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The Situation Room
President Bush Gives Vote of Confidence to Rumsfeld, Cheney; Florida Republicans Have Another Controversy; Will Kerry's Apology Be Enough?
Aired November 01, 2006 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou. And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And standing by we've got reporters all over the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.
BLITZER: And they're happening right now. President Bush gives a vote of confidence to Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, but how will voters react to that endorsement of two architects of the war in Iraq only six days before Election Day?
ZAHN: And Senator John Kerry caves into the criticism and says he's sorry for that bad joke about being stuck in Iraq, but will that put an end to the pre-election controversy?
BLITZER: And Florida Republicans have another controversy on their hands right now. First, there was the Congressman Mark Foley scandal. Now amid allegations of racial slurs and threats a state lawmaker resigns and faces criminal charges.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
And I'm Paula Zahn. From the CNN Election Headquarters in New York, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Only six days before America votes. There's lots of fresh ammunition for the political war over Iraq. Tonight Senator John Kerry has issued the apology Republicans and even some Democrats demanded. He says he never intended to say anything negative about U.S. troops. He says he's sorry if anyone was offended. We'll have more on that. That's coming up.
And just as Republicans have put the spotlight on Kerry, President Bush grabbed it back today. He issued a new defense of two major targets of Iraq war critics. That would be Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. During interviews with the wire services Mr. Bush says he wants the vice president and the defense secretary to stay on the job until the very last day of his administration. That would be in January 2009.
CNN's Brian Todd begins our coverage and the campaign trail -- Brian. BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president has publicly stated his support for Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld before. But in this politically-charged climate, the fact that he was so emphatic about it today was surprising.
TODD (voice-over): Two men who had been lighting rods for his administration, one with notoriously low poll ratings, the other facing repeated calls to resign even from party loyalists. Yet the man who put them in power doesn't waver. President Bush in an interview with news agencies replies yes, when asked if he wants Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to stay with him until his term ends in 2009.
Quote, "Both those men are doing fantastic jobs. And I strongly support them."
Rumsfeld has been under extraordinary pressure from critics who say the Iraq war is spinning out of control. But supporters say he shouldn't take all the blame.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: There are a lot of people who want to blame what's happening in Iraq on Donald Rumsfeld. But when you look at the transformation that our military has been through, it's nothing short of remarkable. And I think there's only person in America who could have brought about that transformation and that's Donald Rumsfeld.
TODD: On Cheney the president revealed his near obsession with loyalty, saying the good thing about Vice President Cheney's advice is you don't read about it in the newspaper after he gives it.
TODD: Almost as surprising the president's comments about U.S. troop levels in Iran. Asked if he foresee an increase, he said quote, "They've got all -- they've got enough -- excuse me -- they've got what they can live with" -- Paula.
ZAHN: Brian Todd thanks so much.
Now it is safe to call next year's election a national referendum on Iraq. Our newest CNN Opinion Research Poll shows it is the number one issue across the country listed as extremely important by 49 percent of registered voters. Nothing ranks higher. But tonight, there is some evidence that the military thinks the situation in Iraq is getting even more chaotic.
Let's go to CNN Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre who has the details.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, it's a question of whether it was just a bad day or a really bad trend in Iraq. It's raised by a briefing slide that was leaked to and reported by "The New York Times".
MCINTYRE (voice-over): With 105 U.S. deaths in Iraq last month, October was the deadliest for U.S. forces in two years. But at the Pentagon the defender in chief of Iraq policy argues the war-torn country is still headed in the right direction.
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: It is not a smooth road. It's a bumpy road. We know that. We have said it repeatedly.
MCINTYRE: However, an internal briefing slide from two weeks ago, obtained and published by "The New York Times" has a different take. It shows Iraq at least on October 18 as inching closer to chaos and away from peace. The White House says the chart reflects a single bad day.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That was a snapshot taken at the height of the Ramadan and violence. If you got the same report last week, you would have found out the national sectarian incidents from the 21st to the 27th dropped 23 percent. And Jessica...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... the same as winning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, because what you have just done is you've attached your interpretation to a single chart. It doesn't say devolving into chaos and furthermore, I've just told you since then, you have had a pretty dramatic reversal.
MCINTYRE: Still critics who have argued for months Iraq is slipping into a full-scale civil war say the chart, which includes a note at the bottom, that violence is at an all-time high and spreading geographically, offers an unvarnished view of what military commanders really think.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our forces are now islands of impotence in a sea of violence and chaos over which we exert frankly very little strategic influence.
MCINTYRE: The U.S. Central Command while not acknowledging the slide directly said that General John Abizaid, the top U.S. Central Commander, has been discussing the reality of the situation in Iraq with his commanders for months. And they noted that back in August, Abizaid publicly warned that Iraq could slide into a civil war if the rising violence isn't stopped -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Especially disturbing right now, all this very disturbing. Jamie, thank you very much.
