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President Biden Touts Economic Agenda In Illinois Visit; Israel Announces Daily 4-Hour Holds In Attacks On Gaza; U.S. Strike Hits Iranian Weapons Facility In Syria, Retaliatory Attacks Follow; Republicans Debate Abortion Policies In Presidential Candidate Forum; Democrats Claim Victories In Off-Year Elections, Republicans Divided; Trump's Legal Team Prepares Defense In Manhattan Investigation; Federal Investigation Into Suspicious Letters Sent To Election Offices. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 09, 2023 - 14:00   ET




JOSPH BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They did a hell of a job. And thank you to all the state and local leaders here today. But most of all, to the members of the UAW, you're tough, tough, tough as they come. First outfit you ever endorsed me as a 29-year-old kid when I was running for the United States Senate and with me my whole career. You know, the fact is, it starts at the top, though, with Shawn Fain. Sean, you've done one hell of a job, pal.

When I called Shawn to congratulate him on his historic deals with the big 3 automakers, he said, the credit goes to all of you, all of you out there. And it does. And it may be true, but it doesn't hurt to have a leader with a backbone like a ramrod. You know, he and the entire UAW prove what I've always believed. Wall Street didn't build America. The middle class-built America. And unions built the middle class. That was true in the 20th century.

It's still true today. And Americans know it. That's why unions are more popular today than they've been in decades. About six weeks ago, I went to Belvidere, Michigan-- excuse me, Belleville, Michigan to join your brothers and sisters in the picket line. I brought back a lot of memories of my marching on picket lines as a United States senator. But what I didn't realize was the first time a president ever did that. It was second nature. No, I'm serious. I didn't know that.

Well, I'll tell you, I've worn this shirt a lot, man. You have no idea. I've been involved with the UAW longer than you were alive, man. Look, that day in Michigan, I said the auto strike was about a simple proposition. You guys sacrificed to save the automobile industry from a fight in the middle of a fight. No, you -- that's a fact. You did. Some of you weren't around. You were too young. But you-- I mean it.

But the financial crisis is more than a decade ago. And now, the auto companies are doing incredibly well. So, auto workers should be doing incredibly well as well. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we are going to keep our eye on President Biden there in Belvidere, Illinois. But there is some big news out of the Middle East that we need to talk about. Israel is formalizing a pattern of pausing its attacks against Hamas for hours at a time. It is described as daily 4-hour holds to allow critical humanitarian aid to reach Gaza and also to give Palestinian civilians time to flee south. But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stresses that this is not a ceasefire. He is being very clear about that. He's insisting there won't be one until Hamas releases all hostages.

I want to bring in CNN's Nada Bashir, who is in Jerusalem, with more on what this means for the people of Gaza. Important to note, Nada, there have been these pauses actually for days, but this is a process, it appears, of formalizing them. Is that right?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Essentially, yes, but we have heard now from a senior Israeli official who has characterized these pauses as tactical localized pauses. They won't be an overarching pause across northern Gaza but affect -- will focus on specific areas on different days. We are told this will be essentially given notice to residents in northern Gaza, potentially hours beforehand, telling them whether or not those areas are safe. And of course, as you mentioned, the key focus here will be, A, to allow for humanitarian relief to get into these areas, but crucially, to allow for the evacuation of Palestinian civilians from northern Gaza southwards.

Now, there are, of course, a number of issues with this proposal, as we have seen, and as you mentioned, we have seen similar pauses being put in place, but of course, as we know, a number of those key evacuation routes from northern Gaza towards the south have been heavily damaged by Israeli airstrikes over the last 4 weeks. That means it is very difficult for civilians to get out by car. Many of them are walking on foot, including the elderly, including children. This is not a small distance, so this is a very difficult task, of course, for many.

And as we know, there are many who simply cannot leave their homes, their communities in northern Gaza, despite the continued airstrikes. And of course, the situation in northern Gaza is dire, to say the least. The majority of Gaza's hospitals now are out of service, and what we have seen is tens of thousands of Palestinians flocking to these so-called safe zones, hoping that this will be a sanctuary for them, for their families, amid these continued airstrikes.

