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At This Hour

Biden Dramatically Ramps Up Public Pressure on Netanyahu; New York, New Jersey, Connecticut Lift Capacity Restrictions for Most Businesses; Biden Delivers Commencement Address at U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired May 19, 2021 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN AT THIS HOUR: A noteworthy shift from President Biden on the violence in the Middle East today. The White House issuing a readout of a new phone call that happened just this morning between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Let me read what the White House put out in part that wrote, the president conveyed to the prime minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire. That's a definite shift from the administration's public statements to this point.

This also comes as, any moment now, and we're keeping our eye on these live pictures, President Biden will be delivering his first commencement address since taking office at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

As we wait for that, let me bring in CNN's John Harwood. He's joining us. Also with us, CNN's Nic Robertson, who is live near the Israel border.

John, let me ask you, talk to me about this new statement from the White House. For days, we've been hearing about quiet, intensive diplomacy. This, that is not this.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is definitely not, significant shift, Kate. What we've been hearing from the White House is President Biden has known Bibi Netanyahu for decades, and he understands that the approach is not to press him publicly, which could cause his back (ph) to get up, but to push him privately to de- escalate this situation.

Clearly, that has not been successful or not been successful fast enough. The president is facing a lot of pressure domestically and internationally, so he's upping the ante, putting more pressure on Netanyahu, who's not indicated he is going to de-escalate soon.

Remember, one bit of backdrop here, Joe Biden has not forgotten that in 2010, when he ran as vice president under President Obama, he was embarrassed by Bibi Netanyahu, announcing a major settlement expansion as he was there. That is one reason why Joe Biden didn't Bibi Netanyahu for 40 days after taking office, and one reason why his patience is not unlimited now.

BOLDUAN: That's super interesting. Nic, let me bring you on this. That statement that says a significant de-escalation today, it's setting something of a deadline and a marker. What are you seeing right now? What would a significant de-escalation look like?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think it would certainly mean that the guns behind me here, these are artillery cases, Israeli Defense Force guns, would remain silent. They were silent here this time yesterday. The guns in an exposition over the day before were very active. So these would remain silent.

From Hamas, we've seen a number of rockets coming up in the last hour or so, several lots of sirens, several lots of interceptions in the sky. Presumably, it would mean rockets from Hamas would go silent as well.

And I think most significantly, I would look to tonight, because over the recent night, there have been multiple airstrikes by the Israeli Air Force targeting Hamas' tunnel networks and commanders. They went after a fifth round of tunnels overnight last night. So, you know, a lot of tunnels have been targeted.

If you don't have those heavy, intensive air raids, and you can hear the planes sort of revving up before they takeoff on their runs into Gaza late into the evening here, if we don't have that tonight, that, to me, would be a de-escalation.


But it's going to take both sides.

And since President Biden has spoken since that news has become public, we had continued to see rockets still coming from Gaza.

BOLDUAN: We have. And, John, they didn't need to go as far as laying down a kind of today marker in their readout. I'm curious what you think they did.

HARWOOD: I think they needed to send a public signal that they weren't being played by Bibi Netanyahu, that they understood the gravity of the situation. Pressure from the left of the Democratic Party, yesterday, the president had a tarmac conversation with Rashida Tlaib in Michigan, where there's a large Arab-American population, international pressure, France calling for a ceasefire. The Biden administration had been holding off, the U.N. Security Council, but you can only hold off so far when world attention is so focused on this conflict.

BOLDUAN: Nic, one big question has been what intelligence Israel had or has that led them to strike the building in Gaza that the A.P. and I believe it's Al Jhazeera -- the A.P. has had a bureau there for 15 years. There had been a back and forth that the intelligence had been shared with counterparts here in America. What are you hearing about that?

ROBERTSON: Yes. What we've been told today is that this was a facility by Hamas' military intelligence, that it had the research and development capability there, physical capability to perpetrate sensitive attacks on Israel.

Now, they haven't been specific about the exact nature of that. This would be a building, because it's got broadcasters in it, that it would have a significant amount of data coming and going from that building. Are they implying that somehow Hamas had developed some cyber capacity and equipment in that building that was piggybacking up off of these data lines? It's not clear.

