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U.S.-led Coalition Launches New Round Of Strikes In Yemen; President Biden Wins South Carolina Democratic Primary; Officials: Biden Approved Saturday Strikes Earlier This Week; Evacuation Orders Issued In Ventura, Colorado And California Ahead Of Storms. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 03, 2024 - 19:00   ET



ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN ANCHOR: -- NEWSROOM. I'm Alex Marquardt in New York, in tonight for Jim Acosta. Thank you very much for joining me.

We have breaking news. Polls are about to close in the nation's first official Democratic primary of this 2024 presidential campaign season. Tonight, 55 delegates are up for grabs in South Carolina, which you may recall propelled President Biden to the 2020 nomination after a series of bruising defeats. Now Biden is far and away the overwhelming favorite in tonight's primary. He is facing minimal competition from Minnesota Congressman Dean Philips and author Marianne Williamson.

We will continue to monitor those South Carolina results as they come in and bring you complete up-to-the-minute analysis.

But first, we are also following breaking news in the Middle East where Iran-backed Houthi rebels are vowing tonight to retaliate after a new round of airstrikes by the U.S. and the United Kingdom in Yemen. They were also supported by several other countries.

Today the Houthis -- sorry, the group of countries hit at least 30 Houthi targets across more than a dozen different locations. Senior Biden administration officials say that President Biden approved these strikes earlier in the week.

Now, all of this is coming just a day after the U.S. launched other airstrikes. Those were retaliatory strikes against Iran-backed militants in both Iraq and in Syria. Those followed the deadly drone attack last weekend on Sunday on U.S. troops in Jordan that left three American service members dead.

CNN's international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson is live in Israel with more on what this could mean for the region. But first, let's get straight to CNN's Oren Lieberman at the Pentagon.

So, Oren, unlike last night's strikes in Iraq and Syria, today's the U.S. did not conduct alone.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. This was one against conducted with the U.K. This is the third time the two nations have operated together to strike Houthi targets in Yemen. The message effectively coming out together from these countries, saying that they find the ongoing attacks from the Iran-backed rebel group on international shipping completely unacceptable, especially because they have targeted U.S. and U.K. commercial vessels and warships.

Now, it is worth noting here that there were a number of countries backing them including Australia, Bahrain, Denmark, Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand, offering not only diplomatic support but different kinds of perhaps operational or logistical support for this operation. And we've seen that happen as well. A measure of how grave not just the U.S. and the U.K. view this but also all of these other countries involved because of the effect that the Houthi attacks have had on the global economy, on international shipping, considering they have targeted some of the world's most important international waterways.

This set of targets, 36 targets across 13 different locations in Yemen, according to U.S. Central Command. And the list of different types of targets here, I'll read this off from their statement. Multiple underground storage facilities, command and control, missile systems, UAV storage and operation sites, radars and helicopters.

And these pictures you see on your screen now, these are FA-18 fighter jets launching from the deck of the Ike as well as a destroyer here launching tomahawk cruise missiles. All of that part of this attack here. And Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warning that if the attacks on international shipping don't stop then these strikes on Houthi weaponry will continue.

And again, it's noteworthy here that it's not just this joint operation here. The U.S. struck drones and anti-ship cruise missiles over the course of the last 24, 36 hours. So this is a much broader effort here.

Alex, I'll make one final point here. You said in the intro here that President Joe Biden had approved this earlier in this week and that's just as he approved earlier in this week the strikes in Iraq and Syria. This is how gravely the U.S. and the Biden administration view this, a determination to keep getting after this problem even if the Houthis and some of the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria vow to continue their attacks. The U.S. not deterred from acting here as well.

And finally, I'll point out that in Iraq and Syria, Austin says, U.S. operations there, the U.S. response to the attack last Sunday that killed three U.S. service members, wounded scores more, that's not over yet.

MARQUARDT: Yes, they were certainly anticipating the need to carry out these strikes.

So, Oren, at the Pentagon, thank you very much.

Nic Robertson, to you. The Houthis are now vowing to respond to the strikes by this international coalition. This message of deterrence doesn't seem to be working. NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It doesn't, but

it's rhetoric from the Houthis at the moment saying they'll meet escalation with escalation. However, over the past few weeks since these strikes began about three weeks ago, the Houthis have continued to target international shipping passing through the Red Sea. So I think despite the fact they're going to -- once they've done their own battle damage assessment, they may find that they have lost a lot more equipment than they anticipated.