And of course, as we have heard from US officials, we've heard from the US National Security Council spokesperson, John Kirby, saying that the US has received assurances from Israeli officials that military operations will not be ongoing during these pauses. But of course, Israel has called on citizens to move southwards, and as we have seen for the last couple of weeks, Brianna, those airstrikes have continued in central and southern Gaza. They have edged closer and closer towards civilian areas, from refugee camps to U.N.-run schools to hospital facilities. [14:05:09]

And the concern here is that, while these pauses are, of course, being questioned and debated about, while this is beginning to look like more of a formal expression of a pause, not necessarily a cease-fire, but a localized pause, as we have heard from that senior Israeli official, the concern is that we could still see civilians attempting to flee into southern Gaza, but, of course, still facing airstrikes and, of course, military activity on the ground.

And, of course, as we know, we are seeing aid getting into Gaza, but it is a small amount of aid. It certainly isn't as much as is needed. We have heard from U.N. officials telling us that some 1.5 million Palestinians inside Gaza are now displaced. That is a huge concern. And, of course, as we are hearing more people fleeing south, that number is only growing, but so is the death toll, more than 10,000 people killed, including more than 4,000 children, more than 25,000 Palestinians inside Gaza have been injured.

And the humanitarian situation is deteriorating by the hour. So, while these 4-hour pauses may provide some respite, there is certainly a lot more to be done. Brianna.

KEILAR: Yeah, you see all of these children and all of these women using this evacuation route. It is clearly very needed, as they look for safety, if they can find that, moving away from the north. Nada Bashir, live for us in Jerusalem, thank you. I want to bring in CNN national security reporter Natasha Bertrand now. She has some new reporting about the U.S. being targeted in with additional attacks since U.S. forces struck a weapons warehouse, a weapons storage warehouse, an Iranian one in Syria. What can you tell us about this, Natasha?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yeah, Brianna, so since last night, when the U.S. conducted an airstrike on this ammunitions and weapons facility in eastern Syria, an additional 4 attacks have been launched against U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq. Now, we are told that those resulted in 3 minor injuries and all of the U.S. troops who were injured have since returned to duty. But what this really emphasizes is the question of whether the airstrikes against these Iran-backed groups and these Iranian targets inside Syria are actually working, because the attacks have continued.

The U.S. conducted these airstrikes yesterday for the second time in 2 weeks against these Iran-backed targets. -- And the attacks against the U.S. coalition-- U.S and coalition bases in Iraq and Syria have continued. And so, the question for the Pentagon that they have gotten repeatedly over the last several days is, is this a sustainable approach for the U.S. to continue these retaliatory strikes if these Iran-backed groups are going to continue attacking regardless? It clearly seems like they are not deterred.

But the U.S. saying that they do believe that these limited self- defense strikes against these Iran-backed groups are having the desired effect in terms of keeping the conflict at bay. They say that the strikes that they are launching against these U.S. forces are very small. They are conducted with drones and rockets, not resulting in a lot of damage or many casualties. And so their approach right now is just to continue to put military hardware, put troops in the region, create that deterrent effect, and hope that this really does not continue to escalate any further, Brianna. But, obviously, questions will be raised as these attacks continue as they have.

KEILAR: Yeah, and if they can deter them appropriately. Natasha, thank you for that report live from the Pentagon. Boris.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Let's dig deeper now with General Wesley Clark. He's a CNN military analyst and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander. General Clark, thank you so much for sharing part of your afternoon with us. Israel had already been conducting pauses in its military operations over the last several days. Walk us through your thinking about why this has become a formalized process that was announced by John Kirby from the White House. What kind of impact do you think also that will have on the battlefield?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it's clearly a response to pressure, but it's also common sense. The Israeli forces are in there. They've established themselves in the battlefield. They'd like to get the civilians out of the way. This has been their objective from the beginning, is to persuade the civilians to leave. And so now -- they're dealing with both issues successfully. They're opening a humanitarian corridor. They're going to expand it so it's specific parts of northern Gaza for a period of time each day that aren't struck.

