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The Situation Room

Does the White House Need New Blood?; Pentagon Plans to Bolster Troop Strength in Iraq; Congress Orders Study Of Iraq War; Man Goes On Shooting Spree In California Denny's; How Can President Bush Fix His Dismal Poll Numbers?; Clock Ticking On Oil Addiction; Many Say Katherine Harris Campaigned Doomed From The Start; Senate Struggling To Come Up With Immigration Bill

Aired March 15, 2006 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, the growing buzz that new blood may be needed over at the White House. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington. Is the president poised to add a political heavyweight or two to his team? We're following all the new angles to a story we first told you about right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

U.S. troop levels and tension are ratcheting up in Iraq. It's midnight in Baghdad, the scene of fresh bloodshed. This hour, there's a new mood to give the White House a second opinion about Iraq.

And who's to blame for America's energy problems? We have some brand new poll numbers to share you just minutes from now. And we'll also introduce you to a Republican who's a conservative and a conservationist.

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

The Bush administration today being pummeled with questions about possible staff changes or additions.

This comes 24 hours after we first reported to you on a push to get some new people, some new energy, into the embattled White House. Insiders aren't saying much publicly, but privately, we're now hearing more about a campaign to bring a veteran fix-it person on board.

All of this amid still more evidence today of the president's political troubles. Mr. Bush has hit another all-time low in yet another poll. His approval rating is down to a mere 33 percent in a just-released Pew Survey. Our CNN poll this week showed him at 36 percent job approval rating.

Our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield is standing by, but let's begin with our White House correspondent Dana Bash, who broke some news here yesterday on some thinking going on at the White House to bring in some new blood.

What is the latest information, Dana, you're picking up today? DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, since we talked about this stepped-up pressure on the White House for some new blood, we're seeing an intense, maybe a predictable move, among senior officials inside the Bush team to say basically thanks, but no thanks.

Now, they acknowledged that this pressure is there, and at the very least, it is coming from people who are close to them. And it being -- what they're being told is that what they need is an experienced hand. Nevertheless, what they say is that this is a president who officials insist don't -- that he doesn't want changes, doesn't changes at this time.

And this was the subject, Wolf, of intense talk inside the briefing room today. The president's spokesman dismissed this as an inside the Washington -- inside Washington pontificating.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: This is part of the inside Washington babble that goes on in this town. It's part of the parlor game. We are focused on the priorities that the American people care most about, and getting things done.

We are focused on helping the president advance his agenda to make America safer and more prosperous. There are a lot of important priorities we're working to advance, and we're working to build upon a record of great accomplishment. And that's where our focus is.


BASH: Now, the desire is still very much there among senior Republicans we've talked to close to the White House to convince the president to bring in an experienced hand, a graybeard as some in this town called it.

But these sources involved in these discussions say they know this president and how reluctant he is to make changes, especially when it comes to his inner circle, especially when he is under pressure from the outside. And this is what this is.

They're not giving up, they say, but as we discussed yesterday, Wolf, they realized that this being talked about in public is probably the death of this idea.

BLITZER: Dana Bash with the latest thinking over at the White House. Dana, thank you very much.

If you're getting a sense of deja vu right now, there's a reason. In other administrations, when the going got tough, someone often got going, or someone new joined the team.

Our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield has been going through a little history on this matter. He's joining us now, live from New York.

You're smiling as usual, Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it is a near- scientific law of political nature. Falling presidential poll numbers automatically trigger an involuntary collective shout. Let's shake up the White House staff! Let's bring in flesh blood, new energy! After all, it's worked like a charm in the past, hasn't it? Sometimes yes, mostly no.


RICHARD NIXON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I accepted the resignations of two of my closest associates in the White House.

GREENFIELD (voice-over): It sure didn't save Richard Nixon in 1973, when the Watergate scandal exploded in the spring and he fired top aides H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. Nixon was out by August of the following year.

NIXON: The best is "au revoir."

JIMMY CARTER, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: We can see this crisis.

GREENFIELD: And it sure didn't help Jimmy Carter in 1979, when just days after a major speech on a crisis of the national spirit, he fired several members of his cabinet. Carter barely staved off a primary challenge in Ted Kennedy, and lost to Reagan in a landslide in 1980.

President Reagan actually had two big shake-ups. After his 1984 reelection, Treasury Secretary Don Regan swapped jobs with Chief of Staff Jim Baker. Don Regan proved that he could not work and play well with others.


