Return to Transcripts main page
The Situation Room
Mass Kidnappings in Iraq; Democrats Fight Over House Leadership Positions; Nine Congressional Races Remain Undecided; Senator Lott Trying Leadership Comeback
Aired November 14, 2006 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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:
An audacious mass kidnapping in Iraq. Dozens nabbed in broad daylight practically under the noses of U.S. and Iraqi forces. It's midnight in Baghdad, where authorities are now searching for the kidnappers and their victims. And trying to figure out how this could happen.
Also this hour -- a military hero, an idol of anti-war activists under some new scrutiny. Does Congressman John Murtha have an ethics problems? It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington, where Democrats are feeling some pressure from voters to deliver.
And top Republicans still are licking their election wounds. But one former GOP leader is trying to rise from the ashes of his party's defeat. Can Senator Trent Lott make a comeback? I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up first this hour -- vivid and violent new evidence that the U.S. mission to shore up security in Iraq is far from being accomplished. Gunmen snatched dozens of police from a Baghdad research institute today, possibly the largest and most brazen mass kidnapping of the war and it comes exactly a week after voters in this country showed they want a change of course in Iraq.
CNN's Michael Ware is in Baghdad.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This stunning kidnap operation conducted under the very noses of the tens of thousands of American and Iraqi troops in the capital Baghdad. A number of Iraqi police commanders responsible for this part of this city are now being interrogated. And perhaps some, might say, for good reason.
WARE (voice-over): Iraqi security forces moving to seal off a Baghdad University building. But like so much in Iraq, it's too little, too late. Just a short time earlier, about 80 gunmen in similar Army or police uniforms had also set up a cordon before pouring inside this four-story research institute, claiming to be on official business. Segregating men from women and within 20 minutes, escaping in a convoy of more than 20 vehicles, taking the men hostage. The exact number unknown. Police saying as many as 60. A government minister saying it's up to 100. The only ones left behind -- the distraught women. The sophisticated raid executed at 10:00 a.m. just after rush hour was audacious. So many gunmen, so many hostages, possibly the largest mass kidnapping of the war, all within the heart of the capital with more than 60,000 American and Iraqi troops on the streets.
The breath-taking scale of the kidnapping, a counter point to the previous day's visit by America's top commander in the region, General John Abizaid. Preparing to brief Congress, the general's quick trip was designed to show U.S. support for Iraq's ailing government and, according to Iraqi officials, to press for rehabilitation of the country's security forces.
Need for that rehabilitation illustrated by the next morning's kidnappings. A clear sign of either the government's inability to control its own forces, or its weakness in the face of an unwavering and robust insurgency that, in the first 13 days of November, has already claimed the lives of more than 30 American servicemen. Following the kidnap operation, university classes were canceled across the city.
EBED THEYAB, HIGHER EDUCATION MINISTER (through translator): I'm not ready to see more professors get killed. I have only one choice which is to suspend classes at universities. We have no other choice.
WARE: His choice is token. Few students or professors have dared to attend lectures since the semester began two months ago. Waves of kidnappings and assassinations of the country's intelligentsia long ago made study too dangerous.
WARE: Wolf, it now seems that danger is compounded. With U.S. strategic policy now in limbo in the aftermath of the midterm election upheaval, it appears that neither the Sunni insurgents nor the Shia militias buried deep within this Iraqi government that America is turning to as an ally, are willing to relent from their violent campaigns.
BLITZER: Michael Ware reporting for us. Michael will be back with us in the next hour. Michael, thank you.
Democrats on Capitol Hill see Iraq as a centerpiece for their agenda for change when they take control of the House and the Senate next year. But the American people apparently are banking on Democrats to deliver in many more ways than one.
Let's go to our senior political analyst Bill Schneider -- Bill.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, how do voters feel a week after the midterm election? Well, to borrow a phrase from Charles Dickens, they have great expectations.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER (voice-over): In other countries, it would be called a vote of no confidence in the government. At least one Republican heard the message.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: That we, Republicans, have lost our way, that we came to Washington to change government and government changed us.
SCHNEIDER: A USA Today-Gallup poll taken after the election shows President Bush's job approval at just 33 percent, 62 percent disapprove. No confidence. But does the public have confidence in the Democrats? Apparently they do. By nearly 2 to 1, the public says they want the Democrats in Congress to have more influence over the direction of the country than President Bush. Voters expect Democrats to deliver. But can they? On the one hand ...
