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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Haley Pledges Not To Drop Out; VP Kamala Harris At Center Of Biden Reelection Campaign; Homeless In America; Missing Texas Girl's Body Found; Justice Department: Indicted Informant Told FBI He Got Hunter Biden Dirt From Russian Intelligence Officials; Some IDF Soldiers Rejoice In Gaza Destruction. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 20, 2024 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Despite trailing in polls and actual delegates and votes, Haley plans to stay in the primary race for the long haul.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I refuse to quit. South Carolina will vote on Saturday, but on Sunday, I'll still be running for president. I'm not going anywhere.


TAPPER: So we start our 2024 coverage with CNN's Kylie Atwood who covers the Haley campaign for CNN. Kylie, why is Nikki Haley choosing to stay in the race no matter what happens on Saturday during the South Carolina primary? And what did she have to say about the likely nominee, Donald Trump?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, essentially, she's making the case that Americans deserve to have a choice at the polls. They deserve to have their voices heard. She said that they should have the chance to have a real choice, not a soviet style choice, a soviet style presidential election where one candidate gets 99% of the vote. She said also that only three states have voted to date, and in the ten days after the South Carolina primary, there will be 21 states and territories they're going to vote. She didn't say which of those states she expects she's going to win, but she said she's been hearing from people who want her to stay in the race.

And she doubled down on her commitment to continue battling it out with former President Trump, essentially saying that she is not scared of him. Listen to what she said.


HALEY: I feel no need to kiss the ring. I have no fear of Trump's retribution. I'm not looking for anything from him. My own political future is of zero concern.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ATWOOD: Now, she said on Sunday she will still be running for president, as you said, Jake, essentially saying that no matter what happens in the South Carolina primary, she is going to go on to the Michigan primary that following week and then on to Super Tuesday. And she also said that she plans to stay in the race until every vote is cast. We'll just have to see how that plays out, looking at, of course, what happens in the primary here in her home state as one of the critical determining factors.

TAPPER: And, Kylie, while Haley was giving her speech earlier today, Mr. Trump was, of course, putting out his own attacks against Haley.

ATWOOD: Yes. So Trump has not been here campaigning in South Carolina very much at all. Since the New Hampshire primary, he has only had one major rally in the state, but he is up with a new TV ad going after Nikki Haley when it comes to gas tax. Listen to that ad.


HALEY: You got bad information. I fought the gas tax in South Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nikki Haley is proposing a hike on the state's gasoline tax.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nikki offered a ten cent gas tax increase in South Carolina.

HALEY: Let's increase the gas tax by 10 cents over the next three years.


ATWOOD: Now, Nikki Haley initially, as governor said, that she wouldn't raise the gas tax, later said that she would do it if it were coupled in a decrease to the income tax. So, of course, that is the reality here. But Trump thinks clearly that this is an area where she is vulnerable here in the state of South Carolina.

But when you look at the big picture, the amount of time and resources, and money that Trump has put into the state when you compare it to Nikki Haley, just pales in comparison. Trump and his allies have only spent $1.2 million on advertising here in South Carolina, while Nikki Haley and her allies have spent $15 million on the ads trying to do everything that she can to get South Carolinians out for her on Saturday. Jake?

TAPPER: Kylie Atwood, thanks so much. While Nikki Haley says she's staying in the race, President Biden is continuing to focus on who he thinks will be his opponent in the general election. That's Donald Trump. CNN's MJ Lee joins us now from the White House. And, MJ, you have some new reporting on the new actions President Biden is telling his campaign to take. Tell us more.

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, what I'm told is that President Biden personally instructed some of his top campaign aides recently to be even more aggressive in pointing out some of Donald Trump's inflammatory comments. How it was described to me by two sources is that the President wants the campaign to be more aggressive in highlighting some of the "crazy shit" that Trump says.

But now, of course, we have been seeing the strategy from the Biden campaign for some time now, trying to draw a contrast between President Trump and the former president on everything from their temperament to their worldviews to their policy views. But this reporting seems to show how much the President himself seems to believe that it is important to continue painting the former president as unhinged and unfit for office.

