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The Situation Room

Interview With Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney; Trent Lott Announces Retirement

Aired November 26, 2007 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now: the vice president Dick Cheney's shock to the heart, undergoing treatment as a longtime health condition catches up with him again. We will update you on what is going on.
Plus, President Bush exuding optimism about Middle East peace. But will his direct role in new U.S.-sponsored talks make much of a difference?

And Mitt Romney says Rudy Giuliani doesn't have his facts straight. In my interview with Romney, he responds to Giuliani's allegations that violent crime went up on his watch as governor.

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

The vice president arrived over at the hospital just a short while ago, the condition of his heart in question once again. And when you're first in line to the presidency every health scare has the potential to affect the nation.

Let's go to CNN's Brianna Keilar. She's joining us now live from George Washington University Hospital here in the nation's capital.

What is the latest with the vice president, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Vice President Cheney arrived here about an hour ago. Shortly after his wife Lynne arrived here separately, and he's here to correct an irregular heart beat.

According to the vice president's office, he went to see his doctor this morning because he was having a hard time kicking a residual cough that he had from a cold. And that's when this irregular heartbeat was discovered. And the medical term for this is actually atrial fibrillation. That is specifically the irregular pulsing of the upper chambers of the heart, and the concern here is that that can cause pooling of blood in the upper chambers of the heart, which could possibly cause a blood clot and then ultimately the concern then becomes that that could cause a stroke.

So, the vice president's office says he's expected to undergo a procedure that is, basically, applying an electric impulse to the heart to shock the heart back into a regular rhythm. And while this sounds scary, doctors say that this is really a routine procedure to treat atrial fibrillation. In fact this is an outpatient procedure. Vice President Cheney is expected to head home this evening from George Washington University Hospital. But as you said, when you're the vice president of the United States a lot of attention is applied, is played to your health, especially in the case of Vice President Cheney. He's had a long history of heart issues. He's had four heart attacks since 1978. And as you will probably recall, Wolf, he was hospitalized briefly in 2006 for shortness of breath -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope he has a speedy recovery from this outpatient tonight. Thanks very much, Brianna. We will check back with you when you get some more information, an update from the doctors.

Let's go to the White House right now.

Our correspondent Ed Henry is standing by.

The vice president's heart condition didn't impact the president's other objectives today, namely trying to jump-start this Israeli/Palestinian peace process.


In fact, Wolf, the vice president was here for meetings on the Middle East peace process, and there were no major breakthroughs today, but there has been a big shift. president Bush who was deeply skeptical of the Mideast peace process, is now putting his weight behind it in a big way.


HENRY (voice-over): After seven years of shunning personal involvement in Mideast peace, President Bush is now a convert, hosting Israeli and Palestinian officials in separate meetings on the eve of Tuesday's conference in Annapolis, Maryland.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking forward to continuing our serious dialogue with you and president of the Palestinian Authority to see whether or not peace is possible. I'm optimistic. I know you're optimistic.

HENRY: Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was bullish about prospects for peace, thanks to the participation of officials from Saudi Arabia and Syria, among dozens of nations attending Tuesday's talks.

EHUD OLMERT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: This time, it's different because we're going to have lots of participants in what I hope will launch a serious process of negotiations between us and the Palestinians.

HENRY: A sentiment shared by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

MAHMOUD ABBAS, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRESIDENT: We have a great deal of hope that this conference will produce permanent status negotiations, expanded negotiations over all permanent status issues. HENRY: Mr. Bush's direct participation is a dramatic change for a president who came to office believing former President Clinton set the process back by pushing too hard for peace at Camp David near the end of his presidency. In February 2002, then White House spokesman Ari Fleischer charged that Clinton tried to shoot the moon and came up with nothing.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: President Bush is intent to learn the lessons of all previous presidents and focus on what he thinks can be successful, which is an incremental approach.


HENRY: Reaching the end of his own presidency, Mr. Bush sees a chance to shape his legacy, so he's taking a more active role.

BUSH: The United States cannot impose our vision, but we can help facilitate.


HENRY: Now, White House officials point out that Mr. Bush was the first U.S. president ever to publicly call for a Palestinian state, that he could not work with Yasser Arafat, but he now sees an opportunity. Critics, though, will wonder about the missed opportunities for Mr. Bush not getting more active much sooner -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we will have extensive coverage tomorrow of this conference, historic conference, in Annapolis, Maryland.

Ed, thanks very much.

