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Iraq Study Group Reports on Status of War; Mary Cheney Pregnant; New Threat on Horizon?

Aired December 06, 2006 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And 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, a plan to stop the slide toward the chaos in Iraq. It's now in the hands of the president.

Will he carry out the recommendations of a bipartisan panel that says his Iraq strategy is not working?

We'll run-down the Iraq Study Group's key proposals, and panel members Lawrence Eagleburger, Leon Panetta and Vernon Jordan will talk about the way forward on the battlefield and in the political arena.

Plus, a Democratic star and presidential prospect weighs in on the Iraq report and what the White House might do with it. I'll talk live with Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The Iraq Study Group says there's no magic formula for ending the lengthy and costly war. But the bipartisan panel says its 79 recommendations could, could be America's best, maybe only hope, for easing the bloodshed, stabilizing Iraq and for bringing U.S. troops home.

Panel members say it will take tremendous political will to make their vision a reality. And right now President Bush isn't making any promises other than to say he'll give the report "serious consideration."

Let's begin our coverage with our national correspondent, John Roberts.

He's here with the main points of this Study Group -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I wouldn't be surprised, Wolf, if the president had his back up a little bit today when he looked at this report, because it was very tough on administration policy, saying we believe that there is a better way forward. And also today, during the press conference, the co- chairman, James Baker, saying that this idea of stay the course has basically run-its course, we have to come up with something different. Of those 79 recommendations, here's three of the greatest hits.

First of all, the Iraq Study Group is calling for most U.S. combat troops -- these are the ones that aren't necessary for force protection -- to be out by 2008. This is only a goal, by the way, but be out by early 2008, with a lot of those transitioning over to training up Iraqi forces.

Number two, benchmarks to pressure the Iraqi government to take charge and punitive measures if they don't live up to expectations.

And number three, a regional international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which the Iraq Study Group, like many other groups, believe is really at the heart of everything that's happening in the Middle East.

And, of course, part of what they're talking about here in terms of this regional conference on the Middle East and on trying to being peace to Iraq is to try to Iran and Syria, which is something that President Bush is pretty resistant to.

Now, then, we have a little bit of sound that we want to play for you from the co-chairs of the Iraq survey group. James Baker was asked, you know, why wasn't there any talk of victory throughout the entire 160 pages, 179 recommendations of this report?

Here's what he had to say on that front.


JAMES BAKER, IRAQ STUDY GROUP CO-CHAIRMAN: We stayed away from a lot of terms that have been bandied about during the campaign season in the political debate. And you probably won't find civil war in here either. You won't find victory. But you will find success. And so I think what our report says, on balance, if you read it, is that if you implement the recommendations we make, the chances for success in Iraq will be improved.

LEE HAMILTON, IRAQ STUDY GROUP CO-CHAIRMAN: You cannot look at this around the world and pick and choose among the countries that you're going to deal with. Everything in the Middle East is connected to everything else. And this diplomatic initiative that we have put forward recognizes that.


ROBERTS: So James Baker there trying to stay away from the charged language he says was used in the run-up to the election campaign. Let's talk about success, let's not talk about victory.

And Lee Hamilton there saying you've got to talk to your enemies if you want to bring resolution to a crisis like Iraq. And James Baker backing that up, as well, saying for 40 years the Soviet Union wanted to destroy America, and we talked to them, as well.

BLITZER: Yes, and their conclusion, as you point out, whatever the president and the administration are doing right now simply isn't working. They've got to come up with a new strategy. Certainly not music to the ears of officials at the White House.



And I said, they were really tough on that point.

BLITZER: They were very tough describing the situation as "dire" right now. Certainly not something the administration wanted to hear.

But on the Iran issue, coming into this, Iran and Syria, the White House, the president making no secret whatsoever, they're not very enthusiastic about bringing these two countries in.

ROBERTS: No, and particularly because the Iraq Study Group said without precondition. And the president has always said, all along, we won't talk to Iran unless we can come up with some sort of solution to the nuclear crisis, because that's the carrot that he's dangling in front of Iran, to try to get them to give up that nuclear program, to say if you play ball with us on this, we'll talk to you, you know, we've got a door open here. They're not saying that we'll, you know, restore diplomatic relations or anything like that. But, certainly, if you want to talk to the United States, here's a way to do it.

So he doesn't want another group coming in to say oh, well, forget all of that, we want to talk to you about Iraq, which opens up the door to everything else.

BLITZER: Well, now they're going to decide what they should accept, what they should reject.

We'll watch it together with you, John.

Thanks very much.

