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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Senate Republicans Block Border Bill They Had Demanded; Now: Senate Voting To Debate Foreign Aid Without Border Policy; Military Strike Kills Man Responsible For Attacks On U.S. Forces; Trump Not Expected To Attend Supreme Court Ballot Hearing; Netanyahu Dismisses Hamas Counterproposal, Says It's "Delusional"; Ukraine Air Defenses Strain, Russia Launches "Massive" Assault; CentCom: Drone Attack In Baghdad Kills Commander Responsible For Attacks On U.S. Forces In The Region. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired February 07, 2024 - 16:00   ET



JESSICA DEAN, CNN HOST: We've got a squirrel in the house. Hey, it happens sometimes.

Brianna, I had a squirrel living in my car, my high school car, it was just like weaseled its way in there and we couldn't figure it out for a while.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Yeah, they like to get in there. But I don't know if they could be clearing the house cat from room to room. Also pretty funny moment there.

All right. Jess, it was so fun to be with you.

And THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: It's not just House Republicans who can't get their act together. Senate Republicans seem a hot mess as well.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Republicans in both the House and the Senate in what can fairly be called disarray, after failing to keep their party in line on the very issues they demanded action on -- such as security during the border, and impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas, or projecting American strength around the world, and much, much more.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin's here and we'll talk to him about the drama playing out across the aisle.

Plus, one day away from Donald Trump's first real case before the U.S. Supreme Court. He's trying to keep his name on election ballots and states across the country as his actions on January 6 come into question. Ahead, this critical moment for his legal team and for Chief Justice John Roberts, who's tried to keep the court out of politics.

And four months to the day since the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel on October 7th, I'm going to ask the father of a hostage about the new ceasefire proposal that could result in the freeing of his daughter. It's a proposal that Israel's prime minister says contains crazy demands from Hamas.


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

There was a showdown on the U.S. Senate floor today as Republicans failed, yet again, to agree on a border bill that included much of what Republicans themselves have been demanding. This is really one of the most remarkable turns in recent political history.

Just to bring you up to speed, last fall, Senate Republicans demanded that any aid to Ukraine and Israel not be passed unless Congress also addressed the U.S.'s border crisis. And then months and months later, after a lot of work, that compromise happened. And Sunday night, those senators got what "The Wall Street Journal" editorial board, which is rather conservative, is calling, quote, the most restrictive migrant legislation in decades, which "The Journal" means as a compliment.

It is legislation that the conservative Biden-mocking Border Patrol Union supports. And on Tuesday, Republican leader McConnell seemed excited that something would finally be accomplished to address this catastrophe.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): This is a humanitarian and security crisis of historic proportions. And Senate Republicans have assisted, not just for months, but for years at this urgent crisis demanded action. Three months ago, we asked our colleague, Senator Lankford, to lead that action.


TAPPER: And Lankford did. McConnell noted that the crisis at the border has never been worse.


MCCONNELL: The gaping hole in our nation's sovereign borders on President Biden's watch is not going to heal itself.


TAPPER: No, it isn't.

It needs to be fixed by legislators, by lawmakers, and McConnell thought that Republican senators and House Republicans would read this text, this law, and take yes for an answer.

He apparently did not realize that Republicans are actually less willing to cross Donald Trump then maybe ever before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. MITT ROMNEY (R-UT): Adding the border is a very important issue for Donald Trump, and the fact that he would communicate to Republican senators and congresspeople that he doesn't want us to solve the border problem because he wants to blame Biden for it is -- is really the appalling.


TAPPER: That was January 27th.

Now, McConnell thought that Republicans would be able to overcome this political pressure from Donald Trump. And then came Wednesday when he met with his fellow Republicans.


MCCONNELL: We had a very robust discussion about whether or not this product could ever become law and it's been made pretty clear to us by the speaker that it will not become law.


TAPPER: Know that what McConnell is saying there yesterday, that's not an argument against the legislation. It's just addressing a political reality.

So, now, the United States is going to continue to have the status quo at the border so that Trump can run against that status quo and blame Joe Biden for it.


