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The Lead with Jake Tapper

CENTCOM: Drone Attack In Baghdad Kills Commander Responsible For Attacks On U.S. Forces In The Region; Rep. Chris Murphy, (D-CT), Is Interviewed About Border Deal; Now: Senate Voting To Debate Foreign Aid Without Border Policy; Netanyahu Dismisses Hamas Counterproposal, Says It's "Delusional"; Senate Republicans Block Border Bill They Had Demanded; A.I. Voice Audio Tool Accused Of Creating Fake Biden Audio; Florida Supreme Court Hears Abortion Amendment Case. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 07, 2024 - 17:00   ET



ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: 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 for those three American service member deaths.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So Kataib Hezbollah is one of the groups believed to be responsible for that attack in Jordan that killed three U.S. soldiers. Do we know if this will affect the group's capabilities?

MARQUARDT: When that strike happened that killed the three American service members, the administration did mention Kataib Hezbollah. They said that there was a broader umbrella group called the Islamic Resistance in Iraq that was responsible. Kataib Hezbollah is not to be confused with Lebanese Hezbollah. But I think what the administration is trying to do here, they're not necessarily taking away yet their major capabilities, but they are sending a clear message in targeting a senior commander. The administration will try to degrade their capabilities as well, we would believe, as part of their ongoing efforts. But clearly the intention here is to try to deter.

And actually, in the wake of those three American service member deaths, Kataib Hezbollah put out a notable statement in which they said they were standing down their operations, would no longer carry out attacks against U.S. forces. Now, remember, there have been some 160, 170 attacks against U.S. and coalition forces since October 7, since the war in Gaza began. Major question now is whether what we're seeing in terms of reaction or these strikes from the U.S. will actually serve to deter because we have seen a handful of strikes since that retaliation on Friday night.

TAPPER: Right. More than 100 strikes against U.S. forces from many different groups, not just Kataib --


TAPPER: -- Hezbollah. Alex Marquardt, thanks so much. Now to our politics lead and the ongoing GOP dysfunction in the halls of Congress. Today, Senate Republicans blocked the bipartisan border security deal that they had originally insisted be packaged with aid for Ukraine, Taiwan, and Israel. This -- it's the same deal that Republicans were demanding until a few days ago. But as it turned out, Donald Trump did not want it because he wants to use the border issue against Joe Biden in the fall. And this, I suppose, dashed to the bipartisan dreams that Biden spoke of longingly when campaigning for office.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House, not a joke. You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.


TAPPER: Not sure that epiphany ever happened, Melanie Zanona, who joins us from Capitol Hill. Doesn't see -- I don't see any epiphanies. Just a lot of people fighting about the border and compromised legislation that is now going down in flames.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, that is certainly the feeling here on Capitol Hill where we are seeing politics winning out over policy. Just four Senate Republicans ended up voting on that Senate bipartisan border security deal that some of their own members helped craft. But there were probably more Republicans who actually would have supported it. But once they knew that it was dead on rival in the House, they didn't want to put a target on their back, especially with Donald Trump coming out so publicly against this deal. Trump, of course, wants to preserve this as a campaign issue for November.

And that has really sparked some frustration on both sides of the aisle. Just listen.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MAJORITY LEADER: The damage Republicans have done this week to their credibility cannot be understated.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): There are other folks that read the Facebook posts and the Twitter posts and saw different facts that they thought might be true. But I personally told them over and over again they're false. And it's been hard to overcome.

For some reason, we still believe everything we read on the Internet --

SEN. KYRSTEN SINEMA (I-AZ): If you want to continue to use the southern border as a backdrop for your political campaign, that's fine. Good luck to you.

Don't come to Arizona. Take your political theater to Texas. Partisanship won. The Senate has failed Arizona. Shameful.


ZANONA: And, Jake, one of the voices you heard there was James Lankford. He was one of the lead Republican negotiators on that bipartisan deal. He is now facing backlash from Republicans for helping to lead this effort. And meanwhile, Mitch McConnell, the Senate GOP leader, facing own -- his own questions about his political future. So the tensions right now really high inside the GOP, all while Democrats are saying they're now going to try to campaign on this issue and hammer Republicans for not doing anything to solve the border crisis in November.