President Bush says the Study Group's report gives a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq and he says he'll act on it in what he calls a timely fashion. He's urging members of Congress to take the panel's proposals as seriously as he will.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This report will give us all an opportunity to find common ground for the good of the country, not for the good of the Republican Party or the Democrat Party, but for the good of the country.


BLITZER: Mr. Bush met with the members of the Iraq Study Group early this morning, before the report was made public.

The 10 Study Group members say they were able to reach a consensus on ways to improve what they call the grave situation in Iraq and they hope their report will move the country toward a consensus, as well.

Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger and former White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta are two key members.

Thanks, gentlemen, very much for coming in.

On page 32, you conclude in your report that as of now, nearly 2, 900 Americans have lot their lives serving in Iraq; 21,000 have been wounded, many severely; it's cost U.S. taxpayers about $400 billion so far; about $8 billion a month, $2 billion a week, and you estimate it could wind up costing the United States $2 trillion.

Despite all of this massive effort, you write: "Stability in Iraq remains elusive and the situation is deteriorating."

Secretary Eagleburger, was this a huge blunder for the United States to get involved in Iraq?

LAWRENCE EAGLEBURGER, IRAQ STUDY GROUP MEMBER: Now, first of all, Wolf, you will notice, I think, in our report, we say we are not going to review the past, we're going to be looking at where we go from here in the future.

BLITZER: Well, what about you, though?

What do you think?

Because Jimmy Carter the other day said here in -- on CNN, this was not only a huge blunder, but it rivals Vietnam for the United States.

EAGLEBURGER: Well, if Jimmy Carter said that, then I can tell you I don't agree with it. No.

Look, this -- I don't want to get into a debate now about whether we should or should not have invaded Iraq to try to bring it into the democratic world or not, Wolf. Even personally now.

One of the things that I am so impressed with, with this report, not the report so much as the people who wrote it, that they have been able to put all of these questions aside and say look, how we got here, that's one thing, and the American people have a chance to -- have the right to comment on it and so forth. But our job now is to try to figure out how we get from where we are now, which is a mess, and everybody agrees with that, to where we should be...

BLITZER: All right.

EAGLEBURGER: ... and we -- can we do it in a bipartisan fashion?

BLITZER: Well, that's fair enough.

But let me bring Mr. Panetta in.

Is there a sense of accountability? Who's to blame for what the Secretary just called a mess and others are calling it a blunder of historic proportions?

EAGLEBURGER: You know, Wolf, I think we all acknowledge that terrible mistakes have been made. People who came to us within the administration and outside the administration acknowledged a lot of the mistakes that were made.

Our challenge was, from the very beginning, how do we try to move forward, recognizing that those mistakes have been made, recognizing that we're dealing with a deteriorating situation in Iraq, what steps can we recommend that perhaps can give Iraq a last chance to try to succeed?

That's the way we approached it.

BLITZER: Mr. Panetta, define success.

What would winning for the United States mean?

LEON PANETTA, IRAQ STUDY GROUP MEMBER: I think, you know, I think the goal here is to try to provide some degree of stability in Iraq so they can govern themselves, they can defend themselves and they can operate as an independent government. That's really what we're seeking.

And the only way they're going to do it is if, in fact, if they can begin to govern, they can reach out and implement the reforms that they say they want to implement, they can secure their country by using the Iraqi Army to try to provide better security and they're willing to engage diplomatically.

BLITZER: So, Secretary Eagleburger, the notion of Iraq emerging as a democracy and a beacon for the rest of the Middle East, for the Arab world, which were some of the ideas initially conveyed, that, as far as you're concerned, is totally unrealistic?

EAGLEBURGER: No, that isn't what -- that isn't the way I would put it.

Certainly, insofar as this report is concerned, it is clear that those are not the issues that this report was dealing with and if they didn't deal with these issues, it means that from the viewpoint of those of us who wrote this thing or put it together, those issues that you mentioned now are no longer relevant to the problem today.

BLITZER: And the notion of entering into negotiations over the future of Iraq, Secretary Eagleburger, with Iran and Syria...


BLITZER: ... two countries you, in your own report, blame for a lot of the troubles in Iraq right now...


BLITZER: In your words, without preconditions.

You stand by that?

Because that doesn't sound like the Lawrence Eagleburger I've covered over these many years.

EAGLEBURGER: Well, and, you know, we do either deteriorate or learn things as time goes on. I'll leave it to you to judge which it is.

But, seriously, Wolf, in a situation like this, with the Syrians and the Iranians being so involved in what is going on in and around Iraq right now, it would seem to me that it makes every good sense to sit down and talk with them. And you're not giving anything away.

