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The Situation Room

Tough Road Ahead in Mideast Talks; GOP CNN/YouTube Debate Tonight; Interview With President Bush

Aired November 28, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, my exclusive interview with President Bush. I go one-on-one with the President about his ambitious goal for peace in the Middle East. You're going to want to hear what Mr. Bush says about responding to any potential attack on Israel from Iran.
Also, time for your 15 seconds of fame. You've sent questions for the Republican presidential candidates, now they'll hear them. We're previewing our CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate.

And Bill Clinton's surprising admission. You're going to also want to hear what he's now saying about the war in Iraq. Some wonder if it poses a problem for Hillary Clinton.

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

He's pursuing one of the most ambitious goals of his presidency, pushing an historic plan to end years of bloodshed and conflict in the Middle East. And in the Middle of it all, President Bush takes time to set down with me, just moments ago over in the Map Room at the White House. I spoke with the President exclusively.

We talked about his new and direct involvement in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. We also talked about Iran, and just what the United States would do if Iran attacked Israel.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I were an Israeli, I would take his word seriously.

BLITZER: Would the U.S. respond militarily on behalf of Israel if Israel were attacked by the Iranians?

BUSH: I have made it clear, absolutely, that we will support our ally, Israel, if attacked by Iran.

BLITZER: What does that mean?

BUSH: Well, you know, I hope it doesn't happen, but, you know, you're asking me to answer a hypothetical. My answer is, and they've got to understand, that we'll support Israel if Iran attacks them.


BLITZER: And just ahead, the full interview, the exclusive one- on-one interview with President Bush. We're going to play the whole thing for you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Among other things, you'll hear what he says when I ask him if he'll personally -- what he'll personally do to try to make sure the new Israeli/Palestinian peace negotiations actually get going.

That's coming up, the full interview with President Bush.

What happens next in the peace process could change a lot. It will be tough negotiations, certainly for the Israelis and the Palestinians, and both sides will likely need a lot of help to get things going. When I spoke with the President just a little while ago, he pledged that the United States, in his administration, the remaining 14 months, will do everything it can to try to pursue and help those negotiations.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's covering the story for us.

They've been meeting at the White House today, the Israeli, the Palestinian leaders, as well as the President. What happened, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Before your big interview, just right before it, in fact, the President was in the Oval Office trying to push this along, continuing that sudden hands-on role he's taking in this peace process. He met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, as well as the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, trying to push this along, take that tentative agreement signed yesterday in Annapolis, and turn it into an actual peace accord.

And officials say that behind closed doors, Mr. Bush told both leaders that the bottom line is that in these tough negotiations, you can get bogged down on emotional issues. Don't do that. Stay focused on the big picture, and you can get that done. And Mr. Bush made that very same point in the Rose Garden.


BUSH: Yesterday was an important day and it was a hopeful beginning. No matter how important yesterday was, it's not nearly as important as tomorrow and the days beyond. I appreciate the commitment of these leaders to -- working hard to achieve peace. I wouldn't be standing here if I didn't believe that peace was possible. And they wouldn't be here either if they didn't think peace was possibility.


HENRY: But we're told the President also sent another message to these two leaders, which is that while he will stay personally invested in this Mideast peace process, it's ultimately going to be up to Mr. Abbas, and Mr. Olmert as well, that ultimately these two parties are going to drive this process, not the United States -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And so far, the first seven years of his administration, he hasn't made a trip to Israel or the Palestinian territories, but that could change certainly if there's an opportunity, if there's a moment over the next 14 months.

HENRY: Absolutely. And I think the President is making clear that he will not do a trip for the sake of a trip. He will only do a trip to the region if he feels that is what would put it over the top. And he's going to save that kind of moment for a dramatic time when his personal involvement would really make a difference -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And he speaks about that in our interview which will air here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We also go into some other issues, including the situation in Pakistan today. Very interesting what he has to say about President Pervez Musharraf as he takes off his uniform today.

HENRY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by.

Ed Henry at the White House.

The historic peace push by the President could be the topic in an historic face-off tonight in Florida. It will be the first time the Republican presidential candidates come together to answer your questions sent via the Internet. We're only a few hours away from our CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate.

Let's go to St. Petersburg, Florida. Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is already down there getting ready.

Set the scene, Dana, for what is about to take place in three hours and 54 minutes.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it actually, Wolf, has been five weeks since the Republican candidates last debated, and tonight's format will no doubt invite something that is as volatile and unpredictable as the GOP race itself.


