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The Lead with Jake Tapper

GOP Presidential Hopefuls Blitz Iowa As Caucuses Near; Sources: U.N. Vote On New Ceasefire Resolution Delayed; Major Shipping Companies Reroute Due Attacks In Red Sea; Mother Of 19-Year-Old Hostage Says Time Is Running Out; Senator Fetterman Reacts To Biden's Low Poll Numbers; CNN Team Arrives Near Volcanic Eruption In Iceland. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired December 19, 2023 - 16:00   ET



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To her, the Supreme Court was bedrock, the bedrock of America. It was the vital line of defense for the values and the vision of our republic, devoted not to pursuit of power, for power's sake, but to make real the promise of America.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Justice O'Connor served on the Supreme Court for more than two decades and was at the center of some of the most consequential decisions impacting the lives of all Americans.


BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Thanks so much for joining us.

THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Team Trump just took out its first New Hampshire ad against Nikki Haley.

THE LEAD starts right now.

By this time, next month, we will know if the polls are right.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do you hear that sound? That's the sound of us surging.


TAPPER: This hour, I'm going to speak with Haley's biggest supporter in New Hampshire where she has got to stop Trump if she wants to be president.

Plus, Democratic Senator John Fetterman from Pennsylvania will be here, making headlines and waves in his party for backing Israel wholeheartedly, pushing border security, and saying he's not a progressive. What's going on?

And the volcanic eruption creating warnings and wonder around the world.


TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Off the top are live images of that incredible volcanic eruption in Iceland, the largest in this region in the last two years. The volcano is spewing magma fountains nearly 100 feet high, releasing toxic gases. The bright orange lava flow is visible some two miles away.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is trying to get as close as humanly and safely possible. And his live report is coming up in a few minutes.

But things are also heating up in our 2024 lead with just 27 days into the first voters get their say. Cue the music, election music. Yes, yes. The sweet, sweet sounds of CNN's election season.

It's an all-out blitz in Iowa today where Republican presidential hopefuls are holding a dozen official campaign events on the schedule today. That includes former President Trump back in Iowa for the fourth time in less than a month.

Today, Trump's campaign is projecting confidence, not only confidence that they're going to win the Iowa caucuses, but confidence they will have the entire race secure by mid-March. The senior Trump campaign official says based on their internal data, they expect the former president to win the party's nomination around spring break, although they do caution those calculations could change if a rival does better than expected.

And after months of going after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, it appears it's former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley who the Trump campaign is growing more concerned about. The super PAC supporting Donald Trump has just launched its first big ad attacking Haley in the early voting state of New Hampshire.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny starts off our coverage today from Waterloo, Iowa, where Trump is holding a rally today with a behind-the-scenes look at the campaign machine hoping to propel the former president to a decisive victory in Iowa next month, a state he could not win eight years ago.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: Sometimes when you're leading by a lot, everyone says, oh, why should I go and vote? The margin of victory is so important.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Donald Trump is back in Iowa tonight, with that margin of victory squarely on his mind. But the outcome of the Iowa caucuses, now less than four weeks away, may depend less on Trump than the work being done on this makeshift assembly line, inside his campaign headquarters. One box at a time, this is how Trump's team is trying to build the landslide, sending gold stitched hats in carefully curated care packages to nearly 2,000 of their precinct captains.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here's a personalized letter from the president.

ZELENY: Brad Bost (ph) is a volunteer and one of those precinct captains who speak on Trump's behalf on caucus night and agreed to bring in 10 new supporters.

In 2016, he supported Ted Cruz who beat Trump here with the help of a stronger organization. Now, Bost marvels that Trump's operation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody's got to screw the lug nuts on the Cadillac so the little jobs are the most important jobs.

ZELENY: While Trump's extreme rhetoric often sounds the same in this campaign --

TRUMP: When I'm re-elected, we will begin and we have no choice, the largest deportation operation in America.

ZELENY: His organization is dramatically different this time, driven by a sophisticated data-driven effort to find Trump supporters who have never attended a caucus before. In the last three months, Trump has visited Iowa more than a dozen times, hitting all corners of the state in a highly targeted strategy, for a front runner not resting on a commanding lead.


