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JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS
President Bush Comments on Deadly Attack in Iraq; Terror Concerns; Interviews With Former Defense Secretary William Cohen, Senators Jon Corzine and Harry Reid
Aired December 21, 2004 - 15:29 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: A very deadly day in Iraq.
BRIG. GEN. CARTER HAM, U.S. ARMY: The killed include U.S. military personnel, U.S. contractors, foreign national contractors and Iraqi Army.
ANNOUNCER: We'll tell you what happened over there and what Americans are saying back here.
Are you worried that terrorists will strike again here in the U.S.?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most Americans seems to recognize that there are some interesting, troubling events ahead in the next couple of weeks.
ANNOUNCER: We've got new poll numbers out there hour in our "CNN Security Watch."
Why did more black voters cast ballots for President Bush in November than they did four years ago? We'll ask a top black leader in Congress.
ANNOUNCER: Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.
President Bush has said Iraqi insurgents are trying to shake the will of Iraqis and Americans. And today's deadly strike against a U.S. military base is perhaps the most dramatic example of those efforts.
The large explosion ripped through a crowded mess hall around noon Iraq time near the city of Mosul. The U.S. military confirms now that 22 people were killed in the blast, 19 of them members of the U.S. armed forces. Fifty-seven others were wounded.
In addition to U.S. soldiers, civilian contractors from the U.S. and other countries and members of the Iraqi army were also in the building at the time of the attack. The names of the victims are being withheld while their families are notified.
A Muslim group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the claim has not been verified. The commander of the U.S. force -- of U.S. Task Force Olympia, which has 8,500 troops in the area, says the attack is under investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HAM: It's a sad day in Mosul. But as they always do, soldiers will come back from that. And they will do what they can do best to honor those who were fallen today, and that is to see this very important mission through to a successful completion. That's what we owe you, the American people, and that's what we owe the people of Iraq. And that is exactly what we shall do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: Brigadier General Carter Ham.
President Bush has just commented on today's deadly attack in Iraq. And for more on that, let's go to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveax.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Just moments ago that President Bush, leaving the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he actually visited with some wounded soldiers, commented about that terrible attack on Mosul. I'm paraphrasing what he said.
He said that it was -- took a lot of lives. At any time of the year there's a look like that. It is sorrowful, but this type -- this time of year in particular he says, "My heartfelt condolences go out to the loved ones who were killed. We have a vital mission of peace."
He went on to say that Iraq is a place of tyranny and hatred, but that we are at a hopeful moment. Again, he thanked the soldier and their families for their sacrifice. This coming, of course, as White House officials acknowledge that the strategy is to warn the American people about the challenges and the potential dangers, the increased dangers as we get close to the Iraqi elections.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president mourns the loss of life and prays for the families of those who were killed. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. The terrorists and Saddam loyalists are desperately seeking to derail the transition to democracy and freedom in Iraq. The enemies of freedom understand the stakes involved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Now, White House -- White House officials acknowledge that this is certainly a delicate balancing act for the administration. On the one hand, of course, acknowledging the difficulties and the challenges. But on the other hand, trying to portray a sense of optimism and hope that ultimately this will work in the end.
And President Bush, of course, yesterday reiterating that he still has a great deal of faith in his secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, despite much of the fire that he has come under in the last week or so. One official telling me that he is dedicated, that he is a problem solver, and that he is under the hood working on this as a top priority -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right. Suzanne, thank you very much. And when we get the videotape of what the president had to say in just a few minutes we're going to run that live. Suzanne, thank you very much.
Well, as U.S. forces continue to face attack, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld continues to defend his strategy for protecting them. In a column in today's "USA Today" newspaper, Rumsfeld revisited the question that he received from a soldier in Kuwait recently about the lack of armor for some U.S. vehicles in Iraq. Rumsfeld writes, "His question was a fair one and I share his impatience."
Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, however, remains unhappy with Rumsfeld's leadership. Speaking about U.S. forces, Hagel was quoted in the "Lincoln, Nebraska, Journal Star" as saying, "These men and women deserve leadership that is worthy of them." Hagel went on to say that when Rumsfeld "flippantly dismisses a soldier's question," in Hagel's words, "that is not worthy."
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, meanwhile, is coming to Rumsfeld's defense. The Texas Republican released a statement saying, "Don Rumsfeld is a historic figure at the Pentagon." DeLay also questioned the motivation of Rumsfeld's critics.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: Donald Rumsfeld works at being secretary of defense 24/7. He's the hardest working man I have ever known. He's also a man of great character.
He has great feelings for these soldiers. He cares about them. But his critics are going to look for everything, even something as little as this.
They are looking for anything to criticize him. And I think all this criticism is ill-conceived and ill-timed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
On the "CNN Security Watch" this Tuesday, the threat of terrorism here at home. Iraq dominates this day's headlines, of course. And as this new CNN poll shows, Americans rank Iraq just ahead of terrorism on top of the list of issues they consider extremely or very important. But, more than three years after the 9/11 attacks, terrorism clearly remains a high priority. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
WOODRUFF (voice-over): The question for Americans, are you worried that you or a family member will be the victim of a terrorist attack? We asked that over the weekend.
In our latest CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll, 41 percent of those surveyed say yes. That is down from 47 percent in October. But we were in the heat of the presidential campaign back then. And authorities were warning of possible attacks.
TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: This afternoon we do have new and unusually specific information about where al Qaeda would like to attack. And as a result, today the United States government is raising the threat level to code orange.
WOODRUFF: But what about the more immediate question? Do you think there will be a terrorist attack here in the U.S. in the next few weeks? Forty-eight percent of those polled say an attack is very or somewhat likely. Just over half say it's not likely. When asked if the country will suffer a major attack next year, 36 percent said yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most Americans seem to recognize that there are some interesting troubling events ahead in the next couple of weeks: Christmas, New Year's, the U.S. inauguration, the Iraqi election. I think a lot of Americans recognize that once we get past the troubling events the threat of terrorism may lessen.
WOODRUFF: So, do Americans think terrorism is an extremely important issue that the government needs to tackle? Just under half said yes. While that is still a high number, it is down from 59 percent when we asked the same question in 2003.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The public seems to recognize one important fact. There hasn't been a terrorist attack on U.S. soil in several years. Whatever the government has been doing, they have been doing it right.
WOODRUFF: "CNN Security Watch" continues at 6:00 Eastern tonight. Lou Dobbs examines the tough job of implementing the new intelligence reform law.
Stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.
Just a short time ago, I discussed today's attack near Mosul and the overall situation in Iraq with CNN world affairs analyst and former U.S. secretary of defense, William Cohen. I started by asking him if the Iraqi insurgents can hit inside a supposedly secure military base. Is anyone or any place inside Iraq truly safe?
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, it's very difficult to provide absolute security anywhere in a country like Iraq at this time. Even though you have secure areas or perimeters that basically are patrolled, nonetheless, you can have a sort of drive-by launching of mortars that are not terribly accurate. But they can get very lucky, particularly if they have inside information.
And that has to be at least one considered assumption here, that someone working with the coalition forces on the inside was able to provide information in terms of the timing of when most of the soldiers would be there, where they would be. And so it's a combination in all probability of planning on the part of the insurgents and having access to information and getting also lucky, because these mortars are not usually very precise. You need a lot of bracketing in order to get any kind of precision. So a combination of all.
WOODRUFF: But if that's the case, what's to stop this sort of attack from happening every day from now until the election and even after the January election?
COHEN: Well, I think we have to anticipate there's going to be much more of this to come. This is not going to be the end of it. That is what is the terrible price that we're all paying in not being able to have really suppressed and destroyed the enemy as such and posed our will from the very beginning.
And so we're likely to see an intensification of these types of attacks, which are not impossible, but quite nearly impossible to protect against because they're so hit and run. And there are vulnerabilities inevitably in having operations, whether you're in a dining room or sleeping quarters, or moving to your vehicles, or starting out to go on patrol. There are always going to be vulnerabilities.