BASH (voice over): Eight Republicans will be on this stage tonight with the fate of the GOP presidential race anyone's guess.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've done a little prep. I'm in good shape.

BASH: Mitt Romney's pre-game show was a made-for-the-cameras moment -- touch football with his five sons. These days, harpoons are what this front-runner and several early contest states has been catching and throwing, back and forth with Rudy Giuliani on everything from health care to tax cuts to fighting crime.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Romney had a very poor record in dealing with murder and violent crimes as governor. And I think that's not just an isolated situation. ROMNEY: He has now done this time and again, making up facts that just happen to be wrong, and facts are stubborn things. The truth of the matter is that during my administration, the FBI's crime statistics show that violent crime was reduced in Massachusetts by seven percent.

BASH: Just five weeks until the first votes, Republicans are fighting over major differences on defining issues from immigration to abortion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A 100 percent pro-life record.

BASH: On the air and in the mail to voters. This, from Mitt Romney's slamming Giuliani's immigration record as New York mayor. John McCain sent this to South Carolina voters, insisting he's best to beat Hillary Clinton.

But it's Mike Huckabee who's now the X factor in an already complicated GOP race. The former Arkansas governor is building evangelical support in Iowa, challenging Romney's lead there and taking increasing fire from others in the so-called top tier.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Fred Thompson issued six press releases before 10:00 Sunday morning.


HUCKABEE: And that's the most activity we've seen out of Fred in the entire campaign.


BASH: Now, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, all of the candidates at this point have come here to the debate site. They have gone inside the hall, surveyed the stage and the setup to just kind of get a feel for what to expect tonight.

Now, you'll remember there was some trepidation among Republican candidates about this YouTube format. Mitt Romney scoffed at the idea of answering questions from a snowman. You'll remember that, Wolf. Now he and the other candidates, they insist that they are looking forward to this new, unorthodox way of debating -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash in St. Petersburg getting ready for the Republican presidential debate.

Dana, stand by. We'll be getting back to you.

Rudy Giuliani heads into tonight's debate armed with some positive new poll numbers. Our CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll asked likely voters in Florida who they think would be best to battle terrorism. A majority say Giuliani would be best. He gets 53 percent. And when those same Florida voters are asked who among the Republicans would best handle the economy, Giuliani again comes out on top, garnering 34 percent. Giuliani will likely be in the other candidates' crosshairs in our debate tonight, but don't look for him to take it lightly. All of it starts, by the way, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Again, it's our CNN/YouTube debate. You can watch it right here on CNN.

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

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Is there a debate tonight?

BLITZER: I heard about it.

CAFFERTY: I have a question for you.


CAFFERTY: I watched your interview with President Bush on closed circuit in my office here in New York. My question is, how did you get from the White House at 3:30 to THE SITUATION ROOM in time to start the thing? Did you take like a helicopter?

BLITZER: No. We had a car waiting. They were waiting at the corner of 17th and Penn, zipped me through. And luckily there wasn't much traffic on K Street to get over here to the bureau.

CAFFERTY: Did you have like a police escort or anything?

BLITZER: No police escort, just a nice driver.

You know what was good? We were in the Map Room. I don't know if you've ever been to the Map Room. It's in the residence at the White House, but...

CAFFERTY: Are you kidding? They wouldn't let me within 10 blocks of that place, but go ahead.

BLITZER: I asked the President, next time maybe we could do it The Situation Room, the real Situation Room.

CAFFERTY: Ah, the real one at the White House.

BLITZER: Over at the West Wing.

CAFFERTY: What did he say?

BLITZER: Didn't make a promise.

CAFFERTY: Absolutely not. OK.

Thanks, Wolf.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad not mincing words when it comes to the U.S.-hosted Middle East peace conference. He's calling it a failure and saying Israel is doomed to collapse. Ahmadinejad also suggesting it was a mistake for Syria, his closest Arab ally, to participate. He's mad because Syria was invited and he wasn't. Iran has repeatedly condemned the conference, saying it wouldn't bring any peace for the Palestinians, and warning that it will discredit the Arab countries who attend.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is meeting privately again today with President Bush, says the Iranians are furious about the high Arab turnout. Ahmadinejad said that -- he declared that attending this conference -- this is a quote now -- "shows a lack of political intelligence."

That's something he would be familiar with.

Of course, the summit was widely seen as a way to isolate Iran, and it looks like it may have worked to some degree. Syria is Iran's closest ally, and its decision to attend the summit is being seen as perhaps, perhaps opening a tiny crack in its alliance with Iran.