TAPPER: Lankford's facing Republican backlash for negotiating with Democrats and Independent Senator Sinema, the most conservative border compromise that I have seen in 25 years of covering this issue. It's unbelievable.

So, anyway, Melanie, the Senate, there is this standalone bill being offered now, which is originally what Democrats wanted to offer in the fall, standalone aid for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan. What's going on with that?

ZANONA: So, the Senate right now is taking a procedural vote, but the key test vote is not going to be coming up until later. Right now, senators are engaged in an urgent round of discussions to try to come up with an agreement on a path forward, but it is still really unclear whether they are going to have the 60 votes they need in order to advance this in the Senate. And it's also facing questions about what would happen here in the republican controlled House if a package like that were to come over. Speaker Mike Johnson so far noncommittal about what he would do if that were to come over.


But Jake, it's just been a remarkable turn of events. After four months of negotiating that border security deal, the Senate now exactly where it started four months ago, which is trying to pass a standalone Israel Ukraine package.

TAPPER: Yes, as Alfred once said, some men just want to watch the earth burn. Melanie Zanona on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

With us now, Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He was one of the three lead negotiators on the border compromise. He was the Democrat. We interviewed James Lankford on Monday, he was the Republican. And we interviewed Kyrsten Sinema, the Independent yesterday.

Senator Murphy, thanks so much for joining us. The Senate seems to be heading into a debate and amendment votes situation on the standalone bill for spending for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan. Do you think that will ultimately pass?

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): NEGOTIATOR FOR BORDER DEAL: Who knows? I mean, this Republican Party is spiraling out of control as we speak. This is terrible for the country. It's terrible for the world. I mean, they told us back in the fall that they could not vote for Ukraine funding by its own, that they needed a bipartisan border fix. As you mentioned, the three of us who are very different legislators, very different priorities, we got a bipartisan compromise, a pretty conservative bipartisan compromise.

They told us this week that they were kidding. In fact, they did not want to tie border and Ukraine together. And now we are back to where were last fall, offering them a vote -- a clean vote on funding for Israel and Ukraine by itself. Right now, as we speak, it does not yet have more than a handful of Republican votes and is about to fail. Time will tell.

This is a Republican Party that has just become rudderless. And I guess to the extent they're tied to anything and anyone, it's Donald Trump who wants chaos, right? He wants chaos at the border. He wants chaos overseas because he thinks that will help him politically this November. And right now, Republicans are listening to anything he tells them, which is pretty awful.

I was proud of my colleague, Senator Lankford. He stuck with this compromise even though all of his Republican colleagues abandoned him. He went to the floor today to explain why it was still the right thing to do for the country. And maybe once this Trump fever breaks, his style of leadership will come back into vogue.

TAPPER: What makes you think the Trump fever is ever going to break? I mean, I've been hearing people talk about the Trump fever breaking for years now. I mean, at what point is it not a fever? It's just that the body of the Republican body politic is just, in fact --

MURPHY: Well, I mean, but listen, the flip side of this is that we did actually see the Senate work for a short period of time when they weren't sure whether Trump was still in charge. Right after Joe Biden got elected, we had a pretty unprecedented run of bipartisan achievement. The infrastructure bill, the gun bill, the CHIPS Act, the Gay Marriage bill. I mean, I know everybody wants to believe that this place is perpetually and fundamentally broken, but we actually passed a lot of good stuff for a two year period of time. And then Trump once again reasserted himself in the party.

So, I am not of the school that we can never, ever find a path forward with some of our Republican friends, but on this issue of immigration, for the time being, they have very clearly decided they want chaos at the border. They do not want to fix the problem because they think that that helps Trump politically.

TAPPER: Senator Lankford, I have to say, did a very good job advocating for conservative policy. I've been covering this now for more than 25 years. And what you agreed to was more conservative than the legislation that Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham put forward with the gang of eight back in 2013. And it seemed bizarre to me that Republicans wouldn't take yes for answer. I want to run something else Senator Lankford said during his speech this morning, defending the compromise.


LANKFORD: This is the pen that I was handed at that desk when I was sworn in to the United States Senate. And I signed a book that was at that desk with this pen, because I was becoming a United States senator, because the people at home sent me here to get stuff done and to solve problems. There's no reason for me to have this pen if we're just going to do press conferences.


