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Biden: 'We Shall Respond' After 3 U.S. Troops Killed in Jordan; Bipartisan Border Deal Reached, Ready for Senate Floor Soon. Aired 6- 6:30a ET

Aired January 29, 2024 - 06:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. So glad you're with us on this Monday. Poppy Harlow with Phil Mattingly in New York. A big morning. We begin with deepening tensions in the Middle East this morning.

Three U.S. troops have been killed in a drone attack in Jordan. At least 34 other service members injured in this attack. And this is the first time the U.S. troops have been killed by enemy fire in the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. President Biden vowing to hold those responsible, quote, "to account."

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: And Donald Trump bragging about his efforts to take a bipartisan border security bill, where a key negotiator says those talks stand, despite the former president's efforts.

And the big game is set. My San Francisco 49ers will take on Taylor Swift's Kansas City Chief -- is that right? Yes, that's right. We have the highlights from the NFC and AFC championship games coming up.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.

HARLOW: And here is where we begin. President Biden is pledging a U.S. response after a drone attack killed three American soldiers in Jordan.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a tough day last night in the Middle East. We lost three brave souls in an attack at one of our bases. And I ask for a moment of silence for all three of those fallen soldiers.

And we shall respond.


HARLOW: "We shall respond." Those words from the president. This morning, Iran is denying any involvement in the deadly attack on that military outpost. U.S. officials, though, are blaming Iran-backed militants. They say

the drone appeared to be launched from Syria. The Biden administration has been dreading this exact thing for several months now as the U.S. tries to prevent this war in Gaza from spilling over into a wider regional conflict.

MATTINGLY: President Biden already facing increased pressure from Republicans to strike back. Senator Lindsey Graham telling him to, quote, "hit Iran now. And hit them hard."

Senator John Cornyn flat-out urging President Biden to, quote, "target Tehran."

What President Biden decides to do will be enormously consequential. The scale of the response, the goals behind it, they may define this final year of his first term.

HARLOW: Oren Liebermann joins us live at the Pentagon.

As we said before, this is exactly what the United States and the president were worried about after a number of soldiers injured already leading up to this. This is a significant escalation.

You heard what those Republican senators are urging the president to respond with. Do you know what options are being debated within the administration right now?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENGAON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a number of possibilities the Biden administration could choose here, short of attacking Iran and risking open regional war in the Middle East.

And that includes striking Iraq or Syria, where these Iranian proxies are based or, frankly, carrying out strikes in both countries. And then, of course, there's the question of what's targeted.

Do you go after weapons and facilities, or do you escalate that and then go after the leaders of these Iranian proxy groups? We have seen the U.S. do that over the past couple of months in one or two cases.

All of that is what President Joe Biden and his national security team have to consider. And he held Sunday briefings where he got information and options from his defense secretary Lloyd Austin, as well as his national security advisor, Jake Sullivan.

The U.S. left with no choice here but to respond after that drone attack killed three U.S. soldiers at Tower 22, which is a base with about 350 U.S. service members at the intersection of Iraq, Jordan, and Syria.

One of the key questions here, of course, is how did that drone get through U.S. air defenses? Officials say the reason there was such a staggering number of killed and injured here is because that drone impacted near the living quarters of the facility.

So again, finding out how it got to the base and managed to evade air defenses there, that's a key question here. And let's not forget, Poppy and Phil, this is expected to be Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's first day back after approximately a month away. So clearly a tremendous pressure on him right now.

And you hear Republicans advocating for a direct conflict with Tehran. Administration officials have been clear: They don't want that, and they don't think Iran wants that either.


How do you find the middle ground here? Are there options that can address this without spiraling into a direct conflict?

LIEBERMANN: I think there are, and you're right that Iran has put out statements trying to distance itself from these Iranian proxies that are not always under the thumb nail of Tehran.

So there is room to maneuver here. It's unlikely, I think very unlikely, that the U.S. will simply directly strike Iran, and instead it will be go after the proxies here. Even if these are forceful strikes, as we expect, that don't risk a regional war.

HARLOW: Oren, thank you very much for all that reporting.

MATTINGLY: Let's bring in retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. He's a CNN military analyst and former member of the joint staff at the Pentagon.

Colonel Leighton, appreciate your time this morning. To start with, to folks who aren't necessarily familiar with the region, the location of where this attack happened, where this U.S. outpost is in Jordan, an ally of the U.S., can you explain the significance of it?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Sure, Phil, good morning to you. And in fact, one of the key things to look at is where exactly this occurred. And so this occurred right here in this area where -- in the greater Middle East where you see Israel on the West, Syria North, Jordan where it occurred, Iraq to the East, and Saudi Arabia to the South.