Tom Friedman points out in his "New York Times" column today that the fear of spreading Iranian influence in the Middle East is what has all the Arab states working in even closer coordination with the United States and in tacit cooperation with Israel.

So here's our question: What message did the Middle East summit send to Iran if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is furious and calling it a failure?

E-mail us,, or go to

You know, President Bush isn't the only one concerned about that nuclear program in Iran.

BLITZER: A lot of people are concerned about it, especially a lot of the Arab countries, the Saudis especially in the Middle East.


BLITZER: All right, Jack. Good question. Thank you.

So how far will he go for peace? I went to the White House just a little while ago to ask that question to President Bush. Would he actually go to the region? Would he visit Israel, the Palestinian territories, as he pushes for an end to the Middle East conflict?

The exclusive interview, that's coming up.

Also, we're counting down to our CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate. You might not believe some of the people sending in questions. In fact, one of them is Florida's governor. Charlie Crist, he'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And who knew Bill Clinton actually felt that way? He makes a surprising admission about Iraq. Does it spell though a problem for his wife's campaign?

Stick around. Lots more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: President Bush is in the middle of one of the most ambitious goals of his administration. Today over at the White House he sat down to talk with me about it. In an exclusive interview, the president discussed what's really at stake in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and how far he'll go to try to realize his hopes of peace between both sides.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. President, thanks very much for inviting us.

BUSH: Welcome.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Middle East peace process. You have got, what, 14 months or so to go.

What are you personally, personally going to do to make sure that this really works, that there is a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians hopefully by the end of next year?

BUSH: First of all, any deal that gets done has to be agreed on by the parties. In other words, America can't impose our vision on the two parties. If that happens, then there is not going to be a deal that will last. So my...

BLITZER: But as you know, Mr. President...

BUSH: My job is to facilitate the negotiations that were agreed upon yesterday. Yesterday was a hopeful beginning. But as I said in the statement here in the Rose Garden with Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas by my side, it was a hopeful beginning, but -- and it was important, but not nearly as important as the days that are to come.

And so our job is to facilitate those discussions, is to make sure they -- that they stay on track, that they are a focused effort. But we can't dictate the results...


BLITZER: But a lot of times, as you know, studying these negotiations, they need help from the president of the United States to bridge those gaps, especially on some of the most sensitive issues which they are about to discuss, Jerusalem, settlements, borders.

BUSH: Sure. I'm going to absolutely help. And...

BLITZER: That's what I'm trying to understand. What will you do?

BUSH: It depends on the circumstances, Wolf. One of the first things I did was get the negotiations started in the first place. And I will make sure, as will the secretary of state, that when they are stuck, we will help them get unstuck. But I can't...

BLITZER: Well, are you ready to go to the region? Because it has been seven years, you haven't gone to Israel or the Palestinian territories...

BUSH: Wolf, Wolf, one -- first of all, the president doesn't have -- going to a region in itself is not going to unstick negotiations. It is working with the principals, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas. That is how you get things done.

Now, if I have to call them together, I will. But it's -- this idea that somehow you are supposed to travel and therefore good things are going to happen is just not realistic. What is realistic is to get the frame of mind of the leaders right and then head them off.

But this notion about how America can impose their vision just simply isn't going to work. It has got be a Palestinian vision, an Israeli vision where they find common ground. And our job is to help them find common ground.

And I'm going to spend a lot of time doing it.

BLITZER: Because, as you know, there are a lot of Israelis who are nervous right now, a lot of Palestinians who are nervous. Our interview is being seen all over the world. Do you have anything you want to say directly to the Israeli people who are worried perhaps that the U.S. might squeeze Israel, pressure Israel into making concessions that could undermine their security?

BUSH: Well, first of all, the vision that I hope emerges as a result of these negotiations, will be -- the implementation of the vision will be subject to a road map. In other words, I would never expect a country to allow terrorists to be on their border. I mean, it is -- the big threat in the Middle East is terrorism and radicalism, and I understand that.

And therefore I believe that the best way to defeat those terrorists and radicals, however, is through a vision based upon liberty. And so my message to the Israelis is, it is in your interest that your prime minister negotiate with the Palestinians, a democracy.

But it is also -- they also have got to understand, and so do the Palestinians that before that democracy comes into being, certain conditions have to be met. And I happen to believe it is in the security interests of both people to conclude this agreement.

BLITZER: How much of a problem is the fact that Hamas was, after all, democratically elected, they control Gaza right now, and they hate what you are trying to do?

BUSH: Yes. That is -- you know, part of the way to solve a problem is for there to be clarity. And the fact that they hate the thought of a democracy should say to the world what the problem with Hamas is.