It is a political stalemate. You know, who loves this stalemate besides Donald Trump I mean?


SEN. THOM TILLIS (R-NC): Only people who are loving the stalemate that we have in this nation today are the cartels.


TAPPER: That's North Carolina Republican Senator Thom Tillis on January 11th.

He's been demanding for months that Democrats work on a compromise with Republicans on the border.


TILLIS: Fortunately, now, we have a majority of Americans that expect this administration to come to the table and negotiate in good faith with conservatives. This is not a political loser for people who are concerned with voting on a bipartisan compromise.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Except that I guess it is a political loser because till this is now a no vote on this legislation he had been demanding he says that Biden cannot be trusted to implement the law -- the bill, the law that he was demanding Biden come to the table to negotiate in good faith with conservatives like him about.

Now that larger package foreign aid for Ukraine and Israel and Taiwan, plus border restrictions that came up for a vote this afternoon and it failed by a vote of 49 to 50.

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is here. I'm going to talk with him about all of this in a moment.

But let's start with an update on what's going on on the Hill with CNN's Manu Raju, and a look at the stunning Republican dysfunction in both the House and the Senate.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's been the story of the 118th Congress, intense GOP divisions and the failure to effectively govern. Now, a new speaker struggling to get his agenda through.

REP. TROY NEHLS (R-TX): I had many people reach out to me via text message and say, what the hell are you guys doing up there? We may have the gavel but we're not acting like when the majority.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's been a frustrating couple of days.

RAJU: And the longest serving Senate leader in history, failing to convince his own conference to back a national security package after nearly five months of painstaking negotiations over border policy, all playing out as Congress has no path forward to respond to the prices along the border or to provide much needed aid to U.S. allies, Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan.

With the slimmest of majorities, the House GOP has struggled to simply keep the lights on for the government, with GOP warfare leading to the first ever ouster of a sitting speaker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The office of speaker of the House of the United States House of Representatives is hereby declared vacant.

RAJU: Eventually giving the task of running the unruly chamber to Mike Johnson, who has faced pitfall after pitfall.

REP. ELI CRANE (R-AZ): I think there's a lot of squishy, you know, Republicans who don't really represent our base or voters.

RAJU: The anger coming after Johnson miscalculated in the GOP push to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The resolution is not adopted.

RAJU: Falling one vote short after Democrat Al Green unexpectedly showed up, despite recovering from surgery.

REP. RALPH NORMAN (R-SC): You need to count votes when it comes to the floor. As bad as Pelosi was, she knew her votes before it took place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was embarrassed for our conference, for our party because we can do better than we did last night.

RAJU: Speaking to reporters today, Johnson downplayed the failure, and also attacked House Democrats for rejecting $17.6 billion in aid to Israel.

JOHNSON: I don't think that this is a reflection on the leader. It's a reflection on the body itself.

RAJU: But Johnson also so as angered many Republicans for siding with former President Donald Trump in vowing to kill the Senate's bipartisan border security deal.

REP. DAN CRENSHAW (R-TX): But there's been a real lack of leadership on this. I just wish they were playing 4D chess and had a plan.

RAJU: Because Johnson vowed to kill the Senate border plan, many Republican said there was no point in debating it and block the measure today as some on the hard right call for McConnell's ouster.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): I think a Republican leader should actually lead this conference and should advance the priorities of Republicans.

RAJU: McConnell said he was simply listening to the GOP demands to act on the border first.

MCCONNELL: I followed the instructions of my conference who were insisting that we tackle this in October.


RAJU (on camera): Now, on the Senate floor right now, there is an effort to try to move ahead with a major aid package for Israel, for Ukraine, and for Taiwan that does not include border security provisions. It's unclear at the moment whether it will be enough Republicans to get on this bill.

And as far as the bill that just failed, the national security package that included the border policy just for Republicans ultimately voted for it. Mitch McConnell voted against moving ahead with it. And one Republican who voted for it, Lisa Murkowski, told me, quote, today, I am pissed off -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

With us now, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

I don't want to put words in his mouth, but it's possible he's pissed off, too.