And we've seen the campaign making that effort in recent weeks on everything from the former president's comments about NATO when he appeared to mock Nikki Haley's husband, who is currently deployed abroad. So this is a strategy that we will continue to see.


And just one thing that is worth of pointing out is that something that concerns the Biden campaign is that they think that a lot of voters have kind of forgotten what the four years of the Trump presidency looked like, and particularly the moments that they thought were so outrageous and unacceptable. So this is a part of the Biden campaign wanting to sort of alter that reality as we head closer to November when they expect, as you said, to face off against Donald Trump.

TAPPER: All right. MJ Lee, thanks so much. The Biden-Harris campaign is grappling with the tough task of winning back voters who were critical to their victory in 2020, but are now quite skeptical about the possibility of another Biden term. How is Vice President Harris trying to make the case? CNN's Jeff Zeleny has a closer look at her role in the reelection fight.



KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: These extremists are trying to take us backwards. Well, we're not having that.

ZELENY: And weaponized by Republicans.

HALEY: We will have a female president of the United States. The hard truth, it's either going to be me or Kamala Harris.

ZELENY: Vice President Kamala Harris is at the red hot center of the 2024 campaign, firing up the party's base and taking fire from rivals who argue a vote for President Biden may as well be a vote for a President Harris. While vice presidents are always a heartbeat away from the presidency, Harris's burden is even higher as whispers of concern over Biden's age have dramatically escalated.

As she steps up her travel across the country, Harris often starts with an urgent plea to protect abortion rights.

HARRIS: Let us be very clear about who is responsible. Former President Trump hand picked, hand picked three Supreme Court justices because he intended for them to overturn Roe.

ZELENY: Today in Pittsburgh, Harris announced $5.8 billion in clean water investments, replacing lead pipes and more as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law Biden signed in 2021.

HARRIS: Clean water, can you believe that in the United States of America, that is still not necessarily guaranteed to all people?

ZELENY: Her biggest assignment is trying to win over skeptical young voters, Black and Latino supporters and those protesting the administration's policy toward Israel, all part of rebuilding Biden's fraying coalition.

TANISHA LONG, COMMUNITY ORGANIZER IN PITTSBURGH: We're just so tired of being told that it's our job to prevent a Trump presidency.

ZELENY: Tanisha Long welcomes the vice president's greater visibility and the investment in clean water, but said voters want to hear more about their second term plans.

LONG: The only messaging we're receiving is if you don't vote for Biden, you're voting for Trump. And what a lot of younger voters want and a lot of voters of color is we want people to earn our votes.

ZELENY: Harris has often been a punch line during her three years as vice president.

HARRIS: I went off script a little bit.

ZELENY: But allies now believe she could be a critical lifeline for a reelection bid facing steep challenges, a second impression she's trying to make by taking on Donald Trump.

HARRIS: Former President Trump has made clear time and time again his fight is not for the people. He fights for himself.


ZELENY: Now on the road, the vice president is doing much of the campaign's heavy lifting. And that is to be expected, I'm told, over the next several months of this reelection campaign. She's eager to have a larger imprint on this. And yes, it is one part reset, there's no question, but it is also a critical piece of this reelection battle.

One thing she is doing, Jake, is meeting with community leaders as she's traveling around. She met with about two dozen community leaders here in Pittsburgh trying to tell them that the campaign is on it. They know that there are challenges in their communities and political challenges as well. But one thing, of course, abortion rights, it's anthem to her candidacy. She didn't talk about it here today, but she will again in Michigan on Thursday. Of course, that is one more big battleground.

So make no mistake, Jake, she's at the center of this campaign, a big test for her personally over the next eight months.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny in Pittsburgh in the great battleground Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, thanks so much.

President Biden was asked today who would he rather run against in November's general election, Donald Trump or Nikki Haley, who we heard today to vow to stay in the race. We're going to bring you his response coming up.




HALEY: Some people used to say I was running because I really wanted to be vice president. I think I've pretty well-settled that question.


