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Blinken: Hamas Cannot Remain In Control Of Gaza; Now: House Debating Whether To Expel GOP Rep. Santos. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 30, 2023 - 15:00   ET


ANTONY BLINKEN, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: Ultimately, that's not just the right thing to do, it's also in Israel's security interest. The Prime Minister and members of the war cabinet agreed with the need for this approach.

We discussed the details of Israel's ongoing planning, and I underscored the imperative to the United States that the massive loss of civilian life and displacement of the scale we saw in northern Gaza not be repeated in the south. As I told the Prime Minister, intent matters, but so does the result.

At the same time, Hamas has choices, too. Hamas could immediately release all of the hostages it holds. It could stop using civilians as human shields and stop using civilian infrastructure to stage and launch terrorist attacks.

Hamas could lay down its arms, surrender the leaders who are responsible for the slaughter, the torture, the rapes of October 7th. Hamas could renounce its stated goal of eliminating Israel, killing Jews, and repeating the atrocities of October 7th again and again and again.

Meanwhile, everyone around the world who cares about protecting innocent civilians, innocent lives, should be calling on Hamas - indeed, demanding of Hamas - that it immediately stop its murderous acts of terror and deplorable use of innocent men, women, and children as human shields.

In our meetings with Israeli leaders here and in Jerusalem and Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, we discussed our continued focus on preventing the conflict from spreading - whether to the West Bank, to Israel's northern border, or to the broader region.

I raised our deep concerns about steps that could escalate tensions in the West Bank, including extremist settler violence and proposals from parts of the Israeli coalition government to further expand settlements. I made clear our expectations about addressing these issues.

We also focused on what we can - what we must do now to prepare for the day after the conflict, to create the conditions for a durable and lasting peace, building on the principles that I set out a few weeks ago during the G7 meeting in Tokyo.

Breaking out of the cycle of violence, the cycle of conflict, ensuring Israel's enduring security demands improving the lives of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank in immediate, tangible ways, and providing them with a credible path toward their legitimate aspiration for statehood.

In our ongoing conversations with Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab leaders, we'll discuss practical steps to make real a just and lasting peace and what each of us is prepared to do to help achieve it.

We have no illusions this is going to be easy. We will surely have disagreements along the way.

But if we're going to move forward on practical steps toward lasting peace, lasting security, we have to be willing to work through those disagreements, because the alternative - more terrorist attacks, more violence, more innocent suffering - is unacceptable.

That is why the United States is here and we're leading toward this goal.

With that, happy to take some questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first question goes to Humeyra Pamuk with Reuters.

HUMEYRA PAMUK, REUTERS: Hello, Mr. Secretary.

BLINKEN: Good evening.

PAMUK: You just said the U.S. is urging Israel to ensure the protection of civilians before starting its operations in southern Gaza. I'm wondering - you talked about what you made clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the war cabinet, but what concrete and specific assurances have you gotten from them, if any? Based on what you heard from them today, are you confident Israel will follow the international laws of war in southern Gaza when it resumes its military operations?

My second question is you and others in the administration have repeatedly said that United States wants to see a revitalized Palestinian Authority to rule Gaza and the West Bank. Sir, could you tell us what exactly the U.S. vision is for a revitalized PA? And does it include a reshuffle in the leadership? Thank you.

BLINKEN: Thanks, Humeyra. So as I said, we made clear the imperative that before any operations go forward in southern Gaza that there be a clear plan in place that puts a premium on protecting civilians, as well as sustaining and building on the humanitarian assistance that's getting into Gaza. And the Israeli Government agreed with that approach.


There are concrete steps that it's not appropriate for me to detail here tonight that we know and we heard can make - ensure, to the best of anyone's ability, that that happens. It's obviously challenging, given the particular conditions that Israel has to deal with in getting to Hamas and making sure, again, that it can't represent the threat that it posed on October 7th.

But again, Israel understands the imperative of protecting civilians, the imperative of the humanitarian assistance, and we'll continue to work to ensure that that carries forward in practice.

And again, as I said to the Prime Minister, to the war cabinet, intent is obviously where you start and it's vitally important. And I'm very confident in the intent, but results, of course, are fundamentally what matters.

