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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Rockets Seen In Gaza's Sky; Fingerprint Of Hamas Brutality Engraved In Kibbutz; U.S. Prepares For A War; Israelis Angered Over Potential Intelligence Failures; Hamas Claims It Holds At Least 200- 250 Hostages; Rep. Mike Lawler (R-NY), Is Interviewed About House Speaker Vote Set For Tomorrow At Noon. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 16, 2023 - 17:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour Israel's leaders are preparing for the next stage of their war against Hamas. They say it's a likely ground invasion of Gaza. And while Israel's military has not officially announced that its soldiers will invade Gaza, three senior Israeli military officials have told the New York Times that the goal will be to wipe out Hamas' top military and political hierarchy and capture Gaza City.

An incredibly risky ground invasion will likely feature bloody street- by-street urban combat, made much more difficult by Hamas's underground, miles-long network of deep tunnels. Still, thousands of Israeli troops are preparing near Israel's border with Gaza.

Once and if the Israeli military moves in, the United Nations warns further conflict could spiral into a quote, "abyss in the Middle East" as that conflict spills over borders. A fear echoed today by Iran's foreign minister who says regional war could soon be, quote, "unavoidable."

To Gaza's north, Israel's military is exchanging fire with the Lebanese group Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers to be a terrorist group. There, Israel has ordered the evacuation of 28 villages and Hezbollah, like Hamas, is backed by the Iranian government. And it may quote, "respond to an invasion of Gaza by opening up a second front with Israel along the Lebanese border," according to the New York Times.

To the south, Egypt's border with Gaza, the Rafah crossing is the only way for civilians to get out of Gaza, but that has been sealed off since Hamas' brutal terrorist attract on -- attack on Israel two Saturdays ago. Egyptian officials say it is Israel's fault that the crossing is closed, since Israel's government has not agreed to a ceasefire in Gaza or free-flowing aid. Egypt's conditions to open the Rafah crossing.

In addition, Israel has not fixed the extensive damage caused by one of its airstrikes near the gate, according to the Palestinian officials there. As the humanitarian crisis in southern Gaza becomes more dire by the hour, the United States and Israel blame the bottleneck at the Rafah crossing on Hamas.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians listen to Israel's call over the weekend to immediately evacuate from the north likely a preparation for its grand offensive, as food, fuel, water, electricity, even body bags run in short supply, according to Palestinian officials and aid groups.

While the suffering among Palestinians and Israelis is abundantly clear, what is unclear as of now is what the plan is by the Israeli government and the Israeli military if they do seize Gaza City and how the world will ultimately respond.

Let's bring in CNN's Erin Burnett, who is live for us in Tel Aviv. Erin, we have seen rockets flying over Tel Aviv tonight. Does it feel as though the next phase of this war, this ground incursion, is about to start?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, I mean, you use the word feel. It's the right word, certainly from Israelis that we've been speaking to that, you know, I interact with. There is sort of, there is -- there is now, there had been a recognition, resignation as I said to you, but now it's palpable. They believe it is imminent. They believe it is ready. There is a nervousness and a fear.

This is the first time when someone in our crew went into a grocery store that the stores were, the shelves were empty. That had not been the case. So just when you talk about people's reaction and people's fear, we are starting to see that now in a different way.

Now, again, that's anecdotal. That's what we've been interacting with. But in terms of the rockets that you talk about, we have here in Tel Aviv had more rockets come in today than any other day over the past week that I've been here.

There have been several volleys just over these past four or five hours. Maybe nine or eleven, it sort of didn't count exactly as they came in. Rockets over those times. So, we've heard the sirens, that's happened. So more today than any other day. Down in the south, there was an Israeli military base today.

Jake, obviously rockets there near Ashkelon, and that base was busy. That was a base at war. Pallets and mats, thousands of them where people were sleeping. There's no question that this is going into something much bigger, Jake.


And at least, again, anecdotally, the feeling is that moment is quickly coming.

