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The Lead with Jake Tapper

U.S. & Allies Launch Massive Assault On Houthi Military Targets; Sen. Joni Ernst, (R-IA), Is Interviewed About U.S. Launch Massive Assault On Houthi, Removal of Palestinians In Gaza, Iowa Caucus; Snow, Extreme Cold Might Chill Turnout In Iowa Caucuses; Tensions Rise Between Texas & Biden Admin Over Migrant Crossings. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired January 12, 2024 - 17:00   ET




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

This hour, how about this for question of the day, quote, Fani Willis, what are you thinking? Exactly Patricia Murphy. Murphy is a top opinion writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution asking that of District Attorney Fani Willis who has yet to deny that she has a romantic relationship with a special prosecutor she hired. The stunning scandal detailed and legal briefs in the Georgia case against Donald Trump. CNN was at the first hearing today since the allegations were revealed.

Plus, inside the Iowa caucuses, exactly how does this very American, very bizarre process work? And why does Iowa opt for this versus the more popular and easy primary process where voters just line up and vote in the polls?

And leading this hour, what could be a worsening global prices for President Biden? Iranian backed Houthi militants now warning of retaliation against the U.S. and its allies for strikes against Houthis in Yemen last night. The White House insists these were self defense strikes intended to protect U.S. troops and global commerce after a string of Houthi attacks in recent weeks on commercial ships in the Red Sea. The Houthis actions have not only threaten lives, they've effectively shut down to most of the shipping companies, one of the world's main trade routes. Let's get straight to CNN's Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon.

Oren, why did the U.S. and its allies decide to carry out these strikes now when Houthi attacks have been going on for months?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the administration tried to use any sort of diplomatic pressure it could over the course of the last couple of weeks. In fact, since the beginning of January, we have seen the U.N. Security Council resolution passed a couple of days ago condemning Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, one of the world's most critical waterways. We saw the multinational statement about a week before that trying to get the Houthis to stop attacking international shipping and yet the attacks continued.

Given that, the U.S. felt that not only was it acting alone here, it had international backing. It had the U.K. support when it took its military action, and it had the backing and support of several other countries, Canada, Bahrain, the Netherlands, Australia to carry out the strike. It is now beyond the diplomatic message because there was the sense and frankly, what we were seeing happening was that the Houthis kept attacking international shipping. And the U.S. felt that got to the point where the Houthis, and frankly, Iran who backs the Houthis needed a stronger message to the U.S., the U.K. and the others felt compelled to act here hitting nearly 30 Houthi targets in Yemen. Targets that not -- were not intended to start a wider war, but that were intended to take away from unlimit the Houthis ability to target international shipping.

TAPPER: And Oren, the Houthis are threatening retaliation. What could that look like?

LIEBERMANN: First, they could attack different U.S. assets, they could attack either vessels in the Red Sea, we've seen them try that, or they could attack U.S. bases in other parts of the Middle East, they certainly have the capabilities to do that with ballistic missiles as well. Or they could try to attack U.S. allies in the region, whether it's trying to launch ballistic missiles or drones at Israel or at several other countries. So they have their options, they have the capabilities. And the U.S. went into this knowing all of those were possible. And now waiting to see how the Houthis respond, which is something they very much promised to do.

TAPPER: The White House says that they're confident they had the legal authority to carry out these strikes but there's some members of Congress who disagree. What's their argument?

LIEBERMANN: This is an important point. By the U.S. Constitution, only Congress can authorize an act of war and they weren't given authorization of this. They were simply notified that it was going to happen. The Biden administration says these actions were in self defense that U.S. vessels and assets were targeted. And because of that the President had the authority to act.

But this clearly wasn't a quick response. Given the number of countries involved here, given the level of coordination that's required, this clearly involves a tremendous amount of planning. And because of all that, because of what went into this operation, the scope of it, the size of it, those members of Congress are arguing, look, Congress needed to authorize these strikes on Yemen, not simply a presidential act. It's in that space between an act of self defense and a larger planned operation. That's their argument that this needed congressional authorization.

TAPPER: All right, Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon, thanks.

Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin. Congressman, thanks for joining us.

So you said in response to these strikes against the Houthis that quote, "The United States cannot risk getting entangled into another decades long conflict without congressional authorization," unquote. Now the White House says that the strikes were are in self defense. Do you disagree?


I'm losing. We don't have -- something wrong with the volume there, sir. We're going to have to rejigger that. And let's bring in Senator Joni Ernst from Iowa. And then we'll go back to Congressman Mark Pocan once we have his audio worked out.

Senator, you tweeted that the strikes were, quote, "long overdue." If the Houthis continue their attacks, what should the U.S. do next? And are you not worried about this escalating until it becomes a direct military conflict with Iran?

SEN. JONI ERNST (R-IA): Well, Jake, thank you for having me. I am not worried about a greater conflict. What I am concerned about is that the Houthis have been striking our service members serving in the Middle East region without any retaliation. And the Houthis have gone even farther now and are striking carrier vessels, those ships that are out there transporting goods through the Red Sea. And this can't stand, we can no longer allow them to strike willy-nilly at our service members and just pray that they don't end up killing an American. We do have to strike back.

I would say that, yes, I think Congress does need to be involved. But this clearly to me is self defense. And I wish it would have happened much sooner.

TAPPER: So, you're a veteran of the Army Reserves and the Iowa Army National Guard, you served in Kuwait and Iraq. You got to visit U.S. troops when you were in the Middle East. How worried are you? You say that you don't think this is going to be a lead to a larger military conflict or a showdown between the United States and Iran. But you must be worried at least a little bit?

I mean, you served you know the kinds of people that served, you met individuals who served. I mean, it's not outside the realm of possibility. I mean, how do you -- why are you confident?

ERNST: Well, I am confident in our military and I did have the great opportunity to visit with our service members on my recent trip to the Middle East. We visited with a commander of Navy central command as well as the Fifth Fleet. And those sailors, the airmen and soldiers and the Marines that are serving across the Middle East are extremely capable. They are prepared. They know about the Houthi attacks, and they know how to strike back and we saw that demonstrated quite well.

I do worry about Iran. I will be honest about that. But I don't think these attacks on the Houthis are going to escalate into a wider conflict. I do think that if we don't see the decimation of Hamas and continue pushing back on Hezbollah, if all of those things interconnected, aren't kept under control, it is quite possible we see escalation. But I don't see it just simply with these attacks on the Houthis. TAPPER: Yes. In a CNN debate Wednesday that Dana Bash and I moderated, Governor Nikki Haley said she disagrees with calls from some of the extreme right wingers in Netanyahu's cabinet in Israel, that hundreds of 1000s of Palestinians should be forcibly removed from Gaza. Governor Ron DeSantis said that basically he would support any move by Israel, if they felt like they needed to do that to avoid a second holocaust. Where do you come down on the issue of these calls from Ben Gvir and Smotrich, an extremists in the Netanyahu cabinet to forcibly remove hundreds of 1000s of Palestinians from Gaza?

ERNST: Well, I would disagree with a forcible removement of those Palestinians. But what I would say is that Hamas is widely supported by a number of the Palestinians that live in the Gaza Strip, this group needs to be de radicalized. Unfortunately, many of those Palestinians who support Hamas do want to see the Jewish state wiped off the face of the earth and we can't allow this to happen. So, what I would say is that we need to make sure that Hamas is decimated, that is Israel's intent under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, those terrorists need to be gone. But then we need to say the demilitarization and the deradicalization of those Palestinians that live in the Gaza Strip, these groups can peaceably live together, we need to find a solution.

We discussed that on the recent trip to the Middle East. But large part what we focused on as our congressional delegation was the return of the American hostages that are currently held by Hamas. We do have six individuals that are still being held in the Gaza Strip.

TAPPER: Yes. So you're one of the two senators from I'm from Iowa, that's switching topics for a second. We're just three days away from the Iowa caucuses. You said you're going to remain neutral throughout the caucuses. Do you plan to endorse after you see what happens on Monday?


