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CNN This Morning

Today, Sixth Set of Hostages Expected to be Freed; Democratic Senators Debate Placing Conditions on Israel Aid; Influential Koch Network Endorses Nikki Haley for 2024. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired November 29, 2023 - 07:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Officials in Doha are in agreement. They want to work to extend the current pause.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Ten more Israelis, two Thai citizens are back home.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): President Biden has achieved something very important, a pause.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should these children be used as bargaining chips?

MURPHY: Our work is not done until everyone is out of Gaza.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Liz Cheney is blasting members of her party for enabling Trump, revealing that one calls him, quote, Orange Jesus.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Liz Cheney knows all of these players intimately well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She calls them enablers, collaborators. Liz Cheney names names and she has the receipts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A surging Nikki Haley picks up a major endorsement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Americans for Prosperity, Charles Koch-backed group, they're backing Nikki Haley, as they believe having the best chance to defeat Donald Trump.

NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you will join with me in this fight, I promise you that our best days are yet to come.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, a good Wednesday morning.

Right now, the final hours of the truce between Israel and Hamas are ticking away. And as we speak negotiators in the White House are racing to extend it. Hamas released another round of hostages yesterday with more to come today. The White House saying it remains hopeful two Americans will be among the women and children let go today.

Now, we just heard from Secretary of State Antony Blinken at NATO headquarters as he prepares to head into the war zone and travel once again to Israel.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We'd like to see the pause extended because what it has enabled, first and foremost, is hostages being released, it's also enabled us to surge humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza who so desperately need it.


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, the family of the youngest hostage, ten-month-old, Kfir Bibas, telling CNN they have been notified that the baby and his four-year-old brother, Ariel, will not be freed today.

Hamas did allow an outside journalist to witness yesterday's hostage handover in Gaza. And in the video and photos, you see right here an 84-year-old grandmother in a wheelchair, a masked gunman with a rifle slung over his shoulder, wheels her to the Red Cross convoy as a crowd cheers and records what's happening on their phones.

Other images show heavily armed gunman escorting a 17-year-old girl, Mia Leimberg, as she clutches her dog in her arms, she was released with her mother. This next photo, well, this the two of them calling their family for the first time after crossing back into Israel.

Oren Liebermann is joining us live this morning with more.

So, moments ago, Oren, we just heard from Secretary of State Blinken, says the next few days will focus on extending that pause in Gaza. Where do the negotiations stand at this hour in?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Erica, two countdowns running right now. The first countdown until the release of Israeli hostages, another ten women and children, that should happen now in a few hours.

A couple of times over course of the past six days, it's happened a bit later, a bit earlier. Regardless, it's moving forward and we expect to see that play out. At least as far as we understand now, there have been no major roadblocks. We haven't seen any reports of exchanges of fire in Northern Gaza like we saw yesterday. So, that's the first element we're looking at, and that will then soon be followed by the release of Palestinian prisoners, women and children, from Israeli prisons

The bigger question, though, is what happens after that, a truce that has lasted for five days and today expected to expire early tomorrow morning if there's not some sort of agreement to continue it. And that is what Secretary of State Antony Blinken talked about at NATO.

HILL: Oren, thank you. Well, as we continue to follow this, Phil has some new reporting, so your reporting from overnight about specifically behind the scenes here with the Biden administration.

MATTINGLY: Yes. What's been fascinating in talking with senior administration officials, it's been no secret that the U.S. has played a central role in trying to mediate, trying to negotiate, trying to manage, to some degree, the conflict since the terror attack on October 7th.

But what has been most interesting in my reporting is the intensive nature of really three critical components, three pillars, if you will, of what they've been working on since this humanitarian pause began. The first is, of course, getting the hostages home. Secretary Blinken talking about trying to extend that truce, at the same time surging humanitarian aid.

They are very aware of the criticism. They're also very aware of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, trying to really almost double, triple, quadruple how much aid is going in, and then maintain that even when combat operations continue.

