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Debate Over Border Could Sink Aid; Gershon Baskin is Interviewed about the Hostage Negotiations; Fetterman Trolls Menendez. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired December 05, 2023 - 06:30   ET




PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: New this morning, we've learned that Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, will address a Senate briefing today behind closed doors. He'll be doing so remotely. And it's a meeting that comes as the White House budget director has warned in stark terms the U.S. will run out of funding for Ukraine by the end of the year, saying it will, quote, "kneecap Ukraine's ongoing operations."

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And the funding fight over aid to Ukraine and Israel hit the Senate floor last night ahead of a possible vote later this week. Listen to what the Vermont senator, Bernie Sanders, had to say about aid to Israel.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): I do not believe we should be appropriating over $10 billion for the right wing extremist Netanyahu government to continue its current military approach. What the Netanyahu government is doing is immoral, it is in violation of international law and the United States should not be complicit in those actions.


HARLOW: Senator Sanders added that the aid bills must address the needs of working American families. A message echoed by Republicans and their criticism of aid for Ukraine.


Republicans refusing to support an aid package for Ukraine if it does not include major changes to border security.

MATTINGLY: CNN political commentator and political anchor for Spectrum News, Errol Louis, and CNN political analyst and historian Leah Wright Rigueur, and Max Boot, the columnist from "The Washington Post," they're all back with us right now.

Max, I want to start with you because I'm not totally sure people grasp just how much this is on the brink right now. And, obviously, this is a package that includes border security, the Israel aid, Indo- Pacific funding as well, along with the Ukraine funding. I don't know that there's a path right now as it currently stands. If it doesn't pass, what does that mean for a conflict going on into the second year?

MAX BOOT, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS AND COLUMNIST, "THE WASHINGTON POST": If it doesn't pass, this is going to be a catastrophe for the people of Ukraine who are fighting for their freedom after this unprovoked aggression from Russia. And it would just be unconscionable to me to see the United States cut off the brave fighters of Ukraine who are every day out there trying to defend their country, defend their homes, defend their people from this enemy that commits these terrible, awful, brutal war crimes.

I mean the aid to Ukraine has actually been one of the most successful U.S. foreign policies of the last half century. We are providing a very small portion of our defense budget to Ukraine. And they are devastating the Russian military, inflicting heavy losses on this force that threatens our NATO allies. And they are - they have been very successful in stopping the Russian onslaught.

But Vladimir Putin is counting on waiting us out. He's expecting that our will to support Ukraine will waiver. And, unfortunately, I think he is right in the case of a lot of Republicans. So, if we don't get this aid right now, with the aid money running out for Ukraine by the end of the year, this is going to be a disaster for Ukraine. And Republicans are -- basically are going to be helping Vladimir Putin at the expense of our fellow democracy in Ukraine.

HARLOW: But, Errol, are the Republicans who are saying to give more to Ukraine and Israel we want more security at the border, we want the -- are they really out of step with their constituents, Republican constituents, because the polling shows that a majority of Americans actually are not in line -- it's a slight majority - but with -- with more funding for Ukraine. And also that they do want the border to be addressed.

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COLUMNIST: Sure. Look, if you -- if you put it to a poll, people would say, sure, spend money right here. Work with our border. And whatever happens in Europe, well, I've never visited and I don't care, right? That's where we have something called leadership that has to sort of come into play where the elected leaders have to say, whether you like it or not, whether you think it's a good expense or not, we just spent a half a century and about $13 trillion in something called the Cold War, and there was a reason behind that. It was so that --

HARLOW: Here's why it matters.

LOUIS: Democracy could flourish. So that millions of people could be freed from the yolk of oppression. So that we wouldn't have to actually put troops on the ground. And that has been the lesson of history for the last century or so. If people need to hear that, yes, you might lose a couple of votes. Somebody might get mad at you at a town hall meeting. It might not make sense to everybody, but that conversation needs to be had. And that's why they're supposed to be the greatest deliberative body in the world.