TAPPER: And we're back with more on Governor Nikki Haley's big speech today. She says she's not going anywhere. She's vowing to stay in the race until the last voter votes. My panel joins me now to discuss. Karen, let's start with you.

A big day for Nikki Haley. She said she's not going to follow in the footsteps of the other "fellas" by conceding to Trump in the race. She is polling, and it's just a poll, it's not an election count, but it is a poll, 20 points behind Trump in her home state of South Carolina. She isn't able to name a state where she might be able to beat Trump in a primary or caucus over the next several weeks. What do you make of her decision?

KAREN FINNEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, everybody is in it to win it till they're not. So, of course, this week, leading into the primary, she's got to say she's in it as a way to try to motivate voters, but it's also a way to potentially preserve her options for, say, 2028. To say I wasn't one of the ones who just got in line and followed along. I stood my ground. I stood tough. So hopefully she's thinking forward to her future and how she acts now, how will that impact her going forward?

TAPPER: How much of her decision to stay in the race do you think is based on the possibility that Trump is convicted of a crime, and she wants to be there as a plan B for GOP?


KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: That may be part of her calculation. I don't think that it is likely to turn out that way, even if the first piece of that equation happens, for some reason Donald Trump can no longer be the Republican nominee. I think because of the very sharp criticisms that she has lobbed at him and knowing how popular he is within the party, if this were to go to a convention where the party has to choose someone different, I suspect that her brave new tone here on Donald Trump that has gotten much tougher over the last few weeks is actually not going to help her in that sort of mission.

But I do think that it's positioning her as almost the new Chris Christie in the race, if you will. The person who says, I'm the only one that's bold enough, brave enough to stand up to Donald Trump. Maybe it's to try to say how many people in the party are not Trumpist and she wants to be able to give them that ability to put their name on a ballot.

TAPPER: Well, this is my question for you based on what you just said about her standing her ground, being able to say, you know, that she going got tough, she (inaudible). Is that rewarded in the GOP these days, being a truth teller, or is that punished?

FINNEY: It appears not to. Oh, however, and you would know better than I, Kristen, it does seem that there are Republicans who believe that there will be a day after Trump for the good of the country, I hope that's true. And that what does that version of the Republican Party look like, who are those people, who will lead that.

I don't know when that's coming. It does not appear that voters will reward her for that line of thinking. But it's possible. I mean, it's possible that there is the makings of another version of the Republican Party.

TAPPER: This -- see, I don't -- there is something about Donald Trump and the GOP that I just don't see -- I have a difficult time envisioning the party moving on. He already lost and the party's still not moving on. Even if he loses again this November, assuming he's the nominee, I don't think the party's -- I mean, first of all, he'll say that everyone cheated.

FINNEY: Right.

TAPPER: And I think he's going to stay as long as he can stand upright.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: I think that's likely. I completely agree that there are some Republicans, not a majority of the party, probably closer to 20%-25%, who do want this post-Trump GOP. And they are hoping after hope that it will emerge and it will emerge soon. But --

TAPPER: They've been hoping for nine years.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: -- I'm with you. I feel like at a certain point, there was a moment shortly after, I recall very specifically, right after January 6, where someone like me really thought, OK, this is the moment. This is the rock bottom, right? This is if the GOP is going to break up with Donald Trump --

TAPPER: Deadly insurrection.

SOLTIS ANDERSON -- move on, this will be it. And as we saw, that didn't really happen. So I'm skeptical with that moment.

TAPPER: Yes, me too.

FINNEY: and I don't disagree with that. And look, fundamentally, his grasp on the Republican Party is pretty ironclad. I mean, look at what is happening in Congress right now. We can't get a border deal because he said no. Not because Democrats weren't willing to come to the table with new ideas or tougher ideas, but because he told the Republicans in the House, I don't want this deal. So you're right.

And the other thing I will say, last thing that I worry about for the Republican Party is all of these young Republicans who have now learned, oh, this is politics. This is how we're supposed to do politics. The way we saw it with tea partiers who now are invoking some of those same strategies and tactics.