TAPPER: And, Erin, you visited one of the Kibbutzim devastated by Hamas during the invasion, during the terrorist attack last week. Tell us what you saw. BURNETT: Well, Jake, these are horrible places now. They're places --

they're places of death. The smell of death is there, and it's something that is sort of unmistakable as a human being. When you smell it, you taste it. It's there. It's death.

Children's toys strewn about everywhere, bullet holes in almost every single home. You know, we'd see playing cards, kids' homework strewn everywhere. Al Qassam Brigade Arabic graffiti, victory is ours, Allahu Akbar on the side of houses, and also Jake still in active zone, right? They've still been clearing houses in Be'eri and others of Hamas fighters who had hidden.

They're also, talking to soldiers today who've been accumulating some of the weapons, they're still finding Hamas fighters in, you know, convoys of jeeps that they had killed. Their body's now rotting. This smell is pervasive and the destruction of human life is completely pervasive, but it is sometimes the most simple things, the days of the week medicine that is completely melted from the fire in a house that stands out to you, that it is truly incomprehensible to walk through places like this.

And honestly, in some senses, Jake, we feel like trespassers and we're trying to see it, understand it, document it, but the people who may know people in those homes or be related to them, they haven't been allowed back to even see their own family homes. But these are places of a great crime.

TAPPER: Yes, a crime scene, indeed. Erin Burnett in Tel Aviv, thanks so much. CNN's Nic Robertson is near the Israel-Gaza border for us. And Nic, you've been watching the military build-up for days now. Are there any indications that you can discern of any action, of any imminence?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: You know, I think there may come a point, Jake, where it's hard to discern what is action right along the line of contact, the front line, the fence, if you will, at the moment. And when does that actually become an incursion?

We've become used to all the missile strikes and artillery strikes on Gaza, and they are literally going on since your show came on the air. We've counted about half a dozen, and they keep coming. Some of the flashes behind me are big, and the explosion, we hear it very quickly, which probably just a mile or a couple of miles away.

There are others where you see the flash, and it takes a lot longer, 20 seconds, to hear the explosion. And perhaps those are maybe Gaza City, about seven and a half, eight miles away, perhaps a little bit beyond there.

But, you know, just a couple of minutes ago, we heard what sounded like an Apache gunship firing heavy machine gunfire along the -- along the fence line behind u, in the distance behind us. We haven't heard it like that before. We haven't heard that before.

So, this is what I mean. It sort of gets hard to discern. There's a blur -- there's a blurring of the line. I guess the ultimate line, obviously, isn't it, is when the line is actually breached and crossed. And trying to get a sense of that, there's a greater sense of readiness. There's a very strong sense of willingness and desire to do it and the level of apprehension and a high degree of training. We've seen that over the past couple of days.

But actually being able to say to you right now, do I think it's going to be tonight, do I think it's going to be tomorrow or the day after, it just can't tell. And maybe this confrontation with a massive slightly different because of the issue of that negotiations, that was another detonation explosion there, and because the issue of hostages potentially as well.

TAPPER: One of the -- one of the obstacles, that's the wrong word. One, if I were an Israeli soldier right now, one of the things I'd be most terrified of if I were going in there is this vast system of tunnels that Hamas has under Gaza that can be used for hiding weapons, staging ambushes, holding hostages. It's really almost like a city of tunnels. How are the Israelis preparing for that?

ROBERTSON: Yes, it's interesting, isn't it? Because I talked to one of the soldiers, Special Forces, was one of the first to cross the line back in 2014, and he spoke to that issue. You just do not know what to expect. I mean, because the tunnel system, Hamas, can pop fighters up in front of you or behind you when you think you've cleared a building, they come out of a tunnel behind you.


So, it really is nerve-racking. But what Israel has been -- has become better attuned to is detecting where the tunnels are by monitoring sounds from within the ground. But also, they have deeper, more penetrating munitions.

And I think we've been hearing some of those that really -- that sort of pause on their explosion until the rocket, the missile is deeper in the ground. And then it explodes with a bigger force, a bigger explosive force. So, I think that those are a couple of the ways.