This is a fighting force that went through about eight years of war with Saudi Arabia. Much of that under Saudi airstrikes that were, by the way, helped with U.S. intelligence and U.S. air re-fueling for some of the Saudi fighter jets involved in the bombing. So the Houthis feel that they have been through this sort of thing before, perhaps not on this scale, perhaps not with the reach that the United States and capacity of the United States and its allies can put on the ground in Yemen.

But the Houthis for their part are saying that they can withstand this, and that they'll -- that they will come back and continue. And they have a track record of doing that. They are also saying that they're doing this because of -- to support the Palestinians in Gaza and their point being, and that point being made by the Iranians as well, that if the war ends in Gaza, if there's a cease-fire there, then all the region will go quiet.

But of course, the cease-fire that they're looking for is one that's on their terms where Hamas comes out stronger, Israel comes out weaker, and the United States' interests in the region are weakened as well.

MARQUARDT: And big questions about to what extent Iran is trying to resupply those Houthis as they continue their fight.

Nic Robertson in Tel Aviv, Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon, thank you both.

Let's bring in our panel of experts for more on this. Joining me now is CNN global affairs analyst Kim Dozier and CNN military analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling.

Thank you both for being with me.

General Hertling, I want to start with you just because we heard Oren Liebermann rattle off that list of targets including underground facilities, missile systems, storage sites. This seems like a rather broad range of targets, some 36 of them in 13 different locations.

So to what extent do you think, General, that the U.S. and its coalition partners have been effective at degrading Houthi capabilities? Because it doesn't seem like they've been effective at deterring them.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, I believe, based on the number of targets and the type of weaponry that was used, based on what the over-the-counter intelligence is saying, the so-called OCIN, that it was both an air and cruise missile strike, Alex. So that's going to strike a lot of targets that are conducive to the Houthis continuing to attack the sea-based platforms, the shipping that's going through the area.

They talked about the underground targets. When you're discussing any force that lives and fights in the deserts like the Houthis do, there's no cover and concealment for the kind of equipment or the ammo caches they have. So the type of attacks have to strike into these deeply buried targets. We're seeing that in Israel in Gaza with what the IDF is fighting against Hamas. The Houthis use the same kind of approach where they bury the things they're using, the rockets, the missiles, the equipment.

So it's much more difficult to strike and destroy those targets, but I think with what we're talking about here, the number of aircraft and sea-launch ballistic missiles that have gone into the strike, I would suggest they have been deteriorated quite a bit tonight. And this is, again, the first night against the Houthis. There's going to be more.

MARQUARDT: Kim, the name of the game for the Biden administration seems to be knock it off, we're trying to deter you, while also not escalate things. Like taking powerful enough action to not escalate, and there has been some criticism that those two things are essentially in conflict with each other. So moving from the Red Sea and the Houthis up to Iraq and Syria, we saw a rather powerful set of strikes last night, seven different facilities, 85 different targets against these Iranian-backed groups.

The Biden administration making clear they see this just as an opening response for that strike last weekend by militants that killed three American service members. How do you think the Biden administration is walking this line in carrying out powerful, they hope deterrent strikes while also not going beyond what they feel would be a line that would causes escalation?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, what I think we're seeing is the beginning of a low-grade campaign in both the Iraq and Syria area, and against the Houthis in Yemen, in that the Biden administration knows, though it's not going to say out loud to the American public, that it's not going to take away the will to fight of either sets of groups, especially when they're all backed by Iran which has been opportunistic about looking for moments to strike the U.S. or U.S. targets with some sort of padding in between so they have deniability. So what you're going to see is they take out a number of targets, then they watch.


They do battle damage assessment, as Mark was talking about. They see who moves where and they rack them up for the next time. So each time they get a little bit more understanding that it's not going to get down to zero, but hopefully it will get in the Red Sea fewer attacks, such that some shipping can start again, and in the Iraq and Syria area that they sent enough of a strong message that they just quiet it for a time, weeks, maybe months.

MARQUARDT: And General Hertling, we've heard time and time again from the Biden administration that their goal is to not expand this conflict beyond Gaza, to not escalate this conflict, but it is both expanding and escalating, is it not? I mean we're seeing these bigger and bigger strikes like today and last night. We've now seen Jordan essentially joining the list of countries impacted because of that strike last weekend. So is it not expanding and escalating in front of our very eyes?

