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Iran's President Speaks at Columbia University; Strike at GM

Aired September 24, 2007 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Iran's president finally comes face-to-face with New Yorkers and gets an in-your-face tongue lashing from a university president.

But can Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- can he come back?

Is he backing down at all?

Tens of thousands of workers, meanwhile, walking off the job, idling America's biggest automaker.

How long before somebody blinks?

And he says Venezuela's Hugo Chavez seems smarter than President Bush and suggests Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is an amateur. My one-on-one interview with Donald Trump, more of it coming up this hour.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York.


He's been called a terror sponsor, a hate monger. And now he's in New York. That would be Iran's president. He's called -- been called a petty and cruel dictator now to his face. After that blistering introduction by Columbia University's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stood his ground today, refusing to back down on Iran's nuclear program or his denial of the Holocaust, and making some outrageous new claims in the process.

CNN's Mary Snow is joining us now.

She has the story -- Mary, quite an uproar, this New York visit from Ahmadinejad -- quite an uproar that it's generated.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly has, Wolf.

And Ahmadinejad was met with protesters here at Columbia University. You know, the president of Columbia came under intense pressure to withdraw his invitation to Ahmadinejad. He did not. But he did say he would challenge him. That he did. He had some scathing words for the Iranian president.

Here is part of his introduction.


LEE BOLLINGER, PRESIDENT, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Today, I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for. I only wish I could do better.


SNOW: And Lee Bollinger saying that Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust, calling it dangerous propaganda, saying that you're either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.

Now, Ahmadinejad, addressing the crowd, said that he was insulted by some of these words. He went on a rambling talk about science. And then he went into -- used that argument to say that still more questions exist about the Holocaust.

PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Given this historical event is a reality, we need to still question whether the Palestinian people should be paying for it or not. After all, it happened in Europe. The Palestinians people had no role to play in it.

So why is it that the Palestinians people are paying the price of an event they had nothing to do with?


SNOW: And now on one other topic, Wolf, the president of Columbia really pressed Ahmadinejad on this. He asked him about the execution of homosexuals. Ahmadinejad started going on about capital punishment in the U.S. But when Bollinger, Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia really pressed him, it brought this answer that really brought laughter from the crowd.

Here it is.

AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): In Iran, don't have homosexuals like in your country.


AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We don't have that in our country.


AHMADINEJAD (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who has told you that we have it.


SNOW: There were hundreds of students sitting outside watching this on a big monitor. And I was watching their reaction. Of course, this brought a lot of laughter when that comment came up. But, you know, Wolf, there were about 600 students in the auditorium where Ahmadinejad was speaking. Because this got such attention, some people say that this brought more legitimacy to him and that this was really an advertisement for Ahmadinejad because of the interest that it gained and how widespread this speech that he gave today received.

I watched it on TV, Mary. I take it, it was all pretty peaceful. There were demonstration. There were protests. But no violence erupted

Is that right?

SNOW: It was pretty peaceful. But I can tell you there were some heated exchanges that I witnessed among some of the students after Ahmadinejad was finished, particularly on his comments about the Holocaust. Students were arguing about that.

BLITZER: Mary Snow joining us from Columbia University up on the West Side here in Manhattan.

Some of America's biggest foes jumped at the chance to take the gloves off at the annual meeting of the United Nations general assembly.

Let's bring in our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee.

She's here in New York with us.

It's time of the year in New York for the fireworks to erupt -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, the U.N. Is usually considered pretty dry diplo-speak. But sometimes world leaders throw curve balls or insults.


VERJEE (voice-over): Pure political theater on the world stage.

PRES. HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR: Today the devil came here. Right here. Right here. And it smells of sulfur still today.

VERJEE: Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, won the prize last year for taking the biggest swing at President Bush following the podium antics of previous leaders hostile toward the U.S.

In 1960, Soviet strongman Nikita Khrushchev banged his fist and later his shoe on a table, forcing the first ever halt to the U.N. session.

That same year, Cuba's Fidel Castro clinched the world record for a four-and-a-half hour speech, ranting about the U.S. His actions outside the hall made headlines, too. He said his Manhattan hotel was too expensive, threatened to pitch a tent in Central Park and ended up staying in Harlem.

Palestinians leader Yasser Arafat's first visit to the U.N. Was dramatic. He marched in with a pistol on his hip, saying he came with an olive branch and freedom's fighter's gun.

Today's world leaders are just as good at showboating. Last year, Bolivian President Evo Morales held up a cocoa leaf, calling it the future of his country, directly snubbing the U.S. war against drugs.

