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Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter Dead At 96; Israeli Military Releases Video From Inside Exposed Tunnel at Al-Shifa Hospital; White House Claims Hostage Negotiations Closer Than Have Been; Biden Job Approval Rating Drops To New Lows; Interview With Representative Sean Casten (D-IL) About Pro-Palestinian Protesters Outside DNC. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired November 19, 2023 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Incredible family because they brought so much grace to the office. I talked to the family today -- not the family. The family spokesman today in Plains, and I was told that all the family, all the children, the grandchildren, are with Jimmy. But he has great integrity. He still does, and she did, too. Imagine they were together, what, 77 years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAULA REID, CNN HOST: CNN's Wolf Blitzer takes a look back on her remarkable life and legacy.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: A soft-spoken, small-town girl, Rosalynn Smith Carter became one of America's most charming first ladies. Born in Plains, Georgia, on August 18th, 1927, she was valedictorian of her high school class, and met and married Jimmy Carter when he was in the U.S. Navy.
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I love and respect and cherish my wife Rosalynn.
BLITZER: When Mr. Carter's father died in 1953, they moved back to Plains to manage the family's peanut farm.
ROSALYNN CARTER, FORMER FIRST LADY: I didn't want to go home. I was having a good time. I think I had thought I had outgrown Plains, Georgia. It had gotten a little too big for my britches. Only pouted for about a year after we got home.
BLITZER: They had four children, three boys, Jack, Chip and Jeff, and later daughter Amy. In 1962, Jimmy Carter entered politics and Rosalynn hit the campaign trail.
R. CARTER: Campaigning was fun. Up to a certain point because I got to travel and see the whole country. The most fun are the people you meet.
BLITZER: She supported her husband's successful bids to become governor of Georgia and later president of the United States.
J. CARTER: So help me, God.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations.
BLITZER: Mrs. Carter was actively involved in her husband's presidency, attending Camp David meetings and cabinet briefings. She was a strong advocate for equal treatment of the mentally ill.
R. CARTER: If they had coverage for their mental illness, then the overall health care costs would come down.
BLITZER: When the Carters left the White House in 1981, they spearheaded a new challenge, Habitat for Humanity, building houses for the poor.
R. CARTER: The whole community has come together to get rid of poverty.
BLITZER: A year later they established the Carter Center, a foundation devoted to promoting human rights, resolving conflicts, and eradicating diseases. Mrs. Carter continued to focus on reducing the stigma of mental illness.
R. CARTER: I'm really, really proud. I've been very impressed.
BLITZER: Another focus, caregiving, an issue close to her heart as she told a congressional committee.
R. CARTER: It's been part of my life since I was 12 years old. And my father was diagnosed with leukemia at age 44. We lived in a very small town and all of the neighbors rallied around. But I still vividly remember going to my secret hiding place, the outdoor privy if you can believe that, to cry. It's where I could be alone.
BLITZER: In 1999, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter were honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest honor for civilians.
J. CARTER: Rosalynn and I have visited now more than 150 nations in the world.
BLITZER: Mrs. Carter was often irritated that her husband was praised more for his achievements after his presidency than those of his administration. But she accepted that was politics.
R. CARTER: Doesn't matter what you do, you're going to be criticized for it. And so do what you want to do.
BLITZER: And they were a remarkably close first couple. Jimmy Carter used to say Rosalynn was much more than his wife.
J. CARTER: It's always Rosalynn to whom I turn for the primary advice and we make the decisions together. She's the matriarch when our 11 grandchildren or our four children have a problem, they call Rosalynn first. They're going to know that they'll get a sympathetic ear. BLITZER: She remained by his side, occasionally joining with other
first families, and later supporting each other in their twilight, she with dementia and Mr. Carter in hospice. And in the 39th president, Rosalynn Carter got more than just a husband.
R. CARTER: My life with Jimmy Carter has been more adventuresome than I ever dreamed it would be.
REID: CNN's Wolf Blitzer joins us now on the phone.
Wolf, you spent a lot of time with the Carters down in Plains, Georgia. Tell us about what you learned about Rosalynn.
BLITZER: It was always very, very special, Paula, to be with both of them together. It was a really loving couple. No matter how many years they were married, almost eight decades, it was a special relationship. And I remember four years ago or so in '19, I went down to Plains and spent some quality time with both of them at their home in Plains. And then on Sunday morning, we all went to church. And it was special to see the two of them holding hands all the time, talking to each other.
