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The Situation Room

Quijano explains the latest developments in the battle over benchmarks for the Iraqi government and Keilar on the battle over a war funding bill.>

Aired May 10, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, President Bush gives some ground on Iraq. Democrats are presenting him with a new challenge. But it's Republicans who are pushing him harder than ever. This hour, new details about GOP pressure on a president during a secret White House meeting. And I'll ask the Senate minority whip, Trent Lott, about his need to see results in Iraq.
Plus, Rudy Giuliani explains himself.

Can the presidential candidate ease Republicans' minds about his abortion views or is he willing to write off some votes?

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

President Bush is staring down his Iraq critics in Congress today with an olive branch in one hand and a veto threat in the other. He's vowing to reject a House bill expected to pass later tonight that would fund the war only through July.

But in remarks over at the Pentagon, Mr. Bush said he wanted to try to find some common ground with Congress over benchmarks for progress in Iraq.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano.

She's joining us now -- what's driving the president, first of all, Elaine, on this whole issue of benchmarks?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you know, the political pressure over Iraq has been mounting on this White House for quite some time. The difference now -- it's not just coming from Democrats, but now openly from some Republicans, as well.


QUIJANO (voice-over): Surrounding himself with top military brass at the Pentagon, President Bush did not mince words on Iraq.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are two clocks -- one ticking here in Washington and one ticking there.

QUIJANO: That Washington clock may be ticking louder for the president after what's been described as a candid and frank discussion Tuesday with 11 Republican lawmakers about frustrations with the war. REP. RAY LAHOOD (R), ILLINOIS: Members really told the president in, I think, the most unvarnished way that they possibly could, that things have got to change, that we're going to hang with him until September.

QUIJANO: White House Spokesman Tony Snow tried to downplay the meeting's significance.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, that's not a watershed moment. The president has heard real criticism before. He's heard vigorous criticism before. It hasn't all been in the press.

QUIJANO: But some say the Republicans' willingness now to make once private concerns public signals their patience is wearing thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are worried sick about how the war in Iraq may drag them down into a small, rather than a competitive, minority party.


QUIJANO: For now Republicans are standing behind the president and his pledge to veto a two stage war funding bill being pushed by House Democrats.

BUSH: I'll veto the bill if it's -- if it's this haphazard piecemeal funding.

QUIJANO: At the same time, the president signaled his support for setting benchmarks for the Iraqis.

BUSH: I've empowered Josh Bolten to find common ground on benchmarks. And he will continue to have dialogue with both Republicans and Democrats.


QUIJANO: The question now, will those benchmarks be tied to consequences?

President Bush did not comment on that today. Meantime, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid welcomed the president's comments, but insisted that the benchmarks must, indeed, be tied in with consequences for the Iraqis in order to hold them accountable.

At the same time House Speaker Nancy Pelosi echoing that, saying today in a statement that: "Benchmarks without consequences and enforcement are meaningless" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine Quijano reporting for us at the White House.

Thank you, Elaine, very much.

Let's move on. Like the White House, the House Republican leader, John Boehner, today is downplaying the significance of that secret meeting between GOP members and President Bush on Iraq.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: There are no fissures in our conference. We had a group of members who went to the White House to talk to the president about the war on terror, to talk about Iraq. It was a very healthy meeting.


BLITZER: And amid all of this over on Capitol Hill, the House is moving towards a vote on giving the president only some of the Iraq War funding he wants.

Let's get some specific details from our Brianna Keilar.

She's following this debate for us.

What's the latest -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's very unlikely that you're going to see a war supplemental spending bill like this one in the House -- you're very unlikely to see it land on the president's desk.

House Democrats want to take $96 billion to fund the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan through September and they want to split it in two. They would give the president $43 billion of that money up front. But then come July, the president would have to report to them on where Iraq stands on certain benchmarks to get the rest of the money, about $53 billion more.

The vote on this bill isn't expected until late tonight, but the debate will no doubt be very fiery if arguments we heard on the House floor earlier are any indication.


REP. JEB HENSARLING (R), TEXAS: Now what we see is, yet again, the Democrats bringing a bill to the floor that our secretary of defense says is even worse than the last one they brought it to the floor as far as tying the hands of our troops as they attempt to protect our freedom. Once again, we have a slow bleed strategy for our troops in Iraq.



REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D), TEXAS: It is not the enemy that has us pinned down in Iraq today, it is this administration's unwillingness to admit its mistakes and its lies. The intervention in Iraq was this country's largest foreign policy blunder. Now it's time for Congress to intervene.