PRES. EVO MORALES, BOLIVIA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): It's not possible for the cocoa leaf to be league for Coca-Cola and to be illegal for other consumptions in our country and throughout the world.

VERJEE: And last year, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took his own swipe at his host, blaming the U.S. for the world's problems and insisting Iran has a right to a peaceful nuclear program.


VERJEE: And the U.S., Wolf, as you know, suspects Iran wants to build a nuclear bomb -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain.

Zain is going to be busy in New York with all these diplomats.

Thanks very much.

The White House obviously watching closely, but, for the most part, staying out of the fray, saying -- and I'm quoting now -- "The president is aware that the president of Iran is here and we're not going to comment and respond to everything Iran's president says. President Bush thinks that the fact that president Ahmadinejad is here speaking publicly," the White House statement goes on to say, "shows how confident we are in our own democracy and values."

It's the first nationwide auto workers strike in three decades. Tens of thousands of UAW members are on the picket lines, bringing assembly lines at General Motors' plants to a halt.

Let's go to Susan Roesgen.

She's joining us live in Chicago -- so, Susan, what's this strike all about?

SUSAN ROESGEN, GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, no one really knows, Wolf. They're being very guarded in what they say on both sides. But the union workers kept working nine days after their contract with General Motors ended, until today, when they decided to put down the power tools and pick up the signs.


ROESGEN (voice-over): Like all strikes, this one started with defiance. How it ends, defiantly or in defeat, will affect the lives and wallets of more than 70,000 G.M. workers across the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want job security and we want our retirees taken care of. And I'll be retiring in two years, so all that is very important to us.

ROESGEN: The United Auto Workers union has been bargaining with General Motors since Labor Day. But UAW President Ron Gettelfinger called the strike, saying the negotiations had become one-sided.

RON GETTELFINGER, UAW PRESIDENT: It's just nothing that we wanted. Nobody wins in a strike. But there comes a point in time where somebody can push you off a cliff, and that's exactly what happened here.

ROESGEN: General Motors released a statement saying the bargaining involves complex, difficult issues that affect the job security of our U.S. workforce and the long-term viability of the company.

Neither side will say exactly what the sticking points are, but everyone knows the American car business is not the proud giant it once was. Fewer than half the cars we drive in this country are made by American companies. Foreign cars now rule the road.

The question is how much is the company willing to give and what are the workers willing to take?


ROESGEN: And, you know, many people buy cars toward the end of the year. So, Wolf, if you've been thinking about buying a G.M. pickup, maybe, don't worry because industry insiders say that G.M. has enough inventory to last for another couple of months or so and they don't expect the strike to last more than a couple of weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Susan, thanks very much.

Let's hope this thing passes quickly.

Let's bring in Jack Cafferty once again.

He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM in New York, at the Time Warner Center.

CAFFERTY: Together again.

And you're going to win that Emmy tonight, by the way.

BLITZER: It's not just me. It's CNN...

CAFFERTY: No, no, no. I understand.

BLITZER: ...the best political team on television.


BLITZER: We're nominated for our election night coverage last November.

CAFFERTY: But it was terrific. BLITZER: It was great.

CAFFERTY: It was good.

All right, $720 million a day. That's more than $500,000 a minute. That's the price of war in Iraq. A Quaker organization, American Friends Service Committee, has put out an analysis of the costs based on the work of a Nobel Prize winning economist and a Harvard public finance lecturer. The estimates take into account not just the cost of the war itself, but long-term factors such as health care for veterans, interest on debt and replacing military equipment.

The group is calling on Congress to bring U.S. troops home and take care of the needs of the American people. It also suggests how else $720 million a day could be spent here at home -- things like buying health insurance for more than 423,500 children; college tuition for almost 35,000 students; paying the salaries are almost 12,500 new school teachers or buying homes for almost 6,500 families. We think there are probably other uses for that kind of money.

So here's the question. One group says the war in Iraq is costing $720 million a day.

How could that money be better spent?

E-mail or go to

You could spend a little of it buying It's Getting Ugly Out There".

BLITZER: That's just a tiny little bit of it there.


CAFFERTY: But it's a use for some of it.

BLITZER: And for those who don't know -- and I don't know of anyone that doesn't know -- that's Jack's new best-selling book, "It's Getting Ugly Out There".

Thanks, Jack, very much.



BLITZER: No love lost -- New Yorkers let Iran's president know exactly how they feel.


DONALD Trump, THE Trump ORGANIZATION: When he leaves New York, he's going to dislike us a hell of a lot more.


BLITZER: Coming up, part two of my interview with Donald Trump.

