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Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) is Interviewed about Ukraine Aid; Hunter Biden Willing to Testify; Workers Being Rescued in India; U.S. Flying Aid to Egypt; New Video of Warfare in Ukraine. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired November 28, 2023 - 09:30   ET



SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: As early as next week.

Joining me now is Democratic senator from Oregon, Jeff Merkley. He is also a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Thank you so much for joining us this morning. It's been a busy time as people are watching to see what happens with the CR.

I do want to first ask you about what is happening with the passage or the non-passage of funding that would fund our government but also give funding to Ukraine and to Israel. You've got a couple of things, border security has been thrown in there by the Republicans. The speaker of the House is also insisting on cutting the IRS budget in order to give aid to Israel and Ukraine.

What's going to happen here? I mean how close are you? Are there any steps that have gone further to try and pass a budget?

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): Well, this emergency supplemental really is focused on security. So, you have aid to Ukraine. You have aid to Israel. You have discussion over border policy, which is the point and the challenge that Senator Schumer is referring to. You have international humanitarian aid and assistance in the Indo-Pacific. So, it's a fairly substantial package altogether.

There is such a sense that this support for Ukraine has to get passed. And we know it's going to be in partnership with some of these other elements. But the biggest obstacle to it is insistence on policy changes, which we haven't even seen the list. Just new ideas, I understand, we introduced last night on what thoughts the Republicans have over those policies. A lot of support for more security on the southern border but trying to do far-right policy will doom this package.

SIDNER: Will there be any extra funding for the border? If you can -- if they can get that in and say yes to Ukraine, yes to Israel, to funding those both, would you stand by that?

MERKLEY: So, there is, in the proposal from the president, some $14 billion for security on the border. You know there's a lot of sense that there's things that both sides agree on. For example, the waiting time for asylum hearings is way too long. It's often years. It should be six months, not years. That means adding a lot more asylum courts. There's a lot of support for family case management, because we know that 99 percent of folks show up for their hearings as long as they have a case manager. So, we need a lot more case managers. We know that there's a lot more support for the actual numbers of individuals providing security on the border and so there's a lot of places that we can connect together, but if it's far right immigration policy, such as no one will ever be allowed to enter the U.S. under asylum or things of this nature, that's just simply not going to pass.

SIDNER: All right, I want to turn to Israel now. As you know, there is a cease-fire, although we are getting new information that there has been a violation. Both sides blaming each other. We don't know where the hostage situation stands at this hour. So far it is still in place. Expecting ten more people to be taken out of Gaza and given back to their families in Israel.

You were the second senator to ask for a cease-fire just -- I think over a week ago, saying, and I'm quoting you here, that "Israel is making a massive mistake by waging a war that generates a shocking level of civilian carnage rather than a targeted campaign against Hamas." Those were your words. Now there's this temporary cease-fire in exchange for hostages. Does this satisfy your demand for a cease- fire, or do you want something that's more permanent and lasting?

MERKLEY: Well, I think the hope of many of us that this will evolve into a permanent cease-fire as the two sides are working together over hostages, but it does provide a significant break for Israel to rethink its strategy. The generals last night heard from -- from many of us, basically pointing out that this level of carnage, of dropping these 2,000-pound bombs on residential buildings, we know that Hamas leadership is not in those buildings, Hamas fighters are in the tunnels, so who was killed in those collapsing buildings? It was women and children, noncombatants.

We now have some 50 percent of the buildings in northern Gaza have been flattened. We have also some 80 percent of the families displaced. It's hard to envision that type of level of rubble and destruction. And all of this is separate from a conversation, or what's tied to a conversation about, how do we break this cycle of hate and violence? And that means there has to be two states for two peoples, a Palestinian state as well as an Israeli state. And that conversation brings us into issues like ending the settlements and the checkpoints, the expansion, the de facto takeover of the West Bank, ensuring the right of return in Gaza, that northern Gaza is not going to be permanently depopulated with everyone crammed into a small space in the south.


So, there's big issues, humanitarian issues, but also tied to a future of peace and security that need to be discussed with America as a key ally of Israel, in partnership, holding some very difficult conversations over the future.

SIDNER: Yes. I mean the conversations that have gone on for decades now over a two-state solution have been extremely difficult. And no one has been able to get there just yet. So, plenty to do.

Senator Jeff Merkley, thank you so much for coming on today. Appreciate your time.

MERKLEY: Thank you, Sara.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And this just into CNN, Hunter Biden is willing to testify before lawmakers with something of a catch, only if he can testify in public.

Let's get over to CNN's Katelyn Polantz. She has this new reporting for us just in.

