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Situation Tense in Najaf, Baghdad, Fallujah; The Bush Message; Kerry Touts Plan to Create 10 Million new Jobs

Aired April 6, 2004 - 15:30   ET


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're not going to cut and run from the people who long for freedom. Because you know what? We understand a free Iraq is an historic opportunity to help change the world to be more peaceful. That's what we understand in this country.

ANNOUNCER: Marines on a mission to take back Fallujah, while some Democrats call Iraq the president's Vietnam. We'll talk with Republican senator and Vietnam vet, Chuck Hagel.

Focus on Florida. Will history repeat itself? A new poll tells us who's ahead in this top battleground state.

Pump politics. The price of gas hits a new record. Will it siphon votes away from the president?



JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us.

While President Bush and Senator John Kerry gave audiences two very different views today of the nation's economy, U.S. military forces in Iraq engaged in new firefights with armed insurgents. The battles took place as the president went out of his way to once again defend the mission in Iraq. This time, before an audience in Arkansas.

We'll have more on the effect that these latest Iraq uprisings may have on U.S. politics in just a moment. But, first, the latest on the military front, and CNN senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, the U.S. defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, today said that there will be some good days and bad days in Iraq. And these have not been good days over the last couple of days.

The U.S. is trying to regain the upper hand in cracking down both on Sunni resistance in Fallujah and some of the Shiite resistance led by a cleric that the United States has branded an "outlaw." In Fallujah, in particular, the U.S. Marines are conducting an operation to try to hunt down those responsible for the attacks last week against American contractors and American troops. And today, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld insisted that that operation is making progress.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Forces have cordoned off the city. They have photographs of a good many people who were involved in the attacks against the individuals. And they have been conducting raids in the city against high-value targets. They've captured a number of people over the past 36 hours.


MCINTYRE: But privately, Pentagon officials admit the more troublesome situation is that with the Shiite majority led by some of the followers of the cleric sheikh, Muqtada al-Sadr, the young cleric who has apparently instigated some of the attacks against American forces there in the south. The U.S. is trying to move against him as well. There is an arrest warrant for him, but arresting him could be difficult because he has been surrounded by reporters and at various times been holed up in various holy sites, including some of the mosques in Najaf in Iraq.

So the U.S. is biding its time, waiting for an opportunity to take action -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: So, Jamie, how are they going to do it? They say they're going to capture him. Given what you've described, how do they do it?

MCINTYRE: Well, obviously, it's easier said than done. And what they're trying to do is wait for an opportunity. And there's even been some talk of urging him to turn himself in, something that Pentagon officials concede is not likely to happen.

But they're using intelligence; they're trying to track him. They said that he was in a mosque surrounded by supporters at one point, but then moved. They're just going to be watching and waiting. They say they're not in hurry to get him, but they will get him eventually.

WOODRUFF: All right. Jamie McIntyre with the latest from the Pentagon.

Jamie, thank you.

More now on the president. Much like yesterday, Mr. Bush traveled to a community college to talk about job training. This time, he was in Arkansas. CNN's Elaine Quijano is at the White House with more.

Elaine, hello.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Judy. At the same time, the Bush administration is also looking ahead. Administration sources confirming today that President Bush will be receiving a visit from British Prime Minister Tony Blair on April 16 here at the White House. Now, sources saying that this meeting was planned weeks ago, but the topic of discussion will be Iraq and, specifically, the transfer of political power to the Iraqi people.

Now, at the same time, today, the president's focus was on the economy, as you mentioned. After he traveled to El Dorado, Arkansas, to speak at a community college there, the president trying to send a message that jobs do exist in the country and that American workers need to develop certain skills to better compete for them.

He talked about the need to place more emphasis on math and science in high schools. And the president is also proposing establishing a new public-private partnership to develop $100 million in grants to low-income students who study math or science. The president is also proposing incentives for math and science professionals from the private sector to teach in high schools. And as he did yesterday on a trip to Charlotte, the president cited a changing economy and said current and future job openings do exist in areas like technology, health care and advanced manufacturing.


BUSH: We want people to be prepared for the 21st century. That's what we want. We want to keep raising that bar. We want to make sure nobody gets left behind.

