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Several Top House Dems Want Biden To Step Aside; Stunning Election Win Projected In France For The Left; President Biden Hits Campaign Trail In Pennsylvania; Texas' Lieutenant Governor Warns Not To Underestimate Tropical Storm Beryl; Inside War-Torn Rafah. Aired 6- 7p ET

Aired July 07, 2024 - 18:00   ET



PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Pamela Brown in Washington, and we are following some breaking news coming into CNN.

Sources are saying more than a handful of top House Democrats are now calling on the president to suspend his reelection campaign. This came during a call today with House Leader Hakeem Jeffries and as President Biden hit the campaign trail in Pennsylvania, telling supporters today he's, quote, "never been more optimistic about the future of America."

And when someone asked him, do you still have the support of the Democratic Party, the president empathically said, yes. But our reporting is suggesting otherwise at this hour.

Let's go straight to CNN White House correspondent Arlette Saenz, who's traveling with the president today -- Arlette.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Pamela, the pressure is growing on President Biden from within his own Democratic Party to step aside in this race. Now, this afternoon, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries held a Zoom meeting with the ranking members of the committees to kind of get -- feel their temperature, take the temperature about their feelings about the 2024 election before Congress is set to return tomorrow.

And sources tell CNN that in that private phone conversation, that the number of lawmakers who want to see the president step aside outweighed those who spoke up in support of him staying in this race. CNN has learned about six of those Democratic lawmakers said that they believe it is time for the president to leave the 2024 race, that it included lawmakers like Congressman Takano, Congressman Nadler, also Congresswoman Wild of Pennsylvania, a key battleground state.

Sources have also told CNN that lawmakers like Congresswoman Maxine Waters as well as Congressman Bobby Scott spoke up in support of the president staying in this race. Now, one of the concerns that was expressed in this phone call is the potential that keeping Biden at the top of the Democratic ticket could weigh down other Democrats running in competitive races in the House and Senate. There is a concern about Democrats being unable to win back the House

majority if Biden remains at the top of the Democratic ticket. Now these private calls from these lawmakers join the already other five Democratic lawmakers who since the debate have called for President Biden to step aside publicly.

Now President Biden himself believes that the Democratic Party is still behind him. That is something that he's told reporters today as he was traveling in Pennsylvania trying to make his case directly to voters. The president spent some time visiting a black church and then also speaking at a campaign headquarter where he showed no signs of backing down from this race. Take a listen to what he told supporters there.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This election is going to be about blocking and tackling, simple basic politics. Simple. It's going to be a matter of how many signs we get out, how many doors we knock on, how many calls me make, and how many requests we answer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We need Dark Brandon.


BIDEN: I got my glasses -- but I tell you what. Dark Brandon is coming back.



SAENZ: Now while -- you might have seen in that video that while the president was in Pennsylvania, he tried to have this show of force of elected officials there with him traveling with the president in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania where Senator John Fetterman as well as Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, Senator Bob Casey was also on hand for part of the trip. The Biden campaign trying to put forth some of those supporters of the president at a time when you have started to see these defections from the president's own party play out.


Now so much of the debate about President Biden remaining in the race has played out while Congress has been out on vacation, so there is a good chance that the pressure could continue to build on President Biden even further as these lawmakers returned to the House and Senate, and are in front of reporters and are also holding their own types of meetings and gatherings to talk through the 2020 race.

But so far President Biden has completely remained defiant in this, saying that he plans to stay into the race -- in the race until the November election, even as these calls and serious doubts from Democrats continue to grow and are being expressed both privately and publicly. BROWN: And, you know, of course, the president is around friendly

crowds right now, who are his fervent supporters. But how are voters reacting to President Biden on the campaign trail? What are they saying about the debate and whether it's still weighing on them now?