With this war in its fifth year, for Congress not to act now is for Congress to become an enabler and an accomplice to the administration's errors.


QUIJANO: The House Democratic leadership expects the two part spending bill to pass. President Bush has promised to veto it. But it's unlikely a supplemental that looks like this would ever make it to his desk, Wolf, since the Senate is working on a compromise with the White House.

BLITZER: And that's another bill that's coming up for a vote involving the Iraq War right now.

What's that about?

QUIJANO: That's right. Already underway now on the House floor, debate on this bill, a largely symbolic bill that calls for the withdraw of U.S. troops from Iraq within 180 days.

But, Wolf, even supporters of this bill admit they don't have the votes.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar reporting for us.

Thank you, Brianna, very much.

House Democrats also trying to hold the attorney general's feet to the fire in the uproar over those fired U.S. attorneys.

Alberto Gonzales was pummeled with questions today by the House Judiciary Committee.

Democrat Robert Wexler of Florida shouted at Gonzales for more information about who decided which prosecutors should be fired, including David Iglesias of New Mexico.

Listen to this.


REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: You won't tell the American people who put Mr. Iglesias on the list to be fired.

It's a national secret, isn't it?

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: Congressman, if I knew the answer to that question I would -- I would provide you the answer.


GONZALES: I have not spoken with the individuals...

WEXLER: OK, so you don't know...


WEXLER: ... who put it on the list, Mr. Iglesias.

Why was Mr. Iglesias put on the list by this mystery person?

GONZALES: Well, again, I wasn't surprised to see Mr. Iglesias' name recommended to me, based upon conversations that I had had with the senior senator from New Mexico. He had lost confidence in Mr. Iglesias.

Let me just say, Mr. Iglesias' story is a great one. It's the American dream, and there are many good things about his performance and I very much admire him as a person.

WEXLER: But you won't tell the American people who put him on a list to terminate his employment.

GONZALES: I accept responsibility for this decision.

WEXLER: You accept responsibility for making the decision, ultimately, to accept the termination list, but you will not come forth and tell the American people who put Mr. Iglesias on the list to be fired.


BLITZER: Republicans on the panel urged their Democratic colleagues to put the prosecutor controversy behind them, arguing there's no evidence of wrongdoing.

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

They got a little excited up there during that hearing today -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Gonzales doesn't seem to know much of anything about the department he's supposed to be running. He doesn't know how these guys got on this list. He doesn't know who put their names there. He doesn't remember. He doesn't recall. It's a joke.

He ought -- you know, why is he still there?

I guess for the same reason that we're still in Iraq -- because the people who decide these things are stubborn.

Remember back before the Iraqis elected a government?

That was in January of 2005. President Bush, at that time, said that he expected the new Iraqis leaders would want U.S. troops to stay in that country as helpers, not as occupiers.

But when the president was asked if the United States would pull out of Iraq at the request of the new government he said this: "Absolutely. This is a sovereign government."

Fast forward two-and-a-half years. We might be getting very close to that point. Some Iraqi lawmakers now want to have the parliament in Iraq vote on the presence of foreign troops. The movement is led by Shiite Muqtada al-Sadr's block and has been circulating a petition to get the legislation rolling. So far, they've collected 140 signatures from Iraqi parliamentarians. One hundred and thirty-eight is the majority of the Iraqi parliament.

As things stand now, the Iraqi cabinet decides on any extension of the U.N. mandate for multi-national forces in Iraq. That mandate is up for review on June 15th next month. And the U.N. has said it will "terminate this mandate if it's requested to by the Iraqi government."

So here's the question -- who should ultimately decide how long U.S. troops remain in Iraq?

E-mail or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the number two Republican in the U.S. Senate has some harsh words for Republican colleagues over in the House.


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY WHIP: If they would have kept their mouths shut, their value of speaking candidly would have been worth a lot more.


BLITZER: I'll speak with the Senate minority whip, Trent Lott, about GOP pressure on the president to get results in Iraq and Lott's own role in turning up the heat.

Plus, Rudy Giuliani goes to new lengths to try to clarify his stance on abortion.

Will it help him do better in the next GOP debate next week?

And a Democratic presidential candidate raises this question -- does experience matter? -- with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

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


BLITZER: It appears President Bush has a few more problems over the war in Iraq. There's now been what's being described as a private no-holds-barred meeting with the president that had some House Republicans very, very angry. They're said to have read the president the riot act over Iraq.