Senator, you're a moderate Democrat or a conservative Democrat. You've been very central to so many legislative compromises between the Democrats and Republicans since 2010, but especially since Biden took office.


Is this dysfunction worse that we're seeing this week than what you've seen in the past? And who do you ultimately blame for the failure of the border bill to become law?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): Well, let me just say this -- first of all, Jake, I'm an American, and I think that's how most of us should be feeling right now. What do we do to bring our country together?

Next of all, what we saw on the floor today of the United States Senate, which I can't even imagine. You've been covering it so many different ways and angles, and I think you've been spot on. This reaffirms why I did not run for reelection because I have come to the conclusion we're not going to fix the political posturing in Washington here in Congress from Washington. It'll be fixed from outside of Washington.

This is absolutely unheard of what you saw happen and a reversal of absolutely proportion that we'd never seen before. Eighteen thousand Border Patrol agents have all said this would be the best bill they've ever seen and at least the last two decades or more. It will control the border. It stops catch and release. It's changing the identity -- the interpretation and definition of asylum.

It holds people -- it doesn't put anybody back in our country. It puts some 1,800 new agents out and 1,500 new ICE agents out, and the country to make sure that we adjudicate as quickly as possible people that have been let go to make sure whether they deserve to be here or not, all of these things as everybody's talked about forever.

Now, they're blaming the Biden administration. They have a right to. The Biden administration from day one, Ive disagreed with on their border.

But when you have a chance to choose to change and everyone come to an agreement with President Biden, and everyone else agreeing that this bill will give us the tools to secure our border and politics raises its ugly head -- absolutely, it's from the bowels of wherever to say, no, I'm sorry. That's not going to be good for my politics.

Well, I'm sorry to all my friends and colleagues, this is for America, this is good for our country.


MANCHIN: Start to put your country before yourself. Quit worrying about being a Democrat or a Republican getting reelected. If you have to do this to get re-elected, then you shouldn't want to serve.

TAPPER: So just to be clear, though, what Mitt Romney said, and I haven't seen any compelling argument to the contrary, is that the reason that this was going to fail he said a few days ago was because Donald Trump wants the issue to run on against Biden and would rather have that, and many seem -- many Republicans seem to acquiesce to that.

Is that your understanding of why this all happened?

MANCHIN: Well, that's the appearance of what happened because basically it was moved moving down a pathway of pass -- of passing.

When you put James Lankford, who is the most -- one of the most sincere conservatives you're ever going to meet, with the values and morals of any human being would be happy to have and aspire to, and do what he did for the sake of our country and put this out there and negotiated hard and got a bill that basically shut the border, secured our borders, and our Democrat friends who worked with him, the president who supported it, knowing that he's to blame for where we are today, but we're going to fix it, and now saying you're not going to fix it -- trust me, it's worse to do what we did today and not fixing something that we knew need to be fixed, than someone making a mistake in letting it get to where it got to. That's the problem, Jake.

TAPPER: Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is facing an open revolt from some of the conservative hard-line senators because he was willing to work with Democrats on the border crisis. Senator Ted Cruz yesterday called on McConnell to step down.

McConnell told politico, quote, the reason we've been talking about the border is because they wanted to, the persistent critics. You can't pass a bill without dealing with a Democratic president and a Democratic Senate, unquote.

How would you rate McConnell's leadership on this issue?

MANCHIN: Well, first of all, Jake, I have more respect for Mitch McConnell today doing what he thinks is right and doing what is truly right for our country because he and I've had our differences, philosophically and ideology-wise, I understand that. But he understands this process. He understands the Senate.

He's defending the filibuster, which I defend with every breath I have in me. He's now basically looking at we have to work together because the filibuster allows us and mandates that we do that. And that's what keeps this country different any other -- any other place in the world.

And the Senate is a special place. He gets that. I have more respect for him stepping up, trying to push his caucus, if you will, in that direction. I cannot believe that they have done what they did.

I've always said this. If I can go home and explain it, Jake, I'm fine with it. No president is going to tell me what to do.


