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CNN This Morning

House Republicans Reportedly Preparing to Kill Immigration Bill being Forged in Senate; Former National Security Adviser John Bolton Interviewed on Biden Administration's Likely Response to Attack from Iranian Proxy that Killed Three American Servicemembers; Social Media CEOs Grilled at Hearing on Child Dangers; Interview with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL); Man Posted Rant After Allegedly Beheading Father. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 01, 2024 - 08:00   ET



REV. CYNTHIA HALE, PASTOR, RAY OF HOPE CHRISTIAN CHURCH: If I had the opportunity to speak to the administration, I would just simply share with them how important it is for us to be aware of the suffering that's taking place, both by Israel and Gaza, but particularly by Gaza and the Palestinians. Twenty-seven-plus-thousand people have died, 10,000 more of them, children.

And so I am just concerned that this war is continuing. I want to see the hostages returned, but I want to see the senseless killing stopped. The fact that a few -- the masses are paying for the actions of a few.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Well, more than 1,000, more than 1,300 killed in Israel in that horrific attack as well. I'm so glad to have your voices with us this morning. Thank you very much, Reverend Hale and Pastor Day.

And CNN THIS MORNING continues now.

We are glad you are with us. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow with Phil Mattingly in New York. Moments ago, President Biden arrived on Capitol Hill. He will be giving a speech at a National Prayer Breakfast as he faces multiple crises here at home and overseas. And right now the world really is watching and waiting to see how the president has decided to retaliate for that drone attack in Jordan that killed U.S. troops, allegedly launched by Iranian-backed militants. Reporters peppered him with questions about when that response will come, and about House Republicans lining up to kill a border security deal in the Senate.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. officials tell CNN Sunday's attack caught Iran by surprise and worried its. That's leaders according to U.S. intelligence. Also, a cruise missile fired by Houthi rebels in Yemen came within one mile of hitting a U.S. Navy destroyer before it was shot down a couple of days ago.

HARLOW: It is the closest one of those attacks from the Houthis has come to an American warship yet.

MATTINGLY: All of these escalating attacks across the region underscoring a serious question over how much control Iran has when it comes to militias and fighting it's funneling weapons and money to. Kevin Liptak this morning from the White House. Kevin, what are we expecting to hear? I know he's on Capitol Hill for the prayer breakfast. Do we expect him to weigh in at all about these multiple foreign policy crises that he is facing right now?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I think it's possible that he addresses them in the broad sense, but this event is really meant to bring the two parties together and demonstrate a degree of unity in Washington. But you can really hardly think of a more discordant moment for that message to try and get across.

Of course, election year politics are always toxic in Washington, particularly when you have an incumbent who is running for reelection. And you really do see that illustrated in the debate over this immigration bill on Capitol Hill. It's not just divides between Republicans and Democrats, but even within the Republican Party you see the split between House Republicans and the House Speaker Mike Johnson and their Republican counterparts in the Senate. Certainly, that intervention by President Trump had the effect of essentially scuttling the bill all together.

You also see divides among Democrats over the issue of the Middle East and the Gaza. Certainly, many progressives dissatisfied with how Biden is handling that. And it will be interesting later today when he heads to Michigan to talk to autoworkers, that state home to a large Arab American population who has been outwardly angry about how he is handling this. so certainly, a fraught environment for the president to be speaking about unity on Capitol Hill today.

President Biden, of course, is something of a throwback in this regard, openly nostalgic about his own days in the Senate, what he thought were better days, more unified days. And it was interesting. I went back to read his speech at this event last year. He said he bemoaned that we see each other as enemies, not neighbors. It is hard to see how much has changed in the last year, Phil.

HARLOW: It certainly has, yes. The U.S. and Israel have been discussing what will happen after this war ends in Gaza, whenever that happens, especially in the wake of some Israeli cabinet members calling for the complete resettlement of those Palestinians. I wonder what the State Department is emphasizing on that point, because Netanyahu has not condemned those far-right ministers for that.

LIPTAK: Right. And the State Department and the White House and President Biden are all very adamant that they're still supportive of a two-state solution, of the creation of an eventual Palestinian state. And I think what you are seeing right now is the diplomatic gears really shifting into high gear as they try and work out a solution to bring the most intense fighting in Gaza to an end.

Now, what was interesting yesterday, there was a report in "Axios" from Barak Ravid saying the State Department was now weighing options for eventual recognition of a Palestinian state.


The State Department itself says that their policy hasn't changed but that, of course, they are reviewing options and that they are actively pursuing the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Of course, the major hurdle here is Israel itself and the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said in increasingly public fashion that a Palestinian state does not comport with Israeli security. There's also a question of who would run an eventual Palestinian state.