What Israeli officials have said is, and I think this is something they'd want all journalists to read clearly, they said, when you're Gaza, you're not operating in Dubai, you're not operating in Tel Aviv, you have to know who your neighbors are. So, Israel absolutely stands by its firm belief and assertion that Hamas was physically in that building trying to perpetrate sensitive research and development-based attacks on Israel.

BOLDUAN: And also you mentioned Rashida Tlaib, John. One thing that predates President Biden is the left flank and the pressure and criticism coming from the left flank of the Democratic Party for presidents to do much more, be much more critical against the Israeli Defense Forces and their actions.

And I'm curious if you think -- if you're getting any sense that that criticism is having a sway, that pressure is swaying President Biden if the statement and this readout is a sign of that?

HARWOOD: I don't think there's any doubt that that pressure is having an impact. Look, as the Democratic Party has grown more diverse over decades, more and more younger people within the Democratic Party, people of color, younger Jews as well have regarded the treatment of Palestinians increasingly as a civil rights issues.

Remember, Joe Biden came off age as a politician over decades in that post-World War 2 that said, the United States stood with Israel no matter what, and it's a very strong bond. That bond remains. And Joe Biden has been underscoring that bond.

But the Democratic Party is changing slowly on this issue and that creates some pressure as the president is trying to move his program through Congress and keep his party together.

BOLDUAN: The approach by the Biden administration, President Biden, on this has been really interesting. This turn has been really an interesting one. Thank you both very much.

Still to come for us, a big day and a big step back to normal, the former epicenter of the pandemic now lifting all capacity restrictions. We'll have a live report.



BOLDUAN: Starting this morning, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are all lifting capacity restrictions for most businesses, but rules on when and where to mask up remain mixed. New Jersey still requiring masks indoors while fully vaccinated people in New York and Connecticut can now go mask-free, including indoors with just a few exceptions.

CNN's Alexandra Field is in New York joining me now. Formerly the epicenter, Alex, of the pandemic now lifting these restrictions. What are you hearing from people?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is almost unthinkable a year ago. And, Kate, really, this is a giant leap forward when it comes policy. You're talking doubt vaccinated people being unmasked both indoors and outdoors. If you haven't been vaccinated, you must wear the mask. If you're under 12, you must wear the mask.


But we're seeing other restrictions being lifted, like capacities for businesses and you're seeing even the indoor dining curfew being lifted at the end of the month.

Places where you'll still have to wear a mask, schools, congregate settings, like jails and nursing homes and public transportation hubs, like the train station that we're just standing in right now. I've been speaking to commuters today about the new guidance that allows them to get rid of masks in a whole lot of places, a lot of them are saying they are not quite ready to throw caution to the wind just yet. They plan on hanging on to those masks, particularly in indoor settings where you just can't quite trust that everyone who's unmasked may be fully vaccinated, as the guideline says.

As for city's health commissioner, he is even saying that he'll be wearing a mask indoors in those situations, and the city's mayor says, when in doubt, just wear your mask. Kate?

BOLDUAN: There's nothing saying you can't wear a mask because that's definitely not part of this new wave of guidelines. It's good to see you, Alex, thank you very much.

Joining me now for more on this is Dr. Craig Spencer, the director of Global Health in E.R. Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center.

Dr. Spencer, let's talk about that in just a second, but I would just like to take a moment. I saw you tweet that you didn't have a single COVID patient during your entire shift yesterday. I mean, really?

DR. CRAIG SPENCER, DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL HEALTH IN E.R. MEDICINE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Yes. The only coronavirus patient that I had was one with completely different type of coronavirus, not SARS-Cov-2, the one that causes COVID. It was a common cold. So I have more patients with common cold yesterday --

BOLDUAN: Doctor, apologies, I need to jump over to Connecticut where President Biden is beginning to give his keynote commencement address, the first of his presidency, to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: -- I tell you what, we're going to speak for about four hours to see if those white uniforms last longer to keep the heat and these poor guys in their graduation gowns. God love you. I thought I was hot in a blue suit.

