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37 U.S. Troops Dead in Iraq Today; The Rice Vote; Paying for Opinions?

Aired January 26, 2005 - 15:29   ET


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we weep and mourn when soldiers lose their life.

ANNOUNCER: On the deadliest day for U.S. forces in Iraq since the war began, the president stresses patience and calls for Iraqis to practice democracy this weekend.

BUSH: I urge all people to vote. I urge people to defy these terrorists.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The yeas are 85, the nays are 13, and the nomination is confirmed.

ANNOUNCER: Call her Madame Secretary. Condoleezza Rice passes her last hurdle to become secretary of state, but it didn't come easy.

First it was Armstrong Williams. Now there's word another member of the media took government dollars and then promoted the Bush agenda.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": Is there more pundit payola out there?

ANNOUNCER: Howard Kurtz takes a look.



JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us.

We don't know if the White House specifically timed it this way, but President Bush held the first news conference of his second term on the deadliest day yet for U.S. forces in Iraq. While Mr. Bush was asked about a variety of subjects, the violence in Iraq and Sunday's vote there dominated the discussion.


BUSH: The story today is going to be very discouraging to the American people. I understand that. We value life. And we weep and mourn when soldiers lose their life. WOODRUFF (voice-over): Thirty-six U.S. troops killed in Iraq Wednesday. More Americans dead in one day than at any time since the start of the war.

Thirty-one of them died in a helicopter crash. It's cause is now under investigation, though U.S. Central Command says the crash appears to have been weather-related. Five other American troops were killed by insurgents in two separate incidents. The danger intensifying before Iraqi elections on Sunday.

The president urged the Iraqi people to defy terrorists threatening to attack polling places and kill voters.

BUSH: Clearly, there are some who are intimidated. The surveys show that the vast majority of people do want to participate in a democracy, and some are feeling intimidated. I urge all people to vote.

WOODRUFF: Mr. Bush urged Americans to have patience as his administration works toward its long-term goal of promoting democracy in Iraq and other parts of the world. He suggested his inaugural address pledge to fight tyranny across the globe was not a shift in U.S. foreign policy, but rather part of a process.

BUSH: This will require the commitment of generations, but we're seeing much progress in our own time.

WOODRUFF: Mr. Bush held the 18th full-blown news conference of his presidency shortly before the Senate voted to confirm Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state. Asked about critics of Rice and her role in shaping his Iraq policy, the president promised Rice would do a wonderful job.


WOODRUFF: And since we did that report, the word has come from Baghdad that another U.S. soldier killed today in Baghdad, in Iraq, making that 37 U.S. troops dead on this day.

Well, in her confirmation today, Condoleezza Rice got more "no" votes in the Senate than any secretary of state vote in recent history. And opposition to another Bush cabinet nominee became clearer today as well.

Let's go to Capitol Hill and our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry.

Hi, Ed.


That's right, more angry rhetoric today in the Senate over two of President Bush's nominees, both Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales, to be attorney general. There used to be a mantra in these quarters up here on Capitol Hill that partisanship stopped at the water's edge, that foreign policy was one area of nonpartisanship. If we needed any more evidence that that is long gone, it's this vote over Condoleezza Rice, finally confirmed by the Senate overwhelmingly 85 to 13.

But you're right, you have to go all the way back to 1825 to find a secretary of state nominee who got more negative votes in the Senate. That was Henry Clay who got 14 "nay" votes. Condoleezza Rice, as I mentioned, got 13 "nay" votes, including the new Democratic leader, Harry Reid, which is probably going to frustrate some Republicans who think that's not getting things off to a good start here in this new Senate.

And a bit of a surprise. Senator Jim Jeffords, the Independent former Republican, for the first time in his 16-year Senate career, voted against a cabinet-level nominee, saying he believes that the Bush administration has been playing "loose with the truth on Iraq." And also today, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, despite this victory on the nomination, expressed deep disappointment about how the Senate got there.


SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: Partisanship has its time and place, but we are at this point in time a nation at war. We need the strength of all our resources to fight and win. And I'm disappointed that others on the other side of the aisle have taken this moment to wage a partisan campaign.


HENRY: Now, Senator Joe Biden is one Democrat who has expressed reservations about Dr. Rice, but ended up voting for her on the Senate floor. Much different scene today over at the Senate Judiciary Committee. Biden joined all of his Democratic panel mates on the Judiciary Committee in voting against Alberto Gonzales for attorney general. Here's Senator Joe Biden describing why he voted that way.


SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: Judge Gonzales, in my view, has utterly failed, in my view, to own up to his role as the architect of policies which appear to place the president above the law and the United States above its long-standing obligations. He fails to acknowledge these ill-advised policies which have helped -- which he helped craft. And as a result, I am left with a serious question about Judge Gonzales's judgment to be attorney general.


HENRY: Now, Judge Gonzales did, however, get out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He's now headed to the full Senate for confirmation. But that party line vote on the committee level signals that next Wednesday or Thursday, we are headed for another bitter floor fight, bitter debate from both sides over the nomination of Judge Gonzales to be attorney general, and then a vote finally on him, as I said, either Wednesday or Thursday. But you can bet he's very likely to get even less votes than Condoleezza Rice, who got 85 -- Judy. WOODRUFF: Right, since he's coming out of his committee with a unanimous opposition of the Democrats, whereas with Rice, it was just two.

HENRY: That's right. She got out 16-2 and then you saw what happened. It's going to be more of a partisan vote over Gonzales.

WOODRUFF: OK. Ed Henry, thank you.

HENRY: Thanks.

WOODRUFF: Well, President Bush is discussing Social Security reform with House GOP leaders. Today in his news conference, Mr. Bush said he will continue to push Congress to make reform a reality. But he remained vague about specifics of his plan and its costs, suggesting that he might offer more details in his State of the Union Address.


BUSH: I'm open to good ideas from members of Congress. I will he work with both parties to get results. Any solution must confront the problem fully and directly by making the system permanently solvent and providing the option of personal accounts.


WOODRUFF: Coming up, we'll talk more about the president's blueprint for reform and concerns about it being voiced by members of both parties.

Also today, the president said his cabinet secretaries must realize that the administration will not pay commentators to advance his agenda. Mr. Bush said the Education Department made a mistake by paying Armstrong Williams to promote education reform. But as Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" reports, the Williams case apparently was not an isolated incident.


KURTZ (voice-over): When President Bush proposed spending $300 million to help lower-income couples preserve their marriages, one of his biggest boosters was conservative columnist Maggie Gallagher. A nationally recognized marriage expert, Gallagher touted the Bush plan in her column, once calling the president a "genius," and an article for "National Review Online."

What she didn't mention is that the Health and Human Services Department was paying her, $21,500 to be precise, to work on the same marriage initiative that she was touting as a commentator. Gallagher took another $20,000 in Justice Department funding to write a report on marriage for a group promoting fatherhood. Gallagher has also strongly supported the president's proposed constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage not in just her writing, but in interview with news organizations, including CNN. MAGGIE GALLAGHER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I don't use the word "sanctity." That's President Bush's language. But yes, I think marriage is a key social institution.

KURTZ: Gallagher told me she didn't know whether she had violated journalistic ethics and that it never occurred to her to disclose her government contracts. After thinking it over, she posted a column online apologizing to her readers for not revealing the HHS contract, which included writing brochures and ghost writing a magazine article for Assistant Secretary Wade Horn. He defends the contract, saying his department didn't pay Gallagher to write about the president's marriage initiative, just to write for HHS.

The Gallagher incident follows an uproar over conservative commentator Armstrong Williams, who has apologized for failing to reveal a $240,000 Education Department contract to help promote Bush's No Child Left Behind law. Education Secretary Rod Paige, who made ads that ran on Williams' syndicated TV program, has ordered an investigation. The president was asked in a morning news conference whether such contracts were improper.

BUSH: And Mr. Armstrong Williams admitted he made a mistake. And we didn't know about this in the White House. And, you know, there needs to be a nice independent relationship between the White House and the press, the administration and the press. All our cabinet secretaries must realize that we will not be paying, you know, commentators to advance our agenda.

KURTZ (on camera): Is there more pundit payola out there? Congressional Democrats have demanded that the Bush administration disclose any other contracts to writers and commentators. These efforts are clearly backfiring both on the administration and on the columnists who quietly cash the government checks.



WOODRUFF: Since Howard Kurtz filed that report, we received a statement from Maggie Gallagher denying that she was paid to promote the president's marriage proposal, but rather to do research and writing about marriage in general. She says she did not and would not accept any payment to promote anyone's policies of any kind.