TAPPER: That's the angriest I've seen Senator Lankford, you probably have seen her -- seen him angrier behind closed doors. Could the border compromise be resurrected, or is it just dead?

MURPHY: Well, I actually haven't seen him angrier behind closed doors. That is as angry as he gets. I was actually sitting -- standing in my office with a number of my staff people watching him give that speech. We were all absolutely awestruck by, you know, how strong he has been at this moment when all of his colleagues are abandoning him.


The short answer to your question is, Jake, is that I think for the time being, Republicans are never going to compromise on immigration. I think the only way that immigration ever gets solved as a problem is if Democrats are in charge of the House and the Senate. We change the rules and we get something passed with a majority vote. I think Republicans can't imagine a world in which the problem of immigration is solved. Like, what would they do on their weekends if not drag the press down to the border to show off how broken it was?

What would they do if they couldn't complain about this as an issue? I don't think they can live with a world in which immigration is solved. And so for the foreseeable future, I unfortunately don't see any world in which we resuscitate this compromise that so many Republicans said they wanted but then ran away from as soon as it was put on the floor for them.

TAPPER: I mean, and just a reminder for everybody at home, the Republicans controlled the White House from the election of Donald Trump 2016 through 2019 and did not pass immigration reform with control of the House, Senate and the White House. I'm really awestruck, and I don't mean that as a compliment.

Senator Chris Murphy, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

MURPHY: Thank you.

TAPPER: Former defense Secretary Mark Esper, who served in the Trump administration, is going to be here in a sec. We're going to ask him about the new U.S. strike that the Pentagon says was targeting the commander responsible for attacks on American forces. New video shows the aftermath of the strike. We're back in a moment.


TAPPER: Back with our world lead now. Four months after Hamas's brutal attack on Israel, 1.3 million Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to the southern city of Rafah as the IDF has been pummeling Gaza. And now Israel has its sights set on that overcrowded city for the next phase of its plans to try to eliminate Hamas. The top IDF commander there says there is currently no plan in place to reduce civilian deaths, but would work on such a plan if and when he receives orders to enter Rafah.

And while the fighting in Gaza seems to be intensifying, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is trying to broker a ceasefire and hostage deal that Israel just dismissed after the latest proposals from Hamas. Let's bring in former secretary of defense under Donald Trump, Mark Esper. It's his very first interview on The Lead in his new role as a CNN global affairs analyst. He also serves on the board or as a strategic advisor for a handful of aerospace and defense related companies.

Secretary Esper, welcome to CNN officially. Good to have you here.

MARK ESPER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Thanks, Jake. Good to be with you.

TAPPER: So, has the longstanding U.S.-Israel relationship fundamentally and irreversibly changed over the last four months, do you think?

ESPER: I do not think so. I think the historical, cultural and other ties are just too deep and longstanding for it to be fundamentally changed. Clearly there's a change in relationship, though, between Washington and Tel Aviv, most notably with Bibi Netanyahu and his far right government I think that's the change. And of course that's going to continue to evolve as this conflict drags on.

TAPPER: His government is not just far right. I mean, he -- if the two far right religious Zealots, bigots, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, if they were to take a hike, they would take with them theoretically 14 seats, and Netanyahu's government would fall. So he can't alienate them in any way. And they have really extreme views on Palestinians' racist views on the West bank, on Gaza. Is there any peace possible in the region with this Israeli government, with these people in it?

ESPER: Yes, look, you're right, Jake. You have those members and others who want to reoccupy Gaza, who want to push the Gazans, the Palestinians in Gaza into Egypt and other places and basically put Jewish settlers back in. So it's not something that's feasible. I think the broader spectrum of Israeli politics does not want a reoccupation of Gaza, but they do want a better defensive situation. And, of course, you have to deal with what's the end state, which we still don't know. We have some plans, some ideas, but you have this two state solution that remains out there, probably the best possible one, assuming you have a reformed or renewed Palestinian authority.

But look, I think the politics internal to Israel within his cabinet are what's driving Bibi Netanyahu right now to take these hard stances with regard to, for example, the latest proposal that came back from Hamas and what the likelihood of a deal is.

TAPPER: I want to also turn to the breaking news from Iraq, the U.S. drone strike in Baghdad. Central Command says a Kataib Hezbollah commander responsible for attacking U.S. troops in the region was killed. Looking at the video, the strike appears very precise. Explain the planning and intelligence gathering that goes into a strike such as this.

