Return to Transcripts main page

CNN News Central

Today, Biden Departs for High-Stakes Visit to Israel; New Video Shows Aftermath of Airstrike on Gaza; House to Vote Today on Speaker, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) Still Short of Majority. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2023 - 10:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The breaking news right now from the White House to the war zone, President Biden this evening is leaving Washington for Israel, and that is where in just the last few hours that our crews on the ground has seen explosions outside of Gaza. This is Ashkelon, Israel, just this morning, about five miles north of the border with Gaza.

Also, there have been new Israeli airstrikes on Hamas targets in Gaza today. We want to show you some new video that's come in from Gaza just the aftermath, the moments after one of these strikes. You can see another scene of devastation of the barrage coming in. John?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Let me give you a sense of where some of these locations are. This is Gaza here, obviously. Ashkelon is right here, very close to where Gaza is. This is the Israeli city targeted in some of the most recent rocket attacks. And some of the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza have been here, Khan Yunis, a southern city, Rafah, not far from the Rafah crossing here. You can see this is the region where Israel has told people in Gaza to move to, yet this is where some of the airstrikes are taking place.

Our military analysts are speculating that perhaps Israel is targeting Hamas terrorists who are now trying intersperse themselves with the civilians in this area. That, of course, very likely in many ways.

Let's get right now to our friend, Sara Sidner, who is in Tel Aviv right now, the major city in Israel with the very latest on what you are seeing.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, friend, this is Sara Sidner in Tel Aviv with a lot more on what has happened here. I want to talk about something that was so striking today, the mother of a Frenc-Israeli hostage, has been making an urgent plea to the entire world this morning. Her daughter, 21-year-old Mia Schem, was kidnapped from the music festival earlier in the month where at least 260 bodies were found in the aftermath of the initial Hamas surprise attack.

And I attended a press conference that her mother, Keren, held today. I want you to listen to this mother who, for the very first time, saw that her daughter was alive. No one knew anything since Saturday. And, yesterday, this video was sent out by Hamas of her daughter talking to the camera. She had a bandage on her arm, and she had clearly been injured in a very bad way, but she was alive. And here is what her mother told the world today.


KEREN SCHARF SCHEM, DAUGHTER MIA SCHEM BEING HELD HOSTAGE IN GAZA: I started to shout. I fell on the floor and I started to scream. And so wasn't -- I didn't really knew what I'm feeling. I saw my baby. And then it became -- we started to sing, to cry, and, wow, she is alive, and to be so happy. And then I started to be -- I felt scared.

My message to my daughter is that I love her so much and I miss her so much.


And all these days, I just thought how I am going to be hugging her when she is coming home. And that's what kept me strong and focused.


SUDBER: Strong and focused in the most dire of situations and circumstances. That was Keren Schem. Her daughter, Mia, has been kidnapped by Hamas and she was the very first hostage that the world saw in video that Hamas sent out on social media to see that she was still alive. We now know there are about 199 hostages that the Israeli Defense Forces says that, they believe, are in Gaza.

All right, I want to bring in CNN's Clarissa Ward and our Jeremy Diamond, who are here with me in Israel. First, I want to go to Clarissa in Ashkelon. She is, of course, much closer to the Gaza border. And I know that you have been experiencing explosions in your area within, I think, this is the last few hours. What more can you tell us?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Sarah. It had been pretty quiet for most of the day and then there was a barrage of rockets that came towards this city, Ashkelon. Again, there have been rockets here almost every single day. This one was a little different, though, because at least two that we could count were not intercepted and actually did make impact. Take a listen to what it sounded like a little bit earlier on.

You can hear the sound of some Iron Dome intercepts, but also the sound of a couple of those rockets making landfall, one, just over there. No reports of any casualties, though, and Hamas coming out and saying that this was revenge, basically, for the continued strikes on Gaza.

And I want to point out that in Gaza there is no Iron Dome. There has been relentless bombardment for yet another day there, including many strikes, as you heard John Berman talking about, in that southern part of the Gaza Strip. This is where Israeli forces had told people from northern Gaza to move to. We're hearing of at least six strikes right next to that Rafah border crossing. Palestinian Health Ministry saying at least 60 people killed in those strikes, the death toll now in Gaza nearly at 3,000.

And we actually spoke to a 22 year old dentistry student. We have been in constant contact with her since interviewing her on Friday. She is from the northern part of Gaza. She and her family were getting ready to move to the south. They were having difficulties finding a place that had electricity or even beds or room. But they said that after today's strikes, they are simply too nervous to move to the south because it just does not appear to be safe, Sara.