ERNST: Well, it will be interesting. I haven't decided yet whether I will endorse after the caucuses. But Jake, you're right, I will remain neutral. Senator Chuck Grassley and I want to welcome all of these wonderful candidates into our great state of Iowa. And we want those Iowa voters to decide who they want to support come Monday evening. So, we'll see, Jake, you'll have to follow up with me later.

TAPPER: All right. Yes, I know you're going to bring me the big scoop. Republican Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa, thanks so much for joining us.

Let's reconnect with Congressman Mark Pocan to get his response. That's going to be next. Plus, that blizzard in Iowa, the snow will soon stop but below zero temperatures will be around when the Iowa caucuses begin Monday evening. How much are people worried about turnout? I'm going to talk to a Republican strategist watching the forecast closely.


TAPPER: We're back with our world lead in the domestic and international reactions after the U.S. lead air strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen. I want to bring back Democratic Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin whose Bluetooth has been sorted out. So we can hear you now, Congressman.


So, you're not happy to Congress did not get to approve the strikes. The White House says the strikes were in self defense. Do you disagree with that?

REP. MARK POCAN (D-WI): Well, I think the President has notified Congress. And now it really is up to Congress to decide according to the War Powers resolution, it is Congress that has to decide if we're going into war. So, the right thing to do now would be for Congress to make this decision, should they continue attacks. But the bigger issue, Jake, is this is what many of us were warning about, all the way back to October when the entire situation started in Israel and Gaza, the terrible attack on October 7. But since then, you know, watching what's been going on, there's been so much done by the Netanyahu government that could make this a regional war.

We have been very weary of that. And we don't want that. The last thing I think many of us want is to have to send any American young men or women overseas for something that's not a primary United States interest. And what we're worried about is when you start having additional conflicts with Hezbollah or the Houthis or Iran, it becomes a regional conflict. And that opens up the opportunity for young Americans to have to put their lives on the line.

So, that's the concern that many of us have is that Congress has to be involved from the very beginning for the war resolution. And the President did the right thing by notifying Congress within the amount of time. Now, we have to decide.

TAPPER: So, obviously, Iran backs Hamas and Hamas did the attack on October 7, and Iran backs Hezbollah even more directly, and Hezbollah has been attacking Israel as well. But you're saying that this is the responsibility of Prime Minister Netanyahu that the Houthis are doing this? I mean, is it -- is there not just enough suggestion there that these Iran proxies, whether it's Hamas or Hezbollah or the ones in Syria and Iraq attacking US troops, that the Iranians and their proxies are the ones that that started this?

POCAN: So, first of all, and I can't go into classified material, but I'm not sure if it's clear that Iran had anything to do with the October 7 attack?

TAPPER: No, no, but they generally support Hamas, I mean. They generally support them.

POCAN: Right. But the problem is, the response has not been justifiably would be an attack on Hamas after October 7. But when 23,000 people, including over 8,000 children have been killed in Gaza, and over 2 million of the 2.3 million people have been displaced from their homes, one would argue that that is a collective punishment of the Palestinian people in Gaza. And that's what has been spoken out about by the Houthis, by Hezbollah and others.

What we don't want to happen -- I mean, that is not the U.S. interests? The U.S. interests, clearly laid out by President Biden, has been a two state solution, to have peace in the region and Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled that out. If he's not acting in the U.S. interest, we have to be more aggressive and saying something.

I use this in a common way, if you're out with a friend drinking, and Israel's a friend to the United States, and they've had too much to drink and they want to drive home, it's your responsibility to say no, you've had too much to drink, you can't get behind the wheel, because they are your friend. We need to do more of that, I think right now, given the conditions. And what Israel is doing in this collective punishment that it appears of the Palestinians in Gaza, because otherwise it could make this a regional war. And that should concern everyone.

There's a disconnect, Jake, between people who are the war hawks, the defense contractors who support members of Congress in Washington --


POCAN: -- and real people back in Wisconsin who are seeing this on T.V., 8000 dead children plus are clearly not Hamas, and that's what I hear from my constituents.