ESPER: Yes, well, of course, we go through great efforts at DoD and the intelligence community to track the leaders of these various groups. And there's many of them that are out there, these Iranian sponsored Shia militia groups. And you want to track their whereabouts, you want to know who they're meeting with, you want to try to intercept communications to understand what they're doing. So, look, it's tracked very carefully.

I think this is a good thing that they did, a good targeting. It's good to kill the leaders of these groups. But look, the best you're going to do is disrupt and degrade their capabilities. If you really want to deter, and I've said this before, you have to go after things that Iran values. And for Iran, these proxy groups are expendable. They've been at this for 40 some years, funding them, arming them, training them.

But you know, the talk last week about a strong response to Iran based on after the deaths of the three American soldiers is -- has just kind of left me a little disappointed in terms of what we've seen so far and what I believe will not deter the Iranians going forward. We've already had two or three militia group attacks since last Friday's 85 target assault by U.S. forces.

TAPPER: All right, former Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, a brand new senior commentator. Thank you so much. Appreciate your time, sir.

And we have some breaking news coming in. This intense house fire just outside Philadelphia, gunshots apparently were fired from this house. We're piecing together exactly what in the world is going on. We're going to show it you in a second. We're back in a moment with what we're learning.



TAPPER: We have breaking news just in to CNN. Police say this incredible and horrific scene of a house fire outside Philadelphia is apparently connected to two police officers who have been injured when responding to a call of a child that had been shot. This is in Lansdown, Pennsylvania, just outside Philly. Let's go straight to CNN's Brynn Gingras.

Brynn, what are we learning?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, like you just told your viewers before the break, this is very much a fluid situation. Sources telling our John Miller and Danny Freeman that exactly what you just said. There was a call into 911 from an 11-year-old girl saying that she was shot. Police officers responded to that location that you're seeing right there.


And when they got to the house, they were met with gunfire. Two officers were actually shot. We know that their condition is stable, not life threatening injuries, but they did go to the hospital. We also know an 11-year-old girl was transported to the hospital from that house location, unclear what her condition is right now. But you can see what is happening right there at that house where police officers, firefighters have now responded, it is engulfed in flames.

So a lot of questions here like was there anyone in the house other than that 11-year-old girl? Who started this fire? These are all questions that are, of course, being asked right now by law enforcement there on the ground. We are still working our sources as well to get more information, but that is what we know right now. An 11-year-old girl transported from the hospital after being shot or saying she was shot and also two officers injured at the hospital as well. Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Brynn Gingras with a breaking news situation. We'll come back to you when you have more to report. Thank you so much.

Turning to our politics lead now. Early voting is currently underway in New York's special House election to replace the vacancy left by George Santos. You might remember George Santos, the disgraced representative expelled from Congress. Republicans who maintain a very, very fragile majority in the House hope that a woman named Mazi Pilip can keep the seat, while Democrats are hoping former congressman Tom Suozzi can pick it up for them. CNN's Miguel Marquez has been talking to voters in the Empire State's third congressional district on Long island and parts of Queens.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The opening salvo in the 2024 election cycle is on. Early voting in the special election to replace George Santos. Voters of all stripes say more than anything they want moderation and political leaders who will work together.

MARQUEZ: Was there one motivation that got you to come down here to cast your vote?

ALISON GARNER, VOTED FOR DEMOCRAT TOM SUOZZI: I want a sane person in the government. I'm done.

DAVID BACKEMAN, VOTED FOR REPUBLICAN MAZI PILIP: I don't like the direction the country is going currently and I think it's an important election and we have to go towards the middle more.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The issues motivating many voters in this suburban New York, largely Jewish district, Israel, abortion, crime and taxes, but seemingly none bigger than --

MARQUEZ: Immigration. How big a concern for immigration.


MARQUEZ: Number one concern for you? Is it about stopping them coming in or handling the chaos on the border?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I mean, it's both. You have a chaotic situation at the border. You're spending a ton of money to try to manage the situation. We don't have jobs for the people when they come in, they're being dispersed. We lose complete control over where they are once they're in the country.

MARQUEZ: What would you like to see happen with immigration?

