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Hamas Offers Counterproposal for Hostage Release, Gaza Ceasefire; Search for Missing U.S. Military Helicopter, Five Marines on Board; Trump Plans to Stay Away from Supreme Court Arguments. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 07, 2024 - 10:00   ET




RAHEL SOLOMON, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, critical negotiations in the Middle East. Secretary of State Tony Blinken is in Israel right now for crucial meetings, as Hamas offers a counter proposal to free the remaining hostages. But that deal could be a non-starter for Israel.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Last-minute preparations for the face off at the U.S. Supreme Court tomorrow, new reporting on how Donald Trump's lawyers are preparing to make the case that he should not be banned from state ballots.

SOLOMON: And chaos on Capitol Hill as House Republicans suffer back- to-back embarrassing defeats within minutes. But what happens next for embattled Speaker Johnson?

I'm Rahel Solomon with John Berman. Kate and Sara are both away. This is CNN News Central.

In just hours, we will hear from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his meeting with Secretary of State Tony Blinken. Blinken is in Israel for crucial talks on the war in Gaza.

Now, Hamas is offering a counterproposal for the potential release of hostages, and Blinken says they are looking intensively at the deal. However, an Israeli official familiar with the negotiations tells CNN that there is, quote, no way that Israel will agree to Hamas' proposal.

We have team coverage for you. CNN's Arlette Saenz is at the White House and Nic Robertson is in Tel Aviv.

Nic, let me start with you. Prime Minister Netanyahu, as you pointed out, is going to hold this press conference in just a few hours. It is expected to be in Hebrew for a domestic audience. Does that give you any sense of what we might hear?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think we're going to hear the red lines, the Prime Minister Netanyahu says that he won't cross, and a reiteration of what he said is that victory in the war against Hamas needs to be the complete destruction of Hamas, the killing of its leadership, and therefore that any ceasefire in a deal for the hostages isn't going to work. And they're not, the Israeli government is not about to release Hamas prisoners who were captured on October 7th. So, it's going to be tough language. I think that's what we'll hear him say.

Of course, what he describes may belies some of the nuance of what Hamas has got on the table there offer, three phases, each phase lasting 45 days. The first in that first phase, the release of the women, children, elderly and injured hostages. The next phase would see the release of all the male hostages, civilians and military forces. The third phase, if it gets that far, of course, would be the release of the bodies of the hostages that Hamas still has, but Hamas is wanting a lot.

They're talking about, in that first phase, at least, not a complete ceasefire, but what they're saying is the Israeli military has to pull back out of populated areas, must stop its military operations, must stop its drone activity, must allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

You know, 60,000 housing units, 200,000 tents, a big, big ask, the freedom of movement of people around Gaza. And they're also saying by the time they get to that second phase, they want to have nailed down that permanent ceasefire.

So, this is where the stumbling blocks are going to be, and this is where the difficulty is going to be in the diplomatic process. But we know also, of course, Secretary Blinken, while he's been here, not just meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, but meeting with the Defense Chief and the military commanders inside the IDF, and as well, the Intelligence chief of Mossad has been in on some of those meetings as well.


SOLOMON: Yes. And, Arlette, let me bring you into the conversation. It's a very detailed proposal, as Nic sort of lays out there. I mean, what's our sense of how the White House is viewing this and assessing this proposal?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: officials here at the White House and at the State Department have acknowledged that there has been movement when it comes to these hostage negotiations and say that they're intensely reviewing what Hamas has offered as a counterproposal.

But the White House has been quite careful so far not to weigh in on the specifics of this proposal, even as we've heard Israeli officials saying that there is no way that they would accept the terms that Hamas has proposed.

Now, yesterday, President Biden was asked about it in the hours after Hamas presented that counterproposal, and he said that parts of it were a little over the top. The president did not elaborate on what made him lead to that assessment.

But Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said that getting a hostage deal is essential. That is a key focus of his meetings today while he is in Israel. It was a key focus of his discussion with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a bit earlier today.

And in a meeting, a sit-down with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, the secretary of state said that the hostages remain at the top of the U.S. minds, but that more work needs to be done on this proposal. Take a listen.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We now have a response from Hamas to the proposal that was put on the table the way forward. We're looking at it intensely, as is I know the government of Israel, and there is a lot of work to be done, but we are very much focused on doing that work.


SAENZ: Now, Blinken's visit to the Middle East and to Israel comes at a critical time, not just as these hostage negotiations are ongoing, but also as the U.S. is discussing the path forward for Gaza once this conflict ends.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Blinken once again stressed the need for a two-state solution. That is something that, so far, Netanyahu has rebuffed, even as U.S. officials have consistently pressed him on this. But it all comes at a very high-stakes moment as there is pressure both on Netanyahu, but also domestically here at home, to not just get those hostages back but also put an end to this war.

