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The Situation Room

Clinton and Obama Campaigns Trade Fire; Interview With Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole and Former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala

Aired July 25, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: two White House insiders accused of contempt. House Democrats set the stage for a new constitutional showdown. This hour, the battle over fired federal prosecutors getting even uglier.
Plus, help for the wounded warriors. A presidential panel urges big changes after the Walter Reed scandal. Former Senator Bob Dole, former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala will lay out their new call for action.

And it may be the roughest sparring match yet between Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton -- more tough talk from the Democratic presidential rivals, now poking each other in their weak spots.

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

He's the president's chief president's chief of staff. She was the White House legal counsel. But Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers now a step closer to being held in contempt of the U.S. Congress. The House Judiciary Committee voted today to recommend that punishment. And here's why.

Miers and Bolten both refuse to comply with subpoenas in the investigation into the firing of those eight federal prosecutors. They also refused to testify before the panel or produce demanded documents. House Democrats call it their last resort. The White House calling it a fishing expedition.


REP. JOHN CONYERS (D-MI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: What I am not open to is accepting a take-it-or-leave-it offer which would not allow us access to the information we need.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: In our view, this is pathetic. What you have right now is partisanship on Capitol Hill that quite often boils down to insults, insinuations, inquisitions and investigations.


BLITZER: Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is standing by, but let's go to our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, first.

Dana, is this likely to get the Democrats any closer to the answers they want?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if you look at the history of this kind of power struggle between Congress and the White House, political pressures on both side almost always lead to compromise, but, at this point, neither side is showing any sign of blinking.


CONYERS: The investigation did not begin

BASH (voice-over): Democrats argument, White House stonewalling left them no choice but to take dramatic action, voting to told two top presidential aides in contempt of Congress.

REP. BILL DELAHUNT (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It is that moment in time for this institution, this Congress, to assert itself against an administration that has expanded executive power to a point where I would suggest it's become dangerous to our democracy.

BASH: A Judiciary Committee partly-line vote approving two contempt citations escalates a constitutional clash, at issue, White House refusal to allow the president's chief of staff and former counsel to answer subpoenas for testimony and documents.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: On the question of whether an administration or former administration official can simply blow off a subpoena and not show up, there is no legal support for that whatsoever.

BASH: This memo points to laws the committee believes Bush officials broke in firing several federal prosecutors. Chairman John Conyers thinks the proof is in documents the White House won't give Congress.

Republicans call it all politics.

REP. CHRIS CANNON (R), UTAH: The American people are really disgusted by the partisanship and the pettiness of this.

BASH: And one leading Republican warns, Congress would pay a long-term price if Democrats lose this in court.

REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R), WISCONSIN: And that is going to be viewed as a blank check by the present president and the future president to do whatever they want, to -- to effectively stiff the Congress.


BASH: And the next step is that this will go before the full House of Representatives for a vote. But a Democratic leadership source, Wolf, says that that is unlikely to happen before Congress leaves for the August recess.

BLITZER: All right, it passes the House Judiciary Committee. As you say, it goes to the full House next. Assuming it passes, then what?

BASH: Then, it's actually referred to the Department of Justice. And Democrats here say they see the law as requiring the Justice Department to actually take this issue to federal courts.

But here's the twist, Wolf. That would mean the administration would have to prosecute itself. That's something the White House has suggested it's not going to do.

I talked to a couple of Democratic lawyers here about spinning this out about their options. Get this. One option is actually to have a trial in the House for Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten.

BLITZER: All right, the dramatics, the fireworks could continue.

Thanks, Dana, for that.

Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers both have longstanding ties to the Bush family. Miers teamed up with then governor-elect Bush in 1994, first serving as the general counsel for his transition team. In 2001, she followed him to the White House, serving in several jobs, before becoming his chief legal counsel.

Then, in 2005, the president tapped Miers for the U.S. Supreme Court, but he later withdrew what turned out to be a controversial nomination.

Josh Bolten first worked for the president's father back in 1989 in the U.S. Trade Representative's Office. The current president recruited Bolten from Goldman Sachs for the 2000 presidential campaign. Bolten rose through the ranks in the Bush White House, becoming budget director and, then, in 2006, chief of staff, replacing Andy Card.

The push for contempt charges against Bolten and Miers is being met with contempt over at the Bush White House.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. She's following some pretty angry reaction over there -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, really, the message and the tone was very clear from the White House, essentially the message being, bring it on. They are fired up. They're charged about this confrontation.

