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Congress Approves Troop Withdrawal From Iraq; McCain's Mouth; Democratic Presidential Candidates Face Off in First Debate

Aired April 26, 2007 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Glad to have you with us tonight.
Here are some of the stories we're bringing out in the open tonight.

The Senate defies the president's veto threat and approves a pullout from Iraq. What will it really mean for Iraq if the U.S. leaves?

A 92-year-old woman shot dead by police -- what happened today when the cops appeared in court?

And he was beaten and left for dead. His attackers got out of jail in months. So, how did he finally get justice?

Out in the open, though, first: Today, the Senate, on a 51-46 vote, approved a bill that will start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq on October 1. The House passed the same bill late last night. And the next move is the president's. And we know exactly what he will do. He has promised to veto it. As his spokeswoman put it today, the bill is dead before arrival.

Let's go straight to congressional correspondent Dana Bash with the latest on all this -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, Democrats argued today that poll after poll shows Americans want U.S. troops out of Iraq and that, today, for the first time, they gave the president an exit strategy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By a vote of 51-46, the conference report is adopted.

BASH (voice-over): With that Senate vote, the stage is set for a dramatic wartime showdown between Congress and the White House, the likes of which not seen since Vietnam.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL), DEMOCRATIC WHIP: When the president receives this bill early next week, I hope he will ask himself some basic questions. How many lives, how many wounds, how many soldiers must America sacrifice waiting for the Iraqis to accept their responsibility? BASH: It is a confrontation with the president the Democratic majority says war-weary Americans demanded with their votes last November.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We have carried forth the wishes of the American people.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: In the last election, the American people called for a new direction. Nowhere were they more firm in that new direction being necessary than in the war in Iraq.

BASH: The $124 billion emergency spending bill would fund the war, but order U.S. troops to start coming home October 1, with a goal of withdrawing all combat forces by this time next year.

Republicans call that a surrender date.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: If the Iraqis make progress, we leave. If they don't, we leave. This is not a choice. It is a mandate for defeat that al Qaeda desperately wants.

BASH: They also called Democrats irresponsible for, in the middle of the war, sending the president a spending bill they know he went sign.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY WHIP: By this political theater that we're fixed to embark upon, a vote that we know will not become law, one that will surely be vetoed by the president, this legislation is dead before arrival.

BASH: That's exactly what the White House said.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The president will veto this legislation. And he looks forward to working with congressional leaders to craft a bill that he can sign.

BASH: The veto will put Democrats in a difficult bind. They will have to come up with a new war spending plan fast to minimize GOP attacks they are endangering troops in combat. And, to get the president's signature, it will have to be a plan without withdrawal deadlines, which could jeopardize support from lawmakers who want to keep pushing for an end to the war.

REID: It will take us a while to put it together, Because you have to start all over again.

BASH: The Senate's top Democrat says his goal is a new proposal by June 1.


BASH: And Democratic sources say one leading idea is setting a series of benchmarks Iraqis must meet in order for U.S. troops to stay.

And, surprisingly, Paula, senior Republicans said today that's actually a concept they could support.

ZAHN: Dana Bash, thanks so much.

BASH: Thank you.

ZAHN: Let's talk a little bit more about the opponents of pulling out of Iraq. They say it would be an absolute disaster on the ground.

Just a short while ago, I spoke about that with our Baghdad correspondent, Michael Ware.


ZAHN: Great to have you in town. Welcome.


ZAHN: So, you know, Senator John McCain is outraged by this Iraq war spending bill. And here is what he had to say about it a little bit earlier today.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I understand the consequences of failure if we have to withdraw from Iraq, and I think it's chaos, genocide, and they will follow us home.


ZAHN: So, what do you think would happen if the U.S. pulled out of Iraq?

WARE: Well, Senator McCain actually is pretty much right. And his assessment accords with the military commanders on the ground.

What you would see is untold bloodshed, most likely creating a recipe for impending regional conflict. You would see a consolidation of Iranian influence. It would be absolute disaster.

ZAHN: Take a look at some of the latest polling, which shows American attitudes toward this war.

In a recent poll, when asked who was winning the war in Iraq, only 21 percent think the U.S. is winning. A majority, 63 percent, thought neither Americans, nor insurgents, were winning.

Can the United States win?

WARE: The way it's going, no. I mean, the seeds for the current disaster were sown way back in 2003. The American public must now be prepared for some very ugly decisions. They need to confront a certain reality.

ZAHN: And that would be a lot more killing of civilians and a lot more loss of American life? WARE: Well, the foremost thing that the generals talk about is an ongoing presence of U.S. troops. That's the first and foremost. It is beyond imagination that you can start pulling them home any time soon.

