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Interview With Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett; Will Congress Expel George Santos?. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired November 30, 2023 - 13:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Allies facing a critical diplomatic test, America's top diplomat pushing to extend the pause in Israel's war with Hamas. But with hours to go before the truce ends, how long will Israel agree to hold off? And will they listen to pleas from the U.S. to take a more targeted approach?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: An historic day in the House, the lawmakers set to debate whether to expel George Santos, the embattled congressman refusing to resign after being hit with 23 federal charges and a damning Ethics report accusing him of misusing campaign funds.

And it's the report Coast Guard leaders concealed from the public for nearly 10 years. CNN just obtained the study exposing racism, hazing, discrimination and sexual abuse assault across the agency.

We are following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

Here in just over an hour, the House is set to debate on an expulsion resolution for Republican Congressman George Santos. The New York freshman, crying fowl today ahead of tomorrow's vote that could make him just the sixth House member in history to get booted from the House.

Santos ripping his colleagues at a morning news conference, saying that they are guilty of double standards and that he's being bullied in the wake of that scathing House Ethics Committee report. It says Santos spent thousands of dollars on things like Botox, personal vacations, paying off personal credit cards and luxury goods.

CNN's Lauren Fox live for us on Capitol Hill here.

Lauren, this, of course, would be a rare vote, a historic vote. What can we be expecting to come out of this?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we expect that the House is going to begin debate around 2:30 this afternoon. We expect that a vote on whether or not to expel George Santos will happen tomorrow.

And, obviously, there are still a lot of questions about whether or not the votes are going to be there to take this action. You heard yesterday from House Speaker Mike Johnson that he had some reservations about moving forward with expelling a member of Congress who had not been convicted of a crime.

That is a concern that you are hearing from other members as well, including Jim Jordan, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, their words, their views, of course, weighing heavily into how members are looking at tomorrow's vote.

I would note that George Santos this morning spoke to reporters and his strategy was really to deflect and to distract from the allegations that were raised in that House Ethics report. In fact, he was asked if any of those allegations were true. He said he was not going to go line by line and go through the report.

He said at some point in the future he would be willing to do that, but obviously not answering the underlying question of whether or not he misused campaign funds, one of the core allegations that were alleged against him in that report.

So he also said that he didn't participate fully in the Ethics Committee probe, but that he did participate to some extent. When I pressed him on why he didn't sit down for an interview, something that the House Ethics Committee had requested from him, obviously, the press conference this morning made clear he is defiant.

He is not planning to step aside, but, obviously, pressure mounting as that vote is expected tomorrow on whether or not to expel George Santos.

KEILAR: Yes, so much pressure.

Lauren Fox, live for us on the Hill, thank you for that -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: So, if Congressman Santos is expelled this week, he would be the first House member in more than 160 years to be kicked out without being convicted of a crime.


Expulsion is very rare. It's the harshest form of punishment in the chamber, and, in two centuries, only five members have been kicked out, three of them around the start of the Civil War back in 1861. John Clark, John Reid, and Henry Burnett betrayed the Union. They fought for the Confederacy and they got the boot.

Notably, only two House members have been expelled since then. In 1980, Pennsylvania Democrat Michael Myers got caught by the FBI taking a $50,000 bribe. And, in 2002, Jim Traficant, a Democrat from Ohio, was convicted of 10 felonies, including bribery, fraud, tax evasion and forcing his aides to do chores on his family farm.

Now, notably, they were convicted before they were expelled. Congressman Santos has pled not guilty to 23 federal charges, including fraud and identity theft. He is set to go on trial next year, but that House committee Ethics investigation alleges that he spent tens of thousands of dollars in political donations on Botox, designer brands, the OnlyFans adult Web site, and fancy vacations, allegations that Santos has categorically denied. So what would it take for him to get kicked out? Two-thirds of the

House must vote in favor of expelling him, a figure that they haven't reached on two previous attempts to expel the congressman.

And, of course, House Speaker Mike Johnson, along with other Republicans, say they are having real reservations about supporting expulsion, likely because of this. Republicans control the House by an ultrathin margin, 222 Republican seats, only nine more than Democrats at 213. That is the narrowest balance of power the House has seen in some 90 years.

And even with things like electing a new speaker, we know, Brianna, every single vote counts.

KEILAR: Yes, it certainly does, especially when it's that close.

All right, for more on all of this, we're joined now by CNN anchor and chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju, former Republican Congresswoman from Virginia Barbara Comstock, and CNN presidential historian Tim Naftali.

Manu, as Republicans are deciding whether to vote Santos out, and you have the speaker telling them to vote their conscience, what are they weighing here?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a lot of them are divided. Some of them simply are waiting to decide until it comes time to vote whether they will -- where they will ultimately come down.