And if you purchased steroids online, you could be getting a knock at your door from federal investigators.

Plus, a massive protest led by monks leads to warning of a crackdown.

But does the military government have an answer to the power of the Internet?

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, part two of my interview with Donald Trump. You're going to want to hear what he has to say about Columbia University's decision to welcome the president of Iran. Lots more coming up from Donald Trump this hour.

Meanwhile, more arrests could come after a major international illegal steroid bust. U.S. Drug enforcement sources say the steroids from dozens of U.S. labs were made from raw powder entering this country from China.

Our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, has details.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this was the largest crackdown ever against illegal steroids. And U.S. officials say that the intelligence they gained during this operation will help them fight this problem for years to come.


ARENA (voice-over): As steroids busts go, it was a grand slam. The 18-month investigation led to more than 120 arrests and DEA says more could come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a whole list of names that -- that we are going through at the current time. And we will look at all of the individuals that we have identified as end users of the anabolic steroids.

ARENA: Agents shut down 56 laboratories in the United States and seized nearly 11-and-a-half million steroid doses, plus 500 pounds of raw powder from China used to make steroids.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know now the entire chain, from the manufacturers all the way down to the users.

ARENA: The DEA says that chain begins with dozens of companies in China -- the sole provider of raw materials for steroids to the United States. Steroids are cooked up in labs, then sold to U.S. athletes -- from the pros to high schoolers, mostly online. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Studies have shown in recent years as many as 4 percent of high school seniors have used anabolic steroids and as many as 2 percent of eighth graders have used anabolic steroids. We see them in our gyms. We see them in our schools.

ARENA: But cutting off the supply of raw materials may be tougher than arresting users. So far, only one Chinese lab has been taken down. U.S. officials say they provided intelligence on 37 companies there and hope the Chinese follow up.


ARENA: There is one incentive for China to get tough, and that's the upcoming 2008 Beijing Olympics. Some investigators say that the games will motivate the Chinese to crack down or risk a lot of terrible P.R. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kelli Arena, thanks very much.

Carol Costello is monitoring some other stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what do you have?


A bold and deadly prison escape in Huntsville, Texas. And we're getting word now both inmates have been recaptured. Officials say they overpowered a female guard and ran her over with a stolen pickup truck as they fled, killing her. One of the escapees was captured within an hour. The other was found not long ago in a tree by searchers and bloodhounds.

An 18-year-old man arrested and charged with Friday's double shooting on the Delaware State University campus. Loyer Braden is facing attempt murder and other charges, with bail set at $60,000. As he was led into court, he told reporters he's sorry. One of the victims, a 17-year-old girl, remains in a hospital.

Violent crime up almost 2 percent last year, according to new numbers out from the FBI. It says it's the second year in a row the rate is up. The biggest increase was in robberies -- up more than 7 percent. Murder also up. But rape and property crime declined.

And President Bush pushing Congress to get spending bills to his desk before the fiscal year ends next week. And he's chiding them, accusing them of trying to sneak in what he calls special projects into the budget. But Democrats are firing back, saying the president has run up trillions of dollars in debt with the Iraq War and is no position to lecture on fiscal responsibility.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol, thanks very much.

Coming up, part two of my interview with Donald Trump. We'll talk about Ahmadinejad's visit to Columbia University today -- earlier today. Donald Trump thinks it may turn out to be good for Columbia and its reputation, also.

What does he have to think -- say about Hugo Chavez and George W. Bush?

Part two of the interview and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: An extraordinary scene in Myanmar, formerly called Burma. About 1,000 Buddhist monks leading as many as 100,000 people in a protest march. It's the latest in a series of demonstrations prompted by fuel price hikes by the military government. But this march had some strong political undertones, ending near the home of the democracy leader, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since 2003. After the protest ended peacefully, the military warned senior Buddhist clerics if they don't restrain protesting monks, the government will. Tomorrow, President Bush is expected to announce new sanctions against Myanmar.

Web users in Myanmar are skirting around the government's tight grip on the Internet to post video and images of the massive anti- government protests online and to CNN's I-Report.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

She's joining us -- Abbi, what are you seeing?

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these pictures coming into CNN despite those tight Internet controls.

Take a look at these images. The column of red there are the monks who are marching, flanked by hundreds of other people. You can hear the applause there as they pass by.

We've got another image of the monks arriving near the house of

Aung San Suu Kyi. And these pictures are trickling out despite controls across the country there. The group Reporters Without Borders, a watchdog group, says this is a country where news sites, information sites, sites like YouTube, are blocked and access to e- mail can be spotty. That group lists Myanmar as one of 13 Internet enemies worldwide. But a spokesman tells me today that pro-democracy activists are finding ways to bypass controls, to mask their online locations and get amazing pictures like this out to the rest of the world -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi.

