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The Situation Room

War Funding Bill Meeting. Compromise and the President's Veto. Interview with George Tenant; Interview with John Edwards.

Aired May 02, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, insurgents in Iraq compromise and a definition of success. President Bush met with Democrats a day after vetoing their pullout timetable. And he's lowering the bar for victory.
Also this hour, some tough questions for the former CIA chief, George Tenet. He's accusing the Bush administration of making him a scapegoat for the Iraq War. I'll ask him if he has blood on his hands.

And the 2008 roller coaster. We're tracking the new ups and downs in the Republican presidential field. I'll speak about that with John Edwards. We'll talk about the Democrats' candidates, their twists and splits over Iraq.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


This hour, President Bush and Congressional Democrats are coming out of their separate corners and they're moving into the next round of their fight over Iraq.

They've been meeting over at the White House. They're trying to look for some common ground. But the wounds still are fresh from the president's veto of a war spending bill with timetables for troop withdrawals and the House failed to override that veto just a little while ago.

Our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by.

But let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

First, what was it like, the atmosphere, for this -- let's call it a summit meeting -- between the leadership of Congress and the president where you are -- Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was almost comical in a way, because there was no major breakthrough, but you had everyone trying to put a happy face on this and basically all -- both parties really reading from the same talking points, using the same buzz word.

Congressional leaders came out of this meeting saying common ground, common ground, the same exact thing the president said at the top of the meeting. Now, they're not actually finding common ground. They didn't have a deal or any sort of compromise, mind you. But they're all saying they're trying to find it and that's all they really accomplished here, was that they're moving closer to actual common ground.

This both parties are trying to turn down the volume. All the acrimony we saw in that back and forth yesterday, the president himself trying to say it's time to turn the page.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yesterday was a day that highlighted differences. Today is a day where we can work together to find common ground.


HENRY: Now, obviously, both parties concerned about turning off the public if the volume gets too high. Here's where the president revealed that he's appointed his chief of staff, Josh Bolten; two other top aides, Rob Portman, as well as Stephen Hadley, to go up to Capitol Hill and try and work this out.

So the president trying to show publicly that he's reaching out, but still showing no signs of compromise, insisting he won't give in, of course, on that timetable for the withdraw of U.S. troops -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The president also seems to be shifting the conversation about Iraq a little bit.

To our viewers what's going on on that front.

HENRY: Absolutely.

He was speaking to a friendly audience here in Washington earlier this morning and basically was shifting the terms for victory in Iraq.

Take a close listen to what the president had to say. Pretty remarkable.


BUSH: The definition of success, as I described, is, you know, sectarian violence down. What -- it -- success is not no violence. There are parts of our own country that, you know, have got, you know, a certain level of violence to it.


HENRY: Now, Tony Snow had a little difficult explaining that. When my colleague, Suzanne Malveaux, pressed him in the White House briefing today, exactly how do you define an acceptable level of violence, he said, frankly, I don't have an answer and moved on to another question. Now, Snow later insisted the president is not shifting the terms of victory here. But there is no doubt that what the president said today is a far cry from where he was at this point last year, when he was speaking in much more black and white terms, not so gray, about defining victory -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House.

Thanks very much.

Those Congressional leaders who met with the president today to talk about whether or not they see some room for compromise with the president. The top Democrat and Republican in the House spoke just a short while ago on their way out of the talks over at the White House.

Listen to this.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Make no mistake, Democrats are committed to ending this war and we hope to do so in unison with the president of the United States.



REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: I think there is a way for us to work together to try to find common ground. That's what the American people expect of us and I think that's the commitment we made to each other today.


BLITZER: All right, let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

They seem to be sounding this conciliatory note -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And that's exactly what we were told even before this meeting the goal was, was to try to improve the atmospherics, just like Ed was reporting, between these two sides, but not necessarily do serious business. In fact, we are told that the first real negotiations are going to happen tomorrow.

The president's chief of staff is going to come here to Capitol Hill and meet with Republican and Democrat leader in the Senate. And it should be noted, interestingly, that despite all of this newfound talk of consensus, the White House meeting today, Wolf, started about a half an hour late, we're told.


Because the House Democrats wanted to take one last shot at trying to make the point that they want U.S. troops to come home from Iraq. (BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BASH (voice-over): The president's own words, his veto message, read on the House floor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This legislation is objectionable.

BASH: Democrats knew they did not have enough votes to override the president's veto...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two thirds not being in the affirmative, the bill is not passed.

BASH: ... but tried anyway.

PELOSI: Now, into the fifth year of a failed policy, this administration should get a clue. It's not working.