TAPPER: So, let's posit that the dead citizens, especially the dead children, in Gaza, it's horrible, and it's awful, and it's heartbreaking to watch and to be part of in any way. And let's also posit that -- let's remove Netanyahu from the equation for one second, what should Israel have done? What do you think is the appropriate response when the government of the territory next door sworn to destroy you and kill your citizens, sends hundreds of, I don't know if you want to call them fighters or terrorists, whatever they are into your country, they slaughter more than 1,200 people. They literally burn babies, raped girls, kidnapped old people, what should Israel have done?

POCAN: They should respond and go after Hamas. The problem is, Hamas probably is 30,000 people by most estimates we have seen, but there are 2.3 million Palestinians and others living in Gaza. And clearly this response has not been a surgical attack that we saw --

TAPPER: Right. But --

POCAN: -- quite honestly, in Beirut when they recently took out a Hamas leader. But you know, when you kill 100 people to kill one member of Hamas, which has happened in some of the -- is -- even the president said, indiscriminate bombing that's occurred, that is the concern. And that's what people around the world are seeing.



POCAN: That's why we've been -- TAPPER: Yes.

POCAN: -- only with Israel at the U.N. when people have discussed this very issue.

TAPPER: So, I get that. And it'd be great if Hamas operated like any normal military and had some sort of army base, and Israel could just go after them in their army base. But I'm sure you wouldn't deny the fact that Hamas, as a matter of policy, embeds within the population of Gaza. And, you know, they have tunnels underneath. They use mosques, they use schools.

I mean, this is just a matter of record. Reporters have been reporting on this since Hamas took over in 2006, 2007. So, you say go after Hamas, Hamas embeds with the people.

POCAN: Yes, and --

TAPPER: Yes. But I'm just saying like what you say they have every right to go after Hamas. Hamas hides within the people, the populace. So then, what should they do?

POCAN: Even the President has said, some of their bombing has been indiscriminate. And the President has been a strong supporter of Israel. This is a situation where Benjamin Netanyahu is going, and I think, doing collective punishment of all Palestinians. The fact that there are people in his cabinet talking about removing everyone from Gaza --

TAPPER: Yes, it's hideous.

POCAN: -- for good --


POCAN: -- is part of the problem that is there right now. In the U.S. interest have been very clearly stated by the President that a two state solution that allows the state for Palestinians and Israelis is the option that we would like to see for peace in the region. But Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't support that. In fact, part of the problem was that we didn't have IDF soldiers outside of Gaza the day of the attack, because they were protecting illegal settlements --

TAPPER: Hundred percent. Yes.

POCAN: -- in the West Bank.

TAPPER: Yes. I'm not disagreeing with any of it. I'm just -- we're not going to solve the crisis today. But I guess the point is, like, I hear what you're saying, but going after Hamas is easier said than done when they hide -- when they hide among the people of Gaza. That's all I'm saying.

POCAN: I just think that's an easy talking point, but that's not the reality. Israel, as you and I both know, has some of the most intelligent intelligence and military on the planet. And yet these attacks have been so broad, and they've taken out so many --


POCAN: -- federal health care facilities, schools, everything. And I do think it's important, Jake, to say, because this doesn't get said, Hamas is no friend of Palestinians in Gaza. You know, 90 percent, 95 percent of the water is undrinkable in Gaza prior to October 7. You know, the people in Gaza really are in a bad place. But you can't be fish in a barrel.

And that's essentially what's happening right now with this broad bombing and moving people around. Two million people displaced out of 2.3 million people.


POCAN: I mean, these are conditions that we need to speak out more, and make sure that it doesn't become a regional conflict because of the overly broad attack that's been coming in response. I want a surgical response to Hamas, and that's what should happen. And we saw that happen in Beirut when they recently took out a leader, but we're not seeing that on the ground in Gaza at all.

TAPPER: Last point I'm going to make and I think it's one you're not going to disagree with. So I'm going to -- I'm going to take -- I'm going to take my prerogative here, which is, I don't know that Israeli intelligence in Gaza is as good as people thought it was as proven by what happened on October 7.

Congressman Pocan, good to have you on as always, thank you so much. We'll be right back.

POCAN: Thank you.