Might Mr. Bush's base of Republican support be eroding?


BLITZER: And joining us now from Capitol Hill, the number two Republican in the U.S. Senate, the minority whip, Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi.

Senator, thanks for coming in.

LOTT: Glad to be with you again, Wolf.

BLITZER: It looks like a lot of your Republican colleagues, increasing numbers, are getting deeply concerned about this war, the political ramifications, prospects for Republicans getting re-elected next year.

Listen to Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine.


SENATOR OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: There's a good reason why, you know, two-thirds of the American people are opposed to the direction in Iraq. I mean it's because of what has occurred there. So I think that you're seeing a pronounced departure from the direction that we should be embarking on in Iraq.


BLITZER: All right, what about these defections, the concern, the voices from your own party, questioning the direction of U.S. policy right now?

LOTT: Well, Wolf, nobody is happy with the way it's gone there. We've been there a long time and we still have a lot of problems.

Their new government is having problems. They have not been able to come to terms with some issues they need to address -- how they get the infrastructure funds spent; how they distribute the oil proceeds; you know, how they put down the sectarian violence. They have a lot they need to do. And we certainly would like to see a way found for them to do more of their own security. And we would for the violence to be brought under control so they can maybe do a better job in that regard.

BLITZER: But we're seeing...

LOTT: Look, there are a lot of people, you know, on the Republican side that are not happy with the situation.

BLITZER: And we're seeing increasing numbers, especially those up for re-election -- all the Republicans in the House -- but in the Senate, you've got really loyal Republicans like Norm Coleman of Minnesota, John Sununu of New Hampshire, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Olympia Snowe, we just heard -- a lot of them are worried that they're going to be defeated next year unless there's a major improvement in the Iraq situation.

LOTT: Oh, I think they're going to be fine. And, as a matter of fact, Olympia Snowe just got re-elected with over 70 percent of the vote. I'm one of those that says I think we've got to see some progress in the fall. I just got re-elected last year with a pretty good vote in Mississippi, too.

It's not about elections or polls or votes. This is about trying to get the right result, making sure our troops are being taken care of, making sure that we understand where we're going in the future.

Look, Republicans in the House and the Senate are going to reject some of the outrageous things that the Democrats are doing in the House of Representatives as we, you know, are speaking now. They are saying oh, you've got to withdraw immediately or we're just going to give you a couple of months of the money for the men and women that have to do the job that are there. You know, that's where they were ordered to go. And so, you know, we're going to -- we will oppose that. We will defeat either one of those that come out of the House of Representatives.

But then we've got to find a way to provide the funds for the troops, put some benchmarks in there that specify things that we are expecting to happen and then review the circumstances and, hopefully, working with the administration and with the president, the Congress -- in a bipartisan way -- can come to terms with what we want to do in the future.

BLITZER: there's -- there have been reports now of an extraordinarily candid exchange that these House Republicans had, moderate House Republicans, including Ray LaHood of Illinois, with the president earlier in the week on Tuesday, in which the descriptions have varied from, "they were deeply, deeply concerned" to "reading the riot act," if you will, worried about the fallout from this war.

Listen to Ray LaHood on CNN earlier today.


REP. RAY LAHOOD (R) ILLINOIS: I don't know if he's gotten that kind of opinion before in such a frank and no-holds-barred way. And -- but he was -- he was very sober about it. And he listened very intently. And, you know, frankly, he wasn't defensive. I think he appreciated the fact that people were willing to really open up and give it to him.


BLITZER: Have you ever seen this kind of situation unfold, where members of the president's own party are going in there and they're expressing their deep concern about a specific course of action?

Obviously, going back to Watergate, we remember that.

But this is pretty extraordinary stuff, isn't it, Senator? LOTT: No. No, I've seen it happened many times. I've been in Congress 35 years. Presidents sometimes do become more isolated than they should and don't hear enough divergent voices. But most of the time, those of us that are also elected to office find a way to express our views to administration officials.

I mean who really thinks the president doesn't know, you know, what the situation is?

He's -- he wants a different result. he wants a successful result to occur in Iraq. He sees or knows about the polls.

The thing that concerned me about that is that they went over there and had this frank discussion with the president, which could have been very positive, and then they came out and started talking about it. You know, they -- they broke one of the cardinal rules, in my opinion. If they'd have kept their mouths shut, their value of speaking candidly would have been worth a lot more.