ZAHN: And, in a statement yesterday, this is how the White House described the spending bill: "disappointing legislation that insists on a surrender date, handcuffs our generals, and contains billions of dollars in spending unrelated to the war."

The president currently committed to at least 20,000 troops in this surge. What happens if those numbers aren't met?

WARE: Well, it's going to be difficult to maintain what's going on now.

And, even what's happening now, the U.S. mission is barely keeping its head above water. Indeed, it's not. I mean, it's difficult to see where the mission is gaining traction. We're now hearing top military commanders saying that security is the paramount issue. That's the call of the U.S. military mission in Iraq.

And, indeed, to secure that, they're now saying, for the first time ever publicly, that they're willing to entertain the notion of a non-democratic solution.


ZAHN: What would that be, a dictatorship?


WARE: They're talking about a situation that could have many manifestations or many different faces.

But the ones that generals point to are those we see in the Middle East. The bottom line for them is provide security. Only then, maybe, you will have democracy.

ZAHN: Michael Ware, hate to end it on that note. So, we will be discussing this a lot with you in the days to come.

WARE: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: Appreciate it.


ZAHN: Out in the open next: a presidential candidate joking about bombs.

Tuesday night, on "The Daily Show," Republican John McCain was talking about a recent trip to Iraq and shopping at a Baghdad market.


MCCAIN: I had something really picked out for you, too. It's a nice...



MCCAIN: Yes. It's a nice little IED to put under your desk.

STEWART: That's very lovely of you. Thank you.



ZAHN: Well, as you could hear, that got a lukewarm round of applause or response, period, from Stewart's audience.

But Democratic Congressman John Murtha, one of the war's biggest opponents, was outraged.


REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: That individual owes an apology to every troop that serves in Iraq.


MURTHA: Imagine a presidential candidate making a joke about IEDs, when these kids are blown apart! It's outrageous!


ZAHN: Well, Senator McCain's mouth has gotten him in trouble before, but, this time, did he really cross the line or just make what is widely believed by some to be a bad joke?

Let's go to tonight's "Out in the Open" panel, hear what they have to say, Robert George, associate editorial page editor of "The New York Post," NewsMax columnist and radio host Steve Malzberg, and Faye Wattleton, president of the Center for the Advancement of Women -- those introductions done in alphabetical order, Faye.


ZAHN: So, I get to start with you tonight.

Were you insulted by what John McCain had to say?

FAYE WATTLETON, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN: Well, I was more astounded by what he said, because this is a very serious matter, and the American people are very upset about war, and the war is not a joking that.


WATTLETON: But I think what it really reflected is that Mr. McCain simply doesn't really understand the seriousness of the position to which he aspires. And joking about war...

ZAHN: So, he shouldn't have said that?

WATTLETON: Yes, he should not have said it.

ZAHN: Robert.

ROBERT GEORGE, ASSOCIATE EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "THE NEW YORK POST": I think McCain's response to Murtha was, lighten up. And I think that's appropriate.

It's on -- it's "The Daily Show." Obviously, you're going to have -- it's satire, jokes there. How many jokes have there been about people saying about anybody who wants to see Dick Cheney. He says, well, you know, Vice President Cheney loves you. He's going to take you hunting with him. It's just part of the political -- maybe it might not have been the best thing to talk about bombs, but, I mean, it was a joke, simple as that.


ZAHN: You have said that John McCain said to lighten up.

Well, why don't we listen to his response, so we can hear how he defended himself today?


MCCAIN: I don't know how to react to that kind of hysteria. On a comedy show, I'm going to use humor. When I was in combat and in tough situations, we used humor all the time. And all I can say is to Murtha and others, lighten up and get a life.


ZAHN: Get a life.


ZAHN: Were you insulted by that?


I wouldn't have -- I would have advised him not to say the joke he said. And I think it was -- you have to have it in all of context. He was responding to the ribbing he was getting from Jon Stewart.

But John Murtha commenting on -- on McCain saying something about the troops is like Al Sharpton being the arbiter of who's a racist and who's not. John Murtha called our troops cold-blooded killers with regard to Haditha, before the facts were in, before there's ever been a trial. He said they were -- Marines were cold-blooded killers.

Dick Durbin went to the well of the Senate and said that our troops were akin to Nazis. I didn't hear Jack Murtha get upset. Harry Reid said the war is lost. Where was Jack Murtha? And, today, Jack Murtha said he's lost confidence in the U.S. military. So, give me a break.


ZAHN: But isn't there a distinct difference between someone talking about an IED under the desk...

MALZBERG: On a comedy show?


ZAHN: Is that not insulting to military families? What about people who have lost soldiers in their life?


