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President Biden Criticizes Israeli Operation in Gaza; President Biden Fights Back Against Criticism. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired February 09, 2024 - 13:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: President Biden fighting back, but not without some miscues. Did his rebuttal of a special counsel report questioning his memory potentially make matters worse? The White House is about to face reporters again. We're going to bring that to you live.

And Donald Trump is facing some of his own problems. Supreme Court justices may side with him in the Colorado ballot issue, but it's another case, one involving presidential immunity, that may be his most pressing problem.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And big game, big bucks. Celebrities are getting eye-popping paychecks for appearing in Super Bowl commercials.

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

SANCHEZ: President Biden fuming after the special counsel report into his mishandling of classified documents described him as -- quote -- "an elderly man with a poor memory."

Biden was incredulous during an impromptu press conference last night, when he pushed back against the claims made by special counsel Robert Hur. While touting the fact that Hur decided no criminal charges should be brought, Biden lashed out in the face of newly intensified scrutiny over his mental acuity.

Republicans are now seizing on it, some saying it's time to invoke the 25th Amendment.

Let's take you now to the White House with CNN's M.J. Lee, who was at last night's heated briefing.

M.J., the president's anger was on full display. You had a tense exchange with him, asking him about this public perception that he has lost a step in his older age.

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think you're right that the president was clearly fuming and furious last night.

And it's interesting. Watching him last night, giving his remarks, taking questions from reporters, it was almost as though the legal headline that Robert Hur was not going to bring forward criminal charges almost became a footnote.

There was so much more focus on that description in the report that you referenced, Robert Hur saying that he was an elderly man with a memory problem. We saw the president very much pushing back on those accusations, but there were so many references in this report citing various examples of these alleged memory problems, including the president not knowing when he was vice president and that he didn't know when his late son, Beau, had died.

And that line of questioning in particular was clearly what made the president most upset and angry. We are told that, in private yesterday, he was fuming about that and said: "How would I effing forget that?"

And we also saw him get emotional when he addressed this in the remarks last night. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How in the hell dare he raise that?

Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself, it wasn't any of their damn business. Let me tell you something. Some of you have commented. I wear since the day he died every single day the rosary he got from Our Lady of -- every Memorial Day, we hold a service remembering him attended by friends and family and the people who loved him.

I don't need anyone, I don't need anyone to remind me when he passed away.



LEE: And we also heard from the president, and I think this is something we will continue hearing from the White House, is the distinction that Robert Hur made in this report comparing the way that Biden handled the classified documents versus former President Donald Trump, the fact that they turned over these documents immediately, consented to multiple searches of his properties, the fact that he sat down for a five-hour interview back in October.

But I think even that ended up getting relatively lost, Boris, compared to all of the focus that we saw yesterday on these memory issues and the questions about his age.

SANCHEZ: M.J. Lee, live from the White House for us.

M.J., thank you so much.

I do want to play a clip for you now. Vice President Kamala Harris was just asked about whether she thought that this special counsel report was fair in its description of President Biden as an elderly man with memory problems. Let's listen to the vice president's response, remembering that she is a former prosecutor herself.




Listen, I have been privileged and proud to serve as vice president of the United States with Joe Biden as president of the United States. And what I saw that report last night, I believe is -- as a former prosecutor, the comments that were made by that prosecutor gratuitous, inaccurate, and inappropriate.

October 7, Israel experienced a horrific attack. And I will tell you, we got the calls, the president and myself, in the hours after that occurred. It was an intense moment for the commander in chief of the United States of America.

And I was in almost every meeting with the president in the hours and days that followed, countless hours with the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the heads of our intelligence community, and the president was in front of and on top of it all, asking questions and requiring that America's military and intelligence community and diplomatic community would figure out and know how many people were dead, how many are Americans, how many hostages. Is the situation stable?

He was in front of it all, coordinating and directing leaders who are in charge of America's national security, not to mention our allies around the globe, for days and, up until now, months.

So the way that the president's demeanor in that report was characterized could not be more wrong on the facts and clearly politically motivated, gratuitous.

And so I will say that, when it comes to the role and responsibility of a prosecutor in a situation like that, we should expect that there would be a higher level of integrity than what we saw.

