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NYT: Donors, GOP Strategists Ask Christie To Drop Out To Help Haley; IDF Says Estimates Of Two Civilians Killed For Each Hamas Terrorist Is "Tremendously Positive" Ratio For Urban Combat; WH: "Running Out Of Money, Nearly Out Of Time" On Ukraine Funding. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired December 05, 2023 - 09:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I don't know if our party can be saved. Those words from Liz Cheney this morning who also seems to be floating the idea of a third party presidential run.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: New images of IDF forces pushing further into southern Gaza as U.S. officials are now raising new questions and alarm over why Hamas is refusing to release more female hostages.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: A home in Arlington, Virginia blow sky high. The blast could be felt miles away in D.C. Police were there when it happened trying to serve a search warrant. What were they looking for, details on that investigation ahead.

I'm Sara Sidner with John Berman and Kate Bolduan. This is CNN News Central.

BERMAN: Major rumblings in and around the Republican race for President this morning starting with a huge push to get Chris Christie out. According to "The New York Times," Republican donors, strategists and pundits are publicly pressuring Mr. Christie to follow the lead of Tim Scott and Mike Pence and formally end his campaign. Many would like to see him throw his support behind Nikki Haley.

Republican strategist Kevin Madden adds, quote, ideally, it would have been facing this reality yesterday, a month or two months ago. The other big rumbling, is Liz Cheney in? The ardent Trump critic and Republican just told "The Washington Post" this morning that she is still considering a third party run as she continues to warn of Donald Trump's quote, grave threat.

Now as for Trump himself tonight, he's holding a solo town hall tomorrow. He is ditching a presidential debate. Thursday he is heading back to court all while intensifying his rhetoric and spouting fringe January 6th theories. CNN's Kristen Holmes and Alayna Treene following all of this for us. First, Kristen, let's start with you in what Donald Trump is up to in saying now?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, you know, Donald Trump is running his campaign the way that he wants to run his campaign. As you noted, he is going to a "Fox" town hall. He is skipping the debate for a fundraiser in Florida. And then he's going to sit through testimony and his civil hearing in New York.

And on Monday, he is expected to actually testify with his lawyers calling him to the stand again in that trial. And this is a call coming at a time where we're starting to hear alarm bells being raised and you mentioned his rhetoric intensifying. But it's not so much that his rhetoric is intensifying, he has been saying the same thing that since he announced back in November that he was going to be running for president.

But people are really starting to pay attention likely because we are just six weeks out from the Iowa caucus and he still holds a commanding lead in the polls, not just in Iowa, but also nationwide. And that is causing many people, critics, Republicans and Democrats to wonder what a Trump second term would look like. And when you look through the rhetoric of what Trump is saying they believe it is a threat to democracy.

And one of his loudest critics, as you mentioned, Liz Cheney has been talking about this quite a bit hitting both Donald Trump and the Republican Party, take a listen.


LIZ CHENEY (R-WY), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I don't know if our party can be saved. It may be that we need to build a new party. But I think those issues have to come after this 2024 cycle because the focus has to be just completely right now on making sure we don't return Donald Trump to the White House.


HOLMES: And as we are starting to hear more and more warnings from people on this dawn -- on Donald Trump potential second term then saying that this will be a threat to democracy that it would threaten the constitution. We are also hearing that Donald Trump's lawyers have reached out to the Department of Justice in the January 6th case to get more information, including information on government conspiracies.

Obviously, we know that this is something that's been going on on right wing conservative conspiracy, social media, essentially saying that this was a government plot January 6th. Now, we know that lawyers for Donald Trump have been asking the Justice Department to look into some of those theories. Now how exactly that's going to play into his defense? We just don't know yet. But obviously, that is one avenue they are exploring.

