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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Iraq Progress Report; Stephen Hadley Interview; Hoshyar Zebari Interview; Joe Biden Interview
Aired July 15, 2007 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN HOST: It's 11 a.m. in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4 p.m. in London, and 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thank you for joining us for "Late Edition." I'm Suzanne Malveaux in for Wolf Blitzer, who's off today.
Despite this week's mixed progress report on Iraq and a growing demand in Congress for him to change course, President Bush is standing firm on his Iraq war strategy, insisting any troop withdrawal in the near future would produce disastrous results. The White House also finds itself having to address concerns that Al Qaida is regaining strength.
A short while ago, I spoke with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
MALVEAUX: National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, thanks for joining us here on "Late Edition." Appreciate your time.
STEPHEN HADLEY, NATIONAL SECRITY ADVISER: Nice to be here.
MALVEAUX: Obviously, the Bush administration came out with the Iraq progress report. We'll get to that in a minute. But first I want to talk about a videotape that was released yesterday by a group called As-Sahab. The tape is "Heaven's Breeze, Part One." It has a picture of Osama bin Laden giving a message about 40 seconds in length, encouraging martyrdom.
Now, we understand, it's probably an old tape, perhaps even pre- 9/11. But what does it say about our status in this war on terror, some near six years after the terrorist attack, that this group, Al Qaida, can put out this propaganda today to incite its followers?
HADLEY: It's a reminder that the threat from Al Qaida continues to be with us. The president talked about, we're in for a long-term struggle against this threat. In the short run, we need to disrupt their operations, take the fight to them, where they live, so that we don't have to defend here at home.
But he's also talked about the long-term war of ideas. They have a very grim vision, based on despair and violence and oppression of women. And we need to counter that with a message of hope, of freedom and economic opportunity. It's a reminder we're going to be in this for the long haul. It is going to occupy this country for some time, and we need to be putting in place the policies and instruments the country is going to need to be dealing with this problem in the years ahead.
MALVEAUX: Let's talk about the strength of Al Qaida. National Intelligence Estimate is reporting this week, several elements of it leaked. I want to read for you from The Washington Post. It says:
"Six years after the Bush administration declared war on Al Qaida, the terrorist network is gaining strength and established a safe haven in remote tribal areas of western Pakistan for training and planning attacks, according to a new Bush administration intelligence report."
How is it that, after nearly six years of being in what the Bush administration calls this war on terror, that we see Al Qaida now gaining strength?
HADLEY: Well, let's put this in perspective a little bit. Al Qaida is nowhere in the position today that it was before 9/11, and it's nowhere in the position it would have been had we not been working hard on this problem for the last five or six years.
But what we've seen in the last year or so is a problem in the northwest territories in Pakistan, where President Musharraf had a very aggressive strategy of using force against Taliban and Al Qaida in that area. And over a year ago, he reached an understanding with tribal leaders that they were going to police Taliban and al Qaeda.
And the truth is, it did not work. And what we've seen, pooling of the Taliban, training, operational planning. President Musharraf understands it has not worked. We understand it has not worked. And what you're beginning to see now is his taking steps to bring new troops in place to get control of that situation.
It is worrying to us. It's a source of concern. It is an element of other things we've seen over the last six months or so that remind us that it is a problem and is a continuing threat, something that the National Intelligence Estimate, which will be released to the Congress, the president this week will talk about. And we will, at the some time, go to the American people and explain to them what we are doing to deal with this problem.
MALVEAUX: Now, one of the problems, in terms of Pakistan, is that Pervez Musharraf has not allowed U.S. troops to actually go after Al Qaida and Taliban if they see them on the Pakistani border. Is that something that the Bush administration is now pushing and will demand from Musharraf?
HADLEY: Pakistan is a sovereign country. President Musharraf has been a great ally in the war on terror. If you look at the number of killed or captured of Al Qaida leadership over the last several years, a lot of them were done by Pakistani forces in Pakistan, and they've taken a lot of casualties in this war. But he has a problem, he has a safe haven problem in an area of his country where Pakistan's central government has really not been present for decades or even generations. It is a problem for him. We have been working with him and encouraging him to take action. We have provided all appropriate support that we can, consistent with Pakistani sovereignty.
MALVEAUX: Considering the fact that Al Qaida has reconstituted and regrouped since we've gone after them, from the time of September 11, how does the president actually explain to the people, how does he justify the statement, when he says we are safer from these terrorist organizations than we were before?
HADLEY: I think it's for the reasons I said: the Al Qaida is not the organization it was before 9/11; it is not where it would have been if we had not taken the actions; and at this point, the operational activity we are seeing in the planning is in areas -- we have taken the fight effectively to where Al Qaida is, in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and northwest Pakistan.
And at the same time, we've hardened things at home, and we have not seen the kinds of terrorist attacks here at home that many of us feared we would be seeing after 9/11.
MALVEAUX: I want to turn, if I could, to the Iraqi benchmarks, the progress report. Obviously, the Bush administration put out the report. It was very mixed, a 50-50 report card, essentially. For most people who would look at that, they would say, well, that's a failing grade. But I think we understand it's really kind of a midterm, if you will, that you're giving the Iraqis more time to get a passing grade.
But in light of the fact here that the Iraqis essentially are not even going to be going to class for half that time -- eight weeks, now. Four weeks they're going to be on vacation -- here is what the administration, here's what Tony Snow -- here's how he explained it, earlier this week:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Have you tried to talk them out of that?
WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY TONY SNOW: You know, it's 130 degrees in Baghdad in August. I'll pass on your recommendation.
RADDATZ: Well, Tony, Tony, I'm sorry, that's, you know -- I mean, there are a lot of things that happen by September, and it's 130 degrees for the U.S. military also on the ground.
SNOW: You know, that's a good point. And it's 130 degrees for the Iraqi military. And the Iraqis, you know, I'll let them -- my understanding is at this juncture, they're going to take August off. But you know, they may change their minds.
(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: So, do we know if the Iraqis are going to change their minds, because she brings up a very good point -- 130 degrees for Americans who are dying, who are losing their limbs, who are not seeing their children born in the United States. Is that a justifiable explanation for the Iraqis to take off the month of August?
HADLEY: Look, reconciliation efforts in Iraq cannot take a recess in August, and they won't.
I want to focus a little bit on what is happening with our security operations, which are leading edge of political reconciliation. Over the next 60 days, you're going to see our operations continue -- Iraqi forces, American forces going after Al Qaida, going after Shia militia.
Secondly, what you're seeing in those areas, particularly in provinces like Anbar and Diyala is, as we make progress against al Qaeda, Sunni tribes are coming together and joining the fight against Iraq -- against Al Qaida.
And the result of that is the strengthening of local political institutions that can provide security and effective governance to the localities. That's the bottom-up reconciliation that our military strategy is trying to make possible. And I think you'll see progress.
You will also remember, see, in terms of the center, the Iraqi Council of Representatives for the second time has extended their session. They will continue six-day-a-week sessions, at this point, at least through the end of July. We'll see where we go from there.
And we will, in this period of time, put pressure not only for the council of representatives to pass legislation, but what is really missing is a basic deal between Sunnis, Shia, and Kurds about how they are going to work together in a political accommodation, share power, if you will.
That's what needs to come first. You're beginning to see some progress. Prime Minister Maliki is working more with the presidency council that represents those groups. We need to see more progress on that front. And we will be pushing it very hard between now and September.
MALVEAUX: And coming up on "Late Edition," with the pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, is it up to meeting critical benchmarks? We'll ask Iraq's foreign minister.
And as pressure mounts here in the U.S. to bring troops home, we'll ask Senators Trent Lott and Jack Reed what steps they think Congress will take in the next few weeks.
But just ahead, more with my interview with national security correspondent Stephen Hadley. He'll tell us the steps President Bush will take next week to foster a peace agreement in the Middle East. You're watching "Late Edition."
MALVEAUX: And welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Suzanne Malveaux in for Wolf Blitzer. Coming up in our next hour, we'll get the view on the ground in Baghdad from Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari.
But first, part two of my interview with U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley.
MALVEAUX: So just to be clear on the vacation point here, you are still going to be pushing the Iraqis, the parliament not to take the recess during August when there is critical legislation that needs to be passed?
HADLEY: We are going to be pushing reconciliation between now and September. We are going to be pushing the bottom-up reconciliation I talked about.
We are going to also be pushing Sunni, Shia, and Kurd leaders to come together with a power-sharing arrangement under a democratic constitution with -- that will allow us to get progress on the difficult legislation that is required to establish the basic compact between these groups as to how they're going to work together.
MALVEAUX: Let's talk about the leadership top down here, reconciliation also needs to -- it needs to happen from the highest levels. I spoke with the foreign minister -- Iraqi foreign minister this morning. This is what he said about benchmarks, referring to them really as being held hostage, the Iraqi people, by these timelines imposed by the U.S. government.
Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZEBARI: These are political issues, really it needs hard negotiation, hard bargaining. That's why restricting it to a certain timeline, I think, might not be wise. These are extensional issues for Iraq, for the Iraqi future. And it needs consensus.
We are not working here by the majority rule 50-plus-one to pass this legislation. We need to build national consensus. That's why these things take time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: So the foreign minister is saying that the government needs more time, that the timelines, essentially, these benchmarks, are not helpful to this government in terms of achieving reconciliation. HADLEY: We've always said that reconciliation was the lagging indicator. If you look at the logic behind the strategy the president announced in January, it was to bring increased security, bring the level of sectarian violence down, to clear a space for political reconciliation, and more time for the Iraqis to train their security forces.
So our belief is that as security progress is achieved it will make bottom-up reconciliation more likely, and it will also lead to top-down reconciliation. Yes, he is right...
HADLEY: ... it is difficult. There needs to be a -- as I mentioned, a basic bargain worked out between the groups. And yes, it's hard to set deadlines. But we also know, as a practical matter, deadlines can force people to make hard decisions. And these are hard decisions.
And they are trying to develop a consensus. But the point is...
MALVEAUX: What do we see in September?
HADLEY: The point is, it is time for action.
MALVEAUX: September, what realistically does the Bush administration want to see out of the Iraqi government?
HADLEY: Well, we want to see...
MALVEAUX: Come that deadline?
HADLEY: ... is more progress on the political -- on the security side, as I have talked about. I think we will see -- we hope to see more progress in bottom-up reconciliation. We want to see more progress towards accommodation among the groups from the top down.
The president has sent Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates to the region in early August to try and reassure our allies about our continuing commitment to the region, to get international support for what Iraq is doing, and for the accommodation process that has to occur inside Iraq.
In addition, the president is going to talk tomorrow about the Middle East, about the Israeli-Palestinian issue. He is going to reaffirm his commitment to the two-state solution for that issue, a democratic Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel.
He is going to talk about the opportunity we have to advance that cause and the opportunities to support President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, the leader of the Palestinians, in their effort to establish a democratic, effective government that can provide security for the Palestinian people and the region.
There is an opportunity there. The president is going to talk about that tomorrow.
MALVEAUX: And, Steve, in terms of Congress, we've seen a lot of back-and-forth, obviously, the Warner-Lugar legislation that is going to be introduced as well. You have spent a lot of time on the Hill this week trying to really generate and try to keep Republican support.
I want you to listen very quickly, Senator Mitch McConnell, on his assessment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: The Iraqi government has been a big disappointment. They haven't passed the oil law, they haven't done the de-Baathification. They haven't had the local elections. I don't think there is any debate much in the Senate about disappointment with the Iraqi government. It's pretty uniform.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: How do you keep the Republicans together so that it is veto-proof and filibuster-proof in the Senate?
HADLEY: Well, I actually think we've had a pretty good week both in the Senate and in the House. The Ike Skelton amendment actually only drew, I believe, four Republicans in terms of its support. And that is because -- and if you listen to Senator Warner, Senator Lugar, things they are not calling for.
They are not calling for an arbitrary withdrawal schedule. They are talking about how important it is, what happens in Iraq, how it affects our security here at home. They are talking about we are going to have to be engaged with Iraq for some period of time.
The real issue is, can we begin to talk about how we might transition to a new phase in Iraq? And that is, obviously, there is some discussion, there are some interesting ideas.
But the Congress in May set out a schedule and a structure for that process of consideration. And it begins in September. It begins with some reports that will be prepared by the administration and from outside the administration.
And it begins very importantly with General Petraeus, our commander in Baghdad, and Ambassador Crocker, our ambassador there, come forward and give their assessment in September about where we are in Iraq and what recommendations they would have.
The president said he will take those recommendations, he will talk to Secretary Gates, the Joint Chiefs. He will talk to Republicans and Democrats about what it means for our going forward in Iraq.
So the main point is, I think, there is an increasing consensus, since September is the time, for us to be in a position where we are informed to have the kind of discussion we need to have. MALVEAUX: Clearly, the Bush administration has put a lot of emphasis, a lot of political capital behind Prime Minister Maliki. Your assessment in a memo that was leaked in November of 2006, you said it this way: "The reality of the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."
Do you believe that's the case today? Does he have a functioning government and is he effective as a leader?
HADLEY: The president spent a lot of time with Prime Minister Maliki. He has seen him emerge as a leader who is talking increasingly not in sectarian terms, but an agenda for all of Iraq in which all Iraqis can participate.
But it is not just about Prime Minister Maliki, as I said.
MALVEAUX: But what do you believe...
HADLEY: As I said...
MALVEAUX: What do you believe he is capable of, Maliki? Is that the same assessment you have?
HADLEY: We think that he has grown as a leader and is more effective as a leader, but there is a piece that remains, which is the basic bargain between Sunni, Shia, and Kurds, about how they are going to work together under a democratic constitution. That is not yet in place.
There are some things we are seeing that we think are hopeful. Prime Minister Maliki is working more closely with the presidency council that has Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish representation.
We are hopeful that a political bloc may emerge among the key parties across all three groups that can provide a caucus within the council of representatives to get this legislation.
But they have more work to do. Prime Minister Maliki has to lead. But the representatives of the other three groups have to follow and step forward and make some hard decisions.
MALVEAUX: We're going to have to leave it right there. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, thank you for joining us here at "Late Edition."
HADLEY: Nice to be here.
MALVEAUX: And coming up, President Bush is sticking with his Iraq war policy. But will an increasingly defiant Congress force a change?
We'll get insight from two leading senators.
And later, Senator Joe Biden is near the back of the pack in the race for the Democratic nomination, but he is running just as hard as the front-runners. We'll ask him how much he plans to catch Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
Stay with us on "Late Edition."
MALVEAUX: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Suzanne Malveaux in for Wolf Blitzer. Let's take a look at where some of the U.S. presidential candidates will be spending some of the time, over the next few days, on the campaign trail.
Republican congressman Tom Tancredo is hosting a town hall meeting today in Iowa.
Senator John Edwards is participating in a candidate's forum at a convention of his fellow trial lawyers in Chicago.
Former health secretary Tommy Thompson is speaking to local Republicans tomorrow in San Diego.
Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich will be in Hollywood, Florida tomorrow to address the local chapter of the AFL-CIO. And although he's not declared a candidate, a lot of eyes are on New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's hobnobbing with a gathering of the rich and famous at the Aspen Festival in Sun Valley, Idaho.
And Democratic senator Chris Dodd is on a three-city tour of New Hampshire today and tomorrow.
On the campaign trail with some of the presidential candidates. And up next on "Late Edition," Senators Trent Lott and Jack Reed are here to talk about the mounting frustration in Congress over the Iraq war and the implications for the president's policy.
And later, there was a lot of action on Capitol Hill this week on Iraq. And a whole lot more is on tap for next week. We'll analyze all the angles and cut through the confusion with the best political team on television.
"Late Edition" will be right back.
MALVEAUX: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Suzanne Malveaux in for Wolf Blitzer. Patience over the Iraq war appears to be running out on the Capitol Hill.
But can opponents of the president's strategy gather the votes to force his hand?
Now, joining us to discuss that and much, much more, the Senate's second-ranking Republican, Trent Lott, of Mississippi and Democratic senator Jack Reed from Rhode Island. He has just returned from Iraq, and is co-sponsoring an amendment that would withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq by April of next year. Senators, welcome back to "Late Edition."
Senator Reed, I'd like to start with you, if I could. You got back from Iraq. I believe it's your tenth trip. You returned on Monday. Now, I understand you sat down; you had dinner were General David Petraeus, the top commander there; you had discussions.
What did he tell you about how this U.S. troop surge is working?
SEN. JACK REED (D) RHODE ISLAND: Well, we have gained some tactical momentum. But General Petraeus made it very clear to me that he's prepared to report before September, that he has accumulated the information and the data.
And more importantly, he recognized that the wear and tear on our overall military forces have to be considered by him in his recommendations.
And frankly, I don't know anyone in the Pentagon who will say that they can maintain this war structure beyond April of next year.
So the reality here is that he has to recognize and we have to recognize that we do have to change missions because of the overall capacity of our military to sustain 160,000 troops.
And the big point that emerged, not only from our discussion with General Petraeus but also Ambassador Crocker, is this tactical momentum that's been gained by introducing more troops has not translated into political momentum. The Maliki government is still non-responsive on key issues. They still seem to be, I think, unable or unwilling or incapable of doing what they have to do.
And the bottom line here is this is a political issue more than a military one. And without a political solution, our military efforts will just buy time but not success.
MALVEAUX: Now, you said that he actually is ready to report before September. How soon is he ready to report, and what is he going to say?