HERTLING: Yes, you bring up a very good point, Alex. This is not a proportional response. This is total destruction of some of the equipment of both the Houthis and the PMFs in Iraq and Syria. That's what I think is needed truthfully. You know, for all of the individuals who are saying strike Tehran, strike inside of Iran, what I suggest from a military doctrinal and theoretical perspective, hate to get deep on all of us here, but the center of gravity of the Iranian government are these PMFs, are these proxy forces.

So if you can destroy or at least hinder their continued operation, it causes the regime in Iran to think twice. This is their strength. This is how they conduct strategy by deploying these multi-phased rebel groups as well as supporting elements like the Houthis in Yemen, like Hezbollah in northern Israel and southern Lebanon. Those are their kingpins. That's who they rely on. So the continued strikes against those groups will actually deter the Iranian regime.

It's a smart move in my view from a military perspective. Is it going to completely destroy them as Israel said they want to do to Hamas? No, it's not. You know, what might be interesting, Alex, is the day after these strikes occur, there may be a missile shot at a seaborne vehicle in the Red Sea. We have to expect that. They will continue to fight on, but I think each one of these strikes that are being conducted against these Iranian proxies is depleting their capability and they believe that, and so do the Quds Force that are supporting them.

MARQUARDT: Kim, are you seeing any indication from Tehran that they hope to escalate this? I mean, they have said that, you know, we will respond if need to, or do you think Iran and the IRGC are content to keep it at kind of this level of conflict, this lower-level simmer of essentially stirring the pot on these various different fronts?

DOZIER: Well, what we see right now is they're playing the reasonable actor card. They are saying the U.S. is being irresponsible, the U.S. has taken aggressive action, and that plays across the Middle East and parts of the global south really well. It makes the U.S. look like the bad guy again. Iran, what it usually does is strikes in secret, waits until later, bides its time. It's going to see how all these strikes add up in both Iraq and Syria and Yemen.

And its long-term strategy is if it could get U.S. troops out of Iraq, for instance, one of its major areas of influence, that would mean they have greater control over the Iraqi government. Whereas, while the Iraqi leadership is saying they want the U.S. out, if you talk to Iraqi officials privately they want to keep U.S. troops on the ground because essentially they play Washington off of Tehran. Take Washington out of that equation, they could get gobbled up by the Iranian regime.

MARQUARDT: Yes, Iraq is in a truly unique place between Iran and the United States.

General Mark Hertling, Kim Dozier, thank you very much for your thoughts this evening.

And still ahead, we are waiting for the results from the South Carolina Democratic primary. We will have analysis after the break.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.



MARQUARDT: And there is breaking news tonight. Polls are now closed in the nation's first official Democratic primary of the 2024 race. Tonight 55 delegates are up for grabs in South Carolina, which propelled President Joe Biden to the 2020 nomination after a series of bruising defeats.

Now it is the first time that South Carolina has appeared at the front of the official Democratic nominating calendar. That was a change that was made largely at the president's request. Now, Biden is far and away the overwhelming favorite in this field. He is facing minimal competition from Minnesota Congressman Dean Philips and the author Marianne Williamson.

Tonight Biden is betting on a big win and he does appear confident to achieve a strong showing. Now rather than stumping and being -- campaigning in South Carolina, he has his eyes on the future, on the general election, embarking on a fundraising swing through Southern California and Nevada.


In South Carolina, the Biden campaign will be closely watching turnout from the black community, which was instrumental in securing his victory in 2020. And while polling indicates that black voters overwhelmingly back Joe Biden over Donald Trump, the former president is making small inroads as Biden's approval rating in the crucial voting bloc continues to wane.

I want to bring in two of our top experts, CNN chief national affairs correspondent Jeff Zeleny and senior political analyst Ron Brownstein.

Gentlemen, thank you both for joining us tonight.

Ron, to you first. There isn't much competition. You've got Phillips and Williamson in the field as well. So what is the Biden campaign going to be watching for in these returns?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think they're looking for enthusiasm and turnout, but that isn't the sole issue he faces with the black community this year. I mean, you know, traditionally Democrats have worried pretty much solely about mobilizing black voters, maximizing turnout, and the question was whether people would show up.