Let's move on now to a senator's bombshell announcement today. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the number-two Senate Republican, says he will give up his seat before January. His retirement coming just a year after his reelection to a fourth term and his remarkable comeback within the Republican leadership.

Our congressional correspondent, Jessica Yellin, standing by watching all of this.

We have seen him go up. We have seen him go down. This, I take it, Jessica, has been pretty much of a surprise, the decision to step down today.


The announcement today definitely caught his Republican colleagues off guard, but sources close to Trent Lott say they're not surprised he has decided to retire. They say it's a move he's been wanting to make for quite some time.


YELLIN (voice over): Trent Lott made it clear no one and nothing pushed him to leave. This is a personal decision.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY WHIP: I don't have any problem. This is not a negative thing. There's no malice, no anger. There's nothing but happiness and pride at the job that I have been allowed to.

YELLIN: It's a dramatic turnaround from five years ago, when the Mississippian was forced out as Senate majority leader after making thinks comments supporting one-time segregationist Strom Thurmond..

LOTT: We're proud of him. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years either.

YELLIN: Lott rehabilitated his image, climbing back into Republican leadership, but in recent years he's expressed frustration with the partisanship in Washington, during the struggle to pass immigration reform...

LOTT: Are we men or mice? Are we going to slither away from this issue and hope for some epiphany to happen?

YELLIN: ... and the fight to confirm conservative judges, like his friend Leslie Southwick.

LOTT: This is -- you know, it's emotional for me, because this is a good man, he will make a great judge.

YELLIN: Lott planned to retire last year, but changed his mind after Hurricane Katrina devastated Mississippi. It destroyed his own house.

LOTT: I decided I had to run again because the people I love the most in the world were struggling so much with Katrina. We wanted to -- you know, we just had work to do.

YELLIN: Mississippi's Republican governor, Haley Barbour, will appoint Lott's replacement. Among the names floated? Seven-term congressman Roger Wicker and former Lott aide and protege, Congressman Chip Pickering.


YELLIN: Wolf, Republican sources close to Trent Lott say the senator plans to go into the private sector, and he will be making this move right before a tough new ethics law kicks in.

Under the new law, it would extend limitations on former lawmakers lobbying on Capitol Hill from the current rule of one year to two years. So, Lott's timing means he will narrowly avoid having to live by those tough new restrictions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thanks very much. Let's check in again with Jack Cafferty once again. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: They are a noble bunch, aren't they?

More than half of Afghanistan is now back under the control of the Taliban. So says an international think tank called the Senlis Council. This group put out a study, found the Taliban had become rich off the profits of Afghanistan's record poppy harvest and have formed now de facto governments in several parts of that country.

The reports says the NATO force there should be doubled in size from the current 40,000 troops to 80,000 and some contributing NATO nations should remove limitations that keep their troops off the battle lines. It's also calling on NATO to invite Muslim countries to contribute to the NATO force in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government, not surprisingly, along with its NATO allies dismisses this report. They strongly deny the Taliban now control 54 percent of Afghanistan saying that is a major exaggeration. This all comes at the same time that a second international report says Afghanistan is in the grips of a humanitarian crisis.

Millions of Afghans are facing severe hardship, comparable with sub-Saharan Africa, adding that just like in Iraq too much of the aid never gets to the people that who need it, but rather ends up in the pockets of various companies and subcontractors.

Gee, what a surprise.

Here's the question. What should the U.S. do if more than half of Afghanistan is back under control of the Taliban? E-mail or go to

Does this mean mission not accomplished, Wolf?

BLITZER: Not yet. They have got a long way to go in Afghanistan and in Iraq for that matter as well, Jack. Thanks very much. We are going to be talking about a lot of stuff in our roundtable. That's coming up later this hour with you.

Lou Dobbs coming up at the top of the hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, at its new time. Stand by for that.

But coming up next, Mitt Romney, he tells Rudy Giuliani to simply get his facts straight.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mayor Giuliani seems to have some difficulty with statistics, I got to be telling you. He needs to go back and look at his numbers.


BLITZER: Mitt Romney, under political attack, launching one of his own right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You will see this interview. That's coming up.

Also, her body washed ashore inside a plastic container and now police say they believe they have identified the little girl known as Baby Grace.

And Oprah Winfrey wants a chat with you. She has a new talk show of sorts to talk you into doing one thing. She could be coming to a place near you as well.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: He's ahead in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, so it's no surprise that Mitt Romney is a becoming a favorite punching bag of the Republican presidential field less than six weeks before the lead-off contest in Iowa.