From the moment you walk into a Trump event, the organization is apparent. Back at the campaign office, these commit to caucus cards are entered into a database. Supporters are called within three days which advisers say often didn't happen in 2016.

BRENNA BIRD (R), IOWA ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have the commit to caucus cards. Fill one out. There are people here who have not filled out one of these cards. We need all of you.

ZELENY: Brenna Bird, Iowa's attorney general and one of Trump's top supporters, warns against complacency.

BIRD: The polls don't matter. The one that really matters is caucus night, isn't it?


ZELENY: An army of Trump surrogates is also descending on Iowa, holding small organizing events hammering home the same message.

REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Recruit 10 captains that can recruit 10 other people to commit to show up in caucus. My only worry is low turnout.

ZELENY: With Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley in a fight for second place, Trump is working to close down the 2024 primary on opening night. JIMMY CENTERS, IOWA REPUBLICAN POLITICAL CONSULTANT: He wants to run

up the score so caucus night looks more like a coronation than a caucus.

ZELENY: Jimmy Centers, a veteran of four Republican caucus campaigns in Iowa, said the Trump Organization may overwhelm its rivals.

CENTERS: They are quietly building a very tenacious and robust organization all across the state and I think that will be worth several points on caucus night.

ZELENY: So, some of the most important work happens when the former president is not here.

CENTERS: That's precisely it and it's been happening like that for eight years.


ZELENY (on camera): So, former President Trump returning to Iowa again for one likely final visit of this calendar year, also promising to be back early next year.

The organization is night and day from what it was in 2016 back when many Trump supporters and even officials did not exactly even know what a caucus was. That is an entirely different case this year. Of course, he has many negatives against him as well. Many Republicans want to turn the page. That is where Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been trying to gain ground, Nikki Haley as well.

Jake, many Republicans here have their eye on her and she took notice of that today. She said when all my rivals are attacking me. We must be doing something right. So really the race for Iowa, Jake, is a race for second place. If Nikki Haley were to defeat Ron DeSantis here that would catapult her into -- either way everyone has their eye on that race. That margin of victory give a sense that the Trump campaign is worried about complacency and that's why he's coming back here tonight, to waterloo -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny in Waterloo, Iowa, thanks so much.

So, let's bring in Republican Governor Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, who endorsed Nikki Haley in the Republican primary, a big get for her.

Governor, thanks for joining us.

So, Ambassador Haley is in Iowa today --


TAPPER: -- where the latest CBS News poll finds her at 13 percent, in third place there. What part of her message is not resonating with voters in that crucial state, even as some polls indicate she's surging in New Hampshire, your state?

SUNUNU: Yeah, sure. So, understand the messages are always going to be a little bit different, a little bit tailored to each state. We're the live free or die state. I think she's a great decentralizing government message that translates here. I think it's just a matter of kind of putting that message on the ground there.

Everybody -- all of the Republicans in Iowa want government out of their lives. They all want somebody who's going to be fiscally responsible and secure the border. These are policies that we all agree. Now, getting it done is really the difference maker, who has that record of experience?

So, I think as she just spends more time in Iowa, she's going to get a lot of the similar results that she's gotten here. And again, there's four or five weeks to go, people say that's not a lot of time. It's actually a ton of time. Poll numbers are going to move 10, 20 points in these last four or five weeks. And I have no doubt she's the only one with momentum in the last couple of weeks, and the only one that's going to carry it right to January 23rd.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about this latest poll out of New Hampshire, which finds Trump still in first place, 44 percent. Haley is at 29 percent, that's a big bump for her. Ron DeSantis is at 11 percent, Chris Christie at 10 percent, everyone else in single digits.

Do you think something needs to drop out before the New Hampshire primary takes place for Nikki Haley, to make up those 15 points in order to win the state?

SUNUNU: I don't think it has to happen. And I think what you're going to see is the voters going to come around Nikki anyways. Chris Christie's voters have one mission, right, to make sure Trump is not the candidate, because that's Chris's mission. But now it's, clear unfortunately, Chris is a great candidate, a great guy, a great governor, but that's not the path.