They insist today that Miers and Bolten are not going to testify before Congress. They believe they are basing this on the principle to protect the president of the private counsel from advisers. That's why the president evoked executive privilege.

As you know, there's another component to this as well. They're trying to get the upper hand on this confrontation by essentially accusing Congress of political theater.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SNOW: In our view, this is pathetic. What you have right now is partisanship on Capitol Hill that quite often boils down to insults, insinuations, inquisitions and investigations...


SNOW: ... rather than pursuing the normal business of trying to pass major pieces of legislation, such as appropriations bills, and to try to work in such a way as to demonstrate to the American people that Congress and the White House can work together.


MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow essentially saying that, look, this is the red line. They're not going to cross this. And they say there are no specific allegations against any White House official, so, until that happens, they are going to block this, because they believe that, ultimately, the Democrats are going to go after a big fish, say, like Karl Rove. And it just is going to -- is not going to end -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, what happens? Does it all wind up simply in court?

MALVEAUX: Well, it certainly could, but it's unclear. And the White House already is trying to somewhat persuade Congress not even to go forward with this, because they say the law is on their side, that Congress can't even force a contempt charge.


SNOW: As I said, we maintain our position of accommodation toward the House of Representatives. But make no mistake. Based on legal precedent, this is something that the drafters of this particular referral know has very little chance of going anywhere. And so the question is, why are they doing this rather than the people's business?


MALVEAUX: And they say it's up to the Justice Department. And, clearly, Wolf, the White House has made its position clear to the Justice Department -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Suzanne, for that.

Meanwhile, new questions today about how far the Iraq war will drag down President Bush's poll numbers. His 32 percent approval rating in our latest survey still is 10 points higher than Harry Truman's all-time low of 22 percent.

In 1952, Truman took a hit over the Korean War and his firing of General Douglas MacArthur. The Vietnam War didn't help Richard Nixon, but Watergate is what certainly dragged his job approval down to 24 percent in 1974. The energy crisis and the Iran hostage crisis yanked Jimmy Carter's approval rating down to 28 percent back in the late 1970s. The Persian Gulf War actually boosted the former George Herbert Walker Bush's popularity, but economic problems caused his job rating to nosedive to only 29 percent in 1992. And, for all of the heat Lyndon Johnson took over the Vietnam War, his lowest approval rating ever that he got was back in the volatile 1960s, 35 percent. That was during the Vietnam War.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's watching this in New York, and he's got "The Cafferty File."

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You know, none of these events were -- were passive events that happened beyond the -- it was the way the presidents that you were just talking about managed these issues during their time in power that caused the public to decide they didn't like the job they were doing.

I mean, they weren't victims of any of this stuff. They -- they -- you know, President Bush has run the Iraq war, and Harry Truman presided over the Korean war, and yadda, yadda, yadda. They're active participants in their own demise.

The Democrats have been in control of Congress for seven months now, speaking of being in control of your own demise. What do they have to show for it? A hike in the minimum wage. That's about it. And wouldn't you know they went out yesterday, pat themselves on the back, celebrating the first minimum wage increase in a decade with a rally across from the Capitol. I mean, is that really necessary?

It's nice they increased the minimum wage, but, I mean, this is kind of overdoing it.

Now, there's a piece in "The New York Times" that suggests they're going to have to get a lot more than that done in order to avoid the do-nothing label that they stuck on Republican Congress that preceded them. So far, if there was a race for worthless, the 109th and 110th Congress would be dead even.

Despite the fact that they have accomplished next to nothing, in a week-and-a-half, they're going on vacation for a whole month, just like the Iraqi parliament plans to do.

To try to make us believe that they're something they're not in the meantime, the Democrats will now race around during the last few days before their break trying to look busy, busy with things they have been promising to do since the midterm elections almost a year ago, things like lobbying reform and implementing some recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

So, here's the question: What do Democrats in Congress need to accomplish in order to avoid a do-nothing label? E-mail your thoughts to or go to

A dead even race for worthless -- Wolf. BLITZER: I suspect you are going to get a lot of e-mails saying what they need to accomplish is, first and foremost, get out of Iraq, that -- you will probably get a lot of e-mail to that point.

CAFFERTY: Well, that would be a -- that would be a start, wouldn't it?



BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: You bet.

BLITZER: Coming up: Two big names in Washington say it's past time to cure the problems in health care for wounded veterans. Former Senator Bob Dole, former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala tell the president, just do it.

Also this hour, new fallout for Fred Thompson's still unannounced presidential campaign, a controversy surrounding his wife. We're going to update you on this unfolding flap.