So, look for Romney to take some fresh hits when the GOP candidates square off in our CNN/YouTube debate in Florida on Wednesday.

I spoke with Mitt Romney right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER (voice-over): Rudy Giuliani is clearly making a major effort now in New Hampshire to try to move up there. He's not doing all that great in the polls compared to you, but he is leveling some serious charges against you, including this one.

And I will play it for you. Listen to this.


RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that Governor Romney is trying to distract attention from what is clearly a mistake that he made. But the big mistake that he made was, crime went up, violent crime and murder went up, while he was governor. And I think that that is something that talks about not just an isolated mistake. It talks about a series of mistakes.


BLITZER: All right. I guess the basic charge is that, while you were governor of Massachusetts for four years, violent crime went up under your watch.

ROMNEY: You know, Mayor Giuliani seems to have some difficulty with statistics, I got to be telling you. He needs to go back and look at his numbers.

Actually, violent crime came down when I was governor. It came down 7 percent, according to the FBI statistics. So, he's just wrong on that fact, as he is on a lot of supposed facts he brings forward. As they say, facts are stubborn things. Violent crime came down. And I don't take credit for that, of course. The mayors of towns and cities are the ones that have police forces that are responsible for violent crime, by and large. I am proud of the fact that I increased our state police force quite dramatically and also brought in place a very professional office to do DNA research and DNA testing. We more than doubled our support there.

So, I'm pleased at what we were able to do. And his facts are just simply wrong on that front. And, you know, I must admit, it's strange to have him bringing forward my selection of individuals to serve, judges and so forth, when he's got Bernie Kerik all over him these days, when someone he knew was under investigation he recommended to the president to be the secretary of homeland security?

That, I find a position -- if you will, throwing stones from a glass house is never a wise thing to do.

BLITZER: He's going after your selection of a judge, Kathe Tuttman, who released a convicted killer on parole, and he went out and then killed another couple, and saying this demonstrates your lack of judgment on a judicial nomination.

ROMNEY: You know, that's a real stretch.

And I think it's disappointing for him to take a personal tragedy like that and try and stretch it all the way to me. I appointed some 60 judges. This particular judge had served for 17 years as a prosecutor. Everything in her background suggested she would be a law and order judge.

I spoke with her and assessed that she was committed to those things. And she made a very bad error in judgment. But I think it's a stretch well beyond reality to suggest that I am responsible for all the decisions that all the judges make that I appoint.

But I'm responsible for evaluating those judges. And somebody who has been a prosecutor for 17 years is someone I would expect to be a law and order judge. And I have called for her to resign by virtue of the bad decision she made.

BLITZER: J.C. Watts, a former congressman from Oklahoma, was on my show the other day, and he was -- we were talking about some of your criticism of Barack Obama for going public with some of his past alcohol, drugs, whatever, when he was a young kid. And you suggested that's not necessarily a good idea as a role model.

And then J.C. Watts leveled this charge against you. And I want to play it for you, because I think it deserves your reaction. Listen to what he said.


J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Mitt Romney has no color on his campaign. He has no person -- he has nobody on his campaign that looks like me. So, I could say, are you going to be a role model to black kids? Wouldn't you want to be their president as well? I mean, I could have some problems with that.


BLITZER: All right. Well, that's a serious charge. And I wonder if you want to respond.

ROMNEY: I'm -- I'm not sure what the serious charge is.


BLITZER: The charge -- the charge is that you have no diversity in your inner circle, no African-Americans who are really involved in your decision-making process.

ROMNEY: Well, I do have inner-circle members of my team that are African-American and also Hispanic-American and people of various backgrounds. So, he just happens to be ill-informed.

But I also think that suggesting that we have to fill spots based on checking off boxes of various ethnic groups is really a very inappropriate way to think about how we staff positions.

I'm very pleased that, among my Cabinet members, for instance, I had several African-American individuals. I had people of different backgrounds. But I don't go in every circumstance I'm in and say, OK, how many African-Americans, how many Hispanic-Americans, how many Asian-Americans, and fill boxes that way.

I fill responsibilities based upon people's merit and their skill. And, sometimes, it includes many ethnic minorities. And, other times, it includes different minorities. But I'm very pleased with my record.

BLITZER: We're out of time, Governor, but I want to leave you with this thought.

Mike Huckabee has, in his corner, Chuck Norris, the TV action hero.


BLITZER: Barack Obama has invited Oprah to come campaign for him in Iowa next week.