Some of them are concerned about the precedent that this would set, since, as Boris noted there, this would be the first time ever someone has been kicked out of the House without facing a conviction or without being a member of the Confederacy, and also frankly the sheer politics of this.

With him getting kicked out of the House, this would narrow the Republican majority, already very razor-thin majority, in a district Joe Biden carried. That means that Democrats could pick up that seat, and something that Republicans are frankly concerned about.

I talked to, though, the New York Republicans who are also freshmen, the ones who are pushing them out. I asked them this morning about the fact that Speaker Johnson has reservations about this. They still said it is time for Republicans to kick him out of the House, regardless of the political consequences.


REP. BRANDON WILLIAMS (R-NY): We don't know who he is at all. He is a dedicated, committed con man who is in the halls of Congress and access to government secrets, to a lot of things that could be damaging to this country. He has to go.

REP. MARCUS MOLINARO (R-NY): George Santos is doing whatever con man and 4-year-old does, which is to ignore the truth, take no responsibility, and point at others and suggest they're worse.

There was a bipartisan, comprehensive Ethics report. That is his due process. It is concluded. It is comprehensive. And it proves that he's a con man, a fraud and a criminal. And he shouldn't be a member of Congress.


RAJU: Now, George Santos is actually speaking to reporters right now off camera. One of our colleagues who is speaking with them, Haley Talbot, says that -- he says that -- Santos just said that he spoke with Speaker Johnson over Thanksgiving.

He made it clear to Mike Johnson how upset he was about the process. He told them that he is not resigning. Mike Johnson apparently said to him: "Are you sure you want an asterisk next to your name?" But he said that no member of the Republican leadership has pressured him to resign up until this point.

KEILAR: That is what pressure looks like, though.


KEILAR: So, maybe he just doesn't understand that. That's possible.


Tim, over to you. We just kind of went through the history of expulsion in the House. He would become the sixth member of the House to be kicked out of the body. Put this into context for us. How significant is this historically?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, this would be very significant.

The -- first of all, this would be the first time a Republican member of the House had ever been kicked out. And this would be the first time that a majority would kick out a member of that majority without basically being forced by the judicial system to do it.


And given the period we're in right now, where lots of people seem driven by situational ethics, where honor and shame don't seem to be attached to many of the participants in Congress, it would be very healthy, one could argue, if Santos were actually sent packing by his fellow members, fellow party members, without needing to go to a court to be -- for the fact that he's a con man to be proven.

KEILAR: And, Congresswoman, when you look at the speaker's decision on this, how much of his hesitation to support expulsion is actually about setting a precedent, as he says, or do you think it's more about keeping that thin majority?

FMR. REP. BARBARA COMSTOCK (R-VA): I think the concern really is more about that thin majority, because this report was done bipartisanly. You have a Republican chairman of the Ethics Committee. It's very detailed.

And most of the members are very familiar with campaign finance and what you can spend your money on and what you can't use it for. And so when they read that report, they understand how flagrant this was. His own staff are people who have now testified or pled guilty in the judicial system already, so people are familiar with that.

And, really, he's been given a lot of opportunities to resign. And as has been pointed out, usually, shame would have already driven somebody from office at this point and somebody would have already resigned at this point.

So I think the New York delegation, the people who are closest to this, the New York Republicans, all these freshman members, this has been very painful for them, the ones leading the charge, regardless of how close this majority is. And I do think they are -- I certainly hope they will get that large number of Republicans.

I heard it was somewhere near 90 or so, and I hope for their sake, because they're the ones who are going to pay the price if George Santos isn't gone.

SANCHEZ: Yes, notably, many of them coming from districts that Joe Biden won in 2020, flipping those seats.

Manu, when it comes to the politics of this, how does this impact the Republican agenda?

RAJU: Well, look, if they lose a seat here, that's going to be significant, because, right now, under the current divide in the House, Mike Johnson could lose four Republican votes on any party-line vote and get his bills through.

George Santos, if he's kicked out, that goes down to three. And each vote is incredibly significant.Especially at the time we're seeing how difficult it is to usher through an agenda along party lines, that one vote could be hugely significant, which is why a lot of people do not think that this expulsion resolution will pass tomorrow, because of the sheer political concerns.

But I should note, we still don't have a clear sense about whether the two-thirds majority will be reached, because a lot of members are not saying what they will do. I talked to many this morning, who simply said, I'm still weighing it, I'm thinking about it, I'm trying to make a decision here.