SOLOMON: We'll hear from both of these leaders in just a few hours and we'll wait to see. Arlette Saenz live for us at the White House, Nic Robertson, thank you as well. John?

BERMAN: All right. With us now, CNN Chief National Security Analyst Jim Sciutto.

Jim, all I heard from Secretary Blinken right there was we're reading this, we're looking at it intensively. Obviously, we've got this news conference from the Israeli prime minister shortly. What will you be listening for, albeit when he speaks in Hebrew to his people?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Listen, the outlines of this deal would be quite a leap, frankly, for Israel, a ceasefire or a truce, if you want to call it that. In months rather than weeks, to date, Israelis, even, you know, you might describe it as drag kicking and screaming, have agreed to deals measured in days, perhaps weeks in exchange for those first releases of hostages, but this would extend it into months.

So, that's a big step for Israel to take. And I think you can expect some strong words, criticism of that from the Israeli prime minister. But the other piece here is that inherent in accepting a deal such as this, particularly before Israel has accomplished even half of its goal, right, its goal of destroying Hamas, best estimates are perhaps a third of Hamas fighters have been killed, and to date, really none of the senior leadership, it would be agreeing to that large deal with those large concessions before even getting halfway to their stated goal of these military operations.

And that would, regardless of what the prime minister says as they're discussing this, that would be quite an admission to make that, listen, we're not there, we're not really even close. And given how steadfast that promise was really in the early stages of this military operation, that would be notable.

BERMAN: Yes. It's not in writing as far as we can tell in the Hamas counterproposal, but the implication is Hamas stays. I mean, that's very much part of this counterproposal there.

Jim, what leverage does the U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, have when he is in discussions with Israeli officials as he's trying to nudge them along?

SCIUTTO: Yes. Some, not as much, I think, as the U.S. secretary of state would like. But we've seen some of that leverage play out in recent weeks, and that Israel has pulled back its military operations there. It seems, in part, due to U.S. pressure, due to the enormous and shocking civilian death toll in Gaza.

There are other factors in that, one of which is just that the IDF is, frankly, stretched. It's largely a citizen's army, and there were deep economic consequences to all of those conscripts being out of the Israeli economy and at war in Gaza.


So, there were other reasons to pull back and to limit place and restrictions on that operations. But it does seem that the U.S. has some leverage.

The big question will be, does it have enough leverage, John, for what the U.S. secretary of state is exploring right now? And that is some declaration, the possibility of a declaration of a Palestinian state or a path to Palestinian statehood at the end of any of these negotiations to kind of put a line in the sand that the U.S. still supports a two-state solution and find some sort of way forward there.

That would be quite a big step, as you know, John, having covered this region for years as well. But I will say this, it's consistent with how the Biden administration approached this war from the beginning. You remember, when Biden first went to the region, his intention was not just to go to Israel, it was to go to Amman, meet with Arab leaders, because he wanted to make this a sort of bipartisan, but you know what I'm saying, an Arab-Israeli solution to the problem.

He didn't get that. He had to cancel the Amman portion of that trip. This would be an attempt to resurrect that we're in this together approach. We'll see if they could get there.

BERMAN: Jim Sciutto, as always, great to speak with you. Thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Thanks.

BERMAN: Rahel?

SOLOMON: Alright, John. I want to get back to our breaking news that we have been following this morning. The U.S. Marine Corps is searching right now for a missing U.S. military helicopter in California. We know that at least five Marines were on board.

Let's get back to CNN's Natasha Bertrand who joins us with the latest. Natasha, what is the latest here?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, Rahel, as you said, they are confirming they are searching for five U.S. Marines who were flying a CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter from Creach Air Force base in Nevada to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, which is in San Diego, on February 6th when the aircraft was reported overdue. The third Marine aircraft wing is coordinating search and rescue efforts, according to the statement from the Marine Corps, with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and the Civil Air Patrol.

Now, according to San Diego County Fire which we spoke to just a few moments ago, they received their first report on this missing helicopter at 2:20 A.M. local time. And the last ping from this aircraft was around 11:30 P.M. on Tuesday. They then deployed three fire engines and an ambulance to the area but they encountered heavy snow and winter conditions. And so they went as far as they could in this search area before having to pull back.

So, now that they have encountered daylight again, they are going to re-engage this search effort, according to the spokesperson from the fire department there.