So in the coming days we will see the Secretary of State Antony Blinken returning to the Middle East as he works to secure this major diplomatic deal that would essentially transform the region. But certainly, a lot of work to be done until they can agree on anything at the end of the day, guys.

MATTINGLY: No question about that. Kevin Liptak from the north lawn, thank you.

Let's talk more now about the crises overseas and how the U.S. could respond. Joining us now is former Trump national security adviser and former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. Mr. Ambassador, I appreciate your time this morning.

I want to start where Kevin left off. I think it is fascinating reporting from Barak Ravid yesterday about the State Department weighing whether or not to have the two-state solution to move forward on the discussions related to that. You long ago called the two-state solution a dead end, that there was no kind of pathway forward on that. Do you think that still holds today?

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think it is even more true today. I will say this first. If Joe Biden wants to lose the election this November, go ahead and recognize a Palestinian state. Go ahead, make Donald Trump's day. We're not recognizing a state of mind.

To recognize a state, there actually has to be one in existence, and right now there is no Palestinian state. The British foreign secretary said something very similar to what the White House is leaking. I really think it is a mindless approach. It is actually much the same as what the PLO used to do, trying to get recognition as a state in the hallways of the United Nations, as if that would make for a difference on the ground. I think that kind of position pushes the Israeli government into an even firmer resistance to negotiating that point.

MATTINGLY: Do you think that the British war minster floating it, it coming out of news report here, could be an effort to try and reestablish a relationship that I think has gotten a little bit off kilter when it comes to where the prime minister, some of his further right ministers have been, and how they've responded to U.S. requests over the course of last several months?

BOLTON: Sure. And I think the report you just heard is part of the Biden administration's propaganda campaign to say the train is leaving the station, the big deal is about to happen. It's possible it will happen if the White House can break Israel's resolve. Yes, there might be a big deal. The difference I think is that the Biden administration is so gravely concerned about its political prospects in November, it's nearly paralyzed about what to do about the larger conflict. It simply will not recognize what has been obvious I think since October the 7th, that the cause of these conflicts across the Middle East today is Iran. And because it won't admit that, its strategic response, the Biden administration's strategic response, is increasingly incoherent.

MATTINGLY: Do you believe that Iran has complete command and control over all the proxies of the region?

BOLTON: No. Let's talk about NATO. Do you think the United States has complete command and control over the NATO alliance? Do you think we write letters saying, dear, Mr. France, you will do this tomorrow, signed Uncle Sam? Anybody who has been in NATO consultations knows what it's like. That's not the issue. The issue is the strategic evidence on the ground of what's happening, and there's no doubt that this is, as they say in the cold war, no coincidence, comrade, what is going on here. I think people who are trying to deny Iran's absolutely central involvement are going to be shamed in history for their blindness here.

MATTINGLY: Explain that to me, because I don't know that anybody is trying to deny Iran's involvement. I think there's questions about scale of involvement, what's been directed. Are you saying that the nuance isn't important, the fact that they fund the train is enough in and of itself?

BOLTON: Look, the Iranian government has for some time now been talking about the ring of fire strategy around Israel.


BOLTON: And that it has been reported over and over again, it's working to increase the coordination of these terrorist proxies that it arms, equips, trains, and finances. Do you seriously believe that Iran has done all of that for the convenience of the proxies or for the convenience of Iran? We know that Iran's ultimate goal is hegemony in the region and hegemony within Islam.


We don't know exactly what the goal is with this operation, but it is inconceivable that this is not all part of the ring of fire strategy. And so when we see the administration, for example, as one of your reporters earlier today said that Iran was surprised at the attack, and the reason they were surprised is this one had succeeded where so many others had failed. I mean, if the administration is really surprised at that, the difficulty for us is even more serious than I thought.

MATTINGLY: I guess the big question comes down to, at least the way you are laying things out, is the only option appears to be to strike Iran in your view. Is that a fair assessment of things? BOLTON: Look, let's try to get back to basics. I think what the

administration is worried about is the conflict. They talk endlessly about not wanting a wider war, not escalating it.


BOLTON: The conflict is not the main issue. The main issue is the cause of the conflict. The conflict is a manifestation of the problem, and the problem is Iran. In this particular circumstance, Iran has crossed an American red line. They have killed three Americans. They have paid no penalty, they have incurred no cost for any of the violence in the region, not for the Hamas violence, not for what the Houthis are doing, not for what Hezbollah or the Shia militia have been doing.

I don't think Iran will believe that the United States is serious, especially given all of this diplomatic handwringing we see from the White House, until Iran itself begins to pay some costs. Now, I'm not saying that an initial attack on assets in Iran has to be regime threatening. In fact, I would say the contrary. But there are many, many kinds of locations that could be hit that shows the mullahs in Tehran, they can say whatever their red lines are, they're not going to dictate our response.