TAPPER: I want to play this moment when President Biden was asked who he would rather run against, Trump or Haley? Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who would you rather challenge in November, Nikki Haley or Donald Trump?



TAPPER: He doesn't care. I don't believe that.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: Yes. He's smart to not answer it, but the answer is he'd rather not run against Nikki Haley. She consistently does outperform Donald Trump --

TAPPER: Although if she were to be the nominee, Donald Trump would take his part of the party --


TAPPER: -- and run as an Independent or tell them to stay at home. Karen Finney, Kristen Soltis Anderson, thanks to both you for being here.

Up next, a new series launching today on "The Lead." We're going to dig into America's overwhelming homeless crisis. Why are numbers hitting a record high? What is being done to combat it? Does anything work? We went to California in our first stop to get answers.



TAPPER: In our National Lead with homelessness in the United States shooting up to a larger number than ever before seen in the modern era, and at a quicker rate than ever before seen. Today, we're going to try to start to figure out why through our brand new series, "Homeless in America."

Over the next several months, we're going to be talking with people across the country directly impacted by this crisis. And today we're going to start in California, home to 12% of the population of the United States and one third of our homeless population.

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass ran on bringing the city's unhoused population indoors and off the streets. We met up with her recently on a very rainy morning where she was trying to do just that.


TAPPER: This is the sound of someone's entire life essentially being thrown in the trash. In the middle of recent record breaking rain in Los Angeles, the city is today clearing an encampment for unhoused people. Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass campaigned on fixing the city's homeless crisis. This is theoretically part of that fix.

KAREN BASS, LOS ANGELES MAYOR: This is exactly why I ran for mayor. This is the reason why.


TAPPER: Mayor Bass took me to see the cleanup first hand, getting people out of tents and onto buses and into temporary housing. They leave behind anything they cannot carry.

JAMES, MOVING INTO TEMPORARY HOUSING: I was recently stabbed about two weeks ago. This is just like a godsend right now, by getting indoors and being away from this.

TAPPER: Inside Safe is the name of Mayor Bass's flagship program to tear down these encampments and bring LA's unhoused indoors.

So when I spoke to you about a year ago, you talked about your goal for homelessness and the end of homelessness in Los Angeles by the end of your first term.

BASS: Well, I think the progress is going well. We destroyed the myth that people do not want to leave the tents, people don't want to leave the cars and their RVs. We've had the opposite problem. We have more people willing to leave than we have rooms for.

TAPPER: In a remarkable new study, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco surveyed thousands of the homeless in California. Nearly 90% of participants said high housing costs were a barrier to their moving into permanent housing. And the majority of those surveyed did want to get off the streets.

JAMES: There are people on the street that don't want to be housed, but most of them do. It's just finding the right housing for them and the right situation.

TAPPER: Major factors to finding housing are high rents and low income. Then, of course, there's also discrimination and bad credit. Some people don't even have ID. Some have been evicted before. Many are dealing with addiction or struggling with physical or mental health problems.

BASS: Affordability is definitely the issue, but the shredding of the social safety net over years has resulted in this situation that we have here. So we have to repair that while we repair the human beings that suffer because of it.

TAPPER: The number of people experiencing homelessness in a single night went up 12% in the United States in 2023, in part because COVID programs preventing evictions and housing losses came to an end. A quarter of those people were unhoused for the first time in their lives.

How many people fell into homelessness during COVID?

BASS: Before COVID there were probably about 20,000 or 30,000 people, now it's 46,000.

TAPPER: Today, this man, Mark, the father of four, is getting out of his tent and into temporary housing nearby.

MARK, MOVING INTO TEMPORARY HOUSING: I want to get house to do better for myself and get back in my kids' life.

TAPPER: What do you want people out there watching to know about the unhoused community?

MARK: We're not all drug addicts. We're not all thieves. We're not all people trying to hurt and steal from you see. When you see a person down, I think as a human being, it'd be a great thing to turn around offer a bottle of water, maybe a blanket, something you could save their life.

TAPPER: Mark's new housing is in these former shipping containers used to build interim housing quickly.

MARK: Thank you. Thank you.