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: We have nine new Democrats in the Senate. So we're excited.
SCHNEIDER: ... on the other hand ...
REID: When have you a majority of one, you shouldn't be gloating.
SCHNEIDER: Mr. Bush is still president.
SEN.-ELECT BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Marylanders were concerned about a change in Washington and they wanted someone who has stood up to President Bush and was willing to challenge his leadership.
SCHNEIDER: House Democrats intend to do that. On the minimum wage, embryonic stem cell research, prescription drug prices, and homeland security. President Bush may veto some of those measures. Democrats don't have the numbers to override a veto without Republican support. Despite President Bush's dire warnings, people don't think congressional Democrats will do anything to weaken national security. President Bush also warned:
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats are going to raise your taxes. No, I know any don't want you to know it.
SCHNEIDER: Guess what? People know it, but they voted for the Democrats anyway, which means they must really want change.
SCHNEIDER: In the "USA Today"/Gallup poll, the number of Americans who call themselves Republicans is sharply down. But the number of Democrats hardly changed. More people are calling themselves independents. They're waiting to see what the Democrats deliver -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider reporting for us. Bill, thank you. Let's go to the leadership battle now that's dividing and possibly distracting Democrats as they prepare to take charge of Congress. The John Murtha versus Steny Hoyer fight to be majority leader is taking a harsh new turn. At issue, questions being raised about Murtha's ethics. Our congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel, is watching this story for us -- Andrea.
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just one day after the presumed next Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi surprised a lot of folks and went public with her support for Congressman John Murtha in his bid to be the next majority leader in the House, questions are being raised, both by a watchdog group and in the media, rehashing allegations about Congressman Murtha's possible ethical violations and earmarks he approved for defense appropriation lobbyists who have contributed generously to his various campaigns.
Now, one of those allegations concerns a 26-year-old FBI probe known as Abscam, something in which Murtha was never charged. Now, today, Murtha's office fired back, questioning the timing of these reports, saying "I thought we were above this type of swift-boating." Murtha said, "This is not how we restore integrity and civility to the United States Congress."
Now Murtha's spokesman was much more blunt, point blank saying we should ask Steny Hoyer's office, who is challenging Murtha for the majority leader's position, about the timing. Now, a spokesman for Congressman Hoyer told CNN that that is ridiculous, saying it's outrageous to imply that Congressman Hoyer had anything to do with this story, a story that had been widely reported in the media months ago.
In this same press release, Murtha took a swipe at Hoyer and tried to tie Hoyer's position on Iraq with that of President Bush. Saying, "The Pelosi-Murtha position on the war is the reason the Democrats are in the majority today. Congressman Hoyer's position has been to stay the course with President Bush from the very beginning and like Senator John McCain, he advocates sending in more troops."
Hoyer's response? "Congressman Hoyer and Congressman Murtha have joined other Democratic leaders from both the House and Senate in signing three letters to the President that outline the consensus among Democrats regarding Iraq."
That came from Congressman Hoyer's press secretary.
"Any representation that Congressman Hoyer endorses the stay the course strategy or advocates sending more troops to Iraq is wrong."
Clearly, Wolf, what this has done is to ignite tremendous animosity and serious divisions within this Democratic caucus, just one week after they were celebrating their regaining the majority in the House.
And it was pretty much summed up -- the sentiments summed up by one of the senior statesman among House Democrats. And that is John Dingell, saying that he feels that it has the potential to be very hurtful. He said we have to do what we can to minimize the damage, and he hopes that Mrs. Pelosi will take very strong steps to see that that is done.
The election, Wolf, is on Thursday.
BLITZER: Yes. And we're going to be watching that closely.
Several Democratic members have already said to me in the past couple of days they wish Nancy Pelosi would have put an end to this kind of bitterness at the start of her new tenure as the upcoming Speaker. But clearly, that has not happened. We'll see what happens Thursday.
Andrea, thanks very much, for that.
We're going to have more on the leadership tussles in both the House and Senate. Defeated Republicans aren't immune to fighting over what power they have left. We're going to have extensive coverage of that. That's coming up.
I want to thank Andrea Koppel and Bill Schneider. They are part of the best political team on television.
And remember, for all the latest political news at any time, check out our political ticker. Go to CNN.com/ticker.