Meantime, House Democrats plan to introduce legislation today that would ban what they call covert federal propaganda campaigns and require disclosure of all federal public relations contracts. They've released a report showing the Bush administration spent a record $88 million on government-funded PR contracts in 2004. That is a 128 percent increase since the year 2000.

In the countdown to elections in Iraq, members of both parties say they are worried about growing violence and how it will affect the vote. Up next, Senate Republican Lamar Alexander shares his concern about the U.S. mission in Iraq.

And later, a viewer's guide to the Iraq elections and what's at stake.

Plus, why was New Jersey's acting governor tempted to punch a guy out?


WOODRUFF: As Sunday's elections in Iraq draw closer, U.S. involvement in that country remains a major topic in Congress. Senator Lamar Alexander, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, spoke on the Senate floor yesterday. He said instead of an exit strategy, the United States needs a success strategy in Iraq.


SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: It is one thing to help people win their freedom, as we did in Iraq. It is another to help a country become a stable, pluralistic democracy, a flourishing society. And we need to ask ourselves how many American lives are we willing to sacrifice to do this? How long are we willing for it to take? And what is our standard for success?


WOODRUFF: In an interview a short time ago, I asked the Tennessee Republican if that means he believes it's time to begin thinking about declaring victory in Iraq and bringing U.S. troops home.


ALEXANDER: No. But what I'm saying is, it's time to be clearer about what amounts to a success in Iraq.

Some of my colleagues were talking about having an exit strategy based upon some definite timetable. I don't think we need that. I think we need to do as secretaries Kissinger and Schultz said yesterday in a very good article in a "Washington Post" op-ed that we need to define what we mean by success, and we may have to be more realistic about what success in Iraq is.

WOODRUFF: But are you saying the United States -- in effect, it sounds like you may be saying the United States has promised more than it can accomplish.

ALEXANDER: We may have expected more than what we can accomplish. What I'm really saying is that the war was a stunning success. We've been surprised by what happened after the war, and there may be some limits to what we can accomplish.

So I think we should be saying to the American people and the world what we expect there, how much democracy are we going to fight for, how much security are we going to be demanding before we leave. Are we going to require that 100 percent of the country be 100 percent safe or 70 percent of the country be 100 percent safe? What are some of the objectives. And then when we reach that we can begin to bring our men and women home.

WOODRUFF: How many more American lives do you think the country should be willing to sacrifice for this?

ALEXANDER: Well, I don't want to sacrifice one more American life. But we made a decision that Saddam Hussein represented a threat to the United States. Seventy-seven senators authorized the president, the president put us there, we're there.

Now we have to decide. We've won -- we've secured freedom for them, but how much democracy do we want to fight for? And I would like to hear Dr. Rice, as the new secretary after the elections, after we approve $80 billion more, be more specific about that.

WOODRUFF: You also said, Senator, yesterday when Dr. Rice return to the committee you wouldn't mind if she acknowledges when things aren't going well or when you said we need to change our strategy or tactics. Because you said our earlier approach isn't working. Are you saying the administration has not been candid?

ALEXANDER: No. I didn't say they haven't been candid. I just said that I think it is refreshing to me. And I think it strengthens one's case when you admit that some things you thought might happen didn't happen.

Now, she did some of that. She said we've made adjustments, intelligence was faulty. We talked about how we were training beat cops when what we really need are S.W.A.T. teams.

But I think there's nothing wrong with the president or the vice president or Dr. Rice as secretary saying, look, the war went great, but what happened after the war was unexpected. We've made some mistakes, we're learning from them, we're changing that. Here are indices of success, and when we reach those we'll come home.

WOODRUFF: Senator, a different subject. The president's nominee to be the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, that has come out of the Judiciary Committee this morning by a 10-8 vote divided right along party lines. And you know what the concerns of Democrats are.

They're saying he's either too close to the president to be attorney general, or they're critical of the policy of the administration toward prisoners of war. Are you enthusiastic about the choice of Mr. Gonzales?

ALEXANDER: I think he's an excellent choice. They're legitimate questions to be asked about our policy toward people we capture in the war who are terrorists and how we handle them.

That's been a difficulty for the United States almost in every war we've been in. Abraham Lincoln had that problem. Franklin Roosevelt had that problem. And I hope Mr. Chertoff, the new Homeland secretary, will bring some original thinking to this problem of, when we capture these people who are determined to blow us up, what rights do they have?