What comes next? Those combat operations, they know there will be an end the truce. Those near-term intensive and officials say blunt, candid discussions about that next phase of Israel's combat operations, that's critical, but so too the longer term efforts that have been more quiet but also intensive in the region to lay the groundwork for what a post-conflict Gaza will look like. That has been underway.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, he just talked about that last point moments ago.


BLINKEN: With regard to two states, look, I think we've been very clear from well before October 7th, in fact, from the day of this administration, that we believe that that this is the only path to enduring peace, to enduring security, to the preservation of Israel as a strong, secure democratic and Jewish state, and Palestinians having their legitimate aspirations for a state and self-determination met.



MATTINGLY: And, Erica, I think what what's striking about what you hear there from the secretary of state, it echoes what President Biden has said the not just durability of the idea of a two-state solution is very much in question right now particularly with the current structure of the Israeli government. But when you talk to administration officials, they say behind the scenes in trips to the region talking about specifically the normalization efforts with Saudi Arabia and why that they believe could set some type of groundwork. They think there are options there. Now, Israel has not laid out what it wants to see next. To some degree, they've almost undercut the U.S. Netanyahu saying the Palestinian Authority should not be a key component of this but those conversations are happening. They know there has to be a next step at some point.

HILL: Right. And that -- yes, such important points.

Well, meantime, senior Democratic senators are really struggling to reach a consensus on whether to condition aid to Israel on demands to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, several all of them saying it's unnecessary that it is not America's place to micromanage Israel's actions. Meantime, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says the idea is ridiculous.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I think it's ridiculous. Our relationship with Israel is the closest national security relationship we have with any country in the world. And to condition, in effect, our assistance to Israel on their meeting our standards, it seems to me, is totally unnecessary.


HILL: So, all of this coming, of course, as Republicans insist that border security must be included with any aid package.

CNN's Lauren Fox is live in Washington this morning with the very latest for us. So, there are these calls for conditions from at least three Senate Democrats. Where do things stand within the party this morning?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There was a vigorous debate, I am told, from senators who are in the Democratic lunch yesterday over this issue of whether or not they should require that conditions be a part of any more aid to Israel.

And the Democratic Party is really divided over this issue. You have people like Peter Welch, senators like Chris Murphy, and of course, independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who are calling for more conditions on Israel. And they all have different ideas about what the scope of those conditions should be, if it has to do with the direct fighting in the wake of any continued ceasefire in Israel. There's also sort of this pause question of how long that is going to go on. You have a lot of Democrats who are arguing that that should continue.

So, there's really a vast variety of views right now, but there's also many senators who say there shouldn't be any conditions. Here are two of them.


SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): I don't think it's necessary. I think that President Biden's been very influential in Israel's policies during this conflict. So I don't -- Israel's an ally, a friend, so, no. SEN. THOM TILLIS (R-NC): We should stand behind Israel. I don't think we should second guess them. I don't think we should set timelines or parameters on how they go about addressing the murders, the rapes, the beheadings, the torture that I observed.


FOX: And what Senator Tillis is referring to there is more than 40 minutes of footage that roughly 40 senators watched yesterday of the attack that unfolded on October 7th. And you saw there Senator Tillis saying he always thought that more aid should be provided to Israel without conditions, but especially after watching that footage, he said that really sort of cemented his view of the issue.

So, it's a broader debate within the Democratic Party. It's also clear that many Republicans are not going to support it. And it's always important to keep in mind that any aid package is going to have to pass out of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives as well.

So, while Democrats want to have this debate, while they're going to continue to have conversations with the White House about this, it's important to keep in mind that Republican dynamic in the House of Representatives.

HILL: Yes, such an important point. Lauren, I appreciate it. Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Well, money from the deep pockets of wealthy donors, it's the race within the race, what every 2024 candidate wants, and it's what one just scored in a big way. Nikki Haley winning one of the biggest endorsements of the campaign so far on Tuesday, when the Koch- backed Americans for Prosperity group announced its backing, the former South Carolina governor's bid for the White House.