This year Biden has an issue as well with persuasion. I mean he faces the risk, given the discontent over his performance, and particularly about the economy and inflation and the strain that it puts on voters near the median income of any race. He faces a risk of potentially a significant gender gap among black voters. I mean there are some indications, you know, in polling so far that the gender gap among both black and brown voters could be bigger than among white voters.

So he has some work to do not only on the usual front the Democrats worry about of ginning up excitement but he also has work to do about reeling back in some black male voters and Hispanic males over when polls are expressing dissatisfaction with his record and some receptivity and openness to Donald Trump.

MARQUARDT: Jeff, if it is the end of the road for Dean Phillips, what did the Democratic Party gain or lose by his participating in this primary?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's probably not much on either side. The reality is many Democrats outside of these early primary states likely did not even know that he was running. Dean Phillips, of course, a Minnesota member of Congress, tried to spark a conversation. He tried to spark a competition inside the Democratic primary base, but it really just never happened.

So we will see how he does tonight in South Carolina, but he campaigned so aggressively in New Hampshire and, of course, that was a write-in vote for Joe Biden but it's hard to imagine him doing any better.

Look, but one thing it does overall, the fact that President Biden has escaped a serious primary challenge is so significant for him. History will show that when a president has a primary challenge, they have a general election problem on their hands. So by escaping a serious primary challenge that is probably one of the best things that this White House has going for it.

But, look, Dean Phillips has spent a lot of money. It's hard to imagine him doing much tonight but we shall see. But as Ron was saying, what the Biden campaign and the White House is looking for is to spark some interest and enthusiasm particularly among black voters, that they're listening to his message. But the turnout is not expected to be very high. I mean the early voting and absentee voting was actually higher than four years ago, but that was a very aggressive campaign.

So we shall see tonight, but the reality is, I'm not sure we'll be able to draw all that much from the results tonight in South Carolina, how it speaks to the bigger challenges here facing the White House.

MARQUARDT: Well, let's see if we can draw anything. I'm told some of the first results are coming in. And we're going to put them up on the screen.

ZELENY: Right.

MARQUARDT: There you see Biden winning overwhelmingly -- sorry, leading overwhelmingly with 97.3 percent. Both Marianne Williamson and Dean Phillips with 1.6 percent and 1.3 percent respectively.

Ron Brownstein, any reaction there?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, to Jeff's point, you know, it is what isn't happening is important, like the dog that isn't barking. The fact that a serious primary challenge to Biden never developed and is unlikely to develop here tonight, it's especially significant because so many Democrats consistently say in polls they wanted an alternative. I believe in the CNN poll we released this week, Jeff can fact-check me on this, something like half or even slightly more than half of Democrats said they wanted another alternative in 2024.

There was some appetite and audience among the base voters who are concerned about Biden, but the leadership of the party locked arms around him in a way that basically precluded any serious challenge. I mean this was an example of that old political science saying that the party decides, which was viewed to be kind of written into the dust by Trump's emergence in 2016. The party decided here in 2024 that there would not be a serious challenge to Biden.

And the real impact of South Carolina we're going to have to wait until 2028 because it is a, you know, a very big deal as Joe Biden would say, that this state with its racial composition is going to be the lead-off state in the Democratic calendar as opposed to all-white Iowa and New Hampshire but we're not going to see that impact now.


It's going to be on the race to succeed Biden as the next Democratic nominee in 2028.

MARQUARDT: I think he might put it a little differently than a really big deal, as he famously did.


MARQUARDT: Jeff, you just got back from Michigan, and we are seeing something of a progressive revolt, a real outrage among not just Arab and Muslim-American voters but also to some extent black voters over the president's handling of the war in Gaza, the full-throated support that this administration continues to express for Israel in its war against Hamas. What did you hear from those voters?

ZELENY: Alex, this is a very real challenge for President Biden. And the White House, of course, is very well aware of this, but Ron was talking about the gender breakdown and the gender gap. That is definitely true. There's also an age concern here. The younger voters we speak to, yes, in Michigan but beyond that, they have real reservations about what this administration, what this president has done in terms of a full embrace of Israel. Now we have seen, you know, a shifting in language and we saw the

executive order this week, but that did very little to ease some of these concerns. So I think the biggest question of all facing the president over the next nine months, can he build, can he re-piece together that coalition that really sent him to the White House of younger voters, older voters, certainly Latino voters, black voters.