No leader of any party is going to tell me what to do and I've been that person, I always will be. For someone to threaten that you're going to defeat me if I don't vote

the way you want me to, then go ahead and defeat me. I wouldn't want to be here anyway.

TAPPER: So you alluded to earlier in this conversation how Washington's not going to be fixed from the inside. It needs to be fixed from the outside. And that's why you're not running for reelection to the Senate.

But CNN is reporting that you have privately told people in terms of whether or not you're going to run for president that a Joe Biden health scare or Donald Trump conviction could give you an opening to run for president as an independent.

Obviously, we do not know when or if either of those events will happen.


TAPPER: You're only 32 days away from the independent candidate filing deadline in two states, North Carolina and Utah.

What is your deadline for making a decision?

MANCHIN: Well, Jake, I said look at Super Tuesday. I think Super Tuesday will define what we have, and what we're dealing with. There are so many good people.

And I would like to see the Grand Old Party be grand again. I would like to see the Democratic Party be that responsible, sensible voice of the people again. And we've got everyone going to the extremes and they continue to get driven further apart.

I'm going to do everything in my power, anyway I possibly can, as my daughter and all of us are working together, Americans together, bringing people back together, let them know that your voice is going to count, change how the character of the people you send here, the people that will put their country before themselves or their party, they should not be a slave to the party, you know?

And I keep remembering the 1796 I've read where George Washington says, beware of the political parties. They will usurp the power from the people. That's exactly what's happening. The parties have been greater than the means.

TAPPER: Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, always good to have you on, sir. I'm sorry that it's under such disappointing conditions.

MANCHIN: Jake, it's more than disappointing. It's dangerous, extremely dangerous what we were doing today. This has to be reversed and the people should demand it. Those who said they were going to vote, it was a greatest bill that they'd ever seen, as finally we're fixing it, and then backed away in 24 hours because someone or led them to believe that it will be harmful to their political career, ask them why, who sent them, who they work for? TAPPER: Senator Joe Manchin, good to see you, sir.

MANCHIN: Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up next, the case Donald Trump is bringing before the U.S. Supreme Court, the case that has ties to January 6. Why it's so historic, what its potential impact could be on the 2024 race.

Plus, why one specific justice has unusual experience with the Capitol riots.



TAPPER: And we're back with some breaking news for you. The United States military is confirming a strike today into Iraq killed a commander with the group Kataib Hezbollah, the person responsible it is believed for the deadly attacks on U.S. forces in Jordan, according to U.S. Central Command.

Let's get right to CNN's Natasha Bertrand at the Pentagon.

Natasha, what happened?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yeah, Jake. So we are told according to multiple local officials here in the U.S. as well as Iraqi security sources that this was a drone attack that killed a Kataib Hezbollah commander targeted a vehicle he was traveling in in Baghdad earlier this evening. And according to Central Command, this was a Kataib Hezbollah commander that was directly responsible for, quote, planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces in the region. We don't yet know that person's identity. The U.S. is likely going to try to get better confirmation of whether or not they killed at the intended target of this strike.

But I am told by another U.S. official that this is part of the planned response that President Biden had signed off on in response to the drone attack in Jordan that killed three U.S. service members. The U.S. has said repeatedly that it's going to conduct a multi-phase, multifaceted operation that is going to be targeted at these militias that were responsible for these drone attacks and another rocket attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in the region. And I am told that this is part of that response.

So Iraqi security forces now say that they are investigating what exactly happened here. However, we are told and according to U.S. Central Command that this was a drone strike on a vehicle that killed this senior Kataib Hezbollah figure, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Natasha Bertrand, thank you so much for that breaking news.

In our law and justice lead, the U.S. Supreme Court is just hours away from hearing arguments on historical case whether or not states can ban Donald Trump from their ballots over what happened on January 6th based on the Insurrection Clause in the U.S. Constitution.

As CNN's Paula Reid reports for us, now, the former president is not expected to be in court tomorrow as the nine justices, three of whom he appointed, hear this important case.


PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What started as a long-shot bid to bump Donald Trump out the 2024 ballot with a fringe legal theory has ended up at the highest court in the land. Thursday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether to disqualify Trump from holding office because of his role in the January 6th Capitol attack after a landmark decision from Colorado's top court, which concluded the 14th Amendment's insurrection ban applies to Trump.

ERIC OLSON, ATTORNEY FOR COLORADO PLAINTIFFS: Trump engaged in insurrection, and therefore cannot appear on the ballot.

SCOTT GESSLER, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Frankly, President Trump didn't engage. He didn't carry a pitchfork to the Capitol grounds. He didn't lead a charge.

REID: In the years-long lead up to the case, the challengers looked for states where they believed they could succeed based on a constitutional provision that hasn't been tested since 1919. Their efforts have been met with mixed results with only Maine and Colorado taking him off the primary ballot. Even California opted to include Trump.

Trump's team insists that states should not be able to deprive voters of their choice of candidates.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This whole thing is rigged, election interference.

REID: But now, after turning several recent hearings and other cases into campaign stops --

TRUMP: I want to be at every trial date.

I want to watch this witch hunt myself.

REID: -- Trump is not expected to attend the Supreme Court arguments. That change up is part of a more disciplined approach the team is taking to this historic case. Arguing on Trump's behalf will be Jonathan Mitchell, a former Texas solicitor general. This will be his sixth appearance before the high court.


JONATHAN MITCHELL, FORMER TEXAS SOLICITOR GENERAL: Supreme Court justices are ultimately political appointments.

REID: And this case is not just to test for Trump, the justices have also been under intense scrutiny over questions about ethics and partisanship. And for chief justice, John Roberts, his legacy is on the line as someone who tries to steer the court clerk clear of the politics that divides Washington.

JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES: We do not sit on opposite sides of an aisle. We do not caucus in separate rooms. We do not serve one party or one interest. We serve one nation.

REID: Roberts, under pressure to build consensus.

NOAH BOOKBINDER, PRESIDENT, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON: His case puts the court in a tough position any way around. I think they'd rather not be thinking about these issues, but it's -- it is what the democracy requires, what the Constitution requires at this moment. We think that the court is going to rise to that occasion.


REID (on camera): Well, tomorrow is all about ballot eligibility, Trump team and the justices know that president only has until Monday to let the justices know if he wants to come back to the high court on a totally separate case, that immunity issue that he lost to the D.C. circuit yesterday. Jake, it's just another example of how the Supreme Court is going to be one of the biggest influences on the 2024 election.

TAPPER: All right. Paula Reid, thanks so much.

And you can listen to those arguments live. Arguments before the U.S. court tomorrow morning, right here on CNN. I'm going to anchor our special coverage with CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the Supreme Court. All of that starting at 09:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow.

Moments ago, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken weighed in on negotiations on a proposed hostage deal, saying there are some clear nonstarters on the offer from Hamas or the counteroffer rather. But he says there is some space for an agreement. We're going to have more from the region exactly four months to the day since Hamas attacked Israel.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Topping our world lead today four months ago, today, the terrorist group Hamas launched its appalling and barbaric attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking more than 250 people hostage. And now as the Israel Defense Forces continues to pound Gaza and its increasingly unrealistic goal of wiping out the terrorist group entirely -- a terrorist group that embeds within the civilian population of Gaza, an estimated tens of thousands of Gazans have been killed while hundreds of thousands are teetering on the brink of famine.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is attempting to broker an end to the suffering and return the remaining Israeli hostages.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond reports now on the intricate negotiations as Israel's longtime leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calls Hamas multi-phase counterproposal delusional.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The ball is back in Israel's court and its being swatted right back.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We haven't committed to anything. We haven't committed to any of the delusional demands of Hamas. There is supposed to be a process of negotiations between the mediators, and from what I see from Hama's reaction, they are not there.

DIAMOND: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissing Hamas's counterproposal for a ceasefire that would see dozens of hostages released from captivity.

Instead, he is vowing total victory.

NETANYAHU: Surrender to Hamas' delusional demands would not lead to freeing hostages. It would just invite another massacre.

