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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer - Transcript

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WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11 a.m. in Washington and here in New York, 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, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition." We'll get to the battle for Congress in just a moment. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's in the news right now. Fredricka Whitfield standing by at CNN headquarters. Fred?

BLITZER: Fred, thank you very much. We'll get back to the news shortly. October, though, now the fourth deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq since the war began 3 1/2 years ago. All the recent polls show that Iraq is the top issue for American voters who head to the polls in only nine days.

Joining us now from Miami is the Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, and here in New York, Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel. Good to have both of you here on "Late Edition." Thanks very much for coming in.

And Charlie Rangel, let me start with you. John Boehner, who's the Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives, was just on television, and he said this, and I want to get your quick reaction. Listen to what John Boehner said.


JOHN BOEHNER, U.S. HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: I think Donald Rumsfeld's the best thing that's happened to the Pentagon in 25 years. This Pentagon and our military needs a transformation. And I think Donald Rumsfeld's the only man in America who knows where the bodies are buried at the Pentagon, has enough experience to help transform that institution.


BLITZER: A strong vote of endorsement. A lot of Republicans now questioning Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. Not John Boehner. He's coming out strongly in his support. Your reaction?

REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: That's what the election's all about, Wolf. It's true President Bush may not be on the ballot, but people like Boehner and people who support Rumsfeld and Cheney and Bush, they're on the ballot. And that's why we only get two years. You don't have to wait to get the president. This is a referendum on the war and the incompetency of the Bush administration.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen. What do you think about what John Boehner just said? And I'll repeat that quote: "I think Donald Rumsfeld is the best thing that has happened to the Pentagon in 25 years." You agree with him?

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: Well, I think it's a shame to take this complex issue of winning the international war on terror and putting it at the level of whether you like or not like Donald Rumsfeld, and whether you like or don't like President Bush's personalities and the statements that he's made. We've got to win this battle in Iraq. It's not just whether you're for the war or against the war. It's whether you want to win or are you going to lose.

BLITZER: But do you have confidence, Congresswoman, do you have confidence in Donald Rumsfeld?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I do. And I think that we need to do everything we can to support the troops and be victorious in Iraq. If we're not, we're going to be looking at a radical Islamic jihadist entity taking over the entire Middle East. Do we want to make sure that we have the sacrifice to prop up a democracy, to train the Iraqis, to stop the sectarian violence and to make sure that we get the job done?

The only policy that we could have is one of victory. My stepson served in Iraq. My daughter-in-law served there. We know that it's tough. But it's necessary and it's just.

BLITZER: Charlie Rangel, you served in the U.S. military during the Korean War. You know the pressures on the U.S. military. Respond to the Congresswoman.

RANGEL: Well, we're very thin in terms of the troops. But in responding to her, over 70 percent of the American people don't have confidence in the president of the United States as it relates to the war, and therefore, Cheney and Rumsfeld. And so I think that those who support the president, who even as today has given no reason why we invaded them in first place, that finally came out to be true. Whether it's weapons of mass destruction, Al Qaida...

BLITZER: But now that the United States, Congressman, is there, the question is, what do you do now? It may not necessarily have been a hotbed for international terrorism under Saddam Hussein's regime, but it potentially at least is right now.

RANGEL: And we created it.

BLITZER: So what do you do about it?

RANGEL: This is no time to stay the course.

BLITZER: So what do you do, you just leave?

RANGEL: No, you bring in the Saudi Arabians, the Egyptians, the Jordanians. It's their playground. They're supposed to be friends of the president. What makes people think that the terrorists are just after Israel and the United States? They're right there. They should step forward. And we should come there and give them support.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, do you have confidence in this Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is very close, as you well know, to the Iranians?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, I think that he's made a very forward- looking statement, along with our U.S. folks in Iraq. And he says that we want to end sectarian violence. We want to unite all of these groups. He's our partner with the United States in trying to defeat these Islamic jihadists.

But you know, when Charlie says that whether we're for the war or against the war or whether we went in there for weapons of mass destruction or this or that, we're so far beyond that. And Wolf, you asked the right question. What are you going to do? Now that we're in this fight, are we going to do what bin Laden said, who said, you know, we are weak spiritually and psychologically, even though we're strong militarily. Are we going to give in to the Islamic jihadists?