TAPPER: To the 2024 lead, come on guys, you know I like the election music. There it is. Thank you so much. Three days until the Iowa and then three days until Iowans caucus the night away. So let's refresh the collective memory on exactly how a caucus is different from a primary.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here to explain.

Tom, how exactly is this Republican caucus going to work?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, when you hear Iowa caucuses, it's easy to imagine the crowded rooms, the shouting debates, the people rushing to stand for one candidate or the next, forget all of that. That was the Democrats in years past. The Republican caucuses are much quieter affairs. How do they work? Voters will gather at caucus sites scattered across all 99 counties at 07:00 p.m. Monday evening their time, they typically listen to short speeches in favor of the candidates, then they cast paper ballots for a nominee. And importantly, although you can register at the site, the rule say you must bring an ID and you must be a registered Republican to take part in this vote, Jake, because this is very much a party activity of some of the most deep seated Republicans.

TAPPER: Tom, when the votes are counted what happens next?

FOREMAN: Well, likely someone will get the majority and they will declare themselves, him or herself, a winner, a winner taking the lion's share of Iowa's 40 delegates to the national convention. But this isn't a winner take all competition. Each candidate will get a proportion of the delegates based on their support at the caucuses. And since you need 1,215 delegates to win the nomination, you can see this is just a small start.

And if you look at the Iowa caucuses' winners on the GOP side over time, winning here, of course, does not mean a path to the nomination. In fact, for 20 years, only incumbent presidents have seen that happen, Jake.

TAPPER: So, are there any particular wild cards or curveballs anyone should look out for on caucus night?

FOREMAN: Yes, of course, any late surprises that might unsettle caucus goers. Remember, this is an in person event and minds can change. And of course, the weather, that's the weather with the windshield. It's going to be pretty tough out there on caucus night especially maybe for some of the older voters there in Iowa that could make a difference.


Although to be fair, these are islands. They've lived with these winters and this political system for a long time. They're not easily daunted. I can see them riding here saying, March (ph) is that the precinct ahead? I think it is. And they will turn out. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Tom Foreman, thanks so much.

We now turn to David Kochel, a veteran of Republican politics in Iowa for decades. David, do you think this extreme winter weather is going to change the outcome of the caucuses and suppress turnout?

DAVID KOCHEL, IOWA REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I definitely think it's going to suppress turnout, I'm not sure it's going to change the results between the candidates. But it's a balmy 12 degrees right now. But it we could be as low as 20 below and that's a whole different kind of cold, real danger, cars dying, battery's going dead, people going into a ditch nobody to find them. Not to mention frostbite. So I think we're going to see a downturn in turnout. I usually don't say that because Iowans are pretty hardy, but it's cold, it's cold.

TAPPER: We repeatedly here that turnout obviously is critical. Where do you see enthusiasm or a moment -- or momentum rather, at this moment, enthusiasm and momentum? Who do you think is going to have the easiest time rallying their supporters to go caucus? KOCHEL: Well, Trump himself is kind of a turnout machine, both for people who love him and for people who don't. So I think, you know, turnout is going to be respectable. Haley's had the momentum the last couple of months. She, you know, started slow in Iowa, didn't have a lot of money, very little staff. So she's built a pretty good run of months here, where she's grown, the staff, the AFP endorsement helps a lot. They've got a big organization that are helping her.

DeSantis though has really built a very large organization. And while he hasn't had momentum in the polls, I do think that they've got a ground game. And when you're talking about this kind of extreme weather that might be an impediment for people to go out to the caucuses, having a real ground game should help. So I think everybody can make an optimistic case for how this is going to affect them. But I think we just got to wait and see what happens on Monday.

TAPPER: Iowa is generally known for allowing surprises, Barack Obama or Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee, but Donald Trump's dominance seems to be on course to buck that trend, at least, according to Des Moines Register poll, which is pretty tried and true as he has done before he has shattered so many other norms. Do you see any possible surprises coming Monday?