MATTINGLY: They have assets and infrastructure in Syria in particular but also in Iraq as well. Is that not adequate?

BOLTON: No, I don't think it is. You know, look, the fact is that they feel they can range at large, not just killing Americans in Syria and Iraq, but threatening American citizens like Masih Alinejad, like Salman Rushdie, like former government officials, and they can do it because they feel not at risk. They are not deterred by the United States. So if you want to reestablish deterrence, there are ways to do it. The Biden administration is paralyzed by its unwillingness to see this reality.

And I would just make one final point here. Iran's behavior right now is objectionable in so many ways. Would you rather face that problem today or face it after Iran gets nuclear weapons? You think their behavior will be better then?

MATTINGLY: I think the administration would say it's a question of calibration and the front end might be a lot easier than trying to figure out the back end when it comes to a direct strike, and that is obviously a debate take continues ongoing.

BOLTON: I think that's exactly --

MATTINGLY: And I understand what you're --

BOLTON: That's exactly what they would say. And you know what that reveals? That reveals what Winston Churchill called the confirmed unteachability of mankind, the unwillingness to act when the cost will be low and deferring it until the cost for us gets potentially much higher. MATTINGLY: I understand your point. I certainly understand your

perspective. I think the last couple of decades have, unfortunately, when it comes to these issues, led people to pause in situations like this.

John Bolton, we appreciate your time, sir. Thank you.

BOLTON: Thanks for having me.

HARLOW: Such an important debate to have with him.

OK. So ahead, Mark Zuckerberg, you probably saw this stunning moment, apologizing during a combative hearing on Capitol Hill about social media.


SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Would you like to apologize for what you have done to these good people?


MARK ZUCKERBERG, CEO, META: I'm sorry for everything you have been through. No one should go through the things that your families have suffered.


HARLOW: We are going ask Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin about that moment and the bill he is pushing to protect children.

MATTINGLY: And we are standing by for President Biden to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast. He is sitting next to the House speaker, you can see him right there, Mike Johnson. We'll bring you his remarks when he speaks. Stay with us.



HARLOW: Senator denouncing the leaders of five major social media companies in an emotional hearing yesterday for not doing enough to protect kids online.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN): I'm so tired of this. It's been 28 years what -- since the internet -- we haven't passed any of these bills because everyone has double talk, double talk. It's time to actually pass them and the reason they haven't passed is because of the power of your companies.

SEN. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN): Children are not your priority. Children are your product. Children you see as a way to make money.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Mr. Zuckerberg, you and the companies before us, I know you don't mean it to be so, but you have blood on your hands.


HARLOW: In a stunning moment, Mark Zuckerberg whose company owns Facebook and Instagram turned around and he spoke to the parents of these victims.


HAWLEY: You're on national television would you like now to apologize to the victims who have been harmed by your product? Show him the pictures. Would you like to apologize for what you've done to these good people?

ZUCKERBERG: I'm sorry (inaudible). It's terrible knowing that to go through the things that your families have suffered.


HARLOW: The hearing captured the growing alarm over big tech's impact on our kids, the most vulnerable users.

Last year, the nation's leading child protection organization received more than 36 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation online that included 105 million images and videos, and between just 2021 and 2023, there was an explosion in the number of reports of online incitement.

This issue has really united Republicans and Democrats, but Congress has yet to pass any meaningful legislation to rein in these social media companies.

Senate Judiciary Committee leaders say they hope this hearing builds momentum for a package of bills aimed at curbing child abuse material online.

The committee's chairman, Senator Dick Durbin held a news conference with survivors of online exploitation after the hearing and he really cut to the heart of the problem.



SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): This is an industry that cannot be held responsible for its wrongdoing. This is an industry that can't be taken to court no matter what they do. That is unacceptable.


HARLOW: Senator Dick Durbin joins us now.

You held that, by the way with Lindsey Graham, just another example of the bipartisan nature of concern here and hopefully action by you guys soon.

Look, in all your years in the Senate, I wonder if you have ever witnessed or been in a hearing like that?

DURBIN: Poppy, I've never been through that experience. Can you imagine for a moment sitting at the head table and looking out at a sea of parents, grieving parents who've lost a child, or have seen their child's life completely ruined by the Internet? They held up the pictures of those kids and I realized what was at stake is not just a political exercise, it is a question of our humanity.

And I think what happened yesterday, the bipartisan response is unusual on Capitol Hill to say the least. The question that is before us now is, will it lead to the change in the law? Now, that's our responsibility.