I mean, what is their vision, is my question to the Palestinian people. Ultimately, if this can be done, the state can be laid out, what the state should look like, then it gives people like President Abbas a chance to go to the Palestinians and say, you can have their vision of violence, or this vision of peace, take your pick.

BLITZER: What about the Iranians? They weren't invited to this conference even though a lot of Arab and Muslim countries were -- what was the thinking in saying, you know what, to the Iranians who do have a lot of influence in that part of the world, you can't come?

BUSH: You know, they just -- they would be not constructive. This is a leader that announced he wants to destroy one of the parties that we are trying to support. And if you listen to their comments, they weren't going to come anyway. They were very non-supportive of the process.

BLITZER: Well, let me read to you what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, said today and I will quote him: "It is impossible that the Zionist regime will survive. We are disappointed that some individuals fell victim to the sinister Zionist regime. They are mistaken if they thought that this summit will bring any achievements for them."

Now, do you want to react to that?

BUSH: Just made my point. This is a man who doesn't believe in democracy and freedom and peace. And this was a conference of people who were supportive of the idea of a democratic state living side-by- side with Israel.

It is a send-off of two leaders to negotiate this state, a vision that has taken a while for people to accept. I'm the first American president -- I think the first American president ever to have articulated the vision. I did so.

Because I understand that a democracy on Israel's border is important for Israel's security, and that very democracy is important for the Palestinians to have a hopeful life. But it is also important for the broader Middle East, because there is a struggle going on between a free society and a society envisioned by radicals and extremists, many of whom are funded by Ahmadinejad.


BLITZER: Much more of this exclusive interview coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, including what the president says about Iran. If Iran were to attack Israel, what would the U.S. do militarily in response?

That's part of the interview. Part two will air.

Also, I asked President Bush about President Musharraf, Pervez Musharraf, the leader of Pakistan, taking off his military uniform today. What does that mean for the hunt for Osama bin Laden?

Much more of my exclusive interview with President Bush coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Coming up also, a White House door rotating once again, another top Bush aide announcing he's leaving. We'll tell you who's out, who's in.

That's coming up.

And Florida, a politically critical state. Florida's governor standing by to join us live to give us his take on who is doing well in the Sunshine State.

All that, plus Bill Clinton's surprising comments on Iraq.

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




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

Happening now, a promise kept. Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, gives ups his post as military chief. We'll take a closer look at how that move might affect his grip on power. And we'll hear what President Bush has to say about it as well.

Former president Bill Clinton versus Senator Hillary Clinton. The former president making a comment on the campaign trail that puts him squarely at odds with his wife and would-be president when it comes to the war in Iraq.

We'll tell you what's going on.

And the Red Cross is reeling on news that its president and CEO is out after only a matter of months. The scandal that could cost Mark Everson his job -- it's already cost him his job, in fact.

All of this and a lot more coming up in our next hour.

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

The candidates are different. The party is different. And, by all accounts, the questions will be different.

Let's go to Saint Petersburg, Florida, right now.

Our senior political analyst Gloria Borger is standing by with a little assessment of what we can expect in this debate. It's about three-and-a-half-hours from now.

All right. They're all running very, very aggressively right now. And they're really going at it, Gloria. How feisty will they be?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think they are going to be very, very feisty.

Wolf, look -- look at the calender. You have got the Iowa caucuses on January 3, the Christmas holidays before that. These folks know that they're sort of getting down to the wire.

And I think all eyes tonight, Wolf, are going to be on Mitt Romney, because he is now the man to beat. He was well ahead in Iowa and New Hampshire. Now polls are changing. This entire Republican race is very fluid, and anything can happen.

BLITZER: And it's the type of situation, two hours of questions coming in via the Internet from regular people, it's sort of unpredictable, the -- the kinds of questions. And certainly the answers could -- could trip up some of these candidates.

BORGER: I think they could.

But, you know, politicians have a way of being able to turn any question into an answer that they want to give. So, if somebody wants to attack Mitt Romney -- and watch for Romney and Giuliani to go after each other -- they will be able to do that no matter whether question is.

But I don't know about you, Wolf. I'm really looking forward to hearing what the public wants to know.

BLITZER: I'm looking forward to it as well. It's coming up in three hours and 28 minutes. But who is counting? We are.


BLITZER: All right, Gloria, thanks very much.

Gloria will be joining us later as well.

One by one, the candidates are arriving for the debate. Many of them are flanked by their supporters and their staff. But on our stage tonight, they will only be able to help themselves.