But, at the same time, we want to provide proper incentives so people can have hope in this country. That's what we're talking about. Listen, the jobs will be there. We're going to stay on the edge of technological change. We've just got to make sure people are prepared for the jobs.


QUIJANO: And the president insisting there, despite critics who point to unemployment levels, the president saying that future job openings do exist and American workers need to be ready -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Elaine at the White House. Thank you.

Democrat John Kerry, meanwhile, took his economic message to the showdown state of Ohio. Kerry offered a blistering critique of Bush economic policies and then he offered his own alternatives to noon- time crowd in Cincinnati.

Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is with me now for more -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Judy, what we got in Ohio was a little preview of some of what we will hear tomorrow when John Kerry gives a speech here in Washington to outline what aides say will be his budget framework, what he wants to do with the country, how he wants to move it forward economically. After having been on a vacation for about a week, followed by some R&R when he had some minor shoulder surgery, Kerry is back in the game trying to push back at some of the things that the Bush administration has been doing to try and define John Kerry.

First and foremost, the Bush camp has been pushing Kerry as just another Massachusetts liberal. Kerry is now flashing his conservative credentials.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you ran your household the way this administration has piled up $6 trillion of unpaid for proposals, you'd lose your home, you'd lose your car, and you'd lose your children's future. Tomorrow, I will lay out a speech in which I will set the principles by which this will be guided. And they will be real.


CROWLEY: Among other things, Kerry says that he will be able to cut the deficit in half in four years, as well as create 10 million jobs. Again, this is the second of three economic speeches Kerry will be giving.

Also, in the nature of pushback, one of the things that seems to have stuck, at least according to some of the polls we have seen, is the Bush charge that Kerry flip-flops on issues. Just to make their case, a small band of young Republicans showed up this afternoon in Cincinnati waving, you've got it, flip-flops. The senator was not amused.


KERRY: Obviously, some young Republicans are proving that they're very rude and they have no manners.


CROWLEY: Just all a part of the campaign trail, Judy. Again, tomorrow, a big speech, we're told, on the economy, showing himself as a fiscal conservative as compared to this conservative president.

WOODRUFF: Hmm, flip-flops. All right. What's next out on the campaign trail? Candy, thank you very much.

Well, Senator Edward Kennedy created quite a stir when he said that Iraq is George Bush's Vietnam. Coming up: Bruce Morton checks the record for similarities and differences between then and now.

I'll also talk with Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Chuck Hagel. He's quoted as saying the U.S. is "dangerously close to losing control on the ground in Iraq."

And later, Chuck Todd joins me with a look at the Bush-Kerry race in one of the most crucial showdown states.


WOODRUFF: The 2004 presidential race will likely come down to how George W. Bush and John Kerry do in some 17 or 18 so-called showdown states. One of them is Florida.

Joining us now with an update on the race is Chuck Todd. He's the editor-in-chief of The Hotline, an insider's political briefing produced every day by The National Journal.

All right. Chuck, let's talk about Florida. Last time, it was where everything happened. It was where the recount happened; everybody was focused on Florida. But what about in '04? Is Florida necessarily going to be a showdown again?

CHUCK TODD, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE HOTLINE: Well, it's still sort of this Alamo, remember the Alamo type battle cry for Democrats. But without the notoriety that it got in 2000, I don't think we would be talking about Florida as necessarily the ground zero, as some people are still wondering whether it will be. It will be more in the way -- Arizona is thought to be as a potential battleground. Something to watch, but still sort of have a Republican feel.

There's new numbers out today from Mason Dixon that show that there's still sort of an inherent and slight Republican advantage. Bush is over 50 when matched up against Kerry. And even when you put Bob Graham on the ticket with Kerry, the Democratic ticket still doesn't lead the state. It's still behind by a couple of points.

Never mind the fact that John Kerry's unfavorable rating is upside down. He's got a higher unfavorable rating than favorable rating. So it's really an uphill climb, I think, for Democrats right now.

WOODRUFF: But having said that, what sort of resources are these campaigns putting into Florida? Are they both taking it seriously?

TODD: Well, what's amazing is how serious the Republicans are. I mean, the Bush campaign is spending a disproportionate amount of money in Florida as compared to the rest of the 17 or 18 battleground states. They're in every single media market.