GREENFIELD: And after the Iran-Contra story threatened to sink the ship of state, President Reagan brought in Howard Baker, Ken Duberstein and other Washington pros. That's the shake-up everybody remembers as a magic bullet.

But when the first President Bush got in trouble in 1992 and Secretary of State James Baker was brought into oversee the reelection fight, it proved no help at all. Bush lost with the lowest share of the popular vote for any incumbent since William Howard Taft.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These rumors about some sort of shake-up...

GREENFIELD: When Bill Clinton's first term got shaky, he brought in perennial White House aide David Gergen, who had worked mostly with Republicans, and put Budget Director Leon Panetta in as chief of staff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I need their support.

GREENFIELD: The two were supposed to provide adult supervision. As later developments show, the White House personality most in need of adult supervision was occupying the Oval Office.


GREENFIELD: Now, it probably makes sense that after five and a half years, White House aides are exhausted and maybe even burnt out. But I suspect if this administration had its choice, they would take better news from Iraq, a big win on terrorism, a smoother prescription drug program and an effective response to the next natural disaster over any set of new faces at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But Wolf, but really -- if they want a graybeard, Wolf, take a look at yourself.

BLITZER: Not available.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jeff Greenfield, for that.

There are also new details emerging now about Pentagon's plan to once again bolster troop strength in Iraq. An Army battalion of about 800 soldiers will be relocated from the Kuwait to the Baghdad area. Officials say that's part of a broader plan that includes repositioning several thousand U.S. and Iraqi security forces. Troops are bracing for a possible increase of sectarian violence during a Shiite Muslim holiday later this month.

Back here in Washington, lots of thinking and rethinking about the Iraq mission. Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry is doing a lot of thinking about this, as well.

What are you picking up, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, thinking, rethinking, studying and restudying -- the bottom line is that nobody in either political party really has the answer on how to end the war successfully after three years, so basically Congress is turning to a familiar formula, which is order up a study and hope that you find a solution.


HENRY (voice-over): When Congress has a problem it can't solve, it's time to call in a blue ribbon panel, and so it is with the Iraq Study Group of 10 former Washington insiders, a task force created on the even of the third anniversary of the war to figure out what's next.

JAMES BAKER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Our purpose is to undertake a bipartisan, forward-looking assessment of the current and prospective situation on the ground in Iraq, its impact on the surrounding region, and its consequences for United States interests.

HENRY: No easy chore, now that more than 2,300 U.S. troops have been killed.

LEE HAMILTON, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSIONER: We have no illusion at all as to the difficulty of the task, but we know that the country needs help now in working through this, and we want to add whatever we can by way of a constructive contribution.

HENRY: The partisan divide was on full display as Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid slammed the president while appearing with two parents who lost their 20-year-old son in Iraq.

SEN. HARRY REID (D), MINORITY LEADER: We're here today in honor of them, and asking this administration to start making choices in Iraq that are as competent and as responsible as the soldiers that these policies effect.

HENRY: Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, a less dire assessment of situation in Iraq from a top military general.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, CMDR., U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I believe that we are not on the verge of a civil war. I believe that the sectarian issues are controllable, and I believe that the government of national unity will emerge and I that the Iraqi security forces will continue to improve.

HENRY: Leading senators said a fresh look at Iraq may be the only way to find common ground.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: I think we have a national interest which almost everybody here in Congress acknowledges to complete our mission to Iraq successfully, but there's so much partisan crossfire here every day that you would miss that common purpose.


HENRY: Republican John McCain told me that if this group puts out a report, it will be looked at very closely because by lawmakers because this is a very high-powered panel, in his words.

But Democrat Barbara Boxer told me there's another reason why Congress will listen to this outside group. In her words, Congress is paralyzed right now. There are no easy choices on how to end the war, and she said Congress can take any help it can get -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed, it seems the administration's critics are simply insisting they're incompetent -- the president, the vice president, the cabinet -- on a whole host of issues, and that's basically the bottom line of their criticism, incompetent on Iraq and everything else.

HENRY: That's right. A couple of months ago, we thought the Democratic line of attack in the midterms would be culture of corruption. They are still going to use that, but now we're hearing this line that there's incompetence at the White House from Katrina to Iraq. You are going to hear it over and over between now and November -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, thanks very much.

While the fight over Iraq continues here in Washington, there's certainly no letup at all in the violence over there. Let's bring our in Zain Verjee from the CNN headquarters in Atlanta for more on this part of the story -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, right now in Baghdad, a city-wide curfew is in effect. The ban on vehicle traffic comes as Iraq's new parliament prepares to convene tomorrow. Earlier a pair of bombs killed two people in the Iraqi capital. At least three others were wounded.