So they are all going to naturally come this way. DeSantis's voters, even some of the Trump voters are now realizing -- well, Trump is not inevitable. We have a choice, and it's really a binary choice.

So I think naturally, she is going to get enough of a bump in the voters, and maybe ultimately someone chooses to drop, out that's really their choice, I'm not going to force anyone to drop out. I can't do that, of course. I think the voters are going to make that statement and make it clear where their support is going in those polls, and then we'll see what comes from that.

TAPPER: What will it say about the state of the race if you, the top Republican in New Hampshire, a popular governor, if you endorse Nikki Haley and she does not win New Hampshire?

SUNUNU: Well, I don't think she's expected -- I mean, no one has expected her up until this point to win New Hampshire, except me, right? So, Trump has to win Iowa and New Hampshire.


I mean, that's the expectation. If he doesn't win these two states, he completely falls short of the national expectations and narratives over the past year. So, that would be a shocker in itself.

So, nobody has to win this state. What we're really trying to do is just get a differentiator. It's going to be Trump and Haley going forward, into her own state of South Carolina. And I've always said, in a one-on-one race, if you get it there before Super Tuesday, and I think it's going to be there a lot sooner than that, in that one-on- one race, now folks have a binary decision.

And the whole psychology of the inevitability of Trump, the psychology of choice, it all gets very, very different. I think a lot more people engaged to Nikki Haley's benefit.

TAPPER: The super PAC supporting Donald Trump is out with its very first ad against Nikki Haley, running in New Hampshire. It accuses her flip-flopping on the issue of raising her states gas tax as governor. Take a listen.


AD NARRATOR: Nikki Haley promised --

HALEY: I will not, not now, not ever, support raising the gas tax.

AD NARRATOR: Really? Not now, not ever? Just 24 months later, high tax Haley flipped.

HALEY: Let's increase the gas tax by ten cents.

AD NARRATOR: That's right, high tax Haley broke her promise.

HALEY: Let's increase the gas tax.

AD NARRATOR: Repeatedly backing higher taxes hurt families. New Hampshire can't afford Nikki high tax Haley.


TAPPER: Now, we should note, obviously, the context, Governor Haley did say she would only raise the gas tax, if it was off set by other tax hikes, so that's the context.

SUNUNU: That's right, that's right.

TAPPER: But, the ad you know, TV ads and political ads are not known for their nuance in the context. If Trump voters are listening and believing these comments, how do you campaign against that?

SUNUNU: You don't worry about it. He's scared, that's actually the best part of this ad, is that clearly Trump is scared. Clearly, he knows momentum is on her side. She has a ground game that he doesn't have -- the door-knockers, the folks on the phone, the connection, she's answering things and doing things that Trump is not, and will not do over the next four or five weeks.

So, yeah, when he starts spending money on attacking someone directly, you know he is very nervous about losing. And look, when it comes to records, everyone knows Donald Trump's

record. You know, as Republicans, we want that border secure. You know, we want the right fiscal policies in, place we wanted to drain the swamp. He didn't do any of it, and there's no -- you don't even have to run ads on that, he just didn't get it done.

You know, it's funny, when you -- he was here over the weekend, and he spent all of this time saying this horrible rhetoric against illegal immigrants and all of this sort of thing. And all he is doing there is trying to spur up his base. He is nervous his base is going to leave him at this point. That's why he gets so extreme in some of these speeches he's giving.

And he does it around the immigration issue, because he doesn't want people to remember -- by the way, you are there for four years, buddy, you had a chance to secure the border, you had a chance to make Mexico pay for it, as you told us he would. He didn't do any of it.

So he's doing everything he can to distract from the fact, almost like he wasn't president. He was in charge for four years, and look what didn't get done.

So, he's running scared. He knows that he doesn't have any momentum, Nikki does. These people are smart enough to know that that's very real.

And it isn't just a Chris Sununu endorsement. Nikki is absolutely a rock star on the campaign trail. People like her. They connect with her. They get excited with her. It's a whole different vibe here. And we are going to carry that, like I said, four or five weeks, tough to go, tough haul to be sure.

But I think she's going to win this state, pretty handily.