The Democrats, between Kerry and the 527 groups, they're matching them dollar for dollar in places like Orlando and Tampa, where they're swing voters, but they're ignoring some media markets in Florida, which some people question, is that a good idea? Because, at the end of the day, getting 537 more Democrats, whether they're in Pensacola or Jacksonville or Orlando is still the name of the game. And the Democrats are ignoring certain parts of the state.

WOODRUFF: Which brings me to the question, how much attention are they going to be paying to Florida later on?

TODD: I think we'll find out. You know, it depends on how much pull there is in Ohio, how much pull there is in other states, and what happens in that Senate primary.

WOODRUFF: Yes. And that's what I wanted to ask you about. What other forces are at work in Florida?

TODD: Yes. The open U.S. Senate seat; Bob Graham's not running for reelection. And unless he is picked to be John Kerry's running mate, he won't even be on the ballot at all.


TODD: The only Senate race, it seems, that Karl Rove and company cared about when it came to a candidate recruiting was Florida. They got Mel Martinez. If he can survive the bruising primary...


TODD: Former HUD secretary. If he survives the bruising primary, he might now have been able to find a better running mate on that ticket as compared to what he had running with him in the Senate in 2000.

WOODRUFF: And, finally, one other name that's come out on the vice presidential talk...

TODD: We're getting a little loony with the veep stakes. And, you know, we're as bad of abusers of it as anybody is. But Joe Biden is a name all of a sudden I've been hearing. A little bit about -- this came -- sort of leaked out from the Senate side of things.

Jim Johnson, the guy who's leading the search for John Kerry, has been bouncing ideas off of Democratic senators. And apparently, Joe Biden's name has come up a couple of times.

He is much friendlier with John Kerry than other Democratic senators. Maybe the personal relationship matters a lot there. Biden obviously has an expertise in foreign relations. As somebody characterized it to me, if it is Biden it certainly means the Democratic ticket, it's all foreign policy all the time.

WOODRUFF: And it's also two Northeastern Democrats.

TODD: Two Northeastern...

WOODRUFF: Senators.

TODD: ... senators who both love to talk a very long time sometimes.

WOODRUFF: Chuck Todd with The Hotline. Thank you very much. The Hotline, as we all know, is an insider's political briefing produced every day by The National Journal. You can go online to for subscription information.

Chuck, thank you very much.

In just a minute, we'll get updates from the presidential campaign trail. Our Bill Schneider has detected an interesting change. The Democratic Party could almost switch symbols from the donkey to the deficit hawk. I'll also talk about jobs and the economy with Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.



ANNOUNCER: Two campaigns, one issue: jobs.

BUSH: We're going to stay on the edge of technological change.

ANNOUNCER: The president riding the wave of last week's promising employment numbers.

His challenger, John Kerry, rolling out his own plan for job creation.

KERRY: The one person in the United States of America who deserves to be laid off is George W. Bush.

ANNOUNCER: But which message will sell?

Sharpen your pencils.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: We're assuming that this election will stay incredibly close. And the election is seven months away.

ANNOUNCER: Jeff Greenfield takes us to school with a little electoral math.



WOODRUFF: Welcome back.

For a second straight day, President Bush used a visit to a community college officially designed to highlight the importance of job training as a forum to defend U.S. policy in Iraq. The president's remarks come as U.S. and coalition forces battle Iraqi insurgents on several fronts.

Democratic hopeful John Kerry today said that U.S. policy in Iraq is part of what he called a, quote, "reckless and inept foreign policy." He also questioned the wisdom of the president's vow to hand over governmental control of Iraq on June 30.


SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is a mistake to set an arbitrary date, and I hope that date has nothing to do with the election here in the United States. The test of a turnover of sovereignty is the stability of Iraq. Not an arbitrary date.


WOODRUFF: President Bush, however, insists that the U.S. mission represents an historic opportunity.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will pass sovereignty on June 30. We will stay the course in Iraq. We're not going to be intimidated by thugs or assassins. We're not going to cut and run from the people who long for freedom because, you know what, we understand a free Iraq is an historic opportunity to help change the world to be more peaceful. That's what we understand in this country.


WOODRUFF: Along with Iraq, the other issue at the top of the presidential campaign agenda is the economy. Today both Bush and Kerry highlighted their plans for stimulating economic growth. Our Bill Schneider has been listening to their ideas, and he hears signs of what you might call a role reversal.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): The economic debate is taking an odd turn. Democrats have taken up what some would call a new and unfamiliar cause, fiscal responsibility.