Thank you. Thank you for the question.



KEILAR: All right, the vice president clearly wanting to address that there.

House Republicans are seizing on the special counsel's report, suggesting that President Biden is unfit to lead, and using it to ramp up what had really been a flailing effort to impeach Biden. One GOP senator is now calling Biden's -- calling on Biden's Cabinet to remove him from office using the 25th Amendment.

Let's go to CNN's Melanie Zanona, who is live for us on Capitol Hill. The reaction from Republicans was pretty swift, Mel.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, it was swift and it was sharp.

Republicans are now trying to allege that there was a double standard, because Trump was charged for his mishandling of classified documents, and Biden was not, even though the report notes that there's a key distinction here, in that Trump willfully did not turn over documents and tried to obstruct justice.

But the part of the report that Republicans are highlighting the most is the section that says Biden struggled to remember key details during his interview. The House Republican leadership team put out a statement questioning the president's mental acuity, saying he's unfit to serve.


And James Comer -- he is the chairman of one of the committees leading the impeachment inquiry to the president -- put out a statement saying that they are going to continue to investigate. "While the Justice Department has closed its investigation, the Oversight Committee's investigation continues."

He has also said, Brianna, that they want to see the entire interview transcript. So that is something that Republicans are demanding. We're expecting those calls to ramp up in the coming days.

Now, Democrats have really forcefully pushed back, though. They say that the references to Biden's memory issues were totally out of bounds in that report. And they're also saying that they still believe Biden is their best bet to take on Trump in November, but no doubt these concerns and questions about Biden's age is something that Democrats are going to have to deal with as we get closer to November, Bri.

KEILAR: All right, Melanie Zanona, thank you so much for that, the latest from Capitol Hill -- Boris.

SANCHEZ: Let's discuss now with CNN senior political commentator and former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod as well as CNN political commentator and former communications director for Vice President Harris Jamal Simmons.

Thank you both, gentlemen, for sharing part of your afternoon with us.

David, soon after these remarks, we heard from Biden allies, who argued that the president has historically had a habit of misspeaking. But I'm curious, from your perspective, someone who's worked with him closely, is the Joe Biden that you see today different than the Joe Biden you saw every day during the Obama administration?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, they're right that he had -- this has been part of Biden's political profiles from the beginning. He's a guy who speaks freely and sometimes commits gaffes. That was

true in his 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s. And it's the flip side of authenticity that has served him well.

Look, he's older than he -- he was 12 years older than -- or more than when I worked with him, 15 years older than when I worked with him. So, yes, he's not exactly the same. I don't think President Obama was the same at the end of the eighth -- in the eighth year than he was in the first year, but he was -- he had the benefit of experience that offset anything that -- any aging that went on.

But, look, let's be honest about this. The reason that that report, and gratuitous or not -- and I think it was gratuitous for the prosecutor to put that language in. It struck a chord, because this has been something that's been plaguing the president throughout this campaign and before, this sense that he has lost a step, that he's not with it.

I think that what the vice president described is probably exactly the truth, which is, behind closed doors, he's very competently running the administration. And there are ample -- there's ample evidence of that, the legislation he's passed, the relationship with NATO, and the way he pulled them together and so on.

But, having said all that, public perception is formed by how you perform in front of the camera. And, on that, I think the president has lost a step, and it has hurt him, and it has created these questions that are the central challenge for him in this campaign.

SANCHEZ: Jamal, to that point that, there were some missteps last night. Biden made some inaccurate statements about the investigation. Among them, he claimed that none of the documents he kept were highly classified. Some of them were highly classified.

He said that he didn't share classified information with anyone. He's on tape sharing them with his ghostwriter, or at least telling his ghostwriter that he has classified documents in his basement. Did this press conference help Biden's case?

JAMAL SIMMONS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the way this press conference was intended to work, and I think it worked in this way. He was feisty, right?

I mean, the thing about the president that even those of us who were in the White House came to know pretty well from our friends who were briefing him is, the president can get in your stuff a little bit, right? He can poke. He can prod. He can ask for real questions and want to know the real answers about what's going on.