HARLOW: Supposed to.

LOUIS: Supposed to.

MATTINGLY: Harsh, man.

Leah, the contrast of - I mean it wasn't too long ago that Volodymyr Zelenskyy was a -- got a hero's welcome in Washington, D.C., stood in the well of the House speaking to a joint session of Congress. At this moment, beaming in remotely, because there's an ongoing conflict inside his country, and very real questions about whether or not aid will continue. How does that -- what happened between then and now?

LEAH WRIGHT RIGUEUR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND HISTORIAN: So, two things happened. The first thing is, Israel happened. And, you know, Zelenskyy has actually been going on a little bit of a speaking campaign, essentially making the argument that he is concerned that funding for the Israel -- U.S. funding for Israel and Hamas war will actually take away from the funding for Ukraine. And, to some extent, he's correct, right, the American public sees these two things as in conflict because of the monetary issue. And I think this is where, again, Errol's point about leadership is really important because it's politicians that have to sell that to the American people.

The other part of this is that inflation -

HARLOW: Right.

RIGUEUR: The way that people are feeling their pocketbook. Pocketbook politics actually matters. And so irrespective of how the budget is allocated, one of the things that really matters to the American people is that they are correlating what they are feeling in their pockets with all of these various wars and things that are going on. And so they're saying, well, I see that my groceries costs a lot of money. I also see that we're spending a lot of money on things like Ukraine, things like Israel, that maybe have no bearing on me, but in particularly Ukraine because that's somewhere far away and I'm not feeling it in my home.

Again, these things may actually be related. They may all matter. But for the American people, I think, they are having a difficult time seeing how these things connect, particularly because they are feeling it in their pocketbooks and in their homes.


HARLOW: Yes, it feels like a zero sum game to them.


HARLOW: Stick with us, everyone. We appreciate it.

New concern about the state of negotiations to free more than 130 hostages still held by Hamas. Why the White House believes the talks will not resume any time soon. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARLOW: Welcome back.

This morning, multiple senior Biden administration officials tell CNN that negotiations with Hamas over the release of hostages are unlikely to resume any time soon. The White House says there are seven American men, one American woman still unaccounted for following the October 7th attack. And the State Department spokesperson, Matt Miller, yesterday, gave one reason for the stalled talks.


MATT MILLER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: The fact that it seems one of the reasons they don't want to turn women over that they've been holding hostage, and the reason this pause fell apart, is they don't want those women to be able to talk about what happened to them during their time in custody.



HARLOW: Gershon Baskin is with us. He helped negotiate the 2011 release of Israeli Soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas custody.

Gershon, thank you for being with us this morning.

Are you optimistic or quite pessimistic that Hamas will release more of their hostages?

GERSHON BASKIN, UNOFFICIAL ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: It seems that Israel and Hamas are back on the warpath and, once again, the Israeli government is determined that the primary objective is the military objective and not returning the hostages.

At the same time, the hostage families are increasing the pressure on the government and on the society to put the hostages back in the number one place. I think that Hamas is not interested in renewing negotiations now for various reasons. Neither is Israel. And that's why we really need to make the Israeli government understand that they have a moral responsibility to bring these hostages home first. That's the most important thing that needs to be done.

HARLOW: How would you induce Hamas to come back to the table?

BASKIN: I would make them an offer they couldn't refuse. I think this is what the Israeli government needs to do. Israel is generally passive in these kind of negotiations. They respond to what Hamas is willing to give or not willing to give. I think Israel needs to pass a message on through the Qataris and the Egyptians and the Americans of an offer it won't be the all for all deal that Hamas wants, but I think that we must get home the young women who are still there, the elderly, the wounded and the sick hostages. At least those.

And Israel knows how to make an offer. There are 7,600 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons right now. Hamas will demand prisoners who have killed Israelis. I think that Israel will have no choice but to release some of them as well. But Israel should make an offer big enough that Hamas will be enticed to take it. And it will also involve another pause for several days to facilitate the release of these hostages.