BASH: It was a combative closing scene before the next crucial act.

REP. JERRY LEWIS (R), CALIFORNIA: You've made your point. You've had your dog and pony show. You've posed for political holy pictures on TV.

Now, what is your plan to support the troops?

BASH: The Democratic majority in Congress picked this Iraq funding fight with the White House. But it may be Republican lawmakers under pressure from war weary constituents back home who hold the key to compromise.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: I think it is a priority that -- for every member of Congress, Republican and Democrat -- that we send a message to the civilian authority in Iraq that says we need you to make progress.

BASH: GOP Congressman Mike Pence stands with the White House in opposing legislation that sets a timeline for troops to come home. But he represents many rank and file Republicans who favor threatening to revoke economic aid for Iraqis unless they meet specific benchmarks showing progress.

Senator John Ensign also says making Iraqis more accountable is both necessary for the mission to succeed and a path to compromise.

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R), NEVADA: Maybe you tie the benchmarks to Iraqi reconstruction money instead of to military timelines. That would give incentive for all sides in Iraq to want to meet those, because none of them want to lose the money.


BASH: And Democrats we talked to here today say that kind of talk from Republicans is progress. Privately, Wolf, here's what Democrats are telling us. They know full well that they cannot pass another bill that has a time line for troops to come home, because the president simply won't sign it.

They also know that what that means -- this is senior Democratic sources telling us this -- that they are going to probably, at end of the day, have to pass a funding bill that many in their own caucus won't vote for.

BLITZER: Dana is watching it for us on Capitol Hill.

Dana, thanks.

Meanwhile, the race for the White House seems to be suddenly tightening.

Let's go to CNN's Bob Franken -- Bob, we're seeing some surprises out there, aren't we?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the biggest surprise, Wolf, is that we've gotten so used to the Republicans running comparatively orderly presidential campaigns, but this year the GOP watchword seems to be turmoil.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Today, I announce my candidacy for president of the United States.


FRANKEN (voice-over): John McCain's first order of business now that he has formally announced his candidacy for president, is to kick start a campaign that had stalled before it officially began.

The senator from Arizona had been the frontrunner in the Republican race for the White House until this guy jumped in.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We only started like January 27th. And we ended up with a lot of money.

FRANKEN: Rudy Giuliani soon overtook McCain in the polls and the former New York City mayor also pulled ahead in the battle for campaign cash.

But the gap is now closing a bit in the national polls, and new ones in the three crucial primary states show McCain on top.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The GOP race is tightening mostly because Rudy Giuliani is losing support. John McCain appears to be the major beneficiary of that. But with the exception of New Hampshire, it looks as if McCain is holding steady or even losing support in some states.

FRANKEN: And why is Giuliani dropping?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Maybe it's just a case of frontrunner fatigue. Frontrunners are always at greatest risk of losing their casual support.

FRANKEN: And we know who's lurking on the sideline.

FRED THOMPSON (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Obviously, I feel like that I may have some leadership ability that might be useful to my country. And if I determine that that's the case, then I may follow up on it.


FRANKEN: Well, if former Senator Fred Thompson does jump in, he'd start off in third place. But already he's nipping at the heels of McCain and Giuliani. And if he does get in, he could be expected to take a big chunk of their support -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You and I, Bob, have watched Senator Thompson over these many, many years.

What does he have that some of the other Republican contenders don't necessarily have?

FRANKEN: Well, he hasn't announced yet and that means that he hasn't really gone through that grinder. That would be us, by the way.

BLITZER: Bob Franken reporting for us.

Thanks very much.

Bob and Dana and Ed -- they are all part of the best political team on television.

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

Jack Cafferty is standing by in New York with The Cafferty File. He, too, is part of the best political team on television.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

The South has always been pivotal in presidential elections and when a Republican wins in the South, like Presidents Reagan and Bush did, it then sets the bar too high for the Democratic candidate and the rest of the country. He or she then has to go out and get about 70 percent of the electoral votes outside the South in order to win.

But if a Democrat can scare up some Southern votes, like Clinton, Carter, Johnson -- who were all moderate Southern Democrats -- did, then winning the White House for a Democrat becomes much easier.

There's only one Southern Democrat in the race so far. That's North Carolina's John Edwards. And if his ability to raise money in the South is a barometer, then Edwards may, in fact, have a leg up on the rest of the field. Not only did he out raise his Democratic rivals in the first quarter in the South, he put more money in his pocket than all three top Republican presidential candidates combined.

Here's the question -- John Edwards says he's the Democratic presidential candidate with the best chance of winning in the South.