Tonight there are more examples of Iraq's chaos. Police found 35 bodies, some with gunshots to the head. And two sports figures including a man who coached a disabled volleyball team were kidnapped. All of the violence is being watched very closely. And joining us now from Baghdad, our correspondent Michael Ware. Michael thanks very much. "The New York Times" published a chart today it says it got from the U.S. military's Central Command, which oversees the entire region including Iraq and it's very ominous because it shows the current level of violence in Iraq right now, getting ominously close to chaos as opposed to the other side, which is peace. Does this square with what you're actually seeing on the ground?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the shorter answer is absolutely. I mean, where this graph, you know, illuminates the situation is we see the pointer teetering further and further away from the green of peace and closer into the spectrums end of red and chaos is arguably the most accurate reflection we have seen of the situation here on the ground to come out either the U.S. military or the administration.
I mean despite the tonnage of words that comes from politicians and generals and commanders, trying to put things within a certain political reference, here it is and you see it for yourself in this graph. Iraq is within a fraction of all-out chaos. I mean the best that you can say right now, if such a term exists, is that it's contained chaos.
All that it needs now is for it to break out and to be unleashed. I mean when you walk on an Iraqi street today, when you go down any avenue here in Baghdad, the most dominant feeling, the most gripping emotion among ordinary people is fear. And that fear is legitimate.
BLITZER: And this comes only six days before the U.S. elections here, elections which are clearly being dominated by what's happening on the ground in Iraq. You have been doing a lot of reporting on the rift, on the strain in the relationship between the prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, his government, and the Bush administration. And it's now surfacing to a certain degree in terms of the U.S. abandoning some checkpoints around Sadr City where this suspicion is this American soldier could be held. What's the latest on that front?
WARE: Well what we saw yesterday is that following a demand by the rebel anti-American cleric and the leader of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) militia, Muqtada al-Sadr, for a general strike, civil disobedience in Sadr City until the checkpoints and the lockdown was removed is that you know by lunchtime, we had the Iraqi prime minister in his words, according to his statement, ordering that these checkpoints be open.
And within hours, the permanent checkpoints that existed before the lockdown and still exist now, which were closed suddenly opened. Other temporary checkpoints in another part of the city, which were designed primarily to serve the hunt for the U.S. soldier, were completely removed. Now, a senior U.S. diplomatic efficient conducted a teleconference with journalists last night to try and explain that this was not a sign of rift and the Iraqi government was not countering the U.S. military, but I have to say, Wolf, it was less than convincing.
BLITZER: Michael thanks very much. Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad.
WARE: Thank you, Wolf.
ZAHN: And this is time of the night when we check in with Jack Cafferty to see what's on his mind.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed.
ZAHN: What's up, Jack?
CAFFERTY: Well, Paula, in Shakespeare's Henry VI, one of the characters makes an absolutely classic statement. It goes like this. The first thing we do is kill all of the lawyers but not before next Tuesday. The Democratic Party is launching a 50-state voter protection effort to try to be sure that no one is messing around with our votes and they have 7,000 lawyers ready to go to work.
"USA Today" reports there will be thousands of election monitors and volunteers with video cameras. In addition to all those lawyers who will be guarding against problems at the polls, and sadly is expected there will be problems of one kind or another in all 50 states. The Justice Department will send out 800 observers, the most ever for a non-presidential election, to look for evidence of people being denied access to the polls.
So here's the question. Are 7,000 lawyers the answer to the integrity of our elections? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile.
BLITZER: You know, Jack, how we the United States, we send observers to monitor elections in emerging democracies around the world...
BLITZER: ... some suggesting they're going to be sending observers to monitor how we conduct this election this time.
CAFFERTY: Yes, it's interesting that we're trying to convince Iraq they should have a democratic government and we can't hold elections without having 7,000 lawyers on standby.
ZAHN: I'd like to know what formula they used to arrive at that number. Why not 4,000, 5,500?
CAFFERTY: Oh I don't know. Maybe that's all the money they had.
CAFFERTY: They charge by the hour though.
ZAHN: Could be.
CAFFERTY: And the good ones are expensive.
ZAHN: Going rate, 500 bucks an hour minimum.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue our coverage -- a lot more coming up. The White House reacting now to Senator John Kerry's apology. Will Kerry's gaff continue to haunt Democrats?
ZAHN: Also, a very awkward position for some Republican candidates appealing to the party faithful while trying to distance themselves from their own president. We're going to show you how that's playing out tonight in one very tight race.
