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Biden & Xi Ease Tensions Amid Global Turmoil; IDF Justifies Raid of Al-Shifa Hospital; GOP Senators Stay on Floor Late Into Night over Military Holds. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired November 16, 2023 - 06:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. We're glad you're starting your day with us. Here are "Five Things to Know" for this Thursday, November 16.

President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping easing tensions a bit between the two nations after their high-stakes face-to-face summit. The leaders both agreeing to reopening some military communications.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: And President Biden signaling new hope for what could be an imminent hostage deal at a news conference last night. He said he's been deeply involved in the negotiations and is now, quote, "mildly hopeful."

Also new overnight, a pro-Palestinian protest turns violent outside the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C. We're told six Capitol Police officers were injured and several arrests were made.

HARLOW: Congress has averted a government shutdown, the Senate passing a short-term funding bill last night. President Biden expected to sign it before Friday's headline.

MATTINGLY: And thousands of Starburst [SIC] -- -bucks workers set to walk off the job today. The strike part of their effort to unionize, and it comes on one of the company's busiest days of the year.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

HARLOW: And here's where we begin. President Biden meeting face-to- face with the leader of China, Xi Jinping, at a time of global turmoil, with wars raging in Ukraine and between Israel and Hamas. The world's most powerful rivals taking steps to prevent a conflict from breaking out with each other.

At their summit near San Francisco, the two leaders agreed to restore crucial military-to-military communications that China cut off last year.

MATTINGLY: Despite the progress, Biden says he still considers Xi a dictator at a news conference after the meeting. He told reporters his approach to Xi was very Reaganesque: trust but verify.

The president also made several headlines regarding Israel's war with Hamas. He said he's, quote, "mildly hopeful" about a potential deal with Hamas to release the hostages.

He also voiced support for Israel's controversial military operation inside Gaza's largest hospital, while also cautioning that occupying Gaza would be a big mistake.

HARLOW: And back in Washington, D.C., tension really boiling over last night as protesters demanding a ceasefire in Gaza clashed with police. This happened outside of the DNC's headquarters.

Police say six of their officers were hurt, and CNN is learning top House Democrats were inside the building and had to be evacuated.

We have team coverage this morning from San Francisco to Tel Aviv. Let's start with M.J. Lee, who was at the Biden summit.

M.J., good morning to you. You also asked the crucial question of the president yesterday in all of this. But they sat down, person-to- person. Did they accomplish enough?

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Poppy, since the two presidents last met on the sidelines of the G-20 a year ago, tensions have really flared between the two countries on issues like Taiwan, the Chinese surveillance balloon, prompting Beijing to cut off military communications with the U.S. And restoring that had been one of the few deliverables that U.S. officials said that they hoped to get out of last night's summit.


LEE (voice-over): An historic summit between President Biden and Xi Jinping, marking a new chapter in U.S.-China relations. The leaders meeting in person for the first time in a year at a sprawling estate south of San Francisco. The high-stakes summit aimed at deescalating tensions between the two countries.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is paramount that you and I understand each other clearly, leader to leader, with no misconceptions or miscommunication.

XI JINPING, CHINESE PRESIDENT (through translator): For two large countries like China and the United States, turning their back on each other is not an option. It is unrealistic for one side to remodel the other, and conflict and confrontation has unbearable consequences for both sides.

LEE (voice-over): Biden and Xi, along with their delegations, meeting for four hours behind closed doors before walking around the grounds of the estate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How did it go, Mr. President?

LEE (voice-over): Afterwards Biden announcing the reestablishment of military communications that China had severed --

BIDEN: It's been worrisome. That's how accidents happen. Misunderstandings. LEE (voice-over): -- as well as a commitment from Beijing to crack down on fentanyl production.

BIDEN: It's going to save lives. And I appreciate President Xi's commitment on this issue.


LEE (voice-over): But at a press conference after the summit, the president saying this about his Chinese counterpart.

LEE: Mr. President, after today, would you still refer to President Xi as a dictator? This is a term that you used earlier this year.

BIDEN: Look, he is. I mean, he's a dictator in the sense that he is a guy who runs a country that is a communist country that is based on a form of government totally different than ours.

LEE (voice-over): The president also confronting numerous questions about the Israel-Hamas war, including on the IDF's raid on al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza. Biden defending the operation when asked whether it was justified.

BIDEN: It's not like they're rushing into the hospital and knocking down doors and, you know, pulling people aside and shooting people indiscriminately.

LEE (voice-over): But declining to elaborate on how the U.S. is certain that Hamas, in fact, has a command center under the building.

LEE: Can you detail for us what kind of evidence that you have seen that Hamas has a command center under Al-Shifa Hospital?

BIDEN: No, I won't tell you.