It was a beautiful relationship and a really loving relationship. And then especially loving when all of the kids and grandkids were around, and they usually were. It was just very meaningful and powerful to see that, experience that with the former president of the United States and the former first lady of the United States. So it was just a nice thing to see and very moving always for me.
REID: We're showing video right now of you with the former first couple. It appears that you're in some sort of service. Talk a little bit about how they really redefined the post-presidency.
BLITZER: You know, it's amazing what they did after leaving office, after the presidency. They both dedicated their lives to helping other people, poor people, people with mental illness, people who needed housing, Habitat for Humanity. They really got involved. And the Habitat for Humanity, not only did they raise money for people who needed housing, but they actually went in and did some of the building themselves.
It was always so nice to see that. And I was always very, very impressed with what they did after leaving office, and Jimmy Carter, you know, he was an important president. I remember covering him, you know, when he was president of the United States, and I was a young reporter. And during the Camp David Peace Accords between Israel and Egypt, you know, he was very much involved in working to bring peace between Israel and Egypt, the largest and then most important Arab country, and he succeeded.
And you know who was there with him side by side at Camp David almost every step of the way? It was Rosalynn Carter who was deeply involved and she was a peace maker all of her years, during her years at the White House and ever since. Peace was so important. And I could see that then and certainly in more recent years when I went down to Plains to interview them. I could see that as well.
At one point I had dinner with them in Plains, Georgia, back in 2019 and it was just a really moving, wonderful experience. She was a wonderful, remarkable woman, and she will be missed.
REID: And she was also a staunch defender of democracy around the world. Tell us more about that part of her work.
BLITZER: Yes, she traveled all over the world, especially in Latin America and South America, Central America, to try to promote democracy and to do good. And he was always supporting her. And the presidents that followed always praised both of them for what they were doing to help people all around the world, not just in the United States. And they were deeply, deeply loved, deeply respected.
And I have to give Rosalynn Carter a lot of credit for all the achievements that President Jimmy Carter did because she was by his side. And even, you know, I remember on Friday when we were reported that the Carter Center had announced she was going into hospice, and he was already in hospice since early this year, it was just a moment I figured they would be together. And they were together all the time.
They would spend a lot of quality time together all the time. And it was just a moving moment for me in simply reporting that they had announced she was in hospice. She had been suffering from dementia for several years. And President Jimmy Carter is almost 100 years old, and he had been suffering from various illnesses, and she was always there to take care of him, to be by his side.
I'm sure, you know, now that she has passed, you know, he's missing her a lot, and it's a very sad moment for me to just try to comprehend what President Carter is going through right now without his wife by his side. She's been there for almost 80 years of marriage. So that must be so painful and difficult for him to be going through what he's going through now.
REID: Absolutely. I want to talk a little bit more about this marriage, about this partnership. What did you observe between the two of them while you were down in Plains?
BLITZER: I observed a lot of love, a lot of mutual respect, and a lot of deep commitment to various good causes, like housing for poor people and mental health and democracy. And I also observed a lot of love between them and their kids, the children and the grandchildren, and the great-grandchildren. It was just a very, very wonderful, moving experience to see that kind of experience with the former president of the United States, former first lady.
It was just always so special to see that, and I felt so privileged that here I was on an assignment to interview President Carter, but I was able to really enjoy what I was seeing. And I'm sure so many other reporters who covered them could see that as well. They would enjoy as well. REID: And she devoted so much of her time in the White House to
advocating for better care for people with mental illnesses. Now mental health is sort of a buzzword, but she really changed the conversation for that time.
BLITZER: And she wanted to make sure that people who suffered from mental health would be able to get the health care benefits that they clearly deserved. This is a medical issue. And she worked hard, and she really made enormous progress in that field. And it was always so special for her. It was her main cause all of those years. And of course President Carter supported her every step of the way.
So it was just a wonderful, wonderful experience to see what they were doing, the good that they were achieving. Yes, sure, there were political differences when he was president and when he was defeated in his bid for re-election, but I think most people, especially now, look back on what they did not only as president but as former president and all the good deeds that they did, and they admire them greatly.
They admire both of them greatly. And as he always made clear, he could not have achieved what he achieved without Rosalynn by his side. And he gave her an enormous amount of credit, which she, of course, deserved.
REID: And, Wolf, what will you remember most about Rosalynn Carter?