Jack Cafferty, as I always like to say, and as our viewers know, he's also part of the best political team on television. He's joining us with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Wolf.
A new legal battle is brewing over the rights of detainees. This time, within our borders. The Bush administration said yesterday any immigrant arrested on suspicion of terrorism on U.S. soil may be held indefinitely and may not challenge their imprisonment in court.
This all goes back to the case of Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri of Qatar. He was arrested in 2001. He was a student here in the United States at that time.
He has now been labeled an enemy combatant, a new designation signed into law last month. Aliens who are in custody normally have the right to contest their imprisonment. Enemy combatants do not.
The law was set up to be used mostly in the cases of the detainees at Gitmo, but Al-Marri is the first detainee inside the United States to be held under it. In a separate court filing yesterday, the Justice Department defended this new law as Constitutional.
The question then is this: "is it fair for immigrants in the U.S. to be held indefinitely if suspected of terrorism?
E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that. And coming up, remember this? It's back. Next week -- next up, that is, we'll go live to Florida, where another recount is now under way.
Plus, one week after the election, eight other races in the House are still up for grabs. We're going to tell you what's taking so long.
And later, Hillary Clinton, will she join an Empire State gang whose members have the White House on their mind? Four New Yorkers, specifically. Jeff Greenfield, another New Yorker, looking at this story.
Stick around. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Carol Costello is joining us from New York with a closer look at some other stories making news.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.
And good afternoon to all of you.
Iran has long compared the United States to the devil, but Tehran now says it is willing to have a dialogue with the United States on one condition: if the U.S. adjusts its attitudes toward Iran.
Do you think the White House had something to say about that?
Well, you bet.
One official says the U.S. is not the one who needs an attitude adjustment, Iran needs to stop its nuclear activities.
How to fix the Iraq War? Maybe Tony Blair can help. America's chief ally in the war in Iraq and the group looking for ways to fix Iraq talked today via video link.
According to Blair's official spokesman, the British prime minister told that Iraq Study Group that peace across the Middle East is critical, that Iraq's security force must rid itself of sectarianism.
Human trafficking today is worse than the African slave trade of the past. That's what a top official at the Vatican is saying. The official compares what's happening to modern day slavery with criminals responsible for children forced into labor and women forced into prostitution. The Vatican official is calling on countries to take action.
To your health. Federal health experts want to inform people about the benefits and the risks of a an antibiotic. It's called Ketek, K-E-T-E-K. And it's used to treat bronchitis, pneumonia and respiratory tract infections. The FDA says experts will study Ketek after receiving reports of liver injuries related to the drug. The FDA has also gotten reports of four deaths because of acute liver failure.
And a plane crashes and burns near Big Bear Lake in California's San Bernardino Mountains. Three people believed to have been on board that twin engine plain. Officials say it was bound for Las Vegas when it hit some kind of structure. Officials say no one survived. And, Wolf, they're having difficulty even determining where the plane came from because the I.D. number on the plane is damaged and mangled and they can't read it.
BLITZER: Heart-breaking story.
Thanks, Carol, for that. We'll get back to you soon.
Exactly one week after the midterm election, the balance of power in the House of Representatives still has not been finalized. The Democratic majority will hold at least 230 seats. Republicans will hold at least 196 seats.
But nine races, right now, remain undecided. One of them is in Florida's 13th Congressional District. A recount is now under way for the seat once held by Republican Katherine Harris. She still holds it until she leaves office in a few weeks. She made a name for herself in the mother of all recounts, the disputed 2000 presidential vote in Florida when she was Florida's Secretary of State.
Our national correspondent Susan Candiotti is joining us now in Sarasota with more on this intriguing story -- Susan.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.
You know, the whole country probably does remember hanging chad and punch card ballots in Florida. Well, now there could be a problem with electronic touch screen machines. And the outcome of a Congressional race might depend on whether those machines were working properly or whether they lost thousands of votes.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Barbara and Ken Sanderson cast their ballots on different days during early voting.
BARBARA SANDERSON, FLORIDA VOTER: I voted for Christine Jennings and when the review ballot came up, there was no X next to her name.
CANDIOTTI: Both say electronic touch screen machines did not record their votes for a U.S. Congressional seat.
KEN SANDERSON, FLORIDA VOTER: I know I press that button.
CANDIOTTI: Both caught the mistake in time and reported it, but wonder how many others didn't.