But they're collecting intelligence. Obviously, they have the right to self-defense during this period, and they'll continue military operations elsewhere. So, it's a slight movement in the direction of President Biden and world opinion, but it also makes military sense.


SANCHEZ: General, as far as the meetings happening in Qatar to try and secure the release of hostages held by Hamas, how fruitful do you think that they could wind up being? There's talk of potentially a multi-day ceasefire in exchange for some 10 to 20 hostages.

CLARK: You know, it's hard to speculate on this, Boris. I think that if we got 10 to 20 hostages out, that's obviously a really good thing. That's top of the U.S. priority, especially if they're the U.S. Americans that are held. On the other hand, it is a bargaining tactic, a strategy by Hamas to drag this out, to seek a ceasefire so that they can re-strengthen, re-improve their positions inside Hamas and hang on longer and prolong the crisis.

So, it cuts both ways. It's hard to predict at this point, but I suspect that the Israelis will continue to grind forward this military offensive. They consider Hamas an existential threat to Israel, and they're going to continue to push against it.

SANCHEZ: General, I do want to ask about the U.S. strike hitting an Iranian weapons storage facility in Syria. There have been 4 more attacks on U.S. forces in that country. How significant is that? It seems like every day, with more escalation, it's more possible that the U.S. can get sucked into a broader conflict.

CLARK: Well, there's a lot of posturing in the region by Islamic forces, and the United States forces are a target. So, the fact that we're striking back is, from my view, an important part of deterrence. My personal view would be that we need to make sure we maintain escalation dominance in this. So, if they strike us, we strike back harder. There's no question that the United States has the preponderance of power, the ability to strike, to take out these forces.

I understand we don't want to escalate, but on the other hand, we don't want them to escalate and end up with serious casualties among our own forces. So, we have to apply enough force now to dissuade this posturing and get it stopped.

SANCHEZ: It is a delicate balance. General Wesley Clark, thank you again for the time, sir.

CLARK: Thank you, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course. And still to come this hour, 5 Republican presidential candidates faced off in a raucous debate. Did anyone move the needle? Can they actually stand against Trump and win? Plus, as the New York Attorney General's office rests its civil case against the former president, his sons and their company, there's new insight into what their defense will look like. And an ongoing manhunt in New Jersey. Law enforcement there searching for a man wanted for his role in the January 6th attack on the Capitol. You're watching CNN News Central. We'll be right back.



KEILAR: Right, it is deja vu all over again for President Biden facing some serious polling woes, which Biden brushed aside earlier today. The president in Illinois, live pictures here as we're watching him. He is there meeting with union workers and he's pitching his economic agenda, donning a UAW t-shirt, as you can see. It's a playbook that he's leaned on several times. Is it going to be enough to give Biden's re-election campaign a jolt? CNN's Arlette Saenz is at the White House tracking this for us. Arlette, he is there at a reopened plant. What did we hear? What are we hearing from the president?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Brianna, President Biden's speech is still ongoing as he is speaking at this plant in Belvedere, Illinois, a plant that will now reopen after that contract -- tentative contract had been reached between the UAW and Stellantis. This is all part of President Biden's push to highlight the impact of unions in this country. That's something you've often heard him talk about on the campaign trail in 2020. And also, as president, as he's tried to stress that the unions have built the middle class here.

He has argued for the ability to -- for union members to be able to negotiate higher wages, better terms in their contracts. And this is something that the president had really leaned into over the course of the past few months when UAW initiated that strike with those big 3 automakers. President Biden even heading to a picket line in the state of Michigan to rally and support with these union workers. But all of this is part of the president's push to try to convince Americans that -- the U.S. economy is doing well and that the president's policies are paying off for them.

Of course, that is a tall order. It is a deep, steep challenge for President Biden at a time when Americans' views about the economy still remain sour and Americans' views about the president's handling of his job as president have also been low. A recent CNN poll had found that only 19 percent of registered voters in this country believed that the economy was either excellent or good. Actually, that was a New York Times poll that had been released earlier in the week.

