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CNN International: Takeaways From Third Republican Presidential Debate; Trump Absent From Third GOP Presidential Debate; The Dangers Posed by Urban Warfare in Gaza; U.S. Strikes Iran-Related Weapons Facility in Eastern Syria. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired November 09, 2023 - 04:00   ET



BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a warm welcome to our viewers joining us in the United States and all around the world. I'm Bianca Nobilo.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Max Foster, live from London, just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM.

Five Republicans running for U.S. President clashed during the third GOP presidential debate. And the big no show once again was former President Donald Trump, of course, will bring you some of the key moments.

NOBILO: Then, as fighting intensifies in Gaza between Hamas and Israeli Defense Forces, we'll have a report on how thousands of civilians are trying to flee the bombing.

FOSTER: Plus, striking Hollywood actors reached a tentative agreement with film and television studios to end their months long strike. We'll have the details.

ANNOUNCER: Live from London, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Max Foster and Bianca Nobilo.

FOSTER: It is Thursday, November the 9th, 9:00 a.m. here in London, 4:00 a.m. in Miami, where Republican presidential hopefuls wrapped up their third televised debate. All of them are hoping to catch fire with voters just two months before the Iowa caucuses.

NOBILO: But the man to beat front runner Donald Trump again chose to stay away, instead holding a rally nearby. The debate also came after elections on Tuesday saw significant Democratic wins. Only five of the other candidates qualified for the stage this time around.

NOBILO: CNN's Jeff Zeleny was at the debate in Miami and has our report.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF U.S. NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: At the third Republican presidential debate here in Miami, the race to become the leading alternative to Donald Trump was more furious and louder than ever, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took immediate aim at the former president for those Republican losses on Tuesday night.

RON DESANTIS, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And he said Republicans were going to get tired of winning. Well, we saw last night. I'm sick of Republicans losing.

ZELENY: Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who has also served as UN ambassador in the Trump administration also said it's time to move on from Donald Trump.

NIKKI HALEY, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everybody wants to talk about President Trump. Well, I can talk about President Trump. I can tell you that I think he was the right president at the right time. I don't think he's the right president now. I think that he put us $8 trillion in debt and our kids are never going to forgive us for that. I think the fact that he used to be right on Ukraine and foreign issues. Now he's getting weak in the knees and trying to be friendly again.

ZELENY: Haley has been gaining momentum in the polls because of her debate performance. She and Governor DeSantis sparred repeatedly on China, on the environment, even on the economy and their handling of their respective governorships. But they clearly are going after one another, trying to become again that leading alternative to Donald Trump. But it was South Carolina Senator Tim Scott, who talked about abortion and urged both of his rivals to support a 15-week ban.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC), U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would challenge both Nikki and Ron to join me at a 15-week limit. It is in our nation's best interest.

ZELENY: The winner of the evening may not have been on the debate stage at all. He, of course, is former President Donald Trump, just a few miles down the road in Hialeah holding a campaign rally of his own. Of course, he has a commanding lead in this race now about two months before voting begins in Iowa.

Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Miami.


NOBILO: While in the Sunshine State, Donald Trump promised to terminate President Biden's border policies if he's elected.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: On day one, we will restore the Trump travel ban on entry from terror plagued countries, and we will implement strict vetting and ideological screening for all new entrants into our country. We don't do that at all now.


Donald Trump is the likely Republican nominee in 2024, but he's facing numerous criminal charges -- NOBILO: If you didn't know.

FOSTER: -- which make his ability to hold office unclear if he's convicted.

NOBILO: With us now is Richard Johnson, senior lecturer in U.S. politics at Queen Mary University of London. Lovely to have you with us this morning. Given that these debates are descending into plenty of red-on-red attacks and nobody's coming off particularly well, I think. And Donald Trump is staying away from all of it. How do you think that's playing? Do you think he's just gaining in popularity and status by keeping off that stage?

RICHARD JOHNSON, SENIOR LECTURER IN U.S. POLITICS, QUEEN MARY UNIVERSITY OF LONDON: Trump has been, I think, vindicated in his decision not to participate in the debates. His Poly Dow is stronger than it's been at any point in the last 18 months.


CNN had a poll this week showing him at 61 percent. And just to give you context, if you put the five candidates who are on stage together, their polling is 36 percent. So for any one of them to be a viable contender against Trump, they have to hoover up all of the support of everyone on that stage and peel off about a quarter of Trump's current supporters. So that just gives you a sense of really how significant his advantage is at the moment.

FOSTER: Pretend for a moment that Donald Trump isn't running. What would you have said about the debate and who's actually doing well for fighting into second position?

