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The Situation Room

Will Al Gore Run in 2008?; Cheney Family Growing; How Does Iraq Respond to ISG Report?

Aired December 06, 2006 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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, "grave, deteriorating and possibly sliding into all out chaos." That's how the Iraq Study Group describes the situation in Iraq right now. It's released a long-awaited report warning there's no magic formula to fix Iraq.

Now that the bipartisan panel has spoken, will the White House listen?

Democratic Senator and presidential prospect, Barack Obama, also studying Iraq right now. I'll speak with him one-on-one. I'll ask him when he thinks American troops should come home.

And the Cheney family is growing. The vice president's openly gay daughter is pregnant.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


A grave assessment, dozens of recommendations and a strong warning that time is not on America's side when it comes to the war in Iraq. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group releasing its much anticipated report today. Among its key recommendations, reducing U.S. combat forces while dramatically increasing forces assigned to train and advise Iraqi troops; also, talking to Syria and Iran and taking steps to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Even as Washington is digesting the findings, the U.S. military is reporting that 10 more U.S. troops have been killed in four separate incidents in Iraq. We're going to be talking all about this in just a moment or so with Democratic Senator Barack Obama.

He's standing by live.

But let's begin this hour with our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, while the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group may be a matter of debate, there is almost universal support for its description of the problem. (BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): It's hard to imagine a bleaker assessment. "The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. The current approach is not working. The ability of the United States to influence events is diminishing. No course of action is guaranteed to stop a slide toward chaos."

But even as the 10-member panel unanimously agrees the U.S. is losing, it concludes Iraq it not lost, not yet.

Still, there's no reference in the report to a U.S. victory.

JAMES BAKER, IRAQ STUDY GROUP CO-CHAIRMAN: 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.

MCINTYRE: Improved, but by no means certain, even if all 79 recommendations are implement.

On the military side, the panel recommends several strategies to speed the transition of U.S. troops from front line combat to behind the scenes support -- increase the number of trainers from 4,000 to 20,000; withdraw most U.S. combat troops by early 2008; target al Qaeda in Iraq with the remaining forces.

Most of those military moves match the strategy already embraced by U.S. commanders. But there's an important wrinkle in the Baker- Hamilton approach -- U.S. troops drawdowns would continue and other support cut back, even if the Iraqis make no progress on the vital goal of national reconciliation.

LEE HAMILTON, IRAQ STUDY GROUP CO-CHAIRMAN: If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward the achievement of milestones, the United States should then reduce its political, military or economic support for the Iraqi government.

MCINTYRE: It's a last ditch approach the authors readily admit has its own shortcomings and offers no magic formula to the new defense secretary.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: There are no new ideas on Iraq. Everybody -- the list of tactics, the list of strategies, the list of approaches is pretty much out there. And the question is, is there a way to put pieces of those different proposals together in a way that provides a path forward?


MCINTYRE: The report also comes with a sobering disclaimer that events may have already overtaken its recommendations and it could be too late to prevent Iraq from sliding deeper into chaos -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Too little too late. That's a great fear, I know, among a lot of experts on Iraq.

Jamie, thank you for that.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Iran is sitting at the table holding a fistful of aces and waiting for the opportunity to go all in. And the sad part is the United States is in no position to call when they do. In a word, we're trapped.

The Iraq Study Group recommends enlisting Iran and Syria in trying to solve the Iraq problem. President Bush has said no way and today White House Spokesman Tony Snow said they've ruled out one-on- one talks with Iran about Iraq until they stop their nuclear activities.

Six months ago, Condoleezza Rice said sanctions would be imposed against Iran in a matter of weeks, not months.

Remember that?

You know what's happened?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Iran's cooperation is seen as critical to getting the U.S. out of Iraq.

How can we impose sanctions on the one hand and then ask for their help on the other?

Well, we can't. And in the meantime, they go right ahead with their nuclear program while they wait for us to come on bended knee and beg for their help.

Here's the question -- will the United States eventually have to talk to Iran?

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

We'll see you soon.

My next guest is certainly poring over the Iraq Study Group's report.

As lawmakers look at ways to try to bring peace and progress to Iraq and bring U.S. troops home from Iraq, a serious debate is underway here in Washington.