But it's obviously key to know the mapping. And we know there have been intelligence failures that have led to the current situation. So yes, it's going to be a big concern. There are -- the tunnels are a threat. There are some answers Israeli is, the IDF has, but not all of them.

TAPPER: Yes, Nic Robertson in Israel, thanks so much. I appreciate it.

With us now is a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus. Lieutenant Colonel, let me start right there with the obvious intelligence failures, tragic ones, that you and I have discussed before.

How worried are you about the Hamas network of tunnels in Gaza, which would seem to be a big black hole about which the IDF knows so little?

LT. COL. JONATHAN CONRICUS, INTERNATIONAL SPOKESMAN, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: You know, we're looking at the situation and assessing what Hamas tried to achieve by the brutal attack on October 7th, and we must assume that Hamas planned for this stage as well. And since that is the working assumption, then of course we have to draw the necessary conclusions and act accordingly when our troops are on the ground.

We have to use all the tools that we have available and others in order to flush those terrorists out or kill them where they are. And again, getting to the aim of ridding the Gaza Strip of Hamas and making sure that never again will such an attack happen on Israelis from Gaza.

TAPPER: So, Israel, the IDF appears to be on the brink of invading northern Gaza. Earlier, Mark Regev, an advisor to the prime minister, told me that the goal is to just eliminate all of Hamas's military leadership, political leadership, and also just all of Hamas's government. Is that the goal?

CONRICUS: Yes, the goal is, I mean, Yahya Sinwar, and all of his lieutenants, and everybody else who is part of Hamas, who supports the operation, the terrorist attack that they executed before, they are dead men walking. Everybody.

If they do logistics, or if they do administration, or if they just launder money that they get from Iran, or whatever their job is, if they're a member of Hamas, they have a very dire fate awaits either to die or to be, or to surrender. That is the fate that they have. Those are the options. And we are going to dismantle Hamas, its military capabilities. And as I said, make sure that this never happens again.

TAPPER: The IDF today raised the number of hostages being held by Hamas from 155 to 199. Hamas claims the number is higher, somewhere between 200 and 250, no matter what the actual number is. The former Hamas leader claims the group has enough hostages, including high- ranking officers, from the IDF's Gaza division to win the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Are you aware of any discussions about any kind of a prisoner swap or prisoners on the Israeli side, hostages on the Hamas side, any sort of exchange?

CONRICUS: Not at all, and I think that the former, current terrorist, former official of the Hamas will be very disappointed when the dust settles, when the Israeli hostages are back home and when Hamas is dismantled.

TAPPER: How are you going to get them home? It doesn't seem as though right now that's the priority in Gaza. It seems as though the military campaign is the priority.

CONRICUS: We have two very important tasks. They are intertwined and they influence each other, both dismantling Hamas and of course, getting our people back. I'm not going to elaborate about the tension between them and what will have precedent at what stages and what will be more important. I can only say that both of them will be achieved.

TAPPER: Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.

Coming up, a new phase in Israel's deadly war against Hamas, as it prepares to expand its operations in Gaza. CNN got exclusive access on the ground.

And the U.S. is bolstering its military presence in the Middle East, and now we're learning the Pentagon is preparing for the possible deployment of U.S. troops. More on that next.



TAPPER: Breaking news, a U.S. Marine rapid response force made up of 2,000 Marines and sailors is heading to the waters near Israel, according to a Pentagon official.

Let's get straight to CNN's Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon Force. Oren, tell us more.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, we've been watching this Marine rapid response force, the 26th Marine expeditionary Unit. It has been in the region and has been there as part of its normal operations, but we've been watching to see if it heads towards Israel. And now a U.S. defense official familiar with the plans says it is in fact headed that way.

The 26th Marine expeditionary unit or MEU is currently in the Gulf of Oman on board the USS Bataan, an amphibious assault ship that will make its way towards the waters off the coast of Israel. It's unclear if it'll join the other ships that are already there or if it'll stay in the Red Sea off the coast of southern Israel. That perhaps more likely.

But it adds to a growing list of US military capabilities that are heading towards this region and this conflict, even as the Biden administration says it's trying to avoid direct involvement in any way in the fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.