BLITZER: I will mostly remember the love that existed between President Carter and Rosalynn Carter, and how it was demonstrated when I could see that up close. It was just always so special and wonderful to experience that and to see that. And I of course will remember all the important work that they did in the White House and then after the White House in helping people. Just normal people, average people, poor people.
And they were dedicated to doing what they were doing, not only in the United States but around the world. And I think people around the world deeply admire both of them for all their achievements and all their hard work.
REID: Absolutely. Wolf Blitzer, thank you so much.
BLITZER: Thank you.
REID: We'll have much more on the life and legacy of former first lady Rosalynn Carter. Plus the Israeli military shows CNN what they say is a tunnel at Al-Shifa Hospital. That's ahead.
REID: There is immense pressure from around the world for Israel to show more evidence of its claim that the Al-Shifa Hospital was the site of an underground command center for Hamas. Today the Israeli military released new video showing the inside of a tunnel on the hospital's grounds.
Now CNN's Oren Liebermann joins us live from Tel Aviv with more on that footage.
And Oren, you got a chance to enter Gaza with the Israel Defense Forces Saturday. Tell us what you saw and I also want to get your take on this newly released video.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, we spent about six hours in Gaza with the IDF, and it was all at night. We went in and crossed the border from Israel into Gaza about 9:00 p.m. and didn't come out until 3:00 in the morning, crossing the Gaza Strip, heading for the ocean, and then taking an APC, an armored personnel carrier, to the hospital itself. And that was the focus of what we wanted to see.
An exposed tunnel shaft. The IDF had revealed that only a day or two earlier, but we'd only seen the entrance. The key question, what was inside? Was it what the IDF was claiming was there? Was it what international pressure was on the IDF to reveal? That's the question we went to answer. Take a look at this.
LIEBERMANN (voice-over): We go in under cover of darkness. And as we cross the border fence, it's lights out across the Gaza Strip. Escorted by a tank, we switch into an armored personal carrier for the final stretch. Even through a night vision screen, you can see the magnitude of the destruction on the streets of Gaza City. We off-load at the Al-Shifa Hospital, pick our way along even (INAUDIBLE) or what's left of it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Feet. Watch your feet. Let's go.
LIEBERMANN: We have to keep our lights off most of the time or risk exposing our position.
CNN reported from Gaza under Israel Defense Forces escort at all times. As a condition for journalists to join this embed with the IDF, media outlets must submit footage filmed in Gaza to the Israeli military censors for review.
Now at the hospital compound, we wait inside a structure to make sure the area is secure before moving the short distance to the exposed tunnel shaft.
And here's the entrance. You can see what looks like a ladder accessing to it. And as I step over here, it's very difficult to see how far down it goes. But it looks like there's almost a central shaft for a staircase, and then it -- the shaft of it disappears then down into the darkness.
(Voice-over): We move around the opening for a better look at the shaft itself. What's clear from here is this is meant to go deep underground. Which direction does the tunnel go?
MAJOR NIR DINAR, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES SPOKESPERSON: We assume that the tunnel goes out, and it has another corridor to this way.
LIEBERMANN: Towards the hospital?
DINAR: Towards the hospital, meaning it connects the hospital to outside, which implies with the way that Hamas is working, Hamas is going out somewhere, shoot at our forces, and going back inside to a safe place.
LIEBERMANN (voice-over): We weren't allowed to enter the shaft, but the Israeli military sent special gear down to see where this leads. Inside, the video shows a spiral staircase, and as the camera orients itself, it moves forward into a tunnel. The tunnel makes a sharp left turn and at the end of another path with concrete walls and an arch concrete top, a metal door they say they have not yet opened because they fear it's booby trapped.
IDF spokesman Admiral Daniel Hagari says some of the Israeli hostages taken on October 7th were also brought through the hospital. He says the body of Noah Marciano was discovered 50 meters from the compound.
REAR ADM. DANIEL HAGARI, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES SPOKESPERSON: We have evidence they were holding hostages in Rantisi, but also we have evidence that they were bringing them to Shifa hospital. We're still looking for the places they might have held them.
LIEBERMANN: This is not proof of a Hamas command center or headquarters underneath the hospital, but Israel continues trying to build its case that Hamas uses the sanctuary of the hospital for cover, which Hamas and hospital officials have denied.