Now, what all comes is she kicks off a two-day march through the swing state of New Hampshire, where she's been on the rise, and that is, of course, where we find CNN's Jeff Zeleny lovely Manchester, New Hampshire.


Jeff, look, this was timed perfectly. Max impact in the midst of a very clear rise. How does Haley build on this momentum?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Phil. I mean, look, as you said, this is no ordinary endorsement. It comes with a pledge for millions of dollars in ad spending, perhaps even more important than that millions of conservative activists as part of that key Koch network. Now, this is not going to be a game-ender. Donald Trump still is in

firm control of this primary campaign. But Nikki Haley hopes it's the beginning of a game-changer.


ZELENY (voice over): Nikki Haley on the move, hoping to capitalize on a golden endorsement in the Republican presidential race.

HALEY: Trump is pretty much even with Biden. On a good day, he might be two points up.

In every poll, we beat Biden by 10 to 13 points.

ZELENY: One of the nation's most powerful conservative grassroots organizations, financed by billionaire Charles Koch, has crowned Haley as its choice to try and dethrone Donald Trump as the overwhelming Republican frontrunner and unseat President Biden in the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden and Donald Trump had their chance. They can't fix what's broken.

ZELENY: The question for Haley is whether she'll ever get the chance and move beyond the race for second place.

The highly coveted endorsement from Americans for Prosperity Action is the latest attempt by some GOP heavy hitters to urge voters to coalesce around a Trump alternative. The group is pledging to spend millions on television ads and more. Yet it's far from certain how many Republicans are actually looking for one.

We met Wayne Grajczyk walking into a Haley rally on Monday in South Carolina. Her rise intrigues him and he's open to her candidacy, yet far from sold.

WAYNE GRAJCZYK, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: I want to look at all candidates, you know, to see who has been -- who's going to finally get my vote but I am strong and leaning towards Trump.

ZELENY: That sentiment underscores one of Haley's biggest challenges, navigating a Trump tightrope by appealing to Republicans clamoring for anyone but Trump even as she works to win over true Trump believers.

ELAINE MYERS, SOUTH CAROLINA VOTER: We got to find somebody other than Trump.

ZELENY: Elaine Myers told us she voted for Trump twice, but believes he can't win next year.

MYERS: A vote for him is going to be a vote for Biden. And I hope that doesn't happen, and that's why I'm voting for Nikki.

ZELENY: Yet she's hardly the only candidate. Haley is locked in an increasingly bitter battle with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, particularly in Iowa, where he's won several big endorsements of his own. They'll face off again next week at the four Republican debate.

HALEY: The stage is getting smaller. When the stage gets smaller, our chances get bigger.

ZELENY: The views of Haley, a former U.N. ambassador, are now coming under closer view. Her hawkish foreign policy stands in sharp contrast with the rising isolation of strains in her party. HALEY: Now you have D.C. saying, do we support Ukraine or do we support Israel? Do we support Israel or do we support closing the border? Don't let them tell you that because that is a false premise.

ZELENY: She also faces other potential roadblocks, including Chris Christie's candidacy in New Hampshire. He's trying to win over some of the same independent and moderate Republican voters. Haley makes clear a split ticket benefits Trump above all.

HALEY: We are now in second place in Iowa, second place in New Hampshire, and second place in South Carolina. We just have one more fellow we got to catch up to.


ZELENY (on camera): There's no doubt the road ahead for Nikki Haley is still filled with many obstacles, but this endorsement, she believes, gives her momentum going forward. They also hope it's a magnet for other big-name donors.

But, Phil and Erica,this morning here in New Hampshire, the same question exists that has throughout the primary. Are enough Republicans looking for a Trump alternative or are they content with the real thing?

MATTINGLY: Jeff Zeleny for us in Manchester, thank you.

Well, CNN This Morning has new reporting on the challenges the White House is facing in locating the nine unaccounted for Americans in Gaza. A look at the administration's plan moving forward, that's next.

