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Biden Says He's Reached A Deal To Get Aid Into Gaza; Today: Third Vote For Speaker Scheduled After Jordan Loses Second Vote; IDF Sees Uptick In Skirmishes With Hezbollah In Lebanon. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired October 19, 2023 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thank you for being up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt.

Just after 5:30 here in Washington where just hours from now President Biden will deliver a prime time-address calling for continued aid to Israel in the face of Hamas' attacks and to Ukraine in their ongoing war against Russia.

Biden telling reporters on the trip home from Tel Aviv that he had a very blunt meeting with Israeli leaders. The president says that while Israel has been badly victimized it has an obligation to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you have an opportunity to alleviate the pain, you should do it, period. And if you don't, you're going to lose credibility worldwide. And, uh, I think everyone understands that.


HUNT: So, President Biden says that he struck a deal with Egypt's president to get that much-needed aid to the Palestinians starting tomorrow.

CNN's Becky Anderson is live in Tel Aviv with more. Because, Becky, the reality is there are still significant complications to be addressed before this aid can start to move.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ABU DHABI MANAGING EDITOR AND ANCHOR: Yeah. Yeah, you're absolutely right. I mean, the border is going to open. They've got to sort the road out on the Gaza side, which has been bombed. It's only 20 trucks worth of aid and it's not likely to get it until Friday, but it's a start. Look, it is a start.

And we've spoken to people on the ground who say this is incredibly important and this, if it's just the beginning, could allow for more. They're talking about the need for hundreds of trucks a day to come through. But it was certainly one of the objectives Joe Biden had in coming to

Israel here and to get that humanitarian corridor open. He's also, of course, looking for the evacuation of U.S. citizens, in the first instance, out of Gaza. And, indeed, the release of these hostages. And we know that there are at least a handful if not more American hostages being held.

So we didn't hear a call for restraint from the U.S. president, but it was sort of as close as to a certain extent. We are hearing increasing calls for a ceasefire from around this region. The number of dead and injured continues to rise and the humanitarian situation, as we've been discussing for those who have survived this, is getting worse by the minute.


Behind the scenes, diplomatic sources tell me -- us here at CNN that Qatar continues to mediate talks between Hamas, the U.S., and Israel on the release of what is now confirmed to be 203 hostages likely held by Hamas. Israel determined there will be no ceasefire until those hostages are released, we are told.

So we await the next phase in this conflict as Israel vows that Hamas will be, quote, annihilated.

I spoke earlier to one very influential Palestinian politician, Mustafa Barghouti, who had this to say about the role that he believes President Biden, who has been much criticized for his trip here and is sort of taking a team as it were. But he said -- he talked to me about the role that the U.S. president could take going forward. Have a listen.


DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, LEADER OF PALESTINIAN NATIONAL INITIATIVE: I think the one person who could stop all these atrocities immediately is President Biden. But to do that he has to stop saying that he's teaming up with the Israelis and calls them -- calls them "our team." He cannot be on the team of one side while one side is committing war crimes against the other. He has to be -- he has to take a different position.

And that's why I think the United States must immediately change its position and allow the passage of a resolution in the Security Council to have immediate ceasefire.

There is one country in the world that has leverage over Israel and can stop these atrocities for the sake of Palestinians and Israelis, and that is the United States of America.


ANDERSON: And Kasie, I have to say to hear that from Mustafa Barghouti after so much talk in the past 24 hours about the irrelevancy of the United States in this -- the fact that in the past, people might have looked to it as an interlocutor here -- as a country that could really make a difference. I mean, that had all sort of gone as we saw this protest and demonstration around the region. I think it's really important just to pause and listen to Mustafa Barghouti there and to consider what role the U.S. might play going forward.

Extremely difficult, extremely delicate, extremely complicated behind the scenes. But look --

HUNT: Sure.

ANDERSON: -- we are waiting for the next phase of what has been this promised -- you know, promised incursion by land, sea, and air by the Israelis to, quote, "annihilate Hamas."

HUNT: Right.

ANDERSON: And that is, clearly, extremely worrying for the people of Gaza.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, I'll be quite candid. The view from Washington is that the gentleman is disconnected from what is possible here and none of that's actually going to play out that way. The U.S. position, I think, is going to remain the way it is for the foreseeable future.

Becky Anderson, thank you very much for being with us.

Meanwhile, at noon today, the House is set to hold a third vote to elect a speaker after Republican Jim Jordan again failed to win the gavel Wednesday. The hard-right Ohio congressman actually lost ground in the second vote with a number of Republicans voting against him, climbing from 20 to 22.

At this hour, Jordan has been vowing to stay in the race, but his critics in the House are running out of patience.


REP. ANTHONY D'ESPOSITO (R-NY): This, right now, is an embarrassment and this is not what we should be dealing with. We were sent here to work and we should be working.

REP. MIKE GALLAGHER (R-WI): Do you think in a big tent party, like the Republican Party, it's healthy to have disagreements? But there's a point at which, like, the disagreement becomes dysfunction and paralysis and we're going to reach that point if we continue this much longer.