And we are also monitoring conflicting reports on a U.S. raid on a suspected al Qaeda stronghold north of Baghdad. Iraqi police say 11 people were killed when U.S. troops called in air support, among the dead five children and four women. But U.S. commanders are saying that one child and two women are among the dead.

Saddam Hussein is urging Iraqis to fight U.S. forces and to stop killing each other. He made the comments during a combative court session today. The judge briefly closed the courtroom to media in an effort to quell Saddam's political rhetoric.

The former Iraqi leader is on trial on trial for allegedly ordering the deaths of more than 140 Shia men and boys following an assassination attempt against him in 1982 in the town of Dujail. A full report from Baghdad is coming up in the next hour.

We're waiting for official word on when and where and how supporters of Slobodan Milosevic will be permitted to hold his funeral. The body of the former Serbian president and war crime suspect arrived in Belgrade aboard a Serbian jet liner today.

Supporters want a large public ceremony. While the government is really hoping to minimize the impact of the funeral. Milosevic died of a heart attack on Saturday, just two months before the expected end of his war crimes trial at The Hague in the Netherlands.

Two life sentences and a sentence of death, and you saw it live right here on CNN. Joseph Smith, the Florida mechanic, who kidnapped, raped and killed 11-year-old Carlie Brucia in February of 2004, today learned his punishment.

The death sentence came after the judge recited for the record every excruciating detail of aggravating and mitigating circumstances for the crime. Surveillance video at the local Sarasota car wash caught on the tape the movement that her killer led Carlie away by the arm. The footage itself led to Smith's arrest -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a horrible crime. What a horrible crime.

Thanks, Zain, very much.

Let's go up to New York. Jack Cafferty standing by with "The Cafferty File."

Hi Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: How are you doing, Wolf? On a much lighter note, do you want to laugh out loud? Listen to this. House Republican leaders announced their plans for lobbying reform today. They're calling for a temporary ban -- temporary -- on privately funded travel by lawmakers and for lobbyists to disclose the gifts they give to House members.

That's real draconian stuff, don't you think?

House Speaker Dennis Hastert says these recommendations will, quote, "sustain the integrity of the Congress as we move forward," quote. Note to Mr. Hastert, the Congress has no integrity. There was no immediate reaction from Democrats, who accused Republicans of creating a culture of corruption.

The Senate is working on its own legislation. But, as you may recall, the Senate Committee recently rejected a proposal for an independent ethics office. This whole thing is a joke. They must think we're all absolute retards of some kind. They pay lip service to this stuff. There's no teeth in any of it. It's meaningless. And then they put out a press release saying, look what we did. We're preserving the integrity of the Congress. Unbelievable.

Here's the question. What will the end result of ethics reform be on Capitol Hill? Email us at or go to

Temporary ban on private trips, Wolf. That ought to clean it up, don't you think?

BLITZER: I remember when you showed us the roll call of that vote in that Senate committee. You probably got some reaction to that.

CAFFERTY: I don't remember. No, I don't think so. I mean, we got reaction from the viewers who are fed up to the gills with these clowns, but, no, none of the worms who voted against that thing had nerve enough to write to us because I would have read the letter on the air.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty we will get back to you very soon. And I don't doubt it for a moment.

Coming up, cargo screening and the port security storm. What is Congress doing right now? And is the Dubai deal really dead? New developments to report this hour.

Plus, borderline controversy. An up-close look at what all the shouting over illegal immigration is about.

And Senator Russ Feingold out on a limb over his call to censure the president. Are fellow Democrats cowering, as he says? Or are they being politically smart? James Carville, Bay Buchanan standing by in our "Strategy Session."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Chalk one up for Congress in the wake of the port security storm. The new poll out today shows 58 percent of the Americans say lawmakers acted appropriately by fighting to kill the Dubai Ports deal. Today D.P. World clarified its plans to sell off ports in the United States.

CNN's Andrea Koppel is joining us now with more on this part of the story -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, hoping to end days of speculation and finally put to rest all those conspiracy theories that we have been hearing about, about what it meant when it said it would transfer its North American port operations to a U.S. entity. Dubai Ports World spelled out its intentions today saying that it expects to sell those port operations to an unrelated U.S. buyer.


KOPPEL (voice-over): In a press release, D.P. World said it intends to complete the sale within four to six months, enough time to finish preparing the financial, corporate and legal information for the sale to go through. The company said offers would be considered based on value, deliverability and the continuity of management, employees and customers.