HARRIETT AYMONG, VOTED FOR DEMOCRAT TOM SUOZZI: I don't have the answer, but I know what's happening now isn't good. But we have to figure it out. Everyone has to get together and figure it out and talk.

The district is mostly in Nassau County on New York's Long Island and a small sliver in Queens. Total active voters just over 530,000. In early voting, more than 31,000 have already cast their ballots. Nassau county, where most voters live, breaks it down by party, giving us a glimpse into who so far is coming out. through four days of voting in Nassau, 43 percent are registered Democrats, 35 percent registered Republicans, and 19 percent unaffiliated with any party.

Democrat Tom Suozzi has run all out in a short but well-funded campaign, raising $4.5 million. Compared to his republican challenger, Mazi Pilip, who's raised only 1.3 million.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tom Suozzi will work with both parties.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): To date, Suozzi and his allies have nearly doubled Pilip and her backers in spending on advertising in the pricey New York market, $13 million to 6.7 million.

With a potential rematch looming this November between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and Congress narrowly divided, voters here in this suburban battleground district see the outcome next Tuesday as sending an early message to both parties.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like to see this country united. I do not want to see somebody who is elected that separates and creates a partition in the country. It's not good for us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that Trump did a heck of a good job. Would I vote for him again? That's another question.

MARQUEZ: So, as a tried and true Republican, who wants to see Republicans here, you're not sure if you'll vote for Donald Trump in November?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would rather see him not run. But if he runs, I will have to vote for him.


MARQUEZ (on camera): So on top of all this, turnout in this race is expected to be very small, about 25%, say most political watchers. And even though Democrats are right up right now in the early voting, the Nassau County Republican Party is known to have a formidable get out the machine. Early voting runs through Sunday. Next Tuesday, the 13th is Election Day. Everyone expects it to be a squeaker. But whatever the result, it will reverberate throughout the country. Jake?


TAPPER: All right, Miguel Marquez in New York, thank you so much.

Let's bring in the political panel. Thanks, guys, for being here. First of all, let me just ask about the spending disparity with Democrats outspending Republicans for the seat. I think something like three to one. Are you surprised by that?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: The margin is what's really surprising there. You have two very different kind of candidates. Swazi, obviously, an incumbent or previous incumbent has bigger networks for fundraising. The Republican candidate, not well known, also sort of running sort of a shadow or basement kind of campaign. You don't see her out that much. That you got footage is sort of surprising. That may speak to part of this fundraising disparity.

NAYYERA HAQ, SENIOR DIRECTOR OF CABINET AFFAIRS, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: The other fascinating thing about this is Republicans could not have picked a more diverse candidate. Shall we say, black woman, refugee, served in the IDF, veteran, but like --

TAPPER: -- an Ethiopian who moved to Israel, I mean served in the IDF.

HAQ: And it really is. It's such a fascinating example of where we are that it's like, OK, well, let's find somebody that checks all of these boxes that could potentially go up against a Democrat. The early voting is going to make a big difference. In states where we do have early voting, we tend to see more seniors who vote Democratic turnout, other folks who are like, you know, working day jobs. So this actually might also account for some of what is Democratic enthusiasm about this seat.

TAPPER: You know, it's funny, you just talked about the diversity of the Republican candidate. In 2022, Elise Stefanik was very, very proud. Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, part of a House Republican leadership, of how diverse the Republican candidates for the House were.

HEYE: Yes.

TAPPER: They were minority, they were female, they were veterans. Now, of course, with all the attacks on DEI and diversity efforts, nobody's out there praising this Mazi Pilip except for you, Nayyera. And I mean it just kind of gets at the lameness of the attacks on efforts at diversity, given that has been a Republican effort.

HEYE: Look, it was a big part of why Republicans had success in House races. It was a real priority, not just for Elise Stefanik, but Parker Poling is a huge staffer. She was chief of staff for Patrick McHenry, went to the congressional committee. That was priority number one for her. And it's why Republicans had such an uptick in women freshmen in the last Congress.

TAPPER: Very interesting. We're seeing now some of these divisions in the House Republican majority, this narrow majority they have and how it's impacting their ability to govern. Take a listen to what Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida said on Newsmax after Republicans failed to pass their Mayorkas impeachment vote.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): As I'm watching that board and it's 215 to 215, I have never missed George Santos more. I also wondered, like, wouldn't it have been nice to still have Kevin McCarthy in the House of Representatives? Never thought you'd hear me say that. But Kevin McCarthy, after being dislodged as speaker, took his marbles and went home.