BLITZER: Well, on that point...

EAGLEBURGER: But, to see if we can...

BLITZER: ... on that...

EAGLEBURGER: ... see if we can accomplish something with them.

BLITZER: On that point, would you say you're not giving anything away?

On page 57 you are giving away, as far as you're concerned, the Golan Heights. You're giving -- you're forcing the Israelis to give up the Golan Heights in order to win Syrian approval.

PANETTA: That's all part of the -- that's all part of the negotiation, Wolf.


PANETTA: What we did was we wanted to lay out and Secretary Baker wanted to lay out what are the elements that ought to be on the table in order to engage these countries and we wanted to be specific because we just didn't want to say sit down and negotiate with them.

What are the issues?

And the feeling, I think, for Secretary Baker and for all of the panel is that this is a real -- we recommending the difficulties with Iran. But they did cooperate with regards to Afghanistan.

With regards to Syria, he really thinks there's a real chance that we can flip Syria and begin to use them not in the larger context of trying to bring peace to the Middle East.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there because we're out of time.

Lawrence Eagleburger, Leon Panetta, thanks for spending a few moments with us and thanks for your work.

Take care.

EAGLEBURGER: Oh, it was a pleasure, my friend. BLITZER: Let's go to New York and Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was kind of sad, in a way. This morning when Mr. Bush was handed the Iraq Study Group report, he looked old and tired, the kind of old and tired you look after carrying a heavy load for a long time. The war in Iraq is an unmitigated disaster and everybody knows it. The Republicans know it, the Democrats know it, our country knows it and the rest of the world knows it.

And for the first time this morning, it looked like President Bush knows it, too. There he sat, surrounded by his father's friends, looking absolutely lost. And despite the years of experience and wisdom represented at that table, the report contains no magic potion to get us out of, arguably, the biggest, deadliest, costliest and potentially most dangerous mess that this country has been in since World War II. And President Bush caused it.

How difficult it must be to come to terms with the fact that you were not only wrong, but that you are becoming more and more isolated every single day. For the first time this morning, I got the feeling President Bush knows it's over.

Here's the question -- what can President Bush do to salvage the remainder of his presidency?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Jack Cafferty will be back shortly.

Coming up next, he's eyeing a presidential campaign. I'll be speaking later in THE SITUATION ROOM with Senator Barack Obama of Illinois about the way forward in Iraq and in 2008.

But up next, is the new report on Iraq bringing members of Congress together or is it widening their partisan divide?

We'll get reaction from Capitol Hill and we'll hear a new threat that new Iraq investigations may be on the horizon. We'll tell you what's going on.

Plus, the vice president's office confirming his openly gay daughter Mary is pregnant.

Could that influence the political debate over gay rights and gay families or cause a conservative uproar?

Our Strategy Session is coming up, as well.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: On Capitol Hill, the early reaction to the Iraq Study Group's plan of action in Iraq is mostly favorable. But after a bitter election and with Democrats poised to take power, lawmakers may not necessarily be ready to put all their old battles over Iraq behind them.

Let's turn to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Democratic leaders insist time and time again that they're ready and willing to work with the president on a new bipartisan approach to Iraq if he is willing to make major changes there.

But what this report did today, this bipartisan report did was, at least initially, stoke the bitter partisan Iraq divide.


BASH (voice-over): Just the image the Iraq Study Group says the country needs -- Democrats and Republicans confronting the Iraq crisis side-by-side. But the first reflex of Democrats poised to take control of Congress was, "I told you so."

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY-LEADER-DESIGNATE: The Iraq Study Group is a rejection of the policies of the Bush administration on the war in Iraq.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER-DESIGNATE: I salute this working group, the Iraq working group, for agreeing that the present Bush policy in Iraq has been a failure.

BASH: Democratic leaders even used the occasion to promise not only to have aggressive oversight of future Iraq policy, but to revisit the debate over going to war in the first place.

REID: We are going to look at how the intelligence was manipulated prior to going to war.

BASH: Senator Harry Reid called the Iraq Study Group's report vindication and Democrats said the recommendations are a good first step, noting some ideas mirror their own.

PELOSI: We have written to the president on more than one occasion to say the mission in Iraq must be changed from combat to training.

