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The Situation Room

Hot-Button Issue Burns New York Governor; Clinton Beats Rivals, Combined; Interview With Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman

Aired November 14, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, an issue that appears too hot to handle scalds yet another elected official dealing with illegal immigration. One big state governor trying to do something but now admits heated opposition forced him to retreat.
Also, a polling blowout. We have fresh numbers of the presidential race right here in the state of Nevada. Guess who's getting more support than all the other rivals' numbers combined?

And the man of hope. In his first TV ad, Rudy Giuliani admits he's not perfect but says he can make people with hopeless spirits have hope again.

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

Right now Democrats are gambling for support here in Nevada. We're in Las Vegas, where tomorrow all eyes will be on our CNN Democratic presidential debate. This is where the substantive discussions and the likely political attacks will unfold right here at the Cox Pavilion on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

We're watching all of this unfold. This hour we'll preview the debate, but first a major story happening today.

It appears immigration reform is the hot-button issue many people in the government do not necessarily want to touch. The latest person burned by this issue, the governor of the state of New York, Eliot Spitzer. He had pressed to issue drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants in this state, but today he acknowledged defeat, served up by a chorus of very angry opposition.

Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash is joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Dana, it's interesting that the New York governor announced this right in Washington where you are right now -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sure is. It's fitting, actually, that New York's governor abandoned his plan here on Capitol Hill today, Wolf, because it is a huge controversy on a national level. The latest example of the fact that immigration is the third rail of politics.


BASH (voice over): In the face of a political pummeling, New York's governor announced he's retreating from his plan to give drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants.

GOV. ELIOT SPITZER (D), NEW YORK: I have listened to the legitimate concerns of the public and those who would be affected by my proposal and have concluded that pushing forward unilaterally in the face of such strong opposition would be counterproductive.

BASH: Eliot Spitzer had defended his controversial idea as a way to make roads safer and bring illegal immigrants out of the shadows. But it quickly stirred anger among critics who said it would make New Yorkers less safe, and polls show the public overwhelmingly oppose the idea.

SPITZER: It does not take a stethoscope to hear the pulse of New Yorkers on this topic.

BASH: Democratic sources tell CNN Spitzer was also pushed to pull the plug by members of his own party worried all Democrats would get killed politically. So dangerous, Hillary Clinton couldn't give a clear answer about her stance on the issue, causing her first major stumble in the presidential race.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I did not say that it should be done, but I certainly recognize why Governor Spitzer is trying to do it.

BASH: Even supporters admit she was trying to be too cautious.

REP. JOSE SERRANO (D), NEW YORK: As far as Senator Clinton, I think the problems there was on issues as difficult as immigration, you have to decide what your stance is and then just go with it and take the heat for it.

BASH: But the issue isn't just hurting Clinton. Vulnerable Democratic lawmakers were already taking a beating from Republicans seizing on staunch public opposition to the idea.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: This was not going to happen. There were many other issues to focus on, and he made the right decision.


BASH: And as for Senator Clinton, she skipped a meeting this morning with Governor Spitzer and other New York lawmakers here on Capitol Hill. Her office said she was in town, but she had a scheduling conflict.

But Wolf, she just released a statement about this decision. She said she supports Governor Spitzer's decision to withdraw his proposal, but she also said, "As president, I will not support drivers' licenses for undocumented people," and she said she will press for comprehensive immigration reform -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thank you.

Governor Spitzer is not able to do what a few other states already do. Currently eight states do not require proof of citizenship or legal status to get a driver's license or a driving alternative. They are -- and here are the states -- Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Washington State.

However, Michigan, New Mexico and Washington do require a Social Security number. In terms of Utah, it issues a driving privilege card. That's what it's called, but that's different from a regular driver's license in that it allows the holder to drive, but cannot be used as a form of I.D.

Illegal immigration will be among the topics in our Democratic presidential debate tomorrow evening here in Las Vegas. The candidates will be here, but right now one of the them has more support than all of the other rivals combined. That according to a brand-new CNN poll that's just come out.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us here.

Bill, let's talk a little bit about where the Democratic race stands in this state of Nevada on this, the eve of the debate -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, as they say here in Vegas, there is an odds-on favorite.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): Who's got the edge in the Nevada Democratic race? We asked a Nevada congresswoman.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know that Hillary is ahead 2-1.

SCHNEIDER: Close. Hillary Clinton leads Barack Obama by a little more than 2-1 in Nevada. The CNN poll conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation shows the New York senator with majority support in the Silver State. That's better than she's doing in the two states that vote before Nevada.