Is he right?

E-mail or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that.

Coming up, the former director of the CIA answers critics who say he's so vain, so emotional and so unreasoning.

Is he sorry for the intelligence that led up to the war in Iraq?

I'll ask him.

Also, more on White House hopeful John Edwards. He's putting heat on his fellow Democrats over Iraq. I'll ask him whether he's helping to widen the split within his own party.

And now what?

President Bush and Congressional Democrats are talking, but can they actually reach an Iraq compromise?

Donna Brazile and J.C. Watts, they're standing by live in our Strategy Session.

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


BLITZER: The former CIA director, George Tenet, has been, by his own admission, at the center of a storm over the war in Iraq. His controversial new book accuses top members of the Bush administration, trying to make him a scapegoat for going to war.

I spoke with George Tenet just moments ago about the criticism he's been facing over his book.


BLITZER: You're being, as you know, criticized from the left, from the right, from the center.

Maureen Dowd writes in the "New York Times": "If you have something deadly important to say, say it when it matters or just shut up and slink off."

William F. Buckley, Jr. writes in the "The National Review" online: "How did such a man, so vain, so emotional, so unreasoning, become head of the CIA?"

Do you want to respond to these critics?

GEORGE TENET, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, Wolf, you know, history will make an ultimate judgment about me and the work we did. And the American people may appreciate the fact that we took down the Taliban in Afghanistan. We were responsible for disarming Libya. We dismantled the A.Q. Khan proliferation network. We built a coalition of the willing around the world to fight terrorism.

No other Americans have died on our soil because of an awful lot of work that the CIA and the FBI has done.

The record, of course, and the report card, is mixed. History will judge. I'm proud of what we did and proud of our people.

BLITZER: There's no doubt that you did some very, very positive things and the examples you cite are very significant.

The question is on the war in Iraq, which continues and what many see as a huge blunder, looking back on the role that you played, are you sorry?

Do you have any regrets? Do you want to apologize to the American public?

TENET: Wolf, we regret the fact that we were wrong on WMD. I do not regret the fact that our intelligence worked hand in hand with the American military on the ground to save lives. I do not regret the fact that in the post-war period, we spoke truth to power, called it as we saw it. We were very, very direct about the inadequacies of the post-war planning. And I think we performed the way we were supposed to.

BLITZER: Do you want to apologize?

TENET: No, sir. I -- we all regret that we were wrong. There's no -- there's no CIA director and our people never would put people in harm's way for a bad reason. We did our best. We were wrong.

BLITZER: One other thing jumps out in the book a lot jumps out in the book, almost every page. Three fifty-eight, page 358: "Stretching the case continues to this day." And the context was the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, and the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

What do you mean when you accuse them of stretching the case...

TENET: Wolf, when you say there were contacts and the director of the CIA talked to us about these contacts, please fill in the rest of the clause. Please also make sure -- we were concerned about these issues. The CIA was concerned about them, as well.

We also knew that there was no authority, direction and control between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Put it fully -- make sure that you tell the whole story. We told the whole story in our papers. There may have been a letter that wasn't done well. But please put it all in context. You're allowed to your concerns. You're allowed to be concerned about those things.

Put it all in context and make sure that you don't create linkages that people believe are bigger than they were.

BLITZER: So what you're saying is Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rice don't do that?

TENET: No. In that -- on that...

BLITZER: They're stretching the case...

TENET: ... on that day my reaction was put it all in context.

BLITZER: And that's your message to them.

Are they still stretching the case to this day?

TENET: Well, I have no idea. I doubt it. I don't think so. I haven't heard any other statements.

But my -- look, policymakers are always allowed to evaluate the risks and come to their conclusions. Intelligence feeds into that. Tell it -- tell the intelligence story fully. Tell people why you made the decision. Make sure everybody understands why you're acting. Don't leave anybody to believe that it's bigger or less than we believed and just be straight about it. That's all.

BLITZER: One final question.

If you had to do it all over again, the buildup to the war, what would you have done differently?

TENET: Well, Wolf, you know, in hindsight, I went back and wrote a book. I went back and looked at -- I talked to scores of people. I tried to understand what was happening.

I was working 18 hours a day against al Qaeda. My sole reason for waking up every day was making sure Americans would never be hurt again by this organization. That's the way I thought about it.

If you go back and look at it, would have, could have, should have, I wish we would have written a more nuanced estimate. I wish we had taken more time. I wish I had provided us more time to do it.

I say in the book, you know, I thought I understood this problem. We should have kicked off that estimate sooner.

Would analysts have come to different conclusions?