Katelyn, this is coming from Hunter Biden's legal team. What does this mean then?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, let the negotiations begin. There was a subpoena earlier this month from the House Oversight Committee, led by Republican James Comer, to Hunter Biden, as well as to many other people, where the House Republicans are wanting to pry into the business transactions around the Biden family, specifically the president's son, Hunter Biden, who has many business transactions, and also foreign business connections. They've wanted to build steam in an impeachment inquiry of the sitting president, Joe Biden. They haven't gotten very much off the ground with that as far as facts and evidence goes. And there's even Republicans in the caucus that are doubting it.

But that subpoena for Hunter Biden is on the table. And Congress has a lot of authority to call Hunter Biden in to testify before them whenever they have an inquiry like this. So, Hunter Biden's lawyers are responding now and saying, yes, he is willing to come and testify before your committee, but he's not going to do it behind closed doors. He will do it publicly if you want. We're willing to do it on December 15th -- or, I'm sorry, December 13th, the date that was on that subpoena, but we're going to have to see if that's exactly what happens here, if there's additional negotiations about when this testimony would take place, if it would be in a different plan than publicly, as Hunter Biden's team wants it to be done.


BOLDUAN: Great reporting, as always, Katelyn. Thank you very much.

Coming up still for us, flying in the aid. The U.S. military is preparing to send plane loads full of humanitarian supplies to Egypt for Gaza. The first of three planes set to arrive today.



After more than two weeks underground, 41 workers trapped inside a collapsed tunnel in India are finally being brought to safety. We are looking at those pictures now. Crews were able to feed a pipe through the debris, sending food, water, and air to the trapped workers. CNN's Vedika Sud is joining us now.

We're hearing that several people are out. We are seeing some of the emergency vehicles and that huge tunnel that collapsed way back and near the Himalayan Mountains. Can you -- what can you tell us about who was able to get out or how that happened?

VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER: So, what we know for now, Sara, is that at least four of those migrant laborers who were trapped inside for 17 days since the 12th of November have been pulled out of this tunnel that partially collapsed after a landslide hit the area about 17 days back. What you're seeing is a lot of activity, a flurry of activity on the ground right now because they're trying to extract all the workers. There are 41 of them. We were told earlier in the day through a press conference by officials on the ground, and those monitoring the situation on the ground, that it would take about five minutes, three to five minutes to pull every laborer out of this tunnel because what they've done is they've used a pipe. The pipe is about two and a half feet in width and it's about 15 meters long. And through that pipe these rescue teams have gone in using ropes, using stretchers. What they're trying to do is mount these laborers very gently on the stretcher, which is then again mounted on a trolley and they're pulling them out. It's like a pulley system that we're aware of with ropes. And that's how they're gently pulling all of these men out one by one.

So, for every laborer that they're pulling out, Sara, it's going to take about three to five minutes, which means that this process could last about two and a half hours even as I speak with you.

But this is a big breakthrough, Sara. We were expecting it today. It has been something that we were expecting in the last four hours. And now that breakthrough has finally happened.

You can see ambulances lined up. There are dozens of them. The people, cheering. You can see the relief on the faces of these rescue teams who have been working constantly for the last 17 days, hoping to bring these men home. It is going to be daylight for them. The first daylight for them tomorrow morning, local time, after 17 days of being trapped inside this tunnel. Like you pointed out, food, oxygen, medicines have been going through pipelines to them for the last 17 days. That's what they survived on.

But now these ambulances are whisking them away because now is when they're going to be thoroughly checked for any physical and mental conditions that they might have suffered. The trauma that they've gone through in the last 17 days.

There have been so many assurances that they were giving in the last two weeks or more that they will be pulled out sooner than later, but those big drilling machines, Sara, they failed to bring them out. They broke down over and over again. Today, the last two meters perhaps of the stretch that they had to drill through took about four hours or more.

[09:45:02] But that will be officially confirmed by officials in moments from now we're hoping. But the last two meters of that huge pipe going in took about four hours. And now you're seeing these men being pulled out one by one, which is a huge, huge relief for the rescue teams and the families on the ground, Sara.

SIDNER: It's really incredible, all of the work that has to be done in that small space that they are pulling people through. Thank goodness they have been able to get to them. And we are looking at the pictures, these are live, of the ambulances backing up to the tunnel, hopefully to see more people coming out.

Vedika Sud, thank you so much for that report. It is always nice when you get a little bit of good news in the morning. Thank you. Appreciate it.

And we will be right back.



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Kaitlan Collins in Tel Aviv.