REP. MICHAEL WALTZ (R-FL): And to those who started all of this -- the eight who started all of this -- what was your plan? Clearly, you didn't have one. Now we're in total chaos.


HUNT: Clearly, you did not have a plan. And here we are.

Some of the lawmakers voting against Jordan complained that they have been the targets of intense pressure campaigns, including public attacks and barrages of angry phone calls to their offices. Iowa Republican Marianette Miller-Meeks says that she received, quote, "credible death threats" last night.

Jordan condemned the intimidation tactics.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): It should never happen and it's -- it's just wrong. And we don't want it to happen to anyone, any American, anybody, any member of Congress. It's just -- it's just wrong.


HUNT: But it is happening. That's the reality of where we are right now.

Let's bring in Samantha-Jo Roth. She's a congressional reporter for the Washington Examiner. Samantha-Jo, thank you very much for being with us this morning.

I want to focus in on these threats because it does seem like this is part of what is backfiring on Jim Jordan. Now, this 22 number -- it was a little lower than some people expected. Some people expected as many as 25 Republicans or so to vote against him on the floor. But it still underscores that his path forward is bleak.


And, frankly, the people he's trying to pressure to move feel like they're being intimidated, they're being, harassed, and it's not making them inclined to feel warm and fuzzy enough about Jim Jordan to try to rescue him.

SAMANTHA-JO ROTH, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Yeah, absolutely, that is what I am hearing as well. Representative Don Bacon, yesterday, talking a little bit about how his wife was receiving some of those text messages and threats.

And this really only emphasizes some of their points. A lot of these folks say this intimidation really does not work against them. They are very, very against Jordan's bid for speaker and any of these intimidation tactics are not going to work.

So it absolutely is backfiring, as we are seeing. And even some of these folks are saying if there is a third vote, as we believe there is going to be, there's going to be even less Republicans who are supporting Jim Jordan today. So that all remains to be seen.

HUNT: It does. And just to kind of give people a sense of what we think the plan is right now, the House is supposed to come back at noon today. We expect but we don't know that there will be a third vote for Jim Jordan on the floor.

But there's increasing chatter about the possibility in the event that, say, if their vote goes forward and it fails -- it would be expected to fail -- about what to do to if that happens. Because there is increasing frustration with the fact that they cannot do anything.

They want to get an aid package to Israel out the door. Most people -- there's opposition among hardline Republicans but most members want to get aid to Ukraine out the door as well. They want to keep the government open. That might involve empowering the speaker -- the temporary speaker, Patrick McHenry.

What's your reporting about where those conversations stand, what Democrats might do in the event that happens, and how that would play out inside the Republican Conference?

ROTH: Yeah. So, right now, those discussions are underway. We know that they were happening last night and I think that they will go on. Jeffries has not said whether or not he's going to help some of these Republicans empower Patrick McHenry. And obviously, Democrats are going to be needed in order to be able to do this. So those are discussions that are underway.

Some of Jim Jordan's supporters -- they don't want to see this. They think it's a distraction.

Another big question is whether Patrick McHenry will even want to do this. He has been reluctant to even want to be speaker. And a lot of folks are wondering what exactly he's going to do on this.

But this is a really credible question and moving forward, as you mentioned, so many things are happening. They need to happen. November 17 is a critical spending deadline. And as long as this happens nothing can happen with that spending.

HUNT: Right.

ROTH: The Senate is paralyzed as well. So it really needs to -- something needs to happen. And whether or not Patrick McHenry is emboldened with more power really remains to be seen --

HUNT: Yeah.

ROTH: -- but it is something that Republicans aren't talking about.

HUNT: Right, no. And -- I mean, look, he's a man with a young family who has to deal with all the various personalities if he's going to be thrust into this role that, frankly, nobody has really had much success in recent years dealing with. There are reasons why he doesn't want the job that are very easy to understand, but he has started leaving the door a little bit more open to this possibility than he was about a week ago.

Samantha-Jo Roth of the Washington Examiner, thank you very much for being with us this morning. I appreciate it.

ROTH: Thank you.

HUNT: All right. Up next here, President Biden is preparing a pitch to the American people with a prime time-address set for the Oval Office tonight. His strategy for backing the war efforts in Israel and Ukraine up next.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Tonight, President Biden expected to deliver a prime-time address from the Oval Office focusing on America's response to the Hamas attack on Israel and Russia's ongoing war with Ukraine. President Biden is just back from his trip to Tel Aviv where he reaffirmed U.S. support for Israel and worked toward a deal to get humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Here is Biden on Air Force One talking about his phone call with Egyptian President El-Sisi.


BIDEN: He agreed that what he would do is open the gate to do two things. One, let up to 20 trucks through to begin with.


HUNT: So, CNN asked Biden if he was disappointed that his stop in Jordan was canceled in the wake of that explosion at the hospital in Gaza.


