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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

U.S. Stands Behind Israel; U.S. Believes at Least 20 are Being Held Hostage by Hamas; Biden to Travels to Israel to Show Support; Secretary of State Antony Blinken Traveling to Israel Today; Biden Pledges U.S. Support Against Hamas; House GOP Meets to Consider New Speaker; Interview with Axios Senior Contributor and Syracuse University Democracy, Journalism and Citizenship Institute Director Margaret Talev; GOP Remains Divided Over Choice for Speaker; Israel Hits Targets in Gaza; Hezbollah Claiming it Inflicted "Many" Casualties on IDF Post. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired October 11, 2023 - 05:30   ET





JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: This is an act of sheer evil. More than 1,000 civilians slaughtered, not just killed, slaughtered in Israel. Among them at least 14 American citizens killed.


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Sheer evil. Good morning. Thank you for being here with us. I am Kasie Hunt.

That was an emotional President Biden addressing the nation following the horrific attack on Israel by Hamas. In addition to the 14 Americans killed, the U.S. believes that at least 20 are being held hostage by Hamas. This is a live picture of Gaza City, where the IDF, Israel Defense Forces, have been hammering targets following Hamas attacks, devastating surprise attack on Southern Israel over the weekend. Israel now says at least 1,200 people were killed in the terrorist assault.

Hamas says 950 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war. The president on Tuesday apparently aiming a warning at Iran and its proxies like Hezbollah not to interfere in this war.


BIDEN: We stand ready to move in additional assets as needed. Let me say again to any country, any organization, anyone thinking of taking advantage of the situation. I have one word, don't. Don't. Our hearts may be broken, but our resolve is clear.


HUNT: All right. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live in Ashdod, Israel. Jeremy, what are the implications of what Biden had to say yesterday?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kasie, in order to understand those implications, you have to look back at the past of what President Biden and other U.S. presidents how they have reacted in the past during these conflicts with Gaza. And there is one hallmark, typically, it doesn't always come right at the beginning, but it comes at some point.

You hear a U.S. president urge Israeli restraint, urged them to avoid civilian casualties, urged them to go towards a peaceful solution, a peaceful negotiation, a peaceful resolution to the situation. That is not what we heard from President Biden yesterday. Instead, what we heard was his really kind of emotional angry response to these attacks that Hamas has carried out. And we did not hear those urgings of restraint from President Biden towards the Israelis.

And what that does is it gives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli military a lot of leeway here to do what they feel is necessary in order to respond to these surprise Hamas attacks over the weekend. And there's no question that one of the dynamics here, beyond the horrific images and stories that we have heard of Hamas' brutality in mowing down civilians at a festival, in butchering children and women at some of these -- in some of these Israeli communities along the Gaza border, what we have also seen is that Americans are involved.

At least 14 Americans are believed to have been killed in these Hamas attacks, and more than 20 Americans are believed to be among the hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza. And so, that completely changes the equation here in terms of when you look at the Israeli response and how far President Biden is willing to go to support that Israeli response.

So, there's no question that President Biden's mission yesterday was to show that there is no daylight between him and the Israeli Prime Minister, which is significant, especially when you look at the past political tensions that have existed between the two men, particularly over the last year, as the Israeli prime minister has pursued this controversial judicial reform effort. But right now, clearly all of that is in the past. President Biden showing that he is behind the Israeli prime minister, and more importantly, behind the Israeli military response and providing weaponry as well, the first of which began to arrive at an Israeli base just last night. Kasie.


HUNT: All right, Jeremy Diamond, thank you very much for that report. Stay safe, my friend.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is traveling to Israel today. The State Department says he will discuss with Israeli officials the situation on the ground and how the U.S. can continue to support them. It comes after President Biden passionately condemned Hamas terror attacks Tuesday and stressed America's unwavering support for Israel.


BIDEN: So, in this moment, we must be crystal clear, we stand with Israel. We stand with Israel. We will make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of its citizens, defend itself, and respond to this attack.


HUNT: CNN's Jennifer Hansler, who covers the State Department, joins me now. Jennifer, good morning. Thank you for being here. What's the Biden administration telling families of Americans who are missing in Israel? And what is the secretary of state hoping to accomplish today?