And so I think it's probably true that he was not happy when he heard this -- he read this report. And what we saw last night is a feisty president. And one of the things that we also know about him, he's honest and he's got this sort of core competency of really caring about people and trying to make sure.

And let me just say what Mark Milley said, who was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He said he engaged with him frequently, on "60 Minutes." He's alert, sound, does his homework, reads the papers, reads everything in advance, very engaging on issues. Very serious matters of war and peace, he's very engaged.

I think this testimony from the vice president, from the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff tells you that America is in good hands. So the question that David raises, which I think is the question that the voters raise, which David points out, is a very serious one about, is this man, Joe Biden, really up to the job?


And the people who work with him the most closely say the answer is yes.

SANCHEZ: That may be true, but that perception, David, that you noted has been nagging him for months. And even though he was fiery last night, he did mistake the president of Egypt for the president of Mexico. I can't imagine that that altered a lot of folks' thinking at home.

Noticeably, as we're putting up polling on the screen, there is a lot of folks, a majority, almost 75 percent of voters that were asked by CNN have serious concerns about his age and the impact of his age on his presidency.

I'm imagining that he's going to try to shake that in the 200-plus days before Election Day. Can he change public perception in that way? How?


AXELROD: Boris, well, first of all --


AXELROD: Stories that are damaging in politics are stories that reinforce an impression.

There is this impression of the president out there. It's been relentlessly pushed by Republicans really for four -- more than four years. But these things become -- they become bites on social media, the mistake last night, because they reinforce a theme. And that is a problem that his campaign has to cope with.

What -- how do you put him out there to show energy, but then deal with the aftermath if he makes mistakes? I mean, Donald Trump is a gaffe machine himself, I mean, but because he is energetic, these questions are not as profound about him. But he mistakes Nikki Haley for Nancy Pelosi and so on.

How you deal with it is a real question, Boris. I mean, obviously they need to be on the offense and they need to make this a comparative race, and they need -- because President Trump has his own major liabilities that are going to play out during the course of this campaign. But the thing that -- less -- more concerning to me about the

mistaking the president -- calling the president of Egypt the president of Mexico was the way he reacted to M.J. when she asked a question that was completely legitimate, which is, what are you going to do about the fact that so many people have this question?

And he snapped it at her said, well, that's your opinion. Well, no, Mr. President, it's not her opinion. It's the opinion of a lot of Americans who only see you in front of a camera. They don't see you in the Situation Room. They don't see you in these closed-door meetings. And they are drawing their conclusions from what they see.

And so that's -- the campaign has to strategize around that and put him in situations. And I'm not sure that a group of hungry reporters shouting at him is necessarily the best way for him to communicate. They need to figure out how to use him, how much to use him, how not to tire him out when -- so that he makes more mistakes.

But it's a big problem. And one other point I want to make. Last night, one of the things that I heard that concerned me was the president was disputing elements of the -- of the report, as you guys mentioned. It's very clear there is a transcript of that -- of that -- of those five hours.

And so he is now -- he has made a carnivorous House Republican Caucus more so, and they're going to chase them -- they're going to chase this thing relentlessly and keep this story alive. So that was another problem with the press conference last night.

And one last thing, Boris. I listened to the vice president, who was very compelling in her testimony. But it made me wonder. If you're the staff, why, in the midst of everything she was describing, do you then have the president sit down for a very consequential deposition?

If the president was weary in that deposition, she described why. And I don't know. No matter whether the president is 80 or 50, I'm not sure that you go forward with a deposition in the midst of a global crisis that the president is handling 24/7. That's a little confusing to me.

SANCHEZ: It is worth pointing out that some of the descriptions from Robert Hur weren't just about the deposition and the difficult time, the strain that the White House was under on October 8 and 9. This goes back to conversations Biden was having with his ghostwriter in 2017, in which he was forgetting things.

Jamal, when I asked the last question, you had wanted to say something. Please go ahead.


SIMMONS: Well, just, first of all, I think this idea of him getting a name of a country wrong here or there, just on Sunday, the speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, who is 52 years old, was talking to Kristen Welker on "Meet the Press" and said, we had aid to Iran package, and, really, he meant Israel, right? So people make these mistakes when they're on television. We all make

them all the time. But when you think about what the campaign has to do next and what the president has to do next, it's a very different world than it was in 2016 or 2012.