REED: Well, he made it clear -- he himself said to me that he's looking towards the end of August. He's prepared. Now, the White House might overrule him and tell him he should stand down until September. But that was the impression, the distinct impression I got from him.
He did indicate what he was going to communicate, but I think his acknowledgement that he has to consider not just what's happening in Iraq and not just what's happening in the region, but wear and tear on the overall force suggests that he knows that he cannot sustain this surge indefinitely.
MALVEAUX: Senator Lott, what do you need to hear from General Petraeus? (inaudible) an amendment this week. And there are questions whether or not you will be able to keep that super-majority in the Senate. LOTT: Well, Suzanne, remember that we debated this really for five months, and we just voted for the legislation that allowed the surge to go forward and the funds for the troops to do that. And the final element of the 30,000 that moved in to try to get the balance under control in Baghdad and some of the other provinces just got there some three weeks ago.
So can we at least give General Petraeus and the men and women that are doing a wonderful job, our troops there, a chance to do what we said we were going to allow them to do? We had a unanimous vote for General Petraeus. He is highly respected, although there has been some criticism of him now.
He's trying to do a very tough job and change the dynamics there. I think he's making some progress. Certainly he is, tactically, as Senator Reed points out. Politically, obviously there is a long way to go.
But, you know, I know that he will report at some critical moment, perhaps in late August, perhaps the middle of September, but I think we ought to at least give it a chance to see if they can do enough militarily so that progress can be made politically. And I do think what is happening in some of the provinces where now some of the Sunnis that had been not helpful are now helping us fight Al Qaida where they are in place.
So that's my main point. We gave them a mission. We've got men and women in there doing their job. Let's at least give it a chance. Why are we back redebating this in July?
MALVEAUX: So are You in agreement with Warner and Lugar that you'll give the president until August to come up with another plan potentially to redeploy troops by the beginning of next year?
LOTT: Those are two very thoughtful senators. I think they're asking the right kinds of questions. I think they're saying that we've got to, you know, change dynamics. We've got to look at what we do when we go forward in September.
You know, you can't wait until the moment you have to make a decision to begin planning. So I assume and I hope and I'm encouraging that, you know, additional plans be developed for what we are doing in September, October, November.
MALVEAUX: I want to share the latest poll for you both here. Newsweek poll July 12. President Bush's surge plan success or failure. Success, 22 percent of the American people say yes. Failure, 64 percent say it is a failure. And then 14 percent don't know.
We heard from Senator Lieberman also this week who is accusing both sides of playing politics. Let's take a quick listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSEPH I. LIEBERMAN, I-CONN.: The war is not lost in Iraq. In fact, now American and Iraqi security forces are winning. The enemy is on the run in Iraq. But here in Congress, in Washington, we seem to be or some members seem to be on the run, chased, I fear, by public opinion polls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Senator Reed, it sounds like he is speaking to you and other Democrats who are essentially saying that this thing has to run its course, but we are looking at the election, election 2008 here to make our determinations.
REED: Well, I thought the strategy initially was wrong. That's why I opposed in October of '02 the president's approach to Iraq. Last June, '06, Senator Levin and I introduced legislation similar to this calling for change in mission.
This is not about polls and politics, at least in my respect. It's about getting it right. And I think what Senator Lieberman misses, which is I think the fundamental point, is that the Iraqi people have to prevail. We can't win it for them.
And this notion of we're winning I think misses the point. Only the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people can decisively win this struggle for their own country.
And what we've seen, the premise of the president's surge was that there would be political activity, political decision. They haven't materialized. And I doubt very seriously in the next several weeks they will materialize. I think it's time now to begin to introduce and vote for a policy that I've advocated for over a year.
MALVEAUX: I spoke with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who says he doesn't believe that the Republican plan now introduced by Warner and Lugar is necessarily a good idea, that it's much too premature. The president also, in his press conference this week, essentially saying that you guys are out of your lane here, stay in your own lane. Take a listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Congress has got all the right to appropriate money, but the idea of telling our military how to conduct operations, for example, or how to, you know, deal with troop strength, I don't think it makes sense. I don't think it makes sense today, nor do I think it's a good precedent for the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: He says you are overstepping your bounds.
LOTT: Senator Lugar said essentially the same thing in one of the earlier shows today. You know, talk about the politics of this, whether or not there's partisan politics.
MALVEAUX: But what do you think about what the president said? I mean, obviously... LOTT: No, I agree with him. I agree with him. I do think we've got to be careful...
MALVEAUX: There's not a role in Congress to oversight the war?
LOTT: No, there is a role for Congress to be involved. But the role, the way to cut off the funds is to cut off the funds. The power of the purse strings which Congress has done in the past.
But I've got to respond to some things that have been put out there. First of all, as far as the politics. Remember, the bill we are now trying to mend is the defense authorization bill that came out of the Armed Services Committee.
It's got some problems, but it's a pretty good bill. It provides what we need for our men and women in the uniform, for the weapons they need, the equipment they need. And all we're doing is fighting over one or a half-dozen different Iraq amendments.
Why don't we look at the underlying bill and find a way to get it done? Senator Reid -- that's their leader, not Jack Reed -- has threatened to have a cloture vote, and if we don't get cloture next week, when he thinks we should, pulling the bill down. This is the defense authorization bill.
Now, with regard to Senator Lieberman, again, a very thoughtful senator and one of the few free to say what he believes is really the truth regardless of polls. He's an independent now. He sits with the Democrats, but he speaketh the truth. And I think he has a profound effect on the debate in the Senate.
MALVEAUX: We'll let Senator Reed jump in here. Do you think that even this bill that the Republicans have proposed, Warner-Lugar, I mean, what difference does it make? Does it have any teeth? It asks the president, requests the president to come up with a different plan, but really doesn't require it.
REED: It requires additional assessments. So, in terms of being decisive and influential, no. But I think it's significant because, as Trent said, these are two of the most thoughtful individuals in the Senate about matters of international affairs.
They recognize the need for a change. They recognize that the mission cannot be sustained as is. It has to be translated to other missions, very similar to what Senator Levin and I are talking about.
So I think their symbolic sort of effect might be more important than anything detailed in that legislation. It is not a binding legislation. Just calls for more assessments.
LOTT: The critical point here is, while, you know, different people will have different views of it, I think it is constructive in the overall picture. Senator Reid, majority leader, and the Democrats have indicated, oh, no, that's not sufficient. What we want is out of Iraq now. And that's not what Lugar and Warner are suggesting. REED: Well, I think Senator Lugar and Warner are talking very much about what we're talking about, which is begin a phased redeployment of our forces, a phased reduction, change the missions next April, and we do anticipate, as Senator Warner and Senator Lugar does, that American military personnel, some number, much less, will probably be there past April.
The missions will be counterterrorism, protecting the forces, training Iraqis. Those are missions important to us, missions we can perform and should perform.
MALVEAUX: We have to wrap it there. Thank you so much for joining us, Senator Lott, Senator Reed for joining us here on "Late Edition."
And up next, homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff says he has a gut feeling terrorists could attack in the U.S. this summer. We will once again ask senators if they share his suspicions.
And if you have questions for any of the presidential candidates on how they would tackle terrorism or anything else, you can have them answered at the CNN/YouTube debate. The Democrats face off later this month, on Monday, July 23rd, in South Carolina. And the Republicans take the stage September 17th in Florida. Send in your questions to cnn.com/youtubedebate.
"Late Edition" will be right back with the senators.
MALVEAUX: Welcome back to "Late Edition." We are talking with two top members of the Senate, Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Senate's second-ranking Republican, and Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island.
I want to ask you about -- you have taken very much an approach, a middle of the road, moderate approach that has attracted a lot of other senators.
But there are people who argue that this is not the best way to do this; you've either got to be fully in, fully committed in the Iraq war or pull out completely.
I want to read to you -- this is from Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, in The Washington Post on Wednesday.
He says, "the compromise leads us with an untenable military mission. Without a major U.S. combat effort to keep the violence down, the American training effort would face challenges even bigger than those our troops are confronting today. An ineffective training effort would leave tens of thousands of American trainers, advisers and supporting troops exposed to that violence.
"In the meantime, the net result is likely to be continued U.S. casualties with little positive effect on Iraq's ongoing civil war" -- essentially saying, if you do this by piecemeal, you're going to leave U.S. soldiers there in danger, anyway; you're going to see bloodshed, anyway.
REED: This is a very challenging situation. That's stating the obvious. One of the reasons and one of the missions that we include in our legislation is force protection. One of the key things that any commander has to ensure is that American forces are protected, not only our ground combat forces but our trainers have to deploy with Iraqi forces. That has to be considered.
And there's a situation here, I think, that a massive rapid withdrawal would inject so much uncertainty, both militarily and politically, that it could have dire consequences. There is not a good set of options here. But I believe very sincerely the approach we are taking is the best option of a very bad lot.