JENNIFER HANSLER, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT REPORTER: Well, Kasie, we don't know exactly what the administration is telling these families, but we do know from Jake Sullivan that they are in touch with all of the families of those who are missing or unaccounted for in Israel. Right now, that is 20 or more people according to Sullivan, that number could grow because, right now, we don't have a lot of answers as to these folks' whereabouts their conditions.

So, the administration is working hour by hour. This is a top priority for them to try to get information about where these Americans are, if they are OK. And we know not only the Americans, but all of these hostages. This is something the administration is pushing to secure their release. They are working with countries who are able to pass messages along to Hamas to urge them to release these hostages immediately.

And now, when secretary of state goes to Israel today, Secretary Blinken, we know this will be a top priority for him there as well to work with the Israelis to try to get answers, to try to figure out how to get these hostages home. And this is also just a major show of support after those devastating attacks we saw over the weekend. He will be meeting with top Israeli officials. We expect him to meet with Netanyahu, for example, to try to figure out what exactly the Israelis need. moving forward, how they can be supported by the U.S. Kasie.

HUNT: Jennifer, what do we know about the role that Qatar is playing right now? Because I know they have been an interlocutor with Hamas in the past.

HANSLER: Yes. So, we don't know a lot about the specific messages that they are passing along, but we do know that they are playing a role to try to help mediate a solution here. We know that they have played a role in securing hostage releases in the past. And now the State Department spokesperson, Matt Miller, yesterday wouldn't name specific countries that they are working with, but they did say that regional partners are playing a productive role here.

HUNT: All right, Jennifer Hansler, thank you very much for being with us this morning. I really appreciate it

HANSLER: Thank you.

HUNT: It is set to be a busy and highly consequential day on Capitol Hill. Shortly, members set to receive a classified briefing on Israel. After that, House Republicans will huddle to figure out, we think, who will be the next speaker.

The House GOP's two candidates, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise and Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, made their pitches during a closed- door meeting last night. But there is considerable skepticism that this would be a quick and easy process.


Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO): I am not thrilled with either choice right now. I think someone will come forward. I think someone else will come forward, and I don't know who that is and I'm not backing anybody.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND): In case you guys haven't noticed, we're a pretty divided conference right now. So, I think this might take a little time to sort out and figure out a way through it.


HUNT: Someone else. OK. Joining us to break it all down is Margaret Talev. She is a senior contributor at Axios and the director of Syracuse University's Democracy, Journalism, and Citizenship Institute. Margaret, good morning. Thank you very much for being here.


HUNT: You know, when we, all went home for the weekend on Friday, we anticipated that the speaker's race would, of course, be the biggest story happening, but the reality is very, very different. And honestly, I would have expected it to put more pressure on Republicans to get their act together and figure out how to pick somebody, but it seems like they're as divided as ever in the face of calls from the administration to pass very quickly aid for Israel.

TALEV: Yes. Kasie, that's exactly right. It's impossible now to untangle this leadership race from the backdrop of Hamas' attack on Israel because that has begun to overshadow everything else. So, of course, the future of Ukraine funding is now tied to the decisions about Israel funding. There are discussions about wrapping Taiwan funding and border funding in.

And there seems to be -- whereas the Republican House caucus was fairly divided about whether to continue U.S. funding and assistance to Ukraine, there's not that kind of division around Israel. The problem is they can't do any of it until they have a speaker. So where does that, leave everybody?


And I think we're going to see this all play out today, possibly in multiple rounds, possibly over the course of several hours or more than one day.

HUNT: Right.

TALEV: And it has sort of strangely, I don't know, strengthened Kevin McCarthy in terms -- at least reputationally, in terms of giving him kind of a second life, like, OK, you guys got what you wanted. Is this really what you want? So, it's really a competition now between Scalise and Jordan, and in a way, the specter of McCarthy, and these are three guys who have been kind of frenemies, allies when they needed to be and rivals at other times over the course of the last 15, 16, 17 years. It's all pretty ugly and it's all going to play out in public.

HUNT: Yes. No, it is extremely ugly. And, you know, just to read people in who don't understand the processes, you and I have been through this before. Today, they're going to go behind closed doors and they're going to hold secret ballot voting to try and select the person who will be the speaker.