WOODRUFF: So is the administration, the Bush administration, are they realistic to argue that things in Iraq will either stabilize or begin to stabilize after the elections?
COHEN: I think it's too early to tell. That is the hope, that once there is this transition or transformation, if we can use that word, to a "legitimate" Iraqi government that that will change at least the mindset of many of the Iraqi people themselves and get them more invested in their own security.
But I think it's also quite clear, given the lack of security as we see it today, it's going to require the United States forces to be there for some time to come and will take a lot more planning and training to get the Iraqi forces trained to the extent that they can provide protection for themselves. It's not going to be easy.
WOODRUFF: As someone who is the former defense secretary, you talked to people inside and outside the military community, the Pentagon, all the time. How many more casualties do you think the United States and the Iraqis can endure? COHEN: Well, I think the number is not definable at the moment. I think that the American people will continue to support the president of the United States as long as they are convinced that this is going to -- is light at the end of the tunnel.
I think if the people become satisfied that progress is not being made, that if the Iraqi government is not going to be able to maintain security, that the insurgents are going to continue to spread, if they have that sentiment that sets in, it will be very difficult to support publicly -- the American people supporting the president. So we've got a lot of hard work ahead. I think it's going to require a lot more in the way of American forces.
I would hope that the Arab population would see this as an opportunity to say, we really have to come in and help now. This is the future. More insurgency, if they are successful, that entire region is going to become destabilized. Their futures are very much at stake in this case.
So we need Arab support, we need Muslim support, as well as the international community. But in the meantime, we're going to be carrying the heavy load.
WOODRUFF: On a day like this, is there anything you see positive coming out of Iraq?
COHEN: Well, there are areas that are proceeding with reconstruction. There are buildings that are being put up. There are healthcare facilities that are being furnished and furbished. There are some very positive things taking place.
These types of attacks upon the soldiers are designed to discourage the Iraqis, to try and demoralize the American troops and the American people. And that's one thing that we really can't afford to have happen right now.
We've got to show the Iraqi people that we are there for the long hall, that we are going to be there tone sure their security and to train them as best we can in the short term so they can take part in their own security and future. Absent that, if they are not going to be invested, and if there aren't enough troops we can put on the ground to save the country in terms of its future.
WOODRUFF: CNN analyst and former U.S. defense secretary, William Cohen.
And once again, we are waiting for that videotape of President Bush's comments. Just a short time ago he commented on today's attack on the military base inside Iraq.
Their relationship has been a tense one, but today President Bush and the outgoing head of the NAACP held a meeting at the White House. Details just ahead.
Plus, a live interview with the new head of the Congressional Black Caucus.
In Missouri, a murdered pregnant woman whose fetus was stolen is remembered by her loved ones. A live report on Bobbie Jo Stinnett's funeral coming up.
And some tough talk from new Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid.
WOODRUFF: Funeral services are under way this hour in Missouri for Bobbie Jo Stinnett. The 23-year-old pregnant woman was strangled and her fetus cut from her womb last week. A Kansas woman is now charged with this horrible crime.
CNN's Jonathan Freed is with us now from Maryville, Missouri.
JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Judy.
I can tell you that the funeral services for Bobbie Jo Stinnett have just ended. People are filing out of the funeral home now. And we are waiting for the hearse to leave the procession about 12 miles away from here, to Skidmore, Missouri, which is the home of the Stinnett family.
I can tell you that the person who delivered the eulogy today at the funeral service in Maryville was Harold Hammond. Now, he is the pastor at the Skidmore Christian Church, and he is the person who married -- who married Bobbie Jo and her husband Kevin.
Now, one of the things that he told CNN earlier that he pointed out -- that he was going to point out in the eulogy, was he was going to say how beautiful he remembered Bobbie Jo being on her wedding day. This -- there was a very, very large turn-out today here, Judy. And not just because of the horrific nature of the death.
People here are telling us how much Bobbie Jo was able to reach out and touch them. She was seen as a very sweet and kind young woman. And they just cannot believe that she is gone -- Judy.