Democratic Senator Barack Obama is joining us now live from Capitol Hill.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in. As you know, several of your Democratic colleagues already think the situation in Iraq is over, for all practical purposes. John Murtha, the U.S. congressman from Pennsylvania, basically concludes the U.S. has already lost.

Former Senator Max Cleland, here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday, said it's already over, bring those men and women home now before U.S. -- more U.S. troops have to die.

What do you say?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Well, as you know, I thought that this was a poorly conceived war in the first place and I wish we had not gone in.

What I've tried to do is to suggest that we need to be as cautious getting out as we were careless getting in. And I thought that the Iraq Study Group did a terrific job of providing, for the first time, in a bipartisan fashion, a realistic assessment of what's taking place there.

And I -- many of the recommendations that they put forward mirrored recommendations that I made in a speech in Chicago three weeks ago.

So I think that their basic framework was correct. And this now gives us an opportunity, as Democrats and Republicans, and as Americans, to come together and say what are the tasks and objectives that we can set for ourselves that will lead to a more acceptable outcome?

I think that James Baker was right when he said that there are no great options here. Robert Gates was right -- there are no new ideas. But we can make some good judgment calls and I think the one thing I would like to see is for us to start initiating a phased withdrawal to send a strong signal to the Iraqi government, as well as to neighbors in the region, that we're serious about changing course.

BLITZER: Because in the -- one of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations is by the first quarter of 2008, a little more than a year from now, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq.

That kind of benchmark, you support that?

OBAMA: I do. I mean I framed it somewhat differently. What I said was in four to six months, we should have begun-the phased withdrawal. They come at it from the back end and say that by 2008 we could have gotten all combat troops out.

But the basic principle is sound, which is we cannot have our brave young men and women, who are doing a wonderful job, trying to arbitrate in what has effectively become a sectarian civil war.

BLITZER: What... OBAMA: The Iraqi government has to make a decision and all the parties involved have to make a decision that they are willing to arrive at a political settlement. And unless and until we have said we are not going to continue to offer our troops up as fodder in that process, I don't think they're going to get serious about it.

BLITZER: What should the Democratic majority in the Senate and the House do if President Bush and his administration reject these recommendations and continue to go along as is?

OBAMA: Well, I don't want to speculate on that right now. The fact of the matter is the president is the commander-in-chief. As much as we object to what he is doing, ultimately we are expecting leadership from the White House on this issue.

The one power that we have in Congress is the power of the purse. I see no appetite, and certainly I would not support, actually restricting funds that we need to make sure that our troops are protected and successful.

But I think the interesting thing, Wolf, is that you're going to see at least as much pressure, if not more pressure, from within the president's own party, to take these recommendations seriously, because I think they recognize that not only is America paying a price for misguided policies, but the Republican Party is paying a political price, as well.

BLITZER: Because the report says, as we know, nearly 3,000 American troops already dead; another 21,000 wounded, many of them severely.

This war costing U.S. taxpayers about $2 billion a week -- a week; $400 billion so far. They say if it goes on, it could be $2 trillion. Think about it, Senator, what you could be doing for the American public with those kinds of sums, $2 billion a week.

OBAMA: Well, absolutely. Look, the costs have been enormous. And one of the frustrations I've had is when I hear the president say effectively that as long as we are resolved, we don't lost heart, we can win.

The American people have been enormously resolved in this process and I think that all of us are willing to make sacrifices and pick up arms ourselves, in terms of defending our country.

What we can't continue to do is to spend the amount of money that we're spending more grievously to see young men and women, 18 and 19 and 20 year olds, suffer the way they're suffering and end up with an outcome that is making us less safe and is encouraging terrorist activity.

That is an unacceptable option and I think that the Baker- Hamilton Commission did an excellent job in terms of getting us all to focus no the reality of the situation right now.

BLITZER: Here's how the former vice president, Al Gore, summarized this Iraq situation on "The Today Show" earlier today.


AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is an utter disaster. This was the worst strategic mistake in the entire history of the United States. And now, we as a nation have to find a way, in George Mitchell's words, to manage a disaster.


BLITZER: The worst strategic mistake in the entire history of the United States.

The former president, Jimmy Carter, were here in THE SITUATION ROOM last week basically saying this is a huge disaster, rivaling Vietnam.

First of all, do you agree with the vice president?