BERMAN: Yes. There are a lot of analysts who think that's more of a political play than a courtroom play, but we will watch it. Kristen, standby for a minute. Let's bring in Alayna Treene right now. So for Chris Christie, the good news is he made the debate stage tomorrow night. The bad news is a lot of Republican insiders are saying maybe you shouldn't go. [09:05:09]

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: That's right, John. And I think this is something that we've been hearing for weeks, we know that many Republicans want to consolidate around one Republican candidate that could be seen as the alternative to Donald Trump. And increasingly, we've seen Nikki Haley have an excellent few weeks, and people urging her, urging the candidates I should say to drop out and support her. And that's exactly what they're trying to tell Chris Christie to do.

Christie, though, on his part, says that he has no plans to do that. He wants to stay in the race through the Republican convention. He recently told CNN that he thinks he's doing really well in New Hampshire, that's kind of the state where he's focused all of his attention. But he also thinks that he'll do so well in that state that it could carry him through the rest of the primary season.

We'll see if that's actually what happens. But that is Christie's goal. Now, just about the debate tomorrow night, it's going to be the smallest debate stage yet that we've seen. You have four candidates, Christie, Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, and Vivek Ramaswamy, all taking the stage. And this is really a crucial time. We are just six weeks away from the Iowa caucuses.

And they're doing as much as they can to court these voters in the hopes of eating away at Donald Trump's support. Now, of course, as you mentioned, Donald Trump will not be on the debate stage. He's skipping it, as he has done with the previous debates. And that's really led to a lot of frustration among his opponents.

We heard Ron DeSantis on Monday in New Hampshire, attacking Donald Trump for not showing up. Let's listen.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Donald Trump is not willing to debate. I mean, you got to ask yourself why? Why can't you just stand up on the stage for two hours and articulate? What's going to be different this time then happen in 2020? How is he a better candidate? What -- will he admit any mistakes? I don't think so.


TREENE: Now, John, just to that question from Ron DeSantis, saying, why won't he show up? Well, I've spoken to many of Donald Trump's advisors and those in his inner circle about this. And their goal is really to make it look like Donald Trump is in a different league than his opponents. And they think that skipping these debates, continues to help him. And that's why he's continuing not to show up.

And I do, I just want to point out the two big things that I think is most frustrating for Donald Trump's opponents is that, one, they do not have an opportunity to attack the front runner directly. But they're also really not getting the opportunity to try and continue to court and win over a lot of the pro Trump viewers that are not tuning in while Donald Trump isn't there. BERMAN: And is worth noting and except for Chris Christie, none seems to show great interest in attacking Donald Trump directly. But be that as it may, you know. Alayna Treene, Kristen Holmes, thanks to both of you. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Let's talk more about this right now, joining us are Republican strategists, Shermichael Singleton and Alice Stewart. It's good to see you guys. Alice, let's start with the debate what has changed and by how much since the last debate. We can show everyone kind of the then and now, roughly, of the polling of the Republican field from November, between the two debates, if you will. And sum it all up, Donald Trump is still up by 50 plus points. So what has changed?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, for one, the size of the debate stage has significantly decreased, which I think will be good during this debate. But look, Donald Trump's numbers are not going anywhere. He continues to dominate the field, and his supporters are essentially growing. But I think and many Republicans I speak with say the best option for the GOP is to find a Trump alternative. And so that is to look at these other candidates and see who is in the best position to make the case to voters.

And look at this stage of the game, we understand what these debates are all about. They need to contrast with each other on the policies, which in many cases, Kate, are similar when it comes to a foreign policy, immigration, as well as, there is a contrast on abortion. But the most important argument to make on this debate stage is their electability. To make the case to voters, they cannot only beat Donald Trump, but they can beat Joe Biden if he is a Democratic nominee.

And they also need to show it's time for a new generation of optimistic leadership that is forward thinking and not past looking at past grievances. So those are the important issues I'm going to be looking for on the debate stage. And hopefully we can win out this field even more to have a more viable candidate to take on Donald Trump as we head into those important Iowa caucuses.