And the Republican leadership has said they are not whipping it. That means they're not telling their members to vote one way or the other. Even though the Republican leaders are expected to oppose it tomorrow, we don't know how the other rank-and-file members will come down, which is why it leaves a lot of uncertainty in this hugely significant, unprecedented vote tomorrow.

KEILAR: I will say, Tim, there's something about this whole Santos drama that feels very of the moment, I think the hoax of it or the fact that all of these details are very verifiable, and it was sort of only a matter of time before he got caught with it.

When you look back on this, how do you think history is going to remember this moment as part of the current state of American politics?

NAFTALI: You mean the fact that it's a little like "The Talented Mr. Ripley"?

Well, I mean, it's interesting that -- one reason I believe why you're not seeing a whipping for votes is that Donald Trump has not supported Santos. And I don't think the Republican base really much cares what happens to Santos.

So, in many ways, this is a freer vote than many Republicans have faced in the last couple of years. I think historians, future historians, will talk about our social media era and the creation of identities, the role that created identities played in the 2016 campaign, and the extent to which our politics have changed, because you can run a campaign without actually existing.


I don't mean you're not alive, but the person you present to the American people is actually not you. So, it's an example of political catfishing. That's what it was and is.


Congresswoman, I'm wondering, do you think that if this third attempt at expelling him fails, it'll be a stain on your party?

COMSTOCK: Well, I think it is.

And that's why -- I mean, kudos to Mike Lawler and those New York Republicans that are staying at this, and they deserve to get this vote and to have it succeed, because, in New York, these -- George Santos' constituents deserve a real Congress person who is doing work for them, who's sitting on committees and getting things done.

I mean, this is not a member who is doing anything at this point, other than collecting a federal paycheck, which he doesn't deserve. And the clear evidence is already there. And any other, I think, member at this point would have left at this point.

And, clearly, if they had 20 more Republican members, they would -- they would already have gotten rid of him. So, I think, regardless of the numbers, other people are leaving. Kevin McCarthy might leave. Bill Johnson is taking a position -- Congressman Bill Johnson from Ohio was taking a position to leave and be a university president.

You can't be held hostage to this one person who is out there threatening to expose members of things and make -- who knows what things he might make up in the future. They need to rid the body of this person who's really hurting good members like those New York Republicans who've been trying to get this motion through already.

SANCHEZ: Yes, so fascinating that the shaming hasn't worked. The pressure hasn't worked.

Historically, lawmakers have resigned for way less than what he's accused of doing.

KEILAR: Shameless, I suppose he is.

COMSTOCK: A lot less.

SANCHEZ: Former Congresswoman Barbara Comstock, Manu Raju, Tim Naftali, thank you all so much for being with us.

Coming up: the latest extended truce between Israel and Hamas set to expire in just a few hours, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken continues diplomatic meetings in the region. We're going to bring you the very latest from those discussions in just a few moments.

Plus: A CNN investigation found Coast Guard leaders concealed a damning report on racism, hazing and assault. What the agency is now saying in response.

And later: Inflation and spending our cooling. What that could mean for your wallet this holiday season.

We will be right back.



SANCHEZ: A short time ago, two more hostages were returned to Israel. And, in the coming hours, Hamas is expected to release another group.

It's part of the one-day extension of the now seven day truce in Gaza. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in the region trying to keep that truce going. And, earlier, he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He's also scheduled to meet with the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

But, today, there was more bloodshed. Three people were killed in a shooting at a bus station in Jerusalem. Hamas has claimed responsibility for that attack.

CNN is, of course, tracking all of this.

And we have CNN's Alex Marquardt here to break it down.

So, Alex, Secretary Blinken back in the Middle East for the third time since October 7. What are the focus of these talks for him?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, this really is a pivotal moment, Boris.

The U.S. has been pushing really since the beginning of this pause to try to get it going -- to try to get it extended as long as possible. We have had the first two-day extension. Today is a seventh day, and they're really trying to keep this going as long as possible. The U.S. would like to see as many hostages coming out. They would

like to see as much aid going in as possible, but against this backdrop of Israeli warnings that they are intending to ramp up their military operations. It's really just a question of when.

So, today, we are seeing more hostages coming out. We believe that it's going to be eight total today. Blinken in is certainly there to press the Israelis to essentially try to figure out a way to keep these hostage releases going. And -- but he knows that Israel definitely wants to get back to their military operation.

Here's a little bit of what he had to say while in Israel.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We have been focused relentlessly on trying to secure the release of hostages.

This process is producing results. It's important, and we hope that it can continue.


MARQUARDT: So, what could this military operation look like?

Well, the U.S. is very afraid, essentially, that if Israel were to start up operations again and go into the south, that it could look like what we have seen in the north. And that's just utter destruction and devastation. We have seen more than 14,000 people killed.