KOCHEL: Yes, we usually pack a surprise in there somewhere. I think you got two campaigns. You got Donald Trump against his expectations to see whether or not he breaks 50 as he has in the polling. And then you've got Haley and DeSantis, kind of trying to resolve, you know, who gets the chance really to go on and take on Trump one-on-one. We usually say there's three tickets out of Iowa.

I'm thinking there's two this time, because this race has to get down to one-on-one race or Trump versus the field. He's going to win every time. So if there's a path for anyone, they got to do really well in Iowa, they got to go into New Hampshire with some steam. And if someone could knock him off there, and it looks like Haley has the high hand in New Hampshire, that's the only thing I can see that's going to change the dynamic of this race in any significant way.

TAPPER: What are the most important issues for Republican voters in Iowa? And are the candidates speaking to those issues?

KOCHEL: Yes, I think so. I mean, I think we certainly have a segment of Republicans who are kind of the Reagan conservatives who care about strong foreign policy. Nikki speaks to those people. I think DeSantis has been very effective talking about his record in Florida but he also kind of has the culture war vibe to him. He's picked fights that he's won. He's also got evangelical support out here with Bob Vander Plaats and Steve Deace and others.

So I think he's, he's been messaging specifically to them about things like the heartbeat bill. For Trump it's really all about, you know, I did a good job for you when I was president. I'm going to bring the economy back. I can beat Biden. And, you know, that's kind of where the message is for him. For him, it's the same show with Donald Trump and every rally. It's almost like, you know, going out and playing the hits over and over again. TAPPER: All right, David Kochel, thank you so much. Try to stay warm.


Coming up next, the first court hearing in Georgia after scandal rock the election conspiracy case involving Donald Trump this time it's the district attorney, Fani Willis, facing questions about accusations of an inappropriate relationship with a special prosecutor that she hired. Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our Law and Justice Lead today, allegations of an improper relationship between two people leading Georgia's election subversion case against former President Donald Trump, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis and her lead prosecutor. Today the judge overseeing that case had something to say about those claims. CNN's Nick Valencia is outside the Fulton County Courthouse. Nick, what did the judge have to say and what do we know about the accuracy, the truthfulness of these allegations?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we should start by saying that these are allegations at this point and there is no direct evidence in this 127-page legal filing. We did reach out to Fani Willis's office, and they really didn't say much to us only to say that they will respond inappropriately legal filings. We should mention, we also reached out to Nathan Wade, he's not gotten back to us. But he was in court today for this motions hearing that you're talking about, this catch all motions hearing where this alleged improper relationship between Wade and the district attorney here in Fulton County, it came up.

It was introduced by Steve Sadow, Donald Trump's attorney in this case. And Sadow said that he has not yet adopted this motion because he just doesn't have all the facts. He wants the district attorney's office to respond. And they have said that they will do so in writing and they're going to get their chance to respond. A hearing has been set by Judge McAfee in this case for early to mid-February.

Look, Jake, there's no overwhelming legal consensus, if these allegations are true whether or not any crimes were broken. But everyone that we've spoken to, they agree that the optics in this are just horrible. In fact there's some now high level Democrats in this state who are calling Fani Willis to step down and recuse herself from this case. Earlier, we spoke to CNN legal analyst and former U.S. Attorney here in Georgia, Michael Moore, who says that the best thing Willis can do right now for everyone is step down from this case.



MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I'd tell her to get out of the case. I really think that this type of case with this allegation -- these allegations, this case is bigger than any one prosecutor. And I think probably to preserve the case and to show that what's of most importance to her is the facts of the Trump case as opposed to her political career, if you will at this moment.


VALENCIA: If Willis wasn't under a microscope already, she certainly is now. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Nick Valencia in Atlanta for us, thanks so much.