Thanks very much.

Coming up, Donald Trump's take on one of President Bush's top adversaries.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: He, obviously he seems to be a lot smarter than our president, because he's killing him in every way. I mean he is beating our president at every step of the game.


BLITZER: You're about to find out who Donald Trump is talking about. More of my one-on-one interview with "The Donald." That's coming up.

Also, the "New York Times" now admits a mistake over a controversial ad.

Stick around.



BLITZER: To our viewers you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a scathing introduction for Iran's president as he made a controversial appearance at Columbia University. The university president introducing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by saying he, "exhibits all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator."

Also, President Bush playing pundit, predicting Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will win the Democratic presidential nomination next year. He says she has a, "great national presence" and predicts a tough race. But the president says she will be defeated by the Republican nominee, whoever that may be.

And Florida Democratic Party officials, defying the national Democratic Party, and moving ahead with plans to hold their primary January 29, an effort to hold more sway over the nominating process. That despite a vow from the national party to strip the state of its 210 nominating delegates.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Let's get some more now on our top story. The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, making a very controversial appearance at New York's Columbia University. Lots of people are opposed to that speech, but not necessarily Donald Trump.


BLITZER: Let's talk about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. He's here in your beautiful city today. He wanted to go to Ground Zero to pay his respects to the victims. The city said not a good idea. They didn't let him.

Do you think that was a good decision? TRUMP: Well, I think it would not have been a good idea. Number one, it would have been a huge security problem just getting him down there and getting him back. I don't think it would have been a good idea, no.

BLITZER: What about speaking at Columbia University here in New York City?

TRUMP: Well, I think it's good for Columbia. Everyone is talking about Columbia.

BLITZER: Well, why do you think it's good for...

TRUMP: So certainly it's good for Columbia.

BLITZER: Why? It's good publicity?


BLITZER: Because a lot of people are saying...

TRUMP: The world is talking about Columbia University. They'd never heard of Columbia University. So I think it's wonderful for Columbia University.

BLITZER: But, you know, some people are saying it's bad for Columbia University because a lot of alumni are going to be upset. They're not going to want to -- they're going to want to maybe hold back some of their contributions to Columbia University in protest.

TRUMP: It's very good for Columbia University, from a P.R. Standpoint. People are talking about Columbia University. I know Lee Bollinger from a past dealing. He made a terrible mistake on a deal that he was going do with us. They were going to have a campus midtown on a site that I had. It would have been the most incredible thing. He vetoed it for a terrible location -- just an absolutely terrible location. So...

BLITZER: So he made a bad real estate deal.


BLITZER: But what about the decision...

TRUMP: He made a bad real estate deal.

BLITZER: But what about at decision to let Ahmadinejad speak there?

TRUMP: It's their decision. They talk about free press. They talk about everything else. It's their decision. It's a decision they made. I think it's -- I think it's very good for Columbia, because everybody is talking about right now about Columbia University, including you and I.

BLITZER: Because the counter-argument is that Iran -- at least according to General Petraeus -- provides weapons to their allies in Iraq that wind up killing American soldiers. The State Department says this is the leading international supporter of terrorism. It's a leader that has denied the Holocaust existed, wants to see Israel destroyed.

Some people are saying he shouldn't be allowed to be speaking there and they would even like to go further and have the NYPD pick him up.

TRUMP: Well, I'll tell you this. I guess he hates us pretty much already. When he leaves New York, he's going to dislike us even more. And in a way, that's too bad. But he certainly dislikes us. And from everything I see on television, between CNN and everything else, he's going to dislike us a hell of a lot more once he leaves.

BLITZER: Who do you think, among the presidential candidates, would be the best qualified to make a deal with Iran to stop this nuclear program?

You wrote that book, "The Art of the Deal."

Who would you like representing the United States in a deal with Iran, with this regime there?

TRUMP: Well, I think you have different people. I think Rudy would do a very good job. He would be much more militant. I think Hillary would have -- Hillary's always surrounded herself with very good people. I think Hillary would do a good job. I think Mitt Romney would be very good.

I think different people for different reasons could do the job, but the key is they have to get the right people to negotiate. We have a bunch of third rate people doing our negotiating for us. We have diplomats nobody ever heard of and they're not negotiators.

BLITZER: Well, you have Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today; she rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange at 9:30 this morning.