LEE: Do you feel absolutely confident based on what you know, that that is the truth?

BIDEN: Yes. Yes.


LEE (on camera): The president also weighed in on the ongoing hostage negotiations, saying that he was mildly hopeful, but that he really couldn't get into the details.

And also on just the question of how long the Israel-Hamas war might last, he said he couldn't say, but that it really had to end in a two- state solution and that he had told the Israelis that occupying Gaza was not a good idea -- Phil and Poppy.

LEE (voice-over): M.J., I want to highlight your work last night, because you weren't on the list of reporters that were supposed to get a question. You ended up still getting two questions. And I think they were the two most critical questions of the night, including what we saw about you asking if President Biden still thinks President Xi Jinping is a dictator.

There's been fierce blowback from the Chinese foreign ministry this morning. What were U.S. officials saying after that comment?

LEE: Yes, you know, Phil, I know you know this better than anybody. Sometimes sort of these off-the-cuff remarks from the president and opportunities to ask him questions when he's already sort of going, those are really critical moments.

And we took the opportunity to ask him about, basically, comments he had made last year when he referred to President Xi as a dictator.

You know, given that things had basically went pretty well as far as the U.S. officials yesterday at the summit were concerned, I asked him after all of that, would he still consider him a dictator. And he said, yes. That that is basically what we are dealing with when we are dealing with this government in Beijing.

I think it's just really interesting, because U.S. officials had noted heading into the summit that there was so much riding on Chinese counterparts that they were dealing with in terms of the optics, and how sensitive they were to how the summit would be perceived by the rest of the world. We know for sure this is a label that Chinese officials are incredibly sensitive to.

M.J. Lee, great work. Thank you.

President Biden also weighed in on Israel's military operation inside the largest hospital in Gaza.


BIDEN: Here's the situation. You have a circumstance where the first war crime is being committed by Hamas by having their headquarters, their military hidden under a hospital. And that's a fact. That's what's happened.


MATTINGLY: Let's go now to Ed Lavandera in Tel Aviv for us this morning. Ed, the president was unequivocal. That's following White House spokespeople who have also been unequivocal.

The, IDF to this point, has shown some weapons of this ongoing operation. There's been no evidence of a massive command center. What are they saying today?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is saying that, as the military operation in and around the hospital, Al-Shifa, there in the heart of Gaza City continues, that in the hours and days ahead, they will be able to provide and will continue to provide more evidence, they say, backs up the claims that the Israeli military has not just made for weeks but for years, that this area in Gaza is one of the central areas from which Hamas military fighters operate. So far in the initial hours that this operation has gone on, the

Israeli military has released video they say was from an area where MRIs are conducted in the hospital, where they found small amounts of firearms and military equipment and that sort of thing.

But clearly, not the extensive kind of evidence that is so crucially needed at this moment that would back up the claims that the areas underneath this hospital is this crucial command-and-control center.

So really, this is a crucial moment for the Israeli military, as you know, its credibility is quite literally on the line here.

HARLOW: You know, Ed, President Biden seemed the most optimistic I think we've heard him last night in this press conference, talking about any potential deal to try to free the hostages. Here's what he said.



BIDEN: I have been deeply involved in moving on the hostage negotiation. And I don't want to get ahead of myself here. We've gotten great cooperation from the Qataris, but I am -- I am mildly hopeful. I'm mildly hopeful.


HARLOW: I wonder what the Israeli government's reaction to that is this morning and if you've learned anything else about any potential deal?

LAVANDERA: Well, I think over the last few days, what we've heard from Israeli government officials is perhaps a little bit more skepticism. You know, Poppy and Phil, these are very delicate and cumbersome negotiations that are ongoing. It's handled through the Qatari government, with officials from the top intelligence agencies of Israel and the United States passing messages along to Hamas leaders.

So all of this is very time-consuming. And it comes at a time, you know, when the families are just growing more and more desperate for news as they watch the military operations, the dangerous military operations ongoing inside of Gaza.

The Israeli Defense Force has confirmed that one of the hostages, a woman by the name of Noa Marciano, was killed. Hamas has claimed that she was killed in an airstrike.

But all of this kind of points to the -- the anxiety, the tension and the desperation that so many of these families are feeling to have the hostage issue resolved as quickly as possible.

HARLOW: Yes. No question. Ed Lavandera, thank you for your reporting from Tel Aviv.

And new overnight, police clashing with protesters. This happened outside of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C. Just look at that. After a demonstration against the Israel-Hamas conflict erupted into chaos last night.

Capitol Police say six of their officers were hurt. One person has been arrested for assault. They said about 150 people were illegally and violently protesting in that area. Activist groups later disputed that claim.

Both police and protesters accusing each other of violence and using pepper spray.