DIAMOND: The latest Hamas position outlines three phases, each lasting 45 days, beginning with the release of women, children, sick, and elderly hostages, in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners, an intensification of humanitarian aid and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza's population centers, in line with a prior Israeli framework.

But Hamas's proposal also calls for the release of all Palestinian prisoners detained since October 7th, a nonstarter for Israel.

Phase two would see the release of all male hostages and soldiers, as well as the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Gaza.

Dead bodies from both sides would be returned in phase three.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reviewing the proposal with Israeli officials.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: While there are some clear nonstarters in Hamas's response, we do think it creates space for agreement to be reached and we will work at that relentlessly until we get there

DIAMOND: As negotiations dragged on, no respite for those trapped in Gaza. Overnight, ambulance crews in central Gaza rushing to the scene of another Israeli airstrike, searching through the rubble, rushing survivors to the hospital. But in Gaza, even the hospitals are no guarantee of safety.

DR. AHMED MOGHRABI, NASSER HOSPITAL: Hello. Good morning, my friends.

DIAMOND: Speaking from inside Nasser Hospital, Dr. Ahmed Moghrabi describes the scene at the hospital's main gate.

MOGHRABI: This is the gate of the hospital and how the people are standing, you know.

DIAMOND: Snipers on rooftops. People trapped in fear.

MOGHRABI: Nobody can move outside of the hospital. You see the people how they are standing. They can't -- they can't go. If anybody would go outside of this gate, he would be killed. See.

DIAMOND: On the street, outside the hospital, a lifeless body explains that fear. Locals say she was shot by a sniper.

From Khan Younis to Gaza City, the sounds of gunfire sparking panic. Hundreds of people waiting for humanitarian aid trucks now suddenly running for their lives. As confusion turns to fears, some rush one- way, others run the other. Nowhere seems safe.


DIAMOND (on camera): And now, Jake, the question is whether and when the Israeli military will push ahead into Rafah, that city that has more than 1.2 million people currently displaced and living there.


I'm told that Secretary of State Tony Blinken raised concerns with Israeli leaders, including the Israeli prime minister, about a potential Israeli military operation there. He was also briefed, I'm told by Herzi Halevi, the top Israeli general, about their potential plans to move into that city in the coming weeks -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jeremy Diamond in Tel Aviv for us, thank you so much.

A father who has been waiting for long months for Hamas to free his 23 year-old daughter is here in D.C. speaking to leaders on Capitol Hill and is going to join me with his reaction to this proposed deal and what he's going through, next.


TAPPER: We're back with new video just into CNN of the breaking news from Iraq that we told you about earlier, a U.S. strike earlier today killed a commander with the group Kataib Hezbollah.


CentCom says this is the person responsible for organizing the attacks on U.S. forces in the regions, resulting in the deaths of three U.S. soldiers in Jordan and the wounding of dozens others.

Before all the drama on the House floor yesterday, House Speaker Mike Johnson had an important meeting. He invited to Israeli counterpart, the speaker of the parliament in Israel, the Knesset, to Washington, D.C. And that speaker I himself brought along three families, three families whose loved ones were kidnapped by Hamas or affiliate terrorist groups on October 7 four months ago today. Hamas attacked Israel for months ago today.

Eitan Gonen was at yesterdays meeting. His daughter, Romi, was that the Nova Festival when Hamas attacked that festival. The terrorists killed more than 260 people at the site alone. Romi thankfully, managed to run.

She made it to a friend's car, but the terrorists of Hamas hunted them out, killed those in the front seat. Romi was in the backseat. She was surrounded by terrorists. Romi managed to call her family before she was kidnapped and taken to Gaza, it is thought.

Her mother described the call to me on THE LEAD back in October.


MEIRAV LESHERN GONEN, MOTHER OF KIDNAPPED HOSTAGE: We heard the shooting around them and then a lot of people talking in Arabic, shouting in Arabic, somebody tried to start the engine but couldn't do it. And then somebody hanged the phone and that's it. That's the last thing -- last thing I heard from my daughter


TAPPER: And Romi's father, Eitan Gonen, is here with me now in studio.