BLITZER: But what about the argument, Congresswoman -- what about the argument -- excuse me for interrupting -- that the Iraqis have had 3 1/2 years, $300 billion. The U.S. has given a lot of its finest in trying to help them. What about the argument that they need some pressure in order to get the job done, otherwise they're simply going to rely on Uncle Sam forever?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, I think that that's why the president is correct in saying that we're going to be establishing benchmarks. We're going to make sure that we train more Iraqis, that they are going to be able to defend themselves, and that they know that we're not going to stay there forever.

And, you know, there's been that comparison that was made this week about World War II. Remember that the casualty count for World War II, how many lives were lost there. And each life that has been lost in Iraq is a terrible, terrible loss, but it's only been a short amount of time. We are training the Iraqi forces. We've got to defeat these Islamic jihadists.

BLITZER: All right. It's been 3 1/2 years since the start of the war, but let me bring back Congressman Rangel. Because the vice president took direct aim at you this past week saying this: "I think the Democrats are committed, if they get in, to reversing the tax cuts," the tax cuts put forward during the Bush administration. "Charlie Rangel would become chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and he's said he doesn't think a single one of the Bush tax cuts should be extended. He thinks they all ought to be terminated and ended. So it is an important issue."

That's the vice president going after you. Is he precise in his words?

RANGEL: Once again the vice president hasn't the slightest clue about what he's talking about. He's never talked with me and neither has anyone in the administration about taxes. The president...

BLITZER: Have you said that you want to reverse all of the Bush tax cuts?

RANGEL: Of course not. What I did say was that, if they want to have tax reform, if they want simplification, everything has to be on the table. You can't pick and choose what you want and say you've got to overhaul the system.

So they selected that. I don't blame them for doing this before the election. But after the election, if they want to save Social Security; if they want to deal with Medicare and they want to deal with simplification, everything has to be on the table.

BLITZER: If you're the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee which oversees taxes here in the United States, what tax cuts that the Bush administration put in place will you want to see removed?

RANGEL: Well, the one tax burden that has not been removed is on the alternative minimum tax, where Republicans and Democrats have done nothing as these middle income people have gone into a higher bracket.

I would hope that the administration would join with me in doing it. But there's no Rangel Democratic way to do it. It has to be done in a bipartisan way.

I will be reaching out to the White House and to the Republicans, hoping that we can get something done.

Congresswoman, here's what the chairman of the Democratic Party, Governor Howard Dean, said on this specific issue this past week. Listen to this.


HOWARD DEAN, CHMN., DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE: The Republicans are claiming that we're going to do this and we're going to do that. We're not particularly interested in raising taxes except getting rid of some of the oil company and insurance company tax breaks.

We're not particularly interested in impeaching the president. I don't think you're going to see that come up at all.


BLITZER: All right, I'll give you a quick chance to respond to that, Congresswoman.

ROS-LEHTINEN: And the check's in the mail. OK. I think it's very clear. If people were to pay attention what's going on with the economy right now, gas prices are coming down. The unemployment rate is coming down. Job creation -- over 6.6 million new jobs. You've got construction on the rise. This economy is doing so well. Inflation is down. Every economic indicator says that we're coming back strong. Look at the stock market. And how has that happened? was it by accident? No.

It's because of the Republican-led tax cuts, because of our economic policies. And that's what the American people should be focusing on. We wish that it was "the economy, stupid." Those were the good old days. Now the economy's doing really well, thanks to the Republicans, and no one seems to be paying attention.

BLITZER: There's debate on how well the economy's doing, especially for the middle class, but that's another issue that we're going to get to. Hold on to both of you. We have a lot more to talk about, with only nine days until the midterm elections. We'll speak to our guests about their party's prospects for victory.

Then, relentless sectarian violence threatening Iraq's future. I'll speak live with U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad and ask him if the Iraqi government is failing to carry its share of the fight.

And later, here on "Late Edition," my complete, unedited interview with Lynne Cheney, the wife of the vice president, plus some personal thoughts from me.

And don't forget to stay with "Late Edition" and CNN for the best political team on television for all your campaign news. You can also get an inside view of the top political stories at any time. Just go to CNN's political ticker, Much more "Late Edition" right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting today from New York. We're talking with our guests, Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York.

You heard the Congresswoman, Charlie Rangel, say the economy is in good shape, the stock market -- the Dow Jones is at a record high right now.

I know that a lot of Democrats are complaining, though, that that benefit has not necessarily filtered down to the middle class.

RANGEL: She also dismissed whether or not the president misled us into war. I don't think, when you've lost 2,800 American lives and hundreds of thousands of innocent people, that you can just say, well, we're in it and how do we get out of it?