Officers evacuated several Democratic members of Congress after activists tried to block the entrances and the exits to the building. Among them, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Minority Whip Katherine Clark, and Congressman Pete Aguilar.

MATTINGLY: Well, fresh off his summit, new polling is out on President Biden's handling of foreign affairs. What it could signal for his 2024 campaign.

HARLOW: And could this summit mean a return? Phil wants them back. The pandas. Panda diplomacy. After three of the last pandas in the United States were sent back to China earlier this month. What did President Xi say about that? Next.



MATTINGLY: Well, President Joe Biden emerged last night from four hours of talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, projecting a sense of confidence, a sense of optimism. And he seemed most eager to make two key points. One concerning America's improving relationship with China and the other its unchanged and steadfast support of Israel.

Joining us now, "Semafor" reporter Shelby Talcott; political video reporter at "The Washington Post," Joyce Koh; and CNN senior political analyst and anchor, John Avlon. Guys, thanks for joining us this morning.

Shelby, I want to -- I want to start with you and try and bring things back home, right? The geopolitical implications of that meeting were enormous. We continue to talk about that at length.

China is also a huge political issue inside the country, so much so that Xi Jinping, according to a senior U.S. official, actually raised concerns about perceptions and media coverage related to it.

How do you think people looking towards 2024 will view what happened last night?

SHELBY TALCOTT, REPORTER, "SEMAFOR": I'm actually kind of surprised that there hasn't been more chatter from 2024 Republicans yet on the meeting. I do anticipate that that's going to change, probably this morning or this afternoon. Because particularly with Republicans, China has been a huge topic on

the campaign trail. It's playing really well in early states like Iowa. People really care about it.

Overall, though, I think the sense of optimism that Biden portrayed is not necessarily the -- the same that we're hearing here in the U.S. I think -- I think maybe he was a little bit over-optimistic.

And just historically, you look at, you know, he called -- he called Xi a dictator again. That is -- that last time around really didn't bode well for the relationship.

And so I would say it is -- remains extremely tense, and I would expect 2024, Republicans to continue to harp on Biden's relationship with China.

HARLOW: Yes. Mitch McConnell certainly did in his remarks.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST/ANCHOR: Yes. But I mean, it's -- what, you know, Shelby's talking about is also just the way that China has been a constant source of sort of aijeda (ph) among Republicans since Donald Trump.

I think the difference, you know, fast forward four or five years later, is that Donald Trump is on the stump praising Xi, praising dictators, and President Biden's calling him a dictator. That's a pretty substantive difference.

The other thing is that, even if you're -- if you're saying that we are engaged in a very tough competition with China, as the Biden administration does. You know, in the 2020 election, there was all this sort of talk about Beijing and Biden, he was going to sell out. The Biden administration has been very tough on China.

And this meeting was about issues that also the Republican base cares about. Fentanyl is where foreign policy comes home in America. They're working on kind of a deal.

Saying we're going to -- we're going to call him a dictator, but we're also going to have talks with the military to avoid an escalation, who in the realm of responsible is going to oppose that?

I don't want to set is the bar too high for our political discourse, but -- so I think this was substantive. You know, the substance of the policy. But also, Biden not pulling a punch on the guy, to call Xi a dictator. It's a statement of fact.


MATTINGLY: It's also important context, the trade agreements that Trump made with the Chinese were never fulfilled by the Chinese. And agriculture, in particular, farmers in Iowa, were very hindered by Trump's tariffs on China to some degree.

Joyce, switching over to the Middle East, the president was steadfast. Unequivocal. Has not shifted, despite significant politic pressure. And this comes the same time we're getting this poll from Quinnipiac that says the response to the war between Israel and Hamas, 37 percent approve of how the president has handled it; 54 percent disapprove. We saw the protests last night outside the DNC.

How long do you think President Biden can maintain the posture that he's held from the very beginning?

JOYCE KOH, VIDEO REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, I mean, tensions on this have increased and continued to flare up. And we heard him yesterday saying that he thinks that this will stop when Hamas no longer maintains the capacity to attack Israelis.


And he made that point numerous times, saying that IDF needs to, yes, use caution going into Gaza. But at one point, he contrasted IDF with Russia. And he said something along the lines of that IDF is not going in and shooting people indiscriminately.

And I think his critics on this would say that, you know, more than 11,000 people have been killed in Gaza. And there -- there is some level of -- you know, it's not indiscriminate or that it is indiscriminate in terms of the killings that we are seeing in Gaza.

So you know, I don't know time line on this. But things continue to grow increasingly more tense on Israel. And his comments on Israel and what's happening in Gaza, not seemingly matching up with, you know, what is globally being criticized.

