And then, of course, you had Al Gore who got huge kudos, particularly, again, from liberal Democrats, especially donors, who said he came out and slammed the president on overreaching on presidential powers at a time when other Democrats wouldn't do it.

So this -- definitely there seems to be a three-way fight for the hearts and the souls of those liberals. Would that help him in '08 regardless of what his motivation is? Yes, it would help him in '08.

BLITZER: The criticism, though, from some Democrats against John Kerry and Ted Kennedy for leading -- apparently leading this filibuster effort, is coming from those Democrats who are up for reelection in the so-called red states who are now put in a very awkward situation.

CROWLEY: Well, absolutely. They are not the least bit happy about it. This is tough because red state Democrats -- that is, Democrats who win in Republican areas -- have a lot of constituencies to worry about. They don't want to offend the left in their state even if it's a small group. They need those votes too. And it pits them against some of the funders of the party. They don't like that position.

But let me tell you, Wolf, there is also a lot of people that are grumbling on the left, even some people who are going to go ahead and support this attempt at a filibuster which we know will fail. But some will support it.

I talked to some offices today, and they said look, this is a bloody mess. The White House should be sending John Kerry flowers. This has done nothing but make it look as though they are beholden to the liberal wing of the party just when the party is trying to kind of reach in the middle.

And they would much rather be talking about domestic spying, any kind of lobbying scandal. They really felt they were getting traction on those issues, and then this explodes kind of in front of them. They are not very happy with Senator Kerry.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, thank you very much for that. We're going to have much more on this subject coming up later in this hour in our "Strategy Session."

We'll move on now to anger in the Middle East over the Palestinian election results. Thousands of activists from the losing Fatah Party took to the streets today, burning cars, shooting guns, demanding corrupt leaders resign. The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, says he will ask the winning Hamas Party to form the next Palestinian government.

The Islamic militant groups says it still has no intention of recognizing Israel, and the Jewish state is ruling out any peace talks with Hamas. And now the United States is preparing to reconsider financial aid to the Palestinians. Let's go to our White House correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, what's the latest?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Bush actually hosted here today Saud Hariri. He is a Lebanese politician and, of course, the son of the assassinated former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri.

And it appeared to be kind of a show of public reaffirmation of the president's whole theory that Mideast peace -- excuse me -- Mideast democracy is possible and should certainly be continued. He did not talk at all about what is going on with the Palestinians and the results, again, of the Palestinian elections.

Behind the scenes, though, they are talking a lot about the very complicated questions, what to do next. You mentioned funding. That is one big question. As you know, most of the one billion plus dollars that has gone from the United States to the Palestinians, mostly over the years since 1993, have gone through third parties, primarily because of corruption and even because of Yasser Arafat.

The U.S. felt that he was still dealing in terrorism, but recently even just last year, for example, the U.S. had given direct aid to the Palestinians, $50 million last year.

On the Hill, on Capitol Hill, they hold the purse strings. There is sentiment that U.S. policy simply will prohibit that now with Hamas in charge of the government. Here at the White House, they are being careful in terms of what they say about U.S. policy, but not about some things. Listen to Scott McClellan.


MCCLELLAN: You can't have one foot in politics and one foot in terror. That's a contradiction that needs to be resolved. We do not and will not give money to a terrorist organization.


BASH: Now, Wolf, beyond the money, of course, a lot of other questions like what kind of diplomatic contact will be going on. The secretary of state is going to meet with the members of the quartet, the European nations and Russia, who deal with Mideast peace process. Those are a lot of issues that are going to be talked about. Another big issue, big picture, is, of course, the whole bush idea of Mideast democracy. A lot of people saying perhaps it's backfiring, Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, how is the president getting ready for his State of the Union address Tuesday night?

BASH: Well, we're told today he is actually working on the speech. He is in editing sessions, reviewing, going over probably at this point line by line. He's actually doing that this afternoon. We got a preview of -- a little bit of a preview from the president himself of what's going to be in the speech.