JOHNSON: Well, this was probably the most substantive of the three debates we had, because there were fewer people on the stage. It gave candidates a bit more time to develop their answers. The two standout figures I think were Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis. Both the current non-Trump front runners. To give you context, DeSantis was at 17 points in the CNN poll and Haley at 10 points. But they are the two and three in the race and I think that showed in the debate.

I thought that Tim Scott was pretty low energy. I suspect this may be his last debate. He didn't really cut through very much, and did so with Chris Christie, who is, you know, effectively trying to be the anti-Trump candidate in a primary field that's not so interested in him.

The wild card was Vivek Ramaswamy. Who went in there as a bit of a bomb thrower, but I -- but I think his act is wearing thin. I don't think he had an especially good debate. And where he made some of his more, more outrageous claims. The other candidates were pretty quick at putting him down. So Haley and DeSantis were probably the two strongest on the field.

NOBILO: It seemed as though the candidates weren't exactly focusing on the issues. They're going to move the dial at next year's election, for example, off the back of the election results on Tuesday into Wednesday where we know how keenly abortion featured as a political issue in those. That was not discussed until the very end and there wasn't really much moving of the dial. DeSantis perhaps a little more vague on his stance. And there was a huge emphasis on foreign policy, which has, you know, typically isn't one of the key issues for voters in the United States when they're deciding who to vote for on their ballot.

JOHNSON: Yes, I would actually say I thought that the abortion discussion -- you're right, it came late in the in the debate. But I thought it was one of the more interesting discussions. You saw there some of the candidates take a softer line perhaps than we've seen in previous Republican primaries. I think there is a recognition among leading Republicans that in effect that, you know the Republican Party is the dog that had finally caught the car with the Dobbs decision. It was easy to criticize Roe v Wade, and that unified the party. But when it comes to actually deciding what the limits are on abortion, that turn -- turns out to be much more fraught.

I think that the line that Haley and DeSantis want to effectively take is let's now leave this to the states to decide. Tim Scott came in with a much stronger line that there needed to be a national limit. Sorry my fire alarms going off. I don't know if you could hear that. But that was -- that was that was it was a test of clearly.

But that was a -- that was a more interesting discussion on foreign policy -- on your point about foreign policy. I think that helped Nikki Haley tonight. She is the most experienced candidate, having been ambassador to the United Nations and that showed. It was also an area, broad agreement when it came to Israel, but when it came to Ukraine, you can see that there are cracks within the Republican Party about how strong to support the effort of the Ukrainians, again, against Russia. Ranging from Ramaswami, effectively calling Zelenskyy Nazi adjacent, to Nikki Haley taking the view that Trump has been too weak with the Russians.

FOSTER: OK, Richard Johnson, thank you so much. I mean it's a good point on Nikki Haley. She's so experienced in foreign policy. But it's so much more about optics, isn't it, rather than substance, often at this stage?

NOBILO: It is and typically not just in the United States, but particularly so. Foreign policy issues aren't what really energizes voters for an election perhaps here because of the funding going to Ukraine.


And we know that the economy is always such an important element of an election. That might be slightly different, but I'm sure that there will be many who were listening to that debate last night and also wondering about Donald Trump thinking about the future of Ukraine's fight against Russia's invasion and being quite concerned. Ramaswamy has having some particularly strong words to say about the fact that he didn't believe it was right to frame that invasion is a fight between good and evil, and there's a lot more circumspect about Ukraine. Questions are growing about the political end game in Gaza more than a

month into Israel's war against Hamas.

FOSTER: Israel says its troops are now in the heart of Gaza City, targeting Hamas infrastructure and commanders. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will be in charge of Gaza's overall security indefinitely after the war.

NOBILO: But on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed back against that. He said Gaza should not be occupied by Israel or be a staging ground for terrorism. Blinken also said the Palestinian Authority should eventually run both Gaza and the West Bank.

FOSTER: As Israel expands its ground operation in Gaza, the Israel Defence Forces claims it's destroyed 130 Hamas tunnels since the war started. CNN can't verify that claim, but it comes as we're getting a better view of what Israeli soldiers are facing on the ground. CNN's Jeremy Diamond reports from Tel Aviv.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An Israeli armored vehicle advances through the Al-Shati refugee camp. But an ambush awaits. Moments earlier, the same video shows a Hamas fighter armed with a rocket propelled grenade moving slowly from behind the rubble.

These are Hamas propaganda videos from the perspective of its fighters. Showing Hamas militants peering around buildings and through the rubble before striking armored vehicles.

