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U.S.-led Coalition Launches New Strikes Against Houthi Targets In Yemen, A Day After U.S. Strikes In Iraq & Syria; Biden Touts South Carolina Win, Say Stakes "Couldn't Be Higher;" Houthis Say Military Operations Will Continue Despite Strikes; Southern California Braces For Torrential Downpours. Aired 8-9pm ET
Aired February 03, 2024 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN HOST: You're in the CNN Newsroom. I'm Alex Marquardt, in for Jim Acosta tonight. Thank you all so much for joining us.
We're continuing to follow major news here in the United States as well as overseas. CNN is projecting the President Joe Biden has won South Carolina's first in the nation Democratic primary. Now, it's a major victory in that state, which propelled him to the nomination in 2020 after what was a series of really bruising defeats. The sweeping victory comes after he handily beat his opponents in New Hampshire's unofficial unsanctioned primary. That was last month, as the President inches closer to securing his party's nomination and what will likely be a rematch against the former President Donald Trump.
But amid Biden's bid for reelection, the President is also facing an escalating conflict in the Middle East. A U.S. led coalition carried out a series of strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen earlier today. The group which includes the United Kingdom and several other countries, struck at least 30 targets across more than a dozen locations.
Senior Biden administration officials say that President Biden approved these strikes earlier this week. The Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is calling it a clear message and says the U.S. will not hesitate to defend the free flow of commerce in that vital waterway, the Red Sea. But Iran is warning the U.S. is fueling further conflict in the region. All of this coming just a day after the U.S. launched other strikes against Iran-backed militants in both Syria and Iraq. Those were in response the administration says to those deadly drone strikes, the one attack rather last weekend on U.S. troops at a base in Jordan.
We've got a team of reporters tracking all of the latest developments here at home and overseas. Let's get first to CNN's Oren Liebermann, who is live at the Pentagon. Oren, what more have we learned about today's strikes against the Houthis in Yemen?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Let's talk about these latest strikes here. And then we'll try to make a distinction between the U.S. and U.K. strikes in Yemen versus what happened yesterday in Iraq and Syria. So first, this coalition led by the U.S. and the U.K., also Canada, the Netherlands, Bahrain, and several other countries supporting carried out strikes at 13 locations, 36 targets across those locations. According to U.S. Central Command and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. There on your screen of the countries that supporting this operation.
Central Command says they targeted underground storage facilities for weapons, command and control missile systems, drone storage and operation sites, radars and helicopters.
Now, this is an ongoing response and we have seen the U.S., the U.K. and this coalition do this twice before as an ongoing response to continued Houthi attacks on international shipping lanes in the Red Sea. And in the Gulf of Aden.
The U.S. has warned that if these launches, these drone, missile and cruise missile strikes on commercial vessels continue, so too will the U.S. strikes. The goal here is to try to disrupt the ability of the Houthis to target international shipping lanes and take away much of their weaponry.
It is a tall order the Houthis are supplied by Iran -- by Iran. They are an Iran-backed rebel group. But that's the goal here and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warning this will continue.
Worth pointing out here that this is specifically in response to the Houthi attacks. That's as opposed to U.S. strikes in Iraq and Syria yesterday. Those are in response to the drone attack that killed three U.S. service members and wounded, scores more last weekend, although those were an order of magnitude larger -- larger than we've seen U.S. strikes in Iraq or Syria before. There is a warning from Austin, the Defense Secretary that that is just the beginning of the U.S. response. Ultimately, although there is a distinction in the rationale between these strikes that link back to Iran, certainly from the American perspective, and that is who was supposed to be the recipient of this message, Alex.
MARQUARDT: Yeah, the Pentagon clearly trying to delineate these different campaigns. Oren, at the Pentagon, thank you very much.
Nic Robertson, now to you in Tel Aviv. We're hearing the Houthis respond to these strikes. They are vowing to escalate as well. To Oren's point today with the third set of these kinds of strikes. So this message of deterrence that the U.S. and others are trying to send to the Houthis that doesn't seem to be working very well.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It doesn't and I think that speaks to the reason to go after more targets. Of course, in any military campaign where it's airstrikes, and you're targeting launchers on the ground, ammunition storage, launch facilities, command and control. All of these things, it is quite often a gradual process because you take out the easier to get ones, the ones that you know, that they're using, immediately. And since these strikes began three weeks ago, we've seen the Houthis continue with their attacks, oftentimes daily sending UAVs or missiles towards international shipping.