As we show you what's happening before the debate, you can also find out what actually is taking place to -- what takes place to try to pull off a debate like this. You can visit You will find there an exclusive sneak peek with behind-the-scenes video and blogs. You might want to check that out.

It seems everyone wants in on our debate. Questions are coming in from rather surprising places, including the head of the Democratic Party, Howard Dean. He wants to ask the Republican candidates something.

In fact, take a listen.


HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: My question is this. A majority of Americans believe our country is headed in the wrong direction. Yet, the Republican front-runners stand firmly behind President Bush's failures on everything from Iraq to vetoing kids' health care. So, why is a vote for any of them a vote for change?

We would like to know.


BLITZER: The CNN/YouTube Republican presidential -- presidential debate will be coming you tonight from Florida. That's where a debate is certainly significant, given the critical nature of this state.

Let's go to Saint Petersburg once again.

The Florida governor, Charlie Crist, is joining us.

Governor, you're effectively the host, as the leader of the Republicans in the state of Florida. This is a -- a major, major contest, but I want you to react to what the Republican National Committee has decided to do, strip your state of half of its delegates, what, 57 out of 114 delegates, because you have decided to move up your primary, and they're not happy about that. That's a real slap at the people of Florida.

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (R), FLORIDA: No, I think it's fine.

What really matters is not so much the delegates later on, but the people January the 29th. And our great legislature made the right decision to go ahead and move the primary up. Look at the focus it's put on Florida today. Wolf, it's important.

CNN is here. YouTube is here. We have got a beautiful state, a great background and a great backdrop for democracy and the future of our country. So, I'm excited about it. It was the right thing to do. Florida is at the forefront, as she always should be.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about where the voters in Florida stand right now.

We did a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll. Among registered voters, Democrats, Republicans, independents, in a hypothetical matchup between Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, she comes out at 51 percent. He comes out at 42 percent.

You travel all over the state. You have got a pretty diverse state right now. Is that the sense you're getting right now, that the Democrat would beat the Republican? But it's still a year to go, as you know.

CRIST: Well, there's a lot of time, as you say, Wolf.

And your mother lives here. She's a voter. I would consult with her, too, if I were you. But I think it's real important to monitor these things. This is fluid. You know, things change very quickly in the Sunshine State. We are a swing state. That makes us very important.

And we're a mega-state. And, for the first time now, we have the opportunity to weigh in very early in this process. So, I'm excited about that. We need to monitor what happens day by day. Things can change, but the candidates need to keep coming to Florida. And I know they will.

BLITZER: A lot of us remember the 2000 election, the recount, the hanging chads. It was a nightmare for not only Florida, but for the whole country, as we waited, what, for 30 days for you guys to get your act together down there.

Have you fixed all those problems? Is everything in place now to make sure we don't have a reoccurrence of that?

CRIST: Well, nothing is perfect, as you know. Certainly, democracy is not perfect, but it's the best we have on the planet.

So, what we have done, we have done several things to improve our election process. We now have a paper trail put into place to make sure that, if a recount is necessary -- we certainly hope it's not -- that we can have something to actually recount, if we need to.

We have done the kinds of things that I think are responsible. We have the technology in place to make our election system maintain integrity, be something that the people, not only of Florida, but of America, the whole country, can count on. So, I'm very confident we're going to have a great election this year in Florida.

BLITZER: All right, good.

CRIST: And next year, too.


BLITZER: We certainly, certainly hope so.

Governor, thanks very much for taking a few moments out. Good luck tonight. Good luck down the road.

If you see my mom, tell her I said hi. Thanks very much for joining us.

CRIST: We will. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Republican debate notwithstanding, Democratic presidential candidates are also on the campaign trail today.

Senator Hillary Clinton is out in Iowa, taking direct aim at Senator Barack Obama. She says he flunked the test when it comes to health care.

And, in Florida, the final preparations are being made for tonight's CNN/YouTube debate. We are going to have another preview. That's coming up.

And scandal over at the Red Cross -- why the agency's chief stepped down only months after being on the job.

Stay with us -- much more coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: All eyes may be on Florida tonight in tonight's Republican presidential debate, but the Democrats are still very much on the campaign trail.

Today, in Iowa, Senator Hillary Clinton slammed her opponent Barack Obama on health care. Listen to this.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's been saying there's no difference between our plans, but his plan would leave at least 15 million Americans uninsured, including more than 100,000 people right here in Iowa. That's a huge difference to me, to leave 15 million people virtually invisible, because that is what we would do.