So let's go into this a little bit closer. This is the tri point that Oren talked about, where Iraq, Jordan, and Syria come together in one -- one particular area.

This base right here, Al Tanf, is a major U.S. facility that has been around since about 2016. And it was -- has been used to help with the -- what used to be called the Syrian Democratic Army. This was the force that was fighting against Assad, the president of Syria.

It has also been used to fight against ISIS. The base right here, Tower 22. That is the base that serves as one of the logistical supply areas for the Al Tanf base and for other facilities in the region that the U.S. uses to help in the fight against ISIS and also to help train Jordanian, Iraqi and Syrian democratic forces.

HARLOW: Can you speak to the big question that Oren raised, which is how did this drone get through U.S. air defense systems, especially right there, right near Tower 22, right near the living quarters?

LEIGHTON: Yes, SO this is one of the key things that is, I think, very important here. The living quarters are going to be in these areas right around here. You keep them away from the borders of the facility, which are outlined right here in this kind of hexagonal shape.

This is the main entry point to -- to enter the area via trucks. The key thing that you have here is that you want to make sure that you have some kind of an air defense system, which obviously failed in this particular case.

But they had to use a drone to go after this, because they couldn't get into it from the ground. They couldn't actually take out any of the other facilities around here, and any of the other weapons systems that are used to defend this particular post.

MATTINGLY: Colonel, was this specific attack tangibly different than what we've seen more than 100 times over the course of the last several months, in terms of proxies attacking U.S. facilities, U.S. personnel, U.S. bases?

Is that what we saw, some type of escalation, or they just happened to hit a place where there were actual personnel living?

LEIGHTON: Well, we don't know exactly right now, Phil, if they thought that this was going to be something different. The effect has been different because of the three personnel killed and the 34 injured personnel that we know of so far.

But our forces have been attacked over 150 times since the start of the Gaza-Hamas war.

The problem that we have in this particular area is the fact that the greater Middle East is really part of a plan by the Iranians to try to move all the U.S. forces out of here.

And the reason they're attacking our forces is because they don't want us in this particular region. The fact they don't want us, of course, complicates things from a force protection standpoint for us. And in

fact, one of the key things to note is all of these groups right here are possible perpetrators in this particular case.

Kataib Hezbollah is one of the key ones, and that's been implicated in many of the other things that have happened in this area. In fact, we killed their leader back in 2020, so they would have reason to go after U.S. forces.

MATTINGLY: All right. Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you, as always.

Well, a key negotiator says a bipartisan border deal has been reached and could be ready for the Senate floor in just the coming days. But could Republicans side with Donald Trump and taint that compromise?

HARLOW: Also, House Republicans over the weekend releasing two articles of impeachment against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. We'll tell you what's in them, next.



MATTINGLY: A key negotiator says there is an agreement, that a bipartisan border deal has been reached, and it could be ready for the Senate floor in just the coming days.

But that comes as Donald Trump is pressuring Republicans to block the deal, sink it entirely, bragging that he's more than happy to take the blame.

He wants to take away the policy win from President Biden still urging lawmakers to pass the legislation which he said would be the, quote, "toughest and fairest" set of reforms yet.

CNN's Lauren Fox joins us now.

Lauren, politics aside for a moment, can you walk through what's actually in the deal that we know of so far?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is one of the most conservative border packages I have seen Senate negotiators come up with over the last several decades.

And a couple of the policies that are included are raising the credible fear standard for people who are seeking asylum, giving the president, whoever that person is, more emergency authority to deal with the border to shut down the border if migrant crossings reach a certain threshold.

But it's still not enough for some Republicans.


FOX (voice-over): A showdown on Capitol Hill as a bipartisan group of senators looks to pass an emerging border security plan during a presidential election year.

SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): We do have a bipartisan deal. We're finishing the text right now. And the question is whether Republicans are going to listen to Donald Trump, who wants to preserve chaos at the border, because he thinks that it's a winning political issue for him.

FOX (voice-over): One key factor to the proposed plan would be to allow the commander in chief to shut down the border between ports of entry when unlawful daily crossings average 4,000 over a one-week span. A point spilling over onto the presidential campaign trail.

BIDEN: If that bill was a law today, I'd shut down the border right now and fix it quickly. And Congress needs to get it done.

FOX (voice-over): and the Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, is encouraging Senate Republicans to vote against any border bill. DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A

lot of the senators are trying to say -- respectfully, they're blaming it on me. I said that's OK, please blame it on me. Please. Because they were getting ready to pass a very bad bill. And I'll tell you what, a bad bill is -- I'd rather have no bill than a bad bill.

FOX (voice-over): Other components of the proposed plan include reforming the asylum system to resolve cases faster and expedite work permits.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): This is a compromise. It's a negotiation, and that's what we're here to do.