TAPPER: All right. Governor Chris Sununu of the great state of New Hampshire, thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

SUNUNU: Thanks, buddy. Be good.

TAPPER: Coming up next, the vote expected this hour to add even more pressure on the government of Israel to stop its assault in Gaza, or at least to change tactics.

Plus, the attacks on ships in the Red Sea, that could soon take a swipe at the global economy.

And another look at the volcano erupting in Iceland. We're going to check in with the CNN team now on site.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our lead now, moments ago, a vote on a consequential United Nations resolution was delayed until tomorrow, we're told, after intense negotiations and delays. The U.N. Security Council is trying to get the United States on board with the majority of members in calling for a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza. The international outcry is growing, and human rights watch accuses Israel now of using starvation as a weapon of war, which Israel denies.

And now, Israel's president, Isaac Herzog, who largely serves in a ceremonial role, says is real is, quote, ready for another humanitarian pause.

CNN's Will Ripley is on the ground in Tel Aviv for us.

Will, how likely are Israel and Hamas to come to an agreement for another humanitarian pause or for relief to get it and for hostages and prisoners to be swapped?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm being told it's a very unlikely it's going to happen before Christmas, Jake, largely because of the difference in what Hamas is looking for and what Israel is willing to do. They are talking about a humanitarian pause in exchange for the release of some 129 hostages. Hamas has said that those remaining hostages won't be released until, in their words, the war is over.

There's a big difference between ending this war and a humanitarian pause to allow in desperately needed aid to Gaza. We saw those heartbreaking pictures over the weekend of people jumping on aid trucks, fighting over the few scraps of supplies that remain. Of course, there is additional damage being reported to everything from hospitals to churches, people are dying, including Israeli hostages, accidentally shot over the weekend.

So, the cease-fire is needed, but what that looks like, and what is agreed to, that is the tricky part here. That's why you had this Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in the region, but he didn't believe certainly with any deal imminent. And so, it's certainly something the U.S. is working on very hard, Jake. But still, a wide, wide divide between Hamas and Israel, which of course isn't surprising. We have seen that throughout this conflict.

TAPPER: And, Will, we are seeing these new images of damage to a church in Gaza, a church complex where a mother and daughter were killed, allegedly by an Israeli sniper. Christians in Gaza use these churches for shelter.

What is the status of the surviving refugees in that church complex? And what is the IDF saying about these two women who were killed?


RIPLEY: It's a really heartbreaking story, Jake. Apparently, it was a mother and daughter, and one was trying to carry the other to safety after this alleged sniper shooting that Israel denies, the military says they have evidence based on their combat logs that they were not involved in this. But there are refuting accounts of that from people who are at the church. There were others who were injured, there are dozens of disabled

people in that church right now, that are facing a very difficult situation because in addition to those who were injured and the two women who were killed, there were reports that from the church that their generator was damaged, their fuel supplies actually were damaged as well. Potentially holes were shot in their fuel tanks and, of course, you know how scarce fuel is in this stage.

So a very heartbreaking story, that was even addressed by Pope Francis, the pontiff delivering an address calling it war and terrorism, and praying for peace. But, Jake, that prayer likely to be unanswered this holiday week, at least that's what it looks like right now.

TAPPER: Will Ripley in Tel Aviv for us, thanks so much.

Hundreds of miles south of Gaza, turmoil in the Red Sea not seen in decades, as Iran-backed Houthi forces stepped up attacks on ships that they claim have ties to Israel. This is led to a major disruption in global shipping, as companies such as oil giant BP reroute vessels all the way around Africa, to avoid attacks.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand and Richard Quest join us now.

Natasha, remind us who the Houthis are. And, how is the U.S. responding to these attacks?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the Houthis are basically one side of a civil war that has been raging in Yemen for the better part of a decade now. They are a rebel group that managed to seize control of many parts of Yemen, beginning in 2014. They now control a large part of northern Yemen, and they have been fighting a separate war against Saudi Arabia over the last few years, a war that has abated over the last year because of a cease-fire. But they are also backed by Iran, which, of course, is Saudi Arabia's arch nemesis in the region.