SAENZ: Well, I've been traveling with the president over the past few days, both in Wisconsin and in Pennsylvania. I was outside of that church service where the president spoke this morning and I spoke to a handful of the parishioners who were in attendance for the church service, and they all told me that they still wanted to see President Biden move forward in this race. One of those voters told me that they believed it was too late for the president to drop out at this point.

Others saying that they believe that he is allowed to have a bad night and that they wanted to see him continue forward. When I was in Wisconsin, I heard really a mix reaction from voters. Some people, fervent supporters who wanted to have him stay in the race. Others who did have some concern after the debate and what it would mean for voters and how that would sit with them heading into November's election.

So President Biden is hoping that he can try to convert some of those skeptical voters as he's hitting the campaign trail. He will be in Michigan on Friday. That'll be the next battleground state that he will be visiting, I'm told. But of course he is also facing those very loud calls from within his own party, from Democratic officials, from donors who are very concerned about what this race will look like if Biden stays at the top of the ticket.

BROWN: All right. Arlette Saenz, thank you so much.

Joining us now CNN senior political commentator and former special assistant to President George W. Bush, Scott Jennings, and Democratic strategist and co-founder of Lift Our Voices, Julie Roginsky.

I guess the first question to you, Julie, is help us make sense of this, right? We are now at this stage where you have a president who is digging in his heels saying, I'm not going anywhere, I am staying atop the ticket, and then you have more and more defections in his party. Now the latest count is 11 House Democrats saying he should step aside. And what I'm told from sources is actually there will be more coming out this week as members of Congress come to the hill.

What weight does this carry? If these are House members calling him to step aside, but not necessarily, some of them are ranking members. But not necessarily leadership. Like Hakeem Jeffries or Nancy Pelosi.

JULIE ROGINSKY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, Hakeem Jeffries is a very shrewd politician and he convened this call knowing that the leaks were going to emanate. He certainly knew that you couldn't have as many as whoever many out on the call today without this getting out immediately. It's also not a coincidence I think that a lot of these ranking members spoke up to effectively I think give Hakeem Jeffries the leeway to maybe go with Chuck Schumer to the president and say, look, we've heard now from ranking members like Jerry Nadler, who are certainly in no danger of losing his seat this November, but also from frontline members like Susan Wild in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, which is the swingiest county in the swingiest state in the nation, who are worried about you and worried about the down-ballot effect this may have.

And that's before we get back from July 4th recess and Congress reconvenes where Scott well knows these guys kind of feed off of each other and they're not all necessarily profiles in courage, but they all do speak to each other and they may all team up together to deliver that message to leadership and have leadership send that message to the White House. And so this is not trending in a good direction for the president.

I'll also say that every day that goes by where we're talking about this and we're not talking about Donald Trump, and the threat he poses to the nation, both with his personal record of 34 felonies and with his plans for a second term where he promised to effectively be the vengeance for all of his MAGA offended party is not a good day for Democrats. And so with every day that goes by, and we're focusing on this and not focusing on the former president is not a good day for us.

And so I strongly think that it's time for President Biden to take a look at what this may look like. If this continues on into next week and the next month, we don't have time, we need to refocus this campaign on Donald Trump and the threat he poses to our democracy and to our nation.

BROWN: There are certainly, as you talk about, Julie, there's been a lot of breaking news within the Democratic Party that has taken away from what the Democratic Party would like us all to be talking about, and that is Donald Trump.


You have a president who some have characterized as, quote, "in denial" about members of his party turning against him. I mean, just today he said no, I had the Democratic Party on my side and now we're having 11 members at last count say he should step aside. Meanwhile, you have, you know, a senior House member telling me that on Tuesday, the widespread view is the dam will break, that Hakeem Jeffries is going to hold his caucus meeting, and that is when it will become abundantly clear where the caucus stands. And the view is in talking to sources that is leaning more toward pushing President Biden to step aside than the other way.