WATTLETON: And, also, to compare somehow what he said with respect to the war and with hundreds, thousands of young men and women who have died and are giving their lives and putting their lives on the line, comparing that...

MALZBERG: Murtha called our troops cold-blooded killers.


MALZBERG: Durbin called them Nazis. That's OK to you guys, but a joke on a comedy show is serious?


GEORGE: And how many times do we use phrases like, well, almost counts in everything except horseshoes and hand grenades?

We make all kinds of these kind of military kind of references and so forth, and, again, in the context of a comedy show and satire.


MALZBERG: Absolutely.


WATTLETON: It's really important that, even in that context of a comedy show and satire, that words and language are enormously powerful. And we have to respect the seriousness of where we are. We're at a very dangerous time.


GEORGE: He did not make a joke about somebody getting hit.


WATTLETON: If I could finish, we're in a very dangerous time. And these are matters that ought to be off limits. ZAHN: Let me close with another joke that McCain made that also backfired. Some people think he has a pattern of telling these toasts -- these jokes.


MCCAIN: You mean that old -- that old Beach Boys song, "Bomb Iran"? Bomb, bomb, bomb...



MALZBERG: There, again, he was...

ZAHN: Doesn't he need to be more disciplined?

MALZBERG: No. There, again, he was responding to a question who said, people say we can't let Iran get a nuclear bomb. But they're already dangerous. They're already killing Americans. They have already threatened Israel.

ZAHN: Would you be singing "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran"?

MALZBERG: Well, you know what? It's better than planning to go and talk to Ahmadinejad, like the Democratic leadership is going to. Yes, I think that was another joke.

Lighten up, America.


GEORGE: I think, based on what we saw with Senator McCain, and what we saw with the president yesterday, I think politicians in general should try and stay away from music completely.

ZAHN: You get the last word, Faye.

WATTLETON: Well, I think that -- I think that we should recognize that Mr. McCain has a long pattern of the behavior that we have seen in the last few days and the last few weeks.

GEORGE: You mean having a sense of humor?


WATTLETON: If I may finish, if -- what the American people want to see is what his thoughtful comments are about some of the more serious issues in Iraq.


GEORGE: And he gave a long speech on why we need to stay in Iraq last week.

(CROSSTALK) WATTLETON: In every forum, he needs that.

ZAHN: Hold your thought. I have got to break this off. We have got to move on.

Robert George, Steve Malzberg, Faye Wattleton, thanks so much.

MALZBERG: Thank you.

ZAHN: Another story out in the open tonight: a shocking police shooting, a 92-year-old woman killed in her own home by cops.


SARAH DOZIER, NIECE OF KATHRYN JOHNSTON: They kicked her door in, talking about drugs. There are no drugs in that house. And they realize now they done the wrong house. They went and they killed her.


ZAHN: So, what happened when the cops went to court today?

And then a little bit later on: How did this man finally get justice? He was beaten and left for dead. Yet, his attackers spent only months in jail -- more of his story when we come back.


ZAHN: Out in the open tonight: stunning new developments in a case that shocked the nation.

Just hours ago, two Atlanta policemen pleaded guilty to manslaughter to escape charges of murder. It all started last year, when a 92-year-old woman was shot and killed in her own home by cops who burst in without warning during a botched drug raid. But you won't believe what else these cops admitted to.

Rusty Dornin now with the latest on his case.


RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These two Atlanta police officers admitted they were guilty, admitted they shot 92-year- old Kathryn Johnston to death.

A grand jury initially indicted officers Gregg Junnier and Jason Smith for murder. Today, they pleaded guilty to reduced charges, including voluntary manslaughter and making false statements. Smith also admitted to planting three baggies of marijuana at Johnston's house.

A third officer, Arthur Tesler, was charged with false statements and imprisonment in connection with the shooting. He maintains his innocence.

The twisted tale of drugs, lies, and police misconduct began at this small Atlanta house with a handicap ramp leading to the front door. Family and friends say elderly Kathryn Johnston lived in fear of crime. Sometimes, she wouldn't even let neighbors who bought her groceries step into our house.

So, when her family heard she had been killed after narcotics officers broke down her door on what is known as a no-knock drug warrant last November, they were livid.

SARAH DOZIER, NIECE OF KATHRYN JOHNSTON: They kicked her door in, talking about drugs. There are no drugs in that house. And they realize now they done the wrong house. They went and they killed her.

DORNIN: The elderly woman had a gun and fired a single shot, but hit no one. The officers said, then, they killed her in self-defense. They also said that, just hours earlier, an informant had bought drugs at Kathryn Johnston's house. But the informant told reporters and investigators that wasn't so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never went to that house. I'm telling them I never went to that house.