HARLOW: I think one of the points, John, of also the poll that Phil brings up, is the fact that there's now a 17-point spread in his disapproval. Just last month it was 37 percent approval. Now it's 54 percent.

AVLON: I don't -- I don't think President Biden is going to change his policy on the basis of polls on this. This is about principle and foreign policy. This is about terrorism.

Yes, I mean, what's happening in Gaza raises a lot of concerns. I wouldn't cite specific statistics, because I don't think we know, and I don't think we should take Hamas's word for -- for anything when it comes to statistics.

But this is about something deeper. It's a deeper principle. It's not just U.S.-Israel relations. It's about a country that was attacked viciously in an act of terrorism and the things that happen when you start embedding --

HARLOW: By a terror group that has said they will do it again.

AVLON: That will do it again, that's committed to the destruction of Israel. That's embedding its own forces and munitions in hospitals, designed to maximize civilian casualties. So that context is crucially important, it seems to me.

And -- and I just think that this is not -- you know, this is not something you put your finger in the wind on. This is about deeper principles about war and peace and terrorism and civilization. And I don't think President Biden has given any indication that he's going to shimmy or shift his position based on that.

HARLOW: All right. John, Shelby, we appreciate it. Joyce.

The Senate pulling an all-nighter, ending its session at 3:45 in the senator over Senator Tommy Tuberville's nine-month delay in confirming top military nominees.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): The policy is wrong, but holding these officers, who had nothing to do this -- do with this, is wrong. They deserve better.


HARLOW: Republican Senator Lindsey Graham there. So could Tuberville's blockade be on the cusp of breaking? Kasie Hunt with us on that story, straight ahead.



HARLOW: Actually, just a couple hours ago, Republican senators ended an all-nighter on Capitol hill in an attempt to confirm top military nominees.

Senator Tommy Tuberville continues to delay those confirmations. He started those delays nine months ago. This time he was backed by Mike Lee, who objected to every nominee who was brought up for consideration.


GRAHAM: If you do not believe these holds are having an effect on the military, I don't question your sincerity. I question your judgment. This is like a car wreck on I-95. It keeps backing up.

SEN. JONI ERNST (R-IA): I stand for life. I will be an ardent supporter of life, and I will continue combatting that, but I will not do it at the expense of these individuals.

SEN. DAN SULLIVAN (R-AR): Why punish patriotic military members over a dispute that they have no ability to fix and they didn't cause?


HARLOW: Kasie Hunt joins us from Washington. Good morning.

Is this the beginning of the end or the end of the end thing within, for this?

HUNT: Well, look, this pressure has been a long time in building. And this is the second time we've seen Republicans make a public show against one of -- against a member of their own party, in Tommy Tuberville, to do this.

And part of it is that there is a rules change in the works to basically try and cut Tuberville off here.

The Senate -- you know, in gentler times, was supposed to operate on a principle of, you know, civilized comity and politeness. And basically, that means that they were willing to give every single senator the prerogative to hold up any one of these nominations. Breaking that tradition is a big deal. But they are about to do it.

Mitch McConnell has said he's not in favor of it at this time, but that caveat of saying, Well, right now, I'm not in favor of this yet, I think indicates the pressure people are under.

And look, I think it's important to think about what this means kind of in the broad context beyond just kind of Washington and people on the floor.

You know, Phil, I know you have a lot of tie -- you know, military family ties. Think about if you're getting a promotion from colonel to general or something similar to that. It likely means you're moving your family. You're taking up a new post.

I mean, the kids, the children of these military officers, they can't switch schools. You know, wives that have quit jobs, because they're preparing to move to the next post, they're stuck in limbo.

I mean, this is about, you know, the people who are sacrificing every day for the country itself. And it's very clear that Republicans are -- are frustrated with that, you know. And we haven't even gotten into the national security implications.

MATTINGLY: Yes, and Kasie, I think you make a great point. The national security implications obviously have been a focus here. The families, that nine months encompasses past the summer into a new school year. The planning, how it all works.

We also appreciate Morgan Rimmer, our colleague on the CNN Hill team, who stayed up all night and covered this. And Senate floor staff, I'm sorry for you guys. Have a good day.

HUNT: Those tens of tens people that Todd Young got up there and said, To all the tens of people watching C-SPAN 2.

MATTINGLY: You know, it's why I love Todd Young.

HUNT: -- thanks for being here.

MATTINGLY: Because he's -- he's reality based. Kasie Hunt, we appreciate you. Thank you.

HUNT: Thanks, guys.

MATTINGLY: President Biden calling his meeting with Chinese President Xi productive, but also calling him a dictator, again. How China is responding, that's next.

HARLOW: Also new reporting on how President Trump's team and his opponents see the 2024 election lining up. We've got that straight ahead.