It is such an incomprehensible thing that happened. We appreciate it. Thank you very much. Jonathan Freed with us from Maryville, Missouri.
We'll be right back.
WOODRUFF: The United States military has confirmed that U.S. -- the number of U.S. deaths in that attack on a military base in Mosul, Iraq, is now 19. Nineteen were killed -- Americans were killed. In addition, we are told that three others of unknown nationality died as well. This was the deadliest single incident for U.S. troops since the start of the war in Iraq. Just a short time ago, President Bush, who has been visiting wounded troops today in -- at the Walter Reed Army Hospital, talked with reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... a remarkable place called the Fisher House, a facility where wounded soldiers and their families are provided comfort during their trials. And we just want to thank the people who have supported the Fisher House. I thank the folks here at Walter Reed for providing such incredible care.
Today we had a rocket attack that took a lot of lives. Any time of the year is a time of sorrow and sadness when we lose a loss of life. This time of year is particularly sorrowful for the families as we head into the Christmas season.
We pray for them. We send our heartfelt condolences to the loved ones who suffered today.
I just want them to know that the mission, it's a vital mission for peace. The idea of a democracy taking hold and -- it was a place of tyranny and hatred and destruction is such a hopeful moment in the history of the world.
And I want to thank the soldiers who are there. I want to thank those who have sacrificed and the families who are worried about them during this Christmas season for their sacrifices.
It's a very important and vital mission. I'm confident democracy will prevail in Iraq. I know a free Iraq will lead to a more peaceful world. And so we ask for god's blessings on all who were involved in that vital mission.
Thank you very much. Have a good holiday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: President Bush commenting just a short time ago as he left Fisher House. This is a place where soldiers wounded in Iraq and have spent time at Walter Reed Army Hospital. This is a halfway house, a home they can stay in before they go home to live with their families.
Again, 19 American troops killed today in a single attack. The worst single attack incident for U.S. troops since the start of the war.
We'll be right back.
WOODRUFF: In an apparent fence-mending move, President Bush sat down -- sat down today with the outgoing president of the NAACP, Kweisi Mfume.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KWEISI MFUME, NAACP PRESIDENT: I do hope, however, that it does at least begin the process for future dialogue between the administration and the NAACP.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: A Bush administration officials says the White House meeting was requested by Mfume, who leaves his post on New Year's Eve. During the presidential campaign, relationships between Mr. Bush and the nation's oldest civil rights organization were tense.
As Mfume gets ready to step down, Congressman Mel Watt is preparing to take over as head of the Congressional Black Caucus. The North Carolina Democrat is with us now from Charlotte.
Kweisi Mfume, you just heard him say -- he's someone you know very well -- he said this is a process -- he hopes what will be the beginning of a process of communication between the NAACP and the White House. Is that good?
REP. MELVIN WATT (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, I think communication with any group in this country and the president is good. He needs to be communicating with the NAACP. He needs to be communicating with the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus. Every aspect of America should be communicated with by the president.
WOODRUFF: You have just been elected head, as we just said, of the Congressional Black Caucus. It's 43 members of the caucus, all of them Democrats, at a time when the Republicans have taken over the White House once again, they have increased their numbers in the Senate and the House. Do you feel kind of like a voice in the wilderness here?
WATT: No, I don't feel like a voice in the wilderness. The Congressional Black Caucus has never been either a Republican organization or a Democratic organization. It just so happens that all of our members currently are Democrats because the Republicans have not elected an African-American either to the House or to the Senate.
But our agenda will really be the same. It's not about who is in the White House or whether they are Republicans or Democrats. It's about trying to advance the agenda that the Congressional Black Caucus rallies behind.
WOODRUFF: And what are the main points of your agenda?