DORNIN: That caused an uproar in the community. Federal agents came in to conduct an independent investigation. Today, five months after the shooting, both state and federal grand juries returned indictments against the three narcotics officers involved in the botched raid.

And federal officials claim it's both troubling and deplorable, and said they're not finished yet.

GREG JONES, FBI: The FBI will continue to pursue additional allegations of corruption and violations of civil rights, as we have learned through this investigation that other Atlanta police officers may have engaged in similar conduct.

DORNIN: One local community leader says many people there don't think justice has been done.

ABLE MABEL THOMAS, GEORGIA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: We are not happy in this community with the plea bargain. We think that they should have went to court and they should been convicted, and that we feel that the strongest sentence as possible they should get, because you can't bring MSNBC Kathryn Johnston back.

DORNIN: The story isn't over yet. As part of their plea agreement, the narcotics officers have promised to cooperate with an ongoing investigation into wrongdoing in the Atlanta Police Department.

Rusty Dornin, CNN, Atlanta.


ZAHN: And there's another shocking crime out in the open tonight: a black man beaten and left for dead by a group of whites. But they ended up spending almost no time in jail. So, has justice finally been done?


ZAHN: Tonight, out in the open: the high cost of justice delayed.

First, we want you to know that our next report contains some offensive language. We have been following this story closely. It is about a mentally disabled black man beaten and left to die in Texas by a group of white men. The victim's quest for justice has taken four years, but now the civil trial in the assault is over. And a jury has just awarded him $9 million.

Here's Ed Lavandera.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Look into Billy Ray Johnson's eyes, and you quickly sense he's a man who doesn't understand why he's in this courtroom. The memories of what happened to him on an East Texas night four years ago are lost.

The beating that left him permanently brain-damaged and struggling to walk cut a racial divide in the piney woods of Linden, Texas. Four young white men, who either pleaded guilty or were convicted of beating and leaving Billy Ray to die on the side of the road, received mild punishment, all less than two months in jail.

To many here, it was just a story about four good old boys who drank too much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just think they kind of got drunk and messed up and did a stupid thing.

MARLON SULLIVAN, CITY COUNCILMAN: The alcohol took effect, and it just -- it just happened. And it's unfortunate that it did happen, very unfortunate that it happened.

LAVANDERA: Billy Ray's story caught the attention of famed civil rights attorney Morris Dees, who thought the punishment didn't match the crime. Dees went after the four men accused of this racially driven attack, Cory Hicks, Colt Amox, Dallas Stone, and Wes Owens.

MORRIS DEES, ATTORNEY FOR BILLY RAY JOHNSON: Every person, regardless of their race, their emotional or physical condition, or their gender, deserves a fair trial. Our interest in this case is for Billy Ray and his family and trying to right a wrong.

LAVANDERA: Billy Ray was a town fixture in Linden, short and slight, often described as slow, and seen hanging around the courthouse.

In September 2003, a young man from town, Wes Owens, brought the then 42-year-old Billy Ray to his party.

(on camera): It was just after midnight when Wes Owens and Billy Ray Johnson pulled down this dark country road and arrived here at the gates to this pasture -- inside, more than a dozen people, hanging out, drinking beer around a bonfire, all of them white.

DEES: All having a good time. And Billy Ray was enjoying it, like everybody else, because Billy Ray loves to dance.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): But, when someone changed the music, Billy Ray protested. And that's when the situation turned violent.

DEES: You tried to tell him to leave?

DALLAS STONE, WITNESS: Yes, sir, because I...

DEES: In fact, did you try to scare him to make him leave?

STONE: Yes, sir.

DEES: What did you tell him?

STONE: I told him that he better leave before the Ku Klux Klan come and got him.

DEES: You testified that Mr. Hicks over here said, "Why did Wes bring this crazy nigger?"

Did he follow that up by any threat himself or any command to other people to hurt Mr. Johnson? Did he tell anybody they should hit him or not?

STONE: He said, "I wish somebody would hit him."

DEES: Then, within a minute or two, you slug him in the face; is that correct?

COLT AMOX, DEFENDANT: After he came at me, yes, sir.

LAVANDERA: Colt Amox says, Billy Ray Johnson aggressively came toward him. The muscular Amox says he felt threatened by the skinny mentally disabled black man, punched him, and Billy Ray dropped cold, his head slamming into the ground. Billy Ray laid there for an hour, unconscious and bloody.

DEES: And what was going on while he was laying on the ground? What was happening?

AMOX: We were all just basically freaking out, didn't know what we needed to do. I know I was concerned. I'm sure everybody was concerned. But nobody knew what to do, really.