And there are real concerns about that. I talked to a reverend in Detroit just a couple of days ago and he said that there is, you know, economic concerns, sure, but simply voters do not know necessarily exactly what this administration did. They still remember in some respects the checks that Donald Trump sent out. Of course, the Biden administration has passed significant legislation, but it's been so huge in many respects from infrastructure, other things that people don't necessarily know how it's affecting them.

So the burden and the challenge is on this White House to make that case. But this coalition is certainly a challenge for the president to rebuild.

MARQUARDT: All right. And we do have an update in terms of those returns. I'm told that Joe Biden is now the projected winner of the South Carolina Democratic primary. And that is a CNN projection. Joe Biden will be the winner of the South Carolina Democratic primary. You can see it right there as we have it with the votes that are in so far, some 97.3 percent are going for Joe Biden.

Ron Brownstein, I want to pick up where Jeff was -- what he was talking about, that coalition.


MARQUARDT: I think certainly when it comes to Michigan and the war in Gaza, there is a sense there that there are so many Arab and Muslim- Americans and some of those black voters who want to see a cease-fire, who are calling for a cease-fire, but if the president were to say that he could also lose support elsewhere.

How important do you think the war in Gaza is going to be in terms of rebuilding that coalition that he had in 2020?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, well, I think it is critical geographically because, as Jeff was pointing out, the importance of that vote in Michigan. You know, Joe Biden is president because five states flipped from supporting Trump in 2016 to supporting Biden in 2020, and those were Arizona, Georgia in the Sunbelt, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the industrial Midwest. Arizona and especially Georgia look a lot tougher for him than they did in 2020.

The shortest path to 270 for Biden is holding Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. He has a reason for reasonable optimism in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, but the polling in Michigan has been troubling for him in part, only in part, but certainly in part because of this potential defection among Arab-American voters. It's not easy to replace Michigan in a Democratic map. He needs to get this right. You know, one test will be, there's an effort to have Arab-American

voters write in uncommitted which Jeff probably knows more about than I do in the Michigan primary, which may be a measure of how broad this discontent is. But Biden does I think have a big political problem and it is compounded by the fact that he is in partnership with someone in Bibi Netanyahu who probably does not want him to win.

I mean, Netanyahu has identified with the Republican Party over the last 30 careers more closely than any foreign leader I believe in my lifetime has identified with either American party. And I think there's no question that he would rather be dealing with Donald Trump in the White House. So he has embraced someone who at the margin is really I don't think looking to do him any favors in how he, you know, conducts this conflict, and it is creating a source of pressure for Biden in an absolutely critical and possibly irreplaceable state for him in trying to reach 270 electoral college votes.


MARQUARDT: Yes, President Biden out in Michigan earlier this week to take something of a victory lap with labor workers and labor support, but it certainly highlighted the lack of support that he is seeing elsewhere in the party.

I want to bring in our Eva McKend who is in Columbia, South Carolina. We have just made this projection, Eva, that President Joe Biden has won the South Carolina Democratic primary. What are you hearing there?

EVAN MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alex, the polls have just closed. The ballots being wheeled out as we speak.

You know, all day long, we've been speaking to voters, and they were largely supportive of President Biden. We actually even met a voter who supported Trump in 2016 and 2020. A Republican, longtime Republican, but now says that he is worried about the future of American democracy, the preservation of our Constitution, and that is why he is supporting this president.

We also spoke to a number of Black voters and their view is entirely mixed, Alex. One woman telling us that she was not feeling that she was economically suffering, and that she is tired of historically voting for Democrats and feeling like she isn't getting that much from him.

But other people who are really excited about President Biden, especially because he was former President Barack Obama's vice president, and then more pragmatic voters, we heard from Alex who say that they are really principally worried about Trump returning to the White House.

But this was not a surprising outcome tonight, but really still a consequential state for President Biden. This was the state that resurrected his campaign in 2020, and so we are going to get the sense as we really comb through these results here what Black voter sentiment is in this region, and perhaps throughout the country -- Alex. MARQUARDT: All right, Eva McKend in Columbia, South Carolina, stay with us. I want to come back to you.