TAPPER: Since the launch of Inside Safe, more than 2,000 people have moved into interim housing but only 329 have moved into permanent housing. Since Mayor Bass took office, the program has cost LA more than $53 million. But the city argues it was well spent and points out the fire department spent nearly 125 million on incidents involving unhoused people last year.

There is a misunderstanding about homelessness in this country.

BASS: Exactly.

TAPPER: A lot of people think it's just people with psychological problems or just people with addiction.

BASS: We have about 9,000 children who are homeless in Los Angeles. Some of them are in and out of school, some of them attend school, but many are living in cars and RVs. One of the fastest growing sectors of the unhoused population are senior citizens, people in their 60s and 70s. They get priced out of the market and they wind up unhoused. TAPPER: Even so, California is trying to tackle mental health and substance abuse by implementing CARE Courts to push those who need it off the streets and into treatment.

BASS: This is a controversial opinion. I don't think it's OK to be profoundly mentally ill, walking in and out of traffic and be allowed to be there. I think some people might need to be hospitalized and they might need to be hospitalized against their will. And I think it is inhumane to allow people to die on the streets.

TAPPER: The short term solution, get people out of the tents, off the street, out of the cars, into these containers. But this isn't a long term solution for the problem, right?

BASS: No, but let me just tell you what short term is. I think short term is about a year and a half. And I say that because it takes a while to build housing. Unfortunately, the policy de facto had been, you stay on the street while we build something. I think that is completely unacceptable.

So what is the solution? Just putting somebody in a house is not enough. There needs to be health care and other social services support, and then they need to go into permanent housing.


TAPPER: So this is just our first episode. We're going to continue to cover this homelessness crisis in America on "The Lead."


Our next segment will focus on the mental health component and how effective it is to use these new CARE Courts, court proceedings to intervene and get care for unhoused people who are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues.

Just in to CNN, a tragic update in that search for that missing 11- year-old girl in Texas. Also just coming in, brand new details from the Justice Department about an informant who once claimed to have intelligence about Hunter Biden. Both of those stories next.


TAPPER: We're back with some tragic breaking news. The body of a missing girl in Texas has been found. Eleven-year-old Audrii Cunningham disappeared last Thursday morning. She was on her way to school, to the school bus, specifically, in Livingston, Texas.

Today, her body was located in a river. And a man described arrived as a friend of the family is expected to face capital murder charges. CNN's Rosa Flores is in Livingston, Texas for us. And Rosa, the sheriff and district attorney for Polk County, Texas, just gave an update. What did they have to say?

[17:35:13] ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they gave the disturbing news that this little girl was recovered. But unfortunately, she is dead. And the family of course is devastated and this community is completely devastated. The body of Audrii Cunningham was recovered not too far from here where I-59 and the Trinity River meet.

Now according to investigators, there is enough evidence to link Don Steven McDougal to this killing. And according to the district attorney and the sheriff, they believe that there is enough evidence linking this man to the killing. They won't go into the details of that. But they did say that they had to lower the water levels of that river to recover the body, that the body was recovered today.

And according to the district attorney's office, they say that, of course, Texas has a capital murder charges, and that if there was enough evidence to in this case, that they could seek the death penalty.

TAPPER: All right, Rosa Flores, thank you so much.

We have more breaking news for you now. The former FBI informant charged with lying about Hunter Biden and President Biden now claims he got dirt on the President's son from Russian intelligence. The bombshell revelation coming in a new court filing. CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez is here. And Evan walk us through this new information.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, this is in a filing, a court filing related to Alexander Smirnov. The Justice Department says that after he was arrested by the FBI last week, he gave an interview in which he said, quote, that according to this filing, Smirnov admitted to officials that he would -- that he -- that the officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved in passing a story about Hunter Biden.

Now Smirnov is the source, Jake, of stories that go back to 2020. What he said to the FBI was that the Burisma, which is a Ukrainian energy company had offered to pay then Vice President Biden and Hunter Biden, $5 million apiece in order -- in exchange for favors, political favors for Burisma. And according to the FBI, that is all false, that those stories were false. And he is now charged with lying to the FBI and with falsifying documents.