K. SANDERSON: It's kind of startling and I'm upset about it and angry.
CANDIOTTI: So is Democrat Christine Jennings campaign. Unofficially, she lost the election by under 380 votes, less than a quarter of one percent.
CHRISTINE JENNINGS (D), FLORIDA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: The recount will show that I'm going to be the congresswoman for district 13.
CANDIOTTI: Not so fast says her Republican opponent. Vern Buchanan says he's the winner fair and square.
VERN BUCHANAN (R), FLORIDA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: We won it on election night and that process needs to play itself out this week.
CANDIOTTI: A required recount is trying to nail down why 18,000 people who did cast their ballots in Sarasota County did not vote in the Jennings/Buchanan race.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 205 for Buchanan, 205 for Jennings and 140 under votes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 157 under votes.
CANDIOTTI: 18,000 under votes. Experts say that's at least 10 times higher than normal. After 2000's hanging chad debacle, Democrats again are crying foul.
KENDALL COFFEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: It defies reason that we're back in a critically important election with a submicroscopic margin and a system that went wrong, once again.
CANDIOTTI: And who's seat is the prize? Katherine Harris', who Democrats blame for 2000's mess.
KATHY DENT, ELECTION SUPERVISOR: It does give you a little bit of the deja vu.
CANDIOTTI: Sarasota election officials defend their electronic machines.
DENT: We'll see it through until the very end.
CANDIOTTI: Stand by the machines?
DENT: Yes, unless proven differently.
CANDIOTTI: For now, you'll find congressional hopefuls Buchanan and Jennings both posing with incoming freshmen. Each invited, yet keeping their distance, wondering who gets to stay.
CANDIOTTI: And without any kind of paper trail, the problem with the electronic machines is if no vote is recorded, there is no way for election authorities to decide what the voters' intent was. And Wolf, now the courts are getting involved. In fact, today, a judge granted a motion asked for by the Democrats to force both sides to get together to decide on how they will proceed to test some of these machines before a final audit is conducted. Wolf?
BLITZER: I still don't understand why they can't have a paper trail. If you have a paper trail when you have a credit card purchase, why can't you have a paper trail with these touch screen voting machines? It sounds ridiculous in this day and age, Susan.
CANDIOTTI: Well, of course, you can have a paper trail but Florida opted for a system that did not provide it and it's not the only state in the country like that.
BLITZER: Susan, thanks very much. We'll stay on top of this story together with you. Appreciate it.
There are other cliffhangers we are watching right now as well. This is the final scheduled day of recounts in Connecticut's second congressional district. Last word, incumbent Republican Rob Simmons is trailing Democratic challenger Joe Courtney by fewer than 100 votes.
In Ohio, Congresswoman Deborah Pryce, a member of the Republican leadership has a 3,500 vote lead over Democratic challenger Mary Jo Kilroy. But more than 18,000 provisional and absentee ballots have yet to be counted.
Another GOP incumbent in Ohio, Congresswoman Jean Schmidt also has a narrow lead over her Democratic challenger Victoria Wulsin. But Wulsin is refusing to concede until the final totals including absentee and provisional votes are in.
In Louisiana, Democratic Congressman William Jefferson failed to get more than 50 percent of the vote in that state's nonpartisan election so he now faces a runoff against the fellow Democrat, state representative Karen Carter. Jefferson also, by the way, facing an FBI bribery investigation.
This hour, one outstanding House race finally has been decided. In Washington's state 8th district, Republican Congressman Dave Reichert's victory was sealed today when his Democrat challenger Darcy Burner conceded.
Up next, four years ago, he was stripped of his leadership. But is Senator Trent Lott about to become the comeback kid? We go live to Capitol Hill to find out.
Plus, he's a former governor and current senator but does Evan Bayh want to add the title Mr. President to his resume? I'll ask him. That's coming up in the next hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. As they prepare to reclaim control, Senate Democrats now have sealed their leadership lineup. Members of the longtime minority party are living proof that comebacks are indeed possible and they may be giving hope to a Republican who once was pushed out of the top Senate job. Let's turn to our congressional correspondent Dana Bash -- Dana?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well Wolf, as we speak, that Republican senator is working very hard in this building trying to get enough votes to become a member of the Republican leadership when those elections are held tomorrow. And that senator has something in common perhaps with some Democrats around here and that is some hard feelings over the way he was treated by the Bush White House.