TRUMP: Give me a break. You think she's a negotiator? She's a wonderful woman, a lovely woman. I tell the story, she waves. She waves hello. Has she made one deal? What has she done? Has she done one thing since she's been in that position? Not one. So it's very, very sad. The whole thing with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is very sad.

BLITZER: Is there anybody in the current Bush administration that you think is qualified to make a deal?

TRUMP: There are many -- not many people, but there are people within this country that are qualified that could do a great job of negotiating. And we don't use our best people. That's the problem we have in this country. They use their best people and they're against amateurs. That's why people are talking about China. They're talking about India, they're not talking about the United States anymore. BLITZER: Hugo Chavez, the leader of Venezuela, is going to be here in New York as well. Remember, last year when he Spoke at the U.N. general assembly he referred to President Bush as the devil. What do you make of this guy, Hugo Chavez?

TRUMP: Well, he's obviously very cunning and he's obviously -- seems to be a lot smarter than our president. Because he's killing him in every way. I mean he's beating our president at every step of the game, giving out his free oil to a family in the Midwest who's having a hard time paying for their oil. I mean this guy is some great promoter.

BLITZER: Watch more of the interview with Donald Trump. Had has in big opinions about the candidates for the presidency. You're going to hear about his favorites, what he thinks about the rest. More of the interview with Donald Trump.

Also though, why the sponsors of that controversial anti-war ad got a discount rate from the "New York Times." Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Just when it seemed that the news cycle was ready to move on from that controversial ad in the "New York Times," the paper itself is adding fresh fuel to the fire admitting the liberal anti-war group was cut a deal on the rate and that the ad itself violated the "New York Times" standards.

Let's go back to Carol Costello. She's watching this story.

So Carol, what is the "New York Times" now saying about this ad?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well you know Wolf, it's an interesting twist. "The New York Times'" own public editor, the guy who analyzes the paper's coverage as the readers' representative, blasted the "New York Times" for violating its own standards.

For two weeks, this ad has infuriated conservatives who charge the "New York Times" cut the liberal group a price break to smear the character of the man in charge of the Iraq war. Even the president weighed in on the controversy.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: I felt like the ad was an attack not only on General Petraeus but on the U.S. military.

COSTELLO: "The Times" stood by its decision to run the ad and denied it had given the group a discount, but now admits it made a mistake on the rate it charged. "We made an error. We apologize." For charging $64,575 instead of $142,083. But that apology doesn't satisfy some conservative critics like Bradley Blakeman whose asked the "New York Times" public editor to investigate.

BRADLEY BLAKEMAN, FREEDOMSWATCH.ORG: This ad should have never run. They know better than that. COSTELLO: And the ad does not seem to meet the "New York Times'" own written standards that do not permit personal attack ads.

In his column Sunday, the newspaper's public editor who does not answer to management, reported that a "Times" executive did review the ad before it hit the paper and decided, "While it was rough, he regarded it as a comment on a public official's management of his office." Public editor, Clark Hoyt, says Jesperson thought the question mark after Betray Us made a difference but Hoyt says he believes taking the ad without demanding the elimination of the phrase "Betray Us" was a mistake that could harm the reputation of the "New York Times."

HOWARD KURTZ, WASHINGTON POST: There is a suspicion, failure or not, that the "New York Times" was sympathetic to Moveon because it is a liberal anti-war group. That may be unfair but the "New York Times" had a responsibility to straighten this out a long time ago.

COSTELLO: For its part, says out of what it calls an abundance of caution said it's sending the "Times" $77,508 to cover its inadvertent discount.

Now the "New York Times" did send us a written apology for the inadvertent price break and did tell us it does not accept or reject ads based on political content.

Will anybody be fired over this? Well, we called the "New York Times" today and we were going to ask them that question, but we were told, we're done with this.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol. Thanks very much, Carol Costello watching that story.

Up ahead, what does Donald Trump make of Hillary Clinton's new health care plan and which candidate does he think is lazy? I'll ask him. More of my one on one interview with Donald Trump, that's coming up next.

Plus Ellen Degeneres and I together at last, stick around, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: More of our interview with Donald Trump coming up, but let's bring in our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's watching this unfold.

In the last hour, Gloria, we heard Donald Trump suggest that he agrees with the president that Hillary Rodham Clinton is going to get the democratic nomination. And the president insists that the republican candidate, whoever that might turn out to be, will eventually win the White House. So what do you think?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's obvious first of all, that neither of them is really thinking out of the box here, Wolf. I mean if you look at the polls, Hillary Clinton is doing very well. Barack Obama hasn't really had that surge he's hoping to have, but I think there's a certain strategy here at least on the president's part because he knows that there is one person who can unite the Republican Party and that is, of course, Hillary Clinton. She's their uniter, if you will, not their divider. And so they hope that Hillary Clinton candidacy will really motivate their base. However, Wolf, the big question is who will Hillary Clinton be running against?

