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Or Sella is Interviewed about His Family being Kidnapped in Israel; House Votes Today on Speaker; Major Michal is Interviewed about Casualties in Israel. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired October 17, 2023 - 08:30   ET





RABBI MEIR HECHT, DIRECTOR, JEWISH LEARNING INSTITUTE OF METROPOLITAN CHICAGO: The fact that someone who lives next door to us, and is a part of our community, is a hostage in Israel makes the devastation and the pain and the grief that all Jews around the world are feeling that much more real.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: That is Rabbi Meir Hecht of Chicago speaking about two members of his synagogue who are missing in Israel, presumed hostages of Hamas. Judith and Natalie Raanan are among 14 U.S. citizens who still remaining unaccounted for. The mother and daughter, who you see right there, they were visiting family members at a kibbutz in southern Israel just over a mile away from the Gaza border when Hamas attacked. Relatives say the two tried to hide in the shelter before eyewitnesses saw them being abducted.

More than a week since Hamas' attack. A U.S. official says CNN -- tells CNN that nothing is known about the condition of the American hostages at this point.

So, joining us now from Israel the Or Sella, the cousin of Judith and - Judith Raana and her daughter Natalie.

Or, thank you very much for being here.

We will get to -


HARLOW: Thank you for joining us.

And am I correct that you have ten family members as well that you believe have been kidnapped by Hamas?

SELLA: Yes. Besides Natalie and Judith, we have ten other family members who have been kidnapped by Hamas. And -- yes. We - we have been -- it has been ten days since the -- this horrible attack, and we didn't even have time until now to - to mourn our dead friends because all around the clock we - we just work on getting as much information as we can and helping from our -- from where we stand, as much as we can, to get any information and to speak to -- to - to anyone who is willing to hear us and help us put the pressure on Hamas to release our innocent family and at least give a sign of life and release the uninvolved, innocent civilians.

HARLOW: We see on your - on your shirt, obviously, you have a photo of both of them. And I know Judith has been like a big sister you to. She was so tied to Israel where she lived earlier in her life that she wanted to bring her daughter right when she graduated from high school there for this - for this celebration. What more do you want people to know about them?

SELLA: So, yes. So, Judith, my cousin, is exactly like -- like a big sister to me. We - we are a very close family. And our parents were really, really close and made sure that we grow up knowing each other.

And she arrived with Natalie to Israel to celebrate my aunt's 86th birthday. And we had a great, great birthday. It was great meeting everybody after a long time, as they live in Illinois, and we don't get to meet that often.


So, every time we do meet, it's a celebration regardless if it's a birthday or not.


SELLA: And I can say that Judith is an amazing mother. She's very funny, strong, and unique person. And Natalie just recently graduated from high school. She's just an American teenager excited to start her life. She loves animals. We got that in common. And we - we love them. We want them back.

HARLOW: And I know your aunt, who, thank goodness, is safe, she was with them when the kibbutz was attacked. And you've described her in all of this as a real hero.

SELLA: Yes. My aunt is - is a real hero. And they weren't in the same house when - when the attack started. Natalie and Judith were - was - was staying in kibbutz guesthouse while Tammy was in her own home.

When the alarms started at 6:10 a.m., Tammy got into the shelter, closed the door. It seemed like an unimaginable reality, but that we already got used to, that -- that there are missiles coming. And family started checking in to see if everyone was all right. And we were reassured that everyone entered the shelter waiting for the security team of the kibbutz to notify when the event ends. As this is almost a daily reality for this area.

And as the day continued, we were faced with the terrifying realization that terrorists were attacking inside the kibbutz, inside the families' homes, slaughtering everyone they can and kidnapping women, children, elderly.

It's really hard to even think about it. My grandmother is a Holocaust survivor. And I remember hearing stories from her. And you couldn't even imagine that it's a reality. And then you see the images from the kibbutz, from - from my family's home, and - and you see that and it really looks -- it looks the same. And this is so terrible. And, you know, we haven't even had time to, up until now, to realize that the - the horrific event that has happened.

So, only at 16 hours later, after the event started, tammy was rescued by the IDF. And she said, I need to go see my daughter. I need to go to her house. And the soldiers said, you can't go anywhere. We are under fire. And you have to -- you have to come with us.