OBAMA: I think it is hard not to make the assessment that this has been a misconceived mission from the start, not just in execution, but in conception. In fact, actually, the military has performed brilliantly. The problem was the way we conceived the mission was based on ideology. It was not based on facts on the ground.

But the fact is, is that what I'm not interested in doing is re- litigating the decision to get in. I think that what the Iraq Study Group provides us an opportunity to do is to start looking forward on a bipartisan basis, to try to figure out how can we make the best of a bad situation?

It is still possible for us to arrive at a situation in which there is stability in Iraq, that it has not become a nest of terrorist activity, that we're not seeing wholesale slaughter.

Those modest objectives can potentially still be achieved, but we don't have any time to lose here.

BLITZER: And we're almost out of time. But a quick answer.

Do you support the notion of bringing Iran and Syria into some sort of regional international conference without any preconditions?

OBAMA: Yes. And I said so three weeks ago. I think that we -- if we can talk to the Kremlin when they've got nuclear weapons pointed at us for 50 years, then we can talk to Iran and Syria.

BLITZER: I'll leave you with a quick political question, Senator Obama.

Joe Biden, your colleague from Delaware, said the other day, he said, "I'll be a little surprised if he actually does run. Obama is on everyone's number two list."

I guess that's a back-handed compliment.

You want to be president or you want to be vice president?

OBAMA: Well, you don't run-for vice president.

BLITZER: So what does that mean? You want to be pres -- you want run-for president?

OBAMA: The -- I answered the question, Wolf.

I've got to go vote.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there. I know you're considering it and we'll consider it along with you.

Thanks very much, Senator.

OBAMA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

OBAMA: Bye-bye.

BLITZER: Bye-bye.

Up ahead, the Iraq Study Group calling for more U.S. military advisers to help Iraqi troops. We have some gripping video of the training of those advisers and what they're undergoing right now. We're going to take you out to Fort Riley, Kansas for an inside look.

Also, we'll get White House reaction to the report. The president's counselor, Dan Bartlett, standing by to join us live.

Plus, pregnancy and politics -- the vice president's openly gay daughter is pregnant. We're going to show you the potential political implications.

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


BLITZER: The United States Senate has confirmed Robert Gates to be the next secretary of defense. The vote is still going on. We don't have a final tally yet. It should not necessarily be a huge surprise. He was confirmed yesterday by the Senate Armed Services Committee in a unanimous, unanimous vote.

Robert Gates will be the next secretary of defense.

Let's get some more now on our top story. The Iraq Study Group's report making 79 specific recommendations to stop what it calls the slide toward chaos in Iraq.

We want to get to some White House reaction.

For that, we turn to the counselor to the president, Dan Bartlett.

Thanks very much, Dan, for coming in.


BLITZER: When will the new secretary of defense be sworn in as the secretary of defense?

BARTLETT: Well, I don't want to be presumptuous. I know the vote is going on right now. But expect the new secretary of defense to be sworn in fairly quickly, before the end of the year.

BLITZER: Oh, you mean he's not going to be sworn in like today or tomorrow or the next day?

Why wait?

BARTLETT: Well, he has some private affairs there at the university to wrap up. As you know, this has been a very quick process for him to get prepared for the confirmation hearings, have those hearings. But make no mistake about it, he's sinking his teeth into the work. Almost immediately, he'll be in a position to provide the president the type of advice and counsel you would expect during this assessment period that's underway.

He will hit the ground running.

BLITZER: All right, so Donald Rumsfeld -- correct me if I'm wrong -- will remain as secretary of defense until Robert Gates is sworn in?

BARTLETT: That's correct.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk about the Iraq Study Group.

When do you expect we'll hear from the president specifically on which recommendations he likes, which ones he doesn't necessarily like?

BARTLETT: Well, Wolf, as he said this morning, fairly quickly. We do want to have as quick an assessment as possible. As you know, there is a very comprehensive assessment going on by the administration, his military leadership, the National Security Council staff. And the president will be meeting with members of his administration in the next week or two to also get their findings.

The president will have one single way forward that he will present to the American people, hopefully before the end of the year, so the American people, our allies in the region and everybody, for that matter, will know quite as clearly as possible about the way forward.

BLITZER: So basically before Christmas some time, the president might make an address the nation and tell us what he likes, what he doesn't like? Is that what you're saying?