But I am going to put up on the screen your secret weapon, because we were just introduced to your grandson, Parker Romney, who is 18 months old. He looks like he's a good guy to have in your corner, a sweet little boy. I guess you got a good team there.

ROMNEY: He is the best. And he's now learned to go up to people and say, "Hi." It's the only word he can say really clearly, but he's out on the campaign trail. He's really something.

BLITZER: So, I take it you would rather have Parker Romney than Oprah or Chuck Norris.

ROMNEY: That is true, although my son yesterday suggested that I see if I could sign up Mr. T.


BLITZER: All right, Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

ROMNEY: Thank you. Good to be with you.


BLITZER: The third and final part of our interview with Mitt Romney earlier today.

Remember, all the Republican presidential candidates square off Wednesday in our groundbreaking CNN/YouTube debate on stage in Saint Petersburg. They will face a variety of videotaped questions. It's a chance for voters to get the answers they want from the candidates. Please join Anderson Cooper and the best political team on television beginning at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Wednesday -- right here on CNN.

A pro football player shot in his own home, Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor critically wounded. We are going to tell you what happened. That's coming up.

And a bride and groom stopped on the street and sent to jail. What were they trying to get away with, and who's really behind the veil?

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


BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what is going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a sad story, Wolf. Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor is in critical condition tonight. He's in a Miami hospital. Police say the 24-year-old was shot in the leg at his Miami home early this morning. His femoral artery was severed, causing massive bleeding. Taylor's attorney tells CNN the football player was trying to stop a break-in when he was shot. Police are now searching for the suspect.

Texas police say they may know the identity of a little girl they have dubbed Baby Grace. The child's body was found inside a plastic container that washed ashore in Galveston last month. Investigators have tentatively identified her as 2-year-old Riley Ann Sawyers. Sawyers' mother and her current boyfriend are now in custody. The child's grandmother called authorities after seeing a sketch of Baby Grace.

Al Qaeda says it will soon release a new message from its leader, Osama bin Laden. The announcement by al Qaeda's media wing appeared on a radical Islamist Web site. It says the message will be addressed to -- quote -- "the Europeans." (INAUDIBLE) has issued four public statements this year, all of them in September and October.

And an Iraqi bride and groom will be spending their honeymoon in jail. Take a look at that. Soldiers stopped this couple at a checkpoint north of Baghdad. It turns out the bride was really a man. Aren't you surprised? And a wanted man, at that. So is the groom, actually. Two other terror suspects in the wedding convoy were also arrested. Officers say they got suspicious when the groom refused to unveil the bride -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Creative costumes, I guess, for wanted guys out there.

All right, thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Her name is synonymous with success. From bestsellers to TV shows, no one does it like Oprah. And now she's hoping her influence will translate into the political world. But will the power of O be enough for Barack Obama?

And just in case, Obama is taking off the gloves and taking on Hillary Clinton's experience. It's getting nastier out there. We will have the latest barbs. That's coming up.

And look who's back in the White House today. There he is. An unusual meeting. You're going to find out what happened in the Oval Office.

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


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

Happening now: Oprah goes all out for Barack Obama on the campaign trail. If she turn a book into a bestseller, can Oprah Winfrey turn her favorite candidate into a winner?

Also, a new round of rancor between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Who has got the better resume and who has got the fix for the nation's health care problems?

And the Bush administration makes a high-stakes, high-profile push for peace in the Middle East. The president is putting his own prestige on the line. Will it, though, make a difference? Our roundtable will tackle all these topics. That's coming up.

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

Oprah Winfrey wants to talk to you and could be coming to your city to do it. Talk show queen will campaign for Barack Obama in hopes to talk you into doing the same thing. On December 8th, Oprah will appear in two Iowa cities. The next day, she'll be in South Carolina and New Hampshire.

Can Oprah Winfrey do for him what she she's done for so many others?

Let's go to Mary Snow.

She's watching this story. It's going to be interesting it see what she can do for this Democratic presidential candidate.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really will interesting, Wolf, because when it comes to political campaigning, Oprah Winfrey is untested.


SNOW (voice-over): It marks a first for talk show queen Oprah Winfrey. She's plunging herself into politics in a way she hasn't before -- hitting the trail and campaigning for Democratic presidential hopeful, Senator Barack Obama.

JENNY BACKUS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Oprah Winfrey brings not just a wow factor, but a wow! factor to anybody out on the trail. And that's what this means for Obama.

SNOW: Winfrey already endorsed Obama last spring.