And she said -- she said to the soldiers, do you want to see me go to my daughter? And just started walking to see where they are. And the soldiers had - had to accept the situation and went under fire surrounding Tammy, arriving to the home, to the house - to the guesthouse, just to find that the doors were broken and they weren't there. It was at 10:30 at night still under fire. At that point -- yes, sorry.

HARLOW: No. No, I -- thank you for sharing all of this with us. And we'll continue to show their picture, of course, and hoping for their very safe return.

Or Sella, we appreciate your time this morning.

SELLA: So, if I can say one thing.

HARLOW: Yes. Hold on, guys. Let's go back to him.

SELLA: On behalf of my family --

HARLOW: Yes, go ahead.

SELLA: So, on behalf of my family, I plead everyone with any sense of decency, with any sense of humanity, with those who have influence over Hamas, including the U.N., the government of Qatar and Turkey, to demand the immediate release of all the innocent civilian hostages without any conditions. We are talking about an innocent American teenage girl and her mother. So, bring back my family, please.


HARLOW: Thank you very much, Or, for sharing that about them and for your urgent plea.

SELLA: Thank you for having me.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you're looking at new airstrikes this morning right near the Gaza/Egypt border crossing, which remains closed as Israel's blockade continues. We're going to bring you the latest from Israel, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MATTINGLY: The House of Representatives, it's in that building you're looking at right there, it is set to vote on a speaker today. Hard- right Republican Jim Jordan is, by CNN's count, still short of the 217 votes he needs to win the gavel, but he has flipped a number of key holdouts to his column. He appears to be getting closer to that magic number.

And while Jordan has closed the gap, he still has a math problem. He can only afford to lose three, four votes at this point. We count at least five firm nos, including Congressman Don Bacon of Nebraska.


REP. DON BACON (R-NE): I'm just trying to express honestly where a bunch of us are at. We've been walked on and then everybody says, OK, you've got to forget that. You've got to - you've got to be with the team. Yes, where were they at when they did this to Kevin?


MATTINGLY: CNN's Lauren Fox joins us now from Capitol Hill.


All right, Lauren, we're only about three hours and 15 minutes before this is all supposed to kick off. Does Jim Jordan become the, I think, 56th speaker of the House today?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, let's lay out a few factors here, Phil. First of all, we are on day 14. That means two weeks now without an acting speaker who can bring legislation to the floor of the House of Representatives. And Jim Jordan is going to take this fight to the floor today, try to grind it out, despite the fact that there are at least ten Republican leaning nos or hard no votes that CNN has kept track of. That doesn't include the dozens of members that we have not heard from at this moment. So, there could be very well a math problem for Jim Jordan when he goes out to the floor at noon today.

One thing to keep an eye on is whether or not Jordan can get 200 votes to start out with, given the fact that that is the floor that Kevin McCarthy started with back in January when he was able to finally win that speakership after 15 rounds of votes.

The other thing to keep an eye on, do Republicans have patience to go that many rounds for Jim Jordan? They were willing to do it for Kevin McCarthy, but are they going to be willing if Jim Jordan, time after time, cannot get the votes?

As you noted, right now the margin is even slimmer for Jordan than it would typically be. There is one Republican absence this afternoon. That means Jordan can only afford to lose three Republican votes on the House floor.

Is he going to be able to pull this off? Probably not in the first ballot. Is he able to get there eventually? That is the big question today, Phil. If it finishes and there is still no speaker, he can continue this fight over the course of the next few days. But how long are his Republican colleagues patient with him? Another major question this morning.

Phil. Poppy.

MATTINGLY: I mean, look, the last speaker, it only took him 15 rounds. So, lots of time.

Lauren Fox, we appreciate you, as always. Thank you.

HARLOW: It is going to be a really busy day in Washington.

With us now, CNN political commentator Scott Jennings.

Scott, it's great to have you.


HARLOW: I think the question is, if he pulls this off in 15, 20, I don't know, one round, whatever it's going to be. The question is, how does he - how does he lead then. And I thought this was really interesting, what his fellow Republican Ken Buck said.

Let's listen.


REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): Well, I think that Jim, at some point, if he's going to lead this conference during a presidential election cycle, and particularly a presidential election year with primaries and caucuses around the country, is going to have to be strong and say, Donald Trump didn't win the election and we need to move forward. Hopefully, you know, for Republicans, we get a Republican candidate in the White House.