Now, of course, all of that is being watched closely. And we've seen day by day, the U.S. strike knockdown either UAV launches, UAVs in the air or missiles, just before they're about to be launched, in the ones and twos and threes and fours. But what -- what the surveillance and the spy craft will be -- will be doing during that time is looking at where these munitions come from, what are the storage sites, what are the Houthi is using right now.
So I think what we're seeing is now this graduation going after some of the more hard to get targets, if you will. And the Houthis got a lot of hard-to-get targets, because they fought an eight-year campaign against the Saudis, and the Saudis were trying to get the Houthis through airstrikes. So the Houthi has got good at putting them in bunkers, and caves in the mountains and a lot of mountains in Yemen.
So you take that intelligence, and you take that into the battlefield and try to take out more of their equipment. But the Houthis are saying very simply, we will escalate. Now, it sounds like rhetoric, but the likelihood is they still have capability and capacity. And the likelihood is there will have to be more follow-on strikes here. And of course, what they say they're aiming for, which is what Iran says they're aiming for, is -- is to support the Palestinians in Gaza. That's what they're saying.
What do they actually mean here when they say that and the Iranians say, look, if you just get a -- get a ceasefire deal in Gaza, then of course, everything's going to calm down in the region. The Houthi is included within Iranian proxy. What they really mean is, make a ceasefire with Hamas right now, on better terms for Hamas weaken -- giving Israel poorer terms. It weakens Israel, weakens U.S. interests in the region. That's what Iran is about. And this is, in essence, what the Houthi is saying right now. We'll keep going until we get what we want, which is to weakened Israel.
MARQUARDT: All right, Nic Robertson in Tel Aviv, Oren Liebermann at the Pentagon, thank you both very much.
Turning back to the United States, Joe Biden touting his victory in the South Carolina Democratic primary, telling supporters that the stakes could not be higher. CNN's Jeff Zeleny, joins us now with the details. So Jeff, what are we hearing now from the President's campaign since tonight's victory?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Alex, of course, President Biden is accepting and declaring victory here, and they are quite happy about this. Of course, this is why that they changed the democratic nominating calendar in the first place, just start in South Carolina. They believe a strong showing here will set the path going forward. And in a statement released just a few moments ago, the President said this, he said, the people of South Carolina have spoken again, and I have no doubt that they have set us on a path to winning the presidency and making Donald Trump a loser. So clearly pointing out his likely rival, as well.
But Alex, we're limited in what we'll be able to learn from this, largely because most incoming presidents have not had a situation like this. When Barack Obama was running for reelection in 2012, there was no primary. When Bill Clinton was running, there was no primary. So certainly how many people came to the polls today will be studied as a measure of enthusiasm. We're not expecting a record turnout, probably a record low turnout. But the Biden campaign believes this is the beginning of a pathway to invigorating black voters in particular, which make up a majority of the Democratic electorate in South Carolina.
So -- but look, the bottom line to all this, Alex, is the President is breathing a major sigh of relief that for all the angst and discontent in the party, he has not faced a major challenge in any of these primaries. Look at those results there, Marianne Williamson, Dean Phillips, so far behind. So most presidents who are challenged in primaries go on to potential defeat. Jimmy Carter, of course, George H.W. Bush as well. President Biden has managed to avoid a serious primary challenge, and that is no small feat.
MARQUARDT: And Jeff, the Democratic and Republican primaries are happening in South Carolina at different times. So we have the Democrats today. The Republican primary in South Carolina is three weeks out. Nikki Haley saying that she is going to stay in the race and, of course, South Carolina is her home state. So what are we expecting there on the Republican side?
ZELENY: You're right, on February 24, that's when Republicans in South Carolina will go to the polls and that will perhaps be -- I mean, certainly will be more competitive. Nikki Haley, the former governor there, who's served for a couple a term. She is still in this race. She's vowing to stay in this race. Of course, Donald Trump, the overwhelming front runner there. But this will show us a lot about the strength of the former president going forward and the willingness to -- for Republicans to get on board behind him.