WATT: Well, we expect to have a retreat on January 5, the day after I officially become the chair, to define that agenda. And shortly after that my anticipation is to reduce it to writing and invite the president to support the agenda and to engage us in ongoing dialogue and regular dialogue in support of our agenda. And I think that's the part of what I'm looking forward to doing. WOODRUFF: Your predecessor, Congressman Elijah Cummings, of Maryland, said -- he said of you, he said, "Mel is going to be called on more and more to stand up against some of the, 'ultra-conservative efforts of the administration.'"
Do you anticipate that's what is going to be going on?
WATT: Well, I certainly don't anticipate coming out of the gate in that way. My anticipation is to try to reach out to the Republican president, to the Republican and Democratic leadership in the House, to the Republican and Democratic leadership in the Senate, and engage them in support of the Congressional Black Caucus's agenda.
And what kind of response we get to that, I guess, will determine whether I'm confronting them or working with them. But I'm not starting this process anticipating that it will be perpetual, ongoing confrontation on a daily basis.
WOODRUFF: How aggressive do you think you are going to need to be to get some or all or any of what your priorities are?
WATT: Well, I think most of the American people support what our priorities are, which are really democratic priorities, equality priorities, closing disparities, eliminating disparities between African-American citizens and white citizens. That's the aspiration of every American citizen, to have equality in this country. And I think that's an aspiration that is shared by a great, great majority of the American people. So what we want the president to do is to support us in eliminating those disparities and working with us to -- to eradicate them, not to make them larger.
WOODRUFF: Representative Mel Watt, from North Carolina, newly- elected chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. We thank you very much.
WATT: Thank you so much.
WOODRUFF: And we look forward to talking to you in the new term.
WATT: Look forward to it.
WOODRUFF: Well, he said he's earned political capital and he's going to send it -- or to spend it to pass his agenda. But are the president's priorities the same as yours? We'll take a look when we return.
Plus, will the nation's capital finally land a baseball team? We'll have the latest score in the political slugfest over the Washington Nationals.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: It's just after 4:00 on the East Coast. And as the markets get set to close on Wall Street, I'm joined by Kitty Pilgrim in New York with "The Dobbs Report." Hello, Kitty. KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Judy. Thanks. Well, the Dow industrials are closing at their highest level in three and a half years. At this level, the Dow has gained nearly 50 percent since October 2002 and that's when the Dow bottomed out. You can see it right there. As the final trades are being counted, the Dow industrials adding 97, 99 points right now. The Nasdaq is about one percent higher.
Pfizer's shares rebounded 2 percent, that's after a two-day sell- off. And ironically, Pfizer was helped by a report the question the safety of another painkiller, naproxen. Well, it's often sold over- the-counter under the brand name Aleve. There's been quite a lot of scrutiny on painkilling drugs lately. Four have come under question. Merck's Vioxx was withdrawn in September and Pfizer is under fire for Bextra and Celebrex.
Well, now a government study showed that naproxen could give patients who took the drug a 50 percent greater risk of heart attack. That study also said Celebrex carried no increased risk of heart attack. Aleve is made by Bayer. It's the first over-the-counter medication to come under fire.
Well, there are tough new measures now on smokers. Companies are beginning to eliminate smokers from their ranks to cut healthcare costs. "The Wall Street Journal" says some firms are insisting job applicants take tests for nicotine and disclose their smoking habits on job applications. And other companies are telling current employees to quit the habit or quit their job.
Weyco, a medical benefits company in Michigan, says employees must give up smoking by next year. They're going to be tested for nicotine and fired if the test turns up positive. Michigan is one of the only states that can make smoking a condition of employment.
Author J.K. Rowling has turned over the sixth installment in the best-selling series "Harry Potter." And the new book is "Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince." It's going to go on sale next year, July 16th, they think. Publisher Scholastic says it will cost under $30. It's bound to make record sales. The fifth book in the series made publishing history by selling five million copies within 24 hours. Now, overall, more than a quarter of a billion Harry Potter books have been sold worldwide in 60 languages.
Coming up on CNN at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on "LOB DOBBS TONIGHT," we continue with series "Holiday Homefront," where we recognize Americans sending holiday cheer to U.S. troops serving abroad. And then we'll talk to Senator Bob Graham, who says the hardest part of the intelligence overhaul still lies ahead.