Very hard to say that at this point in time.

(END VIDEO TAPE) BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more of this interview with George Tenet.

That's coming up later right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, presidential candidate Barack Obama at the center of an online dispute. There's some political power on the line.

And Democrats and their Iraq strategy -- is it about compromise or cracking the Republican base?

The war and the race to 2008, all that coming up. Bill Schneider is standing by.

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


BLITZER: Welcome back.

A dispute between the Barack Obama campaign and one of his major online supporters underscoring the political power of A California man who created a huge network of Obama supporters on MySpace had his site taken over by the Obama campaign.

Here with the story is our Abbi Tatton -- Abbi, to our viewers what happened.

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a couple of days ago, this Barack Obama MySpace page had 160,000 friends.

Look at this afternoon and you'll see that there's just 18,000 friends and it has a new owner -- the Barack Obama campaign.

The profile was set up about two-and-a-half years ago by a 29- year-old paralegal in Los Angeles by the name of Joe Anthony. He set it up simply because he was a Barack Obama supporter.

The site grew and it grew, up to 160,000 friends, as you see there. And Anthony says that he was working around the clock using the site to build up support for Barack Obama.

In February of this year, after Barack Obama announced, the campaign says they starting communicating with Joe Anthony, in their words, "in an effort to ensure the content on the site was accurate."

Anthony says that this period, at first, was very exciting, but that didn't last. A dispute emerged over Anthony's request to be paid for the work that he was putting in. The Obama campaign says today: "A deal could not be reached."

The profile has now been turned over to the Barack Obama campaign. Joe Anthony and his 160,000 friends that he built up over two-and-a-half years are gone. The Obama campaign says today that they wanted to do this, they wanted to ensure that MySpace users were able to connect with the campaign. Anthony says in a blog post today on his MySpace page, this was not about money, but about the campaign acknowledging my work, adding: "Obama has lost my vote" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you for that.

Abbi Tatton reporting.

Up next, does the president's veto of the Iraq War funding bill give John Edwards a new opening?

I'll press the Democratic presidential candidate about the Iraq War and the pressure he's putting on his primary rivals.

And it's no slam dunk interview for George Tenet. We'll have much more of my one-on-one interview with the former CIA director about his controversial new book, the fingers he's pointing at the White House, the responsibility he has for this war.

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


BLITZER: Happening now, an office meant to enforce an extreme sectarian agenda with an iron fist, but in secret and in the shadows. That's what sources say has been established by Iraq's prime minister. We're standing by for a report.

Also, how did Ronald Reagan feel about problems with his presidency, with his children and about being shot?

The former president's private diaries paint a portrait like you've never seen before.

And John Mellencamp could but folk singer Joan Baez could not. We're going to tell you why she's outraged over the way she claims she was recently treated by the U.S. Army.

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

Up first, the rejection, now the response. Now that President Bush has fulfilled his threat to veto the war spending bill, how are some Democratic presidential candidates responding?

Joining us now, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

They're facing some tough choices, these candidates -- Bill.


And many of the Democratic candidates are facing a particularly tough choice because they're playing two different roles.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Democrats are holding their base together. Now, they have to figure out how to crack the Republican base.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: If the president is not going to sign the bill that has been sent to him, then what we have to do is gather up 16 votes in order to override his veto.

SCHNEIDER: Find the votes -- that's a legislative strategy. Legislation usually requires compromise and deal making. But compromise could antagonize the Democrats' base.

Candidates running for the Democratic nomination have to rally the base. That's a political strategy.

STU ROTHENBERG, "ROTHENBERG REPORT": They're going to have to decide are they going to be pragmatic? Are they going to talk about compromise or are trying to play to the base?

SCHNEIDER: That choice is facing the five Democratic candidates who are currently members of Congress. They're under pressure to produce a funding bill the president will sign.

John Edwards is no longer a member of Congress. The president's veto may give Edwards an opening.

ROTHENBERG: The whole issue is an opportunity to kind of create a wedge, separate himself from Senators Obama and Clinton. If he can do that, he could rally the angry Democratic base. And I think that's what he's trying to do.

SCHNEIDER: Edwards' first television ad takes an uncompromising stand on the issue.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want Congress to know...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't back down to President Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Send him the same bill again and again.


SCHNEIDER: Does an uncompromising stand undermine the Democrats' legislative strategy?

Not necessarily.

FORMER SENATOR JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president is counting on the Congress backing down, and the Congress should not back down. They have the support of the American people.


SCHNEIDER: By holding fast, Democrats like Edwards believe that Republicans will begin to peel off from the president. Why?