Aides say that he is going to try to hit issues that hit home with Americans, not so much perhaps the kind of laundry list, as they say here, that maybe somebody like Bill Clinton brought up, like school uniforms, programs that will require government funding, because there simply isn't the money for that.

But big themes, they say here at the White House, like health care, perhaps some new initiatives we do expect on health care and energy, gas prices. Things that Americans certainly care about. But Wolf, also expect a large part of the speech to be about Iraq.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much. Dana Bash reporting.

Don't forget, Tuesday night, stay with CNN. We'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM, complete coverage of the president's State of the Union address. Paula Zahn will be here with me. Our special coverage begins 7:00 p.m. Eastern Tuesday night.

Let's go back to New York. Right now, Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File." And he'll be with us Tuesday, as well.



CAFFERTY: OK. Are you sure?

BLITZER: Positive.

CAFFERTY: "This is not what we had in mind." That's an administration official talking about the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections. Democracy has been touted by President Bush as the key to all things good in the Middle East. Let the people vote, we are told, and they will see the wisdom of the Western way of democracy, of freedom.

So the Palestinians had elections, and guess who won? A terrorist organization. The Iraqis had elections. Guess who won? A Shiite religious alliance. Add to that Hezbollah picking up parliamentary seats in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood doing the same in Egypt. And let's not forget Iran's election of a fundamentalist president who's now threatening to develop nuclear weapons.

So here's the question. How well is democracy working in the Middle East so far? You can e-mail us at or you can go to

BLITZER: Good question, Jack, thanks very much. Jack Cafferty in New York.

Coming up, President Bush in need of image repair. Will his State of the Union address help him get an extreme makeover? We're watching this story.

Also ahead, confirmation or confrontation? The Samuel Alito fight, Democrats providing plenty of new fuel for our "Strategy Session."

And can a deadly plane accident like this one be avoided in the future? Safety officials float a new idea aimed at saving lives. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's go right to the CNN Center in Atlanta. Our Zain Verjee is standing by with a developing story out of California. What are you picking up, Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, we want to go to Modesto, California. A tanker has gone off the freeway and has plowed into a house. Look at these pictures that we're getting from our affiliate KXTV. You can see the tanker has rolled on to its side. Emergency workers are on the scene, looking at that mangled wreckage that's lying there. One person is apparently pinned down. You can see from this wider shot that parts of this house appear to have been destroyed. It is not clear whether there was anybody in the house at the time.

The California Highway Patrol indicates that the tanker was carrying a corrosive material known as formic acid. That specificity by KXTV, our affiliate. It's a combustible product, is what formic acid is. It's basically derived from alternative fuels that combined with acid. It's basically, Wolf, used as a preservative for cattle feed. It's considered a hazardous material that can cause chemical burns.

We're going to continue to monitor this story and see what happens and see if they're able to free someone that may be pinned down in that tanker. We're not quite sure. But certainly, emergency workers on the scene appear to be trying to figure out what to do as they assess this accident.

In other news, doctors say that the sole survivor in the accident at West Virginia's Sago Mine is making significant progress. Randy McCloy is now said to be awake, able to eat food, and yesterday he was able to stand for the first time. Doctors even say that he's emotionally responding to his wife, and at times he appears to be smiling or sometimes he's sad. McCloy survived 41 hours exposed to deadly carbon monoxide. Twelve of his co-workers died.

As a result of the investigation into a fatal accident in Chicago involving a Southwest Airlines plane, the National Transportation Safety Board wants pilots to adjust one of their processes. The NTSB wants pilots to change the way they calculate stopping distances on slippery runways. The agency says that that could help avoid similar accidents. In December, the Southwest plane landed at Chicago's Midway Airport during a snowstorm and then rolled off the runway, hitting two cars and killing a child.