BASH (voice-over): Meet the leadership of the Senate's new Democratic majority. All smiles after being elected to their posts with no challenges and no surprises.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), DEMOCRATIC LEADER: We must do everything we can to move the country forward.
BASH: But there could be a surprise inside the Senate's Republican ranks. Four years after his own GOP colleagues forced him out as majority leader, Trent Lott is plotting a comeback, running to become the No. 2 Republican in the Senate.
In 2002, Lott was pushed aside for comments seen as racially insensitive praising the late Strom Thurmond, a former segregationist.
SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of him and if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all of these problems over all these years either.
BASH: Lott's fate was sealed by the president.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country.
BASH: Since then, Lott has toiled with the rank and file, looking out for his home state of Mississippi and lobbying an occasional bomb like here at GOP supporters of campaign finance reform.
LOTT: Some of it is outrageous. I mean, now we're going to say you can't have a meal for more than 20 bucks? Where are you going, McDonald's?
BASH: Now Lott wants back in the Republican leadership working the phones inside his office, making the case that he can help redirect a party that's lost its way.
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: We need the experience Senator Lott brings to the United States Senate.
BASH: Supporters like Senator Richard Burr say what's past is past. The new GOP minority needs someone like Lott who knows how to outmaneuver Democrats.
BURR: While having been the former leader of the Senate, having been in the majority, the minority, I think he has a perspective on how the Senate needs to operate.
BASH: Lott's spokeswoman says he is closing in on victory, but he's up against Tennessee's Lamar Alexander who has been working it for months and insists he's going to win.
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: I think our Republican Party, after the drumming we took, needs first, unified leadership. And second, we need some new faces and some fresh thinking and I hope that's what I offer the caucus.
BASH: There was a time when rough relations with the Bush White House would have been a disqualifier for Republicans running for a leadership position here in the United States Congress.
But now more and more Republicans say one of the results of the election is that they realize that the president needs them more. And perhaps another result is that they realize they need to stand up to the president, even more than before.
And, Wolf, that is also something that Lamar Alexander is running on.
BLITZER: Who would have thought that rough relations with the president would be a qualification within the Republican leadership in the Senate?
BASH: And it is.
BLITZER: Dana, thanks very much for that.
On our "Political Radar": Senator Hillary Clinton's leadership role. She will serve as vice chairman of the committee designed to have outreach within the Democratic caucus. Of course, with or without a leadership job, the New York Democrat and likely presidential contender is a power within the party unlike any other, at least right now.
Incoming members of the House and Senate are continuing to get the lay of the land on Capitol Hill. In addition to posing for the traditional freshman class photo, they have been getting briefings on office logistics and ethics as part of their orientation.
When Republicans in Congress select their new House leaders on Friday, the election will take place behind closed doors. But many conservatives want a voice in the process. Now the top candidates for those leadership positions are going online to explain why they should lead the GOP on Capitol Hill.
Our Abbi Tatton is taking a closer look -- Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, all this week, those House Republicans who are vying for the leadership positions are being interviewed by bloggers via conference calls.
Blog readers have been submitting their questions online. And this is also where the audio is now being posted of these interviews at the right-leaning site Truth Laid Bear.
Now, of course, these blogs participating do not have a vote on Friday, but they do want to be heard. And, so far, the congressmen involved have been agreeing to the interviews.
First up in the hot seat was Congressman Roy Blunt. He was interviewed yesterday. He's running to keep his position as whip. Blunt told the bloggers that their sites are an active window for the conservative movement.
But that really wasn't enough to soften up some of the people on the call. Many of these conservatives online have been arguing for a wholesale change in the House Republican leadership, after last week's thumping. They are supporting Mike Pence and John Shadegg for those top two positions.
In the hot seat right now -- and Pence and Shadegg went earlier today -- being interviewed right now is Jack Kingston, who is running for House Republican conference chair.
Now, this Internet-savvy congressman went one step further with his online bid here, e-mailing around this video message to all his Republican colleagues.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JACK KINGSTON (R), GEORGIA: Thank you very much for opening this. I'm doing this because so many of you guys haven't been returning my phone calls anyhow.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TATTON: That's also posted on YouTube. It went to all his Republican colleagues. His office said it's easier to get people's attention with a video than a piece of paper. Whether all these online efforts are going to make any difference, the election is on Friday -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Good to be Internet savvy if you're a member of Congress. It's good to be Internet savvy if you're anyone.