BOLDUAN: I want to talk about the whole concept of winnowing the field, Shermichael. Doug Burgum dropped out yesterday. And now, we're seeing reporting of pressure, no, don't giggle, now seeing reporting of pressure, as John was talking about, of Chris Christie to also drop out of the race, "The New York Times" how it's kind of being discussed is they want him to drop out and throw his support behind Nikki Haley.


But consider this fact, this argument maybe counterintuitive to what the conventional wisdom is. Marc Short has taken a different view on how to take on Trump and how to fight against Trump and keep him from the nomination. He's told me this more than once, listen.


MARC SHORT, SENIOR ADVISER TO MIKE PENCE: I think some of the conventional wisdom that is out there, which suggests that says, hey, we just need to narrow down to one-on-one. And I don't think that that applies here. I think the reality is that as candidates drop out, it will build more of an inevitability of Donald Trump as the nominee. And so I do think is a little bit different dynamic.


BOLDUAN: Sir Michael, agree or disagree?

SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I mean, look, I think that's a fair point, Kate. I'm not exactly certain that I would agree, though. I mean, a Real Clear Politics average has Chris Christie 2.2 percent. He barely made the debate stage this time around. Nikki Haley has continued to see her numbers rise. Chris Christie, also, I would argue, has some personality issues. Not a lot of voters like Chris Christie. He comes off as a bully to some individuals.

I think Nikki Haley is someone who comes off as forward thinking, as Alice just spoke about. She's a former governor. She had to deal with a very sensitive racial crisis in her state, the country still has many racial issues to deal with. She's been the only Republican on that stage to, I would argue, really articulate a very positive message on abortion that would resonate with independent swing voters.

And so if you're looking for a contrast with Donald Trump, you want someone with state background. You want someone with foreign policy experience. And you also want someone who can really sort of parse through some of those social issues that Trump frankly doesn't do very well with.

BOLDUAN: Alice, let's talk about Liz Cheney. Cheney told our good friend Maeve Reston at "The Washington Post" now yesterday that she's considering a third party run for president now. And here's what she said, she said several years ago, I would not have contemplated a third-party run. But Cheney goes on to say we face threats that could be existential to the United States. We need a candidate who is going to be able to deal with and address and confront all of those challenges that will all be part of my calculation, as we go into the early months of 2024.

Maeve is reporting that Cheney said she's going to make a final decision on this in the next few months. Is it clear what this could, would look like depending on what she decides?

STEWART: Look, Kate, I'm hearing from people that they're -- the likelihood of a third party candidate is very likely, whether it is Liz Cheney or someone else. And what I think that shows more than anything is that people are not satisfied with the choices at hand, whether that is Donald Trump or Joe Biden. And we now we have an independent candidate and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Look, people are frustrated with the status quo of politics. But at the end of the day, I happen to be a firm believer in the two party process. May the best Republican win or the best Democrat win. And it's incumbent upon people in the two parties to get behind the person that not only represents the views and values of the party, but also does so with a tone and tenor that is representative of what this country should go for. And that is a less toxic tone and representing the views of the American people.

And look, Donald Trump what he's doing right now, we're hearing him blast Joe Biden about him being anti-Democratic. This is what Donald Trump does as he finds his weakness and projects it on his opponent. And unfortunately, his base runs with that with reckless abandon. Hopefully, voters will see through that and find a Republican candidate that represents the tone and tenor this country needs.

BOLDUAN: Shermichael, you've written a really interesting column on this question of third party challengers today. Real quick, tell me what you think.

SINGLETON: I mean, look, I think if you look at the dynamics here, on the Democratic side, would Kennedy and Marianne Williamson both around 30 percent combined, or you think about Jill Stein in 2016, between 2 and 5 percent, that absolutely made a difference in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

If Hillary Clinton would have won those three states, she would be president today. Democrats have to strongly consider that. On the Republican side, we also have to consider what votes Kennedy may take away from the likely nominee which at this point is Donald Trump. And could Liz Cheney or someone else who were to decide to jump in under the No Labels moniker, could they also pull votes away from the Republican nominee? And so these are two dynamics that both parties are going to have to deal with.