Now, Smirnov is facing, has been arrested and he is now getting a hearing in Las Vegas where he was arrested. In the next hour, the Justice Department is looking to keep him detained while he faces these charges. His lawyers are arguing that he should be released when he fights these charges, Jake.

Right now, the FBI and the Justice Department says that Smirnov is a flight risk because he possesses passports from the United States and Israel and that he has contacts with intelligence agencies in other countries. So right now, the Justice Department is trying to make sure that he stays behind bars while he faces these charges, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Evan Perez, thank you so much for that update. To the World Lead now, the United States today vetoed the United Nations or was resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. said it would, quote, help not hurt the ongoing sensitive negotiations on the release of the remaining estimated 100 or so living hostages held by terrorists in Gaza still. Instead, the U.S. proposed its own, quote, temporary ceasefire Security Council draft while it falls short of most of the rest of the Security Council's wishes. The draft signals the White House's hardening stance on Israel's four-month leveling of the Gaza Strip.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond now brings us his story where he follows an emerging social media trend among some Israeli troops documented and sometimes rejoicing in how they are carrying out their orders.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is a how to video on how to blow up a mosque in Gaza. Format is internet fluent. The content is very real, filmed, edited and posted on Instagram by an Israeli soldier. It's one of dozens reviewed by CNN.

Many in 2024, social media is everyday life. Israeli soldiers are no different. Except they're fighting Israel's largest and most brutal war in decades. In video, after video, after video soldiers document the destruction of Gaza and rejoice. A film that nations to use as wedding invitations. Among them are would be comedians whose video satirizing the war showed the devastation in Gaza.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through audio translation): This was the University. The IDF helped them, it became The Open University.

AVNER GVARYAHU, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, BREAKING THE SILENCE: Soldiers have always documented themselves. It could be in journals, it could be with, you know, taking pictures.

DIAMOND (voice-over): Avner Gvaryahu, who served in the IDF during the Second Intifada. He leads the group breaking the silence which encourages soldiers to speak out about the realities of occupation.

GVARYAHU: Even if we do find, you know the why we went to this war, important significance and necessity, we have to ask ourselves how we're conducting ourselves in wartime?

DIAMOND (voice-over): The videos often end up on the social media channels of right wing political commentators, they boast to the Israeli public of the tactics used to defend them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through audio translation): Do you want Hamas? Don't say you are not Hamas.

DIAMOND (voice-over): The IDF told CNN that it has acted and continues to act to identify unusual cases that deviate from what is expected of IDF soldiers. Those cases will be arbitrated, and significant command measures will be taken against the soldiers involved. Images from Gaza of Israel's war injured are rare on Israeli television, but they're there on TikTok.

ERAN HALPERIN, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, HEBREW UNIVERSITY OF JERUSALEM: The overarching theme is that, you know, we're here, we're going to win, we're powerful enough. And we think that what these soldiers are doing well, these clips that we see on social media is part of an attempt to regain a sense of agency, regain sense of power, regain, you know, the sense of positive self-image the way we talk about ourselves before October 7th.

DIAMOND (voice-over): At times, they openly defy their military's message about protecting civilians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALES (through audio translation): You know our motto. There are no "uninvolved" civilians.

DIAMOND (voice-over): And filmed themselves destroying civilian shops. Israel is under increasing scrutiny over the war in Gaza. These videos may well be adding fuel to that criticism.


DIAMOND (on camera): And our thanks to producer Mik Craver (ph) who spent hours reviewing social media footage for that piece. These videos are something that the IDF Chief of Staff General Herzi Halevi is also taking note of. In a letter to commanders today, General Halevi talks about the importance of, quote, maintaining humanity in this war and he specifically references those videos saying that soldiers must not take what he calls revenge videos in the field in Gaza. He says we are not on a killing revenge or genocide spree. Jake?

TAPPER: Jeremy Diamond in Tel Aviv for us, thank you for that report.