The IDF's ability to continue its operation in Gaza and the credibility of Israel are at stake here as the number killed in the fighting surpasses 12,000 according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health. The IDF says one of its missions is to destroy Hamas, but with international criticism mounting, Israel has to show the terror organization is using Gaza's civilians and infrastructure as cover to justify an ongoing war.
LIEBERMANN (on-camera): Now we couldn't see how deep the shaft went and certainly not at night given how dark it was around us. But the IDF, when they sent in other gear to measure the tunnel itself, says it goes about 10 meters down, so 30 or 33 feet or so, and then continues about 55 meters so a bit more than 150 feet to the metal door you saw. And the IDF promises as they keep investigating that area and looking for more tunnels, that they will put out more evidence as they obtain it and as it becomes available.
In addition, earlier this evening, during the daily briefing that comes from the Israeli military, a spokesperson released information that they say they have about three more hostages. First was 19-year- old Corporal Noah Marciano whose picture you just saw a moment ago. They say they know now based on intelligence that she was brought into the Gaza Strip alive, was held there and was injured in an Israeli strike that killed her captor.
But then they say she was brought in by Hamas to the hospital and killed in the hospital itself. So the IDF saying that's based on intelligence and independent pathological report since they have now brought her body back into Israel.
They also released these two videos. And I have to warn you these are a bit graphic. From inside Shifa hospital on October 7th, the day of the attack. They say it shows two people, two hostages who were brought in from Israel, a Nepali citizen and a Thai citizen, who were brought into the hospital itself. And they say this shows that Hamas used the hospital on the day of the attack itself and has continued to do so.
Although it may sound surprising there are Nepalis and Thais who were taken hostage, there are a number of these citizens who are workers here as migrant farm workers especially around the Gaza Strip -- Paula.
REID: Oren Liebermann, thank you.
It's been six weeks since the horrific Hamas attack on Israel, and it's still unclear what's happened to the more than 200 hostages seized by Hamas. But the Biden administration is indicating that could soon change.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON FINER, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: What I can say about this at this time is we think that we are closer than we have been perhaps at any point since these negotiations began weeks ago, that there are areas of difference and disagreement that have been narrowed, if not closed out entirely, but that the mantra that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed certainly applies here to such a sensitive negotiation. And there is no deal currently in place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is following the latest developments.
Priscilla, these are, of course, complicated negotiations. The U.S. has no direct communication with Hamas, so is there any kind of timetable here?
PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you heard there from a senior White House official, nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon, which goes to show just how sensitive these negotiations have been and how unclear it is at any given moment whether the talks will succeed or fall apart.
Now, what we did see over the weekend from several negotiators spanning various countries is rare optimism that there has been a path forward here. And sources tell CNN about a draft of a possible deal. It includes the following, four to five-day pause in fighting for initial release of 50 hostages, and potential pauses thereafter for more releases.
Now, according to these sources, this is a deal that's not yet been struck, and there has been texts going back and forth for weeks now of what a potential arrangement could look like. But what you heard there from the deputy national security adviser, Jon Finer, is that the areas of disagreement that there have been have been narrowed. And that is a positive sign and perhaps why we're hearing that tone of optimism over the last several hours.
But just how tenuous these talks are, just an example of that, Hamas went dark for a period of time, at least once in these negotiations, after the Israel raid of Al-Shifa. Now, also what is remaining in these talks, or a key issue at least, is how to implement the deal, including aid shipments. So there's still a lot of moving parts here. The president was asked about this while he was in Norfolk, Virginia, earlier this afternoon.
He said he didn't have anything to share at the moment. But these are intensive, sensitive, delicate talks that are ongoing, minute by minute, hour by hour according to officials. But when we may see the results of that still very much in question.
REID: Priscilla Alvarez, thank you.
More news in a moment.
REID: We're continuing to follow the breaking news. The world is remembering the extraordinary life of former first lady Rosalynn Carter. She has passed away at the age of 96 in her hometown of Plains, Georgia. Her death was announced by the Carter Center in Atlanta, and that's where CNN's Rafael Romo is.
Just moments ago, the Carter Center, we're told, issued a statement. Rafael, what does it say?
RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Paula. A very sad day here at the Carter Center. And it was only two days ago that this institution had announced that Rosalynn Carter had been put on hospice care at her home in Plains, Georgia. And now it is confirming that the former first lady is dead at the age of 96.