BLITZER: And this -- a Florida lawmaker now stepping now and facing felony charges. It's a tale involving alcohol and racial slurs. It's a story you'll have to see to believe.
We're live from CNN Election Headquarters in New York and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ZAHN: So Senator John Kerry says he doesn't want to be a distraction from the Democrats fight for control of Congress less than a week before Election Day. That's why he cancelled several campaign appearances for Democratic candidates today. And that's why he's now apologizing for his suggestion that if students don't study they'll get stuck in Iraq.
In a late statement Kerry said quote, "I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative about those in uniform, and I personally apologize to any service member, family member, or American who was offended."
Tonight, are Republicans accepting that apology? Let's turn to our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux for more. Suzanne, what are they saying?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well White House officials that I have spoken to this evening say it's an apology that has come late, but it's the right thing to do. Of course, this was really a gift for the White House. Many Republican strategist saying they felt that this was a way that the White House really in the last couple of days has been able to try to paint the Democrats as weak on national security, weak when it comes to the war on terror. But, despite the fact that we have seen the president, heard the president twice in the last 24 hours, weighing in on this Kerry controversy, secretary -- Press Secretary Snow, Tony Snow told me that he doesn't believe that the administration was the one that fueled the fire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anybody who's in a position to serve this country ought to understand the consequences of words. And our troops deserve the full support -- they -- of people in government. People here may not agree with my decision. I understand that, but what I don't understand is any diminution of their sacrifice. We've got incredible people in our military. And they deserve full praise and full support of this government.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: For all of the talk that somehow you know we've been working this and we've been trying to use this as a way of painting Democrats into a corner, I mean the only people who are painting themselves into a corner were Democrats. But you do now have the election issue and it's certainly not going to make any apologies for this for asking people, just make a simple question for Democrats -- what's your plan.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: And Paula, of course that was President Bush on the Rush Limbaugh show earlier this morning and then Tony Snow of course responding, saying that he doesn't believe that it's the White House that has been politicizing this. I also asked him well now that you have this apology is the story going to go away, is it dead. He very coyly said well that's up to you, but we should let you know that the vice president is actually going to be speaking about the Kerry controversy within the hour at a Republican event out of Montana -- Paula.
ZAHN: So Suzanne, you have talked to a lot of people about this. What is the expectation then? That they will continue to stoke this right up until the time of the election?
MALVEAUX: Well I think it's lost a little bit of its luster here. I mean we'll see what happens. We know that Cheney is going to be addressing it within the hour or so. Whether or not people are actually going to pick that up and run with it, but clearly this was something that they felt was an advantage, that they wanted to exploit this over the last 24 to 48 hours because it really nicely fits into their strategy here of trying to paint this picture of Democrats as weak on the war on terror, really as their poster boy for the weakness in the war on terror. And Republicans as being the ones that will be able to handle national security, so we'll see.
ZAHN: We will see. Suzanne Malveaux thanks much. We want to make a note that Senator John Kerry was scheduled to appear on this show tonight. He cancelled and I'm under the understanding from our bookers, Wolf that we're in process of finding another time when he will appear on this broadcast.
BLITZER: We hope we can reschedule that. Thanks, Paula.
Still to come tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, they are the architects of an increasingly unpopular war. But President Bush says he wants the vice president, Dick Cheney, and the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to stay for the rest of his term. So what are the implications of that? We'll speak to two conservatives with very different views.
Plus, he helped lead the Republican revolution a decade ago, now the former House majority leader, Dick Armey, speaking out about where he thinks his party went wrong. We're live from CNN Election Headquarters in New York and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back. For many Republican candidates running for office this year means running from President Bush, whose unpopularity who could make or break a candidate in a tight race.
CNN's Ted Rowlands has a case in point near Seattle -- Ted.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in Washington's Eighth Congressional District, the incumbent Dave Reichert is like a lot of candidates around the country. He is getting support from the Republican Party. But he's doing his best to keep his distance from President Bush.
ROWLANDS (voice-over): Dave Reichert is doing his best to make it very clear to voters in the state of Washington that he's not President Bush.
REP. DAVE REICHERT (R), WASHINGTON: I agree with the president on some things. I don't agree with the president on a lot of things.
ROWLANDS: Reichert may be trying to distance himself from the White House, but his opponent is making it difficult.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The real Reichert, he's just like George Bush.
REICHERT: I look at the ads everyday. I mean I -- everybody sees the president and I walking off of Air Force One and waving.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He supports Bush nearly 90 percent of the time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's nice to meet you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very nice to meet you.
ROWLANDS: Darcy Burner is Reichert's opponent. She's a 35- year-old Democrat with no real political experience, trying to win in a district that's voted Republican since it was formed. Her strategy, like some Democrats this election, is to tie her opponent to the president.