And it's a message from the Saudi Arabian oil minister: don't expect gas prices to drop any time soon. Ali Naimi says many issues are keeping oil prices high, and that those issues are out of his control. Related the high oil prices are concerns over the security of Nigerian oil supplies and the crisis over Iran's nuclear plans -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much. Zain Verjee reporting. We'll check back with you shortly.

As the president gears up for his State of the Union address on Tuesday, the latest polling may serve as a reminder of what he needs to accomplish. Four major surveys were taken in the past week. When you average them together, Mr. Bush gets a less than impressive score of 42 percent job approval.

Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider has more on the president, where he stands with the American people. What about that, Bill, what are you learning?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, President Bush's image was certainly transformed after 9/11, but since he started his second term a year ago, the president's image was transformed again, and very differently this time.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The image of good character helped George W. Bush get elected in 2000. He was the un-Clinton.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear to not only uphold the laws of our land. I will swear to uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God.

SCHNEIDER: When he first took office in 2001, 64 percent considered President Bush honest and trustworthy. When he took office again a year ago, a majority still felt that way.

And now? A year of scandals and investigations has taken its toll. The public is now divided over whether Bush is honest and trustworthy. Bush has always been seen as a strong leader. Sixty-one percent called him a strong and decisive leader when he first took office in 2001, even before 9/11.

BUSH: The people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.

SCHNEIDER: Sixty-one percent still felt that way when he started his second term. And now?

BUSH: We're a party with ideas. We know how to lead.

SCHNEIDER: A bare majority call Bush a strong and decisive leader. Under President Clinton, the country was divided. Bush made this pledge.

BUSH: I'm a person that would have been called a uniter, not a divider.

SCHNEIDER: When he first took office, most people did see Bush as a uniter, not a divider. By the time he started his second term, Americans were not sure. They were divided over whether Bush was a divider. No more. Now most Americans call Bush a divider, not a uniter.


SCHNEIDER: President Bush has to do many things in his State of the Union speech. One of them is to begin the project of reclaiming the image he once had and lost -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you very much. Bill Schneider with those latest poll numbers.

Coming up, regardless of any filibuster, it looks like Samuel Alito will soon be sitting on the United States Supreme Court. So what controversial cases will he be ruling on this year? We're going the take a closer look at that.

Plus, what does President Bush need to say when he goes prime- time for his State of the Union address? Find out in today's "Strategy Session."

All that coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Turning back now to our top story this hour, today John Kerry returned to the U.S. Senate from Switzerland to rally his fellow Democrats behind a possible filibuster of the Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. Does Kerry have the votes to make it happen, or is the Massachusetts senator just playing politics?

Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner has the buzz online -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, one of John Kerry's tactics is often to go online and try to grab the grassroots support. This is no exception. He has a diary where he often blogs at Daily Kos, the top liberal blog. And he blogged his position yesterday on filibustering Alito.

But is it working? Are people engaged? Well, they are not optimistic, but they get it and they're thanking him. Over at Daily Kos, Marcos, who maintains the blog, says this is a reality check. "The bottom, we don't have the numbers. We just need more Democrats."

More on the left, Steve Benen, who is a political consultant, blogs the Carpetbagger Report, says, "He's going down, but he's going down swinging. He should be thanked for at least giving it a shot."

Jeralyn Merritt, a criminal defense attorney, also on the left, TalkLeft, noting that Senator Kennedy is also joining in the cause, and kudos to them for giving it a short. You can see the image there. It's kind of an uphill battle.

Over on the right, they call Kerry "the gift that just keeps on giving more." From Captain Ed at Captain's Quarters blog, saying, "Bottom line, these are like bad comedians with lousy timing."

And finally from Joe Gammelin (ph) at the Moderate Voice, in the middle, again, "just coming down to the numbers" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jacki, thanks very much.

Samuel Alito may not want to take anything for granted, but chances are, he's giving some thought to the days ahead that he's likely to be spending on the United States Supreme Court.