With regard to the Palestinian Authority, we've said - and indeed, I had an opportunity to discuss today with President Abbas - the need for reform, the need to revitalize, to revamp the Palestinian Authority so that it can most effectively meet the aspirations of the Palestinian people and deliver for them. There are a number of things that go into that including, for example, reform so that it more effectively combats corruption, that it engages and empowers civil society, that it supports free press and open media, and a number of other things.

Leadership choices - these are, of course, up to the Palestinian people and Palestinians themselves. But there are a number of things that we think would be critical to making sure that, again, the Palestinian Authority can be effective in helping to advance the aspirations and the needs of its people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the next question, Tal Shalev with Walla.

TAL SHALEV, WALLA: Secretary Blinken, reportedly there are disagreements between you and the Israeli Government about the way forward regarding the timetable. Is there a time limit from the U.S. point of view on the operation, on the continuation of the operation in Gaza? And another question, there are about 140 hostages still left in Gaza. Many of them are reportedly severely injured, and yet the Red Cross hasn't yet visited them. Can you clarify if this was indeed included in the agreement? And if it was, why isn't it being implemented, and why is Israel pressured to continue to expand the humanitarian assistance to Gaza while the Hamas does not let humanitarian access to our hostages?

BLINKEN: Thank you. First part of the question - we support, continue to support, will continue to support Israel's efforts to do everything possible to ensure that Hamas cannot repeat the horrors of October 7th. And that means, among other things, that Hamas cannot remain responsible for governance in Gaza and it cannot retain the capacity to repeat those attacks.

How Israel does it, those are decisions for Israel to make. But as I've said, we also believe it's very important that, in engaging in that effort, the way it does matters, makes a big difference. And as we've just discussed, the imperative of putting a premium on protecting civilians and ensuring humanitarian assistance flows into Gaza is something that is vital to us and something that the Israeli Government agrees with.

On the hostages, I'm not going to get into any of the negotiations or any agreements. But clearly it would be very beneficial and important for the Red Cross to have access to hostages, to be able to check on their well-being and condition. Having said that, of course none of that should be necessary because there shouldn't be any hostages in the first place.

That horrific part of what Hamas did on October 7th is something that we are dealing with now every single day.


The positive development is, as I said, we're now completing the seventh day where hostages have been returned to their families. And that's a very positive and powerful thing; it's something that we want to see continue. And Hamas should release everyone right now. But in the absence of doing that, and as this process, I hope, continues, yes, it would be very good for the Red Cross to have access and to see them.

The question of humanitarian assistance is something fully apart from Hamas or the hostages, because this is about innocent men, women, and children in Gaza - they're not Hamas - who desperately need the aid, who desperately need the help. Conditions in Gaza are very, very, very difficult and severe. And the need for the most basic things - for food, for water, for medicine, for fuel to make sure that people can have clean water, that they can have sewage systems that work - that's absolutely essential and imperative.

And as I said earlier, particularly as we head into winter, we're already seeing the potential for disease outbreaks because, for example, of a lack of potable drinking water. So this is an imperative. It's an imperative because it's the right thing to do; it's an imperative because it's the necessary thing to do. And again, I come away convinced from my discussions with the Israeli Government that they fully not only understand that, but believe that and will act on it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vivian Salama with The Wall Street Journal.

VIVIAN SALAMA, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I know it's been a long day, so apologies for the bundle of questions. Hamas is believed to have released the vast number of women and children that were in its captivity. So what assurances, if any, do you have that Hamas might be open to releasing male hostages? And on the flip side of that, is Israel prepared to agree to the conditions set out by Hamas on that?

Separately, President Biden has signaled that he - that the U.S. is prepared to issue visa bans on what he described as extremist Israeli settlers. What is the status of that?

And forgive me - one last one on India. Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged India - an Indian national in a murder-for-hire scheme targeting a Sikh separatist and activist in New York who's a U.S. citizen. According to the indictment, the assassination plot was organized by an Indian Government official. The U.S. charges come shortly after Canada - Canada's Prime Minister said that an Indian government - the Indian Government participated in extrajudicial killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil. Are you concerned that India is turning to tactics that violate international human rights law to silence its critics around the world? Thank you.

BLINKEN: Thanks, Vivian. So three - not bad. All right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shorter than usual.