And it began on our debate stage, and it's playing out big time on the campaign trail right now. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama aren't being very diplomatic in their spat over diplomatic tactics.

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


BLITZER: A presidential commission today is urging broad changes in veterans care after the scandal at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in Washington.

Take a look at this. The panel wants to immediately create plans to provide care and support for wounded troops in the right place at the right time. They want to completely restructure disability and compensation programs. They want to aggressively -- aggressively -- prevent and treat post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injury, strengthen family support, rapidly transfer patient information between the Pentagon and the Veterans Administration, and recruit first-rate professionals to the staff of Walter Reed.

And joining us now, the co-chairmen of the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors, Bob Dole, former U.S. senator, and Donna Shalala, the former secretary of health and human services.

Thanks so much, first of all, for doing this report. This is a critical issue affecting all Americans, especially the wounded warriors who are coming back from Afghanistan and from Iraq and elsewhere.

Here's the first question to you, Senator Dole. Is there the political will right now to bite the bullet, if you will, and to get this job done, to implement these recommendations, because, as you know, as former lawmaker, it's not going to be cheap?

BOB DOLE, CO-CHAIR, PRESIDENT'S COMMISSION ON CARE FOR AMERICA'S RETURNING WOUNDED WARRIORS: No, but we were told, if we produced a good product, we were promised, in effect, if we produced a good product, there would be some action.

And this came from the highest levels at the White House. And we were -- we told the White House, in fact, told the president, this morning that we think we have a good product. Many of these things can be done without going to Congress. And we hope there's going to be some executive action very soon.

BLITZER: Because I heard the president said, the White House statement after the report, Secretary Donna Shalala, that was released, the president said the recommendations were interesting, but I didn't hear a hard-and-fast commitment to actually go ahead and implement all of them.

DONNA SHALALA, CO-CHAIR, PRESIDENT'S COMMISSION ON CARE FOR AMERICA'S RETURNING WOUNDED WARRIORS: Well, to be fair, they have just gotten the recommendations from us.

We briefed the president this morning just before the commission voted on the recommendations. So, we will them a little bit of time, and I mean a little bit of time. I told the president that I had thought about bringing in my Nike that just said, "Just do it."

BLITZER: Well, because...


DOLE: You know, we want to -- this...


BLITZER: Because, Senator Dole, you have been around Washington for a long time. There are a lot of presidential commissions. They come up with all sorts of great ideas, and then they sort of wind up on a shelf someplace.

What makes you believe, Senator Dole, this one is going to be any different?

DOLE: Well, I can't say -- I can't with 100 percent assurance, but we kept the number of recommendations very small, I might say at the insistence and the right direction by Secretary Shalala.

So, we're not talking about a couple hundred recommendations. And, again, we were told, if -- if they were reasonable, which they are, and actually made a difference, the president told us, in our first visit way back in March, if it affected one soldier, or one person wasn't getting the appropriate care, we should try to take care of it.

And that's what we have done. Now, we have done our job, and we expect the executive branch in the Congress to do theirs.

BLITZER: What is it going to cost, Secretary Shalala, to implement all these recommendations?

SHALALA: Well, it's not very expensive, actually.

The Congress has been talking about spending billions of dollars on recommendations. These will cost about a half-billion dollars. Most of them can be implemented by the executive itself, by DOD and the VA.

In fact, of the 35 action steps they need to take for the six recommendations, only six of those steps need to be taken by Congress. This is doable. It's pragmatic. It simplifies the system. It will make a major difference in the lives of those that are injured. We can't do anything but expect the people in charge to implement them.

BLITZER: Senator Dole, you speak with some personal knowledge about the treatment of the wounded warriors. As all of our viewers remember, you were severely injured during World War II.


BLITZER: You spent a long time in a hospital.

What personal assurance do you have that the -- the -- the shoddy conditions we all saw at Walter Reed that generated your commission, that we will never have to deal with that kind of situation again? Speak from the heart.

DOLE: Yes. Yes.

Well, I think, generally, those were, you know, Wolf, facility- related, but it did affect outpatient care. It was devastating. It never should have happened. It was disgraceful. And some people paid a price for it, as they should have.

But we have still found problems. You know, we're not saying that everything is bad. Most everyone tells us the great care they receive at the -- acute care they receive at VA hospitals or Army or Navy hospitals. It's in the bureaucratic nightmare that sometimes -- not every time, but sometimes -- happens when they transfer from, say, DOD to the Veterans Administration, waiting for a doctor's appointment, waiting for their benefits. Now, that's been happening...


BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt, Senator Dole.