HILL: Also CNN has just learned the family of the youngest Israeli hostage. ten-month-old Kfir Bibas, will not be on the list of hostages released today. The relatives, if you know, have been desperately pleading for the release of Kfir and his four-year-old brother, as well as their parents. His great uncle, Kfir's great uncle joins us next.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are these the enemies of Hamas or are these the enemies of anyone? Should these children be used as bargaining chips? No, they shouldn't. This is a simple answer. They shouldn't be used as bargaining chips for any political or religious or whatever reason. There is no justification for using them like this.


So we just want them back, really.



HILL: In just a few hours, we expect to see what could be the final transfer of hostages from Hamas under the current terms of the truce agreement with Israel. Negotiators on both sides, though, are racing against the clock to extend that truce.

Even as they do, though, there is a fair amount of uncertainty lingering about the hostages themselves, including exactly how many they are, how and where they're being held, who's holding them.

Phil has some brand new reporting this morning on the behind the scenes efforts at the White House to free more hostages. Phil, what more are you learning this morning?

MATTINGLY: Well, Erica, you're hitting on critical points here about why this has been so complicated and why this has been so arduous of a process over the course of the last several days. It is not as simple as just putting lists together and taking people out in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. There are issues locating hostages. There are issues of knowing which groups are holding hostages.

The Qataris, who are serving as primary intermediaries, having difficulty just getting verified lists of how many hostages. The Israelis putting numbers on how many hostages are there.


The Americans are very cautious about that and there is a reason. They have a lot of intelligence on some of those hostages, according to senior administrations, on officials, on others. They don't know anything at all. It is just one of the major complicating factors.

These are the missing Americans still believed to be held by Hamas. Now, among inside this group, there are two women who are expected and have been a critical focus of administration officials in negotiations over the course of the last several days. They want those two women out as soon as today. There's still hope those two women could come out as soon as today.

Now, of these nine, there are also seven males. Obviously, the focus of the negotiations and the exchanges up to this point have been women and children.

Now, it's worth noting, to track back a couple of weeks to get a sense of how this all came together, there was a pilot agreement of sorts that got the first two Americans released, Judith and Natalie Raanan. There has also been a third American release, somebody the president was intensively focused on, now four-year-old Abigail Edan.

But her story is actually one that gives a sense of the complexity here. She was not in the initial tranche of hostages exchange. That, I'm told, was not actually a surprise for administration officials, and here's why, and this gets at all of the different variables at play. An administration official told me that one of the issues that they've been facing is, in the initial stage of hostage releases, the primary group actually was located in the south. They're very cautious about naming where they were, how they actually got this information. But the initial group of hostages coming out in those first couple of days were located in the south. Abigail, while they won't say where exactly she was, she was not. And I think this is an issue, as well as getting verified lists. It's where these hostages are, who they are located with, if they are in groups, if their family units are together, but, in particular, if they have to come from anywhere in here.

Now, what you'll see when you look up here in the red and the yellow is the scale of the damage, is the scale of what's transpired in the north, in Gaza, since the start of military operations. That has been the primary focus both of the air campaign, but also the ground operation as well.

If hostages are in that area, moving them around, getting them to the south, and all the way to the Rafah crossing area has been a critical focus, and also a very complicated one. Making things a little bit more complicated, part of the agreement was that drone operations have to stop for a significant portion of time each day. That limits the intelligence officials can get. Again, there are so many different variables here, Erica, that make this so complicated.

So, when officials say they don't actually know where people are, how many people are there, or they've been very cautious about whether or not the two American women will get out at any point in this initial stage, they're not just hiding information. There are so many uncertainties here that make this complex. Every single night this truce has been in place, this has been an effort that has been underway, and one that will continue as officials continue to try and push this truce forward.

HILL: And that really lays it out so well, because there has been confusion when we heard initially they don't know where all the hostages are. Understandably, many people thought, how could you not know makes very clear why and how.

MATTINGLY: Different groups as well, not just Hamas. It's everything about this is helping.

HILL: Yes, it certainly is. Phil, I appreciate it.

We also want to let you know that CNN has learned, overnight, the youngest Israeli hostage, ten-month-old Kfir Bibas is not expected to be released today. That's according to his family.