MALVEAUX: How do you protect those U.S. soldiers, Senator Lott, those who, if the numbers go down dramatically and there is an increase in violence, you're just not going to have that kind of force to protect the Americans or the Iraqis?
LOTT: That is a very critical point. How the mission -- and how we go forward, we're going to have to be very careful with. And I'd like to have the military commanders' advice and their decisions on how that would be done.
One of the problems that I see with a lot of the ideas that are out there now is that the mission has been a little bit too tightly structured. You know, you must begin withdrawal by a certain date; you've got to pull back into a more secure zone, do training, secure the borders.
What about fighting Al Qaida?
What about the insurgents that have been a big part of the problem in Baghdad?
So I'm not saying that I have the magic solution, but I'd love to hear, first, what the commanders have to say. I do agree with Senator Reed -- and I want to make this point -- to this extent. At some point, the Iraqis are going to have to understand that they have got to make progress politically, and it is their country.
We do not wish to run it for them. We do not wish to stay there forever. And we have to begin to pull out and give more and more to them. But we've got to make sure that we do it in the right way.
MALVEAUX: Well, let's talk about the Iraqi government. Clearly, the president has put a lot of his political capital behind the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. But this was the assessment of the former CIA director, Michael Hayden. This was last year in November.
He says, and this according to The Washington Post on Thursday, "The inability of the government to govern seems irreversible. A government that can govern, sustain and defend itself is not achievable in the short term."
Is it alarming here that you've got this kind of assessment that happened months ago, last year. You've had so many soldiers on the front line dying here.
And where does the Maliki government go now?
Is this a functioning government, one that this Bush administration, this Congress can believe in?
REED: It's a very dysfunctional government. The ministries don't operate very well. They don't provide basic services to the Iraqi people. There is a huge number of children in the country who are malnourished. There's problems with a potable water supply.
Some people have likened this to a nearly failed state. And it's a very difficult situation for the government. Maliki might be trying, but we're not seeing the positive effects on the ground. And if there's not political success, then ultimately the military forces we're employing will not get that.
MALVEAUX: Can you support regime change, Senator Lott?
LOTT: I think it would be inappropriate to even talk about that. Obviously, we'd like to see their government do more. They have not achieved what we'd hoped they would.
I think part of that is our problem with regard to the economic improvements and the services improvements. But I remember -- if you read the history of our own country -- even after the, kind of, ugly war against the British, it was very difficult for a long time.
George Washington almost got thrown out over the Jay Treaty. So let's be careful looking down our nose and saying, we don't like the way you're doing your government.
We should continue to encourage and impress. For us to be calling for regime change, how does that help the current government be able to do more? I don't think it does.
MALVEAUX: I want to turn to the Middle East. Obviously, there are very important discussions that are going to be taking place tomorrow and the days and weeks to come, regarding Israeli and Palestinian peace. We heard some news, actually, from Hadley, national security adviser Stephen Hadley, earlier today. Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HADLEY: He is going to reaffirm his commitment to the two-state solution for that issue, a Democratic Palestine living side by side in peace and security with Israel.
He's going to talk about the opportunity we have to advance that cause. And the opportunity is to support President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, the leader of the Palestinians, in their effort to establish a democratic, effective government.
(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: He's talking about President Bush, tomorrow, who is actually going to be addressing this issue, trying to move the ball forward here.
Has this administration done enough?
The president says he's going to be sending Secretaries Rice and Gates to the region in August. But there seems to be still a lot of problems and, really, flailing, if you will, in the Middle East peace process.
REED: The administration hasn't done enough. They've had a hands-off attitude for many, many years now. And at a critical juncture, when Abbas was just taking over, when there was an opportunity to really support him, the administration was not doing that.
And as a result, the situation deteriorated. Then they called for early elections. And much to their surprise and to our disconcert, the Hamas forces won the election.
So this is a situation that calls for a dramatic step, not just another speech. I thought -- I was encouraged when they announced that Prime Minister Blair, former Prime Minister Blair was going to be the special envoy. But it turns out that his powers are rather limited, and it's a part-time job. It should be a full-time job with the panoply powers to bring both sides together.
MALVEAUX: I want to switch, real quick, because we are running out of time here. We heard from the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, talking about a gut feeling of a terrorist attack.
It got a lot of really -- a lot of complaints, really an outrage here.
Really quickly, Representative Benny Thompson said, here, that "Words have power, Mr. Secretary. You must choose them wisely and carefully, especially when they relate to the lives and security of the American public. What color code and homeland security advisory system is associated with a gut feeling?
What sectors should be on alert as a result of your gut feeling? What cities should be asking their law enforcement to work double shifts because of your gut feeling? Are the American people supposed to purchase duct tape and plastic sheeting because of your gut feeling?"
Obviously, a lot of gut feelings in this editorial. But was it responsible for Chertoff to just come out and say that, with no evidence of a specific threat?
LOTT: You know, this is typical of the atmosphere in Washington. There is nothing this administration can do or say that will not be immediately attacked and criticized on a partisan or some other basis.
MALVEAUX: Do you think it was appropriate? LOTT: Look, when it comes to terrorism, let's be careful. I do think for the secretary to remind us that there is still a very real threat out there and that we should be vigilant -- and by the way, that we have been successful, that there has not been another attack since 9/11, but also make sure that all our different government entities -- state, local, federal -- and all of us as individuals.
Remember, some of the most effective alerts or alarms when there's been a terrorist attack have come from people in the street, average people. So we do need to all be on guard and on alert and be aware and not become complacent about the threat we face.
MALVEAUX: I'm going to have to leave it at that. Thank you so much, Senator Lott, Senator Reed.
REED: Thanks, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Appreciate your time here on "Late Edition."
And coming up, after almost a year of renovations, there is a brand-new briefing room for all the hardworking reporters covering the White House. I'll give you a behind-the-scenes tour of the new digs when we come back.
And coming up at 1:00 p.m. Eastern for our North American viewers, Tom Foreman hosts "This Week At War." Don't miss it. "Late Edition" will be right back.
MALVEAUX: It was a homecoming of sorts for the White House press corps this week. The briefing room inside the White House had been closed for a much-needed face lift for almost a year with the media reporting from across the street.
As one of the residents, I had a personal interest in how all those renovations turned out.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): The press corps covering the president is back in the White House.
BUSH: We missed you. Sort of.
MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush unveiled the new, glossy, state-of-the-art, high-tech briefing room after a nearly year-long renovation. It started with putting if air conditioning.
BUSH: Modern conditions. Conditions where a fellow like me would feel comfortable coming in here and answering a few questions without losing 20 pounds.
MALVEAUX: It's a big improvement: a sleek new podium, larger work spaces, seats with Internet, phones and power connections, robotic cameras and 570 miles of cable in what was once the presidential swimming pool below.
It may not look like much, but this is what it was like before: broken, tattered chairs, chipping paint, asbestos, cluttered work quarters to bigger than closets, and an infestation of other living things.
ELAINE QUIJANO, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And remember the spiders...
MALVEAUX (on camera): That used to come down.
QUIJANO: ... dangling from the ceiling as you'd be typing, and little friends coming down to visit once in awhile? And then the mice.
MALVEAUX: That used to, like, kind of scamper a bit.
BILL PLANTE, CBS NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESP." It was a rat hole, no doubt about it.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): So will this sleeker set make it any easier for the White House to spin?
MALVEAUX (on camera): So, Helen, do you think that they'll tell us the truth any more now that they've got a new stage?
HELEN THOMAS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: No. But I'm glad they kept their promise that we would come back to the White House.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): Since the renovation, the White House has played musical chairs. CNN's been moved to the front row where the most prominent networks are assigned.
MALVEAUX (on camera): By Fox colleagues, second row. So, Brett, how are the nosebleed seats there?
BRETT BAIER, FOX NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESP.: Man, you have to do this to me?
MALVEAUX: Well, is this a fair and balanced view here from the second row?
BAIER: Very fair and balanced, right behind Helen Thomas. We think we're central focused left and right. It's all good.
THOMAS: I like being front row center. I can stare them down and so forth and ask the questions. And I can be heard and I hope the answers will be a little better than we've had.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): More likely than not, the answers won't come at all. President Bush playfully reenacted a familiar routine.
BUSH: Ready, I'm going to cut the ribbon. And then you yell.
I cogitate and then smile and wave.
MALVEAUX: Perhaps with the new digs, we'll see more of Mr. Bush. We'll certainly keep asking.
(UNKNOWN): Y'all come back.
MALVEAUX: Well, it's still a work in progress. The total cost is unknown. It's estimated to be anywhere from $8 million to $20 million.
There is much more ahead on "Late Edition."
Up next, we'll get Baghdad's reaction to the tough grades from the Bush administration. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari tells us what his government will do to tamp out the violence in Baghdad.
"Late Edition" will be right back.
MALVEAUX: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
Iraq's leaders on the hot seat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZEBARI: I think the country still needs the continued support of the multinational forces for some time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Will the government be able to deliver? A conversation with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.
Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Joe Biden on the president's Iraq strategy and his plan for winning the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I don't think Congress ought to be running the war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: The political battle over Iraq. A subpoena standoff between the White House and Congress. And the McCain presidential campaign in free fall. Insight and analysis on the week's big stories from CNN's Ed Henry, Joe Johns and The Hotline's Amy Walter.
Welcome back. I'm Suzanne Malveaux in for Wolf Blitzer. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says his country's army and police will be able to oversee security if U.S. troops leave, but he says more time is needed to meet key political benchmarks.
To get a read-out on this, a short while ago I spoke with Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari.
MALVEAUX: Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, thank you so much for joining us here on "Late Edition." Appreciate the time. Now of course, want to...
ZEBARI: You're welcome.
MALVEAUX: Want to start off this week, the Bush administration released its Iraq progress report. We'll get to that in a minute. But as you know, there is a raging debate that is taking place in our country about when U.S. troops should come home.
President Bush trying to buy some time for his Iraq troop surge -- the American troop surge to work. This is what the prime minister said yesterday. He says: "We are fully confident that we are able to take full responsibility for security any time the international forces wish to withdraw."
As you know, Mr. Zebari, a lot of people want those forces to come home now. Is the Maliki government -- are they capable of actually securing the country?
ZEBARI: Well, I think what the prime minister said, in fact, eventually definitely the Iraqi government, the Iraqi people, the Iraqi security forces must assume responsibility of the country -- the security responsibility and to replace the multinational forces.
But in no way actually, as many of the media reports indicate, he was calling for an immediate, abrupt departure of these forces. I think the country still needs the continued support of the multinational forces for some time.
And this is what we have been discussing with the multinational forces command, with the U.S. embassy, with the U.S. officials, that definitely that is the goal. But he was not referring for either a precipitous withdrawal or departure of the troops.
But as a sign of confidence, yes, the Iraqi security forces, the military have grown up, I think. They are assuming leadership positions. They are taking the lead in many of the ongoing battles against Al Qaida, against the terrorists and the insurgents.
But he was not referring to any timeline or any immediate departure. I spoke with...
MALVEAUX: Mr. Zebari...
ZEBARI: ... the prime minister in detail -- yes?
MALVEAUX: Sure. Can we talk about that timetable? You said eventually they will be able to take over. What do you see that timetable being? How long do you think it will take?
ZEBARI: Well, I think, really, we have another review coming up at the end of the year, in November or December, where the Security Council will look at the mandate of the multinational forces. And then it will be up to the Iraqi government to decide or determine whether it still needs the continued presence of foreign troops or not.
But I think that we are some time from that decision. I think the presence of these forces still will be needed. The situation is volatile. It's not stable. There are many challenges and security threats, internal and external.
And our forces really have not reached the level of the self- sufficiency needed for them, you see, to do it by themselves. So we still need that support. We are discussing, as we are talking, Suzanne, about some long-term arrangement between the Iraqi government and the United States and maybe other members of the coalition.
MALVEAUX: Is it fair to say then that both of the proposals by the Republicans as well as the Democrats are unrealistic? They are calling for a troop withdrawal, perhaps as early as immediate to early next year. Is it fair to say that neither one of those are realistic proposals in your opinion?
ZEBARI: I don't think it's realistic. I mean, judging the situation on the ground, I mean, this decision really is condition- driven. I mean, that we see some improvement, we see some self- confidence building up in the Iraqi government, in the Iraqi forces. But still we are some way from that position.
I believe there could be a possibility for some drawdown in some time maybe next year, but really, there are no plans or decision to ask or to demand for an immediate withdrawal of the troops at the moment.
MALVEAUX: And, Mr. Zebari, you have said that there -- as your understanding, there will be a long-term presence of U.S. troops in your country, some sort of relationship there.
Has the U.S. government -- have they given you any indication of what that would look like, where those troops would be positioned and what their role would be?
ZEBARI: In fact, we did discuss this notion with U.S. officials at the highest level and...
MALVEAUX: Who would that be, Mr. Zebari? Can you tell us?
ZEBARI: ... we are -- well, we are thinking alike. I think with the president, with the vice president, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, with the national security adviser, I think even with congressional leaders.
Recently I was in Washington. I did raise this issue of some security partnership for long term between Iraq and the United States. And this will come later, I think, during the year.
MALVEAUX: And those discussions you had, I assume, were with Secretary Rice?
ZEBARI: No, we did discuss it with Secretary Rice, indeed, yes. And I think the idea was well-received. I mean, there was no objection or opposition. But it needs to be discussed in more detail because this is an important issue for us, for the United States, and for our common fight against terrorism.
MALVEAUX: I want to turn to the benchmarks. Obviously, this Iraq progress report came out this week from President Bush. There were eight satisfactory, eight unsatisfactory, two that really could not be determined.
Of the unsatisfactory, I want to highlight four of them: de- Baathification laws, that, of course, bringing the former Baath Party members, Saddam loyalists back into the fold; oil-sharing agreement; disarming militias; establishing provincial elections.
Do you agree with this assessment that it was unsatisfactory in these four areas, that your government has a lot more work to do?
ZEBARI: I believe the White House report was balanced, was fair and sober. And I think on balance it indicated that there is signs of progress, that things are not static, not stale. But there is movement on a number of these benchmarks.
By the way, those benchmarks really are Iraqi benchmarks. I mean, on the unsatisfactory accomplishments, I think there is some more work to do, definitely. But we are confident that there is a high possibility for the oil law or the hydrocarbon law to be passed by the assembly.
Also there is work being done on the de-Baathification measures, on constitutional review, on confronting the militias and clearing the neighborhood and streets from them and their influence.
But these are political issues. Really it needs hard negotiation, hard bargaining. That's why restricting it to a certain timeline, I think, may not be wise. These are extensional issues for Iraq, for the Iraqi future. And it needs consensus. We are not working here by the majority rule 50-plus-one to pass this legislation.
We need to build national consensus. That is why these things take time.
MALVEAUX: I want to follow with that, because there is something very interesting you mentioned in The Washington Post earlier this week. You said that you were "the first to argue: These are not your benchmarks, these are our goals. Why do you make it yours? I think some of the difficulties we've been through in the past is because we have been held hostage to these timelines."
Do you believe that these timelines that the U.S. government is putting before the American people -- do you think it really makes any progress? Does it in -- does it actually cause the leaders to come together in any kind of consensus?
MALVEAUX: Do the Iraqi leaders really want reconciliation at this time?
ZEBARI: Well, really, we have our views on this timeline. I mean, we know, we understand the frustration by the U.S. public, by the U.S. Congress about the lack of progress or the slowness of this progress.
But at the same time, people are not comprehending what we are facing, what we are at on a daily basis. I think these benchmarks initially were commitments the government -- my government has made.
It was the prime minister who announced the policy of national reconciliation when first he took over a year ago. People want to see some results, some movement on that. It was our constitutional obligation to do constitutional review.
It was our political commitment to review the de-Baathification measures and also to end the rule of militia and to impose the rule of law. So these were Iraqi goals, Iraqi benchmarks. And by...
MALVEAUX: Mr. Zebari...
ZEBARI: ... posing certain timelines I think sometimes it is not helpful.
MALVEAUX: I want to wrap here by asking you, obviously there is a lot of work to be done in the next eight weeks. Your parliament is taking four weeks off for vacation.
Now this seems unconscionable to many Americans who look at this and say that there are U.S. soldiers who are out there who are dying and will die, continue to die, in the month of August. How do you justify your government's taking four weeks off?
ZEBARI: Well, initially, Suzanne, when the issue was raised in Congress that the Iraqi parliament is taking two months' leave, in fact, the government intervened and other politicians intervened to cut down that -- their summer leave shorter -- to make it shorter.
And they have accepted that. They have discussed a number of these legislation. They have done some work. But we are continuing to work with them to make them work really. Business is not as usual in Iraq these days. And everybody has -- need to redouble his or her efforts, you see, to help stabilize and rebuild the country.
So they have a leave, a legitimate leave, but really this would be as short as possible.
MALVEAUX: Well, we're going to have to leave it at that. Mr. Zebari, the foreign minister of Iraq, thank you so much for joining us here on "Late Edition."
ZEBARI: You are welcome. You are most welcome.
MALVEAUX: And just ahead, we'll talk with Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Joe Biden about how he'd handle Iraq if he were president. Not an idle question, of course, since he's running hard for the office.
Then, are the Democratic presidential front-runners plotting to freeze the other candidates out of future debates? Our political panel weighs in.
And if you have questions for any of the presidential candidates, you'll have a chance to ask them at the CNN/YouTube debate. The Democrats face off on Monday, July 23 in South Carolina, and Republicans take the stage September 17 in Florida.
Send in your questions to CNN.com/youtubedebates. And we'll be right back.