BARTLETT: Well, I'm not going to spell out the tactics, but the goal is to hopefully do that before the end of the year. But the president is going to allow for his advisers to have the process go forward. But sooner rather than later.

BLITZER: In the past, he always said he hated any artificial deadlines, timetables, because it would simply encourage the terrorists, the insurgents, to wait us out, if you will...


BLITZER: ... and now there is a specific recommendation from the Iraq Study Group, by the first quarter of 2008 basically to pull out the combat forces and to focus in on training the Iraqi military.

Is that going to simply encourage the insurgents to wait for the United States to leave?

BARTLETT: Well, I think, Wolf, what Jim Baker and others would say is words matter. And the words in this report are very specific in that regards. It said they could pull out combat troops by the first quarter of 2008. It did say if there are unexpected events that may curtail that.

This is basically, it looks, is a conditions based strategy, one that has a very dramatic goal for the first quarter of '08, while also providing some very critical functions in that country with regards to the training program, the embedded program, intelligence operations, going after al Qaeda with our Special Operations forces, then obviously making sure the combat power is there for force protection.

Well, those are a lot of moving parts there and it's going to take us a little bit to analyze the various aspects of that proposal. So I'm not going to be able to comment specifically on it.

But I think they'd take issue saying that this is specific timetable.

BLITZER: The president had said one thing as far as if the United States is winning in Iraq, and Robert Gates, the incoming secretary of defense, said something very different yesterday.

Listen to these two little clips.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're winning and we will win unless we leave before the job is done.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Do you believe that we are currently winning in Iraq?



BLITZER: All right, how do you square what the president believes and his incoming secretary of defense believe?

BARTLETT: Well, the Secretary also -- or the incoming secretary of defense, for that matter, later in the hearing, talked about the fact that he doesn't believe we're losing either. It's a very complex situation. And the point I think the president was making in that press conference -- I was there -- is that the real question being put forward to the American people and to the country is that are we committed? Do we have the will to do what it takes? Is the sacrifice necessary?

And if we do have the will and we have the smart enough strategies, ones that are being analyzed right now, we can prevail and we will win. And that is an important distinction the president is making. He has incredible faith in our United States military. He has incredible faith in the diplomats. And he has faith in the Iraqi people that they want to see a better way forward for their country.

So, the blunt speaking by Bob Gates is one of the reasons why the president chose him to be secretary of defense. He looks forward to his counsel and advice. And he will be able to provide that very shortly.

BLITZER: Dan Bartlett at the White House.

Thanks very much for coming in.

BARTLETT: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up, they face the daunting task of training Iraqi forces to take charge of their own security. We're going to show you the rigorous training these U.S. troops are undergoing right now. It's video you're going to want to see.

Plus, we're getting late word from Oregon on the search for that missing man trapped in the snowy mountains with his family for more than a week.

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


BLITZER: There she is, Carol Costello, who -- she's got a closer look at other important stories -- hi, Carol.


Hello to all of you.

The family of James Kim in seclusion, now that his body has been found in the Oregon wilderness. He was found in an area where teams on the ground and in the air had been searching for him for days. His family became stranded on a remote road November 25th. Kim struck out Saturday to find some help. His wife and two children were rescued on Monday.

At about this time tomorrow night, NASA might be in the final stages of the countdown to a nighttime shuttle liftoff. Discovery is set to blast off at 9:35 p.m. Eastern tomorrow night. If it happens on time, it'll be the first launch of a shuttle at night in four years.

And it is a tantalizing thought -- might there really be life on Mars?

Scientists are excited by that question after some NASA images suggest the presence of water on the red planet. Liquid water, as you know, is an important equation for sustaining life. We'll keep you posted -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thank you for that.

Still to come, a dangerous Iraqi village in Kansas. It's part of a military school where American advisers are learning how to help Iraqis fight terrorists.

Brian Todd is there with an inside look.

And she is expecting -- the vice president's openly gay daughter is pregnant. We're going to tell you how the Cheney family is recommending.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

Happening now, the Iraq Study Group finally released with 79 sweeping recommendations its report to help try to turn the war in Iraq around. It paints a very dire picture of the situation and warns time is running out. The White House is promising to carefully review the report, which says stay the course is no longer an option.