WOODRUFF: One last thing, Senator. When I interviewed you in November you and Senator (UNINTELLIGIBLE) were together. You were talking about creating a more bipartisan environment in the Senate. Here we are in January, a look at these votes on Dr. Rice and on Mr. Gonzales. Are you going to continue with that or is it hopeless?

ALEXANDER: Well, no, it's not hopeless by a long shot. The vote for Dr. Rice, 85 or so of the senators voted for her. There are a great many things we can continue to work on here, energy prices, immigration, Social Security, Medicare, that will have good, strong disagreements. But they don't need to be -- they don't need to be partisan disagreements. I'm very hopeful.


WOODRUFF: Senator Lamar Alexander. We talked to him just a little while ago.

Coming up, we will hear what House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has to say about Iraq and other issues.

Immigration reform is in the spotlight today and our CNN "Security Watch." President Bush says that he wants to reform the immigration system. But he is still opposed to blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants. Still, the president said today he favors a program that will bring workers and employers together to do jobs that Americans don't want.

On Capitol Hill, Congressman James Sensenbrenner is reintroducing his immigration reform bill. It includes provisions that were left out of last year's bill to overhaul U.S. intelligence. Among other things, it would prevent people who are in the United States illegally from getting driver's licenses.


REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R), WISCONSIN: I'm opposed to a national I.D. card, but we better make sure that the driver's licenses are in possession of the people who really say they are. And we shouldn't let the 9/11 murderers and their successors be able to get multiple driver's licenses from different states.

Now, that was one of the problems that the staff of the 9/11 Commission highlighted. And it's unfortunate that the intelligence bill did not take care of this issue. This is a matter of unfinished business, and it is a matter of urgent national security.


WOODRUFF: On a related note, Homeland Security officials are out with a new emergency preparedness guide for American homeowners. It includes information on emergency supplies and various threats homeowners could face.

And remember, you can find an interactive guide to the state of U.S. security and see what the U.S. government is doing to fight terror by logging on to And be sure to stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

In Washington today, a meeting aimed at improving some strained relations. Just ahead, President Bush and members of the Congressional Black Caucus try to find some common ground. The story when we return.


WOODRUFF: With his second term under way, President Bush trying to find more common ground with African-Americans. Mr. Bush is holding two days of meetings with black political, religious and business leaders. On his schedule today, a session with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The president has had strained relations with that group since he took office. On Election Day, only 11 percent of black voters supported Mr. Bush. And we want to let our viewers know tomorrow the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congressman Mel Watt, will be our guest today -- or here on INSIDE POLITICS.

And now to our daily "Political Bytes."

The MoveOn PAC says that it will ask its three million members to express their preference for a new DNC chair before party officials cast the votes that count on February 12. One candidate, former Congressman Martin Frost, has picked up additional support. He now has the endorsement of 14 of the 15 voting members of the delegation in his home state of Texas.

In New York, the state GOP chairman says he will try to recruit Rudy Giuliani to run against Senator Hillary Clinton in 2006. The former New York mayor bowed out of his 2000 Senate race face-off with Clinton in order to undergo cancer treatment. His spokeswoman says that Giuliani isn't thinking about politics right now.

And in New Jersey, acting Governor Richard Codey says that he was defending his wife like any man would during an angry off-air confrontation with a radio shock jock. The talk show host had made disparaging comments about postpartum depression which Codey's wife had battled 20 years ago.

A newspaper quoted Codey as telling Craig Cartan (ph), "I wish I weren't governor. I'd take you out." Codey says he actually said he'd take the man outside. We know that didn't happen.

Well, President Bush says he's anxious to sell his plans on Social Security to the American people. Coming up next, we'll go live to the White House.

And later, I'll speak with the top Democrat in the House of Representatives.

Plus, it is not the kind of ballot Americans are used to. Coming up, an explanation of who's running and who's voting in Sunday's Iraqi elections.


WOODRUFF: Just after 4:00 on the East Coast. And as the markets close on Wall Street I'm joined by Lou Dobbs in New York with "The Dobbs Report." Hello, Lou. LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Thanks, Judy. How are you doing? Another day of gains on Wall Street. Strong earnings report extending yesterday's big gains. As the final trades are now being counted the Dow is up just over 38 points, 38.5 points. The Nasdaq up 1.5 percent on the day.

Oil prices down falling nearly a dollar a barrel. The latest data showing an increase in crude oil supplies but crude is still hovering near $50 a barrel.