BLITZER: Is the president isolated right now?


BLITZER: Why do you say that?

LOTT: Look, I -- I don't have dinner with him every night, but I'm -- I see him in bicameral and, you know, bipartisan meetings. I have occasion to meet with him informally. I've had occasion to express my opinions to him, sometime when he didn't agree with me. I mean we had a very frank discussion last year about immigration reform.

No, I don't think he's isolated. You know, he may not agree with everything that's said to him, but I mean he's -- he's been around a while. He knows what's going on.

Look, the situation in Iraq is tough.

Who among us does not know that? Where we disagree is what are we going to do about it?

Partisan Democrats just say oh -- oh my goodness, it was a mistake, we shouldn't do it -- out of there, right now.

I don't know, I think that Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats in the House are -- are really becoming a big problem in not working with us to find an appropriate bipartisan response to the situation as we find it now.

BLITZER: Senator Lott, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thanks for coming in.


Thanks a lot, Wolf.


BLITZER: And still ahead, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are grappling with very different problems in the abortion debate.

But are fellow Republicans all that hot on this issue?

New polls and new debate. J.C. Watts and Paul Begala, they'll be here in our Strategy Session.

And later, the actress Drew Barrymore uses her celebrity to try to ease world hunger, especially for kids. I'll talk to her about her new role as a United Nations special envoy. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring the wires. She's keeping an eye on the video feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world.

She's joining us now from New York with a closer look at some other important stories -- hi, Carol.


Let's start in Florida. They are praying for rain in that state. A severe drought is making it worse for firefighters to battle over 230 wildfires that have scorched over 87,000 acres across the state. One of the biggest blazes is the Bugaboo fire, that actually started in Georgia. The strong winds pushed the fire into Florida yesterday.

Many residents in affected areas have evacuated. Fortunately, no one has died.

There is a defect in the handle on the EvenFlo Embrace infant car seat. The manufacturer reports 160 injuries to children who have fallen out of the seat. The injuries include a skull fracture, cuts and bruises. And officials announced a recall of some 450,000 units sold nationwide from December 2004 through September of last year. The manufacturer is notifying registered owners and will send them a free repair kit to help fix the defect.

You are paying record high gas prices.

Aren't you glad I told you that?

And you're getting low prices for selling your home. It appears both made you cut back the amount of money you spent at retail stores last month. Sales at big time retailers like Wal-Mart, Abercrombie & Fitch and Federated Department Stores slipped in April. Experts say high gas prices and a sluggish housing market played a big roll.

And show them the money. The government reports federal revenue collections hit an all time high last month. That's helped slash the budget deficit by about $100 billion compared to what it was at this time last year. The government says over $380 billion was collected in April. And so far this year, tax revenues total over, well, just over $1.5 trillion. That is up 11 percent from the same period last year.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Carol, for that.

Presidential candidates have made tens of thousands of so-called friends on MySpace. Now they're hoping to turn those friends into voters.

Let's bring in Jacki Schechner.

How many potential voters are out there on MySpace -- Jacki.


MySpace estimates it has about 56 million unique visitors a month that are over the age of 18. So what they're doing now is giving presidential candidates the opportunity to reach these potential voters where they're already hanging out online.

They're hosting a series of interactive town halls between September and December. They say the candidates will be on college campuses in front of audiences of 200 to 300, and then virtual audiences of potentially millions.

They'll field questions in person and then take questions through an instant messenger function on MySpace online. They say these conversations will be unfiltered. They say about 12 candidates have agreed to participate so far.

And what they're going to do after these series of town halls is hold their very first virtual primary. That'll be on January 1st and 2nd -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jacki, for that.

Up next, the first GOP presidential debate further exposed what some are calling Rudy Giuliani's Achilles' heel.

Can he repair it before the next debate?

And did House Republicans change the dynamic of the political war over Iraq by going head-to-head with President Bush this week?

J.C. Watts and Paul Begala consider the strategy behind those talks.

All that coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Happening now, U.S./Russian relations in trouble. Why is Vladimir Putin using references to the Nazi regime as he attacks U.S. foreign policy right now?

There's new controversy brewing over what the Russian president said. We're standing by for details.

And she has one of the world's most famous faces and she was recent recently named one of the most beautiful people in the world. Now, Drew Barrymore takes on a much more critical new role. She is the United Nations special ambassador. She's here to talk about what she's doing.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Right now, Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani is taking a new gamble. He's reasserting his support for abortion rights, after creating some confusion about where he stands on this critical issue.