But then also the issue of the economy, about 66 percent of voters say that it will be a top issue for them heading into next year's election. So, the president is trying to convince American voters at this time when the mood remains sour that the U.S. economy is doing well for them. Of course, another aspect of the president's trip here is that UAW endorsement. That is something that the UAW has withheld so far for President Biden, even as a lot of major labor groups have given an endorsement to him. The UAW has not signalled that they are any closer to making a decision on that front.

But that is certainly something President Biden will want to earn as well. Now, in addition to the president making this economic pitch when he's in Illinois, at the very beginning of his remarks, he was also confronted by a -- protester there yelling about issuing a calling for ceasefires in Gaza. It really highlights the passion that there is on that topic, something that the president has been dealing with since the beginning of this conflict between Israel and Hamas. He was just at a fundraiser last week where another protester had also interrupted him.

So, these are sentiments that he is hearing out there on the road, as he's not just trying to make this economic pitch to voters, but also balancing trying to handle this conflict between Israel and Hamas and dealing with the impact, the public viewing of his handling of it at this moment.


KEILAR: All right, Arlette, thank you for that report from the White House. Boris.

SANCHEZ: Let's discuss all the day's political threads with a pair of CNN political commentators. They are the co-hosts of Hot Mics from left to right, Alice Stewart and Maria Cardona joining us now. Thank you both for being with us.


SANCHEZ: Maria, we've been here before, President Biden giving a speech touting a positive economic development, but that economic message that the White House has been delivering, it doesn't seem to be gaining traction with voters as far as the polls have shown so far.

CARDONA: Well, luckily, we're a year out and there's a lot of time to make the case. And what we've seen actually in focus groups, Boris, all across the country is that when you do a deep dive into Biden's agenda, the pieces of the economic agenda are incredibly popular. The $35 insulin cap, for example, the negotiating subscription drugs down with Medicare. And yes, the focusing on making sure that working- class, middle-class families are the focus of his priorities, building that economic middle class from the bottom up and the middle out, as opposed to the top down, which is what Republicans always love to do.

And so, there is time to do that. We saw in the past elections that the Democratic agenda writ large is incredibly popular with voters across the board and that it was a resounding, I think, failure for the MAGA extremist agenda on Tuesday night. And that contrast is also going to be key going into 2024.


ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATORS AND HOST OF HOT MICS: Well, with all due respect to my dear friend, Maria, it's not about making the case on the economy and this is not a communications message. And as hard as you're going to try for the next year to say that the economy is good, it's not. And people feel that. The president can sit there and say wages are up, wages are down. He can say that the Bidenomics is working. People are not buying that. And you can go out there and put a bow on it and try to sell it.

The perception by the people of this country on how they are economically and financially is way down. And it's all attributed to Biden and his policies on the economy. And you can say whatever you want, but it's the perception meets reality. And that's not how people are feeling. And we're seeing that reflected in the poll numbers. We talked about it being deja vu all over again with bad poll numbers. This is groundhog day after groundhog day of President Biden, not only in a head-to-head matchup with Trump, going from him leading to a head-to-head matchup. Now we have in our latest CNN polls, Donald Trump beating Joe Biden based in large part on his handling of the economy.

SANCHEZ: In key states, there are polls and then there's what happened on Tuesday night. That's right. And it was a disappointing night. Excuse me. It was a disappointing night for Republicans. Partly, I would say even largely on the issue of abortion. I do want to play a clip for you both from last night. The Republican debate seems to be some disagreement among the 5 Republicans on the stage about how to move forward on that issue with voters. Let's listen.


NIKKI HALEY, PRESIDENTAL CANDIDATE (R): When we're looking at this, there are some states that are going more on the pro-life side. I welcome that. There are some states that are going more on the pro- choice side. I wish that wasn't the case, but the people decided.

SEN. TIM SCOTT, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (R): We need a 15-week federal limit. Three out of four Americans agree with a 15-week limit.

GOV. RON DESANTIS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You got to do a better job on these referenda. I think of all the stuff that's happened to the pro-life cause, they have been caught flat-footed on these referenda and they have been losing.


SANCHEZ: Three different approaches there. Nikki Haley, leave it up to the states. Tim Scott, a federal ban or limit. And Ron DeSantis going after lets say -- a pro anti-abortion access groups. Got to get the wording right. Anti-abortion access groups. Alice, how does the party fix that going into 2024?