BOLDUAN: In a real way, in a real way, it seems the polling is showing. It's good to see you guys. Thank you so much. Sara?

SINGLETON: Thank you, Kate.

SIDNER: Coming up, new satellite images show the expansion of Israeli troops in southern Gaza and the devastation left behind. And in Israel, air raid sirens have been going off the last hour. A report from our crews on the ground there.

Plus, police in Virginia were serving a warrant at home when the suspect fired several rounds at them just before the entire house exploded into a ball of flames. All of it caught on video.


And fresh off his expulsion from Congress, George Santos is turning to recording Cameos for doe. How Senator John Fetterman used it to troll another member of the Senate. That's ahead.


SIDNER: This morning, Israel is intensifying airstrikes in southern Gaza and expanding its ground offensive that now includes tanks in the south. New satellite imagery obtained by CNN shows dozens of Israeli tanks gathered in southern Gaza. These images were taken just west of Gaza's main north south route, and only a few miles from the center of Khan Yunis. The U.N. chief described Gaza now as an apocalyptic situation where civilians have nowhere safe to go. As civilian casualties mount, the spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces told CNN that a ratio of two Palestinian civilians killed for every Hamas militant is tremendously positive given the challenges of urban combat.


In Northern Gaza, Israeli troops have surrounded the massive Jabalia refugee camp following days of Israeli airstrikes. The Israeli military describes the camp as a Hamas stronghold. CNN chief national security correspondent Alex Marquardt is in Tel Aviv for us. Alex, I understand sirens had been going off where you are in the past hour. What's happening there now?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Sara, it would be Al-Qassam Brigades, so the military wing of Hamas has claimed responsibility for a barrage of rockets that was just fired at Tel Aviv in the past hour. We heard those sirens go off that Israelis have become very accustomed to, as well as those loud booms in the sky of the Iron Dome interceptor rockets, taking them down.

But most notably, Sara, we did see an impact just to the north of where we are in northern Tel Aviv, a large plume of black smoke that landed just near a power station from what we understand. Here's a little bit of what we saw and heard.

And Sara, it is quite rare for a rocket to get through the Iron Dome, but it can happen if the barrage is big enough for the Iron Dome, determines that the rocket is not going to land near a populated area. It did land near a populated area. The police are checking to see if anybody has been injured. We've gotten a report of at least one, 40- year-old who has been injured. And of course when those rockets are taken down, shrapnel falls to the ground so they can certainly hurt people even if they are intercepted.

Sara, this comes as Israel is expanding its ground operation in Gaza that has been officially announced. They are -- they say finishing up their operation in the north and then we'll move to focus more on the south. We've seen both satellite imagery and new video showing dozens of armored vehicles in southern Gaza. You mentioned a satellite image just to the west of that Salah al-Din Road, where -- which goes from north to south towards Khan Yunis.

Of course Israel had told more than a million Gazans to move south during that first phase of their operation. Now, they're -- they continue to tell the southern -- Gazans in the south to evacuate to other areas. We understand that Khan Yunis, the city in the south, will become a particularly focus for those Israeli operations because officials, both Israeli and American do believe that Hamas leadership is in Khan Yunis at least part of it.

But Sara, this adds to an already catastrophic and chaotic situation where you have the vast majority of the 2.2 million population of Gaza now displaced. The U.N. believes that it is 1.9 million Gazans who are displaced. Some of them are in shelters, but many are just camped out wherever they can find safety, whether that's in the streets or other open areas. Sara? SIDNER: Alex Marquardt, thank you to you and your team for explaining all of this. I do want to ask you, though, about what we heard from an IDF spokesperson, where he commented about the tremendous casualties, civilian casualties, saying that it was actually tremendously positive compared to other wars. It is a two to one ratio, two civilians for every Hamas militant that they have killed. Has there been any reaction to this from the Palestinians or elsewhere?