Our Mary Snow is joining us now with more on Rudy Giuliani's strategy.

He feels he needs to set the record straight; is that right, Mary?


A campaign adviser is telling CNN that Giuliani will be talking about his position on abortion in the coming days, with the goal of addressing the issue before next Tuesday's Republican debate in South Carolina.


SNOW (voice-over): After taking heat for sending mixed signals, Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani is reasserting his support of a woman's right to choose and explaining his position on abortion.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I personally oppose it. I support a right of choice. Some people say that that's inconsistent. I really disagree with that.

SNOW: That answer, according to one Giuliani campaign adviser, is part of a deliberate effort to firm up Giuliani's stand on abortion, a stand that sets him apart from other Republican '08 presidential candidates.

In the last week, Giuliani has come under the microscope for at least six contributions he and his ex-wife made in the 1990s to Planned Parenthood, one of the nation's leading advocates of abortion rights.

And, at the first Republican presidential debate, he was criticized for what was described as a muddy answer when asked about Roe v. Wade being appealed.

GIULIANI: It would be OK.

Chris Matthews, Moderator: OK to repeal?

GIULIANI: It would be OK to repeal. It would be also if a strict constructionist judge viewed it as precedent.

SNOW: Conservatives were among Giuliani's harshest critics.

CHARLES DUNN, REGENT UNIVERSITY: They're saying that he has to deal delicately with this matter, because he handle it so poorly in the debate. He now probably has no other choice than to come down on the side of abortion, which has been his historic position.

SNOW: Giuliani acknowledges his support of abortion rights puts him at odds with Republicans, who have traditionally supported a nominee who has opposed abortion.

GIULIANI: Is that an acceptable position for them? There will be some who say it isn't. And I'm at peace with that.

SNOW: And the Giuliani camp is banking on Giuliani's core issues of terrorism and security to overcome Republican dissent on his abortion stance.

BILL PAXON, GIULIANI CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Having a Democratic president at this very crucial time in the global war on terror is one of the things that scares many Republican voters. And I believe it's one of the key reasons that they support Rudy Giuliani and support him very vigorously.


SNOW: Well, "The New York Times" first reported this strategy and also stated that the Giuliani campaign would put more emphasis on primary states like California and New York, where Giuliani would have broader appeal to moderate Republicans.

But the Giuliani camp dismisses that, telling CNN it is fully committed to competing in early primary states like New Hampshire and Iowa -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, is this a new strategy for Giuliani, Mary?

SNOW: Well, the campaign is adamant that it's not a new strategy; this is his belief.

However, a campaign adviser acknowledged that what called the spinout from the first debate needed to be dealt with, and that is why Giuliani is going to be spelling out his position on abortion.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, reporting for us, thank you.

Meanwhile, Republican Mitt Romney is caught up in his own abortion controversies. Activists on both sides of the abortion debate are expected to protest tonight when Romney receives an award from an anti-abortion group in Massachusetts. Critics who complain about Romney, insisting he is a latecomer to the anti-abortion ranks, have some new ammunition.

CNN confirms, Romney's wife, Ann, wrote a $150 check to Planned Parenthood back in 1994. Romney acknowledges he was -- quote -- "effectively pro-choice" at the time.

The Romney camp notes that, in 2006, the former governor and his wife gave $15,000 to the anti-abortion group Romney is getting an award from tonight. That would be the Massachusetts Citizens For Life.

While Republican candidates grapple with their abortion stance, there's new evidence that GOP voters aren't all that worked up about the issue.

Take a look at this. Our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 35 percent of Republicans say abortion is extremely important to their vote. Abortion ranks below terrorism, Iraq, Iran, corruption, immigration, and health care as top issues among Republicans.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York has repeatedly said he's not running for president. So, why did his personal Web site just get a serious makeover?

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what is going on this -- this Web site?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, despite Bloomberg's statements to the contrary, from the new Web site, it certainly looks like he's running for something.

There's Bloomberg's biography, Bloomberg with a baby, Bloomberg on the issues, national issues, reducing poverty, education, fiscal responsibility. In fact, you will see some similar themes on the Web site of one former New York City mayor who is running for president.

The newly re-launched has history as a campaign site. Archives online show that Mayor Bloomberg used it in 2001 and 2005 when running for New York City mayor. This time around, Mayor Bloomberg says the purpose of the new Web site is so people can -- quote -- "find out what I have done not only in government, but in business and philanthropy."