So, a lot of different powers at play here, but what the U.S. is doing at this point to try to deter these ongoing missile and drone attacks by the Houthis on these commercial vessels is to set up an international coalition of maritime forces that will basically be bolstering the security in the Red Sea. And when necessary, escorting a lot of these commercial vessels, so that they can transit safely through the southern Red Sea and up towards the Suez Canal, where, of course, so much of international trade and commerce passes for the rule on a daily basis.

Now, the U.S. is saying that they are not necessarily going to escort to these ships on a regular basis, nor are the other countries in the area. It's really just an attempt to show that the international community, the international shipping industry, that they are there in case they need them. And also, to try and show the Houthis that they are prepared to respond if they do these additional attacks in the future.

But, of course, it has not worked in the past. Over the last few weeks, the U.S. has responded to these missile and drone attacks, shooting down several of the missiles the Houthis have fired. It has not deterred them to date, Jake.

TAPPER: Richard, what does this mean for global trade, if ships have to reroute themselves all the way around Africa?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Oh, it means about 10 days, 15 days, two weeks about. There you are, eight and a half thousand miles to go from Singapore up to the Suez Canal through Rotterdam. Eleven thousand miles, or nearly 12 you're going to go around the cape.

I spoken an hour ago to the CEO of Hapag Lloyd, one of his ships had already been hit by one of these drones. He said if it had been hit somewhere else, it would have been much worse for the vessel. It's going to be very difficult to protect these ships, because there are so many of them. You've got to shoot down all of the drones, and it becomes a long, costly expensive affair.

And so that's your economic balance, Jake. Do you send these ships around, which will create supply chain issues like to raise the prices. And certainly, increase the convenience. Or, do you take the risk of the Suez Canal route, which frankly, no one seems to prepare to deal with at the moment? At the second, I'm afraid to say the Houthis have the other hand.

TAPPER: And, Natasha, we know that the U.S. has responded by launching strikes at weapons depots in Syria and Iraq. Are Pentagon officials discussing more substantial responses to deter these attacks by the Houthis to begin with?

BERTRAND: Well, look, the Pentagon will always tell you that nothing is off the table, in terms of a response. However, the U.S. has been extremely reluctant to bomb the Houthis directly in their infrastructure. Also, because there are several political sensitivities at play as well.

As I mentioned earlier, Saudi Arabia and the Houthis, they reached a very fragile truce just last year. And the U.S. played a very important role in that truce. So the U.S. does not necessarily want to see a new conflict reopened in Yemen against the Houthis, as well as of course many Arab nations, they don't necessarily want to see these, this conflict escalate either.


And so, the U.S. does not necessarily want to open a new front here. But, you know, many critics are pointing out that there may need to be some additional kinetic action order to deter their attacks in the future, because they are just not letting up with ballistic missiles, anti-ship missiles, and increasingly sophisticated equipment, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Richard Quest and Natasha Bertrand, thanks to both of you.

Coming up next, a mother of 19-year-old Naama Levy, you might not recall her name, if you do recall her image of her because what happened her is unforgettable. Her mother came here to the U.S. with a message that she needs the world to hear.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And back with our world lead. You've probably seen that horrific video of 19-year-old Naama Levy dragged by her hair into the back of a jeep at gunpoint on October 7th, simply because she's Jewish. It shows the moments after Hamas terrorists abducted her and in all likelihood raped her, as evidenced by the blood on her pants and where it was on her pants.

CNN's Bianna Golodryga spoke with her mother who says time is running out.


AYELET LEVY SHACHAR, DAUGHTER HELD HOSTAGE IN GAZA: My voice may be soft when I speak right now, but the screams inside me, and I don't hear the voices of the world loud enough, responding to the scream. My daughter has been kidnapped by Hamas, can you even begin to imagine that?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's one of the most recognizable images from the horrors of October 7th. Nineteen-year-old Naama Levy dragged from the back of a jeep at gunpoint by Hamas terrorists. Her pants visibly bloodied, her ankles cut.

SHACHAR: For her, time is running out. You know, every day is harder because she's more vulnerable to whatever is happening there, and to what's inflicted on her.

GOLODRYGA: The thought of what else could be inflicted on her daughter has led Dr. Ayelet Levy Shachar to travel to New York. She's hoping to put more pressure on women's rights organizations like U.N. Women, who waited nearly two months to condemn the sexual violence committed by Hamas, despite the mounting evidence.