DARCY BURNER (D), WASHINGTON CONG. CANDIDATE: Well the question this election is whether we continue on the course George Bush has taken this country or whether we change course.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And oppose the president on (UNINTELLIGIBLE), stem cell research, and cuts to children's hospital.
ROWLANDS: Reichert may be running away from Bush on the campaign trail, but he's relying on the White House for support. Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, even the president have all appeared with Reichert at private fundraisers.
REICHERT: Well we had him out earlier in the year and we actually raised more money in this district than any other district he visited this campaign season.
ROWLANDS: Joel Connelly covers politics for the "Seattle-Post Intelligencer". He says Reichert is in a strange position of getting financial help from the White House so he can turn around and tell voters that he doesn't always agree with President Bush.
JOEL CONNELLY, "SEATTLE-POST INTELLIGENCER": All the top administration officials coming in to raise money for advertising, which stresses the independence of the congressman from the administration.
ROWLANDS: The race here in Washington State is basically a dead heat and both national parties have poured a lot of resources and money into this race. Because it's on the West Coast in the Pacific Time Zone, on election night it will be one of the final races to be decided. And depending on what happens around the country, all eyes could easily be focused on Washington State and the Eighth Congressional District -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ted Rowlands reporting for us. Ted, thank you.
ZAHN: And just ahead, forget about calls for Donald Rumsfeld to resign. President Bush says Donald Rumsfeld will keep his job through the end of his term. And we spoke to one congressman who is defending that move, but blaming generals on the ground for all the failures. Find out why Democrats are really upset about this.
BLITZER: And dialing while drunk, the voice mail that led to one lawmaker's resignation. We have the tapes. We're going to play it for you.
From CNN's Election Headquarters in New York, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
ZAHN: Happening right now, they go when he goes. President Bush says he is staying the course when it comes to keeping his vice president and his defense secretary on the job. Today the president told wire services that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are doing quote, "a fantastic job."
BLITZER: Also, denunciations while drunk. A Florida Republican says alcohol made him launch into a dirty, profanity-laced message on a fellow Republican's voice mail, now the Florida Republican's mouth is costing him.
ZAHN: Guess you could call it potty mouth.
BLITZER: Something like that.
ZAHN: And they approve, but do you approve of these messages, political commercials that are rough and sometimes just plain wild often with the candidate themselves accepting responsibility with a smile -- one of those wink-and-nod kind of thing.
I'm Paula Zahn.
BLITZER: And I'm wolf Blitzer. From the CNN Election Headquarters in New York, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: With just six days to go until the midterm elections President Bush's Iraq policy now front and center again in just about every congressional race that's close. Today the president said he wants two of the most important architects of that policy, the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and the vice president, Dick Cheney, to stay on the job until the end of his administration.
For the implications of that, let's bring in our senior national correspondent John Roberts. He's following all of this in Baghdad. While we're getting ready for an election here in the United States, John, only six days away, the fighting, the violence, the brutality continues nonstop I take it in Iraq.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NAT'L CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, another 35 bullet-ridden bodies found across Baghdad in the past 24 hours, all of them believe to be more victims of the sectarian violence that is threatening to tear this city apart and in recent weeks it's been spreading outside of Baghdad to some of the towns and villages in the surrounding area as well. And tonight more questions about how much of that sectarian violence is emanating from official circles.
ROBERTS (voice-over): It was graduation day in Numinia (ph). Sixteen hundred recruits of the 4th National Police Brigade on the parade ground after four weeks of retraining in human rights and the law.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The idea is to make them from more paramilitary to actual policing-type organization. It's gone pretty well so far, there are a few bumps in the road. This is the first class to come through.
ROBERTS: The course was ordered after another national police brigade was taken off the streets early last month, suspected of involvement in the sectarian violence that has gripped the nation.
(on camera): This graduation ceremony is all very exciting for these recruits and for the U.S. military, which one day hopes to turn security of the nation over to them. But there are ongoing concerns about militia infiltration in these forces. In fact, taken as a whole, between the Iraqi police and the national police, some report say that up 70 percent of these members have some connection to a militia.
(voice-over): Publicly, the U.S. military is trying to put its best spin on the development of the Iraqi police. But privately, American solders who work them with them admit infiltration, particularly by Shiite militias, is a huge problem.
Iraq's Sunni vice president is demanding a purge of all police units, saying, "The security situation is deteriorating, and security forces are playing a big part in that."
At the same time though, Sunnis and U.S. commanders are praising the incorporation of tribal militias into the police forces in the western town of Ramadi, a Sunni stronghold. And down south in the Shiite town of Amarra, police commanders who were recently attacked by the Mahdi militia they proudly claim membership in the competing Badr Brigades, an organization with suspected ties to Iran, which in turn, backs Iraq's Shiite leaders.