Well, when I am president, there will be no invisible Americans and there will be no Americans without health care.


BLITZER: Joining us now is our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's out on the campaign trail in Iowa.

All right, why health care? Why Barack Obama? Why not, let's say, John Edwards?


Health care because it's a huge issue, particularly here in Iowa, which has an older generation than most of the states. All the people that tend to go to the caucuses tend to be 50 or older. So, they understand, first of all, their children's problems getting or retaining health care and their own. So, it's a huge issue out here, particularly for the Democrats.

Why Barack Obama? Because, quite frankly they see him, at this point, as a bigger threat than they do John Edwards. Now, they believe Edwards will do well here, but, right now , their sights are set on Obama, because they see him as a bigger threat.

BLITZER: What are the others saying in response to Senator Clinton?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, Barack Obama's campaign has always said, listen, if you do studies, what you find out is that most people say they don't have health care because it's too expensive. So, they say that Barack Obama's plan focuses on bringing costs down, believing that that will bring in, they believe, about 98 to 99 percent of Americans. The Edwards campaign says, listen, there are faults in both of these plans, in Barack Obama, because it leaves some people uncovered, and in Hillary Clinton's, because she's not said yet how she would enforce this. And they say, you know, Edwards' plan does have some enforcement mechanism in that to force people to buy health care.

Now, Clinton said today in this event, listen, when people show up at the hospital, if they don't have health care, we will put them into the system. So, some of how she would enforce that has begun to come out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, thanks very much.


BLITZER: She's out on the campaign trail in Iowa for us.

And, as all of our viewers know, Candy is part of the Emmy Award- winning best political team on television.

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

Coming up in our "Strategy Session": pearls of wisdom for tonight's debate. What does Mitt Romney have to do to convince voters he's as tough as Rudy Giuliani when it comes to fighting terrorists? And what about John McCain? What does he have to say to convince conservatives that he's ready to get tough on illegal immigration?

Leslie Sanchez and Terry Jeffrey, they're standing by live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: With three-and-a-half-hours to go before they actually begin fielding online questions from the voters, Republican presidential hopefuls are in preparation mode right now.

What do the candidates really need to do to be ready for tonight's CNN/YouTube debate?

Joining us now for our "Strategy Session," conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey -- he's editor in chief of the Cybercast News Service -- and Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez.

Guys, thanks very much.

I know you both have advice for your fellow Republicans tonight. But I want to get your quick reaction.

Terry, first to you.

The president, he told me he's ready to make a personal commitment over these next 14 months, if necessary. He will go there. He will try to bring the Israelis and Palestinians together. Is this mission impossible or is this a good idea? TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE: This is an excellent thing.

And you think, Wolf, more than four years after the Iraq war started, it's tremendously unpopular in the Middle East. President Bush is tremendously unpopular. Yet, he was able to bring together all the major players, got the Syrians in there, even, to back this process going forward. That's a tremendous achievement for President Bush.

BLITZER: What do you think, Leslie?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, definitely, the tide is turning with respect to the Bush administration. I think a lot of folks feel that way.

He's using his political capital, and it's starting to yield some positives.

BLITZER: All right.

Let's go to the debate tonight, because I know both of you have been thinking. We have asked both of you to come up with some recommendations for Republicans.

Terry, first to you. You have some -- some points you would like to make, I guess, for John McCain and -- and Fred Thompson.

JEFFREY: Yes. Here's what John McCain has got to do, first of all, Wolf.

He should go out there tonight and vow that he will seal the Mexican border of the United States within three months of being elected president, and begin cracking down on scofflaw employers that hire large numbers of illegal aliens, and only then go to other immigration reforms.

Secondly, he should stress that the surge in Iraq is working, that we have more security there, U.S. casualties are going down. He's always supported a larger troop force in Iraq. He should go right after Hillary Clinton, and challenge her on this question. She wants our troops out of there. Is she ready to accept increasing U.S. casualties as she decreases our troop strength in Iraq?

BLITZER: And what about Fred Thompson? You got some recommendations for him, too.


JEFFREY: Fred Thompson needs to get the voters right now who are sitting with Romney and Huckabee in Iowa and New Hampshire. He has got to come out and convince people that he truly is pro-life.

Two weeks ago, on "Meet the Press," he said he doesn't want to criminalize abortion for doctors. If that's true, he's not really pro-life. He has to say he wants to criminalize abortion for abortionists.

Secondly, he hasn't taken Grover Norquist, the Americans For Tax Reform no-new-taxes pledge. He needs to take that pledge, and tell people any tax increase that comes out of Congress, he will veto as president of United States.