Do you think though, Scott, looking at this president that we saw in that interview on ABC, looking at the president we saw today, do you think this will move the needle for him?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, he sounds dug in and the family sounds dug in. And so I don't really know because it seems like the people he is listening to are principally his wife, the first lady, and his son Hunter Biden. There's credible reporting now that Hunter Biden has become the de facto gatekeeper to his father and his now in White House senior staff meetings. And so when your circle gets that tight and it's made up of family,

you wonder what information is getting through. Actually in watching the Stephanopoulos interview, wondered what the president has been told about his own polling and his own political situation.

BROWN: That was -- yes.

JENNINGS: And so when you -- that was Friday, now fast forward with these new House members coming out and other things that Democrats apparently are going to be saying this week, you wonder how much of that is actually going to get to the president. And so it strikes me that it would take a Jeffries and a Schumer to directly go to him and say, here's your situation, but it's not -- look. Just to stand up for the president for a minute, which might surprise you, he did win the votes.


JENNINGS: He did win the nomination, and it is his and his alone to give up. It's not like they can rouse him out. I would say this. If he does give it up, it raises the question to me whether he should just resign the office because effectively what the Democrats are saying is, we don't have confidence for you to lead us for the next four years. Well, do you have confidence to lead us today? I think it's a real question about whether he should remain at that point and let Kamala Harris just run as an incumbent.

BROWN: And I want to note, too, because I've heard from viewers say, look, you know, Biden should stay in, he should stay atop the ticket. Coming up in the show, we're going to hear some more voters from voters on the ground, and what their views are, right? And we just heard a little bit from Arlette as well. But the reality is right now, Julie, that the president is in sort of an echo chamber, right?

I mean, he is around his aides who are sort of keeping him in this bubble. We don't know what's getting through to him. He's going into these events where he's surrounded by supporters. And I wonder, you know, like news like we're just talking about the 11 members, more members, ranking members now saying he should step aside. I wonder in a moment like this how much could actually get through to him and what it would take to pierce his inner circle at this point and get through to the president on the reality.

ROGINSKY: Well, what's going to get through to him, as Scott mentioned, as I talked about earlier, is going to be somebody like a Chuck Schumer speaking to him as a former colleague and somebody who represents the United States Senate, which Joe Biden adores and loves and is a, you know, multi-decade veteran of to go to him and say, Mr. President, you have lost the confidence of the Senate Democratic conference.

Whether that's going to happen or not, whether Chuck Schumer is going to be able to do that or not is a different story. I'm sure he can do it if he wants to, whether he wants to do it is a separate issue. But look, there is something to be said for the fact that we continue now, 10 days later to talk about this. Every day that goes by, this is not helpful to the Democratic cause. If the purpose of this is to defend -- defeat Donald Trump and if the purpose of this is to ensure that anybody but Trump as the president of the United States then I implore the president, President Biden, to think about the fact that we need to change the narrative.

Now, if he's capable of changing that narrative, I'm not sure how but whether he and his staff are capable of changing that narrative, they should do it. And if they're able to do that and have the president run on his wonderful record then they should. But if they're not able to change the narrative, the narrative has gotten away from them, and if we're going to be talking about the president's infirmities and the president's ability to carry the Democratic message between now and November, then, you know, at that point, the horse has left the barn and we are going to be focused on something other than what we need to focus on, which is Donald Trump and the threat he poses to this democracy.

President Biden is first and foremost an American patriot. I know he is because I've known him for a very long time. And I am positive that he does not want to be the downfall of the democratic experiment in this country. And I keep saying we have two years until the 250th anniversary of the founding of this country, we need to be a democracy in 2026 because there's a good opportunity now for us not to be, if Joe Biden loses this selection, or if Donald Trump more importantly becomes president of the United States.