SIDNER: Yes. I mean, clearly, nowhere is safe in such a densely populated area.

Clarissa Ward, thank you so much for your excellent reporting throughout this entire conflict.

Jeremy Diamond joins us now from Jerusalem. Jeremy, we're looking at the political aspect here because President Biden is expected to leave the White House today and arrive in Israel at some point tomorrow. What more can you tell us about the plans when he arrives here in Israel?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Israeli officials here are certainly welcoming President Biden's plans to visit as a show of solidarity with Israel, particularly at a critical time, as Israeli officials have made clear that they are preparing for some kind of very significant ground operation inside of Gaza.

But beyond the show of support, the president is also coming here for very practical, very concrete reasons as well. Top of the list is, or certainly among the top items on the list, is the deterrence aspect that the president is coming here to demonstrate in that solidarity with Israel, a warning as the secretary of state, Tony Blinken, said last night as he announced this visit, a warning to Iran and to other actors in the region who may see this Israel-Hamas war as an opportunity to exploit that and to turn this into a broader regional conflict.

The president coming here very much a deterrence factor in the same way that sending two aircraft carriers to the region, putting 2,000 Marines and sailors on high alert, all of that part of that same kind of message.


But there is also a question of whether the president is coming here with some kind of concrete deliverable. We know that, typically, when a president visits somewhere after high-profile meetings by his secretary of state, his secretary of defense, as we have seen in the last week, it's typically because something is in the works, something for the president of the United States to come here and announce.

And we know that there are discussions about getting humanitarian aid into Gaza, getting Americans out of Gaza. But beyond that, of course, there's also the question of those hostages, including American hostages, who are currently being held in Gaza.

So, the president is going to come here, going to be meeting in Tel Aviv with the Israeli prime minister and his war cabinet. And we also expect him to go to Amman, Jordan, to meet with the Jordanian, Palestinian, as well as the Egyptian leaders there, a big regional focus for this visit, clearly, for the president tomorrow.

SIDNER: Yes, Jeremy, and we know that Rafah Border is still not open with people clamoring to try to get out of Gaza. I appreciate your reporting there from Jerusalem and also for our Clarissa Ward, who was in Ashkelon for us just earlier. John?

BERMAN: Sara, Jeremy was just talking about deterrence, U.S. deterrence. Well, we know there will be two U.S. carrier groups in the Mediterranean. The Gerald Ford is already there. The Dwight D. Eisenhower is headed there.

And we learned this morning that a Marine Expeditionary Unit will be aboard the Baton headed through the Red Sea, some 2,000 Marines, part of that.

I want to bring in retired Major General James Spider Marks, our CNN military analyst. And Spider, look, look, we talk about deterrence here, but you also note that there is a level of potential compatibility between these U.S. forces and the Israel Defense Forces. What do you mean?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES SPIDER MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: John, the United States and Israel has a very long exercise program and a very long program, a historical program of cooperation, routine efforts on intelligence, exchange, maneuver forces, Marines working with other elements within the IDF, U.S. forces working routinely with the IDF. In other words, there's a level of trust at multiple levels where the United States and Israel have worked together in the past.

So, when the carrier battle group, the strike group, shows up in the Eastern Med, the Eisenhower will replace the Ford, but both of those will probably remain on station for a while. There is interconnection between those capabilities and what the IDF brings to bear on the ground and in the air. So, those levels of support exist and will exist immediately once they're on station.

BERMAN: Spider, I want to give a sense of what's been going on inside Gaza over the last, oh I don't know, several hours. We've been getting word that there have been Israeli airstrikes.

We can come into the map here so people can see what I'm talking about. There have been Israeli airstrikes in the southern part of Gaza, which is where Israel told people to move to. We know there have been strikes around Rafah, Khan Yunis, which is in the major city. There have been strikes in the north also.

The question that a lot of people are asking is why. If Israel told people to evacuate to here, why then would they be striking in that region? MARKS: There are legitimate targets in Gaza. Israel has the right to go after those legitimate Hamas targets, irrespective of where they are located, except going through the collateral damage estimates that are necessary before you strike. So, although you want to get as many civilians away from the northern portion of Gaza as you can, there still are legitimate targets.