BLINKEN: But yes, nice and concise. So on the release of more hostages - look, I can't speak to Hamas's views or its intentions. I can tell you that for the United States, for Israel, for other countries who have their citizens being held captive by Hamas, clearly we want to see this process continue, move forward. We want an eighth day and beyond so that people can be returned to their families, and that applies to all hostages, whatever category they may happen to be in.

But it's also up to Hamas, and again, I can't speak to their intentions. I can say that I think this process has clearly been beneficial, and the fact that so many have now been reunited with their loved ones and families is something we, I think, take joy in. But a lot of unfinished business, and we're determined to finish it when it comes to bringing the hostages home.

With regard to extremist violence, all I can tell you is this: We're looking to the Israeli Government to take some additional steps to really put a stop to this. And at the same time, we're considering our own steps.

Finally, with regard to India, first, this is an ongoing legal matter. So you'll understand I can't comment on it in detail. I can say that this is something we take very seriously. A number of us have raised this directly with the ...

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right. So I think clearly, what we're hearing from Secretary of State Tony Blinken here is a message for Israel about how it is executing its war against Hamas in Gaza, indicating that, indeed, the expectation here is that Israel is going to stop its pause in military action in Gaza.


Brianna Keilar, Boris Sanchez He was saying there, this is what he's communicated to Israel, to the Prime Minister, that intent matters, but so does the result. Really speaking to what we have heard time and again from Israeli officials, which is that they are not intentionally targeting civilians, but, of course, we know the civilian death toll is extremely high.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Yes. I thought it was notable he said that when he brought up the expectations of the United States to the Prime Minister and other Israeli officials. He said that Israel agreed with U.S. insistence that when hostilities resume - before hostilities resume, there has to be a plan in place to protect civilian life. He was also asked a significant question about access to the hostages by the Red Cross, something that we've brought up in conversation multiple times with officials. We have not gotten a clear answer as to whether the Red Cross being able to access some of the hostages being held in Gaza was part of the deal. If so, why that isn't happening, if it's something that Hamas is blocking, perhaps. The Secretary of State did not get into detail. He didn't confirm whether or not that was part of the deal, though he did say that that would be a good development.

And then another bit that the Secretary of State shared with reporters that I thought was newsworthy is the fact that he apparently brought his concerns about corruption within the Palestinian Authority directly to Mahmoud Abbas, saying there has to be reform.

KEILAR: Because he was asked, what is the American vision ...


KEILAR: ... for rejuvenating the Palestinian Authority, which obviously lacks a lot of legitimacy for Palestinians who elected Hamas to govern in Gaza? But if, as he's saying, Hamas cannot govern in Gaza, that they cannot have this capacity to attack Israel, what happens after Hamas is gone, that's Israel's goal. So what is the aftermath of that going to look like. Key questions that he was speaking to there.

And we, of course, are looking at Capitol Hill now.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Yes. A lot going on over there. A third attempt by lawmakers to expel Congressman George Santos of New York, a Republican facing a slew of allegations of wrongdoing. He's up there defending himself right now. Let's listen in.

REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): I just want to point out, in the resolution that the distinguished chairman from Mississippi, Mr. Guest, filed. He states that I engage in sexual misconduct when his own report states otherwise.

That's just the clear evidence of how this process has been skewed, how this process is sloppy, and how it is contradictory to the core. The fact that in the report, it states that that was not the case, but they still bring it to the floor of the House of Representatives, shows you the lack of respect for one's reputation. And with that, I would like to yield as much time as the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Nehls, may consume.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentleman from Texas is recognized.

REP. TROY NEHLS (R-TX): Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We are in unchartered waters. Unchartered waters, folks.

KEILAR: All right. That was George Santos lambasting the process that he has gone through here as this expulsion resolution has been read and now you have Democrats and Republicans in control of this time as they argue for and against his expulsion.

We're going to watch this. We're going to talk more about this. We're going to talk more about it, obviously a lot of drama playing out there on the House floor. We'll be right back.



KEILAR: And we are following breaking news on Capitol Hill where right now lawmakers are debating an expulsion resolution for Congressman George Santos of New York. This is ahead of a vote that is set for tomorrow on whether the New York Republican should be kicked out of Congress. Let's listen in.

REP. CLAY HIGGINS (R-LA): And I heard your argument. I feel your passion. I understand your position, but you're about to go too far. Just calm down and step back. This is what I advise my colleagues on both sides of the aisle today. One of my brothers here whom I love and respect, this man seated here. They're making a mistake, Mr. Speaker.