HARLOW: One of the key points of fracture after the ceasefire ended and the talks broke down after seven days was that Hamas didn't release a number of women, young women, that it is still holding. A number of them 20 to 30 years old, taken from the music festival. And the State Department gave some insight into why they believe that is yesterday, saying Hamas doesn't want those women to say what they went through. The sexual violence, the rape that they endured.

And here's what CNN contributor Barak Ravid said about that last night.


BARAK RAVID, CNN POLITICAL AND FOREIGN POLICY ANALYST: This is something that was kept pretty quiet in Israel, this assessment. They didn't want to put it out. And they were quite surprised that the State Department said it publicly today. But I think it reflects the intelligence assessment of the Israeli intelligence services.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Why did they not want to put it out? Were they worried it would jeopardize the hostage release that was ongoing or what is that?

RAVID: I think they - I think they were worried that it might harm the hostages that are still in Gaza, the women themselves.


HARLOW: I wonder if you agree with that.

BASKIN: I do agree with Barak on that and I think even more so that if, in fact, it is true, the assessment of Israel, which has been gathered a lot from the hostages who came home, these women have been exposed to horrific sexual violence and gang rape. And we can expect that Hamas will kill them and not release them. We have to imagine the worst and hope for the best and act quickly to get everyone home that we can.

HARLOW: The central question after hopefully these hostages come home is what - what happens next. What is the end game and the plan for the Palestinians in Gaza? You wrote a really fascinating piece this week, sort of an open letter to a man named Marwan Barghouti. Can you tell people who he is and why you wrote it?

BASKIN: Marwan Barghouti was the elected speaker of the Palestinian legislative council, the Palestinian parliament. He was also the person who led the second intifada and there's such -- in 2002, Israel caught him and imprisoned him. He was tried and convicted of directly responsible for the death of five Israelis and was sentenced to five consecutive life terms plus 40 years in prison. He is also the most popular Palestinian politician. He, in every single Palestinian political poll over the last two decades, comes out number one above everyone else.

I've been in -- I know Marwan from before he was arrested. I've been in contact with him over the years through his lawyer and have engaged in a kind of dialogue with him in the past year and a half in which Marwan still says that he supports the two-state solution and believes that peace between Israel and Palestine is possible. And if he is going to be elected by Palestinians once they do have free, fair, open elections, we, in Israel, should be engaging him in a dialogue, in the kind -- same kind of dialogue that took place between the -- both the government of apartheid and Nelson Mandela.


HARLOW: Despite the fact that he was convicted of murder and attempted murder, serving five consecutive life sentences, you think that is a possible and palatable option?

BASKIN: I think, first of all, it's important to recognize that he was not convicted of killing anyone himself, but being responsible for the death of Israelis. He did lead the second intifada. I think he made a tragic mistake when he did that.

He also refused to recognize the legitimacy of court and offered no defense whatsoever. So, it wasn't really a fair trial for him. He did read an indictment at the end of his trial, an indictment against the occupation and the state of Israel. And I think that we need to recognize that, at the end of the day, it's enemies that make peace. You don't make peace with your friends. You don't need to. We need to embrace our enemies. And Marwan Barghouti is going to be the next elected leader of the Palestinian people and there's a chance that he would be, we should be talking to him.

HARLOW: It is enemies that make peace.

Gershon Baskin, always good to have you. Thanks very much.

BASKIN: Thank you.

MATTINGLY: Well, expelled Congressman George Santos, he's making a cameo. Who hired him to troll another lawmaker facing criminal charges.

HARLOW: Also, inside a possible second term for Donald Trump. One writer explores why Trump will, quote, "prioritize obedience over credentials" in picking a cabinet.




GEORGE SANTOS, FORMER CONGRESSMAN (R-NY): Hey, Bobby. Uh, look, I don't think I need to tell you, but these people that want to make you get in trouble and want to kick you out and make you run away, you make them put up or shut up. You stand your ground, sir. And don't get bogged down by all the haters out there. Stay strong. Merry Christmas.