MALVEAUX: And welcome back to "Late Edition."
While the Republican revolt over the war is just starting to gain steam, Democrats are stepping up their long-time efforts to force a change of policy.
Now, joining us now from Chicago, one of the earliest and strongest critics of the president's war strategy, Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Joe Biden.
BIDEN: Hey, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Hi, Joe. Thanks so much for being with us on "Late Edition."
I want to start off -- obviously, you have a new book that is coming out, "Promises to Keep," as well. We'll talk about that in a little bit, but want to start off first by talking about the president's press conference.
He seemed to mention General David Petraeus numerous times when defending his Iraq war strategy, defending the crease in troops. There were some critics who looked at that and said, "He is throwing Petraeus under the bus." Senator John Warner had this to say this morning. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN W. WARNER, R-VA.: He's the president. General Petraeus is not going to decide it. Petraeus reports. The president decides. He's the commander in chief.
(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: Senator Biden what do you think is going on here? It looks -- is everybody just simply dodging responsibility, accountability? Are we at a stalemate here between the president and Congress?
BIDEN: Well, I think we're at a stalemate between the president and everybody, quite frankly. The president -- I think his only strategy here is to keep this from completely imploding and handing it off to the next president. I really mean that.
I mean, General Petraeus is a good guy, but it's not the Petraeus policy. It's the Bush policy. And Petraeus is going to come back in September, I'm confident, and tell us that, at best, it's a mixed bag.
And he's going to say what he's been telling me privately and publicly to other people over the last year-and-a-half, that it all rests on a political solution. You've got to figure out how in the lord's name you're going to get this central government of Iraq to be able to do anything to pull the country together.
And our own intelligence community has pointed out -- General Hayden back in November said there's really no possibility of this central government being able to pull the country together.
And that's why I've been pushing for well over a year to separate the parties along the lines of their constitution, give them control over their own regions with a limited central government and begin to move toward a political settlement. Otherwise, none of this is going to matter.
MALVEAUX: Senator Biden, you had suggested earlier, months ago, about the possibility of Iraq partitioning itself into three different sections. Do you think that's a viable option today?
BIDEN: I think it's the only option, Suzanne. Here's what's going to happen, in my humble opinion. We're not going to be able to sustain 160,000 troops for another year there, number one.
You're going to see more than 10 Republicans -- I said back in January, that you're going to see 17 to 18 Republicans leaving the president by mid to late fall. We're going to be able to override his veto. But even if we didn't, we can't sustain the troop level there.
There's going to be drawing down. The civil war is going to get worst. And Iraq is not going to split into three parts. It's going to splinter into many parts.
The biggest problem, Suzanne, is the administration doesn't deal with what's on the ground. On the ground, you have prime minister that who is incapable -- and, I think, does not have the desire -- to make the kind of accommodation needed with the Sunnis.
You just heard my friend, the foreign minister, who happens to be a Kurd, not telling you that the Kurds have been unwilling to have an oil law that would bring the Sunnis into the deal. There's no political solution on the horizon. And now you have Sadr taking on Maliki. They're both Shia. You're going to see the Shia in a gigantic fight among one another. And you'll see the Shia saying, "Hey Americans, what are you doing working with those Sunnis, arming them, to take on Al Qaida because they're a bunch of thugs? They're just going to come after us."
And the whole thing is, we're in the midst of a civil war with nobody. Nobody in this administration offering a political alternative brought about by the international community.
MALVEAUX: Well, Senator Biden, if I could, Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari also said that he believes it's going to take months and months before they even determine whether or not there's going to be some progress at least by the end of the year.
MALVEAUX: So, if the Democrats, if the Senate does not get that filibuster-proof, veto-proof number that it needs, what else is there to do?
What can the Senate do?
BIDEN: We're just going to watch a lot of Americans die unnecessarily. And that's literally what is going to happen. We all know. In our hearts, we all know.
I don't think there's a dozen Republicans who believe the president's proposal makes any sense. I don't believe there's a dozen members of the United States Senate that think there's any possibility of a military solution here, no matter how many troops we put in.
And so the question is, what is the political solution? The political solution is to get the international community engaged, through the United Nations, to essentially put an imprimatur, a stamp of approval on, making this a federal state.
MALVEAUX: Well, the president says that he's sending Secretaries Rice and Gates to the region in August to meet with the Egyptians and the Saudis, to get involved here.
Do you think it's too late?
BIDEN: No, it's not too late. But we've got to meet with the Russians. And we've got to meet with the Security Council. And we've got to meet with the Brits. We've got to meet with the French. We've got to meet with the international powers.
I went up to the United Nations three weeks ago -- four weeks ago Monday and I asked to meet with the permanent five of the United Nations, China, Russia, France, England and the United States.
And I said, what would you do if the president of the United States said, convene an international conference on Iraq, bring in all the parties from Iran to Turkey to Egypt, et cetera, and say, here's the political outcome we're looking for and all sign on to a political solution? They said they would do it. And the president has not engaged them at all. Look what the prime minister of Iraq is saying. He said we're having a problem with the neighbors.
Now, how do you deal with a problem with the neighbors? You've got to get the big countries. You've got to get the big dogs in the pen, saying look, here's the deal, not in terms of their troops, but in terms of imposing a diplomatic solution on this.
And we're doing nothing along those lines, Suzanne, except say we're going to send more American troops there in the midst of a civil war that's not going to produce a political outcome.
MALVEAUX: Now, Senator Biden, I know that you would like to be one of the big dogs, the president of the United States.
I want to take a look at your candidacy, if you will.
MALVEAUX: A couple of polls we'd like to show you. The first one, USA Today/Gallup poll, "Choice for Democratic Presidential Nominee," you are below Clinton, Obama, Gore, Edwards. You are at 3 percent here.
The next poll, showing money raised by the Democratic candidates, has you pretty much at the bottom, at $6 million.
What do you need to do to reinvigorate your campaign and to get you competitive compared to the rest of the pack?
BIDEN: Well, as you notice, all those other polls also show that none of these polls matter. Only 9 percent of the Democrats in the primaries have made up their mind. Everybody knows that. Everybody in politics knows that, including the press, number one.
Number two, we're doing very well in Iowa and New Hampshire and the early states in organizational structure.
And number three, this is going to be about a campaign about ideas, not money. I have not had one single solitary person in any state I've been in ask me how much money I had.
They've asked me, what's my solution for the war in Iraq.
They've asked me, what am I going to do about education, et cetera, et cetera.
So, you know, I really think that this is very premature. Democrats do not make up their minds until the middle of the fall, into the late fall. And I predict to you I'm going to do very well. We'll have enough money to compete in all of those primaries.
MALVEAUX: OK. And tell us a little bit about this book that's coming up.
BIDEN: Well, I wrote a book back when I thought I was going to be working with John Kerry in a Kerry administration. It had nothing to do with presidential politics.
It's called "Promises to Keep." And I was encouraged to write it by a guy named Richard Ben Cramer, who wrote the book "What it Takes," and asked how my personal values inform my public policy.
And I talk about a lot of things, including everything from the Supreme Court to the Balkans to Iraq, and how I think that the most significant thing about what we need in leadership is someone who -- and people who are willing to get back up.
My dad used to have an expression. He used to say, it's not whether -- the measure of success is not whether you get knocked down; it's how rapidly you get back up."
And the American people always get back up. And I think what they're doing is looking for somebody who is going to give them the opportunity to be able to take on the tough issues that are out there and just tell them the truth.
MALVEAUX: Senator Joe Biden, thank you so much for joining us here this morning on "Late Edition."
BIDEN: I appreciate it very much.
MALVEAUX: Thank you.
And coming up, former White House aide Harriet Miers defied a subpoena before the House Judiciary Committee this week. We will talk with our political panel about whether the White House and Congress are headed for a constitutional clash over executive privilege.
Also ahead, senators from both sides of the aisle had a lot to say about Iraq today. We'll bring all the best sound bites from the other Sunday morning talk shows in on our "In Case you Missed It" segment.
Stay with us on "Late Edition."
You're watching "Late Edition." I'm Suzanne Malveaux reporting from Washington. A final good-bye today for former First Lady Lady Bird Johnson in Texas. Fredricka Whitfield is at the "Late Edition" update desk with details. Fred?
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Suzanne. Let's take you straight to some live pictures there in Texas, where you're looking at the burial location for Lady Bird Johnson. She will be buried next to her husband, the former president Lyndon Johnson at Stonewall, which is the LBJ ranch.
You're looking at a number of people there. Hundreds of people will be there to witness this event taking place at the LBJ ranch, where, throughout the weekend, we saw thousands of people who attended the funeral services, where many representatives, first families were in attendance.
And then as the body lay in repose, something like 12,000 people had a chance to witness the laying of Lady Bird Johnson. Many people came out to honor this woman who has represented in so many ways a sense of calm, her campaign smarts, and even here poise.