Are -- are these guys and gals who come back severely injured, as you did during World War II, after World War II...

DOLE: Yes.

BLITZER: ... are they getting better treatment today, whether bureaucratic, administrative, actual medical treatment, than -- than you got when you came back?

DOLE: Well, I think -- well, I don't remember everything that happened.

I think the big answer is yes, because so many more survive now because of the -- the care they get starting right at the battlefield to the field hospital, all the way back, say, to Walter Reed Hospital. Survival rate is much, much higher.

So, they are getting better care. It's a great -- you know, they -- they had nothing but praise, in the most cases, for their doctors, their nurses, the professional care. That's not the problem.

Where we found problems is what Secretary Shalala has mentioned, is when you get into, you know, the benefits section, the so-called recovery, the care coordinator that follows you all the way through to make certain that you're properly taken care of, your family is taken care of. And that's what our recommendations do. They address those concerns.

BLITZER: It's nice to see a good Republican and a good Democrat working together, a bipartisan way, to try to resolve something and do something for the heroes coming back from the front.

Once again, thanks to both of you for doing this.

SHALALA: Thank you.

DOLE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, there are tens of thousands of wounded warriors who need care, many of them desperately.

As of June 30, more than 27,000 troops had been wounded in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, 1,361 of them in Afghanistan. But the vast majority, 26,558, were hurt in Iraq; 305,000 U.S. troops were wounded during the war in Vietnam.

Still ahead: celebrations shattered by surprise attacks. Some Iraqi soccer fans cheering a big win don't have long to be very happy. Bombings turn their joy into mourning.

And families of sailors killed in the attack on the USS Cole have long accused Sudan of having blood on its hands. Now a judge rules in a case against the Republic of Sudan.

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


BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring the wires. She's keeping on eye on all the video feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world. She's joining us now with a closer look at some other incoming stories making news.


Hello to all of you.

Carnage in Baghdad, this time in the middle of soccer fans. A car bomb and a suicide car bomb kill at least 50 people and wound more than 100. The dead and injured had swarmed into the street to celebrate after Iraq's national soccer team won a match, placing them in the finals for the Asian Cup.

High gas prices, lower home sales, but it appears neither of them were able to stop economic growth. The nation's economy saw modest growth in early summer. That's according to a new study from the Federal Reserve. It also says the economy has come out of the rut it was in earlier this year.

Take a look at the wide-screen now. It is the 81st annual Chincoteague pony swim in Virginia. The ponies are herded across a 200-yard channel. It's a great photo-op for tourists, and for us, as you can see. Some of the younger ponies will be auctioned off to good homes, with the money going to support the Chincoteague volunteer fire department.

Those are the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much.

There's new evidence that Rudy Giuliani is the Republican to beat, but does he have what it takes to trounce a Democrat next fall? Donna Brazile, Leslie Sanchez, they're standing by for our "Strategy Session."

And Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each trying to hit each other where it hurts -- their debate clash keeps going and going.

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


BLITZER: There's a story we're following that is just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Carol Costello is monitoring a development out in Seattle.

What's going on, Carol?

COSTELLO: Yes. This is the Sea-Tac Airport.

Apparently, a Northwest Airlines flight had to turn around after taking off, and make an emergency landing, because someone on board the plane claimed there was a bomb on board.

Flight 980 had already departed for Memphis, Tennessee, when it was turned around. Now, I'm quoting KING-TV. That's our affiliate out in Seattle. It says an airport spokesperson said someone claimed before the plane left that there was a bomb on board the Airbus 320. And, of course, once they heard about it in the air, they turned that plane around, and they landed.

Police say they do doubt the validity of this claim, but the plane was turned around, as I have been saying, and the person was taken into custody as a precaution.

And I assume, when they say a person was taken into custody, that would be the person who said there was a bomb on board. But I don't know that for sure.

We're still gathering information on this story. Of course, when I know more, I certainly will pass it along -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol. Thanks very much.

Also happening now, electrical switches, foils and batteries seized from baggage at airports. They're certainly suspicious items, but do they actually suggest terrorists are practicing for a real terror attack?

We're on top of this story.

And he's covered presidents for the past 50 years. So what does Bob Novak think about the Bush administration? I'll ask the veteran journalist who's named his book after a name many people have called him over the years, "The Prince of Darkness".

And could your overweight best friend, spouse or sibling actually make you fat? There's a new study that's about to be released. It ponders if obesity is contagious, and the results are surprising.