OPRAH WINFREY: What he's shown was worth me going out on a limb for.

SNOW: She held a fundraiser for him at her California home that raised millions for his campaign. But now her support for him has been ratcheted to a new level.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And this creates excitement and an event. And, you know, hopefully we can attract some people who might not otherwise be interested in politics.

SNOW: The prime target -- women.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: Hillary Clinton simply seems to be the woman's candidate, regardless of race. I think that's what Obama may be really trying to reach is women.

SNOW: Enter Oprah Winfrey. She'll campaign for two days in December in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. In Iowa, the Winfrey events are open to the public. But to secure a ticket, people are being asked to either volunteer four hours to the Obama campaign or attend a caucus training. Winfrey is no doubt drawing attention to Obama, but some political observers are skeptical her support will translate into votes in a state like Iowa.

STUART ROTHENBERG, THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: While Oprah Winfrey has terrific ratings and very high favorables, I think Iowans are going to depend on their own judgment rather than hers.

SNOW: But sometimes a star surrogate can have sway. Just look at the Clinton camp. Its star surrogate, Bill Clinton, even went on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" to tout his new book.

Is Oprah a good surrogate?

OBAMA: Bill Clinton is a great surrogate for Hillary, as well. If he wanted to endorse me, I'd take it. I don't think he will.


SNOW: And some political strategists say that unlike Bill Clinton, the novelty of Oprah Winfrey on the campaign trail could prove to be a plus for Obama -- but they also add, it could be a minus if she overshadows him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you.

A good report.

So we just heard Oprah Winfrey saying she's going to use her considerable star power on the campaign trail for Barack Obama.

But can she make him a best-seller, as she has done for so many books and products?

Let's go to our roundtable.

Our CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, is joining us.

In New York, CNN's Jack Cafferty. His book is called "It's Getting Ugly Out There". It's a best-seller.

Also in New York City, senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin. His book on the Supreme Court a best-seller called "The Nine".

Guys, thanks very much coming in.

Jack, what do you think -- can Oprah really propel Barack Obama to win these early contests?

CAFFERTY: With all due respect to Oprah Winfrey, I don't think it's -- I think it's much ado about not very much. I can't speak for New Hampshire or South Carolina, but I lived and worked in Des Moines, Iowa in the early '70s. I think Iowa still has the highest literacy rate in the nation -- something around 98 percent. These are smart, hardworking people. They have solid values. And if they take this election as seriously as I just bet they're going to -- I think it's probably the most important election in the last 75 years -- then they're not going to allow some TV talk show host to -- to determine who they vote for. It's going to be a decision that involves a lot more than some celebrity trailing a guy around a shopping mall.

BLITZER: Gloria, it does -- it could potentially, though, have an impact on women voters. Hillary Clinton being the first woman to have a major chance of becoming president of the United States.

And, Oprah, she could -- she could make a slight dent -- maybe even more than a slight dent.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: She could, Jack. You know, I don't think that they're going -- that they believe that Oprah Winfrey is really going to convince somebody to vote for Barack Obama. But what they want is for Oprah Winfrey to get people to look at Barack Obama, to give him a second look. And I was talking to a senior adviser in the Obama campaign and, obviously, this is about women. It's about older women and it's about not college educated women. They think those women Oprah Winfrey really appeals to and they'd like her to get out there and talk to them about Barack Obama because they believe, gee, they might be looking at Hillary Clinton, but why not him?

BLITZER: What do you think, Jeff?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, you know, one of the dirty little secrets about the Iowa caucuses is that turnout is atrociously low. You know, you're talking about 20 percent of the voters or in that range. If she can just bring some casual voters, some people who might not otherwise attend the caucuses, then she's more than -- more than done her part.

The problem on the other side is that celebrity endorsements traditionally have not brought a lot of voters. You know, George Clooney's father ran for Congress in Kentucky. He lost. All the celebrities pretty much have backed Democrats for president over the last several elections. We know how they've done.

So, I mean I just think It certainly can't hurt, but it probably won't help that much.

BLITZER: Barack Obama, Jack, is going after Hillary Clinton.

Listen to this on ABC News, in an interview that will air later tonight. He says this: "I think the fact of the matter is that Senator Clinton is claiming, basically, the entire eight years of the Clinton presidency as her own, except for the stuff that didn't work out, in which case, she says she has nothing to do with it."