BLITZER: But if the then-director of the CIA says to you, Mr. President, it's a slam dunk; they have stockpiles of chemical, biological weapons of mass destruction, the president is supposed to rely on his CIA director, right?

RANGEL: One of the reasons the Republicans are in trouble is that they never congressionally ever checked any of that out in the House or the Senate.

The truth is, we hear from those people that were inside the White House that the president was very selective, that there was evidence that there was no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that we should have gone after Osama bin Laden. And so that's not clear.

But the truth is Wall Street is not voting on November 7. It's going to be the guy, the family that has two jobs, that are concerned about their pension funds, that health care costs is rising and they're unhappy with the economy and unhappy with the administration.

BLITZER: Congresswoman, I'm going to read to you a quote that was in an article in The Washington Post today. And let me get your reaction to this.

"Where did the revolution go astray? The answer is simple. Republican lawmakers forgot the party's principles, became enamored with power and position and began putting politics over policy. Now the Democrats are reaping the rewards of our neglect and we have no one to blame but ourselves."

That wasn't the flaming liberal who said that...


BLITZER: That was the former Republican majority leader Dick Armey, himself, of Texas.


BLITZER: A lot of Republicans, conservatives, right now, are upset that, during these past six years of Republican control of the executive and the legislative branches, spending has skyrocketed and so many of those basic fiscal conservative policies of Republicans seem to have gone away. I want your reaction.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, Wolf, first of all, let me point out that, when you asked Charlie a question about the economy, he changed the subject right away and started talking again about weapons of mass destruction. Once again, it's the same old same sing-song.

But on this question, I think our conservative base is coming home. In this last week we've seen a slight change in the polls. So that conservative base that Dick Armey, who is a good friend of mine, was talking about, they have been disenchanted with our runaway spending, with our deficit. But already you saw the deficit coming down. That conservative base is coming back. We've got a...

BLITZER: It's not going to help, though -- I assume you agree it's not going to Katherine Harris, the Republican candidate for the Senate, in her race against Bill Nelson, the incumbent Democrat.

ROS-LEHTINEN: I don't think much is going to help there, but you never know. But no, on to winnable races, we've got a 72-hour get- out-the-vote campaign that's second to none. We've got NRCC fully engaged and funding races. We've got the bully pulpit of the White House. We've got a great economy.

And we've got the issues that, I think, are going to bring that conservative base back here to our base. And we've got, here in Florida -- you bring up Katherine Harris.

One doesn't know. It's turnout, turnout, turnout. And we've got Charlie Crist, a very great next governor of Florida. So turnout is the key. And 72 hours can make the difference.

BLITZER: Charlie Rangel, the president says don't start dancing in the end zone yet and don't start measuring your drapes as the chairman of the ways and means committee. A lot can happen over these next nine days.

RANGEL: He's 100 percent right. And really, even if we do win, we've got a lot of work to do to bring some sense of bipartisanship together. The nation's in a lot of debt as a result of this administration. And yes, I am very concerned about the war, and I don't care what you talk about.

If you have to go to these funerals as often as I do, you would be concerned, not about weapons of mass destruction, but how in the hell do we get out of Iraq?

BLITZER: A very quick final question to you...

ROS-LEHTINEN: How do we win in Iraq?

BLITZER: ... Congresswoman. I just want your quick reaction to the image we saw of Fidel Castro yesterday making an appearance and insisting reports of his death were, in his words, premature. I know you've been very much involved in this whole U.S.-Cuban relationship over the years. Give us your quick reaction to his appearance on Cuban television?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, he's certainly around, and we don't think there's going to be a change, whether it's Fidel or Raoul or anybody else who's part of the communist infrastructure. What we want is free elections in Cuba, freedom for political prisoners and a multiparty system, like we have a Wolf Blitzer right here on CNN who can freely express their thoughts, and a Charlie Rangel and an Ileana Ros- Lehtinen going at it, and have that freedom of expression. That's all we want for Cuba. And there's no role for Fidel Castro, Raoul Castro in that scenario.

BLITZER: I think Charlie Rangel would agree with that.

ROS-LEHTINEN: I'm sure he does.

RANGEL: I want that, too, but the embargo doesn't work. It is more supportive of Castro than bringing him down for democracy.

BLITZER: We'll leave that for another debate. Congressman, Congresswoman, an excellent discussion here today. Thanks to both of you for coming in.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Thank you. I need your mom's vote, Wolf.


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