But, look, this is not the first time that one of these helicopters, which is essentially a heavy lift helicopter used for transporting heavy equipment around the world by Marines has been involved in an incident, the last one being in 2018 when one of these helicopters crashed also in California and killed all four Marines that were on board there.

So, as of right now, not a ton of information but they are engaging in this search mission for this missing helicopter. Rahel?

SOLOMON: Yes. It sounds like the weather there might be complicating or at least it did complicate their search efforts.

Natasha Bertrand, keep us posted on how this develops. Thanks so much. John?

BERMAN: Where will Donald Trump be when his lawyers argue before the Supreme Court that he should not be banned from state ballots?

The day after the debacle, a night in the House that few observers have ever seen, what it means for House Speaker Mike Johnson? Can he survive and what it means today for aid to Ukraine?

And Prince William works to fill the royal duties of the king and his wife amid their health concerns.



BERMAN: High stakes at the Supreme Court. Tomorrow, the justices will hear oral arguments over whether Donald Trump violated the 14th Amendment's ban on insurrectionists if he can be kept off Colorado's presidential ballot.

CNN Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid and CNN Senior Supreme Court Analyst Joan Biskupic are with me now.

Paula, first, let's talk Donald Trump. Is he going to be there tomorrow? What's their team's plan?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So, we have new reporting that as of now, the former president is not expected to attend tomorrow's oral argument. Now, could he still change his mind? Well, he has just 24 hours, and the logistical and security considerations at the Supreme Court do make it difficult for a former president to just decide on a whim to show up.

So, as of now, he is not expected to be in attendance, and this is part of really a more traditional, more disciplined strategy that we're seeing the Trump team employ ahead of tomorrow's oral arguments.

While Trump is not expected to be there, he will be represented by Jonathan Mitchell. He's the former solicitor general of Texas. This will be his sixth argument before the justices. This is someone who spent a long time in academia and government, writes scholarly articles on textualism, quite a contrast to the lawyers that we have seen represent Trump in other venues.

Now, they're also spending yesterday and then again today time to do mock arguments, preparation ahead of tomorrow's historic case. And that's what many people would do before they go before the justices. We know, of course, the Trump approach is not always conventional.

Now, we're contrasting this approach to what we've seen over the past several weeks with the Trump team, in the civil cases in New York, where Trump was often disruptive, and then, of course, he did show up to here in D.C. to the oral arguments at the district court on the question of immunity.

But the fact that they're taking a really different approach, that he's not expected to show up, and he has very lawyers who are engaging in extensive preparation.


That is quite a contrast to what we've seen, and in some ways a tacit admission that what they've been doing over the past few months maybe hasn't reaped the benefits that they had hoped or expected.

BERMAN: You know, Joan Biskupic, who are the justices to watch or listen to from any of us or read about in these hearings tomorrow? Who are you going to be watching? Because I believe you will be in the room.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: I will be, John, and I'm very excited, and I'm also excited that so much of our audience will have a terrific opportunity to hear all nine justices on the highest court in the land. How often do people listen in?

But this is such a consequential question of who's going to be on the ballot and who may be the next president of the United States that I'm sure the audiences will be listening.

Several people to mention, but I have to start with Chief Justice John Roberts, who I know well. He is at the center of the bench and he is at the strategic center of this court. He has no doubt already been, you know, thinking about these arguments well before the case was even filed in Colorado because he saw this issue coming up. Even if he might not have predicted it would definitely get to get to the high court, he would have been ready for it.

So, he has probably already started gaming it out. One phrase that I've heard so many people refer to John Roberts as someone who engages in three-dimensional chess. So, he will be trying to figure out where will a majority or almost a unanimous court go to try to answer this question of whether Donald Trump should be precluded from ballots without saying whether Donald Trump engaged in an insurrection.

As you know, John, the Section 3 of the 14th amendment that's at issue here has several parts and there will be several ways that the justices are going to have to interpret that statute. So, people will start to hear a lot of parsing of the text, a lot of parsing of the history of this provision that was enacted after the Civil War and aimed at Confederate leaders.

For example, is this the kind of thing that Congress should have passed legislation for to actually invoke it against a former president or is a former president even covered by language that refers to an officer of the United States.

It's counterintuitive that the Trump forces are arguing against that. But what they're saying is, if you look at constitutional terms, Donald Trump would not fall under it. So, we're going to listen chiefly for the chief.

And then I just want to point to another justice who's coming to this case with distinct history, Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was appointed by President Biden. She's the first African-American woman to sit on this court. She actually is the only member of this court to have actually sat on cases arising from the January 6th attack on the Capitol. She was a district court judge in early 2021 before going to the D.C. Circuit and then coming to the Supreme Court in 2022. So, she saw these issues face on when she was sitting as a trial judge, John.