"The New York Times"/CBS News poll shows a virtual three-way tie in Iowa. Clinton, John Edwards and Obama are within a few points of each other in the leadoff state. Clinton is clearly ahead in New Hampshire, but still short of her Nevada majority.

What's driving the Clinton vote? One word -- electability.

Nevada Democrats choose Clinton as having far and away the best chance of beating the Republican ticket next year. Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats also give her the edge on electability.

What gives her that edge? Experience.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm here because I believe that Hillary is the best qualified person best suited to this time of any non-incumbent I've had a chance to vote for in 40 years as a voter.

SCHNEIDER: Incumbent? That's the way a lot of Democrats see her. She's been in the White House. That may also be why Nevada Democrats see Clinton as the most qualified to be commander in chief.

Obama is running as the candidate of change, but in Nevada, Clinton has the edge on change.

What about the heat she's taken for not being clear on the issues?

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In the course of three minutes, I heard Senator Clinton say two different things.

SCHNEIDER: Nevada Democrats don't share that view. Where is Clinton weakest? Likeability, where she has a narrower lead among Nevada Democrats. And honesty, where she stands out even less.


SCHNEIDER: It's not mainly personal qualities that's putting Hillary Clinton over with Democrats. It's the view that she's experienced and she's a winner -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider here in Las Vegas.

Thank you.

We're also, by the way, asking other people who they're betting on in this, the Democratic field. One of them presides over this city, the mayor, Oscar Goodman. That interview coming up.

I'll ask him what he thinks of his party's candidates. His answer, my one-on-one interview with Mayor Oscar Goodman. He's always colorful, as you know. That's coming up.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York. He's got "The Cafferty File."

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Have you been to the tables yet, Wolf?

BLITZER: Not yet. Everybody is asking me that, but, you know, we're working really hard, getting ready for this debate, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes, that's the right thing to say. Spoken just like somebody that might be running for office.

New sentencing guidelines for possessing crack cocaine could become retroactive. And that could mean almost 20,000 federal inmates convicted of crack cocaine-related offenses could be getting out of prison early.

Before these new guidelines went into effect there was a big difference between gettinq busted with crack or the most expensive powder version of cocaine. Those in favor of this change argue the old rules penalize blacks, who more widely use the cheaper crack cocaine. The U.S. Sentencing Commission has heard from supporters and critics on this idea. The Justice Department says that releasing this many prisoners years earlier than planned could have a dramatic negative impact on society, especially at a time when rates of violent crime are on the rise.

But supporters, including some of the commissioners themselves, seem to indicate a willingness to make these guidelines retroactive -- the early releases. If approved, a judge would then examine each eligible prisoner's case and decide individually whether to cut the sentence, and if so, by how much.

The decision would be based on things like the defendant's history and the circumstances surrounding his arrest. It would mean -- or could mean about 2,500 prisoners could be released early within the next year.

Here's the question then. Is it a good idea to reduce the sentences of thousands of federal inmates imprisoned on crack cocaine charges?

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

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks.

And Jack, I just want to remind our viewers, is going to be with us in our 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour for our roundtable. We'll talk about Governor Spitzer's decision today, among other subjects.

Coming up, what happens in Vegas will not -- repeat not -- stay here in Vegas. All eyes will be watching our CNN Democratic presidential debate, including this city's Democratic mayor. Which candidate does he like the most? I'll ask the mayor, Oscar Goodman.

And Rudy Giuliani uses his first TV ad to admit he's not perfect. He mentions his flaws, but also why he thinks you should vote for him anyway.

And Democrats try again to force the president's hand on the war in Iraq. They failed so far dozens of times since they have become the majority in the House and the Senate, so what's different about this effort?

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

We're live from the Cox Pavilion on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: It's new position at the top of the electoral candidate and tomorrow's Democratic debate in Las Vegas are casting a fresh, bright spotlight on this state of Nevada. Candidates seem more attentive to what Nevadans and their leaders are saying about everything from their standings in the polls, to the notion of drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants.


BLITZER: Joining us now, the mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman.

Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for welcoming us into your office.

MAYOR OSCAR GOODMAN, LAS VEGAS: Well, it's great to have you in town, Wolf.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton, by our new poll, has an overwhelming lead in Nevada right now. Is that what you sense on the streets in Las Vegas?