BLITZER: And a lot of people suspect at least Rudy Giuliani would be the candidate of choice by Donald Trump. That's what he said in the last hour. Rudy Giuliani has done remarkably well in the national polls over all of these months, but the question is are the republicans enthusiastic about their field?

BORGER: Well, when you look at the poll, Wolf, what's interesting is that the democrats are much more enthusiastic about their candidates than the republicans are about their set of candidates.

I was talking to a republican pollster today who was in the process of doing a poll and what he is seeing is a new category that's increasing among republican voters and that's the undecided voters.

So it's very clear that this is a wide open race on the republican side right now. And we don't know who is going to be out there to challenge Hillary Clinton, if in fact, Hillary Clinton is the nominee.

But again, Wolf, it's a long time until Election Day. So I wouldn't count anything out.

BLITZER: I want to you weigh in, Gloria, on the Newt Gingrich factor. He suggested yesterday if he can get a commitment of $30 million from his supporters, he would throw his hat into the ring in a month or so. Is that likely? Is it possible? Is it too late?

BORGER: Well, he can raise a lot of money very quickly because he's very well known. I think what he is sensing is that the candidacy of Fred Thompson is not taking everyone by storm the way a lot of republicans thought it would. Sure, he's doing very well in those national polls right now, but he hasn't set the campaign on fire. And I think that Newt Gingrich sees that as his opening. Yes, he can raise the money. I think he's going to sit back for a little while, wait and see.

BLITZER: Gloria Borger, our senior political analyst, thanks very much.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's here in New York for the Cafferty File.

Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There's a Quaker group out there, Wolf, that did a study and determined that the Iraq war is costing the United States $720 million a day. So how could that money be better spent you ask?

Tom in Michigan writes, "This is a joke, right? You're not seriously asking this of us. I mean what could be more worthwhile than spending it on war? Isn't that why we pay taxes? Really, who deserves it more than corporate America and sitting politicians for their out of office years ahead? How could you even infer taxes be spent any other way? How unpatriotic can you get? What did you do I my checkbook?"

Jim in South Carolina writes, "How about a Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska? The Coconut Grove Freeway in Florida? Low cost housing in Beverly Hills? Seriously, Jack, anywhere but Iraq."

Sam in Calgary, "The money could be used to invade Iran."

Ron in Texas, "$720 million a day could be spent by giving it back to the taxpayers and paying off our national debt. Before we focus on what to pay for next, how about we pay off what we owe right now."

Roxie in Minnesota, "If the U.S. would invest $720 million a day into energy independence, we would starve terrorism. I think it is the best investment the United States can make for its nation and the world."

Hamisi in California, "How about saving Social Security or saving Louisiana?

Ellen in Kentucky, "The money would be better spent if it was flushed down a toilet."

And Larry in New Jersey, "That amount of money could be spent on a viable replacement for Katie Couric."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to We post more of them online, along with video clips of the Cafferty File. She probably doesn't watch this.

BLITZER: Well, a lot of people watch this show. We know that because a lot of people are buying your new book. Did you see the segway? Did you notice? It's going to be on the "New York Times" best sellers list.

CAFFERTY: Yes. It was in the paper yesterday.

BLITZER: It's already on the "New York Times" best ...

CAFFERTY: Number 14 on the "New York Times" best sellers list, "It's Getting Ugly Out There," very gratifying. Did buy yours? I sent you a free one.

BLITZER: Do I have to buy one? I'll give them away. Thanks very much, Jack.

Donald Trump sits down to talk to me about the candidates he likes and the candidates he doesn't like. That's coming up.

Also, Ellen Degeneres finally tracks me down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have Wolf Blitzer's phone number.

ELLEN DEGENERES, TV SHOW HOST: You have Wolf Blitzer's direct phone number? And we can get him now.

BLITZER: Wait until you see what happened next.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

DEGENERES: Are you calling him right now?


BLITZER: More now on my one on one interview with Donald Trump here today in New York. I asked him about health care, the '08 democratic ticket and more.

What do you think about Hillary Clinton's coming out with a new health care plan the other day? Obviously she had a bad experience back in '93 and '94 when she was first lady.

TRUMP: I think it was very good. I think she came out with an idea. It's a very, very complex set of things going on rate now in terms of health care, but she came out with an idea. It sounds like a pretty good idea and a lot of people like it and embraced it and she learned a lot from her previous encounter.