HARLOW: That's exactly my next question. What are you going to do for those parents? Will you finally, as Senator Klobuchar said, 28 years of this, are you finally going to be able to pass something?

DURBIN: Well, we've got a good starting point, we have five bills that were passed unanimously out of the committee last year. When you took a look at the senators who asked questions yesterday, you can see the spectrum of politics in America from right to left, some extreme on both sides. But we all came together and unanimously voted out these bills. The question now is, can we put together what is needed to bring them to the floor of the Senate? And will the House respond as well?


DURBIN: These are big questions, but we have a lot of political force and emotional force behind this.

HARLOW: One of yours is the Stop CSAM Act, just tell people briefly what it does and where it stands.

DURBIN: It's Child Sexual Abuse Material, and it is the worst of the worst. If you can imagine things, unimaginable things, happening to your child or grandchild, and being posted on the Internet, ruining their lives, leading them to suicide, that's what we're talking about.

And I will tell you that it is a strong bipartisan measure. There's absolutely no excuse for it, and unless we act, unless we hold these companies responsible in civil liability, I don't believe they're ever going to change their ways.

HARLOW: You're a father, you have six grandkids, I think, am I right on that?

DURBIN: You're right.

HARLOW: So this is also personal, and I want to play this moment that struck me.

This is Mark Zuckerberg in his testimony. Here he was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ZUCKERBERG: Mental health is a complex issue and the existing body of

scientific work has not shown a causal link between using social media and young people having worse mental health outcomes.


HARLOW: I wonder what you thought when you heard that.

DURBIN: It harkens me back to a moment in history in Congress, when the tobacco executives came before us and under oath, swore that nicotine was not addictive, and their product was not killing people. That was an outrageous statement by Mr. Zuckerberg, and a man who has the resources that he has, and the adviser he had, should never said anything like that.

HARLOW: I got a text message this morning from someone within the company saying tech executives don't write legislation. They lobby for it, they lobby against it. What do you make of that argument?

DURBIN: Well, there's some truth to that. That is the bottom line, but the good news is we start off with five bills that passed unanimously out of the committee. That, I think is our template that we need to bring to the floor of the United States Senate.

Now, I know the Senate as well as most people, and I will tell you that to get this done, you have to have a bipartisan major, and agreement on time and amendments. That's not easy in a Senate that is designed to stop and kill legislation right and left. I think we can do it. I think the political force you saw in that hearing in that room can make a difference.

HARLOW: Twenty-six words in current law mean that these companies often can't be sued, and that is known as Section 230. It sounds complex, but it's not really. It basically says they're not media companies, they can't be held liable for what is put on their platforms.

I know you don't want to get rid of it, but how can it be changed so that kids are protected and there is responsibility and ownership for some of this stuff?

DURBIN: Well, if the industry believes, and I think they're coming to the belief, that they have to do something significant, significant that makes a difference. Otherwise, Section 230 is on the block. I am not going to protect 230 at the expense of these children.

If these leaders and industry are willing to come forward with significant, meaningful, effective changes, I am up for listening for it, but the bottom line is, if 230 has to go, it has to go.

HARLOW: That's a significant development from you because you had been in favor of reforming it, but you know this is a big protection for them.


So if it were to go, that is significant.

Before you go, Senator, I do want to ask you, on this program on November 2nd, you were the first Democratic senator to call for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. I wonder if you've spoken to the president about that since and if the administration is now leaning more toward that than they were on November 2nd?

DURBIN: I can't tell you the evolution of the president's thinking, but my thinking is the same. I don't believe there is a military solution to what has happened in the Middle East. I believe the only solution is one that is political, and it involves both sides sitting down.

We can't shoot our way out of this problem. And to think of the humanitarian disaster that has fallen from the terrible Hamas invasion of Israel really gives me pause, and I would have to say that the two- state solution is the only viable approach.

HARLOW: Senator Dick Durbin, thank you very much.

DURBIN: You're welcome.

MATTINGLY: Well, no details on the man who posted a video to YouTube with his dad's decapitated head. He has been charged with murder as fears grow about how incendiary rhetoric heard in his online rant could actually fuel similar attacks. We will explain next.


HARLOW: Well this morning we have a lot more information about that incredibly violent and disturbing attack in Pennsylvania.

Justin Mohn has been charged with beheading his father and then displaying the severed head while going on a right-wing political rant on YouTube.

His college roommates tell CNN he showed many signs of paranoia as far back as 2016. He believed the government was "out to get him."

MATTINGLY: In the video, Mohn unleashed a tirade against the Biden administration, immigration and called his father a traitor because he was a federal employee.

His video was up for more than five hours before YouTube removed it.