My next guests come from polar opposites of the political spectrum but what they're doing should set an example for us all. They're launching a mission called Two Dads Defending Democracy. And they are having conversations. Those dads are going to join me here in the studio next.



TAPPER: It is striking and not a little dispiriting how divisive the country's political discourse has become in recent years. We've seen violent consequences as a result, of course, the deadly January 6th insurrection being just one of them. There was obviously a serious attempt to dismantle the nation's democracy that day fueled by baseless lies, extreme political rhetoric. But that's not the only incident.

Political conversations in Congress, on school campuses, at your family dinner table, they don't have to be so polarizing. And two people from opposite sides of the political spectrum are leading by example. Joining us now, former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh and gun violence prevention activist, Fred Guttenberg. His 14-year-old daughter Jamie was one of the 17 killed in the Parkland High School mass shooting in 2018.

Joe and Fred, this this all started because you guys would vicar on Twitter with each other. And now you're on a mission which kicks off tomorrow, the two dads defending democracy tour showing how people can find common ground on heated issues. Why now?

FRED GUTTENBERG, GUN-VIOLENCE PREVENTION ADVOCATE: So almost -- it'll be this father's it'll be three years ago. Joe reached out. We used to go back and forth on Twitter.

JOE WALSH (R-IL), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Much worse than vicar.


WALSH: Mainly on guns or on everything?


WALSH: Guns, yes.

GUTTENBERG: Mainly in guns. And I was starting this initiative wanted to get dads more involved in the effort to do something about gun violence. And he ended up reaching out saying, you know, I respect what you're trying to do here. And it led to a off Twitter conversation between us. That led to me meeting him and his beautiful wife for dinner one night here in D.C. and drinks. And he's become one of my favorite people in the world. You know, we get along. We disagree. We talk. We banter but we also debate.

And I think was about a year ago, we were at a conference together and we talked about the relationship. And it all has evolved to the point where now tomorrow at the University of Delaware's Biden Center, Biden School, they're going to host the start of a conversation that we want to take across the country because we're -- listen, we have 10 months to show America, you don't have to hate people you disagree with.

WALSH: Jake, you asked why now. Here's the why now. No matter who in November, this country is going to be exhausted, I think 100 times more divided and looking for something. We're at a point where, and you said it, our political opponents have become our mortal enemies, people we want to destroy. That's how Fred and I used to be when we would go added about guns. And then we got to know each other. I'm a big gun rights guy, big gun safety guy. We actually found a little bit of common ground.


GUTTENBERG: We did. But you know, I said to Joe the other day, I said, the crazy thing about the two of us is we don't talk about disagreements and guns anymore. We're so committed, the two of us, to agreeing -- our disagreements aren't gone but we're both committed to a bigger cause right now, which is better democracy.

WALSH: Democracy.

GUTTENBERG: And it is really, listen, there are very few people I enjoy talking to about all the political issues more than you. And I just think we're at a time where we can show two dads who disagree, but want people to vote.

TAPPER: OK, so it's easy for you to disagree on. It's easy for you guys to talk about stuff you agree on, right?


TAPPER: So here's my question, how do you talk to people out there who want to engage in respectful debates, but don't know how, or they struggle to do so where they see the other side as evil or worse? What do you tell them to do? Because obviously, you guys, I'm sure you agree on some things, but you probably still disagree on a lot.

WALSH: We disagree on the vast majority of public policy issues.

TAPPER: Right.

WALSH: Obviously, we agree on who we'd like to win in November. But Jake, it's we don't even engage with the other side right now. Again, the why now, this democracy is teetering. And if we don't learn how to at least listen to people we disagree with, I don't think the democracy is going to stand. That's what's driving me in this thing. And the main start is we have to listen to people we disagree with and not want to destroy them.

GUTTENBERG: Two years ago, you invited me and Chris Brown of Brady, on your podcast.

WALSH: Oh, my gosh.

GUTTENBERG: On your podcast.


GUTTENBERG: And so to answer your question, like, over a very ex -- I think we went well over an hour. We went through all of the issues we disagree with.

WALSH: On guns.