A leading Senate critic of the deal, Democratic Charles Schumer of New York seems satisfied.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: This is what we've asked for. It looks like the original deal now is scuttled, and Americans can breathe a sigh of relief. Our ports will be safer.

KOPPEL: But over in the House, lawmakers weren't taking any chances, moving ahead with legislation to kill the deal no matter what, as well as with another bill calling for more money for port security. Democrats, especially, eager to continue hammering away at perceptions Republicans and the White House have gone soft for national security.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: But even though the Dubai Port deal blew the lid off the myth of security initiatives on the part of this administrations and the Republicans in Congress, the Republicans are still resisting change.


KOPPEL: Now the only other unanswered question that remains is who will buy D.P. World's North American operations at those six U.S. ports? Remember, when D.P. World took over last week, those operations were valued at $680 million.

CNN contacted Deutsche Bank, which has been signed on by D.P. World to serve as a financial adviser for the sale. What this official has told CNN is an estimated 15 to 20 parties have already expressed interest in the ports deal, Wolf. BLITZER: Thank you very much. One hundred percent of cargo containers arriving in the United States must be screened for radiation. That's what some Republicans and Democrats are demanding in a new House bill. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is following the story as well.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the bill has been introduced by Representatives Dan Lungren and Jane Harman. Yes, it calls for 100 percent radiation screening on containers both at the port of origin and here when they arrive in the United States.

We had a long talk to U.S. Customs and border protection officials today to find out where we stand on that radiation screening right now. Internationally, there's an initiative called the Container Security Initiative, CSI. It means that the U.S. partners with 43 ports around the world to implement measures allowing U.S. officials to participate in screening overseas.

There are a couple of issues on this. First of all, not all containers arriving in the United States go through these 43 ports. By the end of the year, it will be about 82 percent of containers arriving here that go through these ports. Another issue is officials can't tell us exactly how much is being screened there overseas.

Domestically they have much clearer figures, they are saying its about 45 percent of containers that are being screened here in the United States and that number is rising all the time.

BLITZER: Up next, the battle here in Washington over Iraq. Is the White House strategy working? The president's poll numbers, the new Pew poll out today, sinking to only 33 percent job approval. I will ask two experts, James Carville, Bay Buchanan, what the president should be doing right now.

Later, she made headlines with her role in the 2003 count. Now Katherine Harris is making headlines once again as she runs for the U.S. Senate. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There's been a shooting out at a Denny's restaurant out in California. Let's go to Zain at the CNN Center who is following this story.

VERJEE: Wolf, we're learning that this has happened in Pismo Beach, that's a city north of Los Angeles and in the California central coast area. Apparently a gunman opened fire inside a Denny's restaurant killing three people. Those three people died straight away at the restaurant. Two people have been injured.

We're hearing reports that one of dead may be the gunman himself. We don't have more details than that. Of the two people that were injured, they were taken to a nearby hospital. We're going to bring you more information when we get it. This story developing out of Pismo Beach in California. Three people dead at a Denny's restaurant. One may be the gunman. BLITZER: Zain Verjee reporting.

Today in our "Strategy Session," one Republican senator says he has concerns about the White House team and others are suggesting new blood might be needed in the president's staff. Will new faces help put the White House back on track?

Joining us now are CNN political analysts, Democratic strategist James Carville and Bay Buchanan, president of American Cause. New poll out today. The Pew poll, 33 percent job approval number. That's pitifully low.

BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CAUSE: It's low, there's no question about it. The answer is not to throw out the guys who are committed and loyal and very experienced in the White House. I, though, would suggest, one, that the problem is mostly the Iraq war. That's the greatest concern. Putting somebody in the White House wouldn't change that. But it would not be a bad idea to bring in somebody new. Not fire anyone.

BLITZER: Should he get rid of Rumsfeld?

BUCHANAN: No, I would not get rid of Rumsfeld. The president makes the decisions on the war.

BLITZER: You don't think he needs new blood in the Iraq war, which is the big shadow hanging over?

BUCHANAN: There's no question, I think we need new ideas and the ambassador over there has been speaking and giving some ideas out there and I think we should be listening to him.

BLITZER: Here's what a Republican Senator Norm Coleman of Minnesota said. He said, I have some concerns about the team that's around the president. All of the sudden we're hearing the phrase tin ear. That's a phrase you shouldn't hear. The fact that you're hearing it says that the kind of political sensitivity, the ear to the ground that you need in the White House, isn't there at the level that it needs to be. What do you think?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Jeff Greenfield did a good piece showing how to do this and way more often than not it doesn't work out. If you think there's something wrong with the personnel, then switch personnel. If you think there's something wrong with the policy, that's quite another thing.