KERRY: We will cut the deficit in half in four years.

SCHNEIDER: Once upon a time, Democrats mocked Republicans as guys in green eye shades who worried more about balancing the books than helping people. Now Democrats are putting on the green eye shades and accusing President Bush of...

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Mind boggling budget deficits that make Democrats look like budget balancers.

SCHNEIDER: Hey, it's working. Kerry has a big lead over President Bush on the issue of who would handle the deficit better? Now the problem is to connect the deficit to jobs. Like this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And they have a budget with such a tremendous deficit that it will hinder job growth.

SCHNEIDER: President Bush seems to be making the case for fiscal irresponsibility, deficit spending no, deficit tax cutting.

BUSH: Congress needs to make all the tax cuts we pass permanent in order to make sure this economic recovery lasts.

SCHNEIDER: And if it's not recovering fast enough, he's willing to use federal resources for job retraining, the sort of thing Democrats used to do. BUSH: That's not to cut back on the money. It's quite the contrary. It's to make sure the money we are spending prepares these youngsters for the jobs of the 21st century.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans argue the Democrats' new devotion to fiscal responsibility is just a way for them to justify raising taxes.

AD ANNOUNCER: John Kerry's plan, to pay for new government spending, raise taxes by at least $900 billion.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats scoff that Bush's tax cuts aren't producing anything but deficits, and what good is a tax cut if it gets eaten up by higher gas prices which the American Automobile Association reports have just reached the $1.77 a gallon.


SCHNEIDER: Do deficits matter to voters? Yes, if the economy is lousy. As it was in 1992, when Ross Perot ran on the deficit issue. But if the economy continues to pick up, voters are likely to have the same view of deficits they had during the FDR and LBJ years. What, me worry -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right. Bill Schneider, thanks very much.

And for more now on Iraq and the economy, I am joined by Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Senator, good to see you.

Given what Bill Schneider is reporting that many Americans may look at this deficit and think, OK, if jobs are coming back, which we hear they are, if the economy is doing pretty well, why should I care about the deficit? why isn't that a problem for John Kerry if he loses that as an issue?

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: Judy, we think that people do care about the deficit, not only individuals and households, but businesses as well. When the deficit is high and government spending is high and deficits are high, it robs the private sector of the capital they need to keep those jobs coming and building. And so we had a great example in the last administration of wrestling a deficit under control caused by previous Republican administrations, got that deficit under control, created a surplus, and George Bush has squandered that surplus. He's got additional spending proposals that are not completely accounted for of $6.5 trillion, Judy, in new spending. I think Americans are worried. They don't think he's been a good steward of the checkbook.

WOODRUFF: John Kerry has been making some of those very points out on the campaign trail. The Bush-Cheney campaign, however, is coming back and saying the president has kept, they say, non-defense spending increases to under 1 percent. They talk about John Kerry supporting tax increases, supporting spending on government programs. Way beyond what they say is anything that the president has supported.

LANDRIEU: Well, again, when the facts become clear -- and this White House has not always been forthcoming with all the facts and have been very good at spinning many issues, but when the facts come clear, Judy, you'll see that President Bush has $6.5 trillion in new spending proposals that are not paid for. He's run up one of the largest debts in history, one of the largest deficits in history. That is bad for business, and it's unsettling to Americans who like to see our government run in a very conservative, financially conservative manner, and I think they believe, Judy, they deserve that.

So the president came into office promising to keep the budget balanced. He's not. He's put in very expensive programs that are going to cost us and our children are going to have to pick up that debt. I think that's what worries people. It's that he's proposing these things with no attempt to pay for them and leaving the debt to be paid for by our children. This election is going to be, in large measure, about that issue.

WOODRUFF: Very quickly to two other things. One is I believe you're on the energy committee.


WOODRUFF: And as gas prices -- Bill Schneider just mentioned it in his report -- the price of gasoline is going up. But the Bush- Cheney campaign has turned around and said, but John Kerry has supported huge taxes on gasoline. How does he have any credibility on the question of prices -- the price of energy?