One of the gentlemen said we should be held to a higher standard, talking about the removal of a member of Congress of the American people to believe that the opinions of congressmen is a higher standard than the deliberate vote of the American people. Is a report from a committee a higher standard than the two-year election cycle as established by our founding fathers and enshrined in our Constitution? Calm down.

Mr. Speaker, I've spoken for seven years to this body here, standing here, and very rarely have I had a prepared statement, nor do I today. But I'm going to read a letter that I distributed to my Republican colleagues for the benefit of my Democratic colleagues that did not receive a copy of the letter. Perhaps I'm wrong for that. I considered sending you all this letter and I did not, and I apologize for that, because it's - the media has gotten it and it's out there.

Although I completely respect the work of our colleagues on the Ethics Committee, I have serious concerns about the way this particular case is being handled, and I'll oppose the George Santos expulsion.

In the seven years I've been a member of Congress, many members have been subject to campaign expenditure ethics investigations. To my recollection, many members have always had the opportunity to settle the matter by restitution, even if they disagreed with the Ethics Committee conclusions.


Further, in many prior instances of allegations of misconduct, I recall no massive media release from the Ethics Committee. After a bit of a whispered brushfire, the matter just went away. Maybe the member left Congress, maybe the member didn't leave Congress, but they weren't publicly crucified and expelled.

The very fact that we have all read the "investigative report" indicates a level of public character assassination that I have not witnessed through four terms of congressional service. It's troubling to me that a Republican-led ethics committee would present itself as so judgmental. Previous ethics committees' investigations have always been conducted quietly, reflective of our constitutional standards of innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Reports of similar allegations of campaign finance violations, like family vacations overseas and cosmetic dental procedures and sexual adventures of every sort, have not historically been released to the public. This particular Ethics Committee investigation seems to be quite public and I'm not seeing any allowance for the member to make restitution of alleged campaign finance violations.

Full media disclosure, combined with intention to move straight to expulsion, appears weaponized to me. Colleagues, you can believe what you like, but the 56-page investigative subcommittee report is most certainly not written within the parameters normally found in an unbiased, impartial investigative report.

It's filled with conjecture, opinion, and pejorative language that no professional investigative report should include, no experienced cop would present to a DA, and no impartial DA would ever present to a court as unbiased. You may accept this report as grounds for expulsion from Congress, but I say no.

It's not right. The totality of circumstance appears biased, it stinks of politics and I'll oppose this action in every way. Perhaps my colleagues should step back from expulsion, look in the mirror, reflect upon the long-established historical record of Congressional behavior, consider the Founders' intent, and let we the people of New York determine their representative.

This report is posing as an objective presentation of fact, yet it is most certainly written with notable disregard for professional objectivity, and it's wrapped in a media-incensed public disclosure that any reasonable man can see is a Congressional equivalent of a public crucifixion.

I'm stunned that members would cheer for this public shaming and expulsion. It's like witnessing an otherwise fair and compassionate village gather to celebrate the burning of an alleged witch. Since the Civil War, only two members of Congress have been expelled, and both have been convicted in court of federal crimes. That's the standard, and the House of Representatives should not deviate from that standard. I'm a solid no on expulsion, and I encourage every member to carefully consider what kind of precedent we're setting here.

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to encourage my colleagues, sincerely, on both sides of the aisle, to step back from this expulsion. I yield.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentleman reserved, gentleman from New York, Mr. D'Esposito.

REP. ANTHONY D'ESPOSITO (R-NY): Well, thank you, and as I fully respect my friend from Louisiana and have much love for him, I want to reassure no one is cheering for this ethics report. And with that, I'd like to yield, as much time as he may consume, to my friend from New York and fellow Long Islander, Mr. LaLota.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentleman from New York is recognized. REP. NICHOLAS LALOTA (R-NY): Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I'd like to address three issues in hopes of persuading my colleagues from both sides of the aisle, who at this moment are either against or undecided about expelling George Santos, to ultimately vote yes. Those three issues are fraud, due process and election integrity.

Regarding fraud, Mr. Speaker, both federal and state laws would require jail time or a monetary fine or both, for any of our constituents who tricked another person into an agreement to another American's disadvantage.