But Jeff Zeleny, you know, this was not a surprise as Eva was just saying, and yet it was considered important enough for the White House to deploy Kamala Harris in the lead up to this primary.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, she was holding a rally just last evening in Orangeburg as Eva knows, she was there, and the reality is, as Ron was saying earlier, South Carolina is also about 2028, but more importantly, it is about essentially, what role Vice President Harris is going to play in this campaign.

She is remarkably popular among Black voters, particularly older Black women voters, that is a key part of the Democratic constituency, but I think that's something of a roadmap of what she will do for the rest of this year.

She has been essentially weaponized by Republicans. We've heard Nikki Haley who is also still in the race in South Carolina, and to people who may be wondering what is happening on the Republican side, we should point out the Republican primary is not until February 24th, so that's a few more weeks here to campaign.

But she has been, Nikki Haley, the former governor there, has been campaigning aggressively against Kamala Harris saying a vote for Joe Biden is a vote for a President Harris.

So she has been weaponized by Republicans, but she is essentially the weapon for Democrats to drum up a turnout. So this is something that we're going to be watching over the next nine months, what role she is going to play in this campaign. It is a very big one, of course, for President Biden.

But as Eva was saying, four years ago, tonight, it revived and relaunched Joe Biden's path to the White House. They're hoping it does the same thing tonight, but boy, things are so much different than they were four years ago, not just on the policy set and things happening around the world, but for the president himself, he is a very different candidate.

In some respects, he is older and voters are open-endedly raising concerns about that. So tonight is certainly a good moment for Joe Biden winning, but the hard work is still to come and still ahead of him.

MARQUARDT: It certainly is, and it's going to be a lot of hard work. Not a surprise, but really certainly a lot that we can learn from this primary tonight.

And again, CNN has now projected that Joe Biden will win the Democratic primary in South Carolina.

Ron Brownstein, Jeff Zeleny, and Eva McKend, thank you all very much.

ZELENY: You bet.

MARQUARDT: Still ahead, we are talking with a member of President Biden's re-election campaign about the campaign strategy to keep the White House. Stay with us.



MARQUARDT: And we have some breaking news. CNN is projecting that President Joe Biden has won South Carolina's first in the nation Democratic primary.

Today, he paid a visit to his campaign headquarters and taking the opportunity to rally staff ahead of what's shaping up to be a challenging rematch against his likely Republican rival, former President Donald Trump.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is not just a campaign, this is more of a mission. We cannot -- we cannot -- we cannot lose this campaign for the good of the country. We're going to be able to say God willing, that you help -- this generation helped save democracy.


MARQUARDT: Let's discuss more now with the Biden campaign's communications director, Michael Tyler.

Michael, thank you so much for being with us this evening. Congratulations on winning South Carolina. We have just made that projection.

Your campaign is counting on a strong showing among Black voters in South Carolina. They of course, helped launch Biden to the White House back in 2020. So what do you say to Democrats who are arguing that the president now has an enthusiasm problem among voters of color.

MICHAEL TYLER, BIDEN CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, thank you for so much for having me.

Look, tonight, right, you have Joe Biden once again coming out on top as a winner because of his commitments, keeping his promises to Black voters who have been the backbone of the Democratic Party.


Look at the results tonight in South Carolina. You have Joe Biden cruising to victory in an election where Black voters were looking at the early vote data. They are making up 76 percent of the electorate. That's compared to about 56 percent in 2020, and so Black voters turned out in South Carolina because they understand that Joe Biden has kept his promises. He kept this promise by making sure that South Carolina went first in the nominating calendar and he has kept his promises throughout his first term in office, right? He promised to run and serve as a president who put racial equity first.

And so what the result has been, it has been things like, record low Black unemployment during the first term in office, Black wealth up 60 percent since before the pandemic, historic investments into HBCUs, and capping the cost of insulin at $35.00.

This is a president who has made promises and has kept them, and so his promise now is to keep delivering for the American people over the course of the next four years and that stands in stark contrast to Donald Trump who wakes up every day thinking about how he's going to serve himself.

MARQUARDT: Michael, this victory tonight as happy as I'm sure you are about it, obviously it doesn't come as a surprise, but as you dig into these numbers, what are you going to be looking for in terms of indications and things that your campaign needs to learn for the path forward in the general election?

TYLER: Yes, we are very excited to sort of springboard here into Nevada, the president is obviously out on the West Coast right now. He'll be campaigning in Nevada, reassembling the Biden-Harris coalition.