Also, a stinging rebuke to former President Jimmy Carter. A long time aide and Middle East expert resigning from the Carter Center in Atlanta because of Jimmy Carter's new book on the Middle East. Ken Stein says the book is one-sided and filled with errors. A Carter spokesman says the former president stands by his work.

And investigators trying to figure out what caused a huge explosion at a Milwaukee industrial facility. Three people have been killed and dozens injured, with reports of an unconfirmed number of people missing.

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The plan to turn around the troubled U.S. mission in Iraq and stem what's being called, and I'm quoting now, "a slide toward chaos." The bipartisan Iraq Study Group today released 79 recommendations covering everything from a gradual withdrawal of American combat troops to comprehensive regional peace efforts.

So what do Iraqis make of all of this?

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Baghdad. BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki received a briefing from Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton via closed circuit television on the results of their study. Most Iraqis, however, had to endure yet another day of unending violence.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): Iraq's nightmare goes on. A woman finds her brother among the dead. The bodies showing signs of torture brought to the morgue in the town of Baqubah north of Baghdad. The victims of shadowy sectarian death squads. In Baghdad, mortars rain down on one of the northern neighborhoods. More dead, more wounded. But what was once breaking news is now barely news. Baghdad residents met the release of the Iraq Study Group's results with a shrug, largely indifferent to the buzz in Washington. Consumed as they are by the mind numbing daily harvest of death in their battered land. The brief period of optimism that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime is now a distant and fading memory. When the Americans came I was happy says store owner Salim Medi, but as time passed, we haven't seen anything positive come out of it. Just killing and destruction. For that reason, I no longer trust them. Many Iraqis now believe the U.S. mission in Iraq has failed. But some aren't sure who, if anyone has won.

PROF. MA'AN AL-OBEIDI, AL-HANRAIN UNIVERSITY: They are defeated in Iraq, so they are trying to look for an outlet to get out of their plight in Iraq. And I think the outlet will be at the expense of the Iraqi people.


WEDEMAN: Wolf, the Iraq Study Group was aimed at finding that way out of Iraq for the Americans and ending the Iraqi nightmare. At least two things that most Americans and Iraqis would agree upon. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman for us in Baghdad with Iraqi reaction. I also spoke about the Iraq Study Group and its recommendations with Abdul Aziz al Hakim. He's the head of the Supreme Counsel for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. He's arguably one of the most powerful leaders in the country. And he met with President Bush at the White House on Monday.


BLITZER: Do you think the presence of American forces, 140, 145,000 U.S. troops in Iraq are helping your country or hurting your country?

ABDUL AZIZ AL-HAKIM, UNITED IRAQI ALLIANCE: Of course, the number is not a factor, but what is important is for the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government to take care of their own business.

BLITZER: So you would like the U.S. troops to leave?

AL-HAKIM: We would like, of course, to see them go safe back to their country. And we welcome them as visitors to our country. And this is the will of every nation. They don't like to see foreign troops on their soil.


BLITZER: Abdul Aziz al Hakim, you can see, by the way, the complete interview with him, this Sunday on "LATE EDITION" 11 a.m. eastern, 8:00 a.m. pacific, only here on CNN.

And while the Iraq Study Group recommends a gradual withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Iraq, it calls for U.S. forces to continue training their Iraqi counterparts. Troops are preparing for that role right now at Fort Riley in Kansas. CNN's Brian Todd has a firsthand look. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if Iraqi forces are going to be trained and up to speed for combat, this is where that training begins here at Fort Riley, an intensive course for U.S. military advisers to get their Iraqi counterparts up to speed.


TODD (voice-over): A mission to kill. U.S. troops storm a mock Iraqi village at Fort Riley, Kansas, kicking down doors, taking out one insurgent at the top of the stairs and then turning to face a hostage taker.

SGT. SAMUEL SISTARE, U.S. ARMY: You make the call or the guy behind the weapon has to make the call.

TODD: A call tough enough for an American, even tougher for a soldier fighting on his own turf.

MAJ. GEN. CARTER HAM, U.S. ARMY: To help that Iraqi, help that Afghan leader help him make those decisions, instead of the American making the decision.

TODD: This unit training how to help Iraqis deal with a common danger.