FOX (voice-over): The lead Senate Republican negotiator, Sen. James Lankford, is optimistic the plan can pass. Other Republicans are more skeptical.

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): Do not have a vote count yet, because everybody's got to be able to read it, to be able to go through, but I do feel very positive about it.

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): James is -- he's smart. He's hard-working. He knows the issue. He's on a suicide mission. The Democrats do not want to secure the border.

FOX (voice-over): Over in the House, two articles of impeachment were released against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. First, charging him with willful and systemic refusal to comply with the law. And second, breach of public trust, accusing him of making false statements.

The Department of Homeland Security calling the upcoming impeachment vote a farce.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX): Eight million encounters, 300 on the terror watch list, 200 million people dead now thanks to fentanyl poisoning that this one man is responsible for. I think that is a dereliction of duty.

And, you know, we look to the founding fathers here. They didn't have a lot of federal criminal statutes. Breach of the public trust is sufficient to impeach.


FOX (on camera): And just to give you a sense of how difficult it will be for some Republicans to support this plan, you saw over the weekend the Oklahoma Republican Party condemning and censoring James Lankford's actions as he's negotiated the border deal. Just a sign of some of how this conservative backlash is shaping up across the country -- Phil, Poppy.

MATTINGLY: It will be interesting to see if those who voted to condemn him know what's actually in the bill. Lauren Fox, keep us posted. Big week ahead. HARLOW: With us now, CNN political analyst and anchor John Avlon. Our political commentator, Jamal Simmons; and former Republican strategist and pollster Lee Carter. Welcome all to the table.

Lee, one of the other Republican talking points you heard across the Sunday shows yesterday was Biden already has this authority. Why isn't he using it? Why isn't he doing something? For example, why isn't he closing the border? Et cetera, et cetera.

Kristi Noem was on with Dana Bash, talking about that, as well. Do something now. Avoiding the real issue of how much Republicans are apparently getting in this border deal, if it is a deal. Why do you think that is?

LEE CARTER, FORMER REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST AND POLLSTER: So I think what Republicans are trying to say is this is Biden's problem. Right? And so they're saying he has the authority do this. The law that's in place, their argument is very much -- is that the immigrants must be detained until they're processed.

And so why does this even have to be? Why does there have to be a number that we allow in per -- per day?

And it wasn't this bad under Trump is what they're trying to say. We don't need to do anything else, and we don't need to tie it to Ukraine. So for them, that is a winning argument.

I'm not sure. You know, this is all about. I'm an expert in public sentiment, in voter sentiment. I'm not an expert in the policies itself. But I think from a voter sentiment perspective, that's what they're trying to do, is say, Look, it would be better under Republicans. And Biden could just do something if he wanted to.

HARLOW: Can I just mention one thing? There are powers that this would apparently -- what we know of it, we haven't led the legislative text yet, but we have Lauren's reporting, et cetera. It would give Biden more powers.

For example, there is an asylum statute in this country. And it is the law of the land that there is -- there are times when you have to grant people asylum and go through the process. It takes way too long now. This would shorten that.

But also, if you change the credible fear standard, Jamal, that does broaden the president's authority there, no?

JAMAL SIMMONS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It broadens the president's authority. You also have the ability to -- to -- you also have the ability to make sure the Afghans, who we brought here after the Afghan war, so they could get green cards. Right? So this is something that we all are in favor of -- most people are in favor of, because these people helped us when we were in the war in Afghanistan.

The problem for many people on the left is a lot of people wanted to see more production for DREAMers. It's not going to be in there. Right? I think that there are business interests who wanted to see expanded guest worker programs. That's not going to be in there.

So there are some -- there are some people who are negotiating in good faith. Right? We know a lot of Democratic mayors around the country are feeling this. We know a lot of Republicans, probably Senator Lankford, are doing this.

But then there are people like Donald Trump and Steven Miller and some of those folks who don't even want legal immigration to continue at the same level.


So that's the challenge for people on the left. It's like the Democrats are arguing with Republicans to do things that the Republicans actually want to do, like fund Ukraine, fund Israel and have a tougher border. And we keep giving up things in order to do that.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST/ANCHOR: And look, I mean, this is an indication of the far right is actually outside the mainstream of American opinion, but they have disproportionate power in their political party.

And so it leads to gridlock, even on things where there should be broad bipartisan support.

And I think the problem is the word "bipartisan." Trump and the MAGA crew do not want bipartisanship. That is their form of original sin. Even when it's dealing with an issue that they've elevated.

I think most voters are smart, and they'll say, Look, if you say something is a crisis, you say we're being invaded, presumably you want to do something about it as fast as possible. The only way to get something done in a divided Congress is if you compromise together.