BROWN: I know Scott has his views, has his views on that, but I just wanted to follow up with you what you said just about time being of the essence and the stakes being so high. In your view Julie, it would take a Chuck Schumer going to the president and really having a heart- to-heart with him about this. But how much time would you give it, right? For. I mean, Chuck Schumer staying silent. Hakeem Jeffries is staying silent. You know, Nancy Pelosi a few days ago she brought up, is this an episode or a condition, but she hasn't really said where she stands fully.

How long do you give it until that happens -- if that happens, where they would go to him and say it's time?

ROGINSKY: It's got to be this week, right? And the excuse is that they were out last week for the Fourth and now they're back and they're conferencing with their respective caucuses and they're going to be speaking to their respective conferences and they're going to be hearing from their members, both their frontline members, but also their ranking members who are not really in any danger. Most of them not in any danger of losing their seats.

The House is on the precipice of flipping. The Senate needs to remain in Democratic hands. That's going to be a tall order regardless of what happens with the presidential and both these -- both Senator Schumer and Leader Jeffries need to think about the fact that there are -- there's a separate branch of government, the legislative branch, that needs to be the bulwark to any potential Trump presidency. And so they also need to consider the fact that having an enfeebled

frontrunner or president, excuse me, on the ticket is not necessarily good for them and their prospects. And so the fear here for people like Susan Wild who you just mentioned earlier is not necessarily just that Donald Trump wins. It's also that the legislative branch will go Republican, which will make ensures that there's absolutely nothing standing between Project 2025 and all the crazy things that Trump wants to enable and nod.

And the Supreme Courts certainly not going to do it as we all saw recently. So the only thing that stands between Trump and complete just freedom to do whatever he wants without any guardrails is the legislative branch and they need to make sure that the legislative branch stays in Democratic hands. Hopefully with the Democratic president. But worst-case scenario, at least in Democratic hands in the legislative side.

BROWN: How do you see it?

JENNINGS: I think, well, first of all, it's amazing to me Democrats are just now coming to the realization that Joe Biden is enfeebled. I mean, it's been pretty obvious that he's, you know, been in decline for quite some time. It took this debate to finally get them there, but more than that, it took some bad polling to get them there.

So, you know, it may be, by the way, that he's still their best option. I don't know that he is and it may also be that he's their worst option. It's not clear to me that Kamala Harris is any better and I don't think they can give it to anybody else. But Harris, I mean, she is the most unpopular vice president ever, even more unpopular than, you know, my old boss Dick Cheney and he shot a guy in the face.

I mean, she is very unpopular. OK? Just handing this off to somebody who's untested, the last time they ran for president, she was terrible at it. I mean, that's a big roll of the dice to do that. The one thing Biden has going for him is that he has run and he did win. And he currently is the president. I recognize he had a bad performance so I'm truthfully not sure what the correct strategic answer is for the Democrats. Stay with enfeebled guy at mid-30s job approval or hand it off to very unpopular vice president who doesn't have a great track record of running for president. It's quite a pickle.

BROWN: It is worth noting, though, in our latest CNN poll that she would actually fare better against Trump than Biden. And in the Trump camp our sources are saying they believe actually that Trump would -- they want Biden to say atop of ticket according to our sources. They believe that Trump has a better chance of winning.

But, Julie, I wanted you to respond to what Scott said, but also it is worth noting that while you do have 11 defections, you have around 200 members, right, who haven't come out and publicly asked for Biden to step aside. Is there still a way, is there still hope for Biden to kind of turn the corner and have it stop here, stop the bleeding where it is here? ROGINSKY: Well, first of all, Biden doesn't have to listen to anybody.

All of them can come out against him and he's got the delegates and their pledge to him and he doesn't have to do anything other than stay on the ticket if that's what he wants to do.

Scott, I'm going to say this. I mean, we're not exactly running against Cicero here. We're running against Donald Trump. And so as much as you want to talk about the president's numbers and the vice president's numbers, you know, Donald Trump is not exactly beloved by a large swath of the American people.