LANDRIEU: You know, they said the same thing about me when I was running for re-election. That's all they can say when they don't have real issues on their side. The fact is the president promised the country an energy bill. He hasn't been able to deliver one because he can't seem to forge the kind of consensus which executives need to step up and be able to forge. It's not just about the cost of energy. It's about leading, Judy, in a way that pulls the two sides together. More production and more conservation. I'll just tell you one issue. We put in conservation. The president -- Tom Delay took it out, and that's one of the reasons the bill is not moving forward.

WOODRUFF: Senator, let me turn you quickly to Iraq. Just a while ago, Senator John McCain, Republican, says he does believe that there need to be more U.S. troops sent into Iraq. Just listen quickly to what Senator McCain had to say.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: When I came back last August from Iraq, I said we needed more troops, thousands that were special forces, linguists, civil affairs type of people, that we'd be dealing with this new insurgency that we are now seeing in spades (p). Yes, I believe we need more, thousands more of the right kind of military personnel.


WOODRUFF: Is Senator McCain right? More troops need to go into Iraq to get the job done?

LANDRIEU: I'll tell you this. We need to stay the course, and we need to give the generals on the ground what they need to win this war. We can't be driven by arbitrary deadlines or political deadlines made by the White House or others. We need to be driven by military operations to win. Judy, we have a lot at stake in this war in Iraq. It's very important that Americans conduct this with respect and dignity and that we win and help establish that democracy. If the generals need more troops we need to send them.

WOODRUFF: Hans Blix today said that the costs of this war outweigh the benefits of removing Saddam Hussein. Do you agree with that?

LANDRIEU: I have not put that under the microscope, but I will tell you it's a very expensive war, and it's another thing that President Bush has not budgeted for. It's another cost he's passing on to our children. Judy, no president in my memory and in my knowledge has ever passed on such huge debts and deficits to the next generation and actually makes no apologies and continues on.

So, again, when we went to World War II, I know we borrowed a lot of money to get through the war. But we had a president that said everyone is going to sacrifice. This president says only sort of the poor, the middle class, the small businesses sacrifice. The wealthy gets tax credits, and our children pick up the tab. I don't think that's what Americans want, and I think they're going to reject that policy come November.

WOODRUFF: We're going to leave it there. Senator Mary Landrieu, Louisiana. Thank you very much. It's good to see you. We appreciate it.

And now checking the Tuesday headlines in our campaign news daily, a new poll finds President Bush leads John Kerry in Colorado. Bush has a 49 to 40 percent lead over John Kerry among likely voters in the state. Ralph Nader receives 4 percent. No Democratic presidential candidate has won Colorado since 1992.

Ralph Nader's presence on state ballots this fall is not a sure thing, as demonstrated last night in Oregon. 741 people signed Nader petitions at a rally in Portland but 1,000 names were needed to qualify for Oregon's ballot. Nader blamed the turnout on last night's college basketball championship. He now has to collect 15,000 names over a three-month period to get his name on Oregon's ballot.

Back here in the east, there's word that long-time Republican Congressman Amo Houghton (ph) is retiring. He's served nine terms in upstate New York compiling a mostly moderate voting record on social issues with more conservative votes on fiscal matters.

Iraq and terrorism are expected to dominate the headlines for the next few days, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is preparing to testify before the 9/11 Commission.

Even as U.S. forces battle insurgents in Iraq, how will both stories affect the presidential campaign? I'll compare notes with top strategists from both parties just ahead.


WOODRUFF: The insurgency in Iraq and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's Thursday morning session with the 9/11 Commission are both sure to have an impact on the presidential campaign trail. I'm joined now by Republican strategist Greg Mueller and by Ann Lewis of the Democratic National Committee's Women Votes Center. Greg, to you first. Senator Kennedy's, Ted Kennedy's charge yesterday, in effect, that Iraq will be George W. Bush's Vietnam. Could Senator Kennedy turn out to be right about that?

GREG MUELLER, GOP STRATEGIST: I don't think so, Judy. I think the more Senator Ted Kennedy talks, the better it is for George Bush, the more he aligns himself with John Kerry in this campaign, the better it is for Republicans. Vietnam was a much different war at a much different time. Senator McCain said that today. I think what this is indicative of is a new campaign strategy, kind of a very mean- spirited shrill tactics. We saw it a month ago when Senator John Kerry called people liars and crooks. He referred to, on the ski trails he called a Secret Service agent a very horrible name.