GUTTENBERG: We talk them out. On guns. You know, things like background checks. Joe was ready to go further than me on that. But he disagrees with me on 21. He still does. And I'm still going to change his mind.

TAPPER: On rising the age of guns.

GUTTENBERG: Yes. And I'm still going to change his mind on that. But we talk it out.

WALSH: No. We won't, Jake.

GUTTENBERG: But we talked it out.

TAPPER: Yes. But it's not easy for a lot of people to talk it out. I mean, that's one of the things they don't even want to sit down. Look at Congress right now. There's obviously a compromise. Let's just talk about immigration, right. I bet you guys disagree on immigration.


TAPPER: There's obviously a compromise there. Langford and Sinema and Murphy worked hard to get that compromise, more conservative than anything that's been put forward as a compromise on immigration and the border that I've ever seen. And Republicans just wouldn't even have it. They wouldn't even have it because lots of reasons, one of them is Donald Trump. Donald Trump wants that as an issue. Other people thought it wasn't strong enough.

WALSH: As a former member of Congress, they're incentivized not to do it.

TAPPER: Well, that's exactly, right.

WALSH: A completely incentivized, or we will get primary and they'll lose, which is why Fred and I think, Jake, this has got to start with the American people. The American people have to learn how to do this. Right now, most of the American people are where Fred and I were four years ago, going at each other without respect. That's got to change.

GUTTENBERG: The Republicans respond to one person right now, unfortunately. That is unfortunate.

TAPPER: And your fellow Floridian, Donald Trump.

GUTTENBERG: He lives up the road.


GUTTENBERG: Unfortunately. But that is not good for democracy. And so my hope is, they get back to doing the work of the American people, and not the former president. And honestly, America, if you don't like what's happening there now, get out and vote in '24.

WALSH: We're going to get out there and model how to do this for people. And Jake, look, I come from the right. The right is further down this divisive road but most of Americans on the same row.

TAPPER: Well, the left is pretty -- the left can, you know, obviously, it's all up to individuals. But there could be some pretty nasty stuff out there on the left.

GUTTENBERG: Agree, yes, yes. But it's not the entire party.

TAPPER: Right.

GUTTENBERG: That's the difference.

TAPPER: Right.

WALSH: Right. But we're on the same -- I mean, we're all on the same road, and it's a dangerous road to be on. We have to listen to each other. Even, Jake, if we don't find common ground. And you and I haven't found common ground on most of the stuff.

GUTTENBERG: Listen, I will tell you, I'm going to vote for President Biden. He's decent. He believes in democracy. The other guy is indecent and he doesn't believe in democracy.

TAPPER: But this is an issue where you guys agree.

WALSH: That what we agree.

GUTTENBERG: Yes, we do.

TAPPER: Right. But there's other stuff that I'm more interested in the stuff you disagree on, because that's what's tearing up the country not you guys, you know --

GUTTENBERG: -- the fact that we can actually talk about what we agree and disagree on is what matters.

TAPPER: All right. Well, it's great having you here and good luck with Dads Defending Democracy Tour. It's good to have you, Joe Walsh and Fred Guttenberg, Two Dads Defending Democracy Tour kicks off tomorrow at the University of Delaware's Biden School just up by 95. Thanks to both you. Good to see you.


Coming up, Beyonce and the Beatles, how about that for a combo, big headlines on them both today.


TAPPER: Our Pop Culture Lead now, Beyonce's venture into country music is officially ahead.


TAPPER: All right, new song, "Texas Hold 'Em" debuted in the top spot of Billboard's Hot Country Songs charter song, "16 Carriages" ranks number nine on the chart. Beyonce is the first woman to top both the hot country and hot R&B hip hop charts since the lists began in 1958.

Speaking of music way back when "Variety" reports that Hollywood is cooking up four separate movies about the Beatles, that's four, each told from the point of view of one of the Fab Four. Those films are due in 2027. In the meantime, you're just going to have to let it be, I suppose.


If you ever miss an episode, it'll lead you can listen to the show once you get your podcasts. Our coverage continues now, with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer right next door in a place I like to call the Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.