Coming up, tension at the border at a whole new level, who has the authority in Texas, the state of Texas or the federal government? The bold move by the governor of Texas that raises a new debate, plus the astonishing factor he said is holding him back from shooting migrants dead. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our National Lead today, Texas Governor Greg Abbott today defended his state's action to block the U.S. Border Patrol, a federal law enforcement agency from accessing a section of the Texas-Mexico border. The audacious move angered the Biden administration and even caught Homeland Security officials by surprise. It's just the latest escalation in the contentious effort to curb migrant crossings in the U.S. -- at the U.S. southern border. CNN's Rosa Flores is in Houston. And Rosa, why is Texas saying and has the right to block U.S. Border Patrol agents from parts of the border?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Texas Governor Greg Abbott says that Texas has the legal authority to restrict access to geographic areas of the state. And the Texas military department is doubling down on that issuing a statement saying in part quote, the current posture is to prepare for future illegal immigrant surges and to restrict access to organizations that perpetuate illegal immigrant crossings in the park and the greater Eagle Pass area.

But here's the backstory of this latest feud between Texas and the Biden administration. On Wednesday, the state of Texas took custody and control of a public park in Eagle Pass, it surprised so officials there in the city of Eagle Pass. But the situation escalated when Texas military department members did not allow Border Patrol to gain access to that area.

Now process this with me, because this is a state authority not giving a federal law enforcement agency, Border Patrol, access to the area where they inspect and apprehend migrants who have entered the country illegally. This is the area where Border Patrol does that and they don't have access to it anymore.

Now the Biden administration is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene so that border patrol can regain access to this jurisdiction. And the White House also condemning this issuing a statement saying in part, quote, Governor Abbott continues his extreme political stunts that not only seek to demonize and dehumanize people, but that also make it harder and more dangerous for Border Patrol to do their jobs. And, Jake, it's important to note that the number of migrant apprehensions along the U.S. southern border has plummeted in recent weeks. You remember back in mid-December, the number of migrants crossing the border was about 10,000 per day, that has plummeted to about 3,000 per day and that seen in Eagle Pass is the same. Right now, it's about 500 migrants per day that are entering there through Eagle Pass. Jake?

TAPPER: So Governor Abbott has been talking a lot about everything they're doing to keep undocumented immigrants -- migrants from coming into the country from coming into Texas. I want to play some stat -- sound that it was rather stunning, Governor Abbott talking about one action that the state is not doing about the border.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): We are deploying every tool and strategy that we possibly can. The only thing that we're not doing is we're not shooting people who come across the border, because of course the Biden administration would charge us with murder.


TAPPER: So I had to listen to that a several times to make sure I heard that right. Is Governor Abbott really arguing that the only reason that he hasn't ordered Texas law enforcement to not fire upon desperate migrants, and the only reason that they're not being murdered in cold blood by Texas law enforcement is because they fear they might be prosecuted by the Biden administration?

FLORES: Well, here's how Governor Abbott put it today during a press conference, he said that he was asked to distinguish what the state of Texas could do legally to secure the border. And so he listed that and what was illegal, what he couldn't do. And the governor chose to use those words, like you said, he chose to say that the state of Texas is not shooting migrants because they -- the state of Texas would then be arrested for murder in that case. But here's how the governor defended his own words. Take a listen.


ABBOTT: I was asked to point out where the line is drawn about what would be illegal and I pointed out something is obviously illegal.


FLORES: And Jake, not only has the White House condemned the words used by the governor, but they've been widely condemned the words that he used not just by the White House, but by Mexico and other organizations. Jake?

TAPPER: Yes. How about we don't kill innocent people because we're not barbarians. Rosa Flores in Houston, Texas, thank you so much.

[17:49:55] Problems also plague my hometown city of Philadelphia. I'm going to talk to the brand new mayor who just assumed office last week and took a rather bold action herself. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Last week, Philadelphia's 100th Mayor Cherelle Parker was inaugurated making history as the city's first woman and the city's first black woman to ever hold that position. One of her first acts as mayor was to issue an executive order declaring the current levels of crime in Philadelphia, a public safety emergency comparing. Crime reports from 2022 to 2023, crime statistics by the Philadelphia Police Department show violent crimes when down from '22 to '23 while retail theft and stolen cars surged in '23. Joining us now Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker. Mayor Parker, congratulations. Why don't you make this your first act as mayor?


MAYOR CHERELLE PARKER (D), PHILADELPHIA: Well, listen, it was very clear, I needed to send a strong message to the people of Philadelphia, that we would make their public health and safety, our number one priority. And quite frankly, people across the city have been publicly affirming of that action as we work to put together the comprehensive plan to address public safety.