BLITZER: And, as you say, it's getting ugly out there, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, yes. And that's good. I mean this is the time of the campaign when it becomes most fun to watch -- when the noses start to get bloodied. I think he makes a very valid point. On the other hand, he was trying to blow some smoke up our noses about being in Indonesia when he was nine, therefore he could solve all the problems of the cold war.

So, you know, they've all got their own baggage to bring to this thing. I love the Katie Couric question to Hillary Clinton. She asks -- apparently asked Hillary Clinton if she would be disappointed if she didn't get the nomination.

What the hell kind of a question is that?

She didn't get in this thing to lose. It's no wonder Couric's in third place. BLITZER: Well, what she -- what she did say to Katie Couric in the interview, in response to that question, she said, "Well, it will be me." She was going out on a limb, predicting she's going to be the Democratic nominee.

She also said to Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News this, Gloria: "I have absorbed a lot of attacks. My opponents have basically had a free reign. After having been attacked as often as -- as you have from several of my opponents, you can't just absorb it, you have to respond.

You know, Barack Obama gives an interview to ABC, so she gives an interview to CBS. I guess that comes with the -- it's par for the game.

BORGER: That's just a coincidence, Wolf. Come on.


BORGER: No, you know, this is -- obviously, we're getting down to the end game here. I think the campaigns have all decided that people just might not pay as much attention during the Christmas holidays. So, really, we're kind of in the home stretch here. And what Obama is doing is taking on Hillary Clinton's experience.

He's asking the question, OK, just what kind of experience does she have from being in the White House and being first lady?

TOOBIN: And that -- that's a perfectly legitimate question. I'd like to dissent from the idea that the campaign is getting really nasty and the gloves are coming off. I mean we haven't heard anything compared to what the Republicans and Democrats will throw at each other. I mean, you know, this business about who's more experienced -- the key point, it seems to me, is that neither candidate has said a word that would prevent them from enthusiastically endorsing the other in the fall. And other than that, it's really all conversation.

BORGER: Well, actually, the Republicans are nastier than the Democrats this time around.

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes.

TOOBIN: I think that's right.

BORGER: And I think Wolf's Romney interview really showed that.

BLITZER: Well, it's getting -- let's put it this way, maybe not ugly, but a little tougher out there on the campaign trail.

CAFFERTY: It's getting good.

BLITZER: But I think Jeff is right, if you think this is tough, wait until the general election begins.

TOOBIN: Yes, that's...

BLITZER: Then it will really, really get ugly.

All right, guys, stand by.

We have more to talk about, including the president's high stakes gamble in the Middle East.

What are the odds of a peace deal he's hoping for before the end of his term?

Plus, the questions you probably won't see in Wednesday's CNN's YouTube debate.

Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see the (INAUDIBLE) movie?

And if so, did you like it?



BLITZER: We're back with our roundtable.

Let's start this round with Jack Cafferty.

What do you think about the president's effort now, late in this administration, to jump-start this Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

CAFFERTY: I think it's a late grab and a legacy that doesn't have much else going for it. He has paid no attention to the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians for seven years of two terms as president. And all of a sudden now, the only country in the world that's waging two -- count them, two wars in the Middle East -- that would be the United States -- is going to host this giant Middle East peace summit. I think it's as transparent as that plastic wrap they told us to put our houses in when there was a terror alert.

BLITZER: What do you think, Gloria?

BORGER: I think this is a White House that doesn't want Iraq to be its only legacy in the Middle East. And I think that is a problem for them right now. I remember back seven years ago when they were criticizing Bill Clinton's administration, saying that he made too much of a push in the Middle East.

And now guess what?

They're doing the same thing.


TOOBIN: Yes. Well, the other -- the other point here is that the three principal figures -- the leaders of the United States, Israel and Palestine -- are all enormously weak at home. They don't have the kind of support that you would think they would need to really take a leap against public opinion in their own country, which would certainly argue against the likelihood of any major breakthrough here. But certainly, you know, I think better late than never is the only appropriate reaction to this. You can just hope its it succeeds.

BLITZER: Tom Friedman wrote an intriguing column, Jack, in the "New York Times" a week or so ago, saying instead of Condoleezza Rice investing so much effort in this Israeli/Palestinian peace process, she should invest an enormous amount of diplomatic effort to get the political process working in Iraq, where the U.S. has so much invested right now.

CAFFERTY: Well, I mean, you can count on one hand the successes that Condoleezza Rice has had as secretary of state. And you don't have to use your thumb and several of your fingers. I mean, Friedman is absolutely right. We talked about her last week. I mean this is a photo-op secretary of state who has accomplished virtually nothing in the three plus, years she's had this job, save some sort of partial agreement from that little kook in North Korea to dismantle his nuclear program.