LAVANDERA: The men loaded Billy Ray into the back of a pickup and started driving.

DEES: Do you remember what Cory Hicks said should be done with Billy Ray?

STONE: That we should put him in the ditch. LAVANDERA: They left him there, two miles away, in an ant pile. Four hours later, two of the men told authorities where to find Billy Ray.

LUE WILSON, COUSIN AND GUARDIAN OF BILLY RAY JOHNSON: Yes. Fire ants just done ate him all up, yeah, just from here to all the way down.

LAVANDERA: His cousin Lue Wilson is still trying to understand why.

WILSON: Hey, you know, this -- this is -- this still is enough to make a dog cry. What kind of blood is running through those people's mind -- or veins?

LAVANDERA: Billy Ray's lawyer asked the new jury to send a message.

DEES: When you sign that verdict form, that will be in the legal books of history. And it will be like you putting a sign up down here on Highway 59 for everybody to see that justice does reign and rule in Cass County.

LAVANDERA: And the new jury did just that, awarding Billy Ray a $9 million verdict for the lifetime of medical care he will need and for pain and suffering.

Jurors said they were struck by the way some of the men described Billy Ray.

LACRETIA HEFLEY, JUROR: He said that they took "it" out and dumped "it" on the side of the road. You know, and that was just so offensive. I mean, this person is not an it. He's a human being.

LAVANDERA: Billy Ray Johnson can barely talk and walk today. So, when you look into his eyes, you can only wonder if this victory makes him feel more human again.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Linden, Texas.


ZAHN: This will all probably have you wondering if Billy Ray Johnson will ever see any of that money. Well, one defendant in the case has already declared bankruptcy.

We're going to change our focus quite a bit right now with a quick "Biz Break."

A mixed day on Wall Street: The Dow closed up 15 points for yet a new record high. The Nasdaq inched up six, but the S&P dropped one point.

Fixed mortgage rates fell for the second straight week. The standard 30-year mortgage dropped to 6.16 percent. That would be 6.16 percent. And the downward pressure came from dismal existing home sales and slipping consumer confidence.

But rates are rising for existing adjustable rate mortgages. And a new Yahoo! survey indicates one in five homeowners are worried about the possibility of foreclosure.

Tomorrow, we will spend the entire hour on this issue. Millions of Americans could be at risk for losing their homes. Join us for "Debtor Nation: The Mortgage Mess" at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

The Democratic presidential candidates are facing off tonight. They're just winding up their first debate of the 2008 campaign. Yes, they're swinging. The best political team in TV joins me next for the highlights.

We will be right back.


ZAHN: Yes, they're off and running tonight. The race to be the next president of the United States has really just come out in the open. Moments ago, the very first debate of the 2008 presidential campaign wrapped up. For the last 90 minutes, eight Democratic contenders faced off on MSNBC for the earliest presidential campaign debate in history.

Candidates met at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, and senior political correspondent Candy Crowley saw and heard it all. So, Candy, let's get started with the most heated topic of the night and that was the issue of the Iraq War. And who voted for it, who voted against it. Let's listen to John Edwards and Hillary Clinton square off.


JOHN EDWARDS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I think that's a question for the conscience of anybody who voted for this war. I mean, Senator Clinton and anyone else who voted for this war has to search themselves and decide whether they believe they voted the right way. If so, they can support their vote.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NY: Well, Brian, I take responsibility for my vote. Obviously I did as good a job I could at the time. It was a sincere vote based on the information available to me, and I've said many times that if I knew then what I now know, I would not have voted that way.


ZAHN: So did either one of the candidates gain traction with those answers?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, what's interesting is that Hillary Clinton's, really her Achilles' heel in this Democratic primary, which is largely full of primary voters who are anti-war, her vote for the war has proved very problematic for her. John Edwards really going for what has been her weak point, saying look, I've apologized for my vote. Whether or not Hillary Clinton should apologize or not, that's really up to her. So this is something that highlights what many Democratic primary voters don't like about Senator Clinton. And in that sense, probably helps John Edwards.

ZAHN: It struck me, too, that there were a not of non-answers particularly when it came to the question about whether we were winning this war or not. Give us your reaction to what you heard.

CROWLEY: I think you're exactly right. I kept waiting -- that was the Harry Reid question, the Senate majority leader who has said the war is lost, and the moderator said, well, listen. Do you think the war is lost? Not one of them answered that. Showing you what a sticky wicket this is for Democrats who want out of the war but don't want to be seen as losing the war.