Because the public pressure will become overwhelming -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider reporting for us -- thanks, Bill.

One of those candidates that Bill just mentioned says Democrats should hold their ground against President Bush. You just heard it in Bill's piece.

John Edwards is joining us now from Portland, Oregon.

Senator, thanks for coming in.

EDWARDS: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know what some of your Democratic senatorial rivals are saying: It is easy for John Edwards to say that. He's out of the Senate right now. He doesn't have to live directly with the consequences of not providing funds for the troops.

EDWARDS: Anybody who is running for president of the United States, which is a very serious matter, as you know, Wolf, has to take responsibility for whatever position they take.

And, for me, this is not -- shouldn't be about politics. It's about life and death. It's about war. And I think the American people sent a clear mandate in this last election that they want a different course on Iraq. And the Congress needs to stand its ground.

BLITZER: But they don't have the votes to override that presidential veto. You need two-thirds majorities in both houses. They -- they simply don't have those votes.

EDWARDS: Well, then, what they should do is send the president another bill that funds the troops and has a timetable for withdrawal. And, if he vetoes that, they should send him another bill that has the funding for the troops and a timetable for withdrawal.

It is very important that they stand their ground on this. This is not a time for political calculation. It's a time to show some courage.

BLITZER: But what about funding the troops? If that goes back and forth, and the Democrats just send bills with a formal timeline, a flat timeline for withdrawal, the president says he will continue to veto it.

EDWARDS: They should be strong. They should stand their ground. Eventually, what Bush will have to do is start pulling troops out of Iraq, which is the goal anyway.

The Democrats in the Congress, Wolf, are funding the troops. The bill -- a bill is sitting on the president's desk -- or at least it was, until he vetoed it -- that provided funding for the troops. If they send another one, the president has another opportunity to fund the troops. So, it is the president of the United States who is unwilling to sign a bill that provides for the funding of the troops.

But the bottom line is, this is about life and death. American men and women are losing their lives in Iraq. And what's happening there and following this foolish strategy that the president is engaged in, it has to be stopped.

BLITZER: Here is what the president said is at stake right now in the war in Iraq. Listen to what he said yesterday.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Al Qaeda has made Iraq the central front in their global campaign. And that's why success in Iraq is critical to the security of free people everywhere.


BLITZER: You disagree with him?

EDWARDS: Absolutely.

This president uses that threat to justify every single thing he's done. He uses it to justify what's happening in Iraq. He uses it to justify Guantanamo. He uses it to justify torture. He uses it to justify the illegal spying on Americans.

We have got -- how much longer are we going to back down from his political rhetoric and let him have his way? He has to be stopped, Wolf. And the -- by the way, the American people are behind what the Democrats in the Congress are doing.

They expect their leaders to stand their ground. And that's what we ought to be doing. We should not, in any way, walk away from our position on that.

BLITZER: But do you dispute that al Qaeda has a presence in the Al Anbar Province, in other provinces in Iraq, that they're trying to establish a base there, from which to do their evil deeds?

EDWARDS: No, of course I don't dispute that. That's obvious.

But -- but the president of the United States has made this situation worse. He hasn't made it better. And the question is, what is the plan that will maximize the chances for us being successful there? I believe -- and I think many of the leaders in the Congress believe the same thing -- that, as America starts to withdraw its presence in Iraq, we shift the responsibility to the Sunni and Shia leadership, and we create a greater possibility of there being a political reconciliation.

It is that political reconciliation and that resolution that creates a more secure environment on the ground, and will help stop what al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are attempting to do in Iraq.

BLITZER: One of the Republican presidential front-runners, Rudy Giuliani, says that, if a Democrat is elected president, the United States is going to suffer in a major, major way.

Listen to -- listen to what Giuliani says.


RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: If one of them gets elected, it sounds to me like we're going on defense, where we got a timetable for withdrawal of Iraq. We're going to wave the white flag there. We're going to try to cut back on the Patriot Act. We're going to cut back on electronic surveillance.

We're going to cut back on interrogation. We're going to cut back, cut back, cut back. And we will be back in our pre-September 11 mentality of being on defense.


BLITZER: All right, strong words from Giuliani.

What do you say to him?

EDWARDS: Fear-mongering. It's the same old fear-mongering that they have been engaged in for years.

Hey, what I would ask Americans is, do you feel safer than you did when George Bush was elected in 2000? Do you feel safer today? Are you happy with what's happened in Iraq?