GOODMAN: There's no question about that. It appears that she had the ground crew out there real early and got the endorsements very, very early. So there's a reason that she's way ahead. It will be interesting to see what's going to happen at the debate.

BLITZER: What's the big issue here in Vegas?

GOODMAN: So many of them. You know, we're sort of a cross- section of America here in the sense that so many of our residents have moved in from other places in the past 10 years. So we represent the same kind of people that you'll find in other places as far as their political philosophies.

BLITZER: But is Iraq the dominant issue, at least...

GOODMAN: Iraq's a dominant issue. Yucca Mountain is always something that's of great concern to us, that we don't want the high- level nuclear waste traveling through our community and being stored 90 miles away from a major metropolitan area like Las Vegas. We have issues with water, with transportation, with our infrastructure.

BLITZER: What about illegal immigration?

GOODMAN: We have a real issue as far as immigration is concerned because one third of our community here are Latinos. And many of them are very hard-working producers in our community.

BLITZER: So where do you stand, for example, on this issue of drivers' licenses for illegal immigrants?

GOODMAN: Oh, I'm so far away from that, I'm worried about making sure that people are at peace with one another in the community and not worrying with one another.

BLITZER: Can the economy of Las Vegas really be sustained without illegal immigrants?

GOODMAN: Well, let's put it this way, I don't know who's legal or who's illegal at this point in time, but the folks who are working in the gaming industry, they're hard workers, they do their job. I don't think there are other people who'd replace them at this point in time.

We're adding thousands -- tens of thousands of rooms to our community here. They're being built as we sit here right now, so we need people to service the community.

BLITZER: You're not busy checking people's ID to make sure...

GOODMAN: No. Our policy here is that if somebody is arrested for a serious crime and we find out they're here illegally, then we'll turn them over to immigration. But we don't go knocking on people's doors and raiding them and making them feel uncomfortable.

BLITZER: Unions are pretty powerful here.

GOODMAN: Very powerful.

BLITZER: Especially in Las Vegas.

GOODMAN: Very powerful.

BLITZER: And they don't like the fact -- or maybe they do -- that there are a lot of illegal immigrants.

GOODMAN: Oh, I don't think that that's necessarily true. The culinary union, which is about 70,000 strong, has an awful lot of members who are from other places.

I don't think that they're checking left and right to see whether or not they have proper documentation at this point in time. We're not a sanctuary city. If we find somebody who is here, who was violating the law and shouldn't be here, we send them home.

BLITZER: Do you -- have you queried them, whether it's Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama or John Edwards, on their specific positions on gambling?

GOODMAN: Basically the only one that I did that with was with Ms. Clinton, Senator Clinton. She was out here. It was a social event. And she seems to be very pro-business, understanding that our primary industry here is tourism, and a great part of that is gaming. So she has no problem with that.

Now, the question as to whether or not they're going to support Internet on an international basis of gaming, I don't think anybody has declared themselves one way or the other on that.

BLITZER: And the Republicans, who do you like on the Republican side?

GOODMAN: I don't like anybody.

BLITZER: You don't like them at all?

GOODMAN: Not really.

BLITZER: Because? GOODMAN: No, I just -- nobody is turning me on. I was raised with the philosophy before I got into politics that I voted for person. And there's nobody who's standing out, nobody who I believe is a great leader, nobody who's a great statesman who's going to think about future generations.

BLITZER: You're talking about on the Republican side.

GOODMAN: On the Republican side.

BLITZER: Well, maybe you're talking about the Democratic side, too.

GOODMAN: Well, I'm waiting to see. I have not -- haven't endorsed anybody.

BLITZER: Are you going to?

GOODMAN: It depends. It depends what comes out.

We're far away, far away from the election. I have a certain degree of popularity here. And they say that people will sometimes listen to what I have to say. So I'm going to be very careful before I endorse anybody, if I in fact endorse somebody.

BLITZER: It's been traditionally a Republican state, although it was pretty close in the last presidential election.

GOODMAN: And since that time.

BLITZER: Bush narrowly won.

What is Nevada right now? In your opinion, is it a red state or a blue state?

GOODMAN: Well, right now, I think as far as registration, 2,000 ahead as far as the Democrats are concerned. They have really come in here and made a concerted effort to get people registered.

BLITZER: You think this is because people are moving in from other states?

GOODMAN: They're moving in from other states, but also the Democratic Party, for the firs time, is becoming organized here.

BLITZER: Is this state ready for this caucus in January?

GOODMAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Because you know you've never done it before.

GOODMAN: I understand that, but we're used to having events like this in Las Vegas. We're geared for it.

We're able to move with the punches, and I think everybody is anticipating it. It's a big deal for us, and I think the caucus will go very well. As to whether or not we're going to have the hundred thousand that Senator Reid projects...

BLITZER: People participating...

GOODMAN: I would hope so. But, you know, if the unions get excited about it and they become involved, then certainly we're going to have a big, big turnout as far as Democrats.

BLITZER: Finally, what do you want to see in this debate tomorrow night?

GOODMAN: I'd like -- I'd like people to really declare themselves. Right now it's sort of like a sparring. I don't see anybody putting anything down in big black letters. That's what I'd like to see, what they stand for in big black letters, not...

BLITZER: And you want to see them, you know, differentiate amongst themselves?

GOODMAN: Well, yes. I think they have to in order to decide who you want to vote for. If they're all cookie cutter types, the same as each other, you may as well flip a coin.

BLITZER: Mayor, thanks very much for the hospitality.

GOODMAN: It's great having you here.


BLITZER: And this programming note. I'll be moderating tomorrow's Democratic presidential debate right here in Las Vegas. That debate begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 Pacific.

It's a roll of the dice. Is there enough support for Democrats here in Nevada to help them win the state and the presidential election next year? Or will their gamble end in a loss? We're going to take a closer look at Nevada's changing Democratic Party.

And Rudy Giuliani's disgraced former police chief now back in the spotlight again. Bernard Kerik, this time it involves a woman he had an affair with and a major lawsuit.


We're live from the Cox Pavilion on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.



BLITZER: Republican presidential candidates have some new political ads, and they take straight aim at illegal immigrants. Is that a winning strategy for the nomination?

And more immigrants are coming here to Nevada. Might they help Democrats win the state? We'll take a closer look at Nevada's changing Democratic Party.

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

We're live from the Cox Pavilion on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator now charged with spying. Iran's intelligence minister says he passed secrets to the West.

CNN's Aneesh Raman will have details in our next hour. That's coming up.

The U.S. military feels the pinch at the pump. Fueling its arsenal makes the Pentagon the nation's largest gas-guzzler. We'll take a look at how it's coping with the costs.

And a high-stakes sports gambling ring busted in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Sources say some of those arrested have ties with the mob.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick will be along with the lowdown.

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

All eyes may be on the Las Vegas debate -- tomorrow's debate for the Democratic presidential nomination tomorrow night, but Republican candidates are moving to try to steal some of the Democrats' thunder. Some new GOP ads are coming out right now.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King. He's here in Las Vegas. He's watching all of this.

John, the GOP is fighting over immigration as well. Or is it?


All of them, of course, have taken some delight in this whole controversy that you led the show with, Eliot Spitzer's decision and now a reversal on giving drivers' licenses to illegal immigrants. Then the Republicans tried to make that an issue against Senator Clinton and the other Democrats, but immigration within the Republican Party has almost replaced taxes, if you will, as a way for these candidates to prove their bona fides with conservatives.

Fred Thompson just today launching a new ad in Iowa. No amnesty, he says, sitting in a diner. Fred Thompson says he will secure the borders and not have amnesty for illegal immigration.

Mitt Romney putting out a paper today, taking note of some steps he took while Massachusetts governor, including cutting a deal where state troopers in Massachusetts could go out and round up illegal immigrants. The campaigns have been fighting over this. Romney especially pointing at New York City, under Rudy Giuliani, saying it was a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants.

So, as we watch the pressure on the Democrats, Wolf, including at our debate here tomorrow night, it is also a testing point among the Republicans. And, as they get prepared to move from positive ads to negative ads, look for immigration to be a key dividing point between some of the candidates.

BLITZER: And a lot of the Republican candidates already, John, have bought ad time, Mitt Romney more than $10 million already, mostly in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

But now, for the first time, Rudy Giuliani's campaign is buying some ad time. What's going on?

KING: A significant event, Wolf, for a number of reasons.

He has hoarded his resources, more than $15 million in the bank. Rudy Giuliani, the national front-runner, now launching his first TV ad of the campaign. It is called "Tested." And he decided to put it up in New Hampshire. That, in and of itself, is significant from a strategic standpoint.

They have been testing, through radio and mail, in Iowa and New Hampshire, deciding which state to make a push in to try to move the poll numbers, try to knock Mitt Romney out of the lead in a state. They have chosen New Hampshire for now. So, it is significant as a strategic decision.