Our national correspondent Bruce Morton has been thinking about that as well.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Assuming he's confirmed, Samuel Alito will help decide some big cases his first term on the court. I talked with Charles Lane, who covers the court for "The Washington Post."

CHARLES LANE, "WASHINGTON POST": There's a very big one involving the military tribunals in Guantanamo, whether those are constitutional or not. There's the Texas redistricting plan that was so bitterly fought over in Texas. That argument is coming up in March.

MORTON: Two cases the court may take up, can the U.S. government declare American citizens enemy combatants and hold them indefinitely without charging them with a crime?

And the federal ban on a late-term abortion technique critics refer to as partial-birth abortion. Alito would help decide whether to hear those cases. Will he move the court to the right? Probably, but how far?

LANE: It would be a mistake to say he is to the extreme right of the court, that is to say in the camp of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. He's indicated in some of his answers that he is at variance with their approach in some regards.

So, you know, I don't think there's much mystery that President Bush, a conservative president, has picked a conservative judge. And I think in a number of areas, he will move the court to the right.

MORTON (on camera): What about those cases the court heard argued this past fall? Alito won't be able to vote on them. He wasn't there. Sandra Day O'Connor can't vote. She won't be on the court anymore. If the other eight justices come to a majority, 5-3, 6-2, whatever, those will stand. If it's a 4-4 tie, the court will probably order the case reargued this coming fall with Alito on the court.

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: Despite a new filibuster push by Senator John Kerry, the Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito is widely expected to be confirmed by the full Senate Tuesday, just hours before the president's State of the Union address.

In our "Strategy Session" today, the Supreme showdown and the president's poll position before his big speech.

Joining us, the former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart. He's here along with Republican strategist Rich Galen. Gentleman, thanks very much for joining us.

And I'll play a little excerpt of what John Kerry said earlier today on the Senate floor.


KERRY: I know this is flying against some of the sort of political punditry of Washington. I understand that. But this is a fight worth making, because it's a fight for the lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: So it's basically symbolic. Because as Harry Reid, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, knows -- and he counts the numbers, counts the votes pretty carefully -- he knows that Kerry can't win on this filibuster.

JOE LOCKHART, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY: Well, it's likely that he can't win. But as you set up the piece, I think, was slightly wrong, which is, you know, is it about substance or is it about politics? This is all about politics. The pick was about politics. His answers before the committee were politically vetted.

And I think if you look at John Kerry's decision here, in the short-term, you can argue that it's bad politics because this town values winning over everything.

BLITZER: But Joe, you and I -- I covered the White House when you were the press secretary, even before you were the press secretary. Would you make the same argument when the president -- when President Clinton picked Sandra Day O'Connor -- excuse me, Justice Ginsburg to be his nominee or Steven Breyer? They were liberal jurists.

LOCKHART: And they were people who we thought, based on the politics of the town, we could get through. And so there were politics involved in all of these choices

BLITZER: But was that just politics?

LOCKHART: No, but you can't separate any of these choices from politics. So I think, you know, If you look at what John Kerry is doing in the short-term, you can say well, that's bad politics because he's going to lose.

I think if you take a longer term view, you're going to see some wisdom in it. And here's why. Because what's really going on here is a move to the right in the court. I don't think the country has paid a lot of attention to it. And it's going to be, I think, a pretty severe move to the right.

And as we look back on this, I think we're going to say, well, who stood up? Who said we shouldn't do this? And I think John Kerry will benefit from that.

BLITZER: Smart politics? Smart strategy on the part of John Kerry?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It is not smart politics in the near term, middle term or long term. It's bad tactics and bad strategizing, Joe.

BLITZER: It could be smart strategy if -- if -- and we don't know what's going happen -- if Alito turns out to be Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas for Democrats if he votes to overturn Roe vs. Wade. In hindsight, then it could turn out to be smart.