Do you feel let down by these organizations? Not only their moral lapse in not speaking out, do you think that by waiting so long, they endangered Naama's life even more?

SHACHAR: It wasn't timely, it wasn't enough. And, that did put her in more danger, because time is passing by, and she is not out. And then, you know, I want to just stay home, by the door, and by the phone, and we'll wait for that call, and opened the door and go out and get her. That's all I want.

I don't want to travel anywhere, but I'm doing it because I think this is -- I think the United States has the most power here, and I want to influence whoever I can.

GOLODRYGA: And like many other families of hostages, Levy Shachar is also disappointed in what they view as an ineffective role played by the International Committee for the Red Cross. While acknowledging the organization's principle of impartiality, families believe more aggressive statements like this one from the ICRC president last week, demanding access and the release of hostages, could have put more pressure on Hamas.

SHACHAR: I've met with the Red Cross, and the Red Cross president. I do understand there is a complexity in how they work, and in how they achieve their mission. They say they don't have the cooperation on the other side by the Hamas, by the ones who kidnapped. So, maybe someone can? Maybe the U.N. should come out and say, ICRC cannot do their assignments.

GOLODRYGA: Why do you think they're not doing that?

SHACHAR: Good question. Why are they not doing that?

GOLODRYGA: A day before her trip to New York came the shocking news from the IDF. Its soldiers had mistakenly killed three hostages, who had escaped or been abandoned by their captors.

SHACHAR: And I was shocked. The fear that I feel all the time just got worse at that point. And, when I heard this, it broke my heart. I know the parents of those -- some of those hostages that were killed. It's horrible, it's a horrible tragedy.

GOLODRYGA: Of course, everyone can recognize the video, the horrific video of Naama on October 7th. I know for you it's really important for that video to be shown. Can you explain why?

SHACHAR: You know for me, it's of course beyond upsetting, and I can't even watch it in continuity. But I think it's so important for the world to see, this is what happened to my daughter. It's a short film that is totally does not represent anything about her, except the cruelty of those moments, the moment where our lives just stopped and froze. And it's been, it's been October 7th ever since.

GOLODRYGA: Levy Shachar wants the world to know who her daughter really is, a young, determined, fun-loving girl who sought peace with her Palestinian neighbors, and loves Pink, specifically the song "Cover Me in Sunshine".

SHACHAR: I listen to it all the time, and icing it to her. You know I say, the world has been spinning since the beginning, and everything will be all right. And I try to believe that myself, you know?

GOLODRYGA: Bianna Golodryga, CNN, New York.



TAPPER: Our thanks to Bianna Golodryga for that report.

And we are going to continue to cover the hostages, American and Israeli, until the end of this story, hopefully their return. Israel's military operation in Gaza has created deep divisions here in

the United States, especially among younger voters to also take issue with President Biden's handling of the war. Democratic Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania has strong feelings about this all and he'll join me next.


TAPPER: In our politics lead: It is a critical moment for President Biden and Democrats, as the war in the Middle East is causing deep divisions, particularly among younger voters, and a fight is raging on Capitol Hill over immigration.

Joining me now to discuss is Democratic Senator John Fetterman from the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.


It's good to see you, sir. Thanks for joining us.

Let's start with President Biden. We see in today's "New York Times"/Siena College poll, if the presidential election were held today, Biden would likely lose to Donald Trump. Why do you think that is? And do you think that the party should consider nominating someone else to be the Democratic Party's presidential nominee?

SEN. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA): Well, I mean, it doesn't really mean much to me, because the election is for nearly a year to go.

And Joe Biden already beat Trump in Pennsylvania, and that's what I really talk about, how he's going to absolutely win in Pennsylvania. And I understand that there's kind of a division between the younger voters between Israel and Gaza.

And I really believe the president is on -- very much on the right side of that. And, sometimes, you may alienate some voters, but it's really most important to be on the right side on that. I mean, that's where I'm at.

TAPPER: I want to get to Israel in a second.