CNN has geolocated several videos released in recent days to northern Gaza in Beit Hanoun, Atatra and the Shati Refugee Camp, indicating Hamas is likely still mounting attacks in areas Israeli forces entered over a week ago. The videos provide a limited window into the group's guerrilla tactics. And the threats Israeli forces face as they move deeper into Gaza.

LT. COL. PETER LERNER, IDF SPOKESPERSON: As we're moving in, we're fighting more and more close combat, urban combat type engagement.

DIAMOND (voice-over): The Israeli military says its forces have encircled and are now operating in the heart of Gaza City, where they face the dangers of dense urban combat and a vast network of tunnels Hamas fighters are using to sneak up on Israeli forces.

LERNER: The nature of urban warfare is that, you know, they go down a tunnel and come up somewhere else, and that is exactly why we're moving slowly. We're not advancing, we're not rushing into this. We're taking strategic positions.

DIAMOND (voice-over): Israeli forces say they've destroyed 130 Hamas tunnel shafts -- like this one -- since launching their ground offensive.

LERNER: We're just scratching the surface of that. DIAMOND (voice-over): But many more still remain.

Jeremy Diamond, CNN, Tel Aviv.


FOSTER: Elliott's been looking at this. Obviously, a few reporters have been allowed in, and we're saying, I mean, a lot of them have just like been horrified by the amount of destruction within Gaza. Why do you think the Israelis are trying to, you know, show that side of things?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Look, I think as well as the military war, this is clearly an information war as well. We know that from, you know, the Israelis are doing briefings every day. They are constantly updating over Telegram, over WhatsApp. One of the latest ones, they're talking about a 10-hour firefight taking over a military stronghold in Jabalya, where they found weapons and they killed, you know, a number of Hamas militants as well.

And they said that, you know, and they found tunnel shaft, including one near a kindergarten. Another one, they said they discovered a drone manufacturing and weapons manufacturing facility in a residential building next to a child's bedroom.

There is an information war going on here. What Israel wants to show is that it is being careful to avoid civilian casualties, that it is simply targeting Hamas and Hamas's infrastructure, and that, you know, this is a just war that it is carrying out in order to protect its own civilians.

Of course, it's also an information one. We've seen this from Hamas, of course, is projecting their perspective. And from Hamas's perspective, the more of these images, which are heartbreaking images of death and destruction and despair in the Gaza Strip. Then the more demonized Israel is going to be and the harder it is going to be for the United States, for example, to support Israel. And of course, the harder it's going to be for Israel's allies in the region, Arab allies in particular, to stay silent and or maintain, you know, relations with Israel. So there is an information war going on here, and Israel clearly wants to show the world that what it is doing is targeting Hamas, not innocent civilians and --

FOSTER: Being successful.


GOTKINE: And well, it's yes, it's being successful in terms of taking out Hamas infrastructure and Hamas fighters for sure. And this is what it wants to show the world and that it's -- that it's a just cause if you like, and that it is taking all the precautions that it wants to be taking and also that it's succeeding in its military objectives at the same time.

FOSTER: We were just seeing there the tunnels. You know, we're really getting sense of how complex that tunnel system is. The assumption also being that hostages are held in the tunnels and they've they -- they've talked about, you know, dozens and dozens of tunnels have been destroyed and blown up. I mean, how do they know there aren't hostages there, or are they taking the risk that there are hostages down there?

GOTKINE: I think the assumption is that Israel has intelligence more or less as to where a certain number of the hostages are. We don't know specifics clearly. They had intelligence when they freed that female Israeli soldier who was being held captured by Hamas. And yes, it's still holding 240 hostages. And that is certainly the main reason that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to reiterate. There can be no ceasefire unless these hostages are returned unharmed. And anything else you hear about negotiations for a ceasefire, in his words, are just fake news.

So there is clearly a danger that if Israel goes in and takes out all these tunnels on the assumption that the hostages are being held there, that they could be harmed. What Israel has also said is that one of the reasons that Hamas took back some of the bodies of the people that it killed in that rampage on October the 7th inside Israel is to then kind of say, hey, look Israel's --

FOSTER: Israelis killed them.

GOTKINE: -- Israel's killing them, we aren't, and therefore, you know, we've been treating them very nicely and this is all Israel's fault for killing them.

Now, obviously we're not there on the ground to see specifically what's happening, but yes, of course there is a danger that when they destroy these tunnels that perhaps they don't know where all of these hostages are, presumably they're not being kept in one place all of the time, and that there is a very real danger that they could be killed by one of a better phrase, friendly fire. And Israel will clearly be keen to try to avoid that eventuality.