MATTINGLY: I'm going to be real with you, I thought he said Poppy.

HARLOW: Come on.

MATTINGLY: Which would have been a lot cooler. However, it was still very funny -

HARLOW: I kind of do want a cameo from Santos.

MATTINGLY: There's your Christmas gift. Don't spoil it.

That was expelled Congressman George Santos. He's got a new hustle -- you knew it was only a matter of time -- making videos by request on the site Cameo. The "Bobby," not "Poppy," he's talking about, New York - New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, who faces corruption charges.

HARLOW: So, Pennsylvania Democratic Senator John Fetterman and his staff requested the video. Actually paid for that thing. He's been calling on Menendez -- and on a serious note, Fetterman has been calling on his fellow Democrat, Menendez, to resign since Menendez was indicted.


SEN. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA): I'm not anti-Santos. I mean it's just like, of course, he's done some really, you know, bizarre kind of lying and everything. But if - if you have to -- if you - if you expel somebody like, you know, a George Santos, how can you allow somebody like, you know, Senator Menendez remain in the Senate as well, too.


HARLOW: Back with us, Errol Louis, Leah Wright Rigueur and Max Boot.

Leah, Fetterman is saying something a lot of other Democrats are not saying or hesitant and they want to wait for the process to play out. I understand that. But does he have a point about -- he - I mean he told Abby last night, this is about fairness. If you're going to boot Santos for this, look at the power Menendez has had over really important dealings with Egypt, for example.

RIGUEUR: Absolutely. So, for - for - I think for Fetterman, this is something that he's been really consistent on -


RIGUEUR: Which is that he believes that there should be some kind of ethical component to your tenure in Congress. And this is what this is all about. This is about calling out unethical behavior, particularly because he sees it as something that is bringing down the party. It reflects very poorly on the party. It's easy to point to somebody like a Menendez and say, like, here is an ethical problem. And I think that he - he went after it, particularly given that people haven't really been paying attention to his larger calls. He went after it in the most trolling way that he could possibly do it, by using the ousted, you know, the ousted congressman in order to do the dirty work.

MATTINGLY: And it's a playbook he's familiar with. He used Snooki back in his campaign to troll Dr. Oz about living in New Jersey.

HARLOW: He did.

MATTINGLY: And if it works, go ahead and use it.

I was also struck last night in his interview with our Abby Phillip what he said about -- he was asked about the president's age and where Democrats are and the concerns.

Take a listen to what he said.


SEN. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA): Now I'll never understand why any Democrats now are saying that or are being negative about President Biden. Again, if -- I don't understand anything other than you want to help Trump win the presidency. And if you're going to say those kind of negative things, just write a check for - for Donald Trump. It would just be a lot easier.


LOUIS: No, he's exactly right. I mean, look, at this point, I think if you look at the political calendar, the notion that Democrats could find another candidate other than Joe Biden, it's just not realistic at this point. You know, and I wish we had something other than, you know, steak and chicken, but that's all we've got. You take the steak or you take the chicken. This is the candidate that the - that Democrats have put forward. And like all other incumbent president, he gets the benefit of the doubt. He's the presumptive nominee.

BOOT: And it's not only Democrats who ought to be rallying around Biden, it's also Republicans who believe in the rule of law and our democracy. And I would hope there would be a lot more of them like Liz Cheney out there making the case that if you want to preserve our democracy, you have to support Joe Biden. That is the only alternative.

MATTINGLY: Do you think that will happen as we get closer?

BOOT: No. Sadly I don't because, based on what's happened the last few years, we have not seen a lot of Republicans rallying against Trump. But I wish it would happen. I think it's very important for our democracy for that to happen and it's one of the few things I could imagine that would seriously hurt the Trump campaign as he tries to win another term.

[06:59:59] MATTINGLY: Errol Louis, Leah Wright Rigueur, Max Boot, thanks, guys, for hanging out this morning.

HARLOW: Thank you.

CNN THIS MORNING continues now.