Also significant in this ad -- again, it's titled "Tested" -- makes no mention at all of 9/11, no images of 9/11. Instead, it says, as mayor, he turned a welfare-to-work program around, turned the economy around, turned crime around, but implicit, of course, in saying he was tested, as Rudy Giuliani says in the ad, is, again, to try to bring up what they hope is his greatest strength in the campaign, his leadership in the days after 9/11.

I can tell you this, Wolf. In contacting the other Republican campaigns, they have been waiting for Rudy Giuliani to start spending his money. And while they hope of course to knock him down and knock him out of front-runner status, they're all very impressed with this first ad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much.

John -- John is going to be here throughout our coverage of this Democratic presidential debate. I will be moderating the debate when the candidates take the stage right behind me over the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is also here. She's following the run-up to this debate.

Give us a little sense of what you're hearing. What can we expect on this podium, on this stage, tomorrow night?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me tell you what Nevada voters are looking for.

They say, when you talk to them, listen, we have different issues out here. It's about land use. It's about water use, and how to get water in some of these desert spots. So, that's what they're looking for.

But they're also looking at the same thing most of America is: What about Iraq? What about the economy? So, when you talk to them, what you find overall, Wolf, is that they are really enjoying the spotlight.


CROWLEY (voice-over): As Democrats look West for electoral votes, Nevada has become the object of their affection.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think what we're doing here in Nevada is going to make a difference.

CROWLEY (on camera): Do you worry, in terms of turnout, for this caucus? Do you worry?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No, not at all. It's just like somebody turned on a light switch. Everybody seems to be motivated. They -- they seem to be really anxious for January 19 to come along. So, it's really big, big times.

CROWLEY (voice-over): Nevada? Gambling, yes. Desert? Yes. Politics? Not so much.

QUESTION: Tell me what a Nevada Democrat is.

JON RALSTON, POLITICAL COLUMNIST: Well, this is the question that I think puzzles a lot of people, that a Nevada Democrat must be real different than an Iowa Democrat or a New Hampshire Democrat. But I'm not so sure that true. Nevada is such a weird state, I think people figure that Democrats here have to be weird.

CROWLEY (voice-over): Not so much weird as inscrutable. The state's politics have been volatile. Bill Clinton won it twice, and so did George Bush. Five thousand people move into the Las Vegas area every month. Ten percent of voters last time around were Latino. Twenty-five percent were union members.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Help me welcome Maya Soetoro-Ng, Barack Obama's sister.


CROWLEY: They are new to the attention and to the process. But Nevada Democrats do seem to be in the Iowa-New Hampshire swing of things, no softballs in this Las Vegas kitchen.

Eddie Gering, leans Obama, but worries the Illinois senator isn't tough enough to take on Republicans.

EDDIE GERING, NEVADA VOTER: I want to see somebody who is going to stand up and say, this is not going to happen this time. And does he have that? Because, to be honest with you, I don't know that I have seen that so far.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's great. I was actually calling you to invite you to join John Edwards for a town hall meeting in Reno on Sunday.

CROWLEY: The campaigns are here and working it. But Nevada, its voters and its importance is an unknown quantity. If the Democratic race is unsettled when the spotlight turns West, well, then Nevada is the place to be.

RALSTON: Here's the real difficulty. We have never done this before, so nobody really knows who's going to vote.

CROWLEY: In the 2004 Nevada caucuses, 9,000 Democrats showed up.


CROWLEY: Nevada politicos hope, this time, optimistically, as many as 100,000 Democrats will turn out for these caucuses. But others say, hold on a second; 35,000 would be a real victory.

BLITZER: One hundred thousand for a first caucus? That's what they usually get about in Iowa, and they have been doing it for a long time.

CROWLEY: Absolutely

BLITZER: So, what -- what is the Democratic machine here in Nevada doing to bring out the vote?

CROWLEY: Well, a couple of things.

First, they have in almost every precinct somebody that is on the horn talking to people, but they're also having sort of mock caucuses, to say, here's what this is about. Here's what happens during a caucus.

Barack Obama is also giving mock caucuses, his team is. So, they're trying to get people used to the idea of what's going to go on, and, at the same time, sort of on the horn saying, listen, you have got to come out for this caucus.

And what -- what they tell me is that they in fact have very few people hanging up on them. Most of them say, that's great. I really want to come out.

So -- but everybody thinks 100,000 is pretty optimistic.