And it is not unlikely that Hamas is trying to integrate itself into the civilian migration to the south so that they can live and fight another day. If everything in the south is completely off limits, then you have got Hamas leadership potentially that will be intermingled, will be completely integrated into that, and they will go untouched.

BERMAN: Again, some of the pictures we are looking at now, live pictures from Northern Gaza where the Israeli strikes continue, in southern Gaza where we have seen some of these strikes, Spider bringing up the possibility that Hamas leadership, its military wing, could be integrating with the civilians that have moved there. That is certainly something we have seen in the past from Hamas.

Spider, the Israeli troops are now arrayed in this sort of no-go zone area all around Gaza with armor and infantry. What are they doing in these days prior to what could be an invasion?

MARKS: These are what we call pre-combat inspections, pre-combat checks. That PCI are the absolute final steps of preparation before you conduct a military operation. Does everyone in this organization understand the larger purpose of what we are trying to achieve?


And does every subordinate element within that larger organization understand what their specific tasks are in order to achieve that larger purpose?

So, this is the very focused final step before some type of what we call crossing the line of departure in conducting military operations on the ground. And bear in mind, not only are you on the ground, but you've got the air cover above, you've got the connectivity with cyber communications, great intelligence that will hopefully advance any one of these initial movements.

Retired Major General James Spider Marks, always great to have you on. Thank you so much. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, House Republicans, they're preparing to head to the House floor, essentially taking the speaker's battle out behind closed doors for what Jim Jordan hopes is for the last time. Does he have the votes? The pressure building on Republicans to get their act together as the risks mount only more and as the fighting in Israel continues.

We'll be back.



BERMAN: So, does he have the votes? Will there be a House Speaker today? Jim Jordan takes his case to the House floor very soon.

We have the latest whip count from our man, CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju. How close is he or is he not, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he doesn't have the votes yet. He begins the day short of the necessary 217 votes to be elected speaker. But Jim Jordan is still pressing ahead, plans to have this vote on the House floor and essentially see how many members will vote against him.

He can only afford in this first vote to lose three Republican votes. We expect that these five no votes, maybe ten at the moment, perhaps even more, because a number of members simply are not saying where they will come down.

And driving all of this tension is everything that happened over the last two weeks, the historic ouster, unprecedented ouster of Kevin McCarthy, the speaker of the House, and the elevation of Jim Jordan, pushed by those very same members who sought and successfully got Kevin McCarthy out of the job.

Some members simply do not want to reward those hardliners by elevating Jim Jordan and are making very clear they plan to vote against him on the floor, even if there's pushback from some of Jordan's key allies.


REP. SCOTT PERRY (R-PA): Feelings are hurt, but Jim didn't have anything to do with that. So, they need to assign their ire, if you will, to those who they think deserve it, but certainly not Jim Jordan.

REP. DON BACON (R-NE): I can't get past the fact that a small group at our conference violated the rules to get rid of Kevin and then block Steve. You don't have a process where I play by the rules and these other people can't, and then they get what they want, that's not America.

RAJU: Do you think of the idea of expanding your powers? Do you support that idea?


RAJU: You don't?


RAJU: And that last comment coming from Patrick McHenry, who is now the interim House speaker.

There has been some discussion about trying to move on some resolution of source to try to prop up McHenry's powers to give him more authority overseeing the legislative process, which is completely paralyzed amid the stalemate over the House speaker.

McHenry there telling me he does not support that at the moment, but, John, if this falters, if they're not able to get Jordan across the finish line, that is one of going to be the one of the options they continue to discuss at this House for a second straight week, completely paralyzed amid this Republican infighting.

BERMAN: Manu Raju, my favorite part was you crouching, sneaking up to Patrick McHenry right there to get his reaction. Well done, as always. Keep us posted if the count changes, Manu. Thank you. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Joining me right now is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Congressman Michael McCaul. Mr. Chairman, thanks for coming in. I want to start there, but then I want to ask you about everything that's unfolding in Israel.

Your vote was unknown until late last night on speaker, on the speaker's race. You came out of the meeting with Republicans last night saying that you will support Jim Jordan. What got you to a place where you're comfortable with that?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): Well, I had a very good conversation with him. I was concerned about national security issues, particularly if we pass an Israeli supplemental national security bill, would Ukraine be included in that?

And I was assured that he could link the two. He would look at the details of that, but that was very important to me.