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

Right now, the gloves are off. Two Democratic presidential candidates are jabbing each other in a verbal slug-fest, using words like "irresponsible" and "naive". It began just after our CNN/YouTube debate, and it's not letting up, as senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama spar over the issue of dealing with the world's dictators.

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

Bill, tell our viewers what this spat between these two senators is really all about.

Well, it's about calling attention to your opponent's weakness. In politics, just like in prize fighting, you look for your opponent's weakness and you pound away at it. In the debate this week, Barack Obama portrayed himself as new and different. The total opposite of George w. Bush.

The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration is ridiculous.

Hillary Clinton portrayed herself as experienced and knowledgeable. You promised a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are.

She was going for Obama's weakness, his lack of experience. And kept hammering away at it the next day.

I thought that was irresponsible and, frankly, naive.

Obama came back punching at Clinton's weakness.

It was authorizing George w. Bush to send 160,000 young American women and men into Iraq.

Her weakness, that she's too willing to compromise with people like President Bush. Remember, it's a fight for the world heavyweight championship, so there's bound to be some trash talk.

Senator Obama gave an answer, which I think he's regretting today.

You want to talk about regrets, lady?

She authorized George Bush to send our troops into Iraq.

We were only a couple of rounds into this fight, and there's already blood on floor.

And it could get a little bit more intense as the weeks and months continue. Thanks, very much for that, bill.

Much of the battle between Clinton and Obama concerns experience. Let's go to CNN's Mary snow. She's following the story for us. How much does experience really matter to voters in the race for the White House?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it's about calling attention to your opponent's weakness.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): In politics, just like in prize fighting, you look for your opponent's weakness and you pound away at it. In the debate this week, Barack Obama portrayed himself as new an different, the total opposite of George W. Bush.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration, is ridiculous.

SCHNEIDER: Hillary Clinton portrayed herself as experienced and knowledgeable.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You promised a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are. I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes. SCHNEIDER: She was going for Obama's weakness, his lack of experience, and kept hammering away at it the next day.

CLINTON: And I thought that was irresponsible and, frankly, naive.

SCHNEIDER: Obama came back punching at Clinton's weakness.

OBAMA: It seems irresponsible and naive to authorize George Bush to send 160,000 young American men and women into Iraq.

SCHNEIDER: Her weakness? That she's cautious and calculating and too willing to compromise with people like President Bush.

Remember, it's a fight for the world heavyweight championship. So there's bound to be some trash talk.

CLINTON: Senator Obama gave an answer which I think he's regretting today.

SCHNEIDER: You want to talk about regrets, lady?

OBAMA: Look at her vote to authorize George Bush to send our troops into Iraq without an exit plan.


SCHNEIDER: We're only a couple of rounds into this fight, and there's already blood on the floor -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And it presumably can get a little bit more intense as the weeks and months continue.

Thanks very much for that, Bill.

Much of the battle between Clinton and Obama concerns experience.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's following this story for us.

How much does experience really matter to voters in the race for the White House?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that's a question really being put to the test. Yes, having a strong resume matters, but it's not the only thing voters are looking for as they choose between the candidates.


SNOW (voice over): You've heard it over...

CLINTON: I'm running because I think I'm the most qualified and experienced person to hit the ground running in January 2009.

SNOW: ... and over...

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think matters a great deal. The experience people bring to their candidacy.

SNOW: ... and over...

OBAMA: And I know from personal experience...

SNOW: ... at the CNN/YouTube debate Monday night.

JOHN DICKERSON, SLATE.COM: The question of who can be the better commander in chief is probably going to be at the center of this election.

SNOW: Bill Clinton and George W. Bush didn't have much foreign policy experience when they were first elected president, but that was before 9/11. And now we expect more.

Right now, the three Democratic candidates with the most expensive resumes, senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd and Governor Bill Richardson, are all far behind frontrunners Clinton and Obama in the national and state polls. So Richardson is 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?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Bill Richardson, and I approved this message.

SNOW: That campaign commercial and others like it have been running in the early primary states. But this time around it seems that being a fresh face may be as important as experience.

AMY WALTER, HOTLINE: Nowadays, what people are looking for is actually an experienced person, but one who's also an outsider. And that is a very difficult combination to come up with.


SNOW: Now, a poll this month showed that experience is more important to voters than new ideas, but just barely -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, good report. Thanks very much.

Mary and Bill Schneider, as you know, are part of the best political team on television.

Remember also, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our political ticker at

Coming up, many people talk about him jumping in, but actor Fred Thompson has yet to announce anything. But is his window for getting into the presidential race slowly closing? And the New York mayor, Mike Bloomberg, insists he's not running for president, but he's changed his party affiliation and has now made a surprising new move.