And look, I mean, we have spent the last week and a half talking about Joe Biden. And that's not good for Democrats. But if that conversation were to shift, the insanity that Donald Trump was peddling during the campaign to the fact that his Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade, to the fact that there's a Project 2025, which half his staff is working on and he's going to be absolutely picking from to staff his administration that wants to, I don't know, ban IVF, create effectively a theocracy for this country going forward, the fact that he's an adjudicated rapist, the fact that he's been convicted on 34 charges, the fact that he wants to effectively obliterate NATO, the fact that he wants to get rid of the Pax Americana in Europe, sell Ukraine to Vladimir Putin.


I could go on if we had five hours. I could keep talking. I mean, you're not exactly running against this huge statesman who's beloved by the people. You're running against Donald Trump. And I fully believe that if we have a presidential candidate who is able to talk about everything that I just talked about every day, all day and at length, that this is going to be a very different campaign.

Now, if Joe Biden is able to do that, if Joe Biden is able to somehow switch this narrative from what it is right now, and I'm not confident that he can, but if he can, I believe this race is very winnable. If he cannot, I truly hope that this week he makes the decision to give it to somebody, give somebody else the opportunity to be able to talk about what I just talked about. But Trump is not exactly who I'd want to be comfortable running with if I were a Republican either, not beloved by any stretch of the imagination, not even by --

BROWN: Very, very quickly. Julie, just very quickly. I mean, I know you say it's up to Biden. You know, he doesn't have to listen to anyone, but it does matter if more and more defections, if there are more and more defections, public perception, right? I mean, it does matter.

ROGINSKY: Of course it matters. It matters tremendously from an electoral perspective. It doesn't matter to Joe Biden if he doesn't want to get out. Now, as I said, I think the president is a patriot. I think the president understands the fear that would ensue if you were to stay at the top of the ticket if the rest of the party thinks he should get out and I think he understands the risks inherent in that. And so ultimately I think this is going to be a tough decision for him, but it's a decision that he'll arrive at sooner rather than later. But I do think he needs to hear from leadership about that before he makes that decision public.

BROWN: All right. Scott and Julie, thank you both for that lively, interesting discussion on this really, I mean, historic, unprecedented moment that we are in, hugely consequential for every single American, no matter what your politics are.

Still ahead, breaking news, a surprise result in French snap elections, a win for the left managing to fend off a strong showing recently by the far-right. We are live in Paris as people are celebrating in the streets and what it all means for the U.S. And we are just hours away from Tropical Storm Beryl slamming into the Texas coast. The big question tonight, how powerful will the storm be. We're tracking it, ahead.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.



BROWN: We are following breaking news out of France tonight where celebrations are underway right now in the streets of Paris after a stunning victory for an alliance of left-wing parties in the second round of the parliamentary elections. The projections signal a defeat for Marine Le Pen's far-right anti-immigrant party, which hoped to gain control of parliament.

CNN's Melissa Bell is in Paris.

Melissa, really a shocking result today, right? I mean, widespread shock through the streets there of the results. What can you tell us?

MELISSA BELL, CNN SENIOR PARIS CORRESPONDENT: Pretty remarkable reversal of fortune there from what we saw in the first round of voting last week. What we've seen then in the European elections that had led to all this, Pam, then in the first round of voting in these parliamentary elections, France votes in two rounds. First time round, this stunning victory of the far-right that had really got many people on the moderate part of French politics extremely worried that it might become in this second round the biggest force in France's parliament.

In fact, the stunning reversal has come, first of all, because of the remarkable alliance that was cobbled together on the left. Really unusual unity for that part of the French political spectrum but also then the tactical voting between the two rounds. So far from coming first, the far-right National Rally comes a distant third after that left-wing alliance first and Emmanuel Macron's centrist second.

But one of the big headlines tonight is of course how much more divided and fractious France's parliament is going to be and likely, Pam, a much more difficult country for Emmanuel Macron to govern over the coming months, even than it was before.