And we understand, today, that hundreds of people -- as you see in this picture right here, hundreds of people have lined a procession from Austin all the way to Johnson City holding wildflowers in respect for her devotion to flowers and native plants. Suzanne?
MALVEAUX: Thanks, Fred. And up next on "Late Edition," former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore has dropped out of the presidential race, saying he just didn't have enough time to hire staff and raise money.
But clearly, cash and a crack staff is not everything. Senator John McCain had all that and it isn't helping him at all. The best political team on television will weigh in on that and a lot more.
Stay with "Late Edition."
MALVEAUX: The growing Republican revolt over the war, setbacks in the presidential campaign and a sex scandal in the Senate. A lot to talk about, so let's get straight to it with our own CNN White House correspondent Ed Henry, CNN's Joe Johns, who keeps politicians honest on "Anderson Cooper 360" and Amy Walter, editor in chief of The Hotline and a CNN political contributor.
Oh, there's so much to talk about. Great stuff, good stuff. I want to first start off about the president. We saw him obviously in the new briefing room, the new digs, but kind of like an old message, I think, Ed. Let's play a really quick clip of what the president is saying about the American psyche about the war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I understand why the American people are, you know, they're tired of the war. There's war fatigue in America. It's affecting our psychology.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Ed, is it war fatigue or is it Bush fatigue? What does the White House seem to be trying to accomplish this week and moving into next week when you've got all this legislation about the Iraq troop surge.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What they're trying to do is stem the tide of these Republican defections. I've learned about a phone call that Karl Rove placed this past week to one of the Republican defectors, George Voinovich. And Voinovich confirms to CNN that he was very blunt in telling Karl Rove, look, a lot of mistakes have been made, but the president's legacy is on the line now. You have a real opportunity here to step up and figure out a way to end this war in a way that keeps troops safe and also tries to stabilize the region. Now Rove confirms he had this conversation but won't get into the details of it. He talks to Voinovich all the time. But the point is that Tony Snow has been out there saying, look, there aren't a lot of Republican defections. We're still on the same page.
The fact of the matter is that both in public and in private, the president is very much under fire with his own Republicans. They're being blunt in saying, look, it's time to try to save your legacy here.
MALVEAUX: And Amy, I don't know if we're really looking at a stalemate or if there is any kind of wiggle room, some room for compromise. Let's take a listen to two senators who really had it out this morning on NBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JIM WEBB, D-VA.: Somebody needs to speak up for them rather than simply defending what the president says.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: When they re-enlist in the highest numbers anywhere else in the military, they're speaking...
WEBB: This is one thing I really take objection to is politicians who...
GRAHAM: The soldiers are speaking. The soldiers are speaking, my friend.
WEBB: You know, this is one thing I really -- this is one thing I really take objection to is politicians who...
GRAHAM: Let them win. Let them win. They want to win. Let them win.
WEBB: May I speak? Is politician whose try to put their political views into the mouths of soldiers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: I keep hearing that there is -- everybody's at a stalemate. There's no sense of compromise. And I keep hearing that the Democrats do not want to establish an alliance with the Republicans, that they really don't want that because they want to put this on the president, and they want the Republicans to pay for this war.
WALTER: That's right. You remember going into this 2008 election, Democrats really do want to make this an election of change, of course, and do want to put the weight of the Iraq war and the president's own popularity on Republicans.
Giving Republicans a chance to control the terms of the debate, which quite frankly is why I think Republicans still are hanging on in the House, in the Senate. Maybe privately they are feeling nervous about this, but they want a chance to be able to control the terms of the debate, not let Democrats control that and not have to go on a Democratic plan.
The bigger problem I think here for Democrats, and that exchange sort of really brought it to light here, is what do voters see of all this? Right? Do they see that Washington, who they right now by the way feel very poorly about, the Congress. Do they just see...
MALVEAUX: Worse than the president, I think, right?
WALTER: Exactly. Do they just see that everything that we said in 2006, everything that voters said -- we want change, we want people to get things done, we want Congress to just stop it and start moving on important issues -- and instead, they're still engaging in these battles, this sniping, that nobody comes out of this looking very good.
And instead of Democrats getting an advantage on this, maybe instead they are going to have to start from scratch in 2008, too.
MALVEAUX: And Joe, I also want to ask you, too, is there a danger here that perhaps when people look at Congress they think, well, nobody is getting anything done here.
JOHNS: Sure, that's the situation. What we're talking about here is gridlock, and it makes it hard for Democrats because they're in control. One of the interesting things we are hearing about right now is the outline of a plan from senators Lugar and Warner of Virginia that sounds like a very centrist plan, but included in there is the notion of allowing basically a new authorization for war which is something, oh, Senator Hillary Clinton talked about.
MALVEAUX: Sounds very familiar.
JOHNS: Right. Not too long ago. So, are they actually trying to draw in the presumptive front-runner from the Democratic side to actually have to sign on to this Republican plan? It's delicious.
HENRY: The gridlock has been that Republicans have not been coming over and voting with the Democrats to change the policy, but this week you started seeing it. It's only the beginning, and there are not enough votes to change the policy yet, but you're seeing more Republicans go over to the Democratic plans to withdraw troops, set timelines, something the president doesn't want. And while the president's buying time until September, it's becoming more and more clear September's the real deadline here.
MALVEAUX: And Ed, tell me about what the president said. Because I thought I heard a little bit of wiggle room, even some suggestions of a Plan B coming from the president. He didn't have a timetable set, but he did seem to suggest in his language that he is thinking the next step here.
HENRY; He has to be. You're absolutely right. It's being forced on him, if nothing else. And I think part of what he's trying to do is redefine victory.
We heard from Tony Snow in the middle of the week, how does he define victory? Beating, defeating Al Qaida. Well, that was not the mission at the beginning of this five years ago.
And they're trying more and more to shift this to be all about Al Qaida and 9/11, and they've been chastised before for making the link between 9/11 and Iraq, but when they're in trouble, they're going to that well once again.
MALVEAUX: And how is that playing, Amy?
AMY WALTER, THE HOTLINE: Well, that's right. Are voters going to have -- is that well very deep when you have an approval rating down in the 20s, the high 20s. There's not a whole lot -- voters aren't giving you a whole lot of benefit of the doubt right now.
So I think if I'm a Republican, especially one who, I don't know, might be running for president, the key here is, you have to be very careful, right, in alienating your conservative base. That's what they're concerned about right now. But trying to set a course that they can control. Again, to say, "This is not the way the president is doing. Here is how I'm going to do it," without completely splintering the Republican base.
MALVEAUX: And Joe, I know there's been a lot of debate about Al Qaida, the strength of Al Qaida. We saw the National Intelligence Estimate as well.
And it's clear here that the president, while he says these are the same people who attacked us on 9/11 who are fighting in Iraq, it really isn't the same group. They're not getting orders from Osama bin Laden. Perhaps they're inspired by Osama bin Laden. Do you think that this is an argument that the American people are going to buy?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's something that the administration keeps getting hit with. If you notice from that news conference that the president just gave, the very first question came from Helen Thomas, and it was about whether you're the guy, whether you and your administration actually sort of lured in this Al Qaida element when they were not heretofore there.
So, that's a very complex thing to try to push to the American public. And the White House knows it's quite effective or at least has been effective in the past to push this idea of, you're in danger because of what happens in Iraq.
HENRY: And you'll remember in May, there was a Senate report that came out and said the president was warned by the CIA and others before the war in Iraq that if you go in, you could actually build Al Qaida strength because they'll use it as a magnet for terrorists. And in fact, a Bush administration report leaking out this past week says Al Qaida is stronger now.
WALTER: Well, and I think what's interesting, if you saw, both The Washington Post and New York Times this weekend ran stories about how small town America, which is taking the brunt in many of the deaths of these soldiers, is feeling about the war, how they are becoming more soured on the war.
And so making these complicated arguments about Al Qaida and threats and what the future's going to look like in the Middle East becomes very difficult to do when folks in small town America, the ones who are very supportive of the war from the first go round are saying, "It's not worth it anymore regardless of what people are telling us the consequences could be."
MALVEAUX: I want to change and turn direction here to executive privilege, executive power. Obviously, there's a big fight between the president, the administration. Congress is trying to get information on a wide subject, wide variety of subjects here. What we're going to do is we're going to go to the break first and then we'll tackle that whole mess. It's very complicated. We can't do it just piecemeal here.
So coming up, it's going to be a tough week for Senator John McCain's presidential campaign. Is the once Republican front-runner on his way out of the race? Well, we're going to get our panel's take on that when we come back.
But straight ahead, Senator John Warner is joining his Republican colleague Richard Lugar in calling for a change in Iraq war strategy. We'll tell you what they both had to say in just -- "In Case You Missed It" -- that segment. "Late Edition" will be right back.