And make no mistake: this is a center-right deal, by all indications, we know of the outline. This isn't -- this doesn't deal with the DREAMers. This isn't comprehensive immigration reform. This is -- this is about getting tougher on the border. And President Biden has said he welcomes this.

So take the win. If you don't, you just want to demagogue the situation. You don't want to deal with it. And it's beyond bad faith. It's actually compounding the problem you think is a crisis. So -- so you know, again, this is the ground they've staked out. We've got to be able to reason together to function as a democracy unless your goal is to undermine functioning as a democracy.

CARTER: Well, and I think this is the argument that's going to really win with moderates. You're already seeing it. The moderate Republicans. You're already seeing moderates. You see Nikki Haley saying that. Do it.

And so I think in the middle, people are saying this is a big issue. If you look at immigration is the No. 1 concern of Americans today. It's had a seven-point increase in sentiment as the most important issue over inflation and the economy now.

People are saying this is a crisis, get something done. So I agree with you: most people are saying let's get this done.

AVLON: Do your job.

CARTER: But then there's a fair number of people who support Donald Trump and the far right and who say, You know what? We want the toughest and the fairest deal. And let's blow things up. And no bill is better than a bad bill. They will repeat his message. And you know what? It's --

AVLON: It's insane.

SIMMONS: And history will tell you -- history will tell you that the kind of far-right position is the one that wins. Right? George Bush tried to do this twice when he was in office. President Obama tried to do this when he was in office. McCain.

I mean, there were all these different efforts to try to do this over the years, and those efforts keep falling apart in there, because people really, I think, want this more from the political issue than they do to actually try to solve this.

MATTINGLY: Yes, Donald Trump tried to do it when he was in office. He was on the verge of a bipartisan agreement that he, then, nuked himself from the White House.


MATTINGLY: Which is a very odd strategy to try and get an outcome. It's interesting, because you look at what Trump's saying and what he's posting on his social media account, which is he's taking full credit for trying to kill this.

And part of this says, "Terrorists are pouring in, unchecked, from all over the world. There's 100 percent chance there will be a major terror attack in the U.S., which is a crazy thing for a presidential candidate to say." He says close the border.

An authority that Biden could be given and says out loud. Which by the way, a Democratic president saying out loud, at a campaign rally, I'm going to close the border immediately when this passes.

Three months ago would have been disqualifying in a Democratic primary. Now this is the reality. And yet --

CARTER: And yet, Donald Trump is winning for the Republican nominee. And he knows he's got to -- he's running -- he's running for Republican voters.

AVLON: When did it -- when did it become a Republican priority or talking point to say we'll have 100 percent of a terrorist attack? When did it become a Republican priority to say we're going to have a massive stock market crash? Actively rooting against America should not be a rallying point for any partisan perspective. CARTER: Shouldn't be, but his perspective is that it is, and it works

for him. He gets his base rallied.

AVLON: That is a sickness, not a strength.

MATTINGLY: The reason -- the reason I want to direct it to you is less because I think you have to defend him. I --


MATTINGLY: -- that position. I apologize for that. But how do you win the rhetorical battle if you are James Lankford, if you are those who support the bill, if you are saying, look, on a policy basis, we're winning here.

CARTER: I think it's really, really hard. And that's why, when you look at some of the talking points you see on the one hand, I'm optimistic, the next saying, I think he's delusional.

It's because Republicans are really fractured. There's two different kinds of Republicans. There's a moderate Republicans who believes in bipartisanship, who wants to get things done.

And then there's the other side, who says we've got to blow things up and do things differently. And that's a huge base.

HARLOW: You mentioned some of the Democratic priorities, like DREAMers, DACA, et cetera, that's not going to be in there. What is your message to Democrats this morning who do not support this?

SIMMONS: I think the Democrats who don't support this are going to make that very clear to the president that they're not happy with it, what's happening. But they also recognize that this is a political year.

And you've got these Democratic mayors on the other side of this who are also pushing the president.

HARLOW: So is your message to them take -- take half a loaf of bread?

SIMMONS: I think people are going to fight it out internally, but you're also going to see it work out for the Democratic side. Also because there's Israel funding in here in Ukraine. It's -- like we keep -- immigration is very important at the border.

But if we don't figure out how to fund Ukraine, we're going to aid Putin and his attempt to take over that country.


HARLOW: I feel like that's a yes in a very diplomatic way. Thank you, guys. Stay with us.

The match-up is set. Phil is so happy this morning, despite little sleep. I tried to send him a GIF for the Niners, but I don't know how to send any GIFs, so I couldn't. But the Niners and the Kansas City Chiefs are Super Bowl bound. True



TRAVIS KELCE, PLAYER, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: You got to fight for your right to party!


HARLOW: Highlights of the championship games, disappointment in Detroit and of course, Taylor Swift's appearance ahead.