GALEN: You only get to write history after history happens. But for right now, and for the foreseeable future, there's no Roe v. Wade case on the near term or even midterm horizon. So what you've got now is you've got another example of the coastal Democrats, East Coast, West Coast Democrats, flying on a completely different pattern than the blue state rank and file Democrats.

Marietta, Ohio, where I'm from, those folks, the Democrats in that town, do not think like John Kerry. They don't think like -- Harry Belafonte doesn't speak for them. This is just another reason for them to say, "What are those people doing?"

BLITZER: Here is another point that Republicans are hammering away with today. And I want you to listen to Scott McClellan, your successor over at the White House. Listen to this.


MCCLELLAN: I think even for a senator, it sakes some pretty serious yodeling to call for a filibuster from a five star ski resort in the Swiss Alps.


BLITZER: Does this once again reinforce this caricature of John Kerry as an elitist?

LOCKHART: Well, listen, you guys can focus on whatever you want on the politics of where he was when he did this or not. There's a pretty serious issue here, which is which way this court is moving? Does the country know? Do people in Marietta, Ohio, know that Alito has talked about overturning Roe v. Wade, whether there's case in there or not?

Do they know how he's been on civil liberties? Do they know how he's been on worker protection? My answer is no. So I think people are not listening. They're not paying attention to this. And if you look out over the long-term, and when you see this court moving to the right, the public is going to catch up, and that's why the politics aren't so bad on this.

GALEN: When Judge Roberts was up, they said his record isn't long enough. Then they said, "Well, Alito's record is too long. We need more time." As a strategist, as a strategist, here's what -- if the roles were reversed, I would have said on the second day of the hearings, "This thing is gone. Let's get this off the table. Let's get this guy in court. Let's go talk about the things we want to talk about."

I am in favor of you holding this position because now until Tuesday, the Democrats are going to have people talking about Judge Alito instead of the things that I think most Democrats want to be talking about.

BLITZER: What advice would you be giving -- and I'm sure he's not asking you for advice, the president of the United States -- as he gets ready for his address to the nation Tuesday night? You helped President Clinton get ready for those addresses. Looking at these numbers, has Bush's second term be a success or failure? Our new CNN- "USA Today"-Gallup poll, 38 percent success, 58 percent say it's been a failure.

LOCKHART: Right. I'd give him advice that I don't think he'd take, which is he's got to stop playing to his base. He's got to stop playing the politics of division and the politics of fear. If you look at Karl Rove's speech from now a week or ten days ago, what he laid out is, we're going to continue to hammer this. We are going to divide this country, and that's the way we're going to keep control of the House and the Senate.

If President Bush wants to get something done domestically in this country in the next three years in the end of his term, he doesn't want to be a lame duck domestically, he's got to reach out to the middle. They're doing everything but that.

GALEN: There's something wrong with the polls. I know they're all saying the same thing, so I'm not doubting...

BLITZER: The polls say the same thing.

GALEN: I just said that. But what I'm saying is that when I go out into the countryside -- maybe it's different when you do. But I speak to commercial groups as well as political groups. I don't sense an anger amongst kind of regular people at George Bush.

I think it has to with a general overflow of just bad news. Bad news on the domestic front, bad news on -- and everybody, you know you've got a certain level of bad news that anybody can take. They hate everybody. They hate the Congress, they hate the president, they hate everybody. But I don't get a sense of, "We need to get rid of George W. Bush. We need to stop him right now."

LOCKHART: I'm not sure it's an anger. I think maybe they're just tired, and they decided that they're writing the guy off. And if he continues to take this strategy of replaying the last election and the 2002 election up, then -- you know, "I'm the only one that can protect us. Democrats are soft on national security," with no evidence at all.

He's going to get one thing done, which is he's gotten his base back, he'll keep his base. That might be good politics for the 2006 election as far as keeping Republicans in control. It's awful as far as of trying to get something done. And the legacy of his second term will be nothing happened.