BROWN: And what do the results of this election mean for Americans, those who are watching this show right now?

BELL: Well, I think one of the big fears that people had about the far-right governing, Pam, was that it would have marked a big rupture between France and the rest of the world, between France's leader in Europe, in terms of France's position on the issues like Ukraine, and that could have made a big difference to how France is governed and what kind of an ally it is to the United States.

The fact that the far-right has been stopped had shown that that political center, political unity, the Republican front as the French called it, has come out stronger and that France is more likely to remain that sort of pro-European, pro-multilateral force that it has been so far -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. Melissa Bell, thanks so much.

Well, the breaking news tonight several top House Democrats call on Biden to step aside from his campaign during a leadership call tonight. But what did voters have to say? That's next.



BROWN: We are following breaking news. Sources are telling CNN that several top House Democrats are calling on Biden to suspend his 2024 campaign. This as the defiant incumbent hits the campaign trail on Pennsylvania and continues to say he's got the backing of his party.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is the Democratic Party behind you, sir?



BROWN: CNN's Danny Freeman is live in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where the president met with voters just a few hours ago telling them, quote, "Dark Brandon is coming back."

What is the response from voters on the ground there, Danny?

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Pamela, it's been a very interesting split-screen between the news that you're reporting at the top of the last hour and the event that was wrapping up pretty much at the same time.

Listen, this was a very receptive audience here for President Biden at the Union Hall behind me in Harrisburg. People were excited to see him. They came out, they braved 90 plus degree weather. And I should note that the president spoke for only about seven minutes, unscripted. It was more of a casual setting, but then he worked the rope line for about 45 minutes back here, shaking people's hands, taking questions from voters. He wasn't taking questions from reporters, but that's the image that

the campaign has really wanted to put forward in light of all of this mounting criticism and scrutiny over his age and viability.


The idea of this Pennsylvania trip was to get him out there and get him in his home turf and have him actually do that retail politics that Joe Biden is so well known for. But make no mistake. This question of his viability was still very much on voters' minds. Take a listen to what some told us right before the event began.


FREEMAN: What do you need reassurance about?

KAT KNAPP, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: I think just in general about his mental acuity. I lost a grandmother, 104, and she was sharp as tack through 95, so I absolutely believe that it's possible to do. It's that that debate performance was concerning.

FREEMAN: Are you concerned after his debate performance the other day about his viability as a candidate?

DANNY BLUMENTHAL, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: Yes. I mean, it is something I thought about. I can't lie to you. As he stated, 90 minutes or whatever it was doesn't erase three years and he's clearly the winner of -- Joe Biden and Trump, so it's not going to make me support him any less.


FREEMAN: So here right there. Again, remember this is a group that will be voting for Joe Biden on the whole -- the majority of them will be voting for Joe Biden, right? That's what voters are telling us. But there were still this concern about this swirling conversation about his viability to hold this office. But again, the campaign is really hoping that more of these events like this where he's out there, where he's shaking hands, where he's speaking off the cuff -- the cuff, rather, will hopefully help when it comes to convincing those people who might be on the fence right now -- Pamela.

BROWN: And there are also several lawmakers as we have seen with Biden on the campaign trail today. What stuck out to you about those around him as we report this breaking news of more House Democrats calling on him to step aside?

FREEMAN: You know, it's interesting, that was one of the things that we were looking very closely at. Who exactly was with the president when he came on this trip to Philadelphia? We saw Senator Bob Casey. He is in a reelection battle of his own. We saw Senator John Fetterman. He spoke at this rally. We also saw for a brief moment Governor Josh Shapiro in an off the record event, a little brief stop in Harrisburg.

But one of the things that stuck out to me, Pamela, was when Priscilla was reporting that actually Pennsylvania Congresswoman Susan Wild was one of those who is now skeptical of Joe Biden's reelection chances. If that is in fact the case, Susan Wild, she's a congresswoman from the Allentown area and the Lehigh Valley. She's in a very competitive reelection campaign. The Cook Political Report says that her seat is a swing district.