In announcing her death, the Carter Center described the former first lady as a passionate champion of mental health, caregiving, and women's rights. It added that she passed away at 2:10 p.m. at her home in Plains, Georgia. They said that she died peacefully surrounded by her family. And in a statement, former president Jimmy Carter said the following
about his wife. He said, "Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished. She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me."
And as you may remember, Paula, the former president himself was put in hospice care back in February after a series of stays at the hospital. And they were the longest married presidential couple, having celebrated their 77th wedding anniversary in July. As a matter of fact, it was very significant for many people that back in September, the beloved couple went to the Plains Peanut Festival and made a surprise visit. It was just a very joyous occasion for many people there.
And Rosalynn Carter is survived by four children, Jack, Jeff, Amy, and Chip, as well as 11 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. As a matter of fact, we earlier heard from her son, Chip, who said the following. Besides being a loving mother and extraordinary first lady, his mother was a great humanitarian in her own right, he said. Chip Carter added that her life of service and compassion was an example for all Americans.
We also heard from Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who said that the former first lady was a proud native Georgian who had an indelible impact on our state and nation.
Paula, back to you.
REID: Rafael Romo, thank you. And we'll be right back.
REID: Today there are troubling new numbers for President Biden. Fresh polling from NBC shows his approval rating has dropped to one of the lowest levels of his presidency. Just 40 percent of registered voters approve of the job he's doing. That's down six points from January.
Let's discuss more now with former press secretary to First Lady Jill Biden, Michael LaRosa, and Republican strategist Shermichael Singleton.
All right, (INAUDIBLE), let's start with you. Biden turns 81 tomorrow.
MICHAEL LAROSA, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY TO FIRST LADY JILL BIDEN: Yes.
REID: This is probably not the birthday present he was hoping for.
LAROSA: I think he's used to it by now.
REID: What do you think his reaction is to these numbers? LAROSA: His reaction is probably that he has some work to do. But I do
think that it's really hard to make an assessment about a year from now on a head-to-head kind of matchup between him and Donald Trump. The approval numbers on his job performance, he'll need to work on. And those change. They ebb and flow over time.
The one number that does concern me, though, is favorability and likability. His unfavourability went up 11 points since he was elected. That's a problem because Trump's hasn't changed. It's still 52 percent. Biden's at 53 percent. It's really hard to vote for people you don't like. So they have a perception problem, and that's something that they need to work on.
REID: Shermichael, what's your reaction to these new numbers?
SHERMICHAEL SINGLETON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I mean, look, I think the good thing for the president and my Democratic friends is I think a lot of younger voters are angry about the way the president and the administration is handling the issue with Israel and Hamas. And one thing that I think as a strategist we look at data, snapshots in time, and one could likely presume that in the next five or six months, that those numbers may indeed change.
With that said, though, Joe Biden received 67 percent of young voters' support in 2020. I looked at some of the close races in some of those battleground states, and if that decreases by 7 percent or 8 percent, within the margin of error, my math could be a little off there, I don't see a path for him in 2024. And so they have to watch these numbers and figure out what it's going to take for the president to pivot in the next couple of months.
REID: I want to talk a little bit more about Israel, Hamas, how that's going to impact particularly young voters, but I don't want to get too far from this issue of age. Because earlier today, Governor Ron DeSantis taking a shot at Trump's age. Let's take a listen to what he told our colleague Jake Tapper.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The presidency is not a job for an 80-year-old. Donald Trump would actually be older on January 20th, 2025, than Biden was on January 20th, 2021.
Look, when you get to this point, the presidency is not a job for somebody that's pushing 80 years old. I just think that that's something that has been shown with Joe Biden. Father Time is undefeated. Donald Trump is not exempt from any of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Does the Father Time argument make a difference? Shermichael, I'll start with you.
SINGLETON: No, it doesn't make a difference. And I get what Ron DeSantis is trying to get across here, but he's also 50 points behind. And when you ask voters in focus groups how they view President Biden compared to former President Trump and their age, there are far more negatives against Biden than Trump.
Trump is only a few years younger than the president, but people don't perceive him as being almost 80 years old because of how he acts and maybe some of the behavior we don't like. But it does come off as sort of youthfulness.
REID: How do you fix this?
LAROSA: You can't fix it. But, I mean, what I would say is that in 2016, we made history, the American people, by electing the oldest president.
In 2020, the American people did it again. And if these two gentlemen again, which it will be President Biden, and if he's running against Trump, we will make history again by electing the oldest president in history. So the American people really don't seem to mind, otherwise they wouldn't be electing or nominating these people as candidates.