The United Nations calling on major industrial countries around the world to help the United States reduce its overwhelming debt. In its annual economic report the United Nations warns America's soaring deficits, both trade and budget are throwing the global economy off balance. The U.N. urging Japan and Europe to spur their own economies to grow in order to help the American economy.

Our nation's trade deficit is at a record high, $600 billion. The federal budget showing a deficit of more than $400 billion this year.

An appeals court has revived a widely-publicized lawsuit against McDonald's claiming the fast food chain makes people fat. A panel of judges determined evidence in that case was inappropriately dismissed two years. The lawsuit alleges McDonald's uses misleading advertising trying to lure children to eat those fat foods. The case ignited fears throughout the food industry that restaurant chains will become the target of legal attacks similar to the tobacco industry.

The fear of such lawsuits is spurring many companies to defend their right to advertise, Kraft, General Mills, Kelloggs have all formed a lobby group to take their cause to Washington. Earlier this month Kraft bowed to criticism saying it would stop advertising some of its product to children under 12.

Tonight coming up here on CNN at 6:00 p.m. Eastern on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" "Broken Borders." Today President Bush reiterated immigration reform, a top priority for his term the same day Congressman James Sensenbrenner introduced legislation aimed at tracking and identifying illegal aliens using temporary driver's licenses. It's called the real I.D. Act. We'll have the details in a special report here tonight.

Also tonight the Senate has confirmed Condoleezza Rice as the secretary of state. We'll be talking about what this means for our country, for Iraq, and for the world. Rice supporter Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is our guest as is Senator Mark Dayton who opposed her nomination.

And greed on trial. Worldcom's Bernie Ebbers, Tyco's Dennis Kozlowski, HealthSouth's Richard Scrushy, all former CEOs on trial for defrauding their investors. We'll have a special report.

And this nation's worst train wreck in six years. Ten people have been killed, more than 100 passengers injured. We'll have the very latest on that story from California. All of that and a great deal more coming up here on CNN at 6:00 p.m. Eastern tonight. Now back to Judy Woodruff -- Judy.

BLITZER: Lou, you mention the United Nations report about the global economy. Is this a slam against the United States and how bad are the U.S. deficits?

DOBBS: Well, first, the United Nations is not opposed to taking a slam shot, if you will, at the United States, of course, but the truth is, that it's a recognition of reality. Our trade deficits are completely out of kilter, we have a trade deficit that is simply unsustainable despite what the Bush administration and others would claim. Something has to be done and very quickly. That's what the United Nations is proposing. And Europe and Asia are trailing the United States so far in terms of their economic growth with the exception, obviously, of China that something has to be done. We're definitely out of balance. Whether the United States with the United Nations' blessing can do much about it in the short term is another question. One certainly hopes so. Because it is a critical issue.

WOODRUFF: Lou Dobbs highlighting that one. All right, Lou, we'll see you at 6:00.

DOBBS: Got a deal, Judy. Thanks.

WOODRUFF: Thanks very much. INSIDE POLITICS continues right now.


ANNOUNCER: It's not your typical election.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No campaigning. There's no candidate going out and kissing babies.

ANNOUNCER: Our Bill Schneider takes a look at who is running and how the vote will work this weekend in Iraq.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I firmly planted the flag of liberty...

ANNOUNCER: The president praises the Iraqi election and promises a hard sell on Social Security.

BUSH: I'm looking forward to taking the case to the American people.

ANNOUNCER: But will Mr. Bush get his way on Capitol Hill? We'll talk with a top Democrat and Republican in Congress.

Now, live from Washington, JUDY WOODRUFF'S INSIDE POLITICS.


WOODRUFF: Welcome back. The U.S. mission in Iraq and Social Security reform present very different yet formidable challenges for President Bush. He confronted numerous questions on both those issues during his news conference today. And he tried to clear up some of his past statements in the process. Here now our White House correspondent Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Appearing with reporters on the deadliest single date for U.S. troops in Iraq, the president urged patience in what he repeatedly called a grand moment in history.

BUSH: The story today is going to be very discouraging to the American people. I understand that. It is the long-term objective that is vital and that is to spread freedom.

BASH: Mr. Bush said Iraqis should defy terrorists and vote Sunday. And mindful of growing opposition to war among Americans, preemptively tried to declare success.