Our new police commissioner, Bethel, along with our public safety director working on confirmation, Adam Geer, and the entire team, my directed team, and looking forward to presenting a plan that will end the sense of lawlessness in Philadelphia, and restore a sense of lawfulness and order in our city.

TAPPER: Oh, God bless.

PARKER: It's long overdue.

TAPPER: Yes, God bless and best of luck with that task. Gun violence obviously touches nearly every part of this country, Philadelphia, sadly, no exception. A 16-year-old boy right now in Philly fighting for his life, he was shot in the head last night allegedly by an 18- year-old. "The Philadelphia Inquirer" reports that this shooting makes at least the fourth time in 10 months that a juvenile has been shot on SEPTA, that's public transportation property. What's your plan to reduce gun violence in Philly?

PARKER: We need a comprehensive approach. First, we have to acknowledge that we have a challenge and not engage in finger pointing and employ the use of the convening power of the mayor. And that means every stakeholder who has a role in helping us to address public safety, that's affordable housing, that's quality public education. That's access to out of school activities. That is access to a proactive community policing presence in our neighborhood by law enforcement officers who are there as guardians and not warriors, getting to know the people they're sworn to protect and serve, but also understanding that we will have zero tolerance for any misuse and or abuse by our police department. But they also know they have a mayor who stood up and I have not been afraid to say I support the men and women who put their lives on the line to protect and serve us on a daily basis. And I will continue to do that as mayor of the city but we need a comprehensive approach. We won't police our way out of. Anyone, Jake, ever talking to you about this challenge and they say that's the way it's one of the tools and we should use every tool in the toolbox. We will under Parker administration, but it will be a comprehensive approach to prevention, intervention and enforcement.

TAPPER: As a candidate running for mayor, you indicated you are at least open to the idea of reintroducing stop and frisk. That's the controversial practice of temporarily stopping questioning and searching anyone an officer suspects of a crime. You might recall former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg apologized in 2022 for using this tactic during his time in office. He said he was apologizing because it did disproportionately end up affecting men of color. Now that you're mayor, are you still considering bringing stop and frisk to Philly?

PARKER: So nothing has changed about my perspective, Jake. You heard me referenced what I've often referred to as Terry stops. A crime has to be committed is being committed or will be committed. That is information that the police department must have in order to lawfully stop someone. I will ensure that every legal tool that is readily available to our police department that they employ everything that they possibly can, that is legal and constitutional. And Terry stops are.

And with that being said, we're going to work with our federal, state and local partners at every level of government to make our public health and safety, our number one priority.

TAPPER: So quickly, if you could, in recent days we've heard from former First Lady Michelle Obama, Congressman James Clyburn, Barack Obama, the former president, even Charlamagne tha God expressing concerns about what might happen in 2024. And some of them fearful that the black community is not excited and engaged in terms of turning up for President Biden in November. Are you worried?

PARKER: Listen, Jake, I want to make this very clear. In the city of Philadelphia, our birthplace of democracy, we know Pennsylvania is the state at play. And Philadelphia's turnout and participation is crucial to this election. I will be doing everything that I possibly can to ensure that President Biden is reelected. We wholeheartedly in 1,000 percent support the Biden-Harris team and we know that they will continue to deliver infrastructure, jobs, education to help move the city of Philadelphia forward. One Philadelphia, a united city, it doesn't happen without the Biden-Harris administration reelected.


TAPPER: All right, Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker, thank you and best of luck to you.

Coming up on Sunday on State of the Union, Governor Ron DeSantis will join me just one day out from the Iowa caucuses. Also we're going to talk foreign policy with Senator Bernie Sanders. We're going to talk politics with Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan and veteran Democratic strategist David Axelrod Sunday morning at 9:00 Eastern and noon only here on CNN. Then of course Monday, CNN's coverage of the 2024 Iowa caucuses we'll believe it begins at 4 o'clock Eastern here on CNN.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. I'll see you Sunday morning.