And the margin there, of course, will be very important. These, of course, also have general election implications as well. We've heard that Nikki Haley has been making a general election argument that she can win, she can beat Joe Biden, she has a better chance of doing so. She argues than Donald Trump. So of course, the Republican contest will be much more important in terms of the -- the race going forward.
So it also is likely to say if there's going to be a rematch, for sure. Yes, both sides, the Biden campaign, the Trump campaign are -- are preparing for a rematch. That certainly looks like what's going to happen. But the South Carolina Republicans still need to vote. Nikki Haley is still in this race. But there's no doubt by the end of February, that vote in South Carolina could set the course for the rest of this 2024 campaign a likely rematch. So all sides are watching that. But this happens many years. Democrats vote first and Republicans vote a few weeks later. Alex.
MARQUARDT: And both sides agree that South Carolina is an absolutely critical state. Jeff Zeleny --
MARQUARDT: -- in Washington, thank you very much.
Ahead, we will be speaking with a member of the House Intelligence Committee about those airstrikes in Yemen and what they mean for efforts to minimize a potentially growing conflict in the region. Stay with us.
MARQUARDT: And we continue with our coverage of breaking news out of the Middle East tonight. Iran-backed Houthi rebels vowing to retaliate after a new series of airstrikes led by the United States but a coalition taking part.
Joining me now to discuss this is CNN Global Affairs Analyst Kim Dozier, former Middle East Negotiator for the State Department, Aaron David Miller, CNN Military Analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling and General Wesley Clark.
General Clark, let me start with you, when you look at the fact that this was more than 30 different targets across 13 different areas, I believe. What does that tell you about the U.S. efforts that appear to soap so far have failed to deter the Houthis from carrying out these strikes in the Red Sea?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK, (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It says we're getting better targeting information. We're really focusing on collecting intelligence so we can target. And we are ramping up the coercion and the destruction of assets that are there, that the Houthis are using. It doesn't say what the end state will be. And you're going against a pretty tough enemy with that. But it's clearly a ramp up in strike.
MARQUARDT: General Hertling, I don't want to go on to the -- the other series of strikes that we saw last night, 85 targets, seven different facilities in both Iraq and in Syria. The Biden administration had made clear that they don't want to escalate the conflict with Iran. But again, they are looking to deter these are Iran-back proxies. So do you think when you look at the targeting that they did last night, and how they carried it out that they are walking that line and in the way that they intend to?
LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING, (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I believe they are Alex. What -- I'm going to jump on with General Clark, because I admire -- first of all, his -- his comments about the end state. You know, what we're seeing right now are the ways that the administration is conducting their operation and the means they're using to do it. Those are two elements of strategy. But the key aspect of all of that is, what are they trying to achieve?
I believe they're trying to achieve deterrence. But it's going to be very difficult in this area, because you're dealing not only with enemies in Iran, but their proxies in different locations, as well as the connections that Iran has to other nations like Russia, China, North Korea.
General Clark address that a couple hours ago on your show. And that's a critical element of this. We can't just look at this as a tactical battle. And what the administration is attempting to do, they are attempting to deter tactical effects from the Houthis and from the PMs is, but -- or PMF's -- excuse me. But that's going to be very challenging or challenging to run that fine thread between deterrence and stumbling into warfare. So far, they've done a good job of that. But we'll see what happens over the next couple of nights as these strikes continue.
MARQUARDT: Aaron David Miller, the administration has been keen to separate out these different fronts and essentially say what we saw last night in Iraq and Syria that was about retaliation for the strike in Jordan a week ago, what we're seeing today in Yemen, that has to do with commercial shipping.
But in your mind, how much of this is tied back to the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza? And how much -- how important is it to get that that conflict to a truce, essentially, to avoid inflaming the rest of the region?
AARON DAVID MILLER, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT, MIDDLE EAST NEGOTIATOR: Well, I think -- thanks for having me. Look, I think if in fact, you can get some sort of de-escalation in Gaza, trade passages for prisoners, and some measure of stability in Gaza was going to be extremely difficult, Hamas and the Israelis. Hamas will survive this. Israelis will likely be operating at some level in Gaza for months to come. There's no Palestinian authority to take over, no sense that the Arab states are willing to commit their boots on the ground, and no prospect of the national force.