BLITZER: Terry's advice.

All right, Leslie, let's go to your advice, first for Mitt Romney.

SANCHEZ: He really has to solidify he's not a threat -- well, for Mitt Romney, I would say...

BLITZER: All right. You want to do Giuliani first? Do Giuliani -- do Giuliani first.


SANCHEZ: Well, Giuliani takes a lot of the air. You know, people are focusing so much on him.

And he basically has to say he's not a threat to conservatives. People say -- you know, he's getting attacked that he's pro-choice, that he basically supports gun control, he's pro-civil union.

But he's going to go back and say, look. Look at my philosophy overall, what kind of judges I would appoint, strictly constructionist judges, and really sell the American people on that, and that he is the most electable in opposition to Hillary Clinton.

He also has to show that he can broaden the base to independent conservatives who have left the party without losing the base. That's going to become incredibly important to him.

BLITZER: A tough challenge for him.

All right, now you can do Mitt Romney.


BLITZER: He's going to be in the bullseye, I think, for a lot of these other Republican candidates. What advice do you have for him?

SANCHEZ: He has to convince conservatives that he's very sincere in what he does; he's not just another politician.

He's been attacked this week on spending, immigration, on his crime record. And I think he has a very strong record to stand on with respect to, you know, he inherited a $3 billion deficit. He got rid of it without raising taxes. He is going to have a very strong message with respect to leadership. And people have to get more comfortable that he is sincere.

BLITZER: And you have got another tip for him as well when it comes to terrorism. SANCHEZ: He is going to have to challenge to show he has as much credential, can hit the ground running with respect to national security, as Giuliani. That's his biggest issue. It will inoculate him from those types of attacks and show that he's on a level playing field.

BLITZER: You know, hovering over these four -- they used to be the top-tier candidates -- there's another top-tier candidate. That would be Mike Huckabee, who's really stealing a lot of the thunder in Iowa, especially, and elsewhere, with a limited amount of money, but he's -- he's doing really well.

You want to have any advice for Mike Huckabee?

JEFFREY: Yes. He's got to -- right now, Mike Huckabee actually is the greatest threat to Mitt Romney. He could beat Romney in Iowa.

If he beats Romney in Iowa, he destroys Romney's entire strategy, trying to get momentum in those first two states, Iowa, New Hampshire. Huckabee needs to defend himself on limited government. He raised taxes as governor of Arkansas. He increased government in Arkansas. There's a strong argument against his record in Arkansas that he's not a fiscal, limited-government conservative.

Huckabee needs to convince conservatives he is. If he does, he's got a shot at getting the nomination.

BLITZER: Because the Club For Growth, which is a conservative group, they -- they really are going after him, saying really he's a liberal.

SANCHEZ: Well, yes, they definitely are on the issues of immigration as well.

But the bigger thing -- I think the bigger point, in looking at the debate, is, people are trying to determine -- I think the media is trying to say, look, there's four candidates, two on the Democrats, two on the Republicans, and the field has narrowed from 10 candidates down to four.

And I think people are paying attention to that. And with respect to -- it's a valid point, and people are trying to decide if that's true.

BLITZER: And we can't forget Ron Paul.



BLITZER: Ron Paul is raising millions and millions of dollars on the Internet. And he represents a legitimate threat to several of those Republican candidates. But who should be most worried about losing votes to Ron Paul in a Republican contest?

JEFFREY: Well, Huckabee and Romney, the ones who are running down the right, Wolf, because, aside from his foreign policy, which I think is a little bit simplistic, Ron Paul's views on most issues are exactly what conservatives really believe, especially the grassroots conservatives that are going to go...


BLITZER: He's a libertarian on most of those issues.


BLITZER: But, when it comes to the war in Iraq and foreign policy...


BLITZER: ... most conservatives don't agree with him.

JEFFREY: That's right. They don't agree with him on that.

But on questions of taxation, regulation, limited government, free markets, they're with him. So, the vote he's getting really are traditionalist conservatives who don't like the war, who might otherwise vote for, say, Romney.

SANCHEZ: I think -- and, ultimately, though, they are going to look at electability and realize, going again...


BLITZER: But he will take votes away from some of these Republican candidates.


BLITZER: Who's going to suffer the most because of what Ron Paul can do with his millions that he has now in his advertisements or however else he wants to spend that money?

SANCHEZ: I think the distinction with -- with that is going to be in the first two states. In Iowa and New Hampshire, you are going to see the biggest effect there.

And, remember, primary voters do not anchor early on. They may change their mind the last three or four days. They are going to see what momentum builds up until February 5.