Who is more experienced than Dick Cheney or Karl Rove? Andy Card has been there for five years, he's a former Transportation Secretary, he's probably the most experienced hand in Washington. Everybody goes through this and I think Senator Coleman is just popping off.

They're not going to have a strong chief of staff to come in there as long as Vice President Cheney or Karl Rove is in there. There not going to accept that. It's not the way this White House works. I think the president needs to acknowledge to people that the Iraq war is not going as well as we hoped and I think there would be some benefit in replacing Rumsfeld. It would send a signal to people that we will change some things over there.

BUCHANAN: I do think it would help to add somebody. That tin ear is out there. There not responsive to what's going on in America. They have been in the White House too long so they've lost touch with the citizenry. I think to bring somebody in, also someone who has the trust of Congress. Because right now the Republican Congress is taking a different path.

BLITZER: You don't think that the rumors out there that Andy Card should be moved and become the Secretary of Treasury, replacing John Snow, and then bring in a new chief of staff? You don't think that will be a good idea?

BUCHANAN: I think the president won't do it unless Andy Card agrees to it immediately. I think the president likes those people around him. I think he should bring in new blood. If one of those guys will move out and become secretary of something, I think it would work.

BLITZER: Here's what Ed Rollins, who worked in the Reagan administration, what he said the other day. "By the time you get to year six there's never a break. You get tired. There's always a crisis. It wears you down. This has been a White House that hasn't really had much change at all. There is a fatigue factor that builds up. You sometimes don't see the crisis approaching. You're not as on guard as you once were." He's a wise guy.

CARVILLE: Sure. But the point is that you have a very strong vice president, the strongest ever in Vice President Cheney. You have Karl Rove who is the strategic center of the White House. Who will come in as a chief of staff or person in that environment? They will be neutered as soon as they come in. They have the White House that they got. Yes, they can do some cosmetic things and they can do the Washington parlor game, fine. Let's play it.

Who's going to come in? Is a strong person going to come in and say, the only way I come in is I run the place? That's not going to happen.

BUCHANAN: I'll tell you who you have to -- you have to bring in a former governor, some big name, somebody who's accustomed to things, somebody's who's not intimidated by Rove or Cheney or anybody else. Somebody who knows they're equal...

BLITZER: Well, you were in the Reagan administration when Howard Baker came in.

BUCHANAN: I certainly was.

BLITZER: Did he do a good job?

BUCHANAN: Howard Baker, I think that -- I, of course, preferred others in that position. But Howard Baker did the job I think that the president wanted at the time. I did not like his decisions, but I -- you know, he was a fine...

BLITZER: You were close to Bill Clinton when he jumped Mack McClarty and put in Leon Panetta.

CARVILLE: Well, things change. I mean, there's an evolving change. But the problem is that here, you have the vice president and you have Mr. Rove. Mr. Rove, there was nobody in the Clinton administration, in the White House, that exercised the kind of power that Mr. Rove does. Vice President Gore didn't run an entire war, as Vice President Cheney is doing.

My point is, Wolf, they're not going to get a governor to come in that's going to just be part of a -- to listen to what Rove or Cheney tell him. He's going to come in and say, "I'll run the show, or I don't," and that's not going to be acceptable in this White House.

BUCHANAN: But it's key that they bring somebody in who understands what's going across this country today. And they don't have that. They've been in Washington, isolated from the heartbeat of this country for too long. And that's clear from the port deal.

BLITZER: Well, one thing -- we're going to leave it here, but one thing you've got to take into consideration, both Cheney and Karl Rove both have been wounded in recent months for different reasons. And they may not be as powerful as you seem to think they are, James.

CARVILLE: Maybe. But seeing is believing, and seeing (ph) is going to come in and say, "You know what? We're going to give up what we have and be subservient to governor so-and-so who's coming in." It could happen. I don't see that happening.

BLITZER: And when all is said and done, it's up to the president to make that decision.


BUCHANAN: He will not fire anybody. He will not fire anyone in that senior staff, nor should he.

BLITZER: I suspect something will happen in the next few days.


CARVILLE: Something will happen. This will not continue, I promise you.

BLITZER: James Carville, Bay Buchanan, thanks very much.