TAPPER: Matt Gaetz longing for Kevin McCarthy just so there would be a Republican and help -- there to help them impeach Mayorkas.

HAQ: I'm sure that comment really endeared him to the rest of the caucus and what they've suffered for the last couple of weeks. But it is that idea of taking your marbles and going home, it's a game at this point. The continued effort to avoid anything that looks like bipartisan compromise, such as working on the bill, like the GOP Senate is going to filibuster a bill that they had technically asked for and helped to negotiate because anything bipartisan would actually hurt the political chances at the top of the ticket. And that's the reality of what is Congress right now. It's not about governing or passing legislation.

TAPPER: Just as a former House Republican staffer, can you believe this? I mean, just, I've been covering this issue since the George Bush administration. This was the most conservative compromise I've ever seen. Democrats basically got nothing and Republicans still turned it down.

HEYE: Jake, you were covering this issue when I worked for Eric Canner.


HEYE: And were not able to get anything done on immigration. And we were talking about doing different things. What do we as Republicans do with DREAMers? This bill had none of that. This was an absolute legislative win, very skillfully done by James Langford. But you have to have your members who want it. And very clearly, they didn't want to take the win. TAPPER: Yes. And Democrats were kind of like over a barrel because they wanted the Ukraine funding and they were willing to make compromises on the border, which Democrats are now acknowledging is a crisis in order to get the Ukraine funding. And Republicans got almost everything they wanted.

HAQ: The idea was to take border off the table as an issue for Biden politically, right? He's got a rising economy, all these good things to talk about, but the narrative is about the border. And so what would have been seen as caving on principle and issues is now suddenly. All right, well, we gave you stuff, what you wanted. You are the problem. Put the problem squarely back in the bucket of the Republican Party.


TAPPER: By the way, it would have been caving? I mean, it would have been giving --

HEYE: It was a cave.

TAPPER: Yes. And Republicans didn't take yes for an answer.


TAPPER: It's just --

HEYE: Insane.


HAQ: But it keeps the border as an issue that's still going to be on the campaign trail.

TAPPER: Right. Of course. Oh, yes, we all get it. It's like --

HAQ: Very cynical.

TAPPER: But there's an idea -- so there's something that's not the problem. And by the way, Republicans are telling the truth when they say this is a life or death issue. First of all, there are migrants who risked their lives to cross the border, and it's tragic. There are coyotes who rape and kill along the way. Sometimes there are people who are bad people who cross the border and commit crimes against Americans, often against Latinos. So this is not just, you know, silly business. This is life or death for people.

HAQ: I had a very interesting conversation with the sheriff of Eagle Pass, Texas over the weekend. And he said, it's not about crime. Crime is low. It's not about crime. It's about national security. And I found that fascinating, like, what does that actually mean to people?

TAPPER: So here's another interesting story from this place we're in with the Republican Party. The RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel has now offering to step down following a vote by the RNC after the South Carolina primary if they want her to be removed. CNN reports that North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley is one of the names being floated by Team Trump as a possible replacement. What is his, you know, what is his CV? Well, according to "The New York Times," the reason he's on the shortlist is because, quote, Mr. Trump likes Mr. Whatley, for one overwhelming reason, according to people who have discussed him with the former president. He is a stop the steal guy, as one of the people described him. He endorses Mr. Trump's false claims about mass voter fraud. So that is I mean, Ronna has been pretty helpful to Donald Trump on that too, but apparently not enough.

HEYE: No. And I've known Michael Whatley since 2004. I worked for Senator Burr when he was chief of staff to Senator Elizabeth Dole.

TAPPER: Hey, you're a Tar Heel.

HEYE: I am unfortunately not a great result against Clemson last night, but we did we did beat Duke. I think there's, look, Michael Whatley has done a good job running the North Carolina Republican Party. It had some challenges. I've seen good chairs and bad chairs. But his allegiance to Trump isn't just in a stop the steal. He helped censure Richard Burr. He helped censure Thom Tillis, two of the Republican senators out of a loyalty or seen perceived disloyalty by those two senators to Donald Trump. And it speaks to one of the things that he becomes in the members like him, that's important. But we're going to have to see can he raise money because big donors who are somewhat still skeptical of Trump and his rhetoric, they don't like the stop the steal rhetoric? How does he solve that problem?