BUSH: The notion that -- you know, somehow we're not making progress, I just don't subscribe to. We're having elections. I think people need to put this moment in history in proper context.

BASH: The president also clarified what he meant in his inaugural address insisting his call to end tyranny does not signal a dramatic policy shift towards countries like China and Russia but a long-term commitment for generations to come.

BUSH: I firmly planted the flag of liberty for all to see that the United States of America hears their concerns, and believes in their aspirations.

BASH: Mr. Bush used this first news conference of his second term to regain his footing on the home front, as well. Speaking at a day after Republican senators privately warned him his strategy to find support for dramatic changes in Social Security by warning of a crisis is backfiring. Here, crisis was glaringly absent. Toned down.

BUSH: The math shows we have a problem and now is the time to act on that problem. Fix the problem.

BASH: But Mr. Bush who will not face voters again reminded he had been doubted before in major policy fights he eventually won and urged skittish lawmakers to follow his lead.

BUSH: What you're hearing a little bit is whether or not it is worth the political price. I think it is.


BASH: And Republican lawmakers say part of the president's P.R. problem has been his reluctance to say exactly what reform from his point of view means besides creating private accounts. The president today did say he will give more details in his State of the Union but, Judy, Bush aides are mindful of the fact that his political standing to do this major overhaul is very much tied to what happens in Iraq.

WOODRUFF: Well we didn't hear much in the way of details. We did hear the name Bill Clinton a couple of times in connection with Social Security. What was that all about?

BASH: There's a little bit of irony here. And that it's fair to say that in the first term the White House was trying to distance itself from everything, all things Bill Clinton. You did hear the president talk about Bill Clinton several times. It's part of a White House strategy to perhaps make the Democrats look a little bit hypocritical by them accusing the president of exaggerating the Social Security problem because he says that Bill Clinton also did the same thing, said that it's important to reform Social Security now. He did that during his -- during the mid 90s. The difference is at that time Mr. Clinton was saying it's important to do it at a time of surplus and perhaps before tax cuts. That's different from what we're hearing from the president, of course.

WOODRUFF: Dana Bash, thank you very much.

Well many congressional Democrats have concerns about President Bush's plans even as they look for ways to promote their own agenda as a minority party. The House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi joins us now from Capitol Hill. Congresswoman Pelosi, thank you very much for joining us.

When the president was asked today what will constitute success in the Iraq vote, he basically said it's just the fact that the vote is being held that is important. Do you agree with that standard?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: No, I think it's a very low standard. Of course the president has said that Secretary Rumsfeld is doing just fine in Iraq. We have a situation which is so unstable and has such insecurity that in some regions of the country there is chaos. So I don't think the president's standard is anywhere near high enough for the lives lost, the now up to $300 billion committed and the loss of reputation in the world for our country.

WOODRUFF: You have been one of those who has called on the administration, on the president to give more information about the cost of the war. Today at his news conference the president said those who question this war, he said, remember the Iraqi people are wondering whether this nation has the will necessary to stay with this war. And he said and he reminded the audience, the enemy would like to have the United States precipitously pull out. Is that a danger that you and others who question the war risk?

PELOSI: First of all, as I said two years ago, over two years ago, there never was the intelligence to support the threat the administration was claiming. They are now saying it was faulty intelligence. The intelligence never indicated imminent threat. So right from the start the president has not leveled with the American people.

Our troops are over there, they are in harm's way. We're proud of them, we're grateful to them for their patriotism, for their courage and for the sacrifice they are willing to make. Today, as you know, is the deadliest day in war. And of course, our sympathies go to those families. So I would hope that the president would keep the debate at a level worthy of the sacrifice of these troops. WOODRUFF: Do you think the president will get the funding he's asking for, the 80 billion additional?

PELOSI: I think the president should give the Congress an accounting of the funds already committed, an accounting of what this $80 billion is for. We certainly will not withhold the support that our troops need to get their job done. Never again should America send our troops into harm's way without the equipment they need. The president has done that now for two years.

WOODRUFF: Social Security reform. Are you prepared to work with the president to find the right path to reform? He said today he wants to work with the Democrats.

PELOSI: Certainly. And I've said from the start that I'm prepared to sit down with the president at the table. Democrats stand ready to do that with no preconditions except we will not increase the deficit or harm the middle class. The president says he wants to work in a bipartisan way, but before now he this week invited the Republicans senators to the White House and the Republican House members. Maybe we'll have a bipartisan meeting soon.