Now, Bloomberg's office insists there's nothing else to it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks for that.

One of President Bush's staunchest allies took the ultimate political hit today for his support of the war of Iraq. The British prime minister, Tony Blair, made the widely expected announcement. He will step down after a decade in office. Blair says he will hand in his resignation as prime minister and Labor Party leader late next month.

He defended his decision to stand with President Bush in Iraq, despite overwhelming British opposition to the war.


TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: And then came the utterly unanticipated and dramatic September the 11th, 2001, and the death of 3,000 or more on the streets of New York. And I decided we should stand shoulder to shoulder with our oldest ally. And I did so out of belief, and so Afghanistan, and then Iraq, the latter bitterly controversial.


BLITZER: And coming up here on THE SITUATION ROOM, our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, will have more on Tony Blair's exit, his likely successor, and what all this means for the United States.

Also coming up, the New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, he hopes his resume will help his presidential campaign, but will humor get him farther?

And more of the fireworks, when the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, faced some angry House Democrats. We're going to have a full report. That's coming up.

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


BLITZER: The New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, is trying a new tactic, in hopes he will stand out from the rest of the presidential pack.

You might think the impressive titles he has held would accomplish that goal, but then, again, maybe not.

Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's spotlighting some specific issues out there.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know what he's really doing? He's putting his finger on the fundamental problem of politics this day. This is the thing that every campaign is asking right now: In the race for the White House, does experience really matter?

Is it a strong an asset -- a strong asset to have a strong resume, or is it a liability?


FOREMAN (voice-over): One's a six-term senator from Delaware and current chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Another is a five-term senator from Connecticut and chairman of the Banking Committee. And this guy is a two-term governor from New Mexico with a host of other credentials.

So, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, and Bill Richardson are touting their experience.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America is looking for a leader with a breadth and depth of experience.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have got executive appearance.


FOREMAN: But it doesn't appear it matter. All three are low down in the national polls in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

So, Richardson's trying something else: humor.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fourteen years in Congress, U.N. ambassador, secretary of energy, governor of New Mexico, negotiated with dictators in Iraq, North Korea, Cuba, Zaire, Nigeria, Yugoslavia, Kenya, got a cease-fire in Darfur, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize four times.

So, what makes you think you can be president?

RICHARDSON: I'm Bill Richardson, and I approved this message.


FOREMAN: That's his new campaign commercial, which is now up and running in Iowa.


FOREMAN: So, will this commercial work? Only one in three people in a recent "TIME" poll said that the national security and foreign policy experience would make them more likely to vote for a candidate.

That doesn't sound like a lot, but, in a crowded field, it might help a little bit. In the end, though, this is funny stuff. But you know the guy who gets the last laugh is the one who gets the most votes. And experience does not always line up with that.

BLITZER: I think this kind of humor could help him.

FOREMAN: It won't hurt him, because the fact is, as you know, right now, the main goal for every candidate out there is to somehow separate from this field and have someone pay attention to you.

And the fact is, they have all got some experience. They wouldn't be running if they didn't. You have got to stand out. Bill Richardson made a step that way by having, so far, the funniest joke -- the funniest commercial of the campaign.

BLITZER: Good. Thanks very much, Tom Foreman, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up ahead: The Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani has a message for political pundits and critics.


GIULIANI: I guess we're going to find out, right? Well, instead of telling the Republicans what they should believe, maybe we should find out, and let the Republicans decide.


BLITZER: But what is the likelihood that a candidate that supports abortion rights could make it through the GOP primaries?

Plus, 11 Republicans hold a no-holds-barred meeting with President Bush. How deep a division over the war in Iraq is there in the GOP camp?

All that, lots more, coming up -- Paul Begala, J.C. Watts, they're standing by, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There was what's being described a private, no-holds- barred meeting the president had this week with some House Republicans where some are said to have read the president the riot act over the war in Iraq, part of today's "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN political analysts. Paul Begala is a Democratic strategist. J.C. Watts is a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma.

Let me ask the former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, what do you think? These Republican congressmen go see the president. Based on all the accounts, including public statements made by some of them, including Ray LaHood, Republican of Illinois, it was a tough session they had with the president.

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I don't want to say they did this for political reasons, but there are elections in November of '08, and the president is not going to be on the ballot.

So, I think these members are hearing from folks back home. And I have heard Ray LaHood quoted all day. And I was elected with Ray back in 1994, served with him for eight years. And, one thing about Ray LaHood, if you don't want his opinion, don't ask him.