The vast majority of the Gazan population, around 1.8 million people, are displaced. And so the administration has been issuing warnings to the Israelis, saying, if you're going to do this, you have got to be a lot more cautious. You have to be a lot more surgical about going after Hamas.

It remains very much to be seen whether Israel is going to heed that warning.

SANCHEZ: Yes, you also have some new reporting about where truce negotiations stand and the potential for this truce to get extended. What can you tell us?

MARQUARDT: Well, it looked for a moment last night like things were falling apart.

Israel has said from the beginning, if you give us 10 people per day, we're going to keep extending this truce. And we understand that there was not one, but two different lists that Hamas presented to Israel last night that they just found unacceptable. They finally got to a stage where what we're going to see today is eight people released, which is obviously less than 10.

But that's because there were two extras who were released yesterday. So, the assumption, the hope, obviously, is that things go according to plan today, far from a done deal, and that Hamas again tonight will extend -- will offer another 10 people for tomorrow.


But there is a belief, Wolf -- excuse me, Boris -- that...


SANCHEZ: Hey, that's high praise.

MARQUARDT: ... at that point, that is when Hamas may not be able to locate any more women and children.

And then this part of the deal -- this deal will be done, essentially, and that's when Israel may start to look to start their operations again. And that could start as soon as this weekend, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Already signs that that truce potentially is weakening with these attacks by Hamas in Jerusalem.

Alex Marquardt, thanks so much. Appreciate the compliment, calling me Wolf.


SANCHEZ: I will take that -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, let's talk now with former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. He was also, by the way, part of an elite unit in the Israeli Defense Forces, and he has enlisted in the IDF Reserve.

Mr. Bennett, can you tell us what you were hearing about another extension of this pause or this truce?

NAFTALI BENNETT, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Well, this truce is -- or pause is very temporary.

Its sole goal from Israel's perspective is to get out as many hostages as we can. But one way or another, it's going to end within a few days, at max, or even tonight would -- might be the last batch. If Hamas can continue providing at a rate of 10 hostages a day, we will continue.

But I believe, over the next few days, we're going to continue, resume the attack to eliminate Hamas.

KEILAR: What about getting male hostages out?

BENNETT: Look, I'm not in the negotiation team.

I will just say that, one way or another, IDF is ready, like a spring coiled and ready to attack on the southern part and dismantle Hamas. We have to end this war without Hamas existing anymore.

KEILAR: But it sounds like, as you're talking about the timeline here, the expectation is get as many women and children hostages out, but resume the war before negotiating to get male hostages out. Is that correct?

BENNETT: I -- again, I'm not in government right now, so I can tell you what I think we're doing and what we need to be doing.

But I'm saying it's a matter of one day here or there where we're going to resume the attack.

KEILAR: As Israel is considering this -- because one day here or there before resuming attacks in Gaza obviously would not allow for getting out these male hostages.

There are so many. And, obviously, so many hostages have gotten out. But there are more hostages left. They're predominantly male. As that is considered by Israel, is this idea of what Israel would have to exchange, which would be male Palestinian prisoners and detainees, many of whom may have been convicted for extremely violent offenses, including murder, that that calculation is that that is a military disadvantage so great that it doesn't make sense to do that right now?

BENNETT: Yes, that's what's unbalanced.

What I would say is the following. The reason Hamas came to the table now to begin with is because of the war and our attacks on Hamas on the northern part of Gaza. We put them under enough pressure, and the IDF successfully operated for a few weeks, and it brought Hamas to a point where they said, stop. Stop the war. Let's pause the war, and we will hand out the hostages.

I think the best way to get more hostages out is actually to resume the pressure.

KEILAR: You're also facing -- Israel has also been facing pressure from families of hostages, which is the pressure on the other side of this.

What do you say to those families who say, let's prioritize getting those hostages out? So many women and children have come out, leaving their spouses, leaving their fathers behind in Gaza.

BENNETT: I mean, every -- every Israeli for us is a whole world, a whole universe. And we care about everyone.

We also care about potential deaths from future terror attacks that will be conducted by the very terrorists that are released. So it is a balance. I will remind you that Yahya Sinwar himself, the leader of Hamas, was released in a hostage deal about a decade ago, and look at the havoc that and terror that he's done.

So, it's a very complicated equation.

KEILAR: The U.S. and Israel are discussing the possibility of moving civilians in Gaza back north if Israel attacks Southern Gaza when this war resumes, the concern, of course, that Hamas leadership has moved south amid this process.

How do you move people north if 40 -- or how do you have them move north if 40 to 50 percent of the structures there have been damaged? Where do they go? Where do they stay?

BENNETT: It doesn't have to be necessarily to the north.