But, first, I know you're eager to talk about the proposed sale of U.S. Steel, which is headquartered in Pittsburgh, to Japan's largest steelmaker. Do you think that the deal should be blocked? Do you think that selling U.S. Steel to a Japan -- Japanese company poses a risk to the national security of the United States?


No, I'm actually outraged by it. It absolutely is. I live across the street from the mill. And I used to have a really great relationship with the management. In fact, they would even -- over any simple kind of press release or anything, they would give me a heads-up. And they never mentioned to me at all, and, of course, they never checked in with the union. So that -- to me, that tells two things, one, that they don't have to care what happens to the union. And, two, with my reputation and my -- my reputation, and so, from my perspective, there must be one of two things, that they don't ever have to care about us much longer, and that they must have a very, very gold kind of parachute here as well.

TAPPER: Let's go back to talking about Israel and the divisions in the Democratic Party, particularly among young voters, when it comes to Israel's war against Hamas; 72 percent of young voters, according to this new poll, disapprove of how President Biden is handling the Israel-Hamas war.

You have been very vocal in your full support for Israel. I see the Israeli flag behind you in your office there. You have been very clearly arguing that Hamas bears responsibility for the tragedy of what's going on in Gaza. Why do you think so many younger people, especially, in your party see it differently?

FETTERMAN: I really don't know.

I do know that a lot of people are getting their perspective from TikTok. And I think, if you're kind of getting your perspective on the world on TikTok, it's going to tend to be kind of warped or not reflective of the history and actually the way things absolutely are.

And what is very clear is, is that Hamas started this, and they actually broke the cease-fire, and they attacked and murdered babies, children, women, attacked a music concert and everything. It's outrageous.

And from now on, it's been very clear that Israel would very much want there to be peace. But they have made it very clear that, after October 7, that that's just not possible so long as Hamas is allowed to exist.

TAPPER: On immigration, which is a big issue going on in the Senate right now, you recently said -- quote -- "I hope Democrats can understand that it isn't xenophobic to be concerned about the border" -- unquote.

And even though you did run for lieutenant governor and senator, as a progressive, you're now rejecting that label. What would you call yourself?

FETTERMAN: I would just call myself a Democrat, and I believe that I'm on the right side of issues, whether that's being very pro-choice.

Maybe that I believe that is being pro-union. And if -- I believe that's for pro-Israel on that as well too. There's absolutely different kinds of opinions in the Democratic Party. And I have always been very clear that I'm going to stand on the right side of what I believe it is.

And I have been very up front on that as well too. And I really haven't been able to find anybody that can say there's not any kind of an issue right now on the border that has around 270,000 people being encountered on the border just in one month.

And to put that in perspective, as I have said before, that's the side of Pittsburgh. And if roughly the size of Pittsburgh is showing up in the border, if that's what you need to say, that's fine, that's not really an issue, as a progressive, then I guess that's why I wouldn't be a progressive.

But I have remained and will always be very, very pro-immigration, perhaps as much as anybody in there.


TAPPER: Before you go, sir, it's been nice talking to you.

How is your health? Obviously, you had the stroke. You had a hospitalization period. Your recovery seems to be going well, as far as I can tell from this interview. But how are you doing physically and in terms of all your recovery?

FETTERMAN: Any better and I'd have gold bars in my mattress.


FETTERMAN: Doing great.

TAPPER: All right.

FETTERMAN: Thanks for asking.

TAPPER: A reference to New Jersey Senator Mr. Menendez, who I know you have been calling for him to leave.

Democratic Senator John Fetterman of the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, thank you so much. Hope we can talk again soon.

FETTERMAN: OK. Thank you.

TAPPER: Some incredible images out of Iceland. CNN's crews just out within a mile of erupting volcano, spewing magma and toxic gas. We're going to check in with CNN's Fred Pleitgen, who is on the ground, next.



TAPPER: In our world lead, you are looking right now at some live pictures of a volcano erupting in Iceland. It has finally awakened yesterday, after weeks of warnings and earthquakes. The Reykjanes Peninsula right now has it all -- magma fountains, a two and a half mile crack in the earth, toxic gases. But unlike most volcanoes in Iceland, this one is not far from population centers, or the international airport, or a major power plant.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen just arrived near the eruption site.