So it's interesting that of the people who definitely came out to support that show of force for President Biden, we did not see one of the Democratic congresswomen who is actually in a very competitive race heading into this fall. So I just wanted to note that as something that we saw because otherwise there were a lot of electeds here showing their support but that's going to be potentially where some of this dam might break in the coming days -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right. Danny Freeman, thank you so much.

And still ahead, the Texas lieutenant governor warning people not to underestimate Tropical Storm Beryl. The storm is strengthening back into a hurricane and will make landfall in just hours before bringing dangerous conditions. We are live on the Texas Gulf Coast.



BROWN: Happening now, Beryl is getting stronger as it closes in on Texas. Now, just hours away from making landfall, likely as a hurricane. Texas' lieutenant governor appearing on CNN just a short time ago warning residents do not underestimate this storm.


LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK, ACTING GOVERNOR OF TEXAS: Don't turn your back on Beryl. This is a serious storm and where it lands. There's going to be significant devastation. Power will be out, structures could be blown over and destroyed, trees will be uprooted, streets will be flooded and heavy rain. So take this storm very seriously.


BROWN: CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam is along the Texas coast.

So how are people preparing?

DEREK VAN DAM, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Pam, we are preparing for what will likely be the first U.S. landfall and hurricane of the 2024 season, of a storm that has defied all odds. It's been named for 10 days and it was the earliest on record to reach category five status. Currently now a tropical storm. But in terms of how people here in the central portions of the coastal area of Texas where I'm located in Port Lavaca, how they're preparing, well, this area is often visited by tourists and of course we're ending the long holiday weekend.

So businesses here are switching gears from being customer facing to more protecting their businesses. Of course, authorities here telling people to plan for the worst. But this is how business owners are preparing themselves.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So anyway, we're probably overpreparing but it's better to be safe. If you're a visitor here, you need to go home. We love you and we're glad that you were here this week, but it's time to go home.


VAN DAM: I think she said it as kindly as she could. Now there are some positives working for us. The storm is running out of time to strengthen, but there are signs that it is doing so. Let's get to the forecast because that satellite and radar tells it all. The eye is starting to become a bit more visible, meaning it is tapping into the abnormally warm Gulf of Mexico waters which are sitting at roughly three degrees above where they should be this time of year.

That's like mid-August water temperatures. That is jet fuel for hurricane development. That's why we expect strengthening to continue up to landfall. Now, the forecast path calls for an overnight landfall sometime between 2:00 and 5:00 a.m. near the -- in south of Galveston Bay and into the Port Lavaca region where I'm located. So we could see the brunt of the storm. Storm surge levels have already been upped by the National Hurricane Center, four to up to seven feet that is above normally dry ground.


Now, of course, there's a wind component to this, and that has also been extended. So any locations west of I-45 and south of I-10 could see winds in excess of 74 miles per hour. That's a category one hurricane that could take down trees, of course power and cause some minor structural damage as well. And we can't forget about the flash flood potential here. A lot of people want to compare this to a benchmark storm. We think of Harvey back in 2017.

This will not be another Harvey, and the reason being is that it's going to be a fast-moving tropical system. Meanwhile, Harvey was actually kind of meandering around eastern Texas four days after it made landfall. So in three days' time, I'm talking by Tuesday, what will be left of what is now Beryl will be racing towards the U.S. and Canada border -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. Derek Van Dam, thanks so much.

Well, tonight, a CNN exclusive. We go inside Rafah for a first-hand look at the destruction since Israeli bombardment began in early May.

You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. We'll be right back.



BROWN: We have breaking news out of Israel. An American citizen was hurt by shrapnel from a missile fired by Hezbollah. The Israeli military said the Iran-backed militant group fired dozens of projectiles and anti-tank missiles from southern Lebanon into northern Israel today. The 31-year-old man was taken to the hospital where he was first listed in serious but stable condition. But hospital officials now say he is worsening.