The USS Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group is already in the waters off the Eastern Med, and another carrier strike group led by the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is headed that way and should be there in a couple of weeks.

So, Jake, a tremendous amount of U.S. military force here getting very close to a hot war.

TAPPER: And Oren, we're also learning that the Pentagon is preparing another 2,000 U.S. troops who might actually be deployed inside Israel?

LIEBERMANN: This according to multiple U.S. defense officials. Last night, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered 2,000 troops to prepare for the possibility of deployment. So not quite there yet, but this would be likely to Israel for support roles, whether that's logistics or support or medical assistance.

But that possibility is very much on the table right now as Austin looking at that possibility and has ordered the military essentially to give him options here in the event that he makes that decision and issues a prepare to deploy order. One of the officials says that normally troops are on something like a 96-hour get ready for deployment. That has been shortened as the Pentagon watches the fighting unfold.

TAPPER: All right, Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon for us, thank you so much.

While the world is focused on the horrors of the Hamas terrorist attack and now Israel's response strikes to Gaza. There are growing fears that this war could expand to new fronts.

CNN's Matthew Chance got exclusive at -- access to Israeli defense forces in the north of Israel as they ready for a potential major fight with Hezbollah on Israel's border with Lebanon.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They're bracing for a dangerous second front. But we gain exclusive access to Israel's tense northern frontier. The Israeli army have now sealed off as a security zone. Some of the areas close to the Lebanese border because of the threat being posed. But they're taking us now to the closest period, the closest place they can do that they say is safe to see the lay of the land.

That land is hostile. None of the Israeli soldiers here wanted their faces shown to hide their identities from Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militia with a vast arsenal trained on these positions from across the border.

LT. COLONEL MK, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: We're ready. If they choose to come, they'll make a huge mistake.

CHANCE: War with Hezbollah would be brutal, said this senior Israeli commander who asked not to be identified. But it is now also necessary, he told me.

Do you believe there will be a second front open here or are you hopeful still that Hezbollah will stay out of this war?

MK: I hope there will be another front. We need to destroy Hezbollah.

CHANCE: You hope there will be another front?

MK: Yes.

CHANCE: You want the war?

MK: Yes.

CHANCE: Why? MK: What Hamas did in Gaza, it didn't come from nowhere. It came from

Hezbollah. It came from Iran. And in order for us to stop what happened from Hamas, we need to stop them also.

CHANCE: All right, well, this is as close as the Israeli military say we can go. Just across there is territory of Lebanon controlled by Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia. And Israeli soldiers in this position in Israel that tell us that over the past few days, there have been multiple attempts by Hezbollah fighters to penetrate the fence and to come into Israel. But they've been fought back.

If there is going to be a second front in this war in Israel the likelihood is it's going to start here. Already there have been exchanges of fire, forcing local Israelis to flee, terrified what happened in Israel's south could happen here too.

NOGA, RESIDENT, KIBBUTZ MISGAV AM: A terrorist attack at this scale has never happened.


NOGA: And I'm scared that I live on the border.


NOGA: What's to stop them from doing it here? I want to be strong and I want to come back and live here, but I need to think about my kids first.

CHANCE: Back from the border, Israel is bolstering its forces, with some of the 360,000 troops mobilized after the Hamas attacks last week. If war in the north is coming, Israel seems ready, even bristling, to fight.


CHANCE: Well, Jake, over the past several hours, there have been exchanges of rocket fire and artillery guns across the border between Israel and Lebanon. But the truth is both sides are holding back as much as they can from a full-scale conflict.


Israeli officials say if Hezbollah does not intervene in Israel's conflict, then they will not react. Back to you.

TAPPER: All right, Matthew Chance, thank you so much. There is undeniably a growing sense of anger, of fury in Israel over the fact that intelligence and political leaders were caught so off guard by the Hamas terrorist attacks.