She's been a failure on almost everything she's tried.

BLITZER: She's got 14 months, though, before leaving office, Gloria, to see if she can do this deal -- to close this deal. If she does it, she'll go down in history. It would be an enormous -- enormous success...


BLITZER: ...60 years of this Israeli/Palestinian conflict going on.

BORGER: Sure. Put me down as skeptical here, because I don't think Condi Rice is the negotiator that, say, Bill Clinton was. But, you know, you never know. And don't forget, this is -- this is about President Bush's legacy now. We're in the end months of his administration. And this is also about Condoleezza Rice's legacy. She doesn't want people to think of her the way Jack Cafferty thinks of her. She wants to get something done.

CAFFERTY: Well, yes, that's how you change the opinion. You do something.

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: Well, but the problem is, you know, hoping for it is different from having the leverage to do it. And, you know, with a -- with a very unpopular administration in the United States and similarly unpopular leaders of -- in the other countries, how do you -- surely, she wants to change her legacy, but how does she have the juice to make it happen?

BLITZER: Well, what do you think -- say to the argument, Jeff, that, you know, these three leaders, they may be enormously unpopular within their own communities, but they've got nothing to lose. So they might as -- they may just surprise all of us.

TOOBIN: I'm a great believer in that things can always get worse. And you can always get less popular.


TOOBIN: So I don't...


TOOBIN: I don't really think that that argument holds much water.

BLITZER: All right, guys.

Thank you...

CAFFERTY: I'm with Toobin.

BLITZER: We'll see you -- we'll see all of you all back here tomorrow.

BORGER: I'm an optimist.

BLITZER: Gloria, Jeff, you know, you guys can go home.

Jack, you've The Cafferty File coming up.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour -- Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you very much.

Tonight, we're reporting on another cave-in by the Bush administration, this time surrendering to socio-ethnic centric special interest advocacy groups backing away from its efforts to back crack down on the illegal employers of the illegal aliens in this country.

Also tonight, rising outrage over Maryland's law giving illegal aliens the same driving privileges as U.S. citizens and legal residents of that state. We'll have the special report.

And two of the world's leading authorities on the Middle East join me to discuss the Bush administration's first effort in years to end the Palestinian conflict. We'll be discussing what the apparent recent success of the American surge strategy in Iraq means, as well, geopolitically and to partisan presidential candidates.

Please join us for all of that and all the day's news right here at the top of the hour, right here on CNN -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: We'll be watching, Lou.

Thanks very much.

Political worlds colliding in a potentially very awkward meeting. The former vice president, Al Gore, over at the White House in the Oval Office with President Bush. We're going to show you what happened.

And what should the U.S. do if more than half of Afghanistan is back under Taliban control?

Jack Cafferty with your e-mail.

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


BLITZER: On our Political Ticker this Monday, talk about an awkward moment. Al Gore met with President Bush over at the White House earlier today. Mr. Bush invited his former election rival and other Nobel Prize winners to the Oval Office. Gore said he and Mr. Bush talked about global warming and he called the president "very gracious, very gracious" in setting up the meeting.

Rudy Giuliani says the United States needs a better sales job done by its diplomats. The Republican presidential hopeful says the country's reputation has suffered internationally not because of arrogant actions, but because its diplomats are falling short in selling democracy. He says if he's elected, he'll look for ambassadors who will work hard to promote U.S. strengths overseas.

And Democrat John Edwards is vowing to tackle corruption here in Washington in two new campaign ads. One airing in Iowa talks broadly of the mess Americans are leaving to the next generation. He also is out with another ad in South Carolina, the state where he was born. Edwards reminding voters he's the son of a mill worker and promises he won't forget where he came from.

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

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

He's got The Cafferty File in New York -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: So Rudy thinks it's the diplomats' fault.

BLITZER: Yes. Yes. They need a better P.R. job, a better P.R. job.

CAFFERTY: The starting of two wars in the last six years, that has nothing to do with -- it's the diplomats' fault. You know, there's an old expression, Rudy, you can't make chicken salad out of chicken -- you know the rest.




The question this hour is what should the U.S. do if more than half of Afghanistan is back under Taliban control? This undoubtedly is the diplomats' fault, as well.

Andy in Princeton, New Jersey: "What we should have done in the first place, which is increase our troops in Afghanistan significantly. Where do we get them? From Iraq -- a place we should have never been and where we will be for a long time."