CNN, by the way, has been given rare access to war-torn Rafah as the city in southern Gaza that has been ravaged by months of relentless Israeli military operations. And in this new report, CNN's Jeremy Diamond embeds with Israeli military to bring you a closer look from the frontlines of the war. It's important to note, CNN reported from Gaza under Israeli Defense Forces escort at all times. CNN retained editorial control over the final report and did not submit any footage to the IDF for review.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thick clouds of sand shroud the road to Rafah. But as the dust settles, the destruction is unmistakable. Flattened homes and bombed-out buildings, Gaza's last refuge devastated by the Israeli military assault on this city.

We are now entering the third month of Israeli military operations in Rafah, and you can see all around me the kind of destruction that these last two-plus months of military operations have wrought inside of the city of Rafah. All around destruction, very similar to the kind that I've seen in central Gaza as well as in the northern part of the strip.

(Voice-over): This is the first time CNN has gotten access to this devastated city. Israel and Egypt have barred journalists from Gaza, except under tightly controlled military embeds like this.

REAR ADMIRAL DANIEL HAGARI, IDF SPOKESPERSON: We're working in this area very, very precise, very, very accurate. Unfortunately, the destruction is one to blame Hamas.

DIAMOND: The Israeli military says it has killed over 900 Hamas fighters here and believes it is close to defeating the group's Rafah brigade. But the fighting is clearly not over yet. Nor is the effort to uncover Hamas' vast network of tunnels in Rafah.

HAGARI: This tunnel goes down over 28 meters underneath the ground.

DIAMOND: As well as along Gaza's border with Egypt.

Right behind me here is the Egypt-Gaza border. We are now driving along what is known as the Philadelphi Corridor, a strategic corridor that the Israeli military seized two months ago. They say they did so because they believe Hamas was smuggling weapons across from Egypt and then from this area deeper into Gaza.

(Voice-over): Israeli forces say they have uncovered dozens of tunnel shafts here, but cannot definitively say if any of the tunnels stretching into Egypt were operational.

HAGARI: We found dozens like the tunnels that you saw, and we are researching those tunnels carefully, making sure which ones were functional, which ones are not functional anymore because maybe they were from the Egyptian side stopped.

DIAMOND: So will this be the last ground operation then, Rafah?

HAGARI: I won't say that because what you will see is when we'll have intelligence that maybe there are hostages, one of the points in Gaza, we will operate.

DIAMOND (voice-over): Before leaving Gaza, our convoy drives by what's left of the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing. Once a lifeline for millions of Palestinians, it now lies in ruins. The Israeli military says it is now facilitating a safe corridor for these trucks to deliver aid to Gaza via Israel's Kerem Shalom crossing, but humanitarian aid groups say the roads are still not safe. And simply not enough aid is getting in as the war rages on.


DIAMOND (on-camera): And during the nearly three hours that we spent on the ground in Rafah, we didn't see a single Palestinian. This city that was once a safe haven for displaced Palestinians from across the Gaza Strip has been almost completely emptied out. More than a million Palestinians have been forced to flee that city, many of them heading for that coastal Al-Mawasi area where they are simply trying to survive. And now their hopes are simply resting on these ceasefire negotiations and the prospect of a deal.

Jeremy Diamond, CNN, Jerusalem.

BROWN: Our thanks to Jeremy Diamond.

Still ahead, we are following this breaking news coming in tonight as the number of Democratic lawmakers calling for President Biden to drop his campaign has now grown to at least 11 as he fights to stay in the race amid this growing pressure.


You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.


BROWN: You're in the CNN Newsroom. I'm Pamela Brown in Washington, and we begin this hour with breaking news.

Sources tell CNN more than a handful up top House Democrats are calling on the president to suspend his reelection campaign.