BASH: But most were careful not to immediately embrace the commission's recommendations. Democrats may have seized Congressional power on a wave of anti-war sentiment, but their goal is to make clear Iraq is still the president's war and it's his responsibility to change course.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), DEMOCRATIC WHIP: Quite frankly, it is a call on the president, our commander-in-chief, to move forward with new leadership and with a new candor in dealing with the people of Iraq. BASH: As for Republicans, most were quick to offer cautious praise for the bipartisan panel's work. But in another sign firmly established positions won't easily change, House Republican leader John Boehner rejected the Study Group's controversial proposal to engage with Iran and Syria: "We will not accomplish victory by setting arbitrary deadlines or negotiating with hostile governments, " Boehner said.


BASH: Now, the need for bipartisanship was the message that commission members hit over and over again today, because, they said, the American people simply have lost faith in both parties.

Now, Democrats and Republicans did pledge to work in a bipartisan way to come up with some kind of new way forward on Iraq. But, Wolf, the atmosphere here has been so intensely partisan, it's very hard to see the way that they can actually find the consensus that the commission was taking about today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash on the Hill, where the reaction is still coming in and will continue to come in.

Dana, thank you for that.

BASH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Dana is part of the best political team on television.

And remember, for all the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at

Still ahead, most Americans work five days a week. But members of Congress have been spared from that daily grind. That's about to change.

Can lawmakers and joke writers handle it?

Plus, an insider's view of the new bipartisan report on Iraq. Study Group member and long time Washington power broker Vernon Jordan standing by to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Carol Costello is joining us from New York with a closer look at some other stories making news -- hi, Carol.


Hello to all of you.

Just about a half hour from now, the full Senate is expected to vote on Robert Gates' nomination as secretary of defense. The former CIA chief got the unanimous approval yesterday from the Senate Armed Services Committee. If confirmed, Gates would, of course, replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who tendered his resignation last month.

The U.S. military tells CNN that 10 U.S. troops died in four separate incidents across Iraq today. Their deaths bring the number of U.S. troops killed since the Iraq War began to 2, 917. The news comes in the wake of violence that killed dozens more Iraqi civilians today. In one attack, a suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt in the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City, killing three passengers. In all, 21 people were killed in scattered sectarian attacks. Also, Iraq police say they found the bodies of 45 other people scattered around Baghdad.

Pentagon officials say the U.S. military is getting ready to charge several enlisted Marines and Marine officers in connection with the killings of Iraqi civilians last year. The charges stem from the deaths of 24 civilians in the town of Haditha. Sources expect the charges to be filed later this month. Two separate military investigations have been examining not only the shootings, but the procedures that followed.

And just about an hour ago, a sad end to the story of the Kims from San Francisco. Police have now found the body of James Kim, the man who went for help in the snowy Oregon wilderness to get help for his stranded family. One official broke down as he tried to announce the news. Kim had been missing for two weeks. He was found lying face down. Kim's wife and two children were rescued two days ago. They were just released from the hospital. They're doing OK and have requested privacy to try to get a grip on this sad turn of events -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a sad story, indeed.

Our condolences to that family.

Carol, thanks.

We'll get back to you shortly.

Still ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're getting new reaction right now from Senator John McCain who's coming out -- he's pretty critical of some of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations.

We're going to speak about that with Paul Begala and Terry Jeffrey in our Strategy Session.

And it's a blue ribbon panel of some of Washington's wisest and most well known public figures, one of them Vernon Jordan. He's coming to our table right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That interview coming up next.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: This coming in to CNN right now, reaction from Senator John McCain, a potential presidential candidate, on the Iraq Study Group's report today. We're going to get to that in a moment.

Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Many Americans know Vernon Jordan best as a lawyer, a Washington power broker and a long time friend of former President Bill Clinton. Vernon Jordan was one of the 10 prominent people tapped to serve on the Iraq Study Group. And Vernon Jordan is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us right now.

Thanks for coming in.

VERNON JORDAN, IRAQ STUDY GROUP MEMBER: Wolf, glad to be with you.

BLITZER: John McCain not necessarily happy about some of your recommendations, including your recommendation, in effect, to link progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front to what's going on in Iraq. He just emerged from a meeting with some other lawmakers at the White House with the president.

Listen to this little clip.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: ... recommendations on the issue of the Israeli-Palestine conference or peace talks, we all want peace in the area, but it's very hard for the Israelis or anyone to negotiate with (AUDIO GAP)...


BLITZER: All right, what was the theory behind linking progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front to what's happening to U.S. troops, the U.S. strategy in Iraq?

JORDAN: Well, you cannot separate Iraq from the Middle East. You cannot separate the Israeli-Arab conflict from Iraq. They are all interconnected and interdependent. And the suggestion...

BLITZER: But you -- are you suggesting -- are you suggesting...