FOSTER: Elliott, thank you.

Well, in the skies above Syria, the U.S. has retaliated a second time against Iranian backed militias attacking American forces. The Pentagon says two U.S. F-15 fighter jets struck a weapons depot in eastern Syria used by Iran's Revolutionary Guard and other affiliated groups. But as Natasha Bertrand explains, the U.S. is taking a measured approach at striking back.


NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: The U.S. conducted an air strike against a weapons storage facility in eastern Syria that U.S. officials say was being used by Iran and its proxy groups to store weapons that were being used to carry out attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria over the last several weeks. There have been over 40 such attacks in recent weeks since October 17th by Iran backed proxy groups on U.S. and coalition bases in Iraq and Syria.

And the U.S. says they conducted this strike, which is the second in just over two weeks on these kinds of weapons storage facilities in Syria, in order to degrade Iran and its proxy's ability to carry out these attacks in the future. They said that they are targeting this infrastructure in order to send a message to the Iranians that these attacks will not be tolerated and also to destroy their weapons stockpile.

Now Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin did release a statement about this and said that this strike was carried out in self-defense. It is a precision strike. And he emphasized that the U.S. does not want to see this war expand any further, but that the U.S. is committed to defending its troops and that it will do so in every possible scenario.

And so Secretary Austin, other defense officials, really emphasizing that they are carrying out these strikes in limited self-defense in order to destroy Iranian weapons supplies. But that this does not indicate a broader desire by the U.S. to escalate the conflict any further.

However, all of this comes on the same day that Houthis in Yemen, who are backed by Iran, they shot down MQ-9 Reaper drone that was carrying out surveillance activities over the Red Sea. And so this conflict obviously the U.S. is very concerned that it could spiral, that it could expand. But right now doing everything possible to take limited steps to try to defend U.S. troops as well as degrade these Iranian proxy group's ability to attack U.S. forces in the future.

Natasha Bertrand, CNN at the Pentagon.


NOBILO: Still to come, a deadly strike on a cargo ship in Ukraine. Why Russia is ramping up attacks on vessels entering and leaving Odessa ports.

FOSTER: Also ahead, Republican candidates make their case to voters in a televised debate, but the man leaving all of the polls was a no show.

NOBILO: And after almost four months on the picket lines, actors are going back to work. What we know about the tentative agreement with Hollywood studios when we come back.



FOSTER: Ukraine may be one step closer to the process of joining the European Union. EU's legislative body, the European Commission, has recommended that a formal accession talks begin between the bloc and Ukraine should begin next year, but only once Kyiv satisfies certain conditions, including rainy in corruption and strengthening national minority safeguards.


URSULA VAN DER LEYEN, EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT: Ukraine continues to face tremendous hardship and tragedy provoked by Russia's war of aggression, and yet the Ukrainians are deeply reforming their country even as they are fighting a war that is existential for them.


NOBILO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the move a historic step. Zelenskyy applied for EU membership in February 2022, shortly before Russia invaded his country. The 27 national EU leaders will decide mid-December whether they will accept the Commission's recommendation.

A Russian missile struck a civilian vessel entering a Black Sea port in the Odessa region, killing the ship's pilot and injuring four others -- and that is according to Ukrainian officials. Photos posted by the Ukrainian military showed damage to the ship's bridge, and officials say this is the 21st attack on Black Sea ports in the Odessa region since Russia left the grain deal back in July.


FOSTER: The deal, brokered by the UN and Turkey collapsed as Moscow demanded sanctions must be lifted on its grain and fertilizer exports. Kyiv has since opened what it says is a temporary humanitarian corridor to circumvent Russia's blockade.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was in Kyiv on Wednesday to announce a new American infrastructure adviser for Ukraine. That's Robert Mariner.

NOBILO: Buttigieg met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior Ukrainian officials to discuss the impact of the war on port and rail networks. Russian attacks have heavily damaged Ukraine's infrastructure, especially energy and port facilities.

FOSTER: After almost four months, the active strike is over and the Union is celebrating. What we know about the tentative agreement with Hollywood studios after the break.

NOBILO: Plus, Donald Trump's eldest daughter, testifies in New York civil court in defense of her father. The latest in the fraud trial against the former U.S. president just ahead.


NOBILO: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Bianca Nobilo.

FOSTER: I'm Max Foster. Republicans held their third televised presidential debate last night in Miami. Six candidates qualified to the be on that stage, but only five showed up.

NOBILO: As he's done twice before, front runner Donald Trump skipped the debate to hold his own rally. CNN's Mike Valerio has our report ...