GALEN: One last thing about Karl's speech last week. The Democrats, I think, gave Karl that running lane because they have so politicized this war. Three years ago when Rove made a much gentler speech, everybody got excited about his politicizing the war. But because what the Democrats have done, they gave Rove that opportunity. I think another strategic error on the part of Democracy Party.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there. Joe Lockhart, Rich Galen, thanks to both of you for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Come more often, both of you. Up next, it's another major story that's rocking Washington. Should the White House hand over photographs of President Bush and the fallen lobbyist Jack Abramoff? Find out in today's political radar.

Plus, a hearing over hearing. Are iPods hurting your eardrums? Some in the United States Congress now want to find out. Stay with us. We'll tell you which member of the House of Representatives is now calling for hearings. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's go right back to Zain Verjee at the CNN Center in Atlanta. She's following that developing story out of Modesto, California -- Zain?

VERJEE: Wolf, a tanker has gone off a freeway and plowed into a house. It's rolled over on its side in the backyard of this house. You're looking at live pictures from our affiliate KXTV. You see emergency workers on the scene working through this mangled wreckage of the front side of the tanker.

Apparently, one person is pinned down, the driver in that. Tom Killian is with the California Highway Patrol in the Modesto area. He joins us now.

Give us a sense of how hard it's going to be for these emergency workers to extract the driver. What progress are they making?

TOM KILLIAN, CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL: Well, we know the accident happened at 11:44. And the truck is sitting on top of the gentleman. And the fire department is in there trying to do a rescue now. Our last estimate was about 30 to 45 minutes longer to remove him. And then once we move out of that rescue mode, then we'll go into a decontamination cleanup mode.

VERJEE: What is the tanker carrying? Is it carrying hazardous materials? There were reports it was carrying formic acid.

KILLIAN: The shipping paper shows it's carrying about 40,000 gallons of formic acid. And we do have leakage from this container.

VERJEE: There are reports also that it's difficult for people to breathe in the area because of the fumes that are coming from that tanker. Are you advising that people in and around the area be evacuated for health reasons?

KILLIAN: We've done evacuation of the residents in the neighborhood, and we're directing them to the community of Keys (ph) right now to the fire department for shelter. Because like I said, the cleanup's going to take many hours once we get the rescue completed.

VERJEE: Was anyone in this house?

KILLIAN: Yes, the folks were at home. There's no one complaining of any other injuries. They've been checked out by medical people. And the only injury that we have is to the driver of the vehicle.

VERJEE: How did this happen? As you, for the moment, answer that question, I think the extrication of the driver has occurred sooner than we may have thought. Right now, emergency workers on the scene there. They appear to have freed the driver.

Now, the tanker just pinned the driver down completely. And it appears as though they've been successful in removing him from under that tanker. We understand that there were people in this house, but nobody has been injured. The one casualty is the driver, and we don't know the extent of the casualties.

He's being hoisted, presumably, onto some sort of stretcher and will be taken to hospital for further evaluation. Tom Killian with the California Highway Patrol speaking to us from Modesto, California. Thank you so much -- Wolf?

KILLIAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you very much. We'll continue to follow this story out in California.

Coming up, what's at stake for President Bush when he goes prime- time for Tuesday night's State of the Union address? I'll ask our political analyst Carlos Watson. He's standing by.

Plus, strange combatants. Why is Kenneth Star taking Arnold Schwarzenegger? Find out in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Now the State of Union and the state of American politics. Our political analyst Carlos Watson is joining us now live from Las Vegas.

Carlos, what are the risks Tuesday night for the president when he delivers this address?

CARLOS WATSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, you know, we talked several months ago early in the fall. We talked about the fact that the president might talk about healthcare. And indeed, we expect to hear a lot. But I think that while that's a major concern for Americans, 47 percent of them think it's something the president and Congress should focus on. The risk is that what the president proposes will be seen as not doing enough.

And in light of what happened with Katrina, in light of what's happened with Iraq, people may suggest that here again is a president who in part was thought to be very competent, the first president with an MBA, but again may not deliver.