Plus, we'll take a look inside Iraq's long history of countries -- other countries fighting for its oil. Author Edwin Black talks about his book, "Banking on Baghdad." That's all at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. But for now, back to Judy Woodruff.
WOODRUFF: Kitty, thanks very much. And INSIDE POLITICS continues right now. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You've heard the agenda. Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror.
ANNOUNCER: That's the president's agenda. But are your priorities the same? We'll tell you what Americans say is important.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will not let this administration destroy the most successful social program in the history of the world, Social Security. We will not let that happen.
ANNOUNCER: Fighting words from a former boxer. But will be the incoming Senate Democratic leader be able to back up his punches?
He's one of the richest men in Congress. Now he's making a bid to become New Jersey's next governor. We'll speak with Jon Corzine.
Now, live from Washington, Judy Woodruff's INSIDE POLITICS.
It is a dramatic and deadly refined reminder of the steep challenges facing the U.S. effort to bring peace and security to Iraq. U.S. military officials confirm that 22 people were killed in today's multiple rocket attack on a mess hall at a U.S. military base near Mosul.
19 of those killed were U.S. military personnel. 57 others were wounded. The attack on the mess hall came around noon local time when the building, a tent, was crowded with personnel who had gathered for lunch. A short time ago, President Bush commented on today's attack after visiting with soldiers here in Washington who are recovering from more injuries.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Today we had a rocket attack that took a lot of lives. Any time of the year is a time of sorrow and sadness when we lose a loss of life. This time of year is particularly sorrowful for the families as we head into the Christmas season. We pray for them. We send our heartfelt condolences to the loved ones who suffered today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
The effort to secure Iraq forms the backdrop to much of the president's second term agenda. Our Bill Schneider has more now on how the public views the president's stated plans for the next four years.
BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush announced his second term agenda just after the election.
BUSH: You've heard the agenda. Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror.
SCHNEIDER: The CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll asked Americans to rate the importance of 18 different issues. At the top of the list, the only issue a majority of Americans rated extremely important -- Iraq. Followed by terrorism, with just under a majority.
What about President Bush's other top priorities? The public rates Social Security fairly high. Taxes, much lower. And remember all the talk about moral values after the election? Abortion and same-sex marriage were at the very bottom of the list. Concern over terrorism, while still high, has been dropping. Americans seem to feel safer. Why?
BUSH: Our country is also safer because of the historic changes that have come around the world in places like Afghanistan.
SCHNEIDER: Does the public think there will be a major terrorist attack in the U.S. over the next year? Nearly 60 percent say no. Are people worried they or someone in their family will become a victim of terrorism? Nearly 60 percent say they're not worried at all or not too worried. With Americans feeling more secure, President Bush is ready to move on his domestic agenda.
BUSH: The Social Security reform will be at the top of my agenda.
SCHNEIDER: But the public is split right down the middle over allowing workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes in private accounts. The public's agenda is dominated by Iraq, an issue that's been growing in importance.
MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET): The American public, that's the other tipping point we have to watch for. How long will the American public stick with this when our kids are getting killed every day and there does not look like there's light at the end of the tunnel?
SCHNEIDER: The light at the end of the tunnel is supposed to be next month's election in Iraq. Until that light goes on, the rest of President Bush's agenda could be left in the dark.
Bill Schneider, CNN, Los Angeles.
WOODRUFF: Thank you, Bill.
Well, Senator Jon Corzine is one outspoken critic of the way the Bush administration is handling the situation in Iraq. The New Jersey Democrat is with us from New York to talk about Iraq and other political issues, including his plan to run for governor of his home state. Senator Corzine, thank you for being with us.
SEN. JON CORZINE, (D) NEW JERSEY: Good to be here, Judy.
WOODRUFF: You are -- and before I ask you about the race for governor, you are a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. What are the questions you're going to be asking in the wake of this terrible attack today?