BERMAN: It will be fascinating. Imagine if the American people could watch right alongside you, Joan Biskupic, but, alas, no cameras in the Supreme Court. Thank you both so much for being with us. Rahel? SOLOMON: And yet it will still be one to watch. All right, John.

Let's keep this conversation going now with CNN Legal Analysts Jennifer Rodgers and Norm Eisen. Good to see you both.

Norm, let me start with you. So, our reporting that Trump will likely not be there, that is obviously a departure from his previous legal issues, do you agree with that? Does that give you a sense of how seriously his team is taking this?

NORM EISEN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I agree that it's likely that the former president won't be there. It's a strategic decision, Rahel. He has shown up in court when he thinks it is to his political advantage because it fans the flames of grievance among his followers when the odds are stacked against him and it's an insurance policy when he loses those cases, he can say, see, I told you, it was a witch hunt all along. That's the criminal cases against him and also the financial fraud in E. Jean Carroll cases here, he must believe the odds are on his side. Indeed, it's an uphill battle at the Supreme Court, so he seems to be taking a pass.

SOLOMON: Jennifer, do you believe the odds are on his side with this case unlike what we saw yesterday with the presidential immunity case?

RODGERS: I do. And it's interesting because it's hard to say that, legally, if you actually look at all of these arguments, they're not very persuasive in terms of keeping him on the ballot. But practically speaking, with the way that 50 states have been looking at this in different ways, the patchwork of procedures of what's been happening, I think the court is going to look for a way to keep him on the ballot and give universal guidance to states because, otherwise, I think they just think it would be chaotic and they'll wait for Congress to act if they really want states to be able to do this in this way.


SOLOMON: Do you think, Jennifer -- let me stick with you -- do you think they weigh in on the issue of whether he incited or engaged in an insurrection?

RODGERS: I think they're going to try very hard to stay away from that issue. That is largely a factual question. There was a five-day trial at the trial court level in Colorado. So, usually, higher courts don't delve into these questions. It's very hard for them to overturn on a factual question like that. I also think just, politically, they want to kind of stay away from that. I think they'll look for one of the pure legal issues, whether he's an officer, whether it's a self- executing provision. Those are where I think they'll try to take their time.

SOLOMON: Norm, what do you think? Do you think that they weigh in on that issue, or sort of sidestep it, as Jennifer pointed out?

EISEN: I agree with Jennifer. As a strict matter of law and evidence, if you were looking at the 14th Amendment, the Colorado courts correctly concluded Donald Trump engaged in insurrection and does not belong on the ballot.

But the Supreme Court sometimes makes political decisions. The worst of those, of course, was the Dobbs decision, wrongly overturning decades of constitutional protection for women's rights to choose.

If the Supreme Court looks for an off ramp here, there are two. One is, was Donald Trump an officer of the United States as the 14th Amendment requires? Rahel, it's silly to say the president is not an officer, but there are some historical, legal, constitutional pegs if the Supreme Court just wants to sidestep the whole question.

Perhaps the more likely off ramp is to say, hey, this is a political question for Congress. We don't get into political questions. That's fundamental Supreme Court doctrine. And, besides, there are some words in the 14th Amendment that you can read. The Supreme Court will need to stretch a little bit to say, hey, this is really for Congress.

So, I agree with Jennifer. Those are the two most likely off-ramps, officer of the United States, political question under the text of the 14th Amendment.

SOLOMON: Jennifer, let me ask lastly on this and just take it a step further. Do you think we see a unanimous ruling, or do you think that there is so much here that even if this does go the former president's way, there will likely be some dissents, there will likely be a bit of a push-pull among the justices?

RODGERS: And I think Justice Roberts will try very hard for a unanimous decision here. I don't know that he'll get it. It depends on what the majority of the court focuses on, which off-ramp, as Norm put it, they're going to take.

I think he's going to try hard. I'm not sure he'll get there because there may be one or two justices who just can't stomach it and say he should be off the ballot and we're not going to fudge it.

SOLOMON: Jennifer Rodgers, good to see you. Norm Eisen, good to have you as well.

And a quick promo note, CNN will have special team coverage of Trump's ballot battle at the Supreme Court. That starts tomorrow morning. Join Jake Tapper and Kaitlan Collins starting at 9 A.M. Eastern. John?

BERMAN: All right. Republican Party overhauled, the RNC chair on her way out. What is Donald Trump up to here?

And after months and months of bickering and desperate pleas from soldiers on the frontlines, U.S. aid to Ukraine could be decided by the U.S. Senate today.