Right now three planeloads of critically needed aid that are destined for Gaza are being flown into Egypt by the U.S. military. This is aid that will include medical supplies, food, winter gear, as Gaza is entering its rainy season. And you've seen so many people displaced from their homes because of this war. The U.S. is stressing, this is not part of the ongoing truce agreement. Something happening outside of that.

But during this pause, officials say that some 800 trucks of aid have entered Gaza. The United Nations says that is only a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed by the millions of people there. Obviously, a million people have been displaced since October 7th.

CNN's Larry Madowo is in Ciro tracking all of this.

Larry, what do we know about the status of the aid that's arriving today and how quickly it can actually get into the hands of these people who were in Gaza and need it so badly?

LARRY MADOWO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kaitlan, we know that the first of these three planeloads from the U.S. arrives in north Sinai in Egypt today. And the other expected soon enough. And then this is not part of the current pause in fighting and the current arrangement to bring in 200 trucks every day. This will keep going on. The U.S. is stressing that, because it's so important.

Picture this, more than 1.7 million people are displaced. This small strip of land that is Gaza. There's no food. There's no water. There's no sewage (ph) infrastructure. No electricity. They don't have a health care system to think of. So, every bit of aid helps. And even that's an understatement. This is why this aid is coming in, the food, the medical supplies, the winter weather gear.

When the rainy season comes, that often leads to some flooding. People get displaced. That's on top of a situation where so many people's homes have turned into rubble. They have nothing except the clothes on their back. This -- this new planeload of -- three planeloads of aid follows President Biden's statement on Monday. I want to read a bit of that for you. "The United States has led the humanitarian response into Gaza, building on years of work as the largest funder of humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people. We are taking full advantage of the pause in fighting to increase the amount of humanitarian aid moving into Gaza, and we will continue our efforts to build a future of peace and dignity for the Palestinian people."

But U.S. officials say here that aid is not enough. Whatever amount of aid will still not be enough. The next phase is bringing commercial goods back into Gaza so people can have a sense of a market and normalcy. And that's still not something that's been unlocked here. They're discussing with Israeli officials to try and see how that can be unlocked next, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes, and that is aid that is obviously needed. We know U.S. officials are negotiating to have that aid continue to go into Gaza, even if Israel resumes its military operation. We'll see if that happens.

Larry Madowo in Cairo, thank you for that report. And we will be back in just a moment with more of our special coverage from here on the ground in Tel Aviv.



BOLDUAN: Although much of the focus has been on the war in Gaza, and rightfully so, CNN has obtained never before seen footage from the fighting in Ukraine.

CNN's Anna Coren shares this terrifying perspective of a Ukrainian soldier in the trenches.


ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In the pre-dawn light, a cacophony of military firepower fills the air. Incoming explosions, outgoing fire. As one of Ukraine's assault infantry units of the 47th Mechanized Brigade tries to take back trenches in Abdivka (ph), captured by Russian forces.

We need drones. We need drones, says Company Commander Oleh Sentsov, filming on his GoPro. The bastards are sitting in the tree line shooting at us, he explains.

In a rare interview, the former filmmaker, imprisoned by the Russians in 2014 for five years, tells me about last month's mission in what has become one of the hottest spots on the eastern front. OLEH SENTSOV, COMPANY COMMANDER, 47TH MECHANIZED BRIGADE (through

translator): My goal was for people to watch this and know what this war is really like, because it's very important to record it so that people know now and know later what a cruel and terrible war it is.

COREN (voice over): One of his troops has been hit. They remove his body armor to reveal a bullet hole. As they apply a chest seal (ph), the team has even bigger problems on their hands.

Duck, the tank is coming, yells one of them. And then the war from the sky begins.

Drone, drone, FPV, cries a soldier.

I see it, another shouts back.

Minutes later, another soldier is hit. This time shrapnel to the legs.

While talking on the radio, reporting on his injured troops, Oleh also gets hit, but doesn't realize for a few moments.

There's a small hole. I see the blood. You're bleeding, says the female paramedic.

Quickly patched up, Oleh remains focused and composed until suddenly they hear the rumble of tanks.

Oleh's unit tries to bury themselves in the earth as one drives by. The female paramedic cries, we are surrounded. The tanks are shooting on us.

Approximately 40 tons of terror so close, the earth is shaking.

Drone footage taken by the Ukrainian military shows four Russian tanks firing on the tree line. Positioned in those trees are three Ukrainian assault groups in trenches spread out over a kilometer. Oleh's unit is in the middle. They were the only ones to be spared.

SENTSOV (through translator): We failed to hold our position and had to retreat.