So there are varying degrees of difference among the candidates, but they almost invariably go back to the beginning of the war. You heard Barack Obama say, listen, I never was for this war to begin with. You heard that from Dennis Kucinich as well. Mike Gravel, the former senator from Alaska said he was opposed to this war from the beginning.

So it's been about -- it's been made into in the Democratic Party an issue about judgment. Who knew at the time this was the wrong thing to do and that's what some of the candidates here are trying -- how some of the candidates here are trying to frame it.

ZAHN: And probably one of the toughest questions they had to face tonight is how they could be against the war and still vote to fund it. Who do you think stood out ...

CROWLEY: Exactly.

ZAHN: ... when it came to that question being answered?

CROWLEY: Well, remembering who the Democratic primary base is and, again, it is largely anti-war, I think you'd have to give Dennis Kucinich some points. He is the purest anti-war candidate there and he's the one that brought it up and said, listen, you can't be against this war and continue to fund it. So, you know, you would have to give him points on that. But there weren't very good answers coming back.

ZAHN: There was a lot of territory covered in the debate, the issue of hedge funds, the issue of abortion, the issue of universal health care. Who do you think -- when you look at all of this together, performed the strongest?

CROWLEY: You know, that is really hard for me to pick at this point. I'm not sure there was a stand-out in this. I thought this was a pretty mellow debate. You didn't see any blood spilled. You didn't see any real confrontation. There was some at the end, but it wasn't the kind of thing that you get in the heat of the moment when a primary election is about to come up. So I think what this debate did was serve that beginning mark for these Democrats. For some of them, this is the broadest audience they've ever had, and that includes their announcement speeches. So this is the beginning of a process. There will be many more debates to come in which there may well be standouts. I don't think this was a debate that had one.

ZAHN: Certainly enough Bush-bashing to go around tonight, particularly when it came to the issue of health care. Let's hear what former Senator John Edwards had to say about which taxes he would be willing to cut to fund his plan.


EDWARDS: I would get rid of George Bush's tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 a year. But I want to say, this is an example. We've had a lot of discussion tonight, not a great deal of discussion so far about the substance of very specific ideas that each of us have on big issues. I'm proud of the fact that I have a very specific universal health care plan, which I think is different than some others on the stage who are running for president, and I think we have a responsibility if you want to be president of the United States to tell the American people what it is you want to do. Rhetoric is not enough. Highfalutin' language is not enough.


ZAHN: That certainly was a long preamble to get to the specifics. After he got to the specifics, did he make any points?

CROWLEY: Well I thought what he said at the end was the most interesting, that "highfalutin' rhetoric is not enough." I think that was aimed straight at Barack Obama, who, as you know, has been criticized for not being specific about what he wants. For not being as substantive as some of these other candidates.

And I think John Edwards is beginning to lay out what he would do, how he would pay for universal health care. Sort of directed his remarks straight at Barack Obama.

ZAHN: Candy Crowley, part of the best political team on TV. Thanks so much for that quick turn-around.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: And when our debate coverage continues, we're going to check for the surprises and the gaps from the eight candidates. We'll be right back.



SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) IL: And one of the enormous difficulties of this war has been the strain it's placed on our men and women in uniform. We have seen our Army and our Reserve and our National Guard all being stretched to a breaking point. But, look. We are one vote away. We are one signature away or 16 votes away from ending this war.


ZAHN: And welcome back. That was Senator Barack Obama earlier tonight in the first Democratic presidential debate of this campaign. It ended just moments ago. Eight Democratic contenders going toe to toe at South Carolina State University. Let's go straight to two members of the best political team in TV. Senior political analyst Bill Schneider and chief national correspondent John King. Welcome back, gentlemen.

We're going to start off tonight with a question that Brian Williams asked three of the candidates about whether they agreed with what Senator Harry Reid has said about the war being lost. Here's what Senator Clinton and Senator Biden had to say.


CLINTON: This is not America's war to win or lose. We have given the Iraqi people the chance to have freedom, to have their own country. It is up to them to decide whether or not they're going to take that chance.

SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D) DE: You know, this is not a football game. This is not win or lose. The fact of the matter is that the president has a fundamentally-flawed policy. It's based upon the notion he'll be able to set up a strong, central government in Baghdad that will be democratic.


ZAHN: John, were those successful dodges?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think in law school or in a courtroom, Paula, they'd call that non-responsive. Look, war is about winning and losing, but if you're in the Democratic primary right now, as Candy was just talking about, it's very difficult. The most thorny issue is Iraq, and neither one of the candidates wanted to say we're winning because they don't believe the United States is and neither one wanted to say we are losing in Iraq because that would open up a whole door and basket of Republican criticism that they're undermining the troops. So, instead, they punted. You see that a lot in debates.