Look, Alex, I think we have a strategic problem here. It's -- it's -- it's -- as General Hertling said, it -- I think, the best tactics that can be deployed in the current circumstances. But we have a strategic problem with Iran. We don't have a strategic solution. Everything we do with the Iranians is transactional, whether it's diplomatic standby time, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, or what we're doing now. And I think we may -- we may achieve some measure of deterrence and -- and degrading of these proxy forces. But by and large, it's their neighborhood. And the Middle East is literally littered with the remains of great powers, including ours, I might add, who believe that somehow they could impose will on smaller ones.
This -- this region is going to remain. It will not be a land of opportunity for the United States. We're going to have to continue to manage. Because the end state here is critically important and frankly watching this under Republican and Democratic presidents for 30 years, I'm not sure there is a stable instinct.
MARQUARDT: Kim Dozier, even if Iran has indicated that they don't want to escalate, have they given an indication that they intend to scale back their own activity or want to see their proxies scale back their activity?
KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Not at all, they've even said things that make it sound like something will be forthcoming, saying that they will not be bullied and parts of their factions have said, they'll meet threats with threats.
Look, in Iran's long strategic game, it wants to damage the U.S. reputation. This is payback for U.S. sanctions. This is payback for the U.S. just making lives for Iranians difficult with all of the diplomatic measures it's taken to try to discipline the regime. So every time there's something like what's happening in Gaza right now, gives Tehran a pretext to put all of those proxy forces in motion. And that's what you're seeing right now.
If this results in Iraq, for instance, expelling U.S. troops, because right now, the Iraqi Government is very angry, they summoned to the U.S. charge d'affaires today, they've complained that more than a dozen people from those Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces, which are partly state run, were killed in the U.S. strikes on Friday. And if they kick the Americans out, that means Iran has more influence, more freedom to operate throughout Iraq and the rest of the region.
MARQUARDT: General Clark, you understand the importance of coalition's perhaps better than anybody, why do you think it's so important for the U.S. to emphasize the need to gather other countries for its campaign now against the Houthis in Yemen?
CLARK: Because a coalition provides legitimacy. We're using force. It's not a declared war. We're striking, we're killing people, what's the basis for it? We're talking about international law, in the case of the Houthis and interference with maritime commerce. That coalition adds legitimacy to what the United States is doing. And legitimacy is one of the really important elements of a strategy moving forward. But another important element that we don't have under control is the social media and the outreach to the people in the region, we're way behind on that it may not be possible to make it up.
The Iranians and the Palestinians are way, way ahead of us. But we know the leaders in the region, they don't want Iran to be dominant. So we've got to do everything we can to provide legitimacy for what we're doing. So they can echo that legitimacy and work their own, let's call it the Arab Street.
MARQUARDT: Aaron, can you talk to me about the Netanyahu of this all? Of course, Iran is the boogeyman to him, do you think he is heartened to see the U.S. taking the fight to some of its more prominent proxy groups?
MILLER: The longer this conflict goes on, both in the region and between Israelis and Palestinians, it carries some risk for Israel. But look, you're dealing with the longest governing Prime Minister in the history of the State of Israel. He's on trial now for bribery fraud and breach of trust and Jerusalem District Court three years and running, he's due to testify next month. He is the worst conceivable leader during a time of crisis, because he's conflated his own political future and his freedom. He would honor, went to jail, indicted for a breach of trust for 16 months, previous Israeli prime minister.
So what's at stake for Mr. Netanyahu is his freedom, his political future, and his legacy. And frankly, it's going to be extremely difficult for him to preserve and navigate out of the fix that he's in. The longer this goes on, the more likely there could be some Israeli military success. Maybe they'll kill Yehya Sinwar, return leader of Hamas. But no, I -- again, he's completed his own politics with the insurgents country. And that's not what you want, at this time.
MARQUARDT: All right, important to note how all of these different fronts are connected. Thanks to you all for your time and your thoughts this evening.
Still ahead, what we're learning about when President Biden ordered the strikes in Yemen that took place today. Plus, what's next for the Biden campaign after his easy win in South Carolina. You're in the CNN Newsroom.
MARQUARDT: We want to get back to the breaking news story unfolding right now in the Middle East, a U.S.-led coalition of countries hit dozens of Houthi targets in Yemen, the president touchdown in Los Angeles just a short time ago, he's on his way to a fundraiser following his projected primary victory in South Carolina. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is with the President in Los Angeles. So Priscilla, he's -- he's focusing on campaigning and raising money, but at the same time, he's got a lot going on in the Middle East?
PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yeah, the campaign and the situation of the Middle East really colliding today, as we saw those strikes happen earlier today.
Now, when those strikes did happen, President Biden was visiting campaign headquarters, again, underscoring that as the president hits the trail, he's still having to grapple with this ongoing situation in the Middle East.
Now, in terms of the strikes that happened in Yemen, two senior administration officials tell me that President Biden gave the green light for those strikes to occur earlier in the week. Now, the reason for the time, difference between Monday and today was because it just takes time sometimes for this to be prepared and carried out. And this is also part of a coalition of countries that have been hitting back against these actions by the Houthis in the Red Sea.
They've all warned that these actions, which are targeting U.S. and commercial vessels, could really threaten the global economy. And so the U.S., along with its partner countries, striking back today in this message of deterrence, but also in an attempt to try to degrade and diminish some of those Houthi capabilities.
And, again, these two senior administration officials also stressing that these strikes are separate from the retaliatory measures that we saw happen in Friday when the U.S. hit targets in Syria and Iraq in response to the death of those three service members in Jordan.
But, of course, Alex, all of this really comes as the Biden administration tries to avoid escalating tensions in the Middle East getting pulled into a wider war in that region. All of this, they say, is a message of deterrence and not one of escalation.
MARQUARDT: Separate, but at least connected as far as Iran is concerned.
On the campaign front, Priscilla, what is the president now saying about his projected victory in South Carolina?
ALVAREZ: Well, the president is saying that the state is going to help launch him into 2024. Remember, South Carolina is a state that really turned the tide for President Biden in 2020 and one that he says helped him notch that victory in November of 2020.
And leading up to this primary, both the president and the vice president have made frequent trips to the state, including last Saturday when President Biden addressed South Carolina Democrats and made clear that it is voters in that state that have helped him get to the presidency and that his hope was that they would do it again.
But what campaign officials were looking at here was black voter turnout. And we heard earlier in an interview with Michael -- an interview you had with Michael Tyler that they did see increased turnout among black voters in this primary. That's a positive sign because that is support that they cannot afford to lose going into November of 2024.
And up until now, polls have showed that there was waning enthusiasm among black voters. And so the campaign really touting these results today was, of course, not a competitive primary, but it was a show of the support that the president has among black voters and one that they aim to keep going into November. Alex.
MARQUARDT: All right. Priscilla Alvarez in Los Angeles, thank you very much.
Let's get straight to Democratic strategist Chuck Rocha and former Republican congressman Joe Walsh of Illinois. Thank you both for joining me tonight.
Chuck, let me start with you and what we're seeing in South Carolina tonight. What are you looking for in the numbers? Because we knew that obviously President Biden was expected to win. But then as Priscilla was just saying, I had -- the communications director for the campaign, Michael Tyler, telling me that there was increased black voter turnout.
CHUCK ROCHA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: What I was looking at today was some of it was turnout, but it's hard to measure turnout when you have an incumbent president normally in South Carolina and two other elections they've had at this time when there was an incumbent. They didn't even have an election. So what I was looking at is you hear all these people saying or folks on TV saying or folks out in the field saying that Biden has got a little weakness within the Democratic Party. So I wanted to see what these other two I accept, they're lesser candidates. I get that they weren't going to have a job or they weren't going to have a shot, but did they get five percent. Would they get up to 10 percent? Was there really this angst out there that everybody was talking about?
Well, my answer is got to me tonight and they didn't even get one or two percent. So it was solid like I needed to see because turnout will only tell you so much in a primary like this. But what did get to happen as a strategist is the Biden campaign got to test a few apparatuses that they will need in places in the general election where the black vote will be crucial in places like Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Detroit and they got to keep the tires on that truck tonight.
MARQUARDT: Joe, what do you make of the inroads that Trump is making with black voters in South Carolina and elsewhere? Is that really a voter block that he's going to be able to count on?
JOE WALSH, FORMER REPRESENTATIVE OF THE UNITED STATES: I think they think so, Alex. And I think they could make some headway here. But to me, the story today is less South Carolina and it's more, game on general election.
Look, these election numbers between Trump and Biden right now are close because Democrats haven't been engaged and the American people haven't been engaged at all on the notion of a general election by Trump. Here we go again.