Coming up, gas prices are soaring again. So do you think there's an energy crisis? We're going to take a closer look at some disturbing new poll numbers when we return.

And later, the political battle over immigration. Our Bill Schneider checked out the situation on the border. He's standing by. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back. We have some brand new poll numbers to share with you right on America's energy problems. Things got worse once again this week when we learned that gas prices have gone back up by 11 cents a gallon. Just 12 percent of those surveyed in our new poll think the nation is in an energy crisis. But 49 see major problems with energy in the United States; 35 cite minor problems.

Most Americans, 71 percent, say the president is not doing enough to solve the nation's energy woes. CNN's special correspondent Frank Sesno has been looking into all things energy, America's addiction to oil. Frank, you've done an incredible amount of work. What are you picking up?

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: We're heading for this documentary that's going to air this weekend, Wolf. We'll talk about that more in a minute. The president says, as you pointed out, we're addicted to oil. Well, even some of his allies are saying that the clock is ticking. And you saw those poll numbers, not just on the politics, but on the oil itself.


SESNO: Roscoe Bartlett may seem like an unlikely rebel in the war to end America's addiction to oil. He's a 79-year-old former scientist, worked on America's manned space, program in the '60s, and a soft-spoken great grandfather.

REP. ROSCOE BARTLETT (R), MARYLAND: We have been using more oil than we have found.

SESNO: But he's also a feisty conservative Republican congressman from Maryland who believes we're headed for the far side of a cliff, a cliff called peak oil.

BARTLETT: There will be a day when we have reached our maximum capacity for producing oil. After that, it's going to be downhill.

SESNO: Bartlett is co-chair of the Congressional Peak Oil Caucus. He was there when the president said...


SESNO: Pleased to hear the words, but too little too late, contends Bartlett, who broke with his party and president last year and voted against their energy bill. He says it was simply inadequate.

SESNO (on camera): You're a Republican.


SESNO: Pretty conservative guy. BARTLETT: But I'm not an idiot.

SESNO (voice-over): Bartlett recites the numbers. The world burns 84 million barrels of oil every day. The U.S. alone accounts for about a quarter of that. With explosive growth in places like China and India, it's estimated we'll need 40 percent more in just 20 years.

SESNO (on camera): If the world cannot produce more oil to keep up with growing demand, what happens?

BARTLETT: The least bad scenario, I think, is a deep worldwide recession. And if we don't work together, it could be the equivalent of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. War, famine, pestilence, and death.

SESNO (voice-over): Plenty of people reject Peak Oil's vision of impending doom, especially the oil industry. Exxon-Mobil has taken out ads saying with abundant oil resources, peak production is nowhere in site. "Hogwash," says Bartlett.

Bartlett heats his 150-year-old house with wood, has a passive solar greenhouse, and drives a hybrid car. He challenges his president, and calls for a mix of high and low-tech solutions, a big push on conservation and renewable fuels, higher fuel economy standards for cars and trucks, more nuclear power, fast.

BARTLETT: I'm probably going to be OK through my life. But what about my kids and my grandkids? What kind of a country are they going to live in? What kind of a world are they going to live in?


SESNO: I've got to tell you, Wolf, that Roscoe Bartlett is just one man, one voice. But what he's saying actually seems to be gaining some traction on Capitol Hill. The right moves to the center, the left moves to the center. What they say is more exploration, more conservation, and more work, because the clock really is ticking.

BARTLETT: You've got some other new poll numbers you're looking at.

SESNO: Yes. Bartlett's not alone in his worries. It's very interesting taking a look at this poll that we just did, CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll. Three quarters of the people say that they fear that the world is going to run short of oil, that we're not going to produce enough oil to keep up with all this demand. Three-quarters of people are concerned about that.

About three in ten say within 25 years. That kind of reflects the big division as to how much time is really left. And finally, Wolf, people are worried about something very immediate and something that you've been spending a lot of time talking about. That's terrorism. Three-quarters of the people I asked said that they fear that terrorists will attempt a major attack on oil installations within the next 12 months. BLITZER: Frank Sesno, thanks very much. Our special correspondent. And what Frank just told us all about is only a snippet of this incredible story. Please stay tuned to CNN this weekend, "CNN Presents: We Were Warned. Tomorrow's Oil Crisis." That airs Saturday and Sunday evenings, 8:00 p.m. Eastern. You'll want to stick around. See it this weekend. Frank Sesno and "CNN Presents."

Coming up, a Republican lightning rod. Congresswoman Katherine Harris about to make an important announcement. Will she stay in or will she drop out of her race for the U.S. Senate from Florida? The suspense is building.