In just a moment, I'm going to speak with a CNN correspondent who was in Israel the day of the horrible terrorist attacks. And we'll ask her about the political fallout. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: Today the head of Israel's domestic security took full

responsibility for the Hamas attack as frustration grows in that country over potential intelligence failures before the brutal assault, I want to bring in Hadas Gold, CNN's Jerusalem correspondent, who is here with me now in studio here in D.C. So, Israel's prime minister has vowed a thorough review of the potential intelligence failures.


I don't know why I'm calling them potential. They were clearly intelligence failures. I want to just show you something. Eyal Waldman, a billionaire tech executive who lost his 24-year-old daughter, Danielle, when she was murdered by Hamas at the Nova Music Festival. He posted, that's Danielle right there, he posted this image on his Instagram, it's Netanyahu with a bloody hand over his face. And said that as long as he's in office, both sides are going to suffer in this conflict.

Now, look, obviously Hamas is responsible for the murders, but there are a lot of Israelis that are really mad at Netanyahu. Obviously, right now, there's a lot of rallying around the government, rallying around in opposition of Hamas. But how mad do you think people are when, you know, the dust settles are going to be at Netanyahu?

I think there will be a huge amount of anger and there will be a big amount of sort of the blame game, not only of the intelligence failure, but also there's a bit of anger about just how long it took elements of the security establishment, the military, the police, to get to the people who were literally calling in to Israeli television channels, pleading for help on air live. That it took them that long to reach them.

So there will be a lot of, you know, retrospective trying to figure out what went wrong. I've already heard from some Israelis blaming the Israeli government that they were so wrapped up in the judicial overhaul over the last nine months that they were ignoring the security issues. We've also heard from some parents of those who've gone missing who said this government was just trying to manage the conflict, you know, try to keep a lid on it as much as possible, give these work permits for Gazans and thinking that would help, you know, that would keep Hamas happy, essentially, and not get them involved.

But right now, there is definitely a sense that the country needs to come together, that they're all supporting the Israeli military. This is not the time necessarily for the huge blame games on the Israeli media, you're not seeing these big roundtables of people trying to figure out who's to blame, who's at fault, because the focus right now is, of course, the war and getting these hostages out.

TAPPER: I have also heard people saying that one of the other problems is that the IDF, the Israeli military, was positioned in the West Bank protecting all these right wing settlers who are provoking a lot of violence themselves instead of positions throughout the country. Is there any truth to that? HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, the West Bank has been essentially on fire now for a year and a half, there's been an increase not only of individual attacks, Palestinian attacks on Israelis, but also of Israeli raids within the West Bank targeting militant groups there. So there's definitely a bigger presence there. And the sense I got up until Saturday was that everyone assumed that Hamas wanted to keep Gaza quiet because they enjoyed seeing the occupied West Bank burn.

So Hamas was sort of like, they're OK. They've got their work permits. They're going to be chill. Nothing was really that -- I was talking to officials up until just a few days before, there was no indication that Hamas had any interest in getting involved and potentially that was the downfall.

TAPPER: Let's go back to that exchange with Matthew Chance, and the IDF soldier who said he is hoping for the war to expand to the north because Hezbollah and Iran posed the same threat to the state of Israel as Hamas does. From your reporting, is this a widely held view among Israelis?

GOLD: I don't know if it's widely held because a war with Hezbollah is going to be like a war with the varsity team. And right now, the war with Hamas is a JV team. Hezbollah's arsenal, tens of thousands of -- some of them are precision guided missiles that could, you know, directly hit a power station or something like that.

And so while some might say, let's just get it done with now, again, war with Hezbollah a totally different type of war than what we're seeing with Hamas right now. And so while some in the security establishment might say, let's just get it done now, all at the same time, we already have all these reservists up. I'm sure for the average of Israeli, they'd rather wait on that.

TAPPER: All right, Hadas gold, good luck with the baby.

GOLD: Thank you.

TAPPER: My next guest wants the world to see the video Hamas posted of his nephew who was taken hostage. That story next.