Thank you so much for joining us.


TAPPER: I'm sorry it's under these conditions. Before that phone call, before she hung up, Romi mentioned she was shot in the hand.

GONEN: Yeah.

TAPPER: Have you heard anything about her at all from that day? Did any -- any other hostages who have been freed or return seeing her?

GONEN: Yeah. For the first 16 days, Romi was missing. And only after 16 days and nights, the army came and update that -- updated us that Romi is actually kidnapped. And then additional 30 days until the first people that came from the same tunnel with Romi told us that they saw her alive, but severely wounded in the hand. The hand is not functioning at all. Basically, the fingers are changing colors because the blood is not running smoothly in the arm.

But she's taking care about herself with the left arm, with bandages that were expired eight years ago. But we are feeling a lot from the functioning of her hand and basically we don't know the condition of her hand and we don't know the condition of Romi. It's been 74 days since the last update. And we don't know anything yet since then.

TAPPER: Your family has been admiringly persistent trying to get the world to hear the story and pay attention to the hostages. Just days after the attack, a meeting with leaders in Switzerland coming here to the U.S. for protests in New York. You met with lawmakers last month, and again, today in D.C.

Do you get the sense that these leaders are listening to your story and want to do what they can to help free Romi and the other hostages?

GONEN: Yes, exactly. Yes. The first impression and the last impression is that all of them, all the people that -- in the administration that we met are committed to Romi's release and all the rest of the kidnapees, for sure. We had good meetings with Mike Johnson, with Alejandro Mayorkas and with Roger Carstens and all of them 100 percent committed to Romi's release and all the rest.

TAPPER: There's a proposed deal on the table right now as I'm sure you're following to release more hostages, a source tells CNN that Netanyahu says there's no way Israel is going to accept the counteroffer which calls -- from Hamas, which calls in Israel to withdraw completely from Gaza over the course of four months.

What's your thought on this?

GONEN: I met my prime minister exactly one week ago in his office and we had a two-and-a-half hours meeting. And he listened to us all the all the representative from the families and I think that he knows exactly what to do. But as he said, he said, I cannot stand in your shoes, but you cannot stand in my shoes. Basically, it means for me that nobody -- nobody can realize what we are going through for 124 days and we need -- well, I'm not an admiral, I'm not an army-oriented people -- person, I'm a father, father of a kidnap girl Romi.


And all I want is that my daughter will be released today. And I want to hug her. I want to cry with her, and I want the best physicians and the best doctors in the world to take care of her.

TAPPER: What do you want people watching right now? What do you want them to know about Romi?

GONEN: Romi -- Romi is my sunshine, is our sunshine. Romi brings light and heat and high-energy to every place she enters. She is basically a free spirit. She's a professional dancer and this is why she attended the festival with her best friend Gaia (ph) and we missed her a lot. We love her so much.

And we are sending her high-energy in order for her to withstand the brutally and the condition -- the bad conditions she's suffering for 124 days. Basically, Romi is my -- I don't know any bravest person in the world than Romi.

Romi is our hero. And time is of an essence. Time is up basically.


GONEN: And we need Romi with us immediately.

TAPPER: We're all going to be praying for Romi and for you and your family. Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. GONEN: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

TAPPER: We'll be right back.



TAPPER: And we're back with our world lead and a massive Russian missile strike on Ukraine. Ukraine's minister of internal affairs says six parts of Ukraine were hit, including the capital Kyiv, where Russian cruise missiles and strategic bombers killed at least four people and injured 38. While further south, a potential shift on the frontlines as Russian troops attempt to circle the key town of Avdiivka, just north of Russian controlled Donetsk.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Kyiv for us.

And, Fred, you recently reported on how rapidly Russia is burning through troops and equipment in Avdiivka, in these so-called meat assaults. Bigger picture, what does the possible loss of that town signal in Ukraine's larger fight?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think its certainly is a difficult one for the Ukrainians. What they've been trying to defend that town, but it's becoming harder by the day, especially in light of the fact that the Ukrainians are running critically low on ammunition. And the one thing that's really difficult for them to defend against is the so-called meat assaults that we saw firsthand near the front lines there in Avdiivka. Essentially what the Russians do is they send small units of assault troops that continuously assault Ukrainian positions and they hope to at some point break through.