Because what Giuliani, McCain, Romney, all of them, the best I can tell, are saying is, they are going to continue on this same course. I mean, the question for the American people -- and I think the answer is going to be obvious -- the question for the American people is, do they believe we can be smarter and still be aggressive about protecting this country?

And I think they're going to answer that question in a resounding way, come November of 2008.

BLITZER: Another Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, he's ridiculing you for that $400 haircut.

He says this: "You know, I think John Edwards was right. There are two Americas. There's the America where people pay $400 for a haircut. And then there's everybody else."

I guess this campaign is going to get into that kind of discussion. What do you say to Mitt Romney?

EDWARDS: What I say is, Governor, we ought to be talking about what we're going to do about men and women who are dying in Iraq, not this kind of silliness. And I want to -- if you believe that what we ought to do in Iraq is continue what George Bush is doing, you are completely at odds with the American people.

That's true of Romney. It's true of Giuliani. It's true of Senator McCain. And Senator McCain I have known for years. I have a lot of personal respect for him. But he is dead wrong about what we ought to be doing in Iraq.

And we need to elevate the discussion about -- when we're in a war, Wolf, when we have men and women dying, and we have $500 billion being spent, that should be central to the next presidential election. And, hopefully, we will focus on issues like that.

BLITZER: John Edwards, the Democratic presidential candidate, thanks for joining us.

EDWARDS: Thank you, Wolf, for having me.

BLITZER: And coming up here in the THE SITUATION ROOM: The Senate goes to new lengths to try to find Karl Rove's allegedly missing e-mail.

And what if they voted on -- if they were voted on to an island, that is? Presidential hopefuls revealing what they couldn't live without.

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


BLITZER: The Bush administration is being slapped with a new subpoena today. It seeks all of Karl Rove's e-mail related to the firing of those eight federal prosecutors.

The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Patrick Leahy, issued the subpoena to the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. The White House has said many of those e-mails sent by Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove are missing -- no response yet from the Justice Department to this new subpoena.

Let's check in with Carol Costello. She's monitoring the wires. She's keeping an eye on the video feeds coming in from around the world.

What's making news right now, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A couple of things to tell you about, Wolf.

President Bush got a visit from his closest ally in South America today. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is seeking final approval of a free-trade deal with the United States. The deal faces opposition in Congress, out of fear that it will cause U.S. workers to lose jobs and because of the Uribe government scandals and human rights record. At least two dozen deaths are reported around Iraq today. The deadliest single attack was a car bombing that targeted Baghdad's Shiite stronghold of Sadr City, claimed 10 lives, including three Iraqi policemen; 35 people were wounded.

Israel's foreign minister has joined the chorus calling for the resignation of her country's prime minister, Ehud Olmert. Pressure for his resignation has been building since Monday, when a government commission blamed Mr. Olmert for what it called his severe failures during Israel's war against Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas last summer. The prime minister says he will not quit.

And a worldwide manhunt has ended in Hong Kong, where the Chinese have arrested a onetime U.S. sheriff's deputy. Authorities say Kenneth John Freeman raped his own daughter and posted video of that on the Internet. He was out of jail on bond in Washington State when he fled the country earlier last year. He's in custody now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks for that. We will check back with you shortly.

We all know what helped Gilligan make it through, but what would some presidential candidates want if they were stranded on a desert isle? The Associated Press asked them that specific question.

On the Democratic side, let's take a look and see what some of them said. Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and former Senator John Edwards also said they would take a book, although Obama first mentioned his wife and children. Senator Joe Biden, by the way, and Congressman Dennis Kucinich said they would take their wives.

Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd had a sweeter choice, literally. He said he would take coffee with some cream and sugar to that desert island.

The New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, said he would want a cigar and something so many people seemingly can't live without, his BlackBerry.

In the next hour, we are going to tell you how the Republicans answered, including one candidate's very surprising and clever response. That's coming up.

Coming up next, though, our "Strategy Session" -- a presidential change of tune from, confrontation to reconciliation.


BUSH: I think it's very important that we do this as quickly as we possibly can. I'm confident that we can reach agreement.


BLITZER: How soon, though? What's likely to be in that agreement? And will the president or the Democrats give up the most?

Also ahead: Why is John McCain slowly gaining ground in the race for the Republican nomination? Is he the new comeback kid?

Donna Brazile and J.C. Watts, they're standing by live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In today's "Strategy Session": Two presidential candidates who have been trailing in some polls are seeing some new heads of steam. Also, how should Congress respond now, that President Bush vetoed that war spending bill?

Joining us now, two CNN political analysts. Donna Brazile is a Democratic strategist. J.C. Watts is a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma.

J.C., let me start with you.