Find out what and how it is. And it's similar to what actual presidential candidates have already done.

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


BLITZER: Republican Fred Thompson today is downplaying a shake- up in a still unannounced presidential campaign. Thompson is tapping the former energy secretary, Spencer Abraham, and veteran Florida strategist Randy Enright as his top advisers, replacing Tom Collamore. Collamore called it quits yesterday amid questions about whether Thompson's wife Jeri had something to do with it.

Today, Thompson says the staff changes are just part of the process.


FRED THOMPSON (R), FMR. U.S. SENATOR: I think that folks probably know that I've been thinking very seriously about it. And those are the kinds of things that you do as you -- as you go along.

You make adjustments, as you go along. And that's what we've done. So we're on track in that regard.


BLITZER: Our chief national correspondent John King is here.

You know, there are some who are suggesting already that Thompson has waited too long to get into this race.


BLITZER: Yes, something like that.

KING: He hasn't waited too long, but because all the others started too early, if you travel to the key primary states, if you ask Republican activists in Iowa, in New Hampshire and South Carolina, they say he's waited along enough. Maybe not too long, but long enough. It's time to get in, especially if you want to lock up some of the conservative activists in on the ground. They want to know for sure he's running.

Look, he's running. He hasn't announced. That will come just after Labor Day.

But they want to see him, they want to see the campaign come in. They would like to see him in debates, because right now, he is what you want him to be, if you will. If you want a candidate who opposes abortion, that's Fred Thompson. But they want to see him in the debates to see if he has lasting power.

He has pretty good power right now in the polls, but let's see once he actually gets in the pool. And that will come.

BLITZER: Some social conservatives really think that he could emerge as the alternative to Rudy Giuliani. He's more liberal on some of these issues like abortion rights, gay rights.

Here's what Gary Bauer, himself a former Republican presidential candidate, said. He said, "Thompson has got a real good chance to emerge as the conservative alternative to Giuliani. They'll battle it out. But if I had to characterize it right now, I would say that the momentum here as moved to Thompson, at least among the social-issues conservatives."

Is Fred Thompson emerging as sort of the consensus for these social conservatives?

KING: No question among people like Gary Bauer, who have advocacy groups here in the Washington area, political organizations here in the Washington area, that do have grassroots networks out in the states. The leaders of those organizations more and more are saying Rudy Giuliani supports abortion rights, we can't be with him.

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, has changed his position on abortion. They don't necessarily trust him.

So, they're looking for someone they trust and believe in. More of them are gravitating toward Thompson. Not all naturally. It's that organization that you mentioned.

Spence Abraham joined, Randy Enright joined, Mary Matalin of the Bush/Cheney days. And Liz Cheney, the vice president's daughter, also works for Fred Thompson.

They are reaching out to these social conservatives, saying here is the next Ronald Reagan. Wait for our guy and get in.

Gary Bauer, people at the top of these organizations, are supporting him. That is why you asked is it too long. The people on the grassroots level say, let's get him in, let's see him. But yes, they are giving him a very serious look.

BLITZER: John King, thanks very much.

New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has repeatedly insisted he's not running for president, but his personal Web site seems to suggest exactly the opposite.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner. She's got some details.

Is Bloomberg gearing up for a possible White House run, Jacki? JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Oh, Wolf, don't get too excited just yet. The mayor's office says that, no, he doesn't have any plans to run for president.

But this is what sparked all the speculation recently. If you type the Web address "" into your Web browser, it redirects you to, the mayor's official Web site.

But I spoke with the mayor's office today, and they say they actually bought back in 2005. They say they also own mike2005, 2007, and variations on the spelling of Bloomberg's name.

The whole idea, they say, is to counter what's called cyber squatting, when somebody buys a coveted Web address and then tries to sell it for a profit.

Now, this is not the first time that Mike Bloomberg's actions online have sparked presidential aspiration speculation, because Mayor Bloomberg revamped his Web site back in May, and at that time it looked awfully presidential, as some people would say. It included issues, an "about" section. But the mayor's office says today it's just a site online for people to get all of the information they need about the mayor's entire life -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that, for cleaning it up. Let's see what happens next.

There will be skeptics out there.


BLITZER: Up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM, in our "Strategy Session," despite some dropping poll numbers, Rudy Giuliani is still talking like a front-runner.


RUDY GIULIANI (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The war on terror is going to end when the Islamic terrorists give up their plans to kill Americans. That's when it will end.


BLITZER: But do some Republicans like him precisely because they think he's the only one who can beat Senator Clinton?