But if we're going to have a sustainable approach to Social Security, it's going to have to be bipartisan. I'm glad the president has now dampened down his language. He was saying it was a crisis when in our meetings with him he said it was a problem that he wanted to avoid becoming a crisis. He changed his public statements on it.

And I think that's an improvement, because we're going to have to stipulate to the same set of facts of what the challenge really is. Starting with reducing benefits, as the president's plan does reduce by 40 percent. The president's privatization of Social Security is asking the American people to give up a guaranteed benefit for a guaranteed gamble. They're just not buying that lottery ticket.

WOODRUFF: Well, the president said today he expects his opponents to try to scare the American public over Social Security. Is that what you're doing?

PELOSI: No, we're not scaring them. He's the scary one. And when he quotes President Clinton, he forgets President Clinton had a plan that was to reduce the deficit. To reduce the deficit. The president has increased the deficit and now wants to add $2 trillion, at least $2 trillion over ten years, $6 trillion over 20 years, to the deficit. Put it off budget so that it doesn't look like it increases the deficit and to do that to privatize, again, to risk the guaranteed benefit that America seniors have.

Democrats are very proud of Social Security. It came out of a very entrepreneurial spirit of bold, persistent experimentation of the Roosevelt years. We always should subject anything that we commit resources to and that the American people depend on to scrutiny to make sure it's doing the best job possible.

WOODRUFF: Very quick last question. Are you concerned at all concerned that by opposing -- there is so much opposition right now -- the Democrats could see this backfire on them?

PELOSI: No, not at all. The president said it was worth the political risk to the Republicans to go along with him. He has no political risk. He's not running again. They have a political risk and I believe they are conveying that to the president.

WOODRUFF: Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House of Representatives. Thank you very much.

PELOSI: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: It's good to see you. We appreciate it.

Well, we will get a Republican take on Iraq, on Social Security reform and more from GOP Congressman Rob Portman. He'll outline his party's top priorities. And later, the Iraq election. What is it really all about? Our Bill Schneider looks at what is on the ballot and the big issues driving that campaign.


WOODRUFF: Reform of Social Security is just one of the major issues facing Congress this year. A short time ago I spoke with Congressman Rob Portman, chairman of the House Republican Conference. And I began by asking him what his group's main priorities are.


REP. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: Well, Judy, probably three. One, of course, would be the deficit and being sure that we're doing everything we can to keep spending under control as the revenue begins to increase to our economy, which it is, so that we can indeed reduce the deficit by half in five years. We're on track to do that but we need to keep our eye on the ball.

Second, of course, is Social Security reform. The Social Security system is in trouble. It's a problem that will become a crisis unless we act. And so the president has laid out some broad principles. We want to hear more from him. But we want to work with him to make sure Social Security is here for future generations.

Now, the third issue we talked about a lot in the last couple of days is lawsuit reform and how to be sure that we're not having these frivolous lawsuits that have such an impact on our patients and our doctors and even on our economy and jobs. So those would be two -- three big agenda items for us to look at over the next year.

WOODRUFF: You mentioned the deficit first. We know the White House is projecting a deficit for this year of something like $427 billion. When you add in the cost of some of these Social Security changes, in the $2 trillion range. Is this something that the country can afford?

PORTMAN: Well, we can't afford not to look at Social Security. From a budget perspective and also because we care about being sure those retirement benefits were there. If we don't do something with regard to Social Security, the same budget people also tell us that the long-term liability is over $20 trillion. The number they've given us is $26 trillion. So the idea is to have some down payment now in order to avoid having this longer-term liability later.

WOODRUFF: We know the president has said he's not going to raise taxes to pay for Social Security. But he has not ruled out -- you've said you don't think he's ruled out the idea of raising the cap, the $90,000 cap, on earnings that are subject to the payroll tax. What's your reading on that?

PORTMAN: Well, first, I don't think he's ruled that in or out. Second, I've got to tell you, it doesn't do much to solve the problem. Because as you know, as you raise the cap, you then, under the formula under Social Security, pay people more because they are having more of their income being taxed. Unless you were to change the formula under Social Security, it actually has a very small impact on the solvency problem we talked about earlier.

So it's one idea that's out there. I think at this point it's important to keep all the ideas on the table so that we can indeed come together, hopefully in a bipartisan way, because as you know, this will need 60 votes in the United States Senate, in a bipartisan way, to solve this problem. Everybody acknowledges the problem. We need to figure out a way to come together to solve it for our seniors in the future.