BLITZER: Six months ago when we spoke, you didn't think Barack Obama had enough experience yet to be president of the United States. You've had six months to think about that. You still feel that way?

TRUMP: I think he's a very effective guy. I don't think he has enough experience.

BLITZER: Would he be a good running mate?

TRUMP: Possibly, it could happen, a lot of people are saying that's what's going to happen.

BLITZER: Do you think Hillary Clinton should pick him?

TRUMP: I don't think that, but it's something that could happen.

BLITZER: Because you hire and fire people all the time. If you saw Barack Obama, would you hire him?

TRUMP: I think he's a very talented guy. I mean look at the job he's done. He's come from nowhere, and you know he's still getting pretty good numbers in the polls. I mean he hasn't gone away. Some people have gone away. They're gone. They failed. He has not gone away by any stretch of the imagination. I guess he still has a little bit of a chance but I think Hillary is going to take it and I think Hillary is very, very capable.

BLITZER: On the republican side, Fred Thompson, an actor, also a former senator, a lawyer. A lot of his supports say this guy is the new Ronald Reagan. Do you think he is a Ronald Reagan?

TRUMP: Well, I think Ronald Reagan had much better hair.

BLITZER: Ronald Reagan did have good hair. But do you think Ronald Reagan was a better politician than Fred Thompson?

TRUMP: I don't get Fred Thompson. I just don't know really what he's done in the true sense of the word and I like "Law and Order" very much but I think you need someone with a lot more experience in that sense than Fred Thompson. No, I don't get Fred Thompson and I read a lot about him. He gets a lot of negative press.

BLITZER: He gets a lot of publicity.

TRUMP: Well, they say he's lazy. The last thing we need. I assume they're wrong. I hope they're wrong. But the last thing this country needs is a lazy president.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney, he's an MBA. He's got a JD. He's got experience as a governor. He looks presidential. What do you think about him?

TRUMP: I think he is more of a President Reagan. You look at him, he's a handsome guy. I think he's terrific. He was up in my office not so long ago and I think he's a terrific person. Amazingly I don't think he's ...

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we've lost that part of the tape, but guess what? You're going to have another chance to see it, much more of the interview with Donald Trump coming up at 7:00 p.m. eastern tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, other parts of the interview that didn't air yet today. We're going to play more of that coming up tomorrow including what he thinks about the mortgage and housing crisis. He has some specific advice on how you can save your own home. Donald Trump back here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow as well.

Let's go to Candy Crowley. She's our senior political correspondent. She's watching an important story for us on the need to pick up key endorsements by the respective candidates.

Candy, what are you finding out?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well you know, when you think of key endorsements, you think big, but sometimes it's the smaller endorsements that really send a message.

Many candidates get endorsements and use them as evidence of a campaign that's catching on. Endorsements can bring tangible or symbolic help to a candidate. Sometimes the endorser is looking to make the short list for vice president and sometimes it is all of the above. In the endorsement sweepstakes today, Evan Bayh endorsed Hillary Clinton.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Well, I think it's a very significant endorsement. And it really underscores my commitment to running a national campaign. I believe strongly that democrats should campaign everywhere in America.

CROWLEY: Evan Bayh is a democratic senator, a moderate from Indiana, operative word, Indiana, a big old Midwest republican state.

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: And she will run a campaign and administration that reaches out to not only democrats but also independents and reasonable republicans.

CROWLEY: Just standing there may be a help, the message you are supposed to take away from this picture is Hillary Clinton is electable in the heartland.

Same message for a different campaign. Barack Obama picked up the support of a man well known in Iowa political circles. In a phone call set up by camp Obama, former Iowa democratic chairman Gordon Fischer told reporters, "In a competitive state like Iowa, Senator Obama is best positioned to bring along Independents and even some Republicans." Elsewhere in endorsement world ...

NORMAN SEABROOK, N.Y. OFFICERS' BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION: The Correction Officers Benevolent Association is extremely proud to throw our support behind the next president of the United States, Senator Barack Obama.

CROWLEY: In the heart of Manhattan, Obama got the nod from a New York union of correction officers, operative word here, New York, home to Hillary Clinton.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: We were going to be in New York. And the least I can do when I'm in a city where people are taking the time to endorse me and going to be working on my behalf, I know that we're going to have President Seabrook and others helping us on a whole host of grass roots organizing efforts throughout New York, I want to make sure they feel some love.

CROWLEY: Message, we'll compete with her anywhere. Not long after the news of the Obama union endorsement surfaced, the Clinton campaign said she was being endorsed by the International Union of Brick Layers and Allied Craft Workers.