STEWART: Look, all of those people on that stage have fought vigorously for the life issue and protecting the sanctity of life and quite frankly for overturning Roe v. Wade. Now we're at a situation where we have fought to take this out of the hands of unelected justices and put it in the hands of the states. And we're seeing what's happening. Every time this issue is in front of the states, people are voting to protect the right or the issue of having an abortion, women's reproductive rights.

So now there needs to be a new political calculation from those in the pro-life community. And I think Nikki Haley has hit the sweet spot. We need to stop demonizing each side. We need to stop saying, your poor choice, that's bad. I'm pro-life, that's good. We need to stop the judging and we need to recognize, look, this is in the hands of the-- of the states. Let the people decide. And I think there should be reasonable limits.

We need to agree, is a 15 week limit reasonable and rational? Maybe and maybe not, but we need to have those conversations. At least she is being honest with people in terms of, we have to pass 60 votes in the Senate for something to happen. Let's be honest with the American people on how we can not only protect life, but also take into account there are people that want to protect reproductive rights.

SANCHEZ: Maria, go ahead.

CARDONA: If they want to be honest with the American people, what they would say is the American people are pissed off at a party that wants to take away the freedoms and the rights of women to do what they believe is best for themselves, their families, when and if to have a child.


Until Republicans understand that that is an unalienable right for women and for families in this country, they're going to continue to lose elections. So, you know what? Bring it on.

SANCHEZ: It does appear to be a winning template for Democrats, but going back to what we were discussing before, Joe Biden's sort of slagging behind in polling. How much of Tuesday night has to do with that template and how much of it has to do with where the country is? Could Joe Biden potentially be holding Democrats back if they're having so much success?

CARDONA: I think that in terms of Tuesday night, what Democrats did in all of the places where they won elections was exactly right, and that is the contrast between the Democratic agenda of giving people more freedoms, more liberties, not less, of making sure that they were given families the freedom to make the choices that they believed were right, in contrast with Republicans who were following an extremist MAGA agenda that was trying to tell women what to do, trying to take away liberties.

And that is a template, Boris, that I think really works across the board, because if you look at what DeSantis and so many other Republicans are trying to do in their states, it is exactly that, taking away freedoms, making it harder for communities to thrive in this country, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, Latinos, African- Americans. And yes, the poll numbers are not where we want them to be, but I actually think that's a good thing for Democrats to believe, and I've always said this, even if you showed me a poll where Biden was 20 points ahead, I would say let's run like we're 20 points behind, because that's the only way we win. And that contrast is what's going to, I think, bring him the -- winning day in 2024.

SANCHEZ: Alice, to you, the elephant not in the room last night on the debate stage was Donald Trump. Some of his surrogates essentially saying that he's got this in the bag, that Carlos Gimenez, the representative from South Florida, arguing that these were just auditions for cabinet positions. Does Donald Trump have it in the bag? Is there any chance for the folks we saw last night?

STEWART: If the election were held tomorrow, absolutely. I mean, he is by far way ahead of the entire pack all put together. But we still have about 65 days until the Iowa caucus. That's time for them to, I think, time to consolidate behind one Trump alternative and bring the party together in unity, not just to take out Trump, but in unity to take out Biden and his policies that have led us into two proxy wars and hurt the economy.

That's what the Republican Party needs to do. We will see what happens with Trump in court. It appears to solidify his base. But I think there is still time and runway for the party to unify behind someone that is better suited in a general election than Donald Trump.

SANCHEZ: We'll see if the polls shift after this debate and another one--


CARDONA: Doesn't seem like it.

SANCHEZ: -- in December. We'll keep an eye on it. Maria, Alice, thank you both so much.

CARDONA: Thank you, Boris.

STEWART: Thanks Boris. SANCHEZ: Of course. Still to come, Donald Trump's legal team set to

begin their defense next week. What their strategy might look like. We'll take you live outside the courthouse in Manhattan. And just into CNN, federal law enforcement investigating reports of suspicious letters sent to election offices. Some of those letters may have been laced with a deadly substance. We'll explain what it is when we come back.