MALVEAUX: And now, "In Case You Missed It," let's check some of the highlights from the Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. All the shows this morning featured senators speaking out on Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAHAM: This is very much a gigantic struggle between moderation and extremists and those who want to withdraw or have operational control reside in the Senate. I think you're making a mistake for the ages.
WEBB: If you're going to do this, if you want to stay in Iraq for five, 10 more years like Senator Graham does, or if you want to get out in a couple of months like Congressman Murtha does, we have to put some restraints on how our troops are being used.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-MICH.: So they try to make it out in their own self-assessment that this is a glass which is half full rather than being half empty. As a matter of fact, this is a cup or a glass with a big hole in the bottom. This is not a half-full, half-empty issue. They have made no progress in the one key area that everyone agrees must have progress or the violence will not end, and that's on the political side of things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RICHARD G. LUGAR, R-IND.: I would hope that as they have the conversations, they engage in planning so that by the time we come to October 16 when our resolution calls for a plan to be made public, there is some agreement with General Petraeus and our president.
SEN. JOHN W. WARNER, R-VA.: Start now, yes, to think about all of the options. I mean, they are in daily contact with Petraeus. It's not as if suddenly something will burst upon the scene in September.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER, R-TENN.: I'm afraid the president, whatever his new strategy is in September, won't be able to persuade enough people he's right to sustain it. Our legislation is his best chance, maybe his last chance, to have enough bipartisan support to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
And up next, Senator David Vitter went underground this week after he admitted to being a client of the so-called D.C. Madam. We'll ask our panel if the sex scandal will affect his political future when we come back. Stay with "Late Edition."
MALVEAUX: And welcome back. We are dishing politics with CNN's Ed Henry, "Hotline" editor in chief and CNN political contributor Amy Walter, and CNN's Joe Johns.
OK, we have got more to talk about here. Big battle between the White House, obviously, and Congress -- subpoenas, executive privilege. We saw this week former White House political director Sara Taylor who went before one of those investigative committees. But let's take a listen to what she actually said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARA TAYLOR, FMR. W.H. BUSH POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I'm respectful of the president's assertion of executive privilege.
I've been asked not to comment.
I don't think I can answer that question.
The letter that Mr. Fielding has sent, based on my understanding, is not something I am to talk about here today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: OK. So, Joe, she really didn't say very much, but she did more than Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, who didn't show up at all. Who comes out the winner here?
JOHNS: Everybody has a problem here, quite frankly, the way you play this out. I mean, these executive privileges battle come up from time to time between the White House and the Congress. And, generally, a lot of times, they work it out.
JOHNS: They work it out before they get to the real constitutional showdown before the courts. And one of those reasons is because both sides can get knocked around in the court of public opinion.
On the one hand, the Democrats, who have a lot to do up here and don't have very good approval ratings right now, could get slammed for wasting time when they have other things to do. I think the Republicans, the White House, could get slammed for example for showing that it had something to hide. And this is something people have asked questions about for a long time.
But the farther you push it, the more people start paying attention to that. So neither side wins if they don't work it out.
MALVEAUX: So, Joe, put your lawyer hat on for a moment. Is this going to court? Is that where we're headed now?
JOHNS: Well, it's certainly a potential. But as I said before, this is one of those things that tends to get worked out before they get all the way there. Both sides can see the advantage of actually not going to court and fighting it out perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court.
But I really wouldn't be able to gauge that. Number one, I'm not a lawyer and I don't pretend to be. I don't want that hung around my neck.
MALVEAUX: You have a law degree. You have a law degree. That counts for something here.
MALVEAUX: Let's talk a little bit about Senator John McCain. Obviously, a really tough week for him, Ed. You broke a couple of stories regarding his campaign, the defections as well as the money drying up. Let's hear from McCain. This is when he was asked what could keep him from still being a candidate by the time of New Hampshire primaries? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Contracting a fatal disease.
(APPLAUSE) Anything short of that?
MCCAIN: Not that I know of.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Not that he knows of. No fatal disease coming his way.
HENRY: That's the old McCain we all know, in the hallways of the Senate, where he's got that sharp wit. And we hadn't seen that for a while. Maybe now that he's on the ropes, we'll see the old McCain come back. That's obviously what he's hoping for, the battler, the maverick, et cetera.
But it's going to be very hard for him now after trying to be the establishment candidate and losing that magic from 2000. And the irony of course pointed out in the Time magazine in the new issue, they point out that this is the year where a 2000 McCain insurgent campaign could actually work because people want an outsider. They want change.
And yet he ran as the insider, and it looks like it backfired.
MALVEAUX: Well, and there's another -- there are other outsiders now. He didn't have the outsider mantle to himself. Obviously, Rudy Giuliani coming in as that perfect blend in some ways, especially for wary Republican voters, especially conservatives, who've never felt comfortable with John McCain.
Here comes Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of 9/11. Now, yes, on the social issues, he does have to placate wary social conservatives, but he comes in with a track record of success. He looks like a great general election candidate. So he took that. He really undercut McCain's image there.
And you're right. As Ed points out, you can't run as an establishment maverick.
MALVEAUX: Very good point. So does anybody want to take any bets or make any predictions about this week? What are we going to see in the McCain camp unfold? Is he going to survive, and do we believe him when he says he's sticking with it?
HENRY: One McCain adviser told me this week that they're floating this scenario that potentially he lays low for a while, in part because he doesn't have enough money to run around the country. Lay low in August. Try to plan a big speech around Labor Day and unveil the "new new" McCain. What that's going to be, we don't know for sure.
Others are saying he can't afford to stay out of the limelight that long.
WALTER: But it also suggests that there's a tactical answer to his problem when the reality is, as we just discussed, the rationale for his candidacy is the problem.
So whether he had money or didn't or had a great campaign staff or didn't, the fact of the matter is, if you don't have conservatives who feel that they can trust you, if you don't have a message that resonates, and when you have other candidates, whether it's Giuliani and now Fred Thompson, likely, who take that out from under you, there's not a lot left to do.
JOHNS: There's also that issue of matching funds. He might want to sort of stick around, at least until he gets enough money so that he can pay whatever bills he has off.
HENRY: Meanwhile, one candidate who's not going to do well with conservatives is David Vitter, as you mention. So it's a good thing he's not running for president.
MALVEAUX: He's forcing me to bring this up. I don't want to talk about this story. OK, let's just talk about it then. We'll talk about Senator David Vitter of Louisiana.
Obviously, he was accused of being a client for the D.C. madam as well as this Canal Street madam from New Orleans here. Rumors reports that he might quit. If that happens and the Democratic governor picks a replacement, we could see a huge shift here, a balance, a change in the balance of power.
WALTER: Remember, the gubernatorial contest in Louisiana is actually this year, not next year, and the Democratic governor is not running for re-election. Bobby Jindal, who's a current Congressman from the New Orleans area is considered the strong favorite. So Republicans most likely would hold the governorship.
You know, does Vitter hold on until after he is sworn in and as such then Republicans get to appoint him? It also suggests, you know, after some time, and he's hoping he can just sort of lay low for as long as possible, maybe this blows over.
He's not up until 2010, so he has some time there. But the bigger problem for Vitter in terms of looking down the road, maybe we're not talking about this even a week from now, but his base among social conservatives could be permanently damaged.
Remember, it's not that -- yes, we hear about scandals all the time in Louisiana, but if you're somebody who ran on a family values platform, and then you have to go back to those voters and ask for their support, it may have crumbled, and it may be hard to get back.
MALVEAUX: Joe, you want to weigh in? JOHNS: Well, she just spoke about Louisiana's history. And you can think of the number of politicians who had their share of troubles there in Louisiana and have been able pretty much to weather the storm.
I mean, Bill Jefferson got re-elected with about the biggest cloud around him that I think I've ever seen around a politician for a long time. So it's entirely possible that he wait this is kind of thing out and just tries to let it go away.
MALVEAUX: But I don't think it's going to go away. A sex scandal in Washington, I think people are going to keep talking about.
WALTER: Keep going, keep going. I know. Can Iraq really push it off the front page? That's the question.
MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you so much for all of you joining us. Of course, Ed Henry, Amy Walter and Joe Johns joining us here.
And if you would like a recap of today's program, you can get highlights on our new and improved "Late Edition" podcast. Just go to cnn.com/podcast.
And coming up at the top of the hour for our North American viewers, "This Week at War" with host Tom Foreman take a look at Pakistan's bloody standoff with extremists. Don't miss it.
"Late Edition" will be right back.
MALVEAUX: Let's take a look at what is on the cover of this week's major U.S. newsmagazines. Time explores how the Democrats got religion. Newsweek looks at how science is bringing more heart attack victims back to life. And U.S. News and World Report ranks America's best hospitals.
And that's your "Late Edition" for Sunday, July 15. Wolf will be back next Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. Until then, thank you very much for watching. I'm Suzanne Malveaux in Washington. And for our international viewers, stand by for world news.
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