Fred, what are scientists saying about the risks here?


Well, they certainly are taking this extremely seriously. In fact, I was within about less than a mile of where all of this as erupting, but we can see over my left shoulder that massive eruption that's taking place. And there is a big amount of activity still down there, because one of the things that the Icelanders are doing is they're trying to build a burn, to protect the geothermal power plant that's out there.

They are obviously still very concerned about the town that's there called Grindavik, which has already been evacuated. But there is a crack going right through that town as well, the lava hasn't erupted there yet, but nevertheless, the situation there is very concerning.

And the other thing that you mentioned, this volcano is essentially erupting, where this volcanic eruption is taking place right between the capital of Iceland, and the main airport of Iceland. The Icelanders themselves seem pretty relaxed about it so far, but they do say that there could be disruptions in the air travel.

Nevertheless, this is a massive spectacle of nature that we are able to witness here. There have been huge fountains of lava gushing from this volcanic eruption. I want to take a look at some of these images.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): The Arctic night illuminated as the Earth breaks apart from the fissure of its molten core. Weeks of earthquakes led to this display of our planet's fire and force.

RIKKE PEDERSEN, VOLCANOLOGIST: Following a volcanic eruption, there is always high levels of toxic gases. In Iceland now, it is the distribution of this with the wind.

PLEITGEN: It's never possible to say exactly or when it if a volcano like this one near the town of Grindavik will erupt.

Officials took no chances though, evacuating the population after weeks of tremors. Thousands of shakes were felt in November and all knew what they could bring.

Thankfully none were in Grindavik, the town, when the volcano two miles away finally did erupt.

This crack in the surface of our world, close to four kilometers or more than two miles long, spewing lava.

This is as close as the authorities are going to lead us in the volcanic eruption in the southwest of Iceland. This is the so-called, fissure eruption. That means an eruption along a crack, that could be seven several miles long, rather than on a volcanic cone.

Now one of the good things about these eruptions is that actually usually, they don't spew ash into the atmosphere a very high which can, and it has in the past, disrupt air travel internationally. Of course, with a place like Iceland, that can have massive effects.

Previous eruptions in Iceland have lasted weeks, or even months.

HALLGRIMUR INDRIDASON, JOURNALIST: Unfortunately for the inhabitants of Grindavik, it is impossible to say how long this will last.

PLEITGEN: In the town of Grindavik, the earthquake damage is clear, the lava may follow.

INDRIDASON: If this activity goes on, the big question is will Grindavik be inhabitable in the long run?

PLEITGEN: Whether people can ever move back here depends on a set of geological circumstances being created right now.


PLEITGEN (on camera): Geological circumstances, Jake. And that's exactly what we are seeing created right in front of our very eyes right now.

One of the interesting things that some folks in Iceland told me that this is an area that you stab a lot of volcanic activity, but it's been dormant for about 800 years. However in the past two years, there have been four major irruption's, none of them bigger than the one you're seeing above my shoulder right now, Jake.

TAPPER: Incredible. Fred Pleitgen stay safe, thanks so much.

Right now, approximately 5,000 migrants are waiting by a Texas bridge to be transported for processing. But that's just in one city. In Eagle Pass, border officials say more than four times that were detained overnight. The overwhelming situation of the border is next.



TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

This hour, the judge is ruling that could blow the cover off of Jeffrey Epstein's little black book. Last night, a court order that release of more than 150 alleged associates and victims of Epstein. The convicted pedophile found dead in his jail cell. The six-year-old case leading to this new ruling -- that's ahead.

Plus, face to face. Families of hostages currently being held by Hamas getting a chance to confront Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been criticized for ignoring their plight and not focusing enough on getting the hostages home. One of those families will join me this hour.

And leading this hour, the astonishing surge of migrants at the Texas border. Border officials say more than 23,000 migrants were put in U.S. custody overnight, detained from several different parts of the U.S. Mexico border.

CNN's Rosa Flores starts us off this hour from Eagle Pass, Texas, where operations at a railway bridge has been suspended because of this migrant surge.

Rosa, how is this impeding migrant processing and surrounding border towns?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a bottleneck.