This is a world where the president has to communicate with people who aren't watching regular television. They're scrolling through Instagram and TikTok. And I think the campaign is very clear that they're going to talk to these folks very directly in those environments.

And we just have seen some viral videos that go out when people get to meet the president. I think you will see him doing some -- doing some things where he is speaking very directly with voters, perhaps in maybe smaller groups. And those are going to annoy the press, because he's not -- although he's doing press interviews like he did yesterday, but he's not going to sit down for every media interview, big media interview that gets asked.

But he will go out and talk to voters. Those voters will share those images and stories with their friends. And that's how half the country is consuming their news. So I think this campaign is different than ones we have seen in the past. And they're learning those lessons and I think being really creative about how to address it.

SANCHEZ: Yes, I hoped we're -- I hope that we're not judged by the mistakes we make on TV. If we were, I probably wouldn't be here right now.

Jamal Simmons, David Axelrod, thanks so much for being with us.



AXELROD: Thanks, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

Still ahead: As President Biden rebukes Israel's response in Gaza as over the top, Israel's military is planning a massive new offensive. We're live in Tel Aviv to bring you the latest.

Plus, the Supreme Court appears poised to keep former President Trump on the 2024 ballot, but could a win in that case hint at a possible adverse decision in another for the former president?

And Tucker Carlson sitting down one-on-one with Vladimir Putin, giving the Russian leader an hourslong platform to spew his propaganda.

Those stories and much more next on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.


[13:26:25] SANCHEZ: Turning now to the war in Gaza and Israel's planned operation in part of the enclave where Gazans were once directed to evacuate to, Rafah, which sits on Gaza's border with Egypt.

Today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is directing the military to plan for the evacuation from Rafah. He said Israeli forces will enter that area to root out Hamas from what Netanyahu calls its -- quote -- "last bastion."

An estimated 1.3 million people live there, nearly all crammed into makeshift tents, many of them on the verge of starvation. And at least one aid group is fearing that Rafah could turn into -- quote -- "a zone of bloodshed."

It's another dire warning about Israel's campaign on Gaza that's killed nearly 28,000 people, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, which is run by Hamas.

On Thursday, President Biden said this about the impact of Israel's war.


BIDEN: The conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip, has been over the top.

There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying. And it's got to stop.


SANCHEZ: CNN international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson joins us now live from Tel Aviv.

Nic, has Israel responded to that comment from President Biden?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I think what we have heard from the prime minister today is a response to that.

Obviously, the president's criticizing the civilian death toll inside of Gaza. I think that's very evident from what he says. And the prime minister has -- his office has issued this statement, which in a way shifts the focus from Prime Minister Netanyahu onto the military, because he's saying, OK, military, over to you.

You come up with a plan. Tell us, the Cabinet, how you're going to execute our orders in Rafah, where there's 1.3 million people, and do it without creating civilian casualties. However, I think the backdrop to this is that the military does have already a plan for trying to get civilians out of the way.

And we have seen them try to do that in many parts of the country, thinking of Khan Yunis, where the military operation began there a couple of months ago. They tell areas of the population in certain districts that, you need to evacuate and you need to do it now. And this is the road that you can use. And this is where you have to go, this Mawasi refugee camp that's just growing and growing and growing close to the sea in Gaza.

But the reality of that scenario is that civilians have been killed while they have been leaving their homes on the road. Civilians have been killed in this -- in this supposedly safe area. And, also, there are civilians that don't leave for any number of reasons. They can't. They're afraid, elderly relatives, all that sort of thing.

And then they get stuck and caught in the line of fire. So, unless the military comes up with a different approach, the outcome could very much be the same. And you do get the impression from Prime Minister Netanyahu's office that this in a way is sort of passing the burden of responsibility to the military.

And the military say, we don't have our orders to go into Rafah yet. And I have talked to some of the commanders, and they look at the situation in Rafah and that high density of population, and it worries them, because they know how hard it will be to execute their mission to capture and kill Hamas where there are so many civilians.

And the Egyptian foreign minister just