This drill is called mounted combat patrol. In this convoy of humvees advisers are taught how to train their Iraqi counterparts to watch out for roadside bombs and hostile fire and how to respond if they're attacked.

Keep your bearings!

TODD: These soldiers badly wounded. Their buddies criticized for leaving them exposed. But how do you escape a disabled vehicle?

This is called the humvee assistance trainer, essentially how to get out of a humvee that's hit by an IED and rolls over and catches fire or goes into the water. I'm going to take a run at it.

Flipped over, debris flying around inside. I need help, I might not have survived. That was the toughest part, finding the latch when you're upside down.


TODD: This program has only been in place since June, but it's very ambitious. Each team goes through 60 days of training, then 11 members of each team are embedded with a battalion of about 500 Iraqis. Those are the Iraqis that are going to be on the front lines of this war. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. By the way, a huge challenge will be getting Iraqi soldiers and their American advisers to simply trust each other. Tomorrow Brian will have part two of his report. He'll take a look at that part of the training which soldiers say can be tougher than combat skills.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, he's got instant name recognition, a well-known movie, even a sit down with Oprah. Might that make Al Gore the Democrats' best hope for 2008? Bill Schneider is standing by to take a closer look.

And the Cheney family is growing. The vice president's openly gay daughter is pregnant. Now the family is reacting. Mary Snow will share the story with all of us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Ninety five to two. That's the final vote, the confirmation of Robert Gates to become the next secretary of defense of the United States. Two U.S. Senators, Rick Santorum, the outgoing Republican senator from Pennsylvania, Jim Bunning, Republican senator from Kentucky, they voted against Robert Gates' confirmation. He will be sworn in as the next Secretary of Defense, December 18th. This coming in from the White House. Until then, Donald Rumsfeld remains as Secretary of Defense. His last day will be December 18th.

Al Gore is once again responding to speculation about his White House ambitions. In a TV interview today, he said he's not planning to run for president again. But some Gore watchers aren't entirely convinced. Let's turn to our senior political analyst Bill Schneider. Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, notice how Al Gore has become the king of all media, his own cable TV network, a hit movie now a DVD, an appearance on Oprah? What's going on?


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Two names stand out in the race for the 2008 Democratic nomination, Clinton and Obama. Some Democrats look at those names and worry, can they get elected? Is there, shall we say, a third way? Enter Al Gore. Electability? Gore's been elected many Democrats feel.

DOUG HATTAWAY, FORMER GORE SPOKESMAN: He won the popular vote in 2000 so a lot of people feel like he has earned it. SCHNEIDER: And he has something few likely Democratic contenders can claim.

HATTAWAY: He's a youngish elder statesmen if you will with expertise on a lot of critical issues like national security.

SCHNEIDER: Name ID, not a problem. Money, not a problem. The problem is no great excitement. Ask Democrats if they want Gore to run and they say, huh. That's Gore's big hurdle, to kindle some excitement. He may be trying to do that by creating the new Gore. The new Gore is passionate and authentic, a modern day Savonarola, denouncing the sins of the Bush administration.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: The president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and incessantly.

SCHNEIDER: He goes around the world and on "Oprah" to spread warnings about the global climate crisis.

GORE: We may have as little as 10 years before we cross a kind of point of no return.

SCHNEIDER: Part of the new Gore's appeal is that he's not a politician.

GORE: I'm not planning to be a candidate again.

SCHNEIDER: The minute he says he's running he becomes a politician again. So why rush? Gore's candidacy could set off a civil war in the Democratic Party, two Clinton legacies competing. On the other hand, if Senator Clinton runs she can be the Clinton candidate, leaving the new Gore to be his own man.


SCHNEIDER: A comeback story? That could kindle some excitement. Bill Clinton was the comeback kid once. Now maybe it can be Al Gore. Wolf?

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thank you for that. We'll be watching Al Gore every step of the way.

Up ahead, the vice president, the current vice president, that is, is going to be a granddaddy again. This time with a little bit of a twist. His openly gay daughter is now pregnant. We're going to weigh the private joy against some of the political ramifications.