Now Senator Kennedy is coming at the Bush administration with these kind of shrill, mean-spirited tactics, and this is a new tone. Usually, Judy, these are the dying breaths of a lasting, foregoing campaign.

WOODRUFF: Ann Lewis, is that what this is, part of a mean- spirited onslaught?

ANN LEWIS, CHAIRWOMAN, DNC WOMEN'S VOTE CENTER: No, not at all. I think what you're hearing are the same questions the American people are asking as we hear the news from Iraq. Very troubling questions being raised that go to credibility and to confidence. I have to say, unfortunately, George Bush's credibility is what's being shredded these days. Just such a gap between what the president told us a year ago, two years ago, and what we're hearing today. There are still questions about those famous weapons of mass destruction that turn out not to have been there.

Real questions about why we went to war on Iraq on this timetable and most of all, what's our plan for getting out? What's our plan to succeed? As John Kerry has said, we have to succeed. There's a lot at stake. But what's it going to take? Why didn't the administration do the kind of planning to face the circumstances we have now?

WOODRUFF: Speaking of planning, Condoleezza Rice's testimony this Thursday, Greg, before the 9/11 Commission, how much is riding on what she has to say?

MUELLER: Well, I think there's a lot riding on it, but I think she's probably the best spokesman we could have up there right now. She's a very eager and capable woman. She knows best what went on in those first nine months of George Bush's presidency. I think it's important for the country to know, and the president has advocated and supported that. But I think a lot more is going to come out, Judy. Look, for eight years Bill Clinton could have gotten Osama bin Laden, and he didn't. We had the World Trade Center bombings in 1993, and we did nothing. The Cole bombings, we did nothing. The embassy bombings. We did nothing. Now we find out in a report today in the "Washington Times" that a 45,000-page report that Bill Clinton's office gave to George Bush, Osama bin Laden is a typo, Judy, and al Qaeda is never even mentioned. So I think this strategy could backfire on the Democrats if they think they're getting anything out of it.

WOODRUFF: What about that? What about the Clinton response?

LEWIS: I would be happy to have us look at the record of the Clinton years. And remember it was the Clinton administration that prevented the millennium terrorist attacks because we were on top of it because, as Richard Clarke will tell you, we had an active counterterrorism operation. I will add that I guess the Republican research operation has now found one document by Bill Clinton that only mentioned Osama bin Laden four times. That's four times as often as George Bush did in any of the documents he sent in his first year. No comparison, unfortunately.

Under the Clinton administration we were sending predator surveillance planes to look at what was happening. The Bush administration stopped that surveillance. So I think a very appropriate question to ask of Dr. Rice was was terrorism, al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, as high on the agenda as it should have been? Why were there 100 principals meetings about national security and only once was the subject about terrorism?

WOODRUFF: The chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Greg Mueller, I want to ask you about this, too. They both said they think 9/11 could have been prevented if enough had been done. So where does that -- where is that going to lead this campaign?

MUELLER: Well, I think the campaign is going to continue to be, which is good for George Bush, a campaign in the war on terror and whether or not we're prosecuting this war appropriately. I think George Bush is going to win hands down on that. Two-thirds of al Qaeda has been either caught or killed. Saddam Hussein is behind bars. The Taliban are no longer ruling in Afghanistan, Judy.

I think also again, the Democrats thinking that George Bush is somehow to blame for 9/11, I don't think there's an American voter that's going to believe that. Bill Clinton had eight years to fix this mess, and he left us with a big one.

LEWIS: Let's talk about where we are. I heard those comments on Sunday. I must say I was startled by them. Did we do all we could? No one's perfect. No one can see everything. But did this administration understand how serious the danger was from terrorism from the forces of al Qaeda and there are some very troubling questions that perhaps they did not.

WOODRUFF: All right. Ann Lewis, Greg Mueller, great to see both of you. Thank you very much for coming by. We appreciate it. I am told we have breaking news out of Iraq. We are going to have an update as soon as we come back from this short break.


WOODRUFF: It is just after midnight in Iraq where we hear of breaking news of a new Shiite offensive against U.S. troops in that country. Our Wolf Blitzer joins me now with the very latest. Wolf, what have you learned?