WOODRUFF: Very quickly, two other subjects. Immigration. Congressman Sensenbrenner introducing legislation on immigration that was left out of the intelligence reform law at the end of last year. One of your colleagues is saying he thinks that the White House is on a totally different wavelength on the subject of immigration than many Republicans in the House. What's your sense?

PORTMAN: I would disagree with that. I think there is some common ground, and perhaps it hasn't been communicated as clearly by either side. And that common ground, of course, is working on the enforcement side. To be sure that while we have a legal system that's better regulated, maybe even providing for temporary work permits for those who are here illegally. That indeed we close the backdoor. In other words, that we start working on the enforcement side to be sure our borders are more secure.

That's where the common ground is. And I think Republicans and Democrats, Judy, House, Senate, and the White House, agree with that. One of the issues that came up, as you know, in regard to the 9/11 legislation was that we do not have adequate safeguards in place with regard to identifiers and being sure that we indeed are able to stop terrorists coming over our borders. So that's a starting point. But it's a larger discussion about how to be sure our laws are being enforced.


WOODRUFF: Congressman Rob Portman. So just what is at stake in the upcoming Iraq elections? Our Bill Schneider tries to demystify the process and explain what Iraqi voters will accomplish by putting themselves at risk and going to the polls. That's ahead when INSIDE POLITICS returns.


WOODRUFF: There are four days remaining until Iraq's national elections. The violence gripping the country is expected to affect turn-out, obviously. But what will the people who venture out actually be voting for? Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider offers this primer on the election.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Sunday's election in Iraq will seem kind of strange to Americans. Iraqis will not be voting for a president or a prime minister, they will be voting for a national assembly whose main job is to draft a new constitution.

So what does the campaign look like?

APARISIM "BOBBY" GHOSH, SR. CORRESPONDENT, TIME: There's no campaigning. There's no candidate going out and kissing babies. There's no rallies and demonstrations in the street. The candidates are afraid to have their names published much less go out and talk to people.

SCHNEIDER: What are the big issues?

GHOSH: Well, there hasn't really been a discussion about issues as yet.

SCHNEIDER: Moreover, insurgents are threatening to kill anyone who votes. That could, shall we say, put a damper on voter turn-out.

JON ALTERMAN, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC/INTL. STUDIES: What you see is going to depend very much on where you are and what people think is going to happen, if they think they are going to be in danger.

SCHNEIDER: So here's an election where voters are threatened with violence, where turn-out is likely to be low, where there is no real campaign, no real issues and most of the candidates are unknown, how can an election like that mean anything?

BUSH: The fact that they are voting in itself is successful.

SCHNEIDER: The president has a point. To vote in Iraq on Sunday is an act of courage, literally a death defying act as the governor of Najaf asserted.

ADNAN AL-ZURFI, GOVERNOR OF NAJAF: They are going to kill us, we are not going to stop. If they bomb the city, we are not going to stop. Freedom, democracy must take place in this country.

SCHNEIDER: Every Iraqi voter will be risking his or her life to make a statement against the insurgents.

LAITH KUBBAH, NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR DEMOCRACY: They are very much voting for the process itself. A lot of people are saying, I don't care who I'm voting for but I want to vote.


SCHNEIDER: The insurgents charge that anyone who votes is siding with foreign occupiers. But to vote is actually to make a defiant statement for democracy and against the insurgents. And that's the issue at the heart of this election.

WOODRUFF: So, Bill, on the ballot, there clearly is going to be a choice of parties but you're saying that is not so consequential in this election.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Because they don't know a lot about these parties. A lot of the candidates are not daring to publicize their names because of the risk that's involved. Essentially showing up to vote is making a statement against the insurgency.

WOODRUFF: Bill Schneider, thank you very much. I know you're going to have another report tomorrow looking even farther into these elections. Appreciate it.

Tomorrow night be sure to catch a special edition of "CNN PRESENTS," "Under Fire." The program will give viewers a chilling look at life in war-torn Iraq as the election approaches. First person reporting from our correspondents with the troops in the war zone. That's tomorrow night at 10:00 Eastern.

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.


WOODRUFF: That's all the time we have for INSIDE POLITICS this Wednesday. I'm Judy Woodruff. Thank you for joining us. "CROSSFIRE" starts right now.


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