MARQUARDT: Not that we've heard from any official position or not that I know of. But it certainly has raised eyebrows, Sara, because when you hear the words tremendously positive associated with this conflict that has killed so many civilians, that really is quite extraordinary. Jonathan Conricus, the spokesman for the IDF was making the point that several thousand Hamas militants have been killed so far in this conflict. It is estimated according to the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health in Gaza, that some 16,000 people overall had been killed.

And Israel is saying that within that, there are several thousand of these Hamas militants who have died as well. Now Conricus was arguing that for every Hamas militant, they do estimate that around two civilians have also been killed. And he was saying that that is tremendously positive given the fact that Hamas is hiding behind the civilian population.

So he was essentially confirming a report that is out there that 5,000 militants have been killed. And that would mean however, that 10,000 at least, 10,000 Sara, innocent civilians have been caught up in this, have been killed. Sara?


SIDNER: Yes. And that's partly why the U.S. is calling this a catastrophic situation. Alex Marquardt in Tel Aviv, thank you to you and your crew for all your reporting there. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Now Ukraine's President Zelenskyy is set to make a new direct appeal to U.S. senators over the stalled effort to approve more aid for Ukraine's fight against Russia. Make that case he's going to do today, just as President Biden's National Security Adviser, is also offering a stark new warning about the dwindling funds.


JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: And we're running out of money. And we are nearly out of time, a vote against supplemental funding for Ukraine will hurt Ukraine and help Russia. It will hurt democracy and help dictators.


BOLDUAN: The fight on Capitol Hill over all this, however, isn't specifically about dictators it seems. It's about the U.S. southern border. And policy changes that House Republicans are demanding now to push this money forward. Policy changes that Democrats say are non- starter and even Senate Republicans are starting to question. The supplemental funding as it's called in Washington is a request from President Biden for about $106 billion that will go to support Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and U.S. border with Mexico. CNN's Lauren Fox is on the hill with the very latest. And Lauren, quotes from some Senate Republicans like James Lankford, who's been important in these negotiations. They're pretty interesting this morning kind of questioning the strategy of the House Speaker now. Where does it leave this mess?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the reality which Lankford and others have acknowledged is that the House passed immigration bill, which many conservatives are pushing for as part of this supplemental request, it didn't get Democratic votes in the House of Representatives. And therefore, the lift of getting Democratic votes on that proposal in the Senate is just too high a bar to clear.

Right now immigration talks have stalled. That doesn't mean that they can't resume, it doesn't mean that they can't get back to the negotiating table. But right now, things are not in a good place. And that has complicated the effort to get this funding to Ukraine, despite the administration making very clear to lawmakers on Capitol Hill that they are at the bottom of what money they have left to give Ukraine.

They're arguing this as an urgent matter that this money needs to go out before the end of the year. Meanwhile, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have just this week and next week to figure this out. And given the fact that Republican senators are arguing that they will not vote to advance Ukraine aid without border policy changes, that puts this all in the context of it's one big mess.

You have Senator Chris Murphy, the leading Democratic negotiator saying that he believes that it's possible they might get to the end of the year without this funding. Obviously Zelenskyy talking to senators today is a strategic move to try to imperil members and remind them how important this money is.

But the issue for Zelenskyy is that no matter what he says about the situation on the ground in Ukraine, you have Republican senators, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been a strong advocate of Ukraine funding who are arguing that this doesn't have to do with not supporting Ukraine. It just has to do with the fact they want those policy changes on the southern border.

BOLDUAN: Yes. It's a yes but a hard one for President Zelenskyy to handle when he's obviously making this plea yet again, to U.S. lawmakers today. Great to see you, Lauren, thank you. John?

BERMAN: All right, a house blown sky high, this can be felt from miles and miles. So new reporting on what caused the explosion with police right there standing by.


Donald Trump's legal team is back in court, new reporting on what they are asking for as Trump prepares for a new round of testimony. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)