TAPPER: Almog Meir went to the Nova Music Festival in Israel to celebrate a big job he was about to start. But on 7:45 Saturday morning in Israel, he called his mom to say that the party had stopped because there was shooting all over. He said that he would update her with more information and that he loved her, but that was his last phone call to her. He was abducted and kidnapped by Hamas. Aviram Meir and Orit Meir, thank you so much for being here. Aviram, Can you tell us about your nephew and what happened to him?

AVIRAM MEIR, NEPHEW TAKEN HOSTAGE BY HAMAS: My nephew went to a party at Friday evening with a friend. He arrived the party and he had all night party. In the morning, he understood in some way he has been shot and they have sent rockets on him. So he understood that he had to run away, and he tried to do it. Not before he called his mother. After he called his mother, if I can continue, he entered the car. The car with his friend that he came with from Tel Aviv.


To the car, entered two sisters, and they tried to leave the place. After 50 meters about the shooting has stopped the car and all the passengers try to get away. The two sisters have been announced dead yesterday and the driver named Tomir has been announced murdered a few minutes ago. Almog has been kidnapped as you know.

We had a video clip from the Hamas that he released at Saturday the 7th at about 12:30. And there we can see five guys about, Israeli guys, not friends, kidnapped, who has been beaten, have been tied up and was frightened. Almog was one of them.

TAPPER: I know you want people to see that video. Why do you want people to see it?

A. MEIR: The cruelty and the way of thinking that there were 3,000 youngsters who went to a party and this is how ended the party. Almog, my nephew, went to party in a party, in a festival. This is all he did. And all the others did the same. The results impossible to think about the results.

TAPPER: Orit, I can't imagine, I just can't, I don't have the words to imagine how stressful this must be to wait and wait and wait for any information and have to wonder how he's doing is he still OK? How is your family?

ORIT MEIR, SON TAKEN HOSTAGE BY HAMAS: It's a big shock for everyone. You can't imagine how I suffer. You can't imagine. My life is over. I feel that my life is over. It's like hole in my heart. And everyone in my family we don't know how -- what to do. We decided that we want that everyone knows about our story. He gives me power, my son, to go to everywhere I can, to talk about it and that everyone knows how they behave to, what can I say, it's like it's so hard for me that he is there, he is kidnapped.

And so I'm afraid to think what is going on, what is passing, it's --

TAPPER: I wish I had words to console you.

O. MEIR: My son back. I want him back.

TAPPER: I know. I know. I know.

O. MEIR: I ask international community to bring Almog and all the hostages home today. That's what I want now.

TAPPER: I think there's nothing else to say. Bring the hostages home now. That's exactly right. That's exactly right. That is the message and that is the only sane thing to say. Bring the hostages home now.

Aviram Meir and Orit Meir, thank you so much and we will be thinking and praying. Thinking and praying and hoping that happens.

A. MEIR: Thank you very much.

O. MEIR: Thank you.


TAPPER: House Republicans are currently meeting behind closed doors, debating who will be their next speaker. The big question has Jim Jordan won over enough critics? I'm going to talk to one lawmaker considered a key vote.


TAPPER: A senior Republican aide told CNN that Fox's Sean Hannity is apparently trying to pressure moderate Republicans, or at least wavering Republicans, to support Congressman Jim Jordan in his bid for speakership, with a Hannity producer e-mailing aides for certain congressmen asking, quote, Hannity would like to know why. During a war breaking out between Israel and Hamas, with the war in Ukraine, with the wide open borders, with a budget that's unfinished, why would Representative X be against Representative Jim Jordan for speaker? Please let us know when Representative X plans on opening the people's House so work can be done, unquote.

The e-mail was first reported by Axios. This comes as several key votes flipped over the weekend from opposing Jordan's bid for speaker. Hell, no, said Congresswoman Ann Wagner to supporting him. OK, I'll vote for him, says Ann Wagner now. With me now, Republican Congressman Mike Lawler from New York. Congressman Lawler, the House floor vote is scheduled for tomorrow at noon. How are you going to vote on Jim Jordan?