Union endorsements are perhaps most useful of all since organized labor can provide boots on the ground, people who lick envelopes, man the phones and turn out vote.

Still, big unions endorse Richard Gephardt and he didn't make it out Iowa and big names are not sure fire. Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean. Message, endorsements can send signals and provide manpower, but they can't ensure victory.

Some of them are big and some of them are small, but of them are trying say a message.


BLITZER: The whole nature of this campaign at this relatively early stage as far as the final contest is concerned, how important, how significant are those endorsements?

CROWLEY: You know, again, I mean it's a mixed bag. I don't think anybody is sitting out there in Iowa or New Hampshire is waiting to see who is endorsing Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, but there are subtle things that these endorsements can do and not so subtle were when it comes to unions. So it really is a mixed bag. I mean some of them are helpful, others are just sort of bland.

BLITZER: And at this stage, they're still vying for them because not only are they politically significant but financially they could generate some cash?

CROWLEY: Absolutely. When you look at SEIU is the big one that everybody is courting, the AFL-CIO which has held off on an endorsement. Those are huge endorsements that can bring money and they can bring manpower, and those are most avidly sought after.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much. Candy Crowley watching the story for us.

Some might question her artistic ability when Ellen Degeneres sketched me the other day. I wound up looking more like the former surgeon general of the United States, C. Everett Koop, but there's no denying she's a fun and gracious host. And after weeks of trying, Ellen and I finally managed to connect. Watch this.



DEGENERES: You said that my drawing didn't look like you, it looked like former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

BLITZER: Yes, I did.

DEGENERES: Well, see, the thing is you need to either add to your mustache, draw it in with pencil like women do with eye liner because I couldn't see the mustache fully it does look a little limited on the mustache area. So fill it in, but I stand by my -- I'm going to show my audience again.

BLITZER: All right.

DEGENERES: This is, come on, people, doesn't this look like --

Yes. And I also know how to draw C. Everett Koop. I drew him this morning. I draw him all the time, I just doodle. You'll see it when you see the show, Wolf. Hey, Wolf.

BLITZER: I like to think I'm better looking than him though.

DEGENERES: Oh, you are for sure. There's no doubt you're better looking than him.

BLITZER: He doesn't have the mustache. I guess one of these days, we're going to be on high definition and people will see my mustache the way it is really is.

DEGENERES: If you come on the show, I'll feel your mustache personally.

BLITZER: All right.

DEGENERES: And tell people the thickness of your mustache.

BLITZER: I can't tell you when you said you were the Wolf Blitzer of daytime TV without the facial hair, I got more pickup on that than virtually anything.

DEGENERES: Oh really?

BLITZER: Yes, people were stopping me, you got a huge following out there.

DEGENERES: Oh, well, yeah, thanks. So do you.

BLITZER: I don't know about that.

DEGENERES: But people noticed.

BLITZER: That's great. Will you come on the show?

BLITZER: Absolutely.

DEGENERES: All right. Well, whenever you're out here next or if I'm in Washington I'll come into THE SITUATION ROOM.

BLITZER: I'm already practicing dancing.

DEGENERES: Well, good.

BLITZER: I don't know if your viewers want to see that.

DEGENERES: I think they want to see you dance. Of course they do. Wolf, thank you so much.

BLITZER: Ellen, thanks so much.

DEGENERES: All right. Take care.



Finally, we hooked up with Wolf. That's great.

BLITZER: All right, you're going to see me on "The Ellen Degeneres Show." We'll let you know when that happens. Looking forward to that, looking forward to having her in THE SITUATION ROOM as well.

Let's take a closer look at some of the Hot Shots coming in from our friends in the Associated Press. Pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Barcelona, Spain, people fall as they attempt to form a human tower during a tradition celebration.

In Jalalabad, Afghanistan, a car containing explosives burns after being destroyed in a controlled explosion by U.S. soldiers.

In Ahman, Jordan, two boys peer through a fence while waiting for a last breaking meal at a humanitarian service center. The center provides meals to poor families during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

And a spider carefully weaves together its silken web. Check it out.

Some of this hour's Hot Shots, pictures often worth a thousand words.

Remember, we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoon from 4 - 6 p.m. eastern. We're back for another hour at 7 p.m. eastern.

Tomorrow on this program, a special interview with the speaker of the house, Nancy Pelosi and on Wednesday, an exclusive interview with the former vice president of the United States, Al Gore.

Lots coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

LOU DOBBS TONIGHT starts right now. Kitty Pilgrim sitting in for Lou.