BLITZER: That would be good, if they could get that.

CROWLEY: Yes, that would be amazing. BLITZER: Thanks very much, Candy, for that.

Candy, as all of our viewers know, as well as John King, they are both part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television. And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our Political Ticker at

A showdown on Iraq -- the House is about to vote on a major war funding bill, but there are strings attacked that critics are vowing to cut.

And was a publisher fired from Rupert Murdoch's media company to protect the presidential campaign of Rudy Giuliani? That publisher says, yes, and is suing right now for millions and millions of dollars. The controversy in our "Strategy Session."

And outrage over news that British Airways has been flying empty jumbo jets across the Atlantic, creating tons of pollution. For what?

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're live from the Cox Pavilion on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


BLITZER: Apparently, failure on one issue does not -- repeat, not -- scare off Democrats in Congress.

Right now, they're itching for yet another fight with President Bush over the war in Iraq, this even though they have lost past battles with the White House over this issue.

Our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is joining us now.

Ed, this time, it involves a new war funding bill in the House of Representatives. What's the latest?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, Democrats forging ahead in the House of Representatives tonight, even though they know full well President Bush will veto this war funding bill, so it will go nowhere yet again.

That's because this is a $50 billion war bill, and it has a major string attached, that President Bush would only get the money if he agrees to set a goal of withdrawing most U.S. troops from Iraq by December 2008.

Now, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino today teed off on that, charging that Democrats know this is a flawed strategy, so all they're doing here is political posturing, and trying to appease what she called radical anti-war groups.


DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Democrats believe that these votes will somehow punish the president, but it actually punishes the troops. It punishes our military planners, our procurement officers and many others who are working on this war effort.


HENRY: Now, Democrats say they're forging ahead, because they do not want to give any ground to President Bush. They want to add strings. They don't want to give him a blank check on the war, because the tab has run so high. This will be voted upon, as I noted, in the House tonight, but also Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid, have made clear they're on board as well.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We cannot afford this war. Twelve billion dollars a month, we just can't -- we can't continue.


HENRY: Now, White House officials counter that now, more than ever, they need to get the money to the troops, because they feel that, in fact, there have been security gains on the ground in Iraq, and now is not the time to slow the funding -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed, thank you very much. We will watch this story, lots of ramifications.

Coming up in our "Strategy Session": a story involving a famed literary agent and Bernard Kerik. Has Rudy Giuliani's campaign been affected by this?


RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't respond to the story at all. I have -- I have -- I don't know anything about it, and it sounds to me like a -- kind of a gossip column story more than a real story.


BLITZER: How much of a headache could the latest Bernard Kerik saga be for the Giuliani campaign?

And a new poll in Iowa shows Mike Huckabee in a strong second in that state behind Mitt Romney. Is that why Romney's is calling Huckabee's illegal immigration bona fides into question?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're live today from the Cox Pavilion on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


BLITZER: Democratic presidential candidates and their teams are getting ready for the debate right here at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, tomorrow night. But Republicans are also getting ready. They have got their own campaign issues that they're going through, including a new poll of likely caucus-goers in the key state of Iowa. It bodes well for Mitt Romney right now, but there's a surprise.

Let's bring in our "Strategy Session," our CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and CNN contributor Bill Bennett of the Claremont Institute.

Guys, thanks for coming in.



BLITZER: Let's show the viewers this CBS News/"New York Times" poll. And it shows Romney at 27 percent, Huckabee at 21 percent, Giuliani at 15, Fred Thompson down at nine.

Bill Bennett, what do you make of Huckabee, a strong second now in the state of Iowa?

BENNETT: Well, I saw him, you know, blow the roof off here at the Values Voter Conference, Wolf, in -- in Washington. People said he was the best.

He's -- he's gaining. He's got a lot of credibility. Remember -- you know, it's a great time to remember. You remember all these things. A lot of people don't. Gary Bauer beat McCain in Iowa. Do you remember that? People said, how is this going to happen?


BENNETT: How is this going to happen?

Well, it happens, because he catches on. People like him. He's a conservative. He doesn't have to apologize about anything in the resume. It's a straightforward presentation. And it looks for Huckabee. Mitt Romney, of course, spending a lot of money. Interesting Giuliani is creeping up a little bit.

BLITZER: Well, what do you think? As you're looking, as an outsider, Paul, at this Republican contest in Iowa, what -- how is it shaping up to you?