Kfir and his four-year-old brother Ariel seen here in this family video, those faces, you cannot forget them. Their bright red hair you've seen in the pictures, too. They were taken by Hamas on October 7th. Their parents, Shiri and Yarden, are believed to have been kidnapped as well. That was 54 days ago.

Now, it's important to note, as Phil was just saying, the Israeli military, saying that the Bibas family are among the hostages who are not currently being held by Hamas, and that, of course, is complicating the efforts to bring them home.

Joining us now is Maurice Schneider. He is the great uncle of those two little boys, Kfir and Ariel, their mother, Shiri, is his niece. Mr. Schneider, thank you for being with us this morning. I know you told me you wake up every morning and you look at your phone immediately for some news. The news that they are not to be released today is obviously not what you wanted to see this morning. How is your family holding up?

MAURICE SCHNEIDER, GREAT UNCLE OF TEN-MONTH-OLD AND FOUR-YEAR-OLD HELD HOSTAGE: Thank you for having me, first of all. The family that I see in Israel is not a family that I always knew. We have a very happy family, very united. And what's happening now is everybody is sad, nobody smiles, everybody is worried about the rest of our family. You're showing the pictures that Shiri, Yarden, Kfir, Ariel, beautiful faces. How can you imagine those pictures you're seeing right now are being hostages?

What human being would say, yes, a ten-month-old baby and a four-year- old boy can be hostages of war?


That is something that we cannot think of, is unthinkable. And Hamas is saying that they don't know where they are is ridiculous. They should know where they are. The other ones have broke the fence, the other ones that took them, their pictures, when the take Shiri and the two babies, and now they're saying that they don't know where they are, that is a lie. That is insane. And if they really don't know where they are, they have the power to find out, okay, go ahead and look for them.

HILL: The former defense minister, Danny Danon, told my colleague, Kaitlan Collins, last night that Hamas is trading or even selling hostages in between different gangs in Gaza. Do you believe that's what may have happened with your family?

SCHNEIDER: I'm sorry, repeat the question again.

HILL: The former defense minister, Danny Danon, told by colleague, Kaitlan Collins, last night that Hamas was trading or selling hostages in between gangs in Gaza.

SCHNEIDER: That's right. They're trading -- that's what we heard, that they traded them. They are in different hands. So, there should be pressure by the Biden administration, by the Egyptian president, Sisi, by Qatar to say enough is enough. This should not be happening. Where are they? Show us a picture that they are alive. Show us a picture that the kids are being been fed correctly, they've been taken care of.

We don't even know if that family is even alive. That is the most painful thing here, that you wake up in the morning, I wake up and that's when my nightmare starts. I have a nightmare when I am awake. The whole family, we have the same issue.

HILL: And you're not getting any confirmation, as you point out.

Shiri's sister-in-law said yesterday, maybe that this is part of, in her words, a psychological war against us. My hope is that they don't see them as a trophy. Is that a concern for you?

SCHNEIDER: That's exactly what it is. That's exactly what it is. For them, it's a joke when they're seeing us begging for the release of these little kids, when they see in us how desperate we are, when they see the big billboards showing Ariel and Kfir, they say, hooray, we are doing what we want to do. We want to make the world suffer. It's not only us suffering. It's the whole world suffering. It's all Israel suffering. Because why are we suffering? Because we are human beings and we don't understand how this is possible.

HILL: I think you're right. So, many people, it is incomprehensible that a ten-month-old, that a four-year-old, and that so many decent people are being held up.

Mr. Schneider, I appreciate you taking the time to be with us today, and we will continue, of course, to follow this story and hope for some good news for you and your family very soon.

SCHNEIDER: Thank you very much.

MATTINGLY: Well, Washington renewed push to expel Republican Congressman George Santos as a growing number of Republicans say he's toast. His response, I don't care.

HILL: And CNN has exclusively obtained Liz Cheney's new book in which she slams her former Republican colleagues for their unwavering loyalty to Donald Trump. She is naming those colleagues and she's bringing receipts.