The witches' brew of Iraqi politics has complicated the job of cleansing the Iraqi security forces. But the new top cop, Interior Minister Jawad al Bolani, assured us he is committed to the task.
JAWAD AL BOLANI, IRAQI MINISTER OF THE INTERIOR: (SPEAKING IN ARABIC)
ROBERTS: "We are talking here about individuals," he says, "and if those individuals violate the law, they will be punished. And we have very firm measures regarding this."
Ultimately the problem lies in the militias themselves. And as long as Iraqi leaders, who derive much of their support from Shiite militia leaders, refuse to put them out of business, this celebration may be short lived.
ROBERTS (on camera): Another problem that the Iraqi government has been trying to confront with the national police is that thieves and these death squads have been coming up with facsimiles, counterfeit versions of the uniforms that they were using. They would wear them around the neighborhoods of Baghdad. Pretending that they were the national police, they would go in and kill people. Those new uniforms that you saw those national police wearing are a variant of the new U.S. Army digital camouflage uniform. They believe that it's much more difficult to counterfeit. It's even got a little Iraqi flag embedded in it. However, according to some sources, counterfeit versions of those uniforms are already showing up in what's called the Thieves' Market here in Baghdad, where many of those bogus uniforms have been sold. The only thing it's missing is the Iraqi flag -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, John.
John's going to be back with us for more in our hour right here in the SITUATION ROOM. And this just coming into the SITUATION ROOM right now. Top Democrats, this hour, demanding an apology from the number two Republican in the House of Representatives because of comments he made earlier today right here in the SITUATION ROOM.
The House Majority John Boehner is standing by his strong defense of Donald Rumsfeld and pointing the finger of blame at the military brass. Earlier in that interview, I asked the Congressman why he's supporting the Defense Secretary when some other Republicans are certainly not.
Listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) OHIO: Let's not blame what's happening in Iraq on Rumsfeld.
BLITZER: But he's in charge of the military.
BOEHNER: But the fact is the generals on the ground are in charge, and he works closely with them and the president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Within the past few moments we've been flooded with statements from top Democrats blasting Boehner's remarks as simply outrageous, and demanding he say he's sorry. We've heard from the Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, the House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, and the Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean.
Here's a portion of Dean's statement. He said this:
"After the Bush administration's numerous failures in Iraq, to blame our brave troops is just wrong. John Boehner should apologize immediately."
We've called Congressman Boehner for a response to what these Democrats are saying. Hope to have his reaction later right here in the SITUATION ROOM -- Paula.
ZAHN: And Wolf, not only earlier today did President Bush tell interviewers he wants Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld to stay on their jobs until the end of his administration, he was generous in praising them. The president said, quoting now, "Both of those men are doing fantastic jobs and I firmly support them."
On Iraq, Mr. Bush says, "I'm pleased with the progress we're making."
And he adds, "... the troop level they've got right now is what they can live with."
Let's bring in a pair of conservatives with distinctly different points of view, Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens.
Good to see both of you.
So Christopher, at a time...
CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, "VANITY FAIR": I'm not a conservative.
ZAHN: Our pleasure.
At a time when the time American population....
HITCHENS: No, no, wait. You didn't get it. I'm not a conservative.
ZAHN: Not a conservative?
HITCHENS: No, thank you.
ZAHN: How would you characterize yourself?
HITCHENS: Well, I have no party affiliation and no ideological one. But I'm no kind of conservative.
ZAHN: All right. Well, let's find more about how you specifically feel about this war. We know that Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to this war and its prosecution.
HITCHENS: No, I don't think we know that at all.
ZAHN: Well, our statistics show that. And the question I want to ask you, when you've a bunch of Republicans running away from the president who are in tight races, why do you think the president picked now to pledge his support for the vice president and the defense secretary before this election?
HITCHENS: Well, like almost everything he said this week, what the president said, strikes me as rather weird. Vice President Cheney hold his office by grace of the electorate who chose him as vice president. He doesn't hold his office by presidential fiat or permission. So we already knew that he'd be vice president until the next time around.
As for Secretary Rumsfeld, you could either change the policy and keep the same defense secretary, or you can have the same defense secretary and not change the policy, or have a different defense secretary and keep the policy. The things are completely interchangeable.
ZAHN: Do you think they're both doing a fantastic job, as the president said?
HITCHENS: Well, the word fantastic relates to fantasy, doesn't it? I mean, to say that's something is fantastic or fabulous is to say that it's imaginary.
ZAHN: So, is that you're saying it is?