I think it can also raise questions, frankly, about tax fairness. People will say, "Why come forward with a paltry solution when, in fact, we've cut a trillion dollars plus in taxes over the course of last six years? Why not spend some of that money to really make a dent in it?" I think there's a real risk in following a President Clinton-like micro strategy that it could bounce back on the president.

BLITZER: Carlos, let's talk a little bit about what happened in the Middle East, yesterday. An earthquake, a political earthquake, Hamas winning the Palestinian elections. You've been trying to learn from this. What's coming through from your perspective?

WATSON: Well, Wolf, you know, so often in politics, international analogies ultimately play here at home. We saw a young Dr. King in the '50s and '60s learn from what happened in India and in Africa, and it informed the civil rights movement.

We saw conservatives in the '70s learn from Margaret Thatcher and others in Europe. That ultimately formed, in part, the Reagan revolution. What we may ultimately see if an entrepreneurial politician grabs onto it someone saying, "Hey, if folks in the Middle East and elsewhere can survive bombs, can do all sorts of things, ultimately to vote, why are we only voting at a 50 percent rate here?"

Now again, I'm not saying that's going to happen organically, but certainly you can see a populist candidate try to move her or his constituency to vote and to come out in higher numbers, and that could end up being an interesting translation based on the president's move for more freedom and more democracy over seas.

BLITZER: You're very good at spotting trends here in the United States, Carlos. And I think our viewers appreciate that. You've been looking at some of these celebrities, Google, corporations, Wal-Mart. They've been getting involved in public policy discussions. This is a trend, do you see, with ramifications. Explain what's going on.

WATSON: Well, I think, Wolf, when you think about some of the big issues, whether it's healthcare and who we provide healthcare to, or the privacy issues, or any of the number of others, no longer do we only have politicians like John Kerry and President Bush in the public square, but now we have people like Google and Wal-Mart that are at the heart of the fight.

So what I think is interesting is that at Wal-Mart and Google, you have two very different companies. Wal-mart, an established retail giant. People think it's part of the American establishment. They've taken through a leaked memo what seemed like a very conservative position, meaning we don't want to offer much healthcare to our workers.

Google, who's expected to be a new company, less than ten years old, we've recently seen them in two big fights. And the question is, will they stand in a very different, very maybe progressive way in terms of the values arena, pushing for more privacy rights, or indeed will they back down. And at the same time, they are doing that, what will they do overseas?

Interesting to watch. I think Google, obviously, one of the most profitable and successful companies to merge in the last five years. And to the extent that they jump in the public arena, people are going to listen to what they do.

BLITZER: Carlos Watson, our political analyst. Thanks, Carlos, very much

WATSON: Good to see you. Have a great weekend.

BLITZER: You too, buddy.

Up next, with billion dollars losses and a massive downsizing plan to work out, many analysts say Ford Motor Company has a lot on its hands. So why is the company now worried about what kinds of cars its workers drive to work? We're going to tell you this story.

And it's being called an important yet incremental step in the fight against bird flu. A vaccine that's 100 percent effective in mice and chickens. We'll tell you why that's a big deal potentially for all of us.


BLITZER: Here's a closer look at some of the hot shots coming in from our friends over at the Associates Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspaper tomorrow.

Peru, water collision. A container ship splits in two after hitting a cargo vessel. Officials blame heavy fog. Milan, Italy. Look at this. Heavy snowfall is disrupting air and ground transportation across the country. Afghanistan, horse riders fight to get the goat. It's the national sport. The object is to put the goat carcass into a circle goal. Davos, Switzerland. Trifecta of sorts. Look at this. Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and rock star Bono at the World Economic Forum. That's some of today's hot shots, pictures often worth a thousand words.

On our political radar this Friday, two top Senate Democrats are calling on President Bush to release all records of meetings, phone calls, and correspondence involving the Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer say it's clear that members of the administration had significant relationships with Abramoff, who's now cooperating in an influence peddling investigation.