But, Alex, looking what you've been talking about all night, Joe Biden right now, defending American interests in the Middle East, defending commercial skipping, defending Israel, the contrast of that, right, with Donald Trump sitting on his ass in courtroom after courtroom, defending himself, attacking Taylor Swift.
Look, I think the contrast now between these two is going to get in front of the American people because now the general election is an honest.
MARQUARDT: Chuck, we saw the president in Michigan earlier this week and that's where he's facing real anger from Arab-American voters, Muslim voters over the administration's support for Israel in the war in Gaza.
How significant a problem is that going to be for him in the general election?
ROCHA: Look, I'm not going to sugarcoat it in Michigan. He only won by a small, small number in the last presidential election. And there are a lot Muslim-Americans in Michigan, in Dearborn, around there. He needs to go there. He needs to sit down with them. He needs to have conversations like he's doing. I give him credit. It's an impossible situation. He's not going to make everybody happy. But if you sit down with folks and you let them know that you care and that you're trying to fix it, it may not be perfect for everybody, but that you're working for a workable solution that you main and right for everyone.
I think that's what they want to hear. And the good news for Democrats and for Joe Biden is he has enough time to fix it.
MARQUARDT: We did hear from the president at his campaign headquarters, who's rallying support. Here's a little bit of what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
It's not about me. It goes well beyond me. It goes about the country. And I think everybody knows it. And I think that people are going to be in a dawn on people.
The American people get it. They understand what's going on. We're going to be able to say, God willing, that you help this generation help save democracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: And, Joe, do you think that that argument is gaining traction? Is it a compelling argument that Trump is a threat to democracy?
WALSH: Absolutely, Alex. That's it. That -- again, this worked in 2022. This election has to be about Donald Trump. Joe Biden rightly believes that Trump is an existential threat to our democracy. Period. Nothing is more important.
I love what Biden said there. It's not about me. It's about defending this democracy. Biden should say that, Alex, every single day for the next nine months. And when the American people focus on that, that's going to help get Biden reelected.
MARQUARDT: All right. Joe Walsh, Chuck Rocha. Thank you both for your thoughts this evening. I appreciate your time.
And we are continuing to follow the escalating conflict in the Middle East after a U.S.-led coalition carried out a series of strikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen earlier today.
Let's discuss more now with Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinoi. He's a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for joining us this evening.
I want to ask you first about these strikes in Yemen. This is the third round of strikes that are led by the U.S. with an international coalition. We know that the Brits took part as well earlier today. This message of deterrence appears to not be getting through.
The Houthis continue to carry out these strikes against commercial shipping in the Red Sea. They are continuing to fire missiles to fire drones. So why have these strikes not been effective? What more does this coalition need to do, do you think?
REP. RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Well, I think that they probably are going to need to continue to be vigilant with the coalition in making sure that the Houthis get the message, not just through these missile attacks, but also from others who might have connections to the Houthis in the region, whether it's Iran or others.
At the end of the day, however, I think the issue, the central issue that the Biden administration is working on right now is dealing with a prolonged pause in the hostilities in Gaza, a release of the hostages, and bringing a little more calm to the region.
And so whatever they can do to deal with the Houthis and other militias while not disrupting those negotiations or sparking a regional war is paramount right now.
MARQUARDT: We are going to see Secretary Blinken going back to the region, including stopping in Israel. How critical do you think it is for the U.S. to help Israel and Hamas get to a point in the fighting where there is a pause in order to see the other flare-ups in the region essentially calm down?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Extremely important. And Bill Burns and Avril Haines briefed our intelligence committee just a couple of days ago. And Bill Burns, the CIA director, has been playing a big role as well along with Tony Blinken.
I think it's extremely important that there be a temporary ceasefire, a truce, whatever you want to call it, a pause in the fighting so that there can be a release of hostages, a massive inflow of aid to help people in the Gaza Strip, and then a chance at getting to the light at the end of the tunnel, which is a two-state solution. That has to also be, in my humble opinion, on the table as part of the talks, if not part of the current talks, at least in parallel, because we can't go through this endless cycle of violence at this point. That is very important.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: You just mentioned that you've been briefed by the senior most members of the U.S. intelligence community. Help us understand what the U.S. believes Iran's intentions to be, because we kind of decipher their signals.