He's going to tell you what he thinks. He's not going to mince words. And I think it was good for those members to kind of share with the president what they're hearing back home from their constituents. I don't think they're jumping ship on him. I don't think they're bailing out on him. But I do think it was healthy for them to tell the president what they felt like he needed to hear, not what he might have wanted to hear.

BLITZER: You know, we heard Trent Lott, the number-two Republican in the Senate, say it's fine for members of the same party to go meet with the president, tell them what they want, but they shouldn't go shoot their mouths off afterwards, if they really want to be effective.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I did. I think that's a good point, actually, that Senator Lott makes.

Now, do you think Senator Lott wants to put his hand on a Bible and swear that he's never leaked a conversation that he's had in private to the media? Of course he has. It's part of the game in Washington.

If you want something in the public airwaves, you have television, telephone, telegraph, and tell a congressman. I mean, nothing against J.C., but your guys, they all...

WATTS: I never did it, never.

BEGALA: Well, you may not have.


BEGALA: But you knew this was going to get into the public realm, and for good reason.

Finally, the Republican Party is beginning to have an honest debate about Iraq, something my party has had for many years. And, yes, the Democrats have been divided in the past on Iraq. But it's about time the Republicans were divided.

You know, finally, some Republicans are standing up. I noticed that Tom Davis, the Republican from Virginia, who was in that meeting, told the president, according to a news account I saw, that, in parts of his district, the Bush approval rating is 5 percent.

Now, I would like to meet that 5 percent. Who still is for him? But that's pretty staggering, when a strong Republican like Davis is telling the president that he is through in his district.


BLITZER: How worried should these Republicans be about getting themselves reelected? All of the House Republicans and a third of the Senate is up for reelection, including, what, 20-plus Republicans.

WATTS: Well, what Trent Lott also said in that interview, he said, hey, Republicans are concerned about what is going on in Iraq as well.

The problem comes when you come up with solutions. I think Republicans have been on the front line, trying to create solutions. I think the Democrats' solution has been, let's pull out or let's be opposed to the president's plan.

Me being opposed to Paul's plan is not a plan. So, I think these Republicans, I think they have been talking. This is the first time we have heard something go public. But do you think these members, who are up for reelection every other year, that they're not going to be voicing their concern to Karl Rove and to the lieutenants over in the White House? And they got a chance to voice it to the president.

BEGALA: Actually, I disagree.

I think the problem has been that, when the Republicans had power in the Congress, they did not exercise their responsibility of oversight. They didn't ask any tough questions. They went in on a wing and a prayer, and they bought a pig in a poke, and pick any cliche you want.

But they should have been there asking tough questions. That's just not my view as a Democrat. Tom Ricks, "The Washington Post" reporter who has written the book "Fiasco," which is one of the better books outlining how we got into this war, he says in that book that one of the -- the biggest single reason we got into this war is, Congress did not do its job.

For the Congress of the United States to declare war...


BLITZER: You are blaming the Republicans, because they were the majority...


BEGALA: They controlled the Congress.


BEGALA: And Bush needed adult supervision, OK?


BLITZER: He's not a man to be trusted with power.

And the Congress, irrespective of party, has a higher duty to the Constitution to check and balance that presidential power. Republicans didn't do it.


WATTS: And, Paul, let me tell you, I agree with you.

Wolf, I do think there should have been more oversight. And I do think the administration kind of ran afoul on some things and kind of took some things for granted and kind of stretched the envelope on what they could or couldn't do. But the point remains, the fact remains, they did the right thing. So, now, how do we get out of this? How do we tweak things to make things better in Iraq, get our soldiers out of there? And it's the administration, it's the president, it's John McCain, people like that, that's offering solutions, not the Democrats.

BLITZER: All right.

I want both of you to put your strategist hat on right now. Let's talk about Rudy Giuliani. This is what he said in Alabama on Wednesday.


GIULIANI: I'm against abortion. I hate it. I wish there never was an abortion. And I would counsel a woman to have an adoption, instead of an abortion. But, ultimately, I believe it's an individual right of a woman to make that choice.


BLITZER: Now, some strategists are suggesting, Paul and J.C., that he's not necessarily going to win a lot of support in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina with that stance, but, in the other primaries that are coming up, like California, New Jersey, Florida, New York, that are going to come up very, very quickly, that could help him.

BEGALA: That could be.