JORDAN: No, no. What I'm suggesting is that the report says to negotiate. We did not say that Israel has to do this or has to do that. We want a conference where it can all be negotiated.

BLITZER: Well, you did say on the -- and I pointed this out to Larry Eagleburger and Leon Panetta -- that the Israelis should be willing to give up the Golan Heights.

JORDAN: Not give up -- give up by getting something.

One of those is that a promise of security by the U.S., that this is a give-and-take process. It's a negotiating process. BLITZER: Are you comfortable with that?

JORDAN: I'm comfortable with negotiating that, absolutely.


JORDAN: And I'm uncomfortable...

BLITZER: But are you comfortable with...


JORDAN: Wait a minute.


JORDAN: And I'm uncomfortable with the fact that this administration has not done very much in the last few years about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And I think that, if you put Middle East in context, that that has to be dealt with.

BLITZER: So, you think that, if there were peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians...

JORDAN: I didn't say that.

BLITZER: I'm -- I'm asking this question.


BLITZER: If there were peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, two-state solution, everybody walking around happy, relatively happy, that would -- that would result in peace in Iraq?

JORDAN: I'm not saying that.

I am saying that there's a cause and effect in that region, and that, if we can get one settled, we have a chance of doing something about the other.

BLITZER: Here's what John Murtha, one of the toughest Democratic critics of the current strategy in Iraq, said, reacting in part to today's Iraq Study Group: "The Iraq Study Group recommended that we begin a withdrawal of U.S. troops by early 2008, depending on conditions on the ground. This is no different than the current policy."

He's not very happy either.

JORDAN: Well, he is not very happy. And I can understand his unhappiness.

This group spent the last eight months working on this. We have come to this conclusion, based in part on advice and counsel from the military. And we're comfortable with that. BLITZER: Why did you get involved? How did you -- everybody knows you're a powerful lawyer. And you have got an excellent background in civil rights. What brought you to this Iraq Study Group?

JORDAN: I'm a good citizen, and a...

BLITZER: Who asked you?


JORDAN: ... and a responsible citizen.

Lee Hamilton, a fellow DePauw University graduate, and a dear friend, called and said: "Vernon, we're going to do an Iraq Study Group. Would you serve?"

I didn't hesitate for one moment.

BLITZER: Take us...

JORDAN: I never have when it has come to public service.

BLITZER: Take us behind the scenes. What was it like to get a consensus among these five Democrats and these five Republicans, many with very different backgrounds and different views?

JORDAN: Let me put it to you this way, Wolf.

I have been serving on presidential commissions since 1965, appointed by another Texan, Lyndon Baines Johnson, to the White House Conference to Fulfill These Rights, the next year, to the National Advisory Commission on Selective Service.

And, through the years, I have done this. This has been the toughest. This has been the most difficult. But, from a standpoint of civility, it's been first-class, especially in this town, where hostility and polarization have taken the front seat, and civility a backseat. This process put civility in the front seat. And it's -- hopefully, it will be instructive to the Congress and to the administration and to the American people.

BLITZER: Here's -- here's...


JORDAN: What we need is unity of -- and we need togetherness in this problem, because it's everybody's problem. We are all in it together.

BLITZER: And you are not concerned that events on the ground may simply outpace whatever your recommendations are?

JORDAN: We -- we acknowledge that in the report, that events could overwhelm us. Just as we were finishing up the report, the president was in Jordan, meeting with Maliki. And we were concerned that we would have to say something depending upon what happened there.

But I do want to say to you that I have -- I have never served on a presidential commission where the goodwill, the comradery, the sense of togetherness was as prominent and as at the top of our list as the Iraq Study Group.

BLITZER: Well, maybe that will spill over on the Congress and the executive branch...

JORDAN: Hopefully, that will happen.

BLITZER: ... although a lot of people not necessarily holding their breath for that.

Vernon Jordan, it was kind of you to come in.

JORDAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

The Iraq Study Group report generating lots of strong reactions.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner. She has some more -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, with headlines like "Defeat," "As Bad as Advertised," and "I Surrender Report," conservative bloggers are wasting no time expressing their disdain for the Iraq Study Group report, particularly bothered by the idea that we could negotiate with Iran and Syria.

Chuck Zeigenfuse (ph) is a military blogger who served in Iraq, and was injured over there. He doesn't understand the part about reduction in forces, saying, if retired military generals are suggesting more troops, why does the report suggest fewer troops?

Reaction on the left is more mixed. Michael Stickings over at The Reaction says that the I.S. -- ISG, rather, is a regurgitation of ideas that Democrats and moderate -- moderate Republicans have been kicking around for some time.