Abbi, thanks very much for that.
Coming up, we will have much more on the battle among House Republicans. Roy Blunt, fighting to keep his leadership role, he is going to be joining us in the next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But up next: President Bush only a few hours away from a major trip. We're going to tell you where he's going, what is on his agenda, and what is going on.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The president and the chiefs of the three big automakers held what Mr. Bush is calling a fascinating discussion at the White House today.
The president told the top executives of GM, Ford and Chrysler that they will have to make some tough choices to stay competitive. Ford's CEO says the car companies are not looking for a company bailout.
Also on Mr. Bush's agenda today, party business and overseas travel, major overseas travel.
Let's turn to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House and officials here are insisting that this is a -- turnaround in the RNC is not the result of the thumpin', as President Bush calls it, of Republicans in Congress, but, rather, Ken Mehlman, the current chair of the RNC, wanted to make a change even before the elections, that he wanted to move on -- so, President Bush today announcing his pick to replace him, the general chairman of the RNC, that being the Florida Senator Mel Martinez.
He was big on pushing forward the ownership society, as well as President Bush's Cuba policy. He was also the former secretary of HUD. And the president also made an announcement, as well. GOP veteran Mike Duncan, who is the general counsel of the RNC now, would move into a position of chairman. There are two different positions here.
The general chair, Martinez's position, would handle fund- raising, political outreach, and media. And, then, Duncan's position, of course, he would deal with the day-to-day, the daily job, of course.
And what was very interesting, to hear the remarks from Martinez afterwards, is that he was somewhat reflective here, conciliatory, if you will, towards the Democrats. But he said, in terms of immigration reform, there were lessons learned here. He said that he did not think that the Republicans struck the right tone when it came to that debate, that it wasn't about bashing certain people.
And he also said that, in his words, that he was not going to be the attack dog for the party, that he told the president so. But he also made a point to say that President Bush didn't ask him to play that role -- Wolf. BLITZER: Suzanne, the president wasting no time, a week after the election, getting out of town and out of Washington -- he's got a major trip ahead of him in the coming hours.
MALVEAUX: And it really is going to be a big task for the president, to see whether or not this election really weakens his position on the international stage.
He's going to Southeast Asia. He's leaving tonight -- his first stop, of course, Air Force One, touching down in Moscow. That is where he is going to simply refuel, but he's going to pay a social call with Russian President Vladimir Putin right there at the airport. He then heads to Singapore. That is where he is delivering a major speech on U.S. and Asian cooperation, when it comes to combating terrorism, disease.
Friday, he heads to Vietnam. This is his first trip to that country. That is where, of course, he is attending an economic forum, a summit there. And, then on to Monday, it is Indonesia. It's the world's largest Muslim country. He is going to be holding a news conference, talking about the importance of cooperation in fighting terrorism.
And, then, finally, Tuesday, that is his final stop. He's headed to Hawaii. He's going to be speaking with U.S. troops there, having breakfast with them, before he heads back home -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, sounds like a big trip for the president, a long trip, at least. We will watch it every step of the way.
Suzanne, thank you very much.
Coming up: Warm-ups are under way in the race for the White House. Is Rudy Giuliani getting a leg up on John McCain? And can anyone give Hillary Clinton a run for her money? And why did Joe Lieberman get a standing ovation today from Democrats in the U.S. Senate? Donna Brazile and Dick Armey, they are getting ready for our "Strategy Session."
And could Senator Evan Bayh be the anti-Hillary candidate for Democrats? The Indiana Democrat talks a change of course in Iraq and about presidential politics -- that interview with me coming up in the next hour right, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Just been hearing that Joe Lieberman, the independent senator from Connecticut, just got himself reelected as an independent, met with the Democratic caucus in the Senate today, and he actually got a standing ovation from his colleagues in the U.S. Senate -- lots of bad blood. It's -- apparently, a lot of that bad blood gone, at least for now.
Here to talk about that and a lot more in our "Strategy Session," CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and the former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who is also chairman of FreedomWorks.org.
Guys, thanks very much for joining us.
Are you surprised that they all stood up and warmly welcomed Joe Lieberman back into the family, after the bitterness of the Ned Lamont race in Connecticut?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, not at all.
You know, Joe Lieberman never left the Democratic family. He, of course, had to run as an independent in order to win, but he is truly a Democratic senator. And I'm proud of his leadership that he will now serve in the Senate.