Many months ago, I have to disclose, "The New York Times" asked a whole bunch of strategists what advice we would give Rudy Giuliani. And that was my one piece of advice, was, you are going to have to flip-flop on abortion if you want to be the Republican nominee.

Since Roe v. Wade, we have never had a Republican nominee who was pro-choice. And, yet, he's not taking my advice. It's pretty interesting. A couple of weeks ago, he looked like he was moving toward a flip-flop. He was in that debate. They asked him what happen if -- how would you react if Roe v. Wade was overturned? He said that would be OK. That was his word, OK.

Now he's back firmly in that pro-choice camp. I tell you, if he's the nominee, though, I think you will have a third party pro-life candidate, because there's a lot of pro-life Americans who cannot stomach the idea of a Republican nominee who supports abortion rights.

BLITZER: What do you think, J.C.?

WATTS: Well, Wolf, you know why I like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani? I don't always agree with them on everything, but they don't change their position because J.C. Watts disagrees with them.

I disagree with Rudy Giuliani on the life issue. And I think the rationale that he gives I disagree with even more, because that's the same as saying, well, I'm personally opposed to slavery, but, if somebody else wants to own slaves, that's fine. I think it's the same rationale.

But the fact is, Rudy has not pandered to J.C. Watts to say, I want J.C.'s...


BLITZER: If he were the Republican nominee, could you vote for him?

WATTS: Well, Wolf, let me tell you why I think we -- I agree with Paul.

I think we run the -- the Republicans run the risk of having a third-party candidate that is pro-life. I think, if Republicans nominate a pro-choice candidate, I think we lose a whole lot of the brand that we have kind of built over the years of saying, we are the life party.

And why not vote for Senator Clinton, Barack Obama? That's the question, or I think that's the thing that creates a third-party candidate that is pro-life.

BLITZER: One quick clarification, because you're going to get some criticism. The slavery comparison with abortion, explain what you meant.

WATTS: What I meant is to say that, while I'm personally opposed to abortion, but, if someone else wants to have an abortion, that's fine.

I think there is a rationale to say that, back in the slavery days, for someone to say, well, I'm personally opposed to slavery, but, if someone else wants to own slaves, that's fine.

It's wrong. I think slavery was wrong. I think abortion is wrong. And to rationalize it, the way, I think, Rudy is doing, I think that that particular -- particular rationalization, I think, hurts him.

BLITZER: We have got to leave it there, guys. Thanks very much, J.C. and Paul. Always good to have you guys here in our "Strategy Session."

Still to come: Who should have the final say in how long U.S. troops stay in Iraq? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail.

Also ahead: a discussion about impeachment -- a former aide to then Secretary of State Colin Powell raising some questions about President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

And the actress Drew Barrymore joins us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. She's on a mission to help feed hungry people around the world. She's now a special United Nations ambassador -- Drew Barrymore right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question is: Who should ultimately decide how long U.S. troops remain in Iraq? There is reason to believe the Iraqi parliament may get involved in this very discussion in the not-too-distant future.

Tom writes from Maine: "Hi, Jack. If Bush doesn't care what the citizens of this democracy demand, and if he doesn't care about national or international law, why would he care what the Iraqi people want?"

Jim writes from North Carolina: "Ultimately, the enemy should decide. When they decide to become productive members of the human race, and not threaten destruction of the civilized world, then we can safely begin reducing the military's combat role in Iraq. The complaining and whining by the American public, the current Congress, potential presidential candidates, and the news media only serves to delay the enemy's decision to join in building a productive society in Iraq."

Ken writes: "Oh, please. I wonder what Bush and his band of goofy cohorts would say if the shoe was on the other foot? Who would decide how long foreign troops would stay in the United States, if there was ever a choice? In his words, they're a sovereign government."

R. in Texas: "We want the Iraqis to take over. And, if they want us out, so they can get back to some kind of stability, then vote to get us out, because our leader is refusing to listen."

Bernie in Massachusetts: "We voters gave the president a strong message last November. The president also got a report from the Baker commission. Now the closet moderate Republicans are coming out of their 9/11 bunkers. Impeachment will give this president no further decision-making power. It's impeachment time."

Joseph in New York writes: "Iraq has a democratically elected government. They are -- and, by rights, ought to be -- sovereign when it comes to policies and issues on Iraq. They seem to be moving in the direction of getting foreign forces off their soil. Therefore, the decision should obviously be made by the decider, George W. Bush. It's only logical" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.