Normally, this is -- the entirety of the process, right? They figure out who's got the most support within the conference. Sometimes there's multiple ballots. But then they go to the floor, they have one vote, they all support the speaker. Obviously, that's not what happened with McCarthy. They are desperately trying to avoid doing that again.


HUNT: I mean, do you think it's actually possible, though? It seems like more floor contention might be inevitable.

TALEV: I don't, but who knows? I've been wrong about a lot of things in this process the last few weeks as we --

HUNT: We all have.

TALEV: -- watched it all get to the boiling point. But that's why, you know, this is really inside baseball, but some discussions about kind of a test vote or an amendment to try to get a 217-vote threshold, like this is all, in theory, aimed at preventing a repeat of the McCarthy situation, but the -- and none of it's really that clear cut, right? Because Scalise, to some extent, would probably represent a more institutional approach to the speakership, although he faces the same pressure that McCarthy would have.

And then, even though Scalise is probably more closely aligned with McCarthy from a policy or negotiating perspective, Jordan actually seems to be the person who McCarthy and his team have been behind. But if Jim Jordan becomes the next House speaker, you can expect an extremely combative approach toward legislation within the caucus, as well as across, you know, both parties between now --

HUNT: Right.

TALEV: -- and the election, and there are a lot of Republican House moderates who really don't want a Jim Jordan speakership for all of those reasons. So, the calculus here is very complicated, the impacts are international. And if you're a Volodymyr Zelenskyy watching this from Europe right now, you're trying to figure out, is there any way where you can get this to work in your favor and not to just get completely overshadowed and left behind amid a truly horrific situation in Israel and a soon to be in Palestinian territories -- well, already in Palestinian territories --

HUNT: Right.

TALEV: -- as well.

HUNT: No, it's a good point. I mean, look, it's worth remembering that the Former House Speaker John Boehner called Jim Jordan a legislative terrorist. You know, obviously, we're dealing with real terrorists.


HUNT: So, it's -- you know, it's kind of a somber thing, but it is pretty striking that he potentially is speaker of the house. Very quickly, Margaret. Democrats, honestly, there's some in their caucus who are not supportive of Israel. Historically, there was uniform support there. They are taking quite a bit of blowback. What's the Democratic caucus going to do about those voices?

TALEV: Marginalize them and call them out and shame them and turn against them as much as possible. And I think that's what we're seeing to happen. You saw President Biden's press secretary say that this is a small number of Democrats are in the wrong. You're seeing, House Democratic progressives who often have nuanced views about the approach toward Israel all -- almost, you know, overwhelmingly rallying around in support of Israel and funding for Israel.

And you're even seeing, like, AOC sort of take a measured approach and say that you -- that what has happened to the people of Israel that they are, you know, victims. And so, I think you're overwhelmingly seeing House Democrats rally around support for Israel and sort of a no tolerance policy for being sympathetic in any way to Hamas or to the language like that, but it is it -- although, it's a small number, it's a very divisive issue inside the Republican caucus right -- and inside the Democratic caucus right now.

HUNT: Yes, it sure is. All right, Margaret Talev, thank you very much for being with us this morning. I really appreciate it.

TALEV: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. Let's take a live look at Gaza City right now. It's 12:45 in Israel. Black smoke rising. We'll bring you the latest from here when we come back




BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We have, and I emphasize, we have only begun to strike at Hamas. What we will do to our enemies in the coming days will resonate with them for generations.


HUNT: As the death tolls continue to rise in Gaza and Israel, so does the uncertainty about what will happen next in Israel's war with Hamas. The one sure thing is that the implications of the war are going to be felt far and wide, and that is, the topic of our Stephen Collinson, Israel's war with Hamas will cause deep and wide political shockwaves.

Let's bring in the author of that piece, CNN's Stephen Collinson. Thank you very much for being with us, Stephen. You write -- and for our viewers who are just meeting you for the first time, you have this talent for stepping back and seeing the wider picture and kind of helping us understand and clarifying why it matters and how it might reverberate in the long-term. And this, of course, has been compared to Israel's 9/11. And it really honestly promises to really reshape politics across the region. Why?


STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN POLITICS SENIOR REPORTER: Well, Kasie, rightly, I think the focus so far has been on the bereaved, the horror of what happened in Israel, but politics is never still for long, and there are forces already gathering pace that will dictate how the regional politics and how global politics reacts to all of this.

I think what President Biden was getting at yesterday was that this was a historic moment, not just in the State of Israel, but in the modern history of the Jewish people. That is going to have a huge impact, as will the trauma of what seems likely to come, which looks like a full-scale Israeli move into Gaza, a place where civilians are packed in tight proximity and refugee camps separated by tiny passageways. This is going to be a very bloody affair, not just for Palestinians, but for Israeli reservists. So, that will ripple through the politics of those places and through the wider Arab world, for example. And that will condition how leaders in places like Saudi Arabia will react in Jordan, where there's a massive Palestinian diaspora.

It's very hard, for instance, to see how the peace drive or the normalization of diplomatic relations effort that the U.S. was shepherding between Israel and the Saudis can go ahead anytime soon in the coming years. So, that's the regional impact. It'll also play out into U.S. politics. And we're, of course, at a moment of flux in international relations where great geopolitical forces are unfolding on a wider stage.

HUNT: Yes. I'm glad you brought up the normalization pact because it does seem as though this assault by Hamas was perhaps timed because that normalization pact was proceeding. Saudi Arabia, of course, has never recognized Israel. The idea would be that they would do that in this arrangement brokered by the United States. Why would it be that Hamas is so focused on preventing something like that? And how does it change? You mentioned it will change the geopolitics, but how?

COLLINSON: Well, Hamas has its own reasons, clearly, and its own motivations for attacking Israel. But it is also a proxy of Iran. It has gone through various manifestations in its relationship with Iran. But it's clear that Iran wants to see this idea of a reordering of the Middle East scuppered, if you'd like. It would be very isolating for Iran if Saudi Arabia and Israel, the premier powers in the area, were to at least lose some of their historic animosity

Israel, of course, is already locked into a peace agreement dating back to the Camp David Accords in the late 1970s. So, you could see how the world would realign in the Middle East against Iran. But, of course, this is also coming at a time when you can see Iran trying to increase its contacts with Russia, with China.

HUNT: Yes.

COLLINSON: It's long been a fear of American foreign policy experts that there could be some tie up, although there's no formal alliance between these countries yet, all of them have a long-standing and deep interest in thwarting the interests of the United States in the region and around the world.

So, this is a great diplomatic and geopolitical game that's occurring not just in the Middle East but it plays out. Everything's connected at the moment and we're almost in a situation where the certainties of the post-World War II and Cold War world of a world led by the United States, at least in the West, are coming under great question, not just internationally, but because of what's unfolding on Capitol Hill, our election next year, and how that could change American foreign policy.

HUNT: Yes. That's all very good points. Stephen Collinson, thank you very much for being with us this morning. I really appreciate your time.

And just ahead here, brand-new developments just in on Israel's Northern front.



HUNT: All right. This just in. The Lebanese group, Hezbollah, now claiming it caused "many" Israeli casualties in a missile attack on an IDF post on the Israel Lebanon border. Israel striking back inside Lebanese territory, apparently in retaliation. CNN's Nada Bashir joins us now from London.

Nada, what do we know about what happened?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well, look, we heard from Hezbollah, which has said it carried out a strike. It fired on an Israeli site using guided missiles in response to the killing of three members of Hezbollah on Monday. And what we have seen over the last few days is this continued exchange of fire. We have seen Israeli airstrikes on the Southern Lebanese region near the border, according to the Lebanese military that took place on Monday.

And now, we are learning, just in the last half hour or so, according to Lebanese state media, that we are beginning to see a resumption of shelling on the border. The sound of gunfire can be heard. And of course, there is real concern for the potential of this conflict to spill over into Lebanon. We've heard from the Lebanese caretaker, Prime Minister Najib Mikati, he has said that he doesn't want Lebanon drawn into this conflict. But the idea has already said that it is ramping up its presence on the border. We're talking about tens of thousands of troops, including reservists and regular units on the border across by Lebanon, ready --