SINGLETON: But can I say just quickly?
REID: Please do.
SINGLETON: I am excited that the president is turning 81. It's a blessing. It's incredible for his family. But I think most Americans who are lucky enough to have a family member that old wishes that person would be enjoying the last few years of their life with their family, with their friends, not trying to run a country of 300-plus million people with a significant number of international crises popping up all over the place.
LAROSA: Without listing his accomplishments I would just say that if it takes an 80-year-old to accomplish the laundry list of achievements he's been able to do, the most since LBJ, I would take the 80-year-old over somebody who can't get anything done.
SINGLETON: But I don't -- and again, I'm not using age as a negative against the current president. I respect that. I think there's a lot of wisdom that comes with age. I'm simply as someone with older, seasoned individuals in my family, I'm glad they're not running corporations. And I'll leave it at that.
REID: There is an undercurrent of sarcasm for both.
SINGLETON: There is, Paula. There is.
REID: Like neither one -- these aren't the kind of guys that retire, right?
REID: I mean, they're going to work.
LAROSA: And nobody gives up power willingly, especially people who've wanted the job their entire life.
SINGLETON: And that's part of the problem. They want to hang on to the power too long. They need to start sort of mentoring the next generation.
REID: I want to take a second to talk about the former first lady, who we lost today, Rosalynn Carter. We're in great conversation right before we came on the air about her legacy, how she really just changed the game for first ladies.
LAROSA: Well, she was the first first lady to have an official chief of staff and to put them on payroll, which created more staff. So I thank her first for my own personal advantage point. But I would also say she took -- she was an activist first lady, the most activist we've seen in that period since Eleanor Roosevelt and again since Hillary Clinton. She took a lot of risks, including talking about taboo subjects like addiction and mental health.
And she passed a law, and not only did she help pass a law that she will have forever, but she went up before the Senate, to Capitol Hill, the second first lady to do so. And when her husband's team told her not to because it was politically inconvenient for them, she was going up against the chairman, Ted Kennedy, who was challenging her husband in the 1980 primary, historic. She went anyway, and she did it, and she won over the Senate, and she won over Ted Kennedy.
REID: No fear. Shermichael?
SINGLETON: Look, I went to college in Atlanta and spent some time attending the presidential library. And what I found to be so phenomenal about the former first lady was that she was always in her husband's corner, even attending cabinet meetings with cabinet secretaries. And it just sort of reminded me of something my grandfather told me a long time ago. Behind every successful man is an incredibly accomplished and successful woman. And she lived up to all of those things.
REID: She did, and we've heard him say so many times in clips that, you know, their marriage, that partnership, her saying yes to the proposal, those were his greatest accomplishments.
Shermichael and Michael, thank you so much for joining us.
SINGLETON: Thanks, Paula.
REID: And coming up, Democrats are divided over the Israel-Hamas war. We'll talk with a congressman on those growing tensions.
REID: In Sacramento last night, pro-Palestinian demonstrators stormed the convention center where California's Democratic Party was meeting, forcing the rest of the day's events to be canceled. The state's Senate Jewish Caucus issued a statement saying, in part, "We must never allow the Democratic Party to be unsafe for anyone."
This comes after six police officers were injured when demonstrators calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war turned violent outside the DNC headquarters last week. It's the latest sign that the White House is facing wavering support for its response to the conflict in the Middle East.
Joining me now is Democratic Congressman Sean Casten of Illinois.
Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. I want to ask you about the fact that you were at the DNC headquarters when the violent protests broke out last week. You had to be evacuated. Tell us about your experience that night.
REP. SEAN CASTEN (D-IL): So it's a little surreal. It was a fly-in day for new candidates who are running and a chance for us leadership. I think we probably had about 15 Democrats there, you know, meeting, learning about other candidates, and we heard the protests outside. It's D.C., you know, these things happen. We then heard the building was in a lockdown because the protesters had surrounded all the entries and exits in the building.
And then shortly after there were if I had to guess probably 20 police officers in full tactical gear that were coming in, you know, pretty loud, you know, move against the wall, move against the wall, and, you know, we learned afterwards that they had actually to essentially force their way in because the protesters weren't allowing them to get in.