Governor Lamont, it's good to see you, man. You've been a good friend for a long time. I understand the senior senator from this state for a long time, Chris Dodd is here. I don't think you're in the class, Chris, but where is he? Chris, welcome, pal, one of the finest men I've ever served with in my whole career. And Mayor Paserro, I want to thank you for being here. Thanks for the passport into town. And I want to thank again Secretary Mayorkas for joining me today as well.

He understands well how vital the Coast Guard is for economic, on environment and our national security, and how central you are to our homeland security mission. Admiral Schultz, congratulations on an outstanding new corps of officers.

This past year, there can be no doubt the class '21 is ready for whatever its mission may be. I know this day is doubly important, Admiral, because he's not only the commandant of the Coast Guard -- well, let me say it another way. In 2013, I think, I gave the commencement here and I was pointing out how the Coast Guard was adapting so rapidly to change the conditions. And I said, this is not your father's Coast Guard. I take that back. First Class Eric Schultz, this is your father's Coast Guard.

And I know it probably embarrasses you to point you out and say that but I had a son in the United States military, he's very proud, he was a major in the U.S. Army, won the bronze star. Anyway, when he went to Iraq for a year, he got the general to agree to change his name from Biden to Hunter, his mother's maiden name, because he didn't want to be viewed as having gotten any favors.

Admiral Kelly, I want to thank you and the entire staff of the academy for your commitment in training the next generation of leaders.

I brought with me a former academy grad who now serves as my Coast Guard millet, Lieutenant Commander Dana -- I'm going to embarrass her? Dana McCrone (ph) of the class of 2007. As we were coming in on Marine One, I thought she was going to light up like a candle. She's excited to be back here. She's an outstanding reflection of this institution.

And, Admiral Kelly, I want to congratulate all of you on everything you've done this year to keep this school open and running and to be as safe as it possibly can and could be in the middle of a pandemic. The instructors, the cadets, the cafeteria, support staff, public works, campus safety team, the science department, the medical staff, the morale, well-being and recreation team, everyone went above and beyond the normal call of duty to try to make it work, and you did.


And I hear that Mrs. Paula Springer's cookies for cadets were a particular boost in morale. And what you all achieved together embodies the Coast Guard creed, always ready, always ready.

I want to thank you, Cadet Styler (ph) -- excuse me, Saylor (ph), for speaking on behalf of your class, and congratulations on earning the honor of being the class of 2021's most distinguished graduate. And most importantly, I want to thank your parents and families for everything they have done to support you and all of you, and I'm going to -- those watching online as well, because not all can be here, and you've raised these cadets to be fierce patriots as well as young people with incredibly courage and determination.

You were the ones who first (INAUDIBLE) a sense of service, who often hear the calling of higher duty. So it's your day too. Cadets, stand up, turn around and salute your parents. Get up, up, up, up.

I'll you what, from all those parents watching on television, you raised a fine, fine, fine group of women and men. Cadets, you knew when you chose the academy, you were choosing a more difficult path than some of your high school classmates. You were signing up for the honor of service and the additional responsibilities that go with it.

But I hope today you take the time to reflect on how much all the hard work and extra effort you engaged in was worth. And I hope you take immense pride, immense pride in all that time at the academy and all the academy's has given to you, because you've achieved something few others can claim. You survived our day and Bill (ph) at night, you made it through slob summer, you got a hair cut that showed every damn bump on your head, you're going to square the corners and square your medal. Look -- your meals, I should say. And you memorized -- this is the part I found would have been hard, memorized running lightning. I am going to ask you all to stand up and repeat it. No, I'm only kidding.

You've earned your shoulder guards and your aglets. You passed through 100th week, and maybe spent a little too much time at the slice. You can clap. Come on, man, you're moving on. Show a little courage. And unlike all the students across the country, you had to figure out what it meant to finish your second year class with virtual instruction.

The pandemic upended so much of our lives, as was mentioned several times so far. Last year's graduating class didn't get to have this ceremony in person. But the coast east (ph) fashion that you all have, you met the threat head on, you adapted, showed your resilience and you led, and the class of '21, you were the ones that tested and improved the restrictive movements, protocols that allowed you to return to classes on campus. And with careful precautions and rigor testing, you are able to go back to your lives and training here in New London to conduct your first year class in person.