President Bush says he does not know Abramoff, though he has been photographed with him. A new "Washington Post" poll shows 76 percent of Americans believe Mr. Bush should disclose contacts between his aides and Abramoff, 18 percent disagree.

An update now on the Abramoff investigation. The Justice Department today is dismissing calls by Democrats for a special prosecutor to take over the influence peddling probe. A justice spokeswoman says, and let me quote now, "There is no illegal or ethical reason why the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would need to recuse himself from this investigation."

The Republican National Committee is planning to air an ad this weekend highlighting a past comment by the Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Reid says, and I'm quoting now, "We killed the Patriot Act." The spot will air on national cable and in Reid's home base of Las Vegas. It also will be sent to Republican supporters on the web. Reid is firing right back. The Nevada senator denies Democrats blocked a long-term extension of the anti-terror law, says the Democrats are just as concerned about security as are Republicans.

Meantime, the Democratic National Committee plans to air its own ad on Las Vegas TV stations this weekend. It takes aim at the president and what the Democrats call his lost credibility.

Now some news that may not necessarily be music to your ears. There are growing concerns that when overused or misused, portable music players like the popular apple iPod could cause hearing loss. Is it safe for you to insert those earphones? Today, the Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Ed Markey says he wants answers. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton has more -- Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, over 40 million people worldwide have bought one of these iPods in Congress. Congressman Ed Markey is one of them. And he's now calling for a report to be done on whether they cause hearing loss, a report to be done from the National Institute of Health. This organization, the American Speech Language Hearing Association, recently warned that iPods and other portable music devices can cause hearing loss if they're used improperly.

Well, what does that mean? What they told me was if you are listening to it at a certain volume where you can't hear somebody near to you talking to you, that's too loud, and you could be at risk. Congressman Markey is looking for answer from the National Institute of Health. He wants to know just how loud is too loud, and also whether these popular in the ear earphones are contributing to the risk.

We asked apple for comment -- Apple owns iPod -- but we didn't receive a response. The National Institute of Health say that they haven't received the letter yet, but hearing loss research is a priority area to them, and they'll be looking into it -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Abbi, thank you very much.

Still to come, democracy can be a risky business. Jack Cafferty and your emails on the Palestinian elections.

And Hurricane Katrina as it happened. Dramatic new home video from a man who rode out the storm on a shrimp boat. The pictures and the remarkable story when we come back. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is back with "The Cafferty File." Hi, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Hi, Wolf. In light of the Hamas victory and the Palestinian elections, along with recent victories for Islamic fundamentalists from Iraq to Iran to Lebanon to Egypt, here's the question. How well is democracy working in the Middle East so far? Frank in New York writes, "Actually, I'd say democracy is working really well. For one thing, it's educating Americans about who we're dealing with over there. You can't just hand a 21st century style democracy to 15th century people and expect it to work out perfectly."

John in San Marcos, California: "Having tried to impose American- style democracy on the Middle East by political pressure and military intervention, the Bush administration is now knee-deep in a classic example of the old adage, 'Be careful what you wish for.'"

Jan in Collingswood, New Jersey: "There'll be growing pains, but eventually, the people in the Middle East will appreciate democracy. I'm more worried about our democracy here in America."

Susan in Vancouver, British Columbia: "Democracy in the Middle East is working just fine. The people voted; their voices were heard. Whether we feel they were right or wrong, these people have asked Hamas to represent them. It isn't this election that counts for Hamas, it's the next one."

Brian writes, "Perhaps democracy's working fine. And the statement of Middle Eastern populations is simply that they don't choose to be pounded into a particular form by American force."

John in Philadelphia writes, "One must respect he voters' choice. Obviously, that's what these people wanted. The trick now is for Bush to get off his high horse and deal with legally elected governments. He has no choice."

BLITZER: Smart letters from our viewers. Thanks very much for that, Jack Cafferty.