Chris in Denver: "The only reason, supposedly, we went to Afghanistan was to track down bin Laden. He's not there anymore, so why are we?

We should have left the country as soon as we knew that Osama was hiding somewhere else."

Tracey writes: "My son is currently in Afghanistan, and to hear these statistics makes me want to throw up. I believe that had we concentrated our military efforts in Afghanistan rather than going after non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, neither the Taliban or Al Qaeda would be a threat to us now."

Mike writes: "The U.S. should just come home. We need to spread democracy by example, not force of arms. We need to act like a republic instead of an empire. We're going broke trying to fix other countries when our very own country could use some fixing." Scott in Ohio writes: "The poppy crop is flourishing in Afghanistan with a nod and a wink from NATO forces. We could defoliate the poppy fields, but to do so would cut the world's heroin supply by 90 percent. It would also topple Karzai as the mayor of Kabul. War on terror, war on drugs, what hypocrisy."

And Jack in New York writes: "If we truly think the Taliban control a majority of Afghanistan, then maybe it's time for President Bush to invade Iran. Isn't that the logic he used to justify the Iraq debacle?"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to We post more of them online, along with video clips of The Cafferty File.

It's those damn diplomats, Wolf.


BLITZER: I think they're going to be angry at Rudy.

All right.

Thanks very much, Jack.

See you back here tomorrow.

Meanwhile, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas here in the nation's capital. First, on the left, the first lady, Laura Bush, today received the official White House Christmas tree. The 2,000 pound Frazier fur from North Carolina will take center stage in the Blue Room. It's a lovely room. The U.S. Capitol will also be decked out. A balsam fir from Vermont gets to grace the West Lawn. Children from across Vermont made ornaments for it.

Questions for the Republican candidates set for Wednesday night's CNN/YouTube debate. They've poured in. We're going to show you some that probably won't -- repeat -- won't make the cut.

That's coming up next.


BLITZER: The Republican presidential candidates are getting ready for CNN's Wednesday's CNN/YouTube debate. And our CNN producers, among others, are poring over the thousands of online entries from people hoping their questions will make the cut.

Jeanne Moos takes a Moost Unusual look at some of the submissions.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Remember when Mitt Romney had doubts about doing a YouTube debate because he didn't think it was dignified to take questions from a snowman?

Well, how about questions from a devil?


MOOS: Or an Elvis wannabe?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like the GOP, but this is no joking matter.


MOOS: Or a ninja?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sorry, I'm just filing my nails.


MOOS: But don't worry, Mitt, CNN producers are unlikely to subject you to the chicken lady for V.P. Or the singing snake.


MOOS: In fact, we can almost guarantee the candidates they won't have to say yes or no to questions like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're really drunk, would you hook up with Ann Coulter?

You know, maybe you just won the election. This is the after party.


MOOS: We combed the 5,000 or so entries for questions that are stunningly superficial.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do any of you wear toupees?

That's fake hair.


MOOS: Shockingly sophomoric.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you could have any superpower, what would it be and how would you use it to save the world?


MOOS: Completely incomprehensible...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does it feel like to be a funky fresh (INAUDIBLE)?


MOOS: And totally irrelevant.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see "The Simpsons" movie?

And if so, did you like it?


MOOS (on camera): Watch enough of these YouTube debate questions and you'll fear for the future of the nation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Frankenstein.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello, this is me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am the ghost of Richard Nixon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, America. It's me, Christopher Watkins (ph).


MOOS: An impersonator gave Rudy a hard time.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do you keep bringing up 9/11 in all of your speeches?


MOOS: Rudy in particular...




MOOS: ...seemed to get a lot of jokey questions.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To (INAUDIBLE) that's my girlfriend. Yes, dear. Mr. Giuliani, I was wondering if you had any response to the idea that your call at the NRA speech was staged.


MOOS: Of course, comedy teams like Red State Update got into the act.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So my question to you is this -- what in the hell are we doing?

Is this the best we've got?

Look around up there. It's like a wax museum of failure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think it may someday be possible for humans to see, hear and send images and sounds back and forth to each other's brains without using a telephone, by just thinking back and forth?


MOOS: From rambling to concise...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe every word of this book?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you could be any kitchen appliance, what would you be?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever been in a fist fight?


MOOS: Save it for the debate.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Leave it to Jeanne Moos and leave it to all those YouTube guys out there.

Remember, the debate Wednesday night, right here on CNN.

That's it for us this hour.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.