And look at this American Research poll on the Republican side. John McCain, in three states, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, all of a sudden, in Iowa, he's ahead over Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. Look at this, in New Hampshire, 29 percent, to Giuliani's 17 percent, Mitt Romney with 24. And, in South Carolina, McCain has 36 percent, to Giuliani's 23, Mitt Romney down at 6 percent.

Is it fair to say he's the comeback kid, John McCain?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I don't think he's come back.

I think John McCain, this is where I would have anticipated that he would have been at this time of the season. You know, John reported about $12.5 million raised in the first quarter; $11 million of that was raised in a month. And then he had to go be a senator and try to take care of some war things.

Now, John, the race is given neither to the swift, nor to the strong, but to those that will endure. And I think John McCain is positioned best to endure the campaign over the next 12 months.

BLITZER: It's interesting. In the national polls, when you ask -- forget about the states -- Giuliani still comes out on top. But, in these critical three early states, Donna, McCain is really, really doing well.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he's regaining his political voice, the voice of independence, the voice that can tell both Democrats and Republicans where to go when they need to know exactly where the country should go.

So, I think John McCain is finally hitting his stride. And I wouldn't rule out some of the other candidates who are still languishing in the background, but John McCain is clearly coming on strong.

BLITZER: Well, Fred Thompson, we're waiting to see what he decides. Look at the Democrats, on the Democratic side in this American Research Group poll, in Iowa, John Edwards has 27 percent, compared to Hillary Clinton's 23 percent, Barack Obama, 19 percent. It's a race there.

In New Hampshire, Clinton with 37, to Edwards' 26, Obama with only 14 percent. In South Carolina, Hillary Clinton 36 percent, to Edwards' 18 percent. Barack Obama does well there, with 24 percent.

This is clearly a horse race, Donna, on the Democratic side in these three battleground states.

BRAZILE: Very competitive. That's why you hear John Edwards today coming out, running ads, telling the Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill to keep trying it until you get it right.

And that's why you see Senator Obama making statements on immigration, as he did the other day. And Hillary Clinton, of course, she's still out there raising money, bringing people together. So, this is a very competitive race on the Democratic side as well.

BLITZER: And you agree?

WATTS: Well, it is.

And I think what you see, Wolf, is what I have said several time on your show, is that people are still kind of kicking the tires and looking under the hood, trying to find out who their candidate is going to be on both sides of the aisle.

But, still, I think, if you're a betting person, I think John McCain looks like he's a pretty good bet on -- pretty good stock on the Republican side.

On the Democrats' side, Senator Clinton looks like pretty good stock, but both sides very competitive.

BLITZER: Still got a few months to go before Iowa...

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada...


BLITZER: ... all those states.

John Edwards, you just saw him here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's telling the Democrats in the Senate and in the House, keep sending a bill to the president, a war funding bill, that includes a timeline for a troop withdrawal. Even if he vetoes it two, three, four, five times, don't blink, as far as this is concerned.

Some -- a lot of people say, it is easy for him to do that, say that, because he's not in the Senate, not in the House of Representatives. What do you say?

BRAZILE: Well, I think John Edwards is absolutely right. The American people are with the Democratic Congress on this issue. And why blink? Why water down the bill?

It is up to the president to come up with a strategy, and to come to the table and say,: I'm ready to accept benchmarks. I'm ready to come up with an exit strategy.

The Democrats need to continue to stick together and to regroup and send this president another bill that he can support.


WATTS: Well, I think there should be benchmarks. I have said all along, if -- if you're not keeping...

BLITZER: And let me explain to our viewers what we mean by that, that the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki, they have to commit and undertake various steps, like disband Shiite and Sunni militias, something they still have not been able to do, or divide up the oil revenues in a fair way for all the people of Iraq, something they have still not been able to do, go ahead with those constitutional changes.

That's what you're talking about.

WATTS: There needs to be benchmarks. And you need to know how you're progressing.


BLITZER: Binding benchmarks or just vague commitments?

WATTS: Well, benchmarks, I think you need to keep score. And I think we need to know where we are six months from now, nine months from now, 12 months from now, if we're still there.

We need to know how we're progressing. If we're not keeping -- as I said before, if we're not keeping score, it is just practice. We don't want that. Our soldiers need benchmarks. They need to know how we're progressing. So -- but I do think...


BLITZER: Yes, go ahead.

WATTS: But I do think, on the Democrat side, I think John Edwards, I think his strategy, I think it's a losing strategy.

I don't think -- I think the president comes out looking pretty good, if they're going to say, we're going to keep forcing the issue on this thing, and he's saying, I'm going to veto it, because you guys want a date certain. They don't have all the Democrats supporting on that.