Former Senator Gary Hart blogging his reaction at "The Huffington Post," calling the report a large step in the right direction.

Steve Benen at The Carpetbagger Report also supportive, hoping it will open up genuine policy discussion -- others more focussing on context, other than content, calling the report a total rebuke of Bush and his policies -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacki, thank you for that.

Still to come: unexpected news from the vice president's openly gay daughter. It may have Dick Cheney and family making a field trip to Babies 'R' Us. We will tell you what is going on.

And, later: The incoming House majority leader cracks the whip. Congress looks down the pike at a 40-hour work week here in Washington. We will tell you what's going on, on that front, as well.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Our on "Politics Radar" today: The vice president's office confirms his openly gay daughter, Mary Cheney, is pregnant.

Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, are said to be looking forward to the birth with eager anticipation. That's a direct quote. Mary Cheney is 37 years old, and has been with her partner, Heather Poe, for 15 years. The vice president's spokeswoman would not discuss the circumstances of Mary Cheney's pregnancy.

We're going to have a full report on this coming up in the next hour. And we will talk about the possible political impact in our "Strategy Session." That's coming up in a few moments.

Senator Barack Obama, meanwhile, heads to the early primary state of New Hampshire this weekend, as part of his testing of the presidential waters. He's the only possible White House hopeful invited to a New Hampshire Democratic Party election victory celebration. The Illinois Democrat will be our guest in the next hour to talk about the Iraq Study Group's report and his political ambitions.

And Republican George Allen said goodbye and thanks to his colleagues on the Senate floor today. His remarks underscored the power shift in store on Capitol Hill in the new year. Allen's narrow loss in Virginia last month to Jim Webb gave Democrats control of the U.S. Senate.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at

The big news on Capitol Hill today, of course, the release of the Iraq Study Group's long-awaited report.

Joining us now in our "Strategy Session" to talk about it, and more, Democratic strategist Paul Begala, Terry Jeffrey, the editor of "Human Events."

Thanks very much, guys, for coming in.

John McCain just emerged from the White House. And -- and he was critical of several aspects of this report and its recommendations, including this.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We will certainly take seriously their recommendations. On the issue of the Israeli-Palestine conference, or peace talks, we all want peace in the area, but it's very hard for the Israelis or anyone to negotiate with an...


BLITZER: All right, that was the clip we just ran a -- a second ago.

The other one I wanted to play involved Iran. He's concerned about this -- effectively, this -- this invitation, without preconditions, to bring Iran and Syria into this effort to try to ease the crisis in Iraq.

What do you make of this?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It sounds likes John McCain is running for president. And, you know, if you don't like his position today, wait around five minutes, and he will change it. I mean, he's flip-flopped on abortion; he's flip-flopped on -- on teaching so-called intelligent design, which is a -- a religious theory, in terms of -- instead of evolution.

He will change on this. He's, I think, just trying to kind of cater to where the farthest fringes of the right are. But the notion that a guy who calls himself a Reagan conservative would say, we shouldn't negotiate with an evil nation, they're not an evil empire, like the Soviets were, who Reagan negotiated with.

The Soviets sponsored much more terrorism than Iran or Syria ever could hope to. And, yet, President Reagan, like all his predecessors and successors, dealt with the Soviets. We should deal with Iran the same way.

BLITZER: Are you comfortable with that recommendation?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": Yes, especially the way it was pitched, Wolf.

I -- I will add that Ed Meese, who was one of Reagan's closest personal advisers, was a unanimous signer of this report. But what James Baker, who was chief staff to Ronald Reagan, said at the press conference today, when they announced it, he said: Look, we may not have any success with Iran, but, if we go to Iran, and we make a direct overture to them, and they rebuff them, then, we have demonstrated to the world that these guys aren't interested in dealing with us.

And we are dealing with the reality that Iran, more than any other country, has influence on what is going on in Iraq. They have a bad influence now. Strategically, we have to stop that.

BLITZER: Here's how Harry Reid, the incoming Senate majority leader, reacted.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: Their report indicates that they agree with what the election results were on November 7. There must be a change of course in Iraq. The Iraq Study Group is a rejection of the policies of the Bush administration on the war in Iraq.


BLITZER: You're not surprised that he's welcoming, in effect, this report?

BEGALA: And, as he should. And, you know, I took time to -- to read the report today. I took careful notes on it.