HITCHENS: I think it is in the president's mind. Yes, just as he's imagined that John Kerry insulted men and women in uniform when he was trying to make a joke at the president's expense. As I said, it's been a weird and grotesque week, not the least rhetorically.
ZAHN: Andrew Sullivan, did the president make a mistake and will that drive some of these voters away from Republicans in a tight contest?
ANDREW SULLIVAN, AUTHOR, "THE CONSERVATIVE SOUL": Well, look, here's a president who said that Michael Brown was doing a heck of a job with Katrina. And now he's the president saying that Donald Rumsfeld has done a fantastic job in Iraq. It's the same denial. If you believe that Michael Brown did a heck of a job with Katrina, then you maybe believe that Donald Rumsfeld has done a great job in Iraq.
It's unhinged. In my view, it suggests this man has lost his mind. I mean, no one objectively can look at the way this war has been conducted, whether you were for it, as I was, or against, and see that it's been done well. It's a disaster. And for him to say it's a fantastic job, suggests that this president really has lost it. I'm sorry. There is no other way to say it.
ZAHN: Christopher, I see you smiling subtly as Andrew said that. Are you going to go that far out on a limb, the president's lost his marbles by pledging his support?
HITCHENS: Look, the nicest way I have ever heard it put by people who do admire the president and who know him a little, which I do not, is to say one of his great vices, which can masquerade as a virtue, is that of loyalty. He's not very good at getting rid of people.
Look how long he took to get rid of George Tenet, for example. And even then, rather than tell him he was fired or should be impeached for his incompetence, gave him a Medal of Freedom, that's supposed to try to make him feel better.
He gave a Medal of Freedom to Paul Bremer, universally agreed to have been calamitous viceroy in Baghdad. It's an odd thing that the president seems to be soft, Andrew would say, in the head.
SULLIVAN: I would say what this shows to voters and should tell anybody is that, if you think Katrina was a success, Iraq is now Katrina. Iraq is the foreign policy version of Katrina. And this president cannot handle the reality. And so we have to -- this is not an election anymore. It's an intervention. This man is so in denial. We need to intervene.
ZAHN: So Andrew, do you think the Republicans deserve to lose control over Congress over this one single issue of Iraq.
SULLIVAN: Yes. Someone has to finally be held accountable. I mean, I know these people don't want to hold anybody accountable, but the secretary of defense is accountable. The president is accountable. John Boehner is wrong. It is not the military generals who are to blame for this. It is the president, the commander-in- chief. He gets the credit if he wins, he takes the blame if he fails. He has failed. And voters must take it into account.
ZAHN: And Christopher, who do you blame?
HITCHENS: I don't, by the way, see from what you've just transmitted, that John Boehner did say anything of the sort, and the attempt by the Dean people to intervene is an attempt, obviously, to equalize the far civil message which John Kerry's got himself by apologizing when he shouldn't have done -- but not to avoid your question ...
ZAHN: But he did -- John Boehner made it very clear -- and Wolf just aired part of that now -- quote, "that the generals on the ground are in charge." And then he suggested, with the help of Secretary Rumsfeld.
HITCHENS: Well, that's certainly to an extent true. And after all, the generals are allowed if they want you to call for the more troops that some people say or not if they don't want to. I mean, yes, of course, they ought to resolve the ...
SULLIVAN: But this has been their line from the beginning. It's always blame the general, blame the troops. Why can't they take responsibility for their own mistakes, ever? I mean, that's the question. Since when is a conservative not to take responsibility for their own actions?
HITCHENS: There I agree with you. That's why I mentioned the Tenet case, where it seems to be scandalous the guy was allowed to stay one day after September 11, after leaving us defenseless under open skies, let alone to be given a medal. Nobody complained. Nobody in the Congress complained either. I mean, no one in the press actually complained, if it comes to that.
SULLIVAN: Today, Richard pearl, one of the chief neoconservatives, has said that this administration is dysfunctional. OK, read Woodward's book. These people are dysfunctional right now, and the electorate has no choice but to try and hold them accountable for them actions.
HITCHENS: That's true, Andrew, but the problem is that the -- when people think, OK, how do I register this accountability in my own name as a voter, they're confronted with the seedy, shady, confused, demoralized Democratic Party.
SULLIVAN: Well, that may be true. On the other hand, they didn't create this mess, did they?
ZAHN: Let's talk about another big message. John Kerry has, on his hands -- I know, Andrew, that you feel far too much time has been spent on this on the airwaves over the last 24 hours or so. But the Republicans are now telling us they think that the controversy alone could increase voter turnout by one percent. Will that sink some Democrats in tight races? SULLIVAN: Kerry did the right thing today, I think. I disagree with Christopher. I think -- I agree with Christopher, actually, that Kerry probably didn't mean what it sounded. But he just sort of got off his high horse a news cycle for the sake of the Democrats.