I think if you're looking at other metrics that speak to the enthusiasm that we're seeing at this stage of the race, we've just announced that January was our best grassroots fundraising month of the campaign, building off of December, which is the best month of grassroots fundraising month of our campaign so far.

And so if you're looking for metrics, I think those types of fundraising metrics right now at this early stage of the race, when you pair that with what we're seeing in states like New Hampshire, where we had a grassroots write-in campaign and in South Carolina tonight, we are well on our way towards building the campaign infrastructure that we're going to need to beat Donald Trump in a general election.

MARQUARDT: But given how tight this race is likely to be with Donald Trump, who of course is the he is expected to win the Republican nomination though Nikki Haley is still in the race in South Carolina since we're talking about South Carolina.

You would think that the president it would be trying to reach as many voters as possible. We've just gotten this news from CBS that the White House has turned down a request for the president to participate in that traditional interview before the Super Bowl. So I don't have to tell you, this is the night where I think more Americans tune in than any other night of the year. It is the most popular programming of the year. So why was that decision made?

TYLER: Well, yes, I'll certainly be tuning into the game, but I don't know about you. During pregame, I'm usually still making my chili or putting my beer in the cooler. So I don't know how many eyeballs we're going to lose during pregame coverage.

This campaign is definitely going to do everything it needs to do to reach the voters who are going to decide this election. That's why we're running an ad during the Grammys tomorrow night, for example. It's why the president when he is in states like South Carolina is doing like a number of local radio interviews to speak to the voters who are actually going to be casting ballots.

And it's why this campaign is going to work relentlessly to reach the voters across all platforms -- paid media, digital organizing, organizing on the ground -- we're going to speak directly to the voters who are going to decide this election consistently from now until November.

MARQUARDT: Yes, but running an ad during the Grammys, I mean, that costs you something. This is free advertising, if you will, that this is millions and millions -- tens of millions of eyeballs. So why would the president not want to do that. It seems like an easy decision.

TYLER: Again, the president is going to continue to campaign and continue to hold interviews across the country from now through November. Not too concerned about pregame coverage right now, in February of 2024. We're far more concerned about speaking directly to the voters. We're going to decide this election in the early states and in the battleground states across the country. We're focused on our pathway to 270.

MARQUARDT: I wanted to ask you about some of our recent CNN polling that came out this week. We are putting this up on the screen, 46 percent of Democratic and Democratic leaning voters saying that the President's age is their biggest concern about him. We heard from former President Obama's senior adviser, David Axelrod, he was asked about this on CNN by my colleague, Dana Bash, take a listen.



Both these guys are old, right? This isn't about their futures, okay. This is about the future of the country and the future of our kids and grandkids. And the really -- I think what he wants to focus people on is who is really focused on their future? Who is doing things every day motivated by building a better future for their kids and grandkids and who is consumed by his past and looking backward? And I think that contrast is pretty clear.


MARQUARDT: As the president goes to these early states and speak with the voters that you were just talking about, does he need to address this issue which is at the front of so many voters' minds?


TYLER: Well, listen, the American people know Joe Biden's age. They also know that with his age comes things like wisdom, like judgment, like experience, that's why they elected him in the first place.

And I think Axelrod is right. When voters are concerned about their lives, they are not too concerned about the candidates. They want to know what the candidates are going to do for them. It's about the future. Are we going to restore Roe as the law of the land so that women can have their fundamental rights again? Are we going to continue to lower costs for Americans like the president has done by capping the cost of insulin and taking on big pharma and winning? Are we going to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines? Only one candidate is going to continue this work, and that's Joe Biden.

Donald Trump is out here every single day rooting for the economy to crash. He is pledging the rules as dictator on day one. He is trying to take away, you know, the Affordable Care Act once again. So as it relates to the voters, the choice is going to be fundamentally clear to them on Election Day, and the only choice is going to be Joe Biden.

MARQUARDT: All right, Michael Tyler, thanks again for joining us this evening, and congratulations on your first victory of this 2024 campaign season.

TYLER: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.

MARQUARDT: All right. Still ahead, we continue to follow breaking news: The US led coalition of countries hit dozens of Houthi targets in Yemen. What officials tell CNN about when President Biden ordered those strikes. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. Stay with us.