TAPPER: And what do you think? What do you make of all this?

HAQ: It is very clear what the political play is. It's a Donald Trump political play where you had Secretary Pompeo under oath in front of Congress last week, still refusing to recognize that President Biden was elected in a free and fair election. He said, yes, he's president, but it's not free and fair. And that will continue to be a theme under Trump.

TAPPER: Thanks to both of you.

Coming up, the source of those fake robo calls. You might remember there were calls pretending to be Joe Biden, telling Democrats in New Hampshire to not vote. It turns out those calls were from two companies in Texas. So CNN went there. What our Donie O'Sullivan uncovered as he tracks how AI is seeping deeper into U.S. politics and political dirty tricks. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our Tech Lead, a criminal investigation is underway into the AI deep fake Biden robo call telling Democratic voters in New Hampshire to not vote in the state's primary election last month. Here's a portion of what that fake call, again, this is a fake call sounded like.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Voting this Tuesday only enables the Republicans in their quest to elect Donald Trump again. Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday.


TAPPER: New Hampshire's Attorney General says the fake call is linked to two Texas based companies Life Corporation and Lingo Telecom. CNN's Donie O'Sullivan went to Texas to try to learn more about them. Donie, what you uncover?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jake. Yes, that's right. The New Hampshire Attorney General giving an update yesterday on this investigation into a robo call that had an AI generated version of President Biden's voice telling Democrats not to vote in the New Hampshire primary, the AG saying that that call might have gone up to up to 20,000 people in New Hampshire.

Now I'd say it was an update yesterday because certainly the investigation seems to be very much ongoing. But officials in New Hampshire are pointing to two companies here in Texas for potentially having some involvement in how that call got hope -- that call got made to so many people in New Hampshire, naming two companies Lingo and the other, Life Corporation. We've come to Texas to try and get some answers from these companies. Ironically, these companies that are involved in making millions even billions of robo calls to Americans for years now are not picking up the phone to us.

We went to Life Corporation's headquarters, or an address that's associated with their business today in Arlington, Texas is actually in a strip mall, under name, another entity called TextToSurvey. No answers there are, no answers from either of these companies. But both the FCC and attorneys General's across the United States coming down pretty hard on this.

Now, look, these companies seem to have some involvement certainly, according to the New Hampshire Attorney General in this robo call. But ultimately what still remains a mystery is who created the fake and who paid for the fake. And ElevenLabs is a service online free widely available for a small fee. You can make it sound like anybody has said anything using AI. Expert analysis has found that Biden fake was made using ElevenLabs technology. ElevenLabs telling us in a statement, that they take this sort of thing very seriously that they won't comment on specific cases.


But our understanding is that it was indeed made using that technology. So somebody here knows who made for this, who paid for this. But unfortunately, at the moment Jake, we're not getting answers from the folks here in Texas. But we as well, investigators, both federal and state, keep looking into this.

TAPPER: It seems to me like the companies can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. That doesn't sound like they're trying to be part of the solution there. There's also this altered video of President Biden that Meta, which owns Facebook says can stay online, even though they know it's been manipulated. Tell us about that.

O'SULLIVAN: Yes, there's a video on Meta, on Facebook specifically that essentially purports to show Biden behaving inappropriately toward a young woman, specifically, actually, his granddaughter. The video has been edited in such a way to make it look like he's behaving inappropriately. It's false, totally taken out of context and didn't happen. But Meta's Facebook's rules on this, according to Facebook's own oversight board, which is this kind of body of experts that Facebook has set up to try and deal with some of its more difficult content moderation decisions, described Meta's as policies on AI, on deep fakes, on all this sort of stuff as incoherent and describing loopholes in those policies that are a danger to elections around the world this year.

Now, over the past 24 hours or so, we have seen Meta come out and said they are going to start labeling some forms of AI content, but really only a very limited form of content that's made using certain software belonging to major companies. But Jake, look, you and I have spoken a lot about this in the past few months, past few years. Is that really what we're going into here between these robo calls that are apparently coming out of strip malls in Texas and going to New Hampshire, two very, very misleading, I guess types of content, video, audio that's being produced easily and shared online. It seems like many of the companies just do not know how to get their hands around this from the social media companies to the producers of this.