And Saddam Hussein in the witness chair. A tirade that riles the judge and leads to the media being shut up. A full report, that's coming up in our next hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Congresswoman Katherine Harris is on our political radar this hour. She's no stranger to cliffhangers. She did, after all, have a leading role in the 2000 presidential recount in Florida. Now she has fellow Republicans holding their collective breath. She's just hours away from a major announcement on her troubled Senate race. Our Brian Todd is following the story, and he's joining us live -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, political handicappers say Katherine Harris may announce she's dropping out of the Florida Senate race tonight, or she may say she's recommitting to it possibly by kicking in more of her own money. Either way, observers say, something dramatic has to happen to change the course of a campaign many believe was doomed from the start.


TODD: Her announcement last August might have been a symbol of what was to come.

REP. KATHERINE HARRIS (R), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: I'm only sorry some of my dear friends and family can't be here.

TODD: Many observers argue Katherine Harris' friends in the Republican Party haven't been there for her either. One reason, they say, of why the glamorous Florida congresswoman, GOP hero of the 200 presidential recount, is in the midst of a Senate campaign described by longtime associates as in disarray and even mortally wounded.

Republican operatives we spoke to in Florida and elsewhere say GOP leaders did not embrace Harris' candidacy from the start. The recount made her too divisive, many felt, with no crossover appeal.

AL CARDENAS, FORMER FLORIDA GOP CHAIRMAN: Some leaders of the party felt like they preferred other candidates. Most people stood in the sidelines, waiting to see how it was going to be playing out. It's played out far later in the political season that we would have liked.

TODD: Then the GOP saw her disastrous fundraising effort and her horrible showing against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in the polls. Some party leaders backed away even further. Others pressured her to get out.

The pile-on continued when Harris was supported by a defense contractor caught up in a congressional bribery scandal. She's never been accused of wrong doing in that case. But there was another factor, according to some political observers, her reputation for being unpredictable and tough on her staff.

JENNIFER DUFFY, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: She wants a lot of control over her campaigns, over her House office. There are a lot of political operatives who don't like to work that way. So she had some turnover in her campaign.


TODD: Phone calls. As for the party support, one official with the Republican Senatorial Committee tells CNN they're firmly behind Harris, but he did admit they looked at other candidates in the early going -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thanks very much.

Up next, political news. More political news. It's arriving here all the time. Remember, CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

Bracing for bird flu. Are Americans paying attention? We'll check the situation online to see what's there and what people are talking about.

And later, if the virus does bust through our borders, is the U.S. ready for it? I'll go one on one with a man who should know, the health and human services secretary Mike Leavitt. Stick around. That's coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A new backdrop today for the political battle over immigration. Senators and farmers went to a D.C. farmer's market to demand what they call responsible immigration reform. They charged a House bill approved last year would reduce the availability of farm workers and raise the cost of farm products. Right now, the Senate is struggling to come up with its own immigration bill. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider got a first-hand look at what's at stake. He's joining us now live -- Bill.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, there is a crisis on the U.S. border, and nowhere more than in Arizona, where I traveled with the U.S. Border Patrol last week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER: This is the Nogales Processing Center near the U.S.- Mexican border in Arizona. The numbers of illegal immigrants processed here are staggering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anywhere between 1,500 to 2,000 per day.

SCHNEIDER: Those are just the ones caught. Why Arizona? The Border Patrol says beginning in the 1990s, its operations effectively shut down parts of the border in California, Texas, and New Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The smugglers have run out of places to go. It's Arizona.

SCHNEIDER: You can see the immigrants trying to scale the walls and fences at any time of the day or night.

I'm at Nogales, Mexico, at the border. This fence is the border with the United States. And this opening is literally a broken border. It's been broken for years. To get into the United States, all you would have to do is step across the line. And here I am in Nogales, Arizona.

The issue is causing bitter division. On one side, the minutemen, volunteer citizen patrols who monitor border areas and report sightings of illegal immigrants. While the Border Patrol encourages citizens to report suspicious activity, they also say...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just do not want anyone that's not trained to handle these incidents to be out there.

SCHNEIDER: On the other side, the Samaritans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the last two summers, we've put camps out in the critical areas of the desert where people are dying with volunteers from around the country to try and provide food and water and medical care.

SCHNEIDER: Problem there, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had three federal felony convictions for harboring and transporting illegal aliens.

SCHNEIDER: The broken border is a source of division among Americans.