It is a stunning repudiation of the president's position in Iraq. And it follows, as Harry Reid says, not just the election and the American people's rejection of the president's course in Iraq. But even Donald Rumsfeld's leaked memo, the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley's, leaked memo, criticizing the president's approach in Iraq, now the Iraq Study Group, it -- it...

BLITZER: And Robert Gates' testimony yesterday.

BEGALA: Thank you for reminding me. Yesterday, Dr. Gates directly disagreed with the president, said, we are losing in Iraq.

This report, from beginning to end, reads like the Democratic proposals of the last three years. I mean, I can go through some...


BLITZER: All right.


BEGALA: ... Democrats have called for, for..


BLITZER: He actually said, we are not winning. He was asked, are we winning in Iraq? And he said, no, sir.

BEGALA: No, sir, right.

JEFFREY: Well, the policy -- the policy clearly is not working.

I will say, one interesting thing is, there's a lot in here that overlaps Donald Rumsfeld's memo that was leaked to "The New York Times." It doesn't contradict Rumsfeld. It forwards some of the things Rumsfeld is saying.

But another thing that this commission said is that we need a bipartisan foreign policy. We need a bipartisan foreign policy, especially about our war in Iraq. A lot of the facts about the conflict in Iraq have been obscured by the partisan stump-speech rhetoric of both the White House and Senator Reid.

So, I think, as we need forward -- move forward, people should deal with the factual assessment of the situation of Iraq that is very clearly laid out in this report.

BLITZER: Do you think -- do you think that that hope for bipartisan cooperation that Vernon Jordan just expressed here is going to spill over now, in the last two years of this administration, as it goes forward on Iraq?


JEFFREY: Well -- well, it needs to happen.

I think there is a sense in the White House that they have to grapple with this in a way that they can bring Democrats on board. There's a sense of urgency. We have another election in two years. So, regardless of the fact that even the study group says, we can't put a timetable on a troop deployment, there are going to be Democrats out running for president and Congress in 2008, if we still are taking casualties there, running on anti-war, let's-get-out-now platform.

So, there has to be real movement. It has got to be bipartisan. And, hopefully, this study group will help spur that.

BLITZER: And that's John Murtha among those. He wants everybody to leave very, very quickly.

Let's make the turn to Mary Cheney, the vice president's daughter. She's pregnant -- the vice president's office confirming that.

Got a statement from Focus on the Family, in part saying this: "Mary Cheney's pregnancy raises the question of what is best for children. Just because it's possible to conceive a child outside of a relationship of a married mother and father doesn't mean it's best for the child. Love can't replace a mom or a dad. Gay adoption, by definition, intentionally denies children either a mother or a father."

Is this going to have an impact on the whole debate right now over gay marriage, gay adoption, gay parenting?

BEGALA: I -- I think it will. And, in that sense, I -- I -- I am very happy, of course, for Cheney and Ms. Poe. But it's a lot of pressure to put on one couple and to put on one family. And I sort of regret that.

But that's the nature of being the vice president's daughter, I suppose. I -- I think it -- it's -- it blows a hole in the right-wing argument that, somehow, gay equality is an attack on the American family.

Here's a wonderful American family, committed for 15 years to each other, which is better than most of us straight people can do. And now they're going to bring a child into this world. The Bible says a child is a gift from God. And I believe that. And I think it's just a wonderful thing. And I think will help hope -- hopefully do away with some of the prejudice that some of our friends on the right have.


JEFFREY: Well, I agree with Focus on the Family.

I think people have to look at this from the perspective of the child. And the fundamental question is, does a child have a God-given right to a mother and a father? And I think we all recognize, when a father impregnates a woman, walks away, and doesn't take care of the child, that father has done something wrong to the child, because it has broken the fundamental bond of a family that the child ought to have.

So, when you take two people of the same sex, and you artificially insert into that relationship a child, you are depriving that child of a fundamental God-given right that every person born in this world has.

BLITZER: We will leave it there. We are going to have more on this story, though, coming up in the next hour. Thanks, guys, very much.

Still to come: Senator Barack Obama, considering a run for the White House, he's certainly a rising star in the Democratic Party, but has he risen enough for such a big political prize? We are going to speak to the senator from Illinois about the Iraq Study Group and a lot more. That's coming up in our 5:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

And, up next, Jack Cafferty and his question of this hour: What can President Bush do salvage the remainder of his presidency? Jack reeds your e-mail when we return.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

In Ramadi, Iraq, armed men drive through town. Many Sunni Arab insurgent groups are based in and around Ramadi.

In Serbia, basketball fans get out of control before a game. This man hurls a flare at rival fans. Four fans and two police officers were injured.