TAPPER: I think you're being nice. I think they don't care because they're making a lot of money and so they're just like, ah, that's -- it's somebody else's problem. But then again, I don't have to get my calls returned by them. Donie O'Sullivan, thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Be sure to catch Donie on CNN is AC360 this evening where he will uncover even more on AI and politics. Donie O'Sullivan for us in Fort Worth, Texas with a disturbing report.

In Florida right now, conservative Republicans are making a strong effort to keep a specific issue off the ballot in November. That's abortion rights. What are they doing? Will it work? We're going to go live to Florida next.



TAPPER: And we're back with our Health Lead. Today, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments on an amendment to the Florida constitution that would guarantee the right to an abortion. The state's conservative attorney general is fighting to block that amendment from getting to appear on the ballot in November for the voters of Florida to decide. CNN's Carlos Suarez is live for us in Miami. Carlos, walk us through what happened in court today.

CARLOS SUAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the conservative leaning court seemed reluctant to block the proposed amendments. Some of the justices, they really pushed back on the state's argument that the ballot language is misleading. And they took issue with the state saying that voters will not understand the sweeping impact that the amendment will have on the legislative process. Now the wording of the proposed amendment reads quote, no law shall prohibit, penalize, delay or restrict abortion before viability or when necessary to protect the patient's health as determined by the patient's health care provider.

This amendment does not change the legislature's constitutional authority to require notification tweet, parent or guardian before a minor has an abortion. Now the state told the court that the terms viability and health care provider are not clear and overly broad. If 60 percent of voters approve it, the ballot amendment would rollback the state's current ban on abortion after 15 weeks to around 24 weeks. It would also block a six week ban that the Florida legislature passed last year that has yet to take effect. Here now is some of the back and forth between the Attorney General's Office and the chief justice on whether the ballot language here is complicated.


NATHAN FORRESTER, FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE: The voters need to know the effects of what's going on here.

CHIEF JUSTICE CARLOS G. MUNIZ, FLORIDA SUPREME COURT: It's pretty obvious that this is, you know, a pretty aggressive, comprehensive approach to dealing with this issue. And if it were to, you know, the voters can kind of argue about whether, you know, they want something more nuanced than that. I mean, it just doesn't seem like this is really trying to be deceptive. People of Florida aren't stupid. I mean, they can figure this out.


SUAREZ: Floridians protecting freedom gathered just under a million signatures of registered voters to get the issue on the November ballot. The attorney representing the group told the court, the language here is pretty clear.


COURTNEY BREWER, ATTORNEY FOR FLORIDIANS PROTECTING FREEDOM: Voters have seen and deserve the chance to vote on and include in their constitution. What happens when these decisions are taken away from healthcare providers and put in the hands of politicians?


SUAREZ: And so Jake, the court must decide the issue by April 1st.

TAPPER: All right, Carlos Suarez in Miami with us, thank you so much.

Coming up, a special appearance you'll see at Sunday Super Bowl. No, no, I'm not talking about Usher. And no, I'm not talking about Taylor Swift. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our Sports Lead, the Super Bowl just gotten even more exciting especially for Lahainaluna High School. Lahainaluna High School survived the devastating fires in Maui last August and now players and coaches from the school's football team are going to get to serve as honorary coin toss captains at the big game this Sunday. The NFL announcement says in part quote, the Lahainaluna High School football team embodies the power of football to bring people together, even in the most challenging of circumstances. Many on the team of course lost their homes, not to mention their football equipment to the wildfires. Now the NFL is stepping in to replace all of that equipment.

This reminder tomorrow morning, listen in live to arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in Donald Trump's ballot battle. I'm going to lead CNN special coverage. CNN's Kaitlan Collins will be at the court tomorrow morning at 9:00 Eastern here on CNN.


You can follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Threads, X, formerly known as Twitter and on the TikTok at JakeTapper. You can follow the show on X at TheLeadCNN. If you ever miss an episode of The Lead, you can listen to the show whence you get your podcasts, all two hours just sitting there like a big bowl of Doritos.

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in The Situation Room. I will see you tomorrow.