I think this is over now. I really do. And I think it's time to move on to the real issues. We have abandoned an American soldier to the Shiite militias in Baghdad. Where is he? Since when does the commander in chief abandon a U.S. soldier to the enemy? When are we going to hold this man accountable for doing that instead of parsing the words of someone who is not even on the ballot?
ZAHN: But, Christopher, at the end of the day, is it meaningful at all what John Kerry said on Election Day? Will it change votes?
HITCHENS: I don't remember anything being as shamelessly distorted as Kerry's hapless attempt to tell a feeble joke about Bush's I.Q. But it seems to be quite Nixonian what the White House and the Republican Party's been doing. It's self-evident that Kerry wouldn't have tried to equate stupidity with military service, and it's an attempt to change the subject in the crummiest way. I think ...
ZAHN: Well, it may change the subject.
HITCHENS: ...I agree with Andrew. It's almost degrading to have to discuss it, but since we are doing so, I think that's what ought to be said. It's an attempt -- it looks like it's talking about Iraq when it's not.
ZAHN: All right, you said it will change the subject. Very brief answer, though. You still haven't answered the question whether you think it will change any votes.
HITCHENS: Well, I just went on a conservative talk show, radio show, where they said they were getting a huge number of e-mails -- I don't think they were making it up -- from servicepeople and their families really steamed, who really did think that Kerry had meant them by his clutziness. And if that's true, then it will outlive Andrew's attempt to put it down.
ZAHN: Well, gentlemen, we're going to have to leave it there. Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens. Christopher, we'll more accurately describe you in your introduction. Great to have you both on the program.
HITCHENS: You know how sensitive I can be.
ZAHN: Well, I didn't completely see that tonight, but I've had that in previous encounters. But it's great to have both of you on board.
HITCHENS: Thank you, ma'am.
ZAHN: Thank you -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Paula, thanks very much, two very smart guys, good discussion.
Up ahead tonight, fury in Florida. A lawmaker goes obscene. Now he's paying the price. From CNN election headquarters here in New York, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN election headquarter here in New York.
As if the Mark Foley scandal isn't causing enough trouble for Florida Republicans, one of their state lawmakers resigned today and is now facing felony charges because he's accused of leaving phone message full of obscenities and an extremely offensive racial slur.
Susan Candiotti has the details.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Republican Ralph Arza is not having a good day. First, he resigned amid allegations he used a racial slur. And tonight, he's facing one felony count each of tampering with and retaliating against a witness.
That witness is a fellow Republican who filed a complaint against him.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Bowing to mounting pressure from the governor and fellow legislators to resign, south Florida lawmaker Ralph Arza finally called it quits.
RALPH ARZA, FORMER FLORIDA STATE REP.: I would not seek reelection. But that's the hand that has been dealt. It's my decision. I make no demands or -- in exchange for anything other than I resign.
CANDIOTTI: Arza's troubles started months ago when the Florida lawmaker was accused of twice using the N-word to describe Miami-Dade school superintendent Rudy Crew, who is black. Arza denied it, but the accusations lingered.
A fellow Hispanic south Florida State House member was so bothered, he filed a complaint against Arza with State House leaders. Arza and his cousin were so angry, they allegedly left nasty e-mails on his accuser's phone, filled with racial slurs and expletives.
ARZA: Hey bitch. You're nothing but a bitch. You're a bitch. You're nothing but a bitch. God bless you, bitch.
OPERATOR: End of message. To delete this message -- resaved. Next message.
ARZA: Hey bitch. You're nothing but a bitch. You're nothing but a bitch, brother. My (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
CANDIOTTI: In another message, Arza's cousin is heard threatening to quote, "crack the accuser's head open." The accuser took the recordings to police. When the message hit the airwaves, Arza's explanation was that he was drunk. He refused to step down from office.
Florida's governor said it was time for Arza to go.
GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: What Representative Arza has said is really unfortunate, and he's got problems. He's got to work on his problems.
CANDIOTTI: When Arza finally threw in the towel, he denied he's a racist.
ARZA: I apologize for the actions that I took -- that took place in the past. I guess it's now two Saturdays ago. I apologize for that. I ask forgiveness for that.
CANDIOTTI: Despite the accusations, Arza still denies using racial slurs when talking to others about the Miami school chief. The school superintendent said Arza did the right thing, and called for healing.
RUDY CREW, MIAMI-DADE SCHOOL SUPT.: This is -- has been a tragedy all the way around.
ARZA: I wish it could be a better ending, you know? But right now it's not.