BEGALA: It's fascinating. you know, here comes Huckabee, only six points behind Romney, six points ahead of Rudy.

And it could tease out a really important potential rift in the Republican coalition. That is between the supply-side tax-cutters and the social conservatives. Rudy is certainly not a social conservative, but he's in good with the tax-cutters. Huckabee is the opposite. He's a former Baptist minister, very strong on the conservative positions on social issues, but is being accused by those tax-cutters of being a tax-raiser. Now, as a Democrat who has watched these guys for a long time, I actually think the real power, the real religion in the Republican Party is really not Christianity. It's tax-cutting. And I think poor Mike Huckabee is going to find that out.


BENNETT: Interesting theology of the party...


BLITZER: It may explain -- it may explain, Bill -- Bill, it may explain...


BLITZER: ... why Romney is now taking a direct swipe at Huckabee, seeing Huckabee as a potential threat.

BENNETT: Well...

BLITZER: He said this, Mitt Romney...


BLITZER: ... on Tuesday. Listen to this.

He said: "There's a sanctuary state of mind that Hillary Clinton and Mayor Giuliani and Governor Huckabee have. They have provided or support the idea of providing tuition breaks to illegal aliens to institutions of higher learning. And that sanctuary state of mind flies in the face of the rule of law."


BLITZER: That's a pretty tough statement from Mitt Romney going against not only Giuliani, which he has done often in the past, but now bringing Huckabee into the fore.

BENNETT: Yes, I will pass on the theological stuff.


BENNETT: We will get into that, I'm sure, later in the year.

But you're right. I mean, first -- two things. Huckabee has got to be very pleased, Wolf, with this kind of attention from Romney.

And the reason I think that Romney would attack Huckabee -- and I think Paul would agree with me here -- is that Romney has more to lose than Huckabee has to gain from Huckabee doing really well.


BENNETT: If Huckabee does really well, it's obviously great for Huckabee, but it's disastrous for Romney, who has spent so much money. Then it opens it up, because I think most people would still say Huckabee is not likely to get it, but it looks like Romney has lost that state-by-state edge, you know, knocking off all those states.

BLITZER: Let me briefly ask you both to quickly comment on this latest uproar involving Rudy Giuliani's former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik, and now a new lawsuit by Judith Regan, who used to be a book publisher, a book editor and book agent. She apparently had an affair with Bernard Kerik. Now there's a major lawsuit she's filing.

And Rudy Giuliani is saying, this is simply tabloid gossip, and it's not going to affect him at all.

Paul, first to you. What do you think?

BEGALA: Well, it's more than tabloid gossip, because I'm not concerned about the affair. I'm concerned about Ms. Regan's allegation -- and it's only an allegation, but it's made in a lawsuit that she filed -- that executives of the News Corporation, which owns FOX News, which many believe to be a very pro-Giuliani network, because Roger Ailes, the head of that network, is desperately close to Rudy -- Regan alleges in her lawsuit that a News Corp. executive asked her to lie to the FBI and to federal investigators when Bernie Kerik was up for the Department of Homeland Security, in order, she claims, to protect Rudy Giuliani's chances to run for president.

Now, right now, they're just allegations, but Rudy is going to not just get away with just a no-comment on this, Wolf. He's going to have to really explain what his relationship is to Bernie Kerik, why he recommended him for all of these important jobs, and also what his relationship to Roger Ailes is, and why, allegedly, somebody at News Corp. was trying to ask someone to mislead federal investigators to protect Rudy.

BENNETT: He will need to explain some of this...

BLITZER: All right, Bill.

BENNETT: ... for sure.

But, as Paul says, absolutely, they are just allegations at this point. Rudy has already explained a lot about the Kerik situation. And, by the way, Rudy owes more to Bill Bratton as a police chief than Bernie Kerik.

But Rudy was asked about this. Giuliani was asked about this when he recommended Kerik for the DHS, Department of Homeland Security, position, claims he did not know about these other problems which have now come to surface in this indictment.

All we have now is an allegation by Judith Regan. And we will see what happens to that. He will have to say more in the future about this than what he's said, and I think very forcefully put this away, because this kind of thing, even though it's a couple people removed, can hurt you.

BLITZER: All right. Bill Bennett and Paul Begala in our "Strategy Session," guys, thanks very much.

Coming up: Walker, Texas Ranger, steps up his candidate. We will tell you who actor Chuck Norris is backing and the three things he wants voters to do for him.

It's the biggest gas guzzler in the country. The Pentagon takes steps to ease its major pain at the pump.