And a leading congressional Democrat says his party won't tackle immigration -- immigration reform until 2012. How committed to this issue are the Democrats?

We're going to update you on what we know.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Is it true or not? There are claims Democratic congressman Rahm Emanuel, a leader in the House of Representatives, says the issue of immigration is effectively off the table for five years.

Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," our CNN political analysts, Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez.

Thanks very much to both of you for coming in.

There's a quote in "The Washington Times" from Juan Salgado, of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights board who says this -- he says, "Congressman Rahm Emanuel said to me two weeks ago, there is no way this legislation is happening in the Democratic House, in the Democratic Senate, in the Democratic presidency in the first term."

That would effectively put off serious immigration reform for five years.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, after a very bruising debate on immigration reform, it will be tough to revisit this issue in the near term.

Rahm Emanuel is a strong supporter of immigration reform. He supports comprehensive immigration reform. But look, President Bush also backs immigration reform. He had a Republican majority for six years and he came up short.

So I think it will take time for the Democrats to get the kind of votes that they need to bring this issue back up.

BLITZER: After the story emerged, Leslie, Congressman Emanuel issued a statement insisting he was committed to passing comprehensive immigration reform. Disappointed that it's not happened yet.

"I know Democrats will not give up the search for a path to reform our broken immigration system," he says.

What is your analysis of what's going on?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think they're broken immigration promises. I mean, those are typical campaign rhetoric.

You're talking about waiting for three election cycles before you do anything about it. And there's two ways to look at it.

You can use immigration as a political issue, or you can actually try to get something done. For better or for worse, Republicans embraced the issue. They campaigned on it. Some died on the sword for it.

BLITZER: Like John McCain, for example.

SANCHEZ: Exactly. I would say the president lost a lot of capital in that as well. But they took the issue on.

These are basically Democrats who are saying, look, we understand, in terms of politically, Hispanic voters are in line with the Democratic Party. A lot of them think we're for the party of Hispanics. You know, we're going to do something. But even the Hispanic caucus, which is Democratic, asked Democratic leaders to take this on and they refused.

BLITZER: Is it a losing issue politically for the Democrats to bring this up in the first term, let's say, if there is a Democratic presidency?

BRAZILE: It's a tough issue when you have Republicans out there calling it amnesty, when you have the president of the United States saying we need a pathway to citizenship. Look, it's the Republicans who introduced all these poisonous amendments that really stifle the debate in the Congress.

I mean, Harry Reid tried. He tried twice. And Republicans refused to go along to allow the Democrats to vote on those amendments.

SANCHEZ: You know, I'd say that the Democrats didn't vote for the immigration reform bill, and essentially were responsible for killing it as well. You know, Reid put it forward and said, I want a vote now on a bad immigration bill. I mean, it wasn't something even the Democrats could go along with.

BRAZILE: Well, if the president would have used some of his elbow grease, perhaps he would have had Republican support to give...

BLITZER: All right. We're not going to refight the whole battle of immigration. But we'll just move on to some politics, Republican politics.

Look at this "Washington Post," Leslie, ABC News poll. They have Giuliani among Republicans or those leaning Republican with 37 percent nationally. McCain is down to 16, Fred Thompson at 15, Mitt Romney at 8 percent.

But in the same poll, when asked which Republican candidate can -- has the best chance of beating a Democratic nominee, Giuliani gets 45 percent; Fred Thompson, 15 percent; McCain, 10; Mitt Romney, 9.

Overwhelmingly, Republicans believe that Rudy Giuliani has the best chance of actually becoming president.

SANCHEZ: I think, one, it was a loaded question. You're basically asking voters to look at a crystal ball and make some sort of prediction.

But, two, I think there's a very real issue here. And economic conservatives who are very strong in the party are increasingly seeing Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee. If that's the case, they think that Giuliani can do very well in a Florida, California, split the vote in New York. The problem is, in Iowa, it's social conservative country. So when you're talking about primaries and really -- you know, it's anybody's game in terms of how this is going to lay out.

BLITZER: Let me flip the question to you, a good Democrat, Donna.

Which Republican do you fear the most? In other words, who do you think has the best chance among this Republican field of actually beating Senator Clinton or Senator Obama or whatever Democrat gets the nomination?

BRAZILE: I think Mayor Giuliani would make it more competitive in the so-called Democratic blue states like the Northeast and the Pacific Coast, but I think Hillary Clinton can beat Giuliani with her eyes closed.