In Las Vegas, a Nebraskan wrestles a steer during the National Finals Rodeo.

And, in northern Germany, Santa Claus waves to children from the top of a submarine -- some of today's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words. Jack Cafferty's back in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: In light of the release of the Iraq study commission report today, the question we asked is: What can President Bush do to salvage the remainder of his presidency?

We got a lot of mail.

Toni in South Carolina: "As to salvaging anything, he could get with the new congressional leaders and agree to first get Dick Cheney's resignation, nominating an agreed-upon new vice president. Then, he should resign, with an agreement that he will not have to face the criminal charges he so fully deserves."

Greta in Los Angeles: "President Bush can insist that Israel get out of the Golan Heights, the Shebaa Farms in Lebanon, all of the West Bank, and Gaza. He could lean on Israel to follow the more than 65 U.N. resolutions that have been drafted against it. Only then will the Middle East have a chance at normality, and Bush have a chance at salvaging the rest of his presidency."

Virginia in Denver, Colorado: "He could admit that mistakes were made by his administration regarding the Iraq war, and bring the troops home. His father was sobbing the other day on live television. And I don't think it was because of Jeb."

Ron in Canton, Georgia: "An honorable man would step down and give something else a chance to jump over the chasm that now separates us from the rest of the world. I'm not sure America can survive two more years of George Bush."

Shiela in Northport, Alabama: "Nothing. There's nothing he can do to salvage a failed presidency. He should accept the Iraq Study Group report and accept the fact that he has been in over his head all along."

And James in Houston writes: "Jack, I'm tired of you undermining the war, the president, and the country. We need to be in Iraq. It's not a civil war. But what it is, is the central front of the war on terror. And it was right to go in. Why can't you see that? And please smile a little more" -- Wolf.


BLITZER: I'm not seeing you smile.

CAFFERTY: I don't think there's a lot to smile about.

BLITZER: I think that's a pretty good explanation.

Thanks, Jack, for that.

Still ahead: He's considered a serious prospect for the presidency. I will go one on one with the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. That's coming up. Up next, though: Members of Congress may be spending more time here in Washington during the next term. The new boss is bringing back -- get this -- a five-day work week. Will it fly?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Most American workers spend five full days a week on the job. Some of us even work more than that. And, soon, members of the House of Representatives will get a taste of what it's like in the real world out there.

Let's turn to our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield -- Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, America's joke writers have just declared a national holiday. Why? Because the incoming majority leader of the House of Representatives has said he expects his members to work a five-day week, which means it is open season for wisecracks about the government we love to mock. But there's also a serious political point about all this.



GREENFIELD (voice-over): House Democrats may be wondering if they made the right move in choosing Steny Hoyer as their majority leader, over the opposition of incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi. A five- day Washington work week means a much tougher travel schedule, especially for members, say, out West. They will be seeing a lot less of their families and their constituents.

One Republican leader says the schedule is fine with him, because it will make it hard for freshman Democrats to get well-known back home. But House members know -- or should know -- that an empty House chamber can mean real political trouble -- the most famous example, the 1948 presidential campaign, when Harry Truman, written off by just about every expert, won by crisscrossing the country, attacking the do-nothing Republican 80th Congress.

This year, the voters' rejection of the Congress was as much about performance -- or lack of it -- as about, say, corruption. And whether or not it was front and center on voters' minds, the fact is that the outgoing 109th Congress will have met for only 103 days. That's seven days fewer than that do-nothing 80th Congress back in the 1940s.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: No excuse for what you're doing today.

GREENFIELD: But there's more to this. In fact, it's one of those stories that almost sounds as if it has been made up to give people another excuse to laugh at their elected officials. And that's something Americans have loved to do from the beginning. For instance, guess who said, "I am not a politician, and my other habits are good?" Jon Stewart? Stephen Colbert? No. It was Artemas Ward, a political satirist of the pre-Civil War era.

And what about the idea that "There is no distinctly native American criminal class, except Congress?" Letterman? Leno? No, Mark Twain.

If someone observes that we might be better off the less that Congress works, keep in mind that it was 140 years ago when a judge wrote, "No man's life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session."

And your grandparents -- or maybe great-grandparents -- could tell you that one of the most popular radio personalities of the 1940s was Senator Beauregard Claghorn, who bloviated on Fred Allen's popular radio show.


GREENFIELD: Next month, as members of Congress stagger bleary- eyed through airport terminals, they may feel a sense of persecution for being the target of so many barbs and insults.

But that same Harry Truman who mocked their work habits also provided a nice piece of advice: If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff, thank you.