BLITZER: He's a powerful senator. If he decides to go with the Republicans, you know what? The minority becomes the majority.
DICK ARMEY, FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, that's right.
And I'm sure the Democrats are well aware of that. And no doubt they wanted Joe Lieberman to know that they love him, and they want to keep him, just like they did all along.
But the fact is, Senator Lieberman is a decent, serious, able person. He will do what is good for America. My advice to the senator was retain your independent label. It gives you a certain standing. And he's a big enough person to live up to the standing of standing alone as an independent.
BLITZER: He has got new clout here in Washington.
Let's talk about presidential politics a little bit -- John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, these exploratory committees. But McCain has been saying in recent days -- he has been saying it, actually, for a long time -- the United States doesn't need to decrease its troop level in Iraq, needs to increase it right now, if it wants to win. Is that a winning strategy right now, given the mood of the American electorate?
The American people spoke loud and clear last week. And what they said is that they want a timetable for our troops to come home. They would like to see us with an exit strategy. And, right now, Senator McCain is in the minority, in terms of public opinion.
BLITZER: What do you think?
ARMEY: It's very difficult.
I think, right now, this is a difficult problem for John McCain, with respect to the Republican nomination. But I think both he and Giuliani have difficulties. And I think I would be hard-pressed to predict either one of those two people winning the nomination.
BLITZER: Can a guy like Rudy Giuliani, who supports gay rights and abortion rights, supports gun control, can he get the Republican presidential nomination? You know the Republican Party about as well as anyone.
ARMEY: No, no more than Joe -- than a Democrat who supports pro- life can get the Democrat nomination.
I think there are some things are given in politics. And the one thing that's given is, a Republican that is pro-choice doesn't get the nomination. A Democrat that is pro-life doesn't get the nomination.
BLITZER: You know, yesterday, Paul Begala, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, predicted that Rudy Giuliani would flip on the abortion rights issue, in order to become more appealing, shall we say, to that conservative wing of the Republican Party.
BRAZILE: Well, look, if he starts flip-flopping, he will -- I think Mr. Giuliani will be in a lot of trouble, you know, not just gay rights, as you mentioned, abortion rights. You know, he has taken some positions that Democrats, quite frankly, like.
But it's clear that his challenge right now is to translate all of this national celebrity into electoral success. And it's going to be difficult on the Republican side.
BLITZER: On the other hand, if Republicans sense they don't have a candidate who can win, they might reluctantly go to someone like Giuliani, who does have that appeal from independents and moderates.
ARMEY: Well, it's early in the process. There was a time, not too many years ago, when, very early in the process, I may have been the only person running around the country saying, alarm, alarm. There is this Arkansas governor. We better keep our eye on him, because everybody else would say, who is he?
So, the person that wins that nomination may yet be a person we haven't discerned.
BLITZER: Why is Senator Clinton waiting to create this exploratory committee? Tom Vilsack has done it. Rudy Giuliani -- John McCain is about to do it.
What is she waiting for?
BRAZILE: Well, first of all, she doesn't need to go out there and test the waters. She's been around the block, so to speak. I mean, she knows the country. She has significant name recognition. She can raise the kind of money. She can build a network.
So, unlike Giuliani and Vilsack and others, who must go out there and introduce themselves, she is already well-known.
BLITZER: Is Hillary Clinton the candidate the Republicans should really fear? Or would the Democrats -- put on your strategist hat right now -- or would the Democrats be better served by someone outside, who is not necessarily as polarizing, an Evan Bayh, for example? ARMEY: You know, I really don't know how to -- I can't speak for the Democrats. They don't confide in me.
Let me put it this way.
ARMEY: Hillary Clinton is the candidate I would most like to see the Democrats nominate. I mean, from my point of view...
ARMEY: Because I think she will do more to mobilize the Republican voter turnout than any Republican I can think of would do.
BLITZER: You want to have the final word on that?
BRAZILE: Well, there's no question that she could do more to not just engage Republicans, as she did in New York, but win over independents, which she did last Tuesday.
BLITZER: That could be quite a little fight.
BRAZILE: It's -- we're ready for it.
BLITZER: We will watch it every step of the way.
BLITZER: ... Dick Armey, thanks very much for coming in.
ARMEY: Thank you.