JEFFREY: And I think there's probably more Republicans in Iowa who agree with Ron Paul's foreign policy than people think. Remember, Chuck Grassley voted against the first Persian Gulf war. And Iowa has a tradition of not being in favor of an interventionist foreign policy. So, he...


BLITZER: There's a lot of tradition among Republicans of an isolationist foreign policy as well. You can't forget about that. JEFFREY: Well, sure.

SANCHEZ: No, but Romney is doing very well, though, in those two states. You have got to look at the fact that he has a significant amount of support there.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to be watching it.

Earlier in the week, we had two Democratic strategists assessing the Democratic field -- two Republican strategists assessing the Republican field.

I sort of like this. We will -- we will do this more often.


BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

JEFFREY: Thank you.

BLITZER: The Democratic Party has come up with a new resource for its campaign. Coming up in our SITUATION ROOM, we will go online. We're going to show you how the DNC hopes a Republican video library can help its cause.

Also coming up, much more of my exclusive one-on-one interview with President Bush and why he thinks Middle East peace is possible.

And, later, newly released documents from the ill-fated presidency of Richard M. Nixon -- why they resonate with the current administration. We will explain.

Lots more coming up -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Our Political Ticker is coming up.

But, first, let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: This is a bit of a promotion. I usually have to go after the Political Ticker.


CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, what message did the Middle East peace summit send to Iran, if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is furious about the whole thing and is calling it a failure?

David writes this: "The Annapolis summit and attendant diplomatic behind-the-scenes activity have been a tactical success already. Iran has been embarrassed, looks isolated, and has lost face. Despite all the negatives that seem to bedevil any negotiations, these talks are a positive step. Both Abbas and Olmert are weakened leaders who will have to create new coalitions in order to achieve the goals and vision. The good thing is, these men know that they need each other and that they will give this all they have, because, indeed, it's all they have."

Richard in Michigan: "I guess the very idea these two countries could actually care enough about resolving their respective problems to sit down at the same table and talk about their differences frightens Ahmadinejad. If they work together, then the hate that Iran exports goes nowhere."

Lee in Delray Beach: "Jack, the conference is doomed to fail. The same way the Republicans back away from President Bush, but, then, when push comes to shove, they vote with him, so will the Arab states cozy up to the U.S. to get our billions in aid. But when it comes to choosing sides between Israel or the other Arab states, they will vote as a bloc against us and Israel. Just a reminder that blood is thicker than water."

Dan writes from Des Moines: "The smirking little Iranian tyrant is a loose cannon who is ruining the Iranian people's potential for a peaceful, productive life. The Annapolis summit may just be the catalyst for bringing this screwball down."

And Sarge in Indianapolis: "It shows him that no one is listening to him or his newfound buddy, Hugo Chavez. Someone needs to tell Ahmadinejad to shut up, too. The king of Spain has my vote for 'TIME''s man of the year" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. Stick around. You're not going anywhere.

Today on our Political Ticker, on the same day as the CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate, the Democratic National Committee is releasing an entire library of video tracking Republican candidates on the campaign trail. It's available to download, so anyone can use the footage to create their own attack videos.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton is standing by.

What are we going to find on this new Web site, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's raw material from the DNC's trackers out there on the campaign trail with their video cameras following Republican candidates.

And it is just that, raw. Sometimes, you can see some of the backs of heads more than hear what the candidates are saying -- the candidates they're following in this archive called FlipperTV, Rudy Giuliani, who's in there somewhere, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, and Senator John McCain.

But the DNC says they hope that, by putting it all out there online, accessible to Web users, they can turn it into campaign gold. Of course, online tracking video made headlines last year in the 2006 Virginia Senate race with the controversial macaca comments caught on camera from then Virginia Senator George Allen. There's nothing in this new archive to match that kind of thing from the DNC. But a DNC spokesman says they hope what is out there will let voters identify flip-flops and exaggerations on the campaign trail. They are also promising a lot more than the current 80 videos to come. They are going to be uploading more footage tonight from the CNN/YouTube Republican debate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much.

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

Happening now: a CNN exclusive. After Iran's leader lashes out with a warning that Israel is doomed, President Bush has a warning of his own -- what he will do if Israel is attacked. My one-on-one interview with the president, that is coming up.

And former President Bill Clinton helping out on the campaign trail, but will his latest comments on the Iraq war come back to haunt his wife, Senator Clinton?

And the wraps are off thousands of secret documents shedding some new light on President Richard Nixon's fall from power.

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