And a settlement over a jailed Chinese dissident wards off a protracted courtroom fight for Internet giant Yahoo!

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're live from the Cox Pavilion on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


BLITZER: In our Political Ticker, Walker, Texas Ranger, wants you to do three things. The actor who played that part on TV is out with an appeal on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

Chuck Norris writes an e-mail with a few demands. Among them -- let me point them out -- he urges people to contribute to Huckabee's campaign. He wants people to urge their friends toward donating. And Norris encourages more people to learn about Mike Huckabee.

South Carolina is an important early primary state, so some are wondering why Hillary Clinton has made few trips there. Since January, Clinton has made seven trips and has not been there in more than a month, according to a review of the candidates' campaign schedules. By comparison, John Edwards has visited South Carolina 12 times since December, Barack Obama, 11 times.

These numbers do not include South Carolina's two presidential debates or events closed to the news media or public.

And John Edwards is making a promise: If you're an American worker, he will stand up for you. That's what the Democratic presidential candidate says in his first TV ad that is running in South Carolina, the first Democrat to advertise on TV in the state. Edwards also takes a swipe at President Bush, saying the country doesn't need another president -- quote -- "that puts wealth above work."

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

If you're looking for information online about Democratic presidential candidate Senator Joe Biden, you may be directed to the Web site of an entirely different presidential candidate.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's following this story.

Abbi, what might you find? ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, if you type in or Joe Biden 2008, you will find yourself here, the Web site of Republican Mitt Romney.

And if you would have looked at those addresses a couple of weeks ago, you would find yourself somewhere company different, at the Web site of Democrat Barack Obama. It turns those Biden-sounding Web addresses aren't attached to any campaign at all.

They're owned by an Indiana man by the name of Fallon O'Brien, who says he's a registered Republican, and he's using those Web sites to publicize the candidates that he's supporting. Well, make that currently supporting. We have already seen him use it to go to Democrat Barack Obama and now Republican Mitt Romney. And he says he might change his mind and the Web site tomorrow, according to his mood.

So, how does the campaign of Joe Biden feel about this? Well, O'Brien says he did offer to sell those domain names to the campaign, but they didn't want to meet his price. A spokesman for the Joe Biden campaign says: "We were not going to overpay for a domain. We already have one we're quite happy with. That's, and people find us just fine" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you -- Abbi Tatton, our Internet reporter.

Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: No shortage of whack jobs out there on cyberspace.

The question this hour: Is it a good idea to reduce the sentences of thousands of federal prison inmates who are locked up on crack cocaine charges?

Steve writes: "Huge mistake. They are a big blight on society. I have seen it up close. They would rather do crack than eat. They abuse the food stamp program just to trade them for crack. And, when not getting cracked up, they spend the rest of the time stealing or panhandling. They're a huge drain on health care as well. I hope they don't release these offenders. Just make sure you have everything locked up."

Michael in Boston: "It seems to me the answer is the overall attitude the government has toward drug abuse. Punitive actions should be reserved for the importers and big-time sellers of these drugs, not to the victims of their crimes. Addiction is a disease. And we don't put people with disease in prison in this country."

Or do we?

Ron in New Mexico: "Absolutely a good idea. Since a judge will review each case, they should not release an inmate that has a violent history. Just being caught with a non-legal substance should not be a reason for a long prison sentence. This will also allow for rooms to -- room," rather, "to get more violent criminals off the streets. There should be a parole time, as well as help to make sure they stay off crack."

Tony in New York writes: "As a black Democrat, I think the thing to have done would have been to increase the penalty for cocaine possession to make it even with a crack penalty. The answer is not to let drug dealers and users out early based on some absurd claim of racism."

Jordan in Iowa: "Not the craziest idea out there these days, but it's certainly not a good one. While people claim race warfare with the sentencing, those on crack cocaine are far more likely to commit violent crimes than -- both while on the drug and while attempting to feed their habit. Unless these individuals are truly ready to reenter society, they have no business being released early."

And Elly in New Jersey writes: "What good will it do? As long as the illegal aliens are allowed to cross our borders carrying their stashes of drugs, we will have a new crop to fill up the jails again as soon as these are released" Wolf,

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: A war with Iran, the prospect is chilling enough, but now Congress hears dire predictions about possible consequences for the United States.

A disgraced publisher sues her former bosses at the parent company of FOX News. She says they pressured her to lie to reportedly protect Rudy Giuliani.