BLITZER: It will depend whom the American public -- if they were to follow Edwards' strategy, it would depend whom would the American public blame for the failure to fund the forces?

BRAZILE: Look, the Democrats are following the will of the American people. The president has set up an artificial deadline of May 15, when the nonpartisan CRS said that we have until July before we run out of money.

So, John Edwards is absolutely right. The Democrats should put pressure on this president to come up with a plan that will bring our troops home.

BLITZER: She's referring to the Congressional Research Service, the nonpartisan -- from the Library of Congress.


WATTS: Right.

But, Wolf, the bottom line is this. If the soldiers don't get the money that they need, who takes the blame for that? It doesn't matter -- benchmarks, it doesn't...


BRAZILE: But, if we don't have a strategy for success, then who should be blamed for that? That's the problem.


WATTS: But I think the president has put forth a strategy.

BRAZILE: It has failed. It has failed.

WATTS: And one of the strategies was a surge of troops, which only half of them have shown up, according to General Petraeus. That's what he has said. Half the troops have come.

We don't know how this thing is going to work. There is some good and some bad in it. But there is some positive things happening...


BLITZER: Very quickly.

WATTS: ... in the new strategy.


BRAZILE: Look, until the government of Iraq decides that they want the peace, we're not going to have peace.

BLITZER: On that note, we are going to leave it alone. Donna, J.C., good discussion. Thanks for coming in.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM: President Bush among the idols. We are going to bring you his closeup on the reality TV megahit.

And John Edwards' Southern strategy, is it likely to help him win the White House?

Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail -- lots more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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 Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, a boy rides his bicycle past an armored vehicle going on patrol in one of the city's slums.

In Pennsylvania, a museum worker helps a doctor prepare an ancient Egyptian mummy for a CAT scan. Researchers believe the mummified child -- the mummified child was a boy around 5 years old.

In Beijing, a rock fan surfs the crowd during a four-day music festival.

And, in Houston -- take a look at this -- a dog takes a drink of water during the dedication of a new dog park. The 35-acre facility has two lakes shaped as dog biscuits -- some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

Sanjaya may be out, but look who is on "American Idol" right now, none other than the president of the United States. Mr. and Mrs. Bush appeared on the hit TV show last night. They sang the praises of "Idol" viewers, who helped raise $70 million to help poor children in the U.S. and Africa. And they tried to have some fun at the president's expense.


BUSH: We thank all the "American Idol" viewers who have shown the good heart of America. And we thank all the celebrities who participated, including Bono, and all the contestants who sang their hearts out for these children.

Say, Laura, do you think I ought to sing something?

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: I don't know, darling. They have already seen you dance.


BUSH: Thanks, and God bless.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is with us in New York.

Can you top that, Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, I'm not going to try, but just a couple of observations. He said a couple of hundred words. She said six. She was much funnier than he was.


CAFFERTY: You know, that's all I have to say on that subject.

BLITZER: Good point.

CAFFERTY: John Edwards says he's the Democratic presidential candidate with the best chance of winning in the South. Our question is, is he right?

Shannon in Alabama: "Yes, John Edwards has a good shot at success in the South. He speaks in a language we certainly understand. And I don't just mean his accent. He knows what it means to struggle. He wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth. It makes us more likely to trust him, even if he is a lawyer."

Bob in Florida: "He might have had a chance, until the news about his haircut. He spends more on one cut than most of us have money to spend for a month's worth of food. All politicians running for president have millions to spend. However, judgment counts, and how they spend and what they spend on. Edwards has lost all his judgment points."

David writes: "Not a chance in hell. Edwards is an effete, $400 haircut, prissy limousine liberal who lives in a $6 million mansion. He's against everything we here in the South believe in. He has no idea what we believe in. Edwards is the laughingstock of the South."

Apparently, this is not a fan of Mr. Edwards.

Les in California: "Edwards probably does have the best chance in the South. His Southern accent is certainly better than Hillary's. And, from what I have seen, Southerners aren't even willing to admit they lost the Civil War, much less vote for a black man."

D. in Columbia, Missouri: "Jack, Edwards might win in the South, but it will be as vice president for Hillary or Obama."

Leo writes this: "Good point. If he had carried his home state of North Carolina for the Democrats in 2004, he would be running for reelection as vice president."

And R.A. in La Porte, Texas: "Yes. He has more of chance than any of those damn Yankees" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. See you in a few moments. And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: President Bush and Congress back to square one on Iraq. But is the president now setting a lower standard for victory?