But I think most importantly, Kate, is we can't afford not to have a speaker in the chair. We have to govern. I mean, as we look at what's unfolding in Israel, my committee does the authorization of use of military force. If we don't have a speaker in the chair, we can't pass any of this stuff.

Jordan has a unique capability to govern his caucus, the Freedom Caucus, and primarily the eight who ousted Kevin McCarthy.

Now, I don't like rewarding bad behavior. Don't get me wrong, but I don't like dysfunction either. And I think we need to have a functional government right now in such a dangerous time while the world is on fire.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean, the stakes clearly seem to have increased quite a bit on getting the act together, if you will, with what we're seeing happen in Israel right now.

Do you think -- is your assessment then that you think kind of this paralysis ends today, a speakerless House will be over today?

MCCAUL: You know, I don't have a crystal ball. I was disappointed that Kevin McCarthy got ousted. I thought Kevin was doing a very good job managing all the various factions.

[10:25:00] Right now, the vote count doesn't look entirely promising, but I think Jim Jordan is going to put this into several rounds on the floor. He's very tenacious. So, that remains to be seen. And if it doesn't work, then we're kind of back to, all right, maybe we got to look at Kevin McCarthy again.

I just -- all I can tell you is, Kate, the longer this drags out, the more dangerous it is, not just for the United States, but for the world, because we are the leader.

BOLDUAN: I want to ask you about this, because there are a lot of elements that you have a lot of information on with regard to what's going on in Israel.

First and foremost, this question of humanitarian -- a humanitarian corridor, or aid with regard to getting in from the Rafah crossing from Egypt into Gaza. You're in touch with a lot of the lead agencies. What are you hearing about this?

MCCAUL: Right. Well, you know, I've talked to the Qataris, the Jordanians, the Egyptians, the Saudis, World Food Program, Cindy McCain, in charge that, Samantha Powers, USAID. I think this is what the president, I anticipate will announce on Wednesday, is that the Rafah gate, which is the gate on the border of Southern Gaza and Egypt, will be opened to allow Americans and foreign nationals to escape out and also wounded Palestinians as well.

But I think rank and file civilian Palestinians, the gate will be open to allow humanitarian relief into Southern Gaza, because the World Food Program has always dealt in very war-like zones. They know how to do this. But we have to have the assurance from Hamas that they're not going to steal the food and humanitarian relief going in and use it for military purposes. That's a negotiation taking place right now. And I think for the sake of the 1 million children whose lives could be at risk, we have to make this thing work.

And, finally, because the narrative is such that if you see children in Southern Gaza being impacted, that's going to light up Hamas' narrative and could impact Hezbollah, which is in Lebanon. And that's our nightmare scenario, is that Hezbollah gets involved with their 100,000 rockets.

BOLDUAN: Well, speaking of a nightmare scenario, I heard you say that your committee is now drafting legislation, the way you put it, in the event that it's necessary to authorize U.S. military force, an AUMF, if the current conflict between Israel and Hamas, that it broadens into a wider proxy war. I mean, if that's not a statement of what is at risk and what is at stake and what you have to plan for right now, I don't know what is.

I mean, what are the conditions that would make it necessary? What are you hearing from the White House?

MCCAUL: Well, let me say the first most solemn obligation we have in Congress is under Article 1 to the power to declare war, in this case, an authorization of use of military force. I have been in contact with the White House about this. They do not have authorities to hit Hezbollah or Hamas or any of Iran's proxies, even the Iran-backed militias in Iraq, for instance. So, this is something we are looking at.

As you know, Secretary Austin now has 2,000 Marines in Expeditionary Force off the coast of Gaza and Israel, I'd say Northern Israel, near Hezbollah, as a deterrent to ensure that Hezbollah does not invade Israel. And I agree with that. I'm glad the secretaries put the warships there, aircraft carriers, destroyers. But the Expeditionary Force of Marines is very telling because that would be a kinetic force that if they land on the ground, their boots on the ground go into war.

And we don't want that to happen. I hope I never have to mark up, as we say, my authorization of use of military force, but I have to be prepared for that situation.

BOLDUAN: I mean, that is the job of your committee and of your chairmanship that you need to plan for these things. But my God, what that would mean if it needs to get there.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for your time.

Sara, I want to head back to you in Tel Aviv.

SIDNER: All right. Thank you so much, Kate.

Ahead one of our own, trying to survive in Gaza will show you the harrowing video diary of our CNN journalist caught in the escalating crisis with his family there in Gaza.

That will happen just after the break.