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS": I'm hearing from a high-level source here in Washington, a U.S. government official, Judy, that the Shiites loyal to this radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have now started what is being described almost as a classical military offensive against U.S. physicians, military physicians, largely marine positions, in this area in and around Ramadi. That's in the so-called Sunni Triangle just north, as you can see, of Fallujah.

These are, I'm told by a high-level U.S. official, these are Shiites who have launched this military offensive using weaponry against marines, and it's being described, in -- one official is describing it as ugly, a significant development, a major development, in fact, coming as it is during this religious holiday period for Shiites, April 11 ends a 40-day mourning period. And Muqtada al-Sadr, I am being told is, quote, "whooping up his supporters," especially in the aftermath of this arrest warrant that was issued for him yesterday. and they have launched an offensive against U.S. marine positions in Ramadi. This is not simply a roadside explosive, an improvised device or anything, Judy, this is a more serious military offensive, something we really haven't seen in a long time in Iraq.

WOODRUFF: Now, Wolf, we've heard some in the Bush administration describe the cleric al-Sadr as someone with a limited following, someone who did not have a large following across the country, that he was someone with -- who potentially they weren't that worried about. So what does this represent?

BLITZER: He does have a limited following, but there are still significant numbers that are loyal to this Muqtada al-Sadr. He's the son of a very, very important Shiite leader who was killed years ago, presumably by Saddam Hussein's regime, and he is now wanted in connection with the killing of another Shiite cleric, a moderate Shiite cleric, who had come from England back to Iraq in the aftermath of the war, someone who was working with the West.

And now he is under -- he's wanted for arrest himself. But this is -- this is a new development, a significant development, and I'm told the fighting is underway right now, Judy. And that it's been going on sort of beginning for the last couple days, but only in the past few hours has it significantly intensified. And there are casualties. It's unclear who's taking the brunt of the casualties, but there are casualties. I have no specific numbers.

WOODRUFF: Wolf, we know that the military commander in Iraq, General Abizaid, has been talking in the last few days, about whether it is wise to think of sending more U.S. troops over there. Is it your understanding that there are enough U.S. soldiers, troops there, marines and soldiers, to handle this kind of an insurgency that you're describing?

BLITZER: It's still very murky. All the specific details of what's happening in Ramadi, other than that it's being described as a significant military offensive being launched against U.S. marines. I don't know if General Abizaid, who's the central commander, whether his request yesterday for options to beef up the number of troops in Iraq is directly related to this latest offensive there or if it came before the apparent Shiite revolt that is now moving against U.S. forces in Ramadi. But it's clear that, to some officials, so some, including Senator John McCain, for some time as you well know, Judy, he's been saying the U.S. doesn't have enough forces on the ground in Iraq and needs some reinforcements quickly.

WOODRUFF: So, again, Wolf, just to clarify, this information coming from a top -- a high-level U.S. government official. We're not saying who they are, but it is someone who clearly is well plugged in?

BLITZER: That's correct. And we're getting this from at least three separate sources here in Washington, U.S. sources suggesting that this is a major military offensive now underway in and around Ramadi involving U.S. marines who are there. It's not far away from Fallujah. We're told, whereas in Fallujah, this was a Sunni loyalist to Saddam Hussein attack against those four civilian American contractors last week, this is a separate operation. We're being told it's being promoted, stirred up, if you will, by Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric who's now wanted for arrest in Iraq.

WOODRUFF: All right. CNN's Wolf Blitzer reporting this breaking news from top level government officials about this uprising, a concerted effort, a coordinated effort by the followers of the cleric, the Shiite cleric, al-Sadr. Clearly, this is an important story, important development. CNN will be following it in the hours to come. Wolf, thank you very much. And, of course, Wolf will be back on the air at 5:00 Eastern with the very latest on this. CNN will be following it in the meantime as well. INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.


WOODRUFF: CNN will continue to monitor that breaking news out of Iraq. Our own Wolf Blitzer just reporting a major offensive by the Shiite followers of the cleric al-Sadr. U.S. government officials saying there is significant fighting going on in a number of areas just outside and around the Sunni Triangle. Updates as they develop. That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. "CROSSFIRE" starts now.


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