ZAHN: You also, Bill, got the sense that they were being very disciplined and playing this very cautiously. Was there a moment, Bill, that struck you as even the -- the least bit spontaneous or surprise?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there was a brilliant moment when Joe Biden answered the question about the criticism that he's verbose and gaff-prone. He said that could he avoid being verbose and gaff-prone and his answer was, "Yes."

ZAHN: And the greatest thing about that was that the moderator, Brian Williams, looked surprised that that's all he said and so he paused.

SCHNEIDER: It was a perfect answer. It was apparently spontaneous. For the most parts, the candidates were cautious. I wrote down the word cautious, the very word that you used. There was one point where I thought that Senator Clinton was perhaps too cautious when asked about Rudy Giuliani's comments that the country wouldn't be safe under Democrats. That would have been a great opportunity for her to show some outrage, some anger over the use of the tactics that were used by the Republicans in 2004, and she didn't quite do that. I think that would have been a moment when spontaneity would have been called for.

ZAHN: John, did you hear any gaffs that would suggest that maybe one or two of the candidates shouldn't be back for the next debate?

KING: Well, I think the debates would be cleaner and perhaps more energetic and engaging if you had fewer candidates. But that is for the debate organizers, each debate organizers to decide.

I didn't hear any great gaffs at all. Bill, and you were exactly right and they were being quite cautious.

I thought one of Senator Clinton's answers was very telling. She was asked about illegal immigration and if she supported amnesty and she gave a very careful answer about how you should bring those in this country illegally out of the shadows. Let them pay a fine and get in line to stay in this country. Two years ago, all the Democrats or most of the Democrats in this country would have said allow them to come out, there's no way you're going to kick them all out. Just let's bring them into the system, but more and more not just conservative Republicans but Democrats, especially in the West and the border states, are antsy about that question and the opponents have been successful in defining letting them stay under any circumstances as amnesty.

And I think in Senator Clinton's answer, you saw a little bit of the jitters that the other Democrats will feel as well.

ZAHN: Bill, the Republican National Committee released a plan today to Republicans suggesting how they could counter the Democratic message tonight. Where did the Democrats appear to be vulnerable?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the Democrats -- they could have been vulnerable on the issue of use of force, but they made a clear distinction, I think, between being against the Iraq War and being anti-war. The only candidate that said that he was anti-war was Dennis Kucinich.

I was impressed by Senator's Clinton answer when she said if the United States suffered from another terrorist attack, she promised to retaliate as soon as we found out who was responsible for the attack and drew a distinction between the war in Afghanistan, which she said she supported, and the war in Iraq which she said she did not support. That's a very strong and effective answer where the Democrats may have been vulnerable had they appeared to be totally against the use of force. ZAHN: And we've heard that attack coming, had we not, from Rudy Giuliani, John King, when he pretty much suggested that these Democrats are soft on fighting terrorism.

KING: Exactly right. And Senator Clinton as the first woman who hopes to be president of the united nations, the first serious female candidate, has to prove that she's tough on national security, and she did. And I also thought Senator Biden also, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee had a strong night putting forth his views which are more muscular on force than some of the other Democrats.

And if you're Senator Biden, Governor Richardson, Senator Dodd, you're glad for an event like this because it levels the field after all this talk of just Hillary, Barack, and Edwards.

ZAHN: John King, Bill Schneider, thanks so much.


ZAHN: The debate is also the hot topic on LARRY KING LIVE, top of the hour. Hey, Larry. Who's joining you tonight?

LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Hey, you bet.

We've got Carville, Holmes and Huffington as our pundits. We've correspondent John King, just with you, and we've got major candidates and candidate representatives. It's all one big get-together following that 90-minute debate, which kicks off the political season, I guess. Another debate coming soon with the Republicans.

ZAHN: And we've got Alan Watts coming up, so Larry, I hope you stick around for the next 10 minutes.

KING: I will watch fervidly.

ZAHN: All right. See you at the top of the hour.

When we come back, did the debate do anything for the momentum of the front-runners? More on the first Democratic debate, still ahead.


ZAHN: We're talking about how the Democratic presidential candidates did in their first debate tonight. Right now I want to turn to two CNN political analysts. Former Clinton advisor Paul Begala and former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts. Welcome back, gentlemen. Good to see you.



ZAHN: Did anybody gain any momentum tonight, Paul?

BEGALA: Former President Bush's father once said he had Big Mo. And I don't think there's any big mo tonight, but there's a little bit of mo that I would give to Joe Biden.

Bill Schneider in the last segment mentioned. It was, you know, these debates are won or lost on moments. You know, only a few deeply-diseased people watch them from beginning to end. And I do because you all pay me a lot of money to so that you don't have to.