And later, Jack Cafferty's question the hour, will the U.S. eventually have to talk to Iran? We're taking your e-mail. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There he is, Lou Dobbs, he's getting ready for his program that begins in a few moments right at the top of the hour. He's joining us tonight from Buffalo. LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, Wolf. Thank you very much. Hello from Buffalo. Coming up at 6:00 p.m. eastern here on CNN, tonight we're reporting on a rising new threat to middle class homeowners already reeling from plunging house prices and soaring mortgage interest rates. Scam artists trying to steal home equity and your homes. We'll have that special report. Also, what could be one of the country's biggest trade giveaways ever? The Bush administration pushing for a so-called free trade agreement, this one with South Korea. It could destroy more middle class jobs. We'll have the story.

And the U.S. Congress finishing work on another huge giveaway to a foreign country. A deal to give India U.S. nuclear technology in return for mangos and a few other products. We'll have that special report as well as the latest on the rising number of American casualties in Iraq. And I'll be talking with two members of the Iraq Study Group here tonight. All of that and more straight ahead. Stay with us and be with us at the top of the hour. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right Lou, we certainly will. Quick question, why Buffalo?

DOBBS: Why Buffalo, because it represents a really significant front in the war on the middle class. A loss of manufacturing jobs, a beautiful historic city working against all of the forces, against which our middle class is fighting all across the nation, and that's why we're here.

BLITZER: Buffalo, New York, a wonderful place. I happened to have grown up there. I didn't know if you knew that Lou.

DOBBS: I did know that. You remind me of it every once in a while.

BLITZER: Give all my fellow Buffaloneans all my best.

DOBBS: You got it, Wolf. Thanks.

BLITZER: We'll look forward to your reporting from there. Thank you very much.

A growing number of same-sex couples are having children. But few will make headlines the way this one is. Mary Cheney, the openly gay daughter of the vice president is pregnant, expecting a baby with her partner Heather Poe. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us live from New York with details. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this will be Mary Cheney's first child. And the news is generating interest since it underscores the difference between her private life and the public policies of the Bush administration where her father is number two.


SNOW (voice-over): It is a pregnancy that is sure to bear political implications. A spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney confirms that Mary Cheney, the vice president's gay daughter is pregnant. As she and long-time partner Heather Poe prepare for the next big step in their lives as parents, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cheney says, "The Vice President and Mrs. Cheney are looking forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of their sixth grandchild." That arrival is already sparking widespread interest especially among gay rights advocates.

JENNIFER CHRISLER, EXEC. DIRECTOR, FAMILY PRIDE: It really makes real how aggressive the right and fundamentalists have been about attacking gay and lesbian families. And here the vice president's own daughter is about to become a part of that in an even bigger way than she already is.

SNOW: And has been since 2004 when Mary Cheney served as an aide to her father's campaign. She's seen here with her partner at the Republican convention. Gay rights activists criticized her for not speaking out in support of same sex marriage, since President Bush was in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban it. This past spring in a new book, she publicly broke ranks with the administration.

MARY CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER: The notion of amending the constitution and basically writing discrimination into the constitution of the United States is fundamentally wrong.

SNOW: This November, Cheney supported a campaign to fight a same sex marriage ban in the state of Virginia where she lives with her partner. But the ban was approved. Gay family advocates say Virginia has strict limits on parental rights for gay couples.

CHRISLER: Mary's partner will have no legal relationship to this child at all.

SNOW: Will the vice president's new grandchild soften conservative's staunch opposition to gay marriage. At least one conservative says it won't make a difference.

ROBERT KNIGHT, CULTURE AND MEDIA INSTITUTE: Certainly, Mary Cheney and her personal life shouldn't be the driving force behind public policy.


SNOW: And the vice president's office didn't offer any details on the circumstances of the pregnancy. The "Washington Post" reports the baby is due this spring. Wolf?

BLITZER: The reaction is coming in, I know, all over the place. What are you picking up -- how quickly is this reaction coming in?

SNOW: Yeah, Wolf, the news was barely out when reaction was on the blogs and groups like the one you heard, advocates of gay families questioning the vice president's policy, so certainly generating a lot of interest.