And the general understanding is they don't want to conflict either, but at the same time they are happy to continue stirring the pot.
So, what does the intelligence community believe that Tehran actually wants to accomplish here?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Well, as you know, Iran repeatedly provides money, training, and weapons to various militias throughout the Middle East to conduct nefarious activities.
One very interesting thing is that a lot of times they know in advance, but sometimes they don't know in advance what these militias are going to do. And so the question here is whether the Iranians are going to actually exercise their leverage and get these militias and proxies to stop this nonsense.
This nonsense is going to spark a much wider conflagration that will come back to hurt the Iranians, and they need to realize that.
And so at this point, we need to calm the situation, allow for the Israelis and the other parties to have these negotiations for prolonged pause and hostilities, and get to a better place.
MARQUARDT: So, do you think the strikes that we saw last night in Iraq and Syria against these seven different facilities will get to that area where essentially Iran will tell its proxies to dial things back? Is that going to be effective?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Published reports suggest yes, but we don't know exactly. But let me just bring up one other issue, which is very important, which is, you know, I think that it's very important that the president do everything in his power to defend our forces, and he has that right, he has that inherent right under the Constitution.
But any kind of extensive offensive operations beyond this would then, you know, require that Congress get involved through some kind of authorization of use of military force.
And so it's very, very important right now that we also observe that particular issue and not cross a boundary there either.
MARQUARDT: Iraq has been a vital partner for the U.S. military in terms of combating ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Now, we're hearing a lot of anger from the Iraqi government. It's many even saying that the U.S. military has to leave Iraq because of the strikes that we have seen by the U.S. in Iraq.
Are you concerned that Iraq may essentially kick the U.S. out?
KRISHNAMOORTHI: I'm always concerned when a country says that. On the other hand, they have vital security links with the United States.
And at the end of the day, you know, if militias are operating from Western Anbar Province attacking American service members, we have the right to defend ourselves.
MARQUARDT: All right. Congressman Krishnamoorthi, thank you so much for joining us this evening. I appreciate it.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you so much.
MARQUARDT: The mayor of Long Beach says that his city could see more rain this weekend than they do in a typical year ahead, the potentially life-threatening flooding that is bearing down on almost all of California. You can see it right there. Stay with us here in the CNN NEWSROOM.
MARQUARDT: In California, water rescue teams are on standby tonight as a dangerous atmospheric river bears down on the southern part of the state. Evacuation orders have now been issued for Ventura County and parts of Santa Barbara County as this storm is expected to bring, low life threatening flooding as well as widespread power outages when it makes landfall. That's expected tomorrow.
CNN's Camila Bernal joins us now from Los Angeles. So, Camilla, this is a huge storm. Are people taking the warning seriously?
CAMILA BERNAL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Alex. Yes, a lot of people definitely are. There are areas where they have those evacuation orders in place and some people are deciding whether or not they're going to leave their homes.
But here, we also saw a lot of people. This is the local fire station. And a lot of people, throughout the day, coming to just get sandbags because they already know that water either gets into their homes or into their garages. And so people are taking that seriously.
Authorities saying, you know, don't travel if you don't have to. Try to have information available, try to have an emergency kit in place.
And they say that they too are ready. Take a listen to the fire chief and what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERNAL: Now, there are also teams ready in case of power outages and downed trees. There are also people who are out right now telling the homeless population to go to a shelter because of the possible dangers of flooding and everybody overall being told not to drive or walk through flooded areas because those currents can really be unpredictable.
[20:50:20] And again, authorities are just saying, take it seriously because it can be dangerous. Alex.
MARQUARDT: Yes. Hopefully people are heeding those warnings. Camila Bernal, thank you very much.
We'll be right back.
MARQUARDT: I want to recap our top story. An escalating situation in the Middle East. A U.S.-led coalition carried out a series of strikes against at least 30 targets tied to Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen earlier today.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is calling it a clear message and saying the U.S. will not hesitate to defend the free flow of commerce in that vital waterway, the Red Sea. But Iran is warning that the U.S. is fueling further conflict in the region.
All of this coming just a day after the U.S. launched strikes against Iran-backed militants in both Iraq and in Syria in response to a deadly drone attack on U.S. troops in Jordan, which left some three U.S. service members dead.
Thank you very much for joining me this evening. I'm Alex Marquardt. Have a good night.