CORZINE: Well, Judy, I think unfortunately many of the same questions that have been asked need to be asked again. Do we have the right amount of troop on the ground? We've heard from the very beginning of this confrontation that we did not size the number of troops properly, we didn't protect our troops.
We're going to ask whether we've done everything we need to do to secure the weapons caches that are scattered around this country. Where are they coming up with missiles that allow this to happen? What are we doing to secure the borders? There's a number of these questions that have been in place since the very first days of this invasion into Iraq and the very first days of the insurgency.
WOODRUFF: Do you think the country will be stable after the elections, assuming they're held?
CORZINE: Well, I believe that's way premature to try to speculate about. I suspect that, given the power and the breadth of the number of insurgents that we see participating, the breadth across the country, it's highly unlikely that the election's going to change that. In fact, if it doesn't look credible to the people in Iraq, I think it may actually foment more.
WOODRUFF: Just quickly, Senator, I read from the Associated Press that one reporter who was embedded with the main national guard engineer battalion said he had heard a lot of discussion among the troops before today's attack about the vulnerability of this mess hall in a tent.
CORZINE: Well, you know, the security arrangements are not what they should be because we haven't put enough troops on the ground. It's a very simple process at least in military minds, at least in the testimony we've heard before Congress. And this administration, the defense department has refused to take a different point of view than what they began with. They've stayed with it. They have been stubborn. And I think it has been very costly in lives, casualties, across the board and it's unfortunate. That's why we're having this debate about the continued credibility of Secretary Rumsfeld. If we can't change our policies and think that we need to evolve when things aren't working out the way we had expected, then I think you've got to question the people that are making the decisions.
WOODRUFF: Senator, let's talk about your race for governor. You spent $63 million four years ago to get elected to the Senate. Why now turn around and run for governor?
CORZINE: Well, I think that there are a number of issues that I've worked on very strongly in the United States Senate that I think can be applied to the concerns of the people of New Jersey as potentially their next governor. We have huge budgetary problems. A lot of them brought on by shortfalls in federal support for education mandates, health mandates, environmental clean-up, lots of issues that I've thought were important on my agenda in the Senate that need to be addressed in New Jersey. We have a $4 billion operating budget deficit, we have very large unfunded pension liabilities. Sounds almost like Social Security. We have homeland security issues particularly in those areas where we have high threat concentrations and the federal government is allocating money out on a flat basis to states. In my view, it's an extraordinary challenge to make a real difference in the lives of the people of New Jersey.
WOODRUFF: Senator, let me quote the chairman of the New Jersey Republican party. You won't be surprised to know he's critical. His name is Tom Wilson. He's talking about you. He says, "his blind ambition takes the form of spending just four short years in the U.S. Senate having accomplished nothing of note and saying, now I should be governor. What has he done to deserve this promotion? Nothing."
CORZINE: Tom Wilson is not exactly an independent analyst on these issues. I think most people who would look at my record whether it's with regard to corporate reform, whether it's dealing with homeland security on chemical plants security, talking about threat- based allocation of resources, whether it is working on educational programs, financial literacy to say that I have had a very active and productive period in my early days in the United States Senate. I think I can do more for the people of New Jersey by bringing credibility, ethics, financial credibility, and dealing with some of these issues that impacts their specific lives. I'd like to have a chance to do that and that's what I'm going to try to talk to the people of New Jersey about and let them decide.
WOODRUFF: All right. Senator Jon Corzine now about to run or starting to run for governor of his home state of New Jersey. Senator, good to see you. Thank you very much. We appreciate it.
The incoming leader of Senate Democrats speaks out. Up next, a conversation with Harry Reid of Nevada about his plans to rebuild his party.
And Tennessee Republicans may be looking to Hollywood for a big name candidate. Details ahead in our political bites segment.
WOODRUFF: The new Senate Democrat leader Harry Reid has been saying he would rather dance than fight with President Bush when it comes to the second term agenda. Some Democrats have been urging Reid to get tough. He did just that in an interview last night with our own congressional correspondent Ed Henry who is with me now. So, Ed, what did he say?
ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Harry Reid is still saying that he wants to dance with the president sometimes but this former amateur fighter is taking off the dancing shoes and slipping on the boxing gloves.
(voice-over): Even before Tuesday's bombing in Mosul, Senator Reid took aim at the president's claim that life in Iraq has gotten better in the year since Saddam Hussein has captured.
SEN. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: I think the president is looking at it through a different pair of glasses than I am.
HENRY: Reid asserted that Republican attacks on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reflect deeper concern within the president's party.
REID: I think it's their way of enunciating how poorly they feel things are going in Iraq. We have 1,300 dead American soldiers. We have thousands whose have been injured, many of whom very badly injured. We have elections coming. We have polling places that are -- you can't walk into.
HENRY: On the domestic front, Reid charged the president's assertion that Social Security is in crisis is simply not true. And Democrats will block any move to private accounts.
REID: We will not let this administration destroy the most successful social program in the history of the world, Social Security. We will not let that happen.
HENRY: Reid's tough talk comes as he tries to ease Democratic concerns he might be a pushover. Liberals were alarmed by Reid's recent comments about potential Supreme Court vacancies. On NBC's "Meet The Press" Reid called conservative Justice Antonin Scalia one smart guy and suggested he may support Scalia's possible elevation to chief justice if William Rehnquist steps down. Reid told CNN he has respect for Scalia, but is not endorsing him.
REID: He has a record. That record will have to be reviewed by a judiciary committee.
HENRY: On the political front, Reid has expressed concern John Kerry avoided red states and is vowing to campaign everywhere for Senate candidates.
REID: I'm going to travel where I'm asked to go. And I'm going to travel some places where I'm not asked to go.
HENRY: While some Democrats are privately saying they want Kerry to move off the stage, Reid expects his colleague will be a player.
REID: He is one of the leaders in the United States Senate and I'm going to call him often for his expertise. No one knows more about America this past year than he does.
HENRY: As he tries to rebuild the party, Reid is also looking forward to getting a new chairman of the Democratic National Committee in place. While Reid has privately urged moderate Tim Roemer to get into that race, he told CNN he's not endorsing anyone at this juncture. He does not what to interfere with the over 400 DNC members who will vote on a new chairman next year -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: That's right. It will be up to them and not to the leadership...
HENRY: They don't want interference with the congressional leadership.
WOODRUFF: We look forward to that.
HENRY: Full interview on Sunday.
WOODRUFF: That's right. INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY. You can see it at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, 7:00 Pacific right here on CNN. Ed, thanks again.
And as Ed just mentioned, former Indiana Congressman Tim Roemer has been mentioned as a possible candidate for DNC chair. Today he took another step toward joining the race. In a statement Roemer outlined his goals if he were to win the party chairmanship and he said he is, quote, "actively considering a run."
The dispute over the Washington governor's race drags on. The issue of uncounted ballots goes to the state supreme court. Tomorrow, the latest on the story ahead. Today's political bites.
WOODRUFF: Checking the Tuesday lineup of political bites. The Washington state supreme court will hold a hearing tomorrow in a dispute over ballots in the governor's race hand recount. At issue, are more than 700 uncounted ballots in heavily Democratic King County. With all other counties having reported their results, Republican Dino Rossi leads Democrat Christine Gregoire by just seven votes.
Tennessee Republicans could be looking to a familiar face in their search for a challenger. The Democratic governor Phil Bredesen, the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Democrat quotes the incoming party chair as saying, actor and former senator Fred Thompson might be the strongest opponent for Bredesen 2006.
Major League baseball could be returning here to Washington after all. By a 7-6 vote, the D.C. city council today reversed an earlier decision, approved a financing deal for a new stadium. The deal appears to satisfy baseball officials who opposed an earlier measure which required private funding for at least half of the cost of the stadium. INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.
WOODRUFF: A beautiful shot of our United States Capitol on this cold December afternoon. Tomorrow on INSIDE POLITICS we'll talk with outgoing Democrat Senator Bob Graham of Florida. That's it for today's INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thanks for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.
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