HARLOW: Is he on an island-ish with a couple others on that island with that sentiment?

JENNINGS: Yes. Yes. And he's on an island. I mean if you think Jim Jordan is going to win the speakership and all of a sudden start going out and preaching that message from Ken Buck, I mean, I got a - I got some bridges I'll sell you somewhere.

I mean the reality is, he is one of Donald Trump's biggest supporters. Donald Trump is supporting him for speaker. To put him in as speaker would even more closely align the Republican conference in the House with Donald Trump than it was under McCarthy. And it was pretty well aligned with Trump under McCarthy. So, I - I really do think that that's a - that a wish casting by - by Representative Buck.

I've talked to a few members today, by the way, this morning. And one person says he thinks Jordan might get there. He's an enthusiastic Jordan backer. A couple of folks who are with Jordan, that were with Scalise before, say, not quite sure he's going to make it on the first ballot. One thing I have determined today is that it's very much in doubt and in question and it's going to make for some exciting viewership. I know legislative procedure, unless you're Phil, is not terribly exciting viewership. This, for us, this is like -

HARLOW: I was just going to say, do you see who's to my left, Scott?


JENNINGS: But the outcome - but the outcome is very much in doubt. And there's going to be a quorum call and things that sound super boring. But today, super exciting. So I think - I think we're in for an interesting day at the Capitol for sure.

MATTINGLY: Can I ask you Scott, if I told you that Jim Jordan was potentially three and a half to four hours away from becoming the next speaker of the House a couple months ago, what would you have said?

JENNINGS: Yes, I mean -- well, we live in a - you know, we live in a magical world where anything can help. A reality TV show host can become president, you know. And Jim Jordan can become speaker of the House. It really is a remarkable turn for a guy who has been known more as a talking head and a - and a bit of a bomb thrower than someone who wanted actual governing responsibility.

On that front, interestingly, I have heard from some people that he's actually telling Republicans, look, I don't think it's a good idea to shut down the government. So, you can already see that he's trying to pivot away from the idea that, you know, this sort of shut it all down mentality towards, hey, a maybe we - we need to do the responsible thing here, keep the government open and try to show people that we're a responsible governing party. So, as he gets into the mindset of possibly being speaker, you can see that there is some governing influence creeping in there.

HARLOW: You talk to Mitch McConnell all the time. What does he think about this?


JENNINGS: I haven't really talked to him about Jim Jordan specifically. I don't think they know each other all that well. I do think that he wants to have a good working relationship with the House Republican majority because he had a good one with Kevin McCarthy. And you know what he said about McCarthy when he left. I mean he really thought that they connected on - on a lot of issues. So, I know that that's what he desires here because the House Republican majority is the only leg of the stool that Republicans control. You know, we're in the minority in the Senate, in the minority - obviously don't control the White House. And so that majority, and the person who's the speaker, has a ton of responsibility to push Republican priorities down the field. And so making sure that the Senate Republicans and the House Republicans are in some kind of strategic alignment from time to time is very, very critical to the senator.

MATTINGLY: On some level do senators just want this to be over with? Like, they just want a speaker? They'll take anybody?

JENNINGS: Sometimes you don't have to be the best man standing, you just have to be the last man standing. And I think - I think we'll see if that works out for Jim Jordan today.

But there is a real fear that Republicans don't get this worked out and they can't - they don't have time to do what needs to be done to keep the government open. I do think there's a great desire among a lot of people that, hey, we have to put forward a -- the idea that the party can be trusted to govern the country. Biden is faltering. So, to put forward an idea that we can govern the country is a critical issue -- messaging issue for a lot of senior Republicans right now.

MATTINGLY: All right, Scott Jenkins, appreciate you, as always. Thank you.

HARLOW: Thanks, Scott.

JENNINGS: Thank you.

HARLOW: Later today, President Biden will leave the White House. He is traveling to Tel Aviv. He will meet with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Hamas just reacted to the president's upcoming visit. What they said, next.


HARLOW: This is new video just into CNN. It shows the Hamas military wing firing rockets from Gaza into Ashkelon, quote, "in response to civilians targeting." That is the same city where our Clarissa Ward just heard loud booms. We cannot confirm they are the same strikes, though, from Gaza.