It certainly looked and felt different, I am sure, but you found ways, you found ways to keep many of the academy's traditions alive and maybe even formed a few new ones. You still were able to bring your cars on campus, just were not allowed to go anywhere in those cars.

Oh, man, I'll tell you what, I would have trouble watching my car sit there. But maybe tipping your ring in crown park or having your ring dance outside will be a new standard. The Super Bowl (INAUDIBLE) sports may become an annual event. And, by the way, congratulations to Bravo Company, by the way, upon your victory. You can clap. It's okay. And even if you lost, you got to clap.

And though everything you found -- through it all, you found ways to excel in the classroom and athletics. You got nine all Americans in your ranks today, including record setter in the track and field 5,000 meters, and most importantly you had each other's backs. When times got hard, you were there for one another.


That's something you'll all learn quickly at the academy. You can't crew the Tall Ship Eagle without working together. It's not possible. So the pandemic didn't change that but it made it more important.

I know we wish more of your loved ones could be here today to celebrate with you in person, packed into the stands for your big day, especially because so many of you come from families of proud traditions of service.

First Class Rachel Boucher (ph) is about to become the third generation academy grad. Meanwhile, First Class Jacquelyn Ted (ph) bucked a long tradition in her family and joined the Coast Guard over -- came to Coast Guard Academy over the Naval Academy, and unlike her mother, uncle and grandfather. Well, Cadet Ted (ph), there's a seat on Air Force One if you have to get home. It may be tough.

I can only assume that you will enjoy educating your family about how the Coast Guard is, quote, the hard nucleus around the navy forms in times of war.

You are a really dull class. I mean, come on, man, is the sun getting to you? I would think you would have an opportunity when I say that about the Navy to clap, but being here together -- all kidding aside, being here together is a victory in and of itself, an important mark in the progress we've made to turn the tide of the pandemic. It's a testament, a skill and military discipline, a sense of responsibility you already embody. So there's no doubt in my mind that the 148th graduating class of the United States Coast Guard Academy will reflect the very best of our country and the proudest positions of our service.

Look, in just a few minutes, you will be ensigns in the U.S. Coast Guard. But the only anchor cadet is the only one going home with $240 in his pocket.

And before I go much further, as your commander-in-chief, I have been looking forward to being able to do this for a long time. I want you to -- I want to keep the longstanding tradition that, and here it goes, I hereby absolve, all those certain restrictions of minor infractions absolved. Now, you have no idea how much I wish that they made me do that at my graduation, at my graduation, from the University of Delaware. Because I need, as we say in my faith, I need an absolution. You all think I'm kidding. I'm not. Minor infractions like using a fire extinguisher to hose down an R.A., but other than that, nothing much. Look, cadets, today, you will be joining the chain of service and ranks, each of you, into our history. It's a connection to the very earliest days of our nation as part of this country's oldest, continuous sea-going service. But no class gets to choose the world into which it graduates and demands and the challenges you're going to face in your career are going to look very different than those that walked these halls before you.

You chose as a class motto reflects that this reality, you said, we are the future. I don't think you have any idea how profound that assertion is. The world is changing. We're at a significant inflection point in world history. And our country, the world, the United States of America has always been able to chart the future in times of great change.

We have been able to consistently renew ourselves. And time and again, we have proven there's not a single thing we cannot do as a nation when we do it together, and I mean that, not a single solitary thing. And this is particularly important in this moment of accelerating global challenges, hybrid threats that don't stop at our border. We have to meet them on the land and the sea, wherever we find them, and that's where the Coast Guard excels.

The pandemic response would not have necessarily been considered a Coast Guard mission until there were more than 250,000 stranded cruise passengers who needed to safely be disembarked during COVID-19.

Now, we see with harrowing clarity how important halting this pandemic and improving our ability to prevent and respond to the next one is in our national security.


That's why 500 Coast Guard reservists have deployed in support of FEMA and nationwide.