Now, what we're hearing from Avdiivka is that apparently in the south of the city and to the north of the city as well, there are some places where the Russians have now gone gained a foothold, but they did lose a lot of people in the process of being able to do that. I was in one command center with the Ukrainians where you could literally see the ground in those areas littered with the bodies of dead Russians. And there were some who were still out there who apparently been separated from their units.

So it's certainly has been costly for the Russians. I'd say at this point, they by no means have that town. The Ukrainian say the situation there is critical, but they don't believe that they've lost that town just yet. They believe Jake that the Russians badly want that town because they want to give Vladimir Putin a win ahead of the Russian presidential elections on March 17th, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Fred, the Kremlin has granted Tucker Carlson rare interview with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Putin has refused to any requests from lots of other Western journalists, including CNN. This interview also comes as two other journalists with American citizenship are currently detained in Russia. "The Wall Street Journal's" Evan Gershkovich and Radio Free Europe, Radio Free Liberty's Alsu Kurmasheva.

Tell us why you think the Kremlin might have granted this access to Tucker Carlson and what this might signal about what Putin is trying to accomplish.

PLEITGEN: Yeah. Well, first of all, I was in our Moscow bureau for about three years and I can't even tell you the amount of times that we asked for an interview with Vladimir Putin. And also over the last two -- almost two years at this war's been going on, in the amount of times that we've asked for an interview with Vladimir Putin.

So certainly, it's not for lack of asking that we haven't gotten one. CNN hasn't gotten an interview with him yet, and also, there was actually a demonstration that took place in Moscow, just about two days ago of wives who wanted their husbands back from the front lines were a bunch of Western journalists were detained as well.

The Kremlin has been pretty clear on why they're giving that interview -- why they gave that interview to Tucker Carlson. They said that they believe that he is sympathetic to what the Kremlin has to say. They said today, this was a spokesman for Vladimir Putin, that traditional Anglo-Saxon media, as they put it, they believe that they are not impartial to what the Kremlin is saying.

They believe that Tucker Carlson is more to their liking as they put it. They said he has a distinctly different view and they also said that they believe it makes no sense to communicate with what they call traditional Western media because they believe that it is not beneficial for them as they put it, Jake.

TAPPER: Fred Pleitgen in Kyiv, thanks so much.

The breaking news this hour, a brand new U.S. strike in Iraq killing a commander responsible for attacks on American forces in the region. We're going to have much more of what we're hearing from the Pentagon about the strike, next.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

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

And we start this hour with the breaking news. A U.S. military strike in Iraq has killed a top commander for the group Kataib Hezbollah. The man killed is believed to have been behind attacks on American forces in the region. U.S. official says the strike is part of the response authorized by President Biden last week in direct response to an attack on U.S. troops in Jordan, a drone attack that killed three American service members and wounded dozens of others.

CNN's Alex Marquardt is here.

Alex, tell us what you're learning about these strikes. ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, that drone strike against those U.S. forces was a week-and-a-half ago. And since then, the Biden administration has made clear that they will retaliate for that and do it sort of over several phases. So what were seeing now, we believe is the second stage of that response, the first was against seven facilities that are linked to Iran in Iraq and Syria on Friday night.

Here what we have is a drone strike against a senior militia commander, very notable because it's in Baghdad, in the capital of Iraq, which is a close U.S. ally. This is a drone strike that took place around 9:30 local time, again, in an area of eastern Baghdad called Al-Mashtal.

The commander has not been identified. The Central Command which carried out this strike did say that he was a senior commander of Kataib Hezbollah, which is one of the most prominent militia groups in Iraq. It is one of the most powerful Iran-backed groups in the region.

So we are waiting to get more details about who exactly was struck, but it is clear -- and the administration is now saying this -- that this is part of what we believe to be an ongoing response in retaliation.