BLITZER: Mary, thanks very much for that. Mary Snow reporting. Up next, Jack Cafferty with your e-mail, his question this hour, will the U.S. eventually have to talk to Iran? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty, he's in New York. Hi, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, this hour the question is, will the United States eventually have to talk to Iran as a way of finding a way out of Iraq? Gary in Columbus, Ohio writes, "Yes, and we'll also have to talk to Syria. In addition to allowing Iran's nuclear program the real bargaining chip will be a peace deal in the Middle East, including return of the Golan Heights to Syria." Justin in Dallas, "Two nations with large standing forces and disparate goals and interests in the middle of a region rife with conflict simply cannot avoid speaking to one another. The question is, will it be a dialogue around a diplomatic table or shouted cries on the battlefield?"

Kit in Cape Canaveral, Florida, "We will eventually need to talk to Iran along with Syria and North Korea. As Nixon demonstrated 30 years ago, you need to engage your enemies, not just throw very shouts at them. Unfortunately, any engagement with Iran will probably have to wait two more years because Bush is too stubborn to do it." Marilyn in North Carolina, "No, Jack, not just Iran, but Iran, Kuwait, Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, all the surrounding nations in a roundtable with Iraq. They'll have a stake, all of them, in what happens in the area and they all should be in on the discussions. Do they want the insurgents to take over and terrorize them all or do they want peace?" Sam writes from Omaha, Nebraska, "We'll have to talk with Iran only if we want some oil. Bush's oil grab in Iraq is dead in the water now. We're going to have to do some fast talking to avoid things like oil boycotts."

Scott writes from Iowa, "The U.S. should talk to everyone in regards to getting out of Iraq and other issues. It doesn't hurt anything by engaging in talks, even if very little comes of it. Flat out refusing to talk shows arrogance and isolationism and does nothing but promote the world's hatred toward the U.S. policies." F. writes, "Eventually, that's a pretty open-ended time frame. Eventually, the U.S. will have to nuke Iran." And Ron in San Francisco, "Only if junior isn't calling the shots any more. Every time there's talk of speaking with Iran, he stomps his feet, holds his breath and behaves like a 4-year-old."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to, we posted a bunch more of these online. We got a lot of mail this afternoon.

BLITZER: Did most of the people writing in seem to like this Iraq Study Group or not like it?

CAFFERTY: Well, they didn't really voice an opinion on whether they liked the Iraq Study Group or not. But I think what came through is that a bunch of very learned people who presumably had bipartisanship at the heart of their effort came to pretty much an across-the board conclusion. Things in Iraq are out of control, they don't know if it's salvageable. And it's getting more desperate by the day. And that's what resonated with the people watching this program. The futility of what's going on over there.

BLITZER: Jack, see you back here in an hour. Thank you. And to coincide with the release of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations, the authors arranged to have the plan released in print. But are people buying something they can get for free online. Our internet reporter Jacki Schechner has the answer. Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, they sure are. At 10:30 this morning before the report was released, the book was number 1,685 on Now, it's the 22nd most popular book on It peaked at 18 earlier today. If you go to Barnes& it's now at 25. It is being published in print form by Vintage Books, which is a division of Random House. And they say a portion of the proceeds are going to this organization, the National Military Family Association, which helps families cope with the challenges of military life. You can go to and read the full report. And if you go to our Situation Room blog, we've also posted other links for you with some more resources about the organizations involved in the group. A who's who of the Iraq Study Group and some key findings. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jacki, thank you for that. Let's check back with Carol Costello for some other stories making news. Carol?

COSTELLO: Hi Wolf. Hello to all of you. Green onions are gone from all Taco Bell restaurants in the United States for now. Why you ask? Because it is possible they are the cause of the E. Coli outbreak. The fast food chain's voluntary move came yesterday after tests suggested that the onions might have sickened three dozen people in three states. Taco Bell operates 5800 restaurants nationwide. Customers got sick in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The Italian security consultant who met with an ex-Russian spy the same day he believed he was poisoned with radioactive material, has been given a clean bill of health. Mario Scaramella had met November 1st with Alexander Litvinenko who died 13 days later. London police are involved in the investigation of his death and Scotland Yard says it is ready to call Litvinenko's death a murder. And Wolf, Congress wants to wish you and all Americans a very happy holiday season. Moments ago the Capitol's Christmas tree was lighted. It's a 65 foot pacific silver fur from a national forest in Washington. It is the first time Washington has ever provided a Capitol Christmas tree. Wolf?

BLITZER: A beautiful sight indeed. We see it every year. Thanks Carol. Let's go to Lou in Buffalo. Lou?