They separated the members. They eventually got everybody out of there. A lot of respect for Capitol Police but it was just troubling because, you know, the issues are real. I think we're sensitive to the issues on the ground and in the region. But protesting and disobeying orders from a police officer, especially police officers who got some real-time experience on January 6th with unruly crowds is just extremely dangerous, and I hope people can protest in a way that's a little less provocative.
REID: And how concerned are you about the rise in violence we're seeing at these demonstrations?
CASTEN: Well, look, let's be very clear. The protesters per se, I don't think there's been a tremendous amount of violence. There have been some bad apples, of course. In the case, my understanding in the course of talking to the police officers who, you know, helped evacuate us was that the -- they were trying to get in to the building to help us out. The protesters blocked them. At that point my understanding is they had to release some pepper spray and get their way in and I think there was one person who assaulted a police officer.
It's a concern, but I think the police officers did an amazingly professional job with handling that. But, again, I don't think it was the majority of the people who there, but, again, I just can't stress enough, please protest peacefully, and when you get an order from a police officer to disperse, do so, because none of us want to see anybody hurt.
REID: I want to talk about the situation in the Middle East. Yesterday President Biden rejected calls for a cease-fire in Gaza. We're seeing his support among Democrats and young people on this issue is faltering. And is the Democratic Party on the president's side here?
CASTEN: So, I think you have tremendous unanimity within the Democratic Party of what we're trying to achieve. We want a lasting, durable peace in the region. A unilateral cease-fire is not a cease- fire and I think a lot of us and certainly some of the foreign policy establishment are very concerned when Hamas is saying that they will have another October 7th every day if they're allowed to.
We want peace. We want peace as quickly as possible, and we want a regional peace. We want to elevate the more moderate voices both in the Palestinian Authority and, frankly, in the Knesset who can deliver that peace. There are some, you know, some I think constructive disagreements about the best path to that goal, but there's no real disagreement on the goal.
REID: How big of an issue do you anticipate this will be for the president as he campaigns for re-election?
CASTEN: You know, I think that's speculation and we'll see what goes on, but, you know, as we get closer to the election, I don't think people have, you know, they say memories are short in Washington, but remember when the Unite the Right rally was happening and Donald Trump was saying there were fine people on both sides of a very antisemitic rally. Remember the president who issued a Muslim ban and his party didn't stand up to him.
So the idea of like which candidate on the ballot is going to be more constructive for the interests for peace, the needs of both the Jewish community, the Muslim community, the Arab community, I think that's going to be a pretty clear conversation come election day.
REID: A growing number of your Democratic colleagues are calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. Do you support a cease-fire?
CASTEN: So I've been very open about both criticizing the Netanyahu administration for the settlement expansion, making sure we deliver humanitarian assistance, making sure that we do everything we can to minimize civilian casualties. I wish I had some conduit to Hamas but obviously I don't have a way to do that. As I said before, a unilateral cease-fire is not a cease-fire. We all support a cease- fire, we all want to have a world where people on both sides of the border live in peace and have hope about their future.
But a one-sided cease-fire doesn't deliver that peace either in Israel, in Gaza, in the West Bank, and more broadly in the region. You know, I think we're seeing some movement of the Arab countries against Hamas and supporting Israel's right to be a state which is remarkable, and, yes, there's some real concern on the ground about making sure that as Hamas hides behind civilian casualties, we don't cause any more civilian casualties than have to be there.
But we have to get rid of the terrorist elements that are in Gaza and I think the president's course has been the right one so far.
REID: I want to take a step back from the Middle East right now. As you know, earlier today former first lady Rosalynn Carter passed away. What did her life mean to the country and specifically to the Democratic Party?
CASTEN: Well, as a guy who was born in 1971, I have my memories and my interactions with the Carter family are perhaps more limited than some of my more senior colleagues. But I think, you know, what's been so inspiring about the Carter family is how much they have dedicated themself to public service throughout their life. I mean, we've all seen the pictures of, you know, Jimmy Carter building homes for the homeless at a fairly advanced age.
And I think may we all live lives of such dignity and decency where our grandchildren and great grandchildren can look back and say, I'm so proud she was my grandmother.
REID: Congressman Sean Casten, thank you.
CASTEN: Thank you.
REID: And much more news straight ahead.
REID: I'm Paula Reid in Washington, and we begin with catastrophic conditions inside Gaza's largest hospital.
The World Health Organization says Al-Shifa is now a, quote, "death zone" as the center of intense fighting between Israel forces and Hamas. The children's organization, UNICEF, says several newborn babies have died there in recent days.