REP. MIKE LAWLER (R-NY): My intention is to vote for Kevin McCarthy. I have said from the very beginning that he never should have been removed. And that I believe he should be speaker of the House. I think he's the right person to lead us. When I met with Congressman Jordan on Friday evening, I said to him that I am not a hell no, but unless you have the votes, I'm not going to be there.

And the reason I say that is this, at the end of the day, we need to get back to the work of the American people. We need to get the House opened up again. Unfortunately, eight of my colleagues teamed up with 208 Democrats to remove Speaker McCarthy and shut down the House, going on two weeks. So it is imperative that we get back to work for the American people.

But I still have a fundamental problem with the fact that you have a handful of people who have refused to work with the rest of the conference. They unceremoniously removed the speaker. They blocked Steve Scalise and now they want everybody to fall in line, and they're using every pressure tactic they know to try and pressure members.

And I think that the challenge here is at the end of the day, regardless of who the speaker is, we need to be able to govern, and we need to be able to govern as a conference. And if we can't do that, then you don't have a majority. And that really is the fundamental issue here.

TAPPER: You know, you come from a district that President Biden won. I don't know if you knew that. And I don't have a difficult time imagining a Democratic opponent running an entire ad if you voted for Jim Jordan, pointing out that you voted for a guy who was a conspirator to overturn the election.

And I know that there are other Republicans in districts that Joe Biden won that would also face T.V. ads along those lines, is that not a big problem for Republicans?

LAWLER: Look, the DCCC and Hakeem Jeffries and my potential opponent, Mondaire Jones, they're going to attack me no matter what I do, no matter what I say. That's their job. That's their objective. They want to get back in the majority. My constituents know who I am. They know where I stand on these issues. They know what I have said and what I have done.

And I fought to make sure that we lifted the debt ceiling. I fought to make sure the government stayed open. I have been working nonstop to address the challenges facing the American people, from spending to the border to the crisis in Ukraine and Israel, and I will continue to do that. So I'm not, frankly, too concerned about what prospective opponents going to say, because, frankly, they're going to attack me no matter what I do.

TAPPER: You brought up Israel, and I know you wanted to say something about the crisis in the Middle East. And I'm also wondering how concerned you are about the fact that we don't have a speaker. The United States does not have a speaker at this time when there are two wars going on, and Congress can't even pass a symbolic resolution against Hamas, much less if there were to be an aid package needed.

LAWLER: Look, this is precisely why we never should have removed the speaker in the first place. You never know what will happen on the world stage. And obviously, we need to get back to work as expeditiously as possible to provide financial support to Israel. We need to have a supplemental aid package to help with things like the Iron Dome. And the administration needs to continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel.

The pressure is going to mount as Israel defends itself, and people are going to be calling for ceasefires, as some of my colleagues have, which is wrong. Israel is the victim here, not Hamas. And, you know, the Palestinian people living in Gaza have been living under Hamas's oppression. Israel is not the oppressor, and people need to get that straight in their head.

So as far as I'm concerned, we need to get back to work. We need to support Israel. There can be no daylight between us, because the pressure around the world is going to build on Israel, and we need to stand firm.


TAPPER: Republican Congressman Mike Lawler from New York. Thanks so much. Appreciate your time, sir.

LAWLER: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up next, a small bit of good news from a family in Israel who you saw here on The Lead last week. They were desperately trying to get out. We have an update we want to share.


TAPPER: Finally, before we go. On Friday, we shared with you the story of Jessica Nagar Zandani, an American living in southern Israel. You might remember her three adorable little kids who were being so brave, Benny, Gabby and Zoey. They were in and out of bomb shelters all week. During the interview, she told us she was having a lot of trouble getting information from the U.S. State Department on when to evacuate and how.

We are very happy to share some rare good news with you in the last nine days. Jessica and her kids safely evacuated and got on a flight the next day, Saturday morning. So many of you we know watching feel compelled to help in any way you can with humanitarian and relief efforts. CNN has been compiling resources. You can head to You'll find a list of vetted organizations on the ground responding, that's to help any of these poor kids in Gaza, in Israel, please go and check it out.


If you ever miss an episode of The Lead, you can listen to the show once you get your podcasts. Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room.