MARQUARDT: We're continuing to follow the breaking news this evening. CNN is projecting that President Joe Biden has won the South Carolina's first in the nation Democratic primary, but amid his bid for re-election, the president is also facing an escalating conflict or perhaps series of conflicts across the Middle East.

Tonight, a US-led coalition of countries hit dozens of Houthi targets in Yemen. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is in Los Angeles where the President is holding a fundraising event tonight.

So Priscilla, he is juggling both campaigning with a pretty active situation in the Middle East.


The two things colliding today, as we've learned that those strikes happen at around the same time that President Biden was visiting his campaign headquarters earlier today.

Now two senior administration officials tell me that President Biden gave the greenlight for these strikes in Yemen to occur earlier this week. This is part of these multilateral strikes that have been going as part of this coalition of countries to defend vessels in the Red Sea, including commercial ships against Houthi actions. Now, those two senior administration officials also telling me that these are separate from the retaliatory measures that we saw happen just yesterday when the US hit those targets in Iraq and Syria, and that this is again part of the actions by this coalition to deter Houthis from their activities.

Now, whether or not that is having an effect remains to be seen. The activity has continued. They have continued to try to strike these vessels, but the US and its partner countries making clear here that they will not stand for it engaging in these strikes.

But again, Alex, to your earlier point, all of this colliding today as the president is also attending a campaign fundraiser here in Los Angeles while also trying to avoid a wider regional war in the Middle East.

MARQUARDT: Yes, the Houthis vowing escalation for escalation of this as they've said.

Priscilla, has the Biden campaign responded to this when in South Carolina and the primary tonight and what are they looking at next?

ALVAREZ: Yes, they have.

We just got a statement from President Biden himself from the campaign in which he touts the results in South Carolina today and again reiterates that the stakes of the election are high.

He reflects on 2020, when the state really turned the tide for him during that election. He has repeatedly credited the state for helping launch him to victory in November of 2020. And he says some of the same in this statement, going on to say that: "Now, in 2024, for the people of South Carolina have spoken again, and I have no doubt that you have set us on the path to winning the presidency again and making Donald Trump a loser again."

Now, this is a language that the president has started to use more often and drawing a contrast with former President Donald Trump. I was with President Biden in South Carolina last week where he was energizing or at least, he is trying to energize and mobilize Black voters to the polls today. It seems as though he did just that based off the interview with Michael Tyler earlier in which they are seeing more Black voters make up the electorate this time around than in 2020.

MARQUARDT: And in calling Trump a loser, appearing to be trying to get under the former president's skin.

Priscilla Alvarez in Los Angeles, thank you very much.

We are staying with this breaking news after a quick break. A strong atmospheric river is bearing down on southern California expected to bring life-threatening flooding.

The Weather Prediction Center now saying parts of the region under a rare high excessive flood risk. That's a level four out of four for tomorrow's storm.

Evacuation orders have now been issued for Ventura County and parts of Santa Barbara County.

I want to stay with this story. CNN's Camila Bernal joins us now from Los Angeles, so Camila, how are people they're preparing for this event?

CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Alex, so there are obviously preparations underway in those counties with those evacuation orders and authorities telling people to take those warnings very seriously.

Authorities also saying there are easy ways to prepare not traveling if you don't need to, having an emergency kit, just keeping up with information and stopping by your local fire station to grab some sandbags that's what a lot of these people here are doing.


Throughout the day we've seen a steady flow of people who have told me that maybe their garages flood or their businesses or their homes, so this is a way to avoid that.

Officials also saying that they have been preparing and I want you to listen to what the Fire Chief said about what their preparations are.


KRISTIN CROWLEY, FIRE CHIEF, LOS ANGELES FIRE DEPARTMENT: We've got our swift water rescue apparatus boats. We also have our teams that will be fully staffed, ready to respond to any water related emergency.

Now these teams are highly trained in swift water technical rescues. They stand ready to respond on a moment's notice. We've also bolstered our air apparatus, our helicopters, our air resources, adding skilled pilots and rescue teams to our helicopter fleet.


BERNAL: And there's now an emergency operation that will be activated throughout the state starting tomorrow.

Again, officials just telling people to take these warnings very seriously -- Alex.

MARQUARDT: And we certainly hope they do.

Camila Bernal in Los Angeles, thank you very much.

We'll have more news in a moment. Stay with us.