BLAKE MORLOCK, POLITICAL WRITER, TUCSON CITIZEN: It can be difficult to sit down and have a rational conversation about it with someone on either side of the spectrum.


SCHNEIDER: The pressures are immense. Pressure on public services, security. We don't know who the illegal immigrants are. And massive environmental destruction. Go 50 yards off the highway and you can see piles of discarded clothing, food containers, plastic water bottles, and backpacks. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has put out this flyer, warning visitors of dangerous pollution and dangerous intruders -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, solid reporting. Thank you very much.

Zain Verjee is standing by at the CNN Global Headquarters with a closer look at other stories making news -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, just a few hours ago, word that federal agents have shut down an especially disturbing child pornography operation. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced that 27 people were rounded up, 13 of them in the United States. The charges are linked to an Internet chat room to stream video of live child molestation. The youngest victim was 18 months old. We're going to have more on this story coming up in the next hour of THE SITUATION ROOM.

Within the past couple of hours, the Congress welcomed the president of Liberia to its podium. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf addressed a joint meeting of Congress. During her speech, Johnson- Sirleaf said Liberia and the United States are bound by histories and values. She vows that her West African country, which has suffered years under civil war, will demonstrate that democracy can work.

And Spiderman is at it again. Not Peter Parker. This is 43- year-old French urban climber. Look at him. His name is Alan Robert (ph). He scaled a 31-story building today in Paris. He did it with his bare hands and no safety net and in less than half an hour.

Robert, who assumed the Spiderman nickname a long time ago, is really known for climbing some of the world's tallest structures. Among them, he has climbed the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State, and Kuala Lumpur's Petronas Towers. That's Spiderman, not back to the Wolfman.

BLITZER: That's nuts. That's what that is. That is crazy. What a maniac that guy is.

VERJEE: A way to pass the time.

BLITZER: Stock up on tuna and powdered milk. That's just some of the new advice being dispensed by the Department of Health and Human Services in preparation for a possible bird flu pandemic. What else should you be doing? The answers are online. Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.

TATTON: Yes, Wolf. That was the quote that we've all now heard. But this is actually the web site from Health and Human Services, It's been going since November.

The Senate's been offering some pretty comprehensive advice and planning. It's got state by state resources, web casts, like this one going on earlier today in Wisconsin, and slide shows about what is happening locally. You can check on what's going on in your area.

Going back to the main Web site, it's also got main pages of information, new reports being added daily, and also planning lists. No mention of powdered milk or tuna on those, but plenty of good advice -- Wolf. BLITZER: Thanks, Abbi, very much.

And please be sure to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, my one-on-one interview with the Health and Human Services secretary, Michael Leavitt. He's the one who said stockpile on tuna and powdered milk.

Still to come, ethics reform on Capitol Hill. Is it all talk, or will there be real action that actually makes the difference? Jack Cafferty with your email right after this.


BLITZER: Get right back to Jack in New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Announced their plans for lobbying reform today. They're call for a temporary ban on privately funded travel by lawmakers -- temporary -- and for lobbyist to disclose the gifts they give to members. That'll happen.

The question is, what will the end result of ethics reform be on Capitol Hill? Here's some of what you've written. I personally read a couple of hundred letters the last 40 minutes. Didn't see one -- not one -- that expressed any confidence in these people to do anything meaningful in the way of reform. Pretty sad commentary.

William in Huntington, West Virginia: "You assume those in Congress know what ethics are. How do you pick a bicycle when you've never seen a bicycle?"

Peter in Perry, Georgia: "There'll be no change. It'll be business as usual. You can't put crooks in charge of reforming all the other crooks. What you end up with is no change at all."

Bruce in Wisconsin: "There'll be no reform because Congress and the Senate have no ethics. There's one sure way to minimize this disgrace. Term limits, term limits, term limits." That's actually three ways, Bruce.

O. writes, "Concerning Congress' ethics, we have no one to blame but ourselves because we either voted for them or did not vote. The damage has been done. The solution is obviously to vote them out of office."

Jim writes, "I don't think there'll be any reform enacted by Congress, but you can be sure if one is enacted, it'll have loopholes big enough to drive Duke Cunningham's yacht through."

And Dan in Randolph, Maine, writes, "Come on, Jack. You don't really think those crooks and thieves are going to do anything to police themselves. They are collectively the single biggest group of overpaid losers on the planet." Those are lovely comments about the United States Congress. They ought to be a ashamed of themselves. But they're not, are they?

BLITZER: We'll leave that for another occasion, Jack. Thanks very much.