The reason is simple. She's seen as a strong leader, she's seen as someone who is decisive. And while his support is very wide, it's not deep. Only a third of his supporters really strongly back him, while three-fourths of her supporters strongly back Senator Clinton.

So, I say Rudy Giuliani, but Hillary Clinton can still beat him.

BLITZER: In some of those major states like California and New York, Florida, a lot of electoral votes, he presumably would be very popular, precisely because of his more liberal views on abortion rights or gay rights than some of those other social issues.

SANCHEZ: Well, in some senses, that's right. As long as Hillary Clinton does well, I think Giuliani will do well. I mean, that's basically what economic conservatives are going to tell you. And they're willing to give a free pass on some of the social issues if they feel it could be a more competitive race.

But that said, there's a lot of good candidates coming in. You've got Fred Thompson, who's probably likely coming in very soon. It could change the dynamic of the whole race.

BLITZER: What about Fred Thompson? Do you think he would be a formidable challenger for the Democrats, as formidable as Rudy Giuliani?

BRAZILE: I don't think so. Look, since Eisenhower, most Republican candidates have come from either Texas or California. He's from Tennessee. He might make it a little bit more competitive in the South, but I still believe at the end of the day Hillary Clinton or Senator Obama can beat Fred Thompson.

BLITZER: All right.

You disagree?

SANCHEZ: I would disagree with that. And, you know, one thing Donna did talk about in terms of Hillary Clinton, yes, she has a lot of support, but she has 50 percent negatives in some cases among white men, who are traditional, you know, primary voters. So there's some challenges ahead on her side for sure.

BLITZER: All right.

BRAZILE: Don't fret for those men. They'll be OK.

BLITZER: Donna Brazile, Leslie Sanchez -- guys, thanks for coming in.

How can Democrats in Congress avoid the "do-nothing" label? Jack Cafferty, he's standing by with your e-mail.

Also, he's been called "The Prince of Darkness". Does Bob Novak see anything good about the Bush administration? The veteran columnist, the conservative pundit, he'll join us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And security officials respond to a new warning that terrorists may be practicing right now for possible attacks on the United States.

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


BLITZER: The newest member of Congress tops our political radar today.

Republican Ron Brown is scheduled to be sworn into office later today. The doctor from Georgia was elected last week to fill the seat of fellow Republican congressman Charlie Norwood, who died in February.

Another Republican, Jim Whitehead, was favored to win the election. Brown was a long shot, but he came in second in the general election and won this month's runoff.

Another big-name endorsement for Hillary Clinton today. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California officially gave her support to Clinton's presidential bid. Feinstein is the latest of a number of top California politicians to back Senator Clinton.

And Barack Obama is picking up an important endorsement in New Hampshire, the state that holds the first presidential primary. Sources tell our John King that Democratic freshman congressman Paul Hodes will officially back Senator Obama tomorrow.

Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our "Political Ticker" at

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Did we discuss what that insipid noise was in the background?

BLITZER: That's sort of background noise that...

CAFFERTY: It sounds like a...

BLITZER: It makes it a little bit more dramatic.

CAFFERTY: It sounds like one of those carnival shooting galleries.

Anyway, the question this hour is: What do Democrats in Congress need to accomplish in order to avoid the able of "do-nothing"?

Karen in Des Moines, Iowa, where I actually used to live and work at one time, "This one's easy, Jack. They need to stop the war. That's what we elected them to do."

Dick in Ohio, "Of course there's nothing they can do if they can't pick up some Republican votes. If the Democrats are as progressive as they want us to believe they are, they should be working to get these votes recorded and placed in all the popular Internet spots and allow people to see in black and white who's causing the bottlenecks in Congress.

Amanda in Austin, Texas, "Simple. Stop talking, start doing. I'd much rather see small movements toward reclaiming our democracy rather than loud speeches with grand ideas that are destined to die on the floor."

Dan in Louisville, Kentucky, "Allocate the funding (all of it) to build the border security system on the Mexican border. The so-called comprehensive reform called for border security, but all of the other 'amnesty'-like stuff made it un-sellable because nobody believed that they would actually build and enforce the border system. So do the fence and the security system."

Hugh in Florida, "I think it's too late for the Congress to avoid losing the label of 'do-nothing'. The Democrats have spent so much time on hearings and trying to stick it to Bush that they have wasted any chance of doing something meaningful legislatively in their return to power. Reid and Pelosi should be ashamed."

Gary in Florida writes, "Jack, How about a big helping of impeachment, with a side order of exit strategy?"

And John in Texas, "It's either deja vu or you're getting senile and asking the same question again" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Deja vu.

Thanks very much, Jack, for that.