There was that one little moment, though, where Joe Biden was asked if by the moderator if he could reassure the audience if he would not be as verbose as he has been in the past. And he simply said ...

ZAHN: He quoted an article accused him of being a gas-bag.

BEGALA: And he simply said could you reassure the audience, he simply said, "Yes," and was quiet. And the host, Brian Williams, who I used to work with at MS and is a great guy but is verbose himself was for once speechless. Here are these great two loudmouths in the media politics and it was a wonderful moment because they were both silent.

ZAHN: What about the two widely believed front-runners? And that would be Hillary and Barack, as they called each other tonight. I think it's the only time I've heard them call each other by their first names.

WATTS: Well, I think Senator Obama and Senator Clinton -- and I would also put john Edwards in that, you know, that top -- that top tier. I think the strategy was to do no harm. I don't think they did any harm. I think Senator Obama, I thought was very interesting, Paula, how I think he handled the question very well when they talked to him about the confederate flag and he said I would put it in a museum, but said but there's much greater issues out there for us to deal with.

I thought that was a clever move on his part and a good move. I think that the dark horse, in my opinion, on the Democrats' side could very well be Bill Richardson. I don't think Governor Richardson did anything to break out, but I don't think that top three, those top three, did anything to hurt themselves.

ZAHN: And we know that the Republicans are already using what they perceive as the Democrats' vulnerability on being weak on fighting terror. I want you both to listen to this response of Senator Clinton tonight.


CLINTON: You haven't secured our borders. Our ports, our mass transit systems. You can go across this country and see so much that has not been done. The resources haven't gotten to the front lines where decisions are made in local government, the way that they need to. And I think that this administration has consistently tried to hype the fear without delivering on the promise of making America safer.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZAHN: Was that a strong enough response, Paul, to fight anyone who plays the 9/11 card?

BEGALA: Well, yeah. I thought so. I mean, if you notice how our friends on the far right attack Hillary, they never say she's weak. They use words like -- that rhyme with witch, really deeply offensive words that have been used against her. They said that basically she's too strong and she is too mean. And tonight, I think she played to her strength, which she is strong. She's a strong leader. I thought that was a very good moment for her. And I guess if I was going to pick my poison, I'd rather have them attack Hillary for being too strong and strident than for being too weak which is how they've been winning the last couple elections.

ZAHN: She also presented her low approval ratings as a badge of courage, didn't she, J.C.? And you get the final word right now.

WATTS: Well, they talked about her approval ratings good and bad, but Paula, I was telling Paul back in the green room as we were listening to the debate, I said I think Republicans are -- are making a huge mistake if they underestimate Hillary Clinton in spite of the fact that she might have disapproval ratings in the 40, 45 percent range. That's a huge mistake to underestimate her.

ZAHN: Paul Begala, J.C. Watts, thanks so much for that update.

BEGALA: Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: Coming up at the top of the hour, Larry King continues our coverage of the first democratic presidential debate. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: We're moving from politics the world of pro football now.

We're about to meet a player who has been getting ready for life after the NFL ever since his first kick-off. And has even more ambitious plans for the future. Christine Romans has tonight's "Life After Work."


TROY VINCENT, PRESIDENT, NFL PLAYERS' ASSOCIATION: The day that you are drafted is the day that you prepare for leaving the game.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The average NFL career last less than four years. So entering his 16th season, Troy Vincent has been preparing for life beyond the field for quite some time.

VINCENT: As far as I'm concerned, you just need to get to school.

ROMANS: On the sidelines, most of Vincent's business and philanthropic work centers around the rough neighborhood where he grew up, Trenton, New Jersey.

VINCENT: This is where I learned to play football, on this concrete. Not any grass.

ROMANS: In fact, the financial services company Vincent founded is just two blocks from his boyhood home.

VINCENT: It still puzzles me why my community where I grew up in looks the same. And why the people are not changing, the environment is still hostile.

ROMANS: Vincent is also focused on helping other NFL players deal with the often sudden end to their careers.

VINCENT: We've been working on a vision ...

ROMANS: As president of the NFL Players' Association he helped launch the NFL business management and entrepreneurial program.

VINCENT: At the end of the day, the story is I've created options for myself. I have some companies I can obviously go to and work in. But my heart and my soul is with the men of the National Football League.

ROMANS: The program offers more than 100 NFL players the opportunity to take part in three day business workshops during the off season.

As for Vincent, he has his eye on a lofty off-field goal.

VINCENT: I've always thought about owning a football team or being part owner of a National Football League team.

ROMANS: Christine Romans, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: I hope he reaches that goal. That wraps up it for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for joining us. Good night.


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