CANDIOTTI: The political ending is also a mess. Arza was considered a shoe-in. His only opposition, a write-in candidate. But like ex-Congressman Mark Foley, Arza's name will stay on the ballot. It's too late to take it off -- Wolf?
BLITZER: What a story, Susan Candiotti reporting. Thank you for that.
Up ahead, the last word on the last words of many of the campaign commercials you're seeing in these final days before the election. This is a story for CNN's Jeanne Moos. That's coming up, we're live from CNN Election Headquarters in New York and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ZAHN: And we are back.
BLITZER: Yes, Jack Cafferty's here. There he is.
ZAHN: He is, right there.
BLITZER: There he is, right there.
CAFFERTY: "USA Today" reports there will be thousands of lawyers, election monitors and volunteers out with video cameras trying to guard against problems at the polls next Tuesday.
The question is, are 7,000 lawyers the answer to the integrity of our elections?
Patricia writes from Montreal: "All 7,000 lawyers won't help. It's the electronic voting, stupid. They should hire 7,000 hackers to make sure the electronic voting machines don't get hacked."
John in Champaign, Illinois: "Our reaction is generally negative when we heard the term 7,000 lawyers. But I believe it's a good step. A strong legal team is much more powerful than a bunch of loud voices."
C. writes: "It's too damn many lawyers that has America in the mess it's in today. Thanks for the opportunity to say that."
C., you're welcome.
Samuel writes from Charleston, West Virginia: "As an attorney, I say yes. Lawyers are the answer. How much are they being paid again and where do I sign up?"
Dave in Lindenwold, New Jersey: "Jack, I thought journalists are supposed to be gooder at English than the rest of us. I flunked English, but even I know that using lawyer and integrity in the same sentence is grammatically incorrect."
Mike in Smithfield, Rhode Island: "Who are we going to hire to watch them?"
And Bobby in Omaha writes: "I don't want to ever hear the word 7,000 and lawyers together in a sentence ever again."
If you didn't see your email here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile where we posted some more of them online.
ZAHN: C. had a lot of company tonight, didn't he?
ZAHN: I always wonder why they just give you an initial, not a name. Maybe he's had some legal issues.
CAFFERTY: Maybe he's challenged when it comes to spelling.
BLITZER: Jack will be back. We have another hour to go. Still to come, who approves of the latest trend in campaign commercials? CNN's Jeanne Moos tunes in. That's coming up. We're live from CNN Election Headquarters in New York and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: With the election now just six days away, the air waves are awash in campaign ads, many with one thing in common. CNN's Jeanne Moos explains.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You're now in...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "The Twilight Zone."
MOOS: The zone right before an election, when it's impossible to tune out all of the campaign ads. They scare us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Homosexuals are mocking holy matrimony.
MOOS: They apologize to us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should you forgive me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And for that I'm sorry.
MOOS: They try to amuse us. For instance, with a shrub representing President Bush.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what's our exit strategy from Iraq?
MOOS: And even if we don't approve, they do.
JON TESTER: I'm Jon Tester, and I approve this message.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I approve this message.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I approve this message.
MOOS: But these days, candidates are trying to improve on how they approve.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I'm Hillary Clinton and I'm delighted to approve this message.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I approve this message even though I know it may not be what you want to hear.
HAROLD FORD JR: I approve this message because I won't let them make me someone I'm not.
MOOS: Back in 2004, when candidates were first required to state they approved the content of their ads, campaigns tended to think it was a waste of a precious five seconds. Now they're trying to make their approvals more interesting now.
KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: I'm Kirsten Gillibrand and I approve this message because Mrs. Hannaman (ph) was the best teacher I ever had.
MOOS: Sometimes their approvals wreaks with disapproval of their opponents.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I approve this message, because Brad Miller is out of touch, and soon he'll be out of Congress.
ANGIE PACCIONE: I'm Angie Paccione and I approve this message because if Marilyn keeps lying about my record, I'll keep telling the truth about hers.
MOOS: Sometimes one approver just isn't enough.
NED LAMONT: I'm Ned Lamont and I approve this message.
CROWD: So do we.
TOM KEAN JR: I'm Tom Kean Jr.
CROWD: And I approve this message.
MOOS: Guess he hasn't heard that children should be seen, but not heard.
CHRIS CARNEY: I'm Chris Carney and I approve this message because I want to make Pennsylvania proud.
BRIAN KENNEDY: I approve this message to defend our border.
VERNON ROBINSON: I approve of this message and of traditional American values.
MOOS: Leave it to beaver, not to politicians.
TESTER: I'm Jon Tester and I approve this message. I approved the haircut, too.
MOOS (on camera): I'm Jeanne Moos and I approve this story because somebody had to.
(voice-over): Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
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