BLITZER: And up next: Hillary Clinton and company -- more on this subject. As many as four -- yes, four -- New Yorkers are now being touted as possible presidential contenders. Is it a dream come true for the Big Apple, or a blast from the past?
And, in our next hour, the House Republican whip set to lose his majority status, possibly his leadership post? Is that happening? I will ask Roy Blunt about the challenges he faces heading into the new Democratic-controlled Congress.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: In the early race for the White House, a lot of eyes right now on New York and the big-name prospects who could define the main event in 2008.
Let's bring in our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield -- Jeff. JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, the news that former New York Mayor Giuliani is setting up a presidential exploratory committee isn't exactly a gee-whiz story. He's been thinking about a run for years.
What is intriguing is that Giuliani is only one of several New Yorkers who might run for president. And, in a political sense, that's a blast from the past.
GREENFIELD (voice-over): In the early handicapping, New Yorkers are all over the place. Apart from Giuliani, who is riding high in many public opinion polls, outgoing New York Governor George Pataki has been rocking up frequent-flyer miles to Iowa and New Hampshire.
Senator Hillary Clinton, you may have heard, has some interest in the presidency. And current New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is being urged by aides to seek an independent presidential run, where his multibillion-dollar fortune would make fund-raising a breeze.
Now, once upon a time, all this would have been pretty normal. New Yorkers were among the most likely to succeed to the White House, either directly or by succession, Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt.
And, if you look at the major-party tickets, it's even more striking. Between 1868 and 1948, someone from New York was on a major-party ticket in all but two elections. Even people who weren't really New Yorkers came from New York. Dwight Eisenhower in 1952 had been president of Columbia University. Richard Nixon in 1968 was a New York-based lawyer.
And, in 1944, both major-party nominees, FDR and Governor Tom Dewey, were from the Empire State. Back then, New York had 47 electoral votes, by far the most of any of the states.
But, over the years, as New York's electoral count has dropped -- it's now only the third biggest -- so has its presidential fortunes. Tom Dewey lost a can't-lose race in 1948. Governor Averell Harriman tried and failed for the Democratic nomination twice.
Nelson Rockefeller tried and failed for the Republican nomination three times, though he did get to be Jerry Ford's vice president. Governor Mario Cuomo chose not to run. And Representative Geraldine Ferraro, as Walter Mondale's 1984 running mate, was the last New Yorker on a national ticket.
(on camera): So, what has changed?
Well, for one thing, New York is no longer a symbol of failure. It's much safer, much cleaner, economically sound.
For Republicans, who might be looking for a candidate who can reach beyond the conservative base, which New York Republicans have to do, that location might be an asset, not a liability. And, finally, now that the New York Yankees have gone six years without winning a World Series, perhaps the rest of the country believes that New Yorkers have learned just a little bit of humility -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, himself a good New Yorker, appreciate it.
Still to come: another angle in the immigration wars. Is it fair for immigrants in the United States to be held indefinitely, if suspected of terrorism?
Jack is back with your e-mail, right after this.
BLITZER: Let's go right to New York and Jack Cafferty -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf: Is it fair for immigrants in the United States to be held indefinitely if suspected of terrorism?
Wendy in California: "Of course they can hold anyone for as long as they like on suspicion. We are the new Soviet Union. We don't need evidence of guilt. You will soon find political dissidents disappearing into our new gulags. And watch out, Jack. Journalists could be next on the list. We all know how much the administration must love you."
Diane in New York: "Isn't this the same kind of treatment the United States has always condemned other countries for? Maybe this is why our allies think we are the biggest threat to world peace. We are a 'Do as I say, not as I do' nation."
Joseph in Oceanside, California: "Of course, under Chairman Bush and his comrades, anything is OK, if you call it the war on terrorism. Of course, this is eventually how all dictatorships get started. After all, he is protecting us. I don't know how this president sleeps at night. His level of paranoia requires intervention by professionals."
Nick in California: "No. If evidence exists, charge them and prosecute. Otherwise, deport them if they're illegal. I thought America was a democracy governed by laws. When did that change?"
Laura from Newport News, Virginia: "If we hold enemy combatants indefinitely, haven't we set up de facto concentration camps?"
And Jerry in Texas writes: "No, it's not fair. We're talking about suspects, not convicted terrorists. They should get a hearing before a civil or military tribunal. Bush would be screaming bloody murder if it happened to an American citizen in another country. When is the impeachment?" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you. See you in a few moments.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com