MATTINGLY: And we are getting new reaction to President Biden's visit to the Middle East from his spokesperson from Hamas. It's accusing Biden of, quote, falling for the Israeli narrative. Now, at least 2,800 Gazans have died so far in Israeli airstrikes with no signs of a ceasefire and more than half a million are fleeing to the north - fleeing the north, even as Israel prepares for a potential ground incursion there. Over 44 hospitals in Gaza have been attacked. And the World Health Organization say 84,000 pregnant women require aid. This as the water crisis is also escalating. Civilians are suffering from dehydration and water-borne illnesses.

And just about an hour ago, new air strikes hit right near the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, which, at this moment, remains closed.

HARLOW: In Israel, more than one week after those unprecedented attacks by Hamas, officials are working day and night to identify the victims so that they can be laid to rest. Our next guest is doing the harrowing work, trying to console the families of fallen Israeli soldiers.


Joining us now is Major Michal, a casualty officer and reservist with the Israel Defense Force. She also works as a manager of delegations for friends of the IDF, a U.S. based advocacy group that raises funds for Israeli solders.

Thank you, Major, for joining us.

It's impossible work. And I wonder what you're saying to the families as you notify them one by one.

MAJOR MICHAL, CASUALTIES OFFICER, IDF: There's not a lot to say, actually. You can just stand with them a minute after they are receiving notification that their son or daughter were killed. And they now realize that life have changed and will never be the same.

And, you know, I'm sitting right now in my car. And in front of me is the military -- I just finished the shiva (ph), a military service right now with the family who just now finished seven days of mourning. And we were standing together in front of their son's grave. And the mom raised her head in front of me and asked me, what is going to be now? How my life is going to go on now? How can I still wake up in the morning and go to work? What will I do with my other children? How come life is going on when I just lost my biggest love, my son? I grow with him so many years. He was her beloved one.

And, you know, sometimes, I have nothing to say to her. I can hug her. I can say that I'm with her. I can say that the IDF will be here with her throughout the years. And still, in my head, I know then that from now on nothing will be the same. Everything is changing.

Those parents -- all the parents that lost their sons and daughters, they life is ruined. And now they need to start living it again from scratch. They need to be able to walk up in the morning, to go to work, to make sure that their other siblings are OK, to make sure that they -- some of them were married, the widows need to be able to go to work, to be with their sons and daughters that are left at the house. It's so hard to think about what is going to be next while they are still here waiting for friends and more family to come and hug them. And it's like -- there's nothing to say. I can only be there for them and hug them.

And it doesn't end. In the last ten days, I were in so many funerals. I met so many parents, so many siblings. People that lost their loved ones, and what can I say? It doesn't end.

You know that after the -- I think it was after the number five, I think, funeral that I went to, I decided between myself that I'm stop counting how many funeral more I need to go. I said to myself, that from now on I will remember each one of the soldiers by their name and by the stories that their friends and family are telling me about them. Because there's so many funerals to go to, that if I need to remember all of them, the only way for me to remember it is if I will take from each one of them the first name and the story that the family told me about them. How they used to smile. How they used to love their family. How they used to love their friends in the army.

You know that so many friends, so many soldiers cannot come to the funeral because they are in the field, they are in the battle. And I'm feeling for them that they - they -- the most thing that they wanted to do right now is to be here in the cemetery with the family. They wanted to hug them. They wanted to tell them how their son was their best friend for three years, how they used to sleep next to him, eat with him, everything - they're doing everything for three years, and now they're not even here to tell the story.

MATTINGLY: I can't imagine --

MICHAL: So, I'm feeling like at least I am here (ph).

MATTINGLY: I can't imagine the personal toll, but also the importance of the work that you do.

Major Michal, we appreciate it. Thank you so much for your time.

MICHAL: Thank you.


MATTINGLY: And in just a number of hours, President Biden is expected to make his trip to Tel Aviv. The second leg of that trip will also be in Amman, Jordan.

It is a very busy day, a very critical moment for this administration.

Very critical trip. Obviously, we'll continue to follow all of it all day. And we'll see the president tomorrow morning landing in Tel Aviv.

Thank you for joining us. CNN NEWS CENTRAL starts now.