BIDEN: No -- disappointed? Look, I came to get something done and I got it done.


HUNT: All right, "I came to get something done and I got it done."

Let's bring in Daniel Strauss. He's a CNN national politics reporter. Daniel, good morning.


HUNT: It's always great to have you.

It sounds like Biden was able to make some progress in terms of getting aid in from Egypt. They agreed on 20 trucks. That is a very limited amount and there are obviously conditions attached, but it would be a major change from what's happening right now, which is nothing getting in. And it sounds like the message he gave to the Israelis was that hey, this is going to be untenable for you to continue to maintain this position that no aid is going to go into Gaza.

STRAUSS: Yeah. And look, let's remember that this is a very, very complicated conflict that's ongoing with no clear, easy solution. So the fact that President Biden got any sort of deal and aid going into Israel is something that the White House is going to highlight in the coming days.

At the same time, though, the fact that there was this summit planned that was canceled at the last minute is going to overshadow any clear senses that Biden's trip to the Middle East was a smashing success.

So, so far, it depends on what you focus on.

HUNT: Right, no. It's a good point.


Let's talk a little bit about the address tonight because obviously, this is taking place against the backdrop -- we're not yet in 2024 but we are heading toward the start of voting early next year in the Republican caucus in Iowa and primary in New Hampshire. President Biden is going to be running for reelection.

Right now, we've got a little bit of polling on how Biden is doing. Now, granted, this was taken before his trip.

How much do you trust that President Biden is going to make the right decisions about the situation in Israel? Forty-seven percent say they trust him a great deal or moderately. Not much or not at all, 53 percent said. I'll be honest with you. That tracks very closely with his overall approval ratings in a lot of these polls -- approval- disapproval.

But there's also this. We asked how much sympathy do you have for the Israeli people. And 71 percent told us that they have a lot of sympathy for the Israeli people. And I think that kind of underscores why the president is so comfortable taking the stand that he has and showing the solidarity he has with Israel.

What do you make of, kind of, these sentiments and how they're driving the White House's decisions?

STRAUSS: I mean, it's very clear that across the political spectrum there is strong support for Israel in the United States right now. You would expect maybe that number would be slightly lower in the Democratic Party given, sort of, the left's past comments on Palestine and the Israeli conflict. But it's pretty clear that regardless of party affiliation this is where the United States people are. And so, it's pretty clear what Biden can do to highlight or at least burnish his approval numbers on foreign policy.

At the same time, though, Kasie, I want to stress that I am usually pretty skeptical about how often a foreign policy event or conflict can play in any sort of domestic policy election in the United States. But I think that might be -- this might be an exception. I think that how Biden conducts himself on Israel and Palestine, and how the Republican primary also addresses it is going to direct the course of this next election cycle.

HUNT: Yeah, no. You know, I think -- I think that's actually really smart. And I think it's true because the Israel issue, while it's officially in the foreign policy category, is something that's also incredibly personal to people. It's incredibly tied up in many other ways in which people engage with politics in this country with the evangelical community on the Republican side and, of course, with Independent --


HUNT: -- voters who are going to be critical to deciding whether or not President Biden gets reelected.

Daniel Strauss, thank you as always, my friend, for being here. I really appreciate your time.

STRAUSS: Thanks so much.

HUNT: All right. Coming up next, more action on Israel's northern front and increasing concern over Hezbollah with Israel already at war with Hamas.



HUNT: Welcome back.

At Israel's northern border with Lebanon, the Israeli Defense Forces say they are hitting Hezbollah targets after seeing a significant uptick in skirmishes with Hezbollah fighters.

CNN's Clare Sebastian is live in London. Clare, good morning to you. What is driving the increase in these strikes and why now?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kasie. This has been going on, really, since day one -- since the day, October 7, when the Hamas rampage and massacre took place through southern Israel. We saw Palestinian militants fire rockets across the border of Lebanon into Israel. And since then, you've seen a sort of cycle of tit-for-tat attacks.

As to why the increase now, over the past few days, that the IDF is reporting -- well, over the weekend, we did see an Israeli strike kill a Reuters cameraman in Lebanon and injure two other Reuters journalists. That seems to have been the trigger for the increase on Wednesday. Hezbollah said that it attacked six Israeli border posts along that northern border. It claimed also to have attacked an Israeli tank. We're hearing about more cross-border attacks going into this morning.

And, of course, this is -- you know, this doesn't seem to be yet an attempt by Hezbollah to get involved in the conflict. They have not signaled that they're going in essentially to bat for Hamas but, of course, they do politically support Hamas. They are also backed by Iran.

This may just be a signal of their capabilities, which are significant. And it is dangerous. The chief of the general staff of the Israeli Defense Forces as in the

region this week and made it very, very clear that Israel would respond forcefully if provoked by Hezbollah. Take a listen, Kasie, to what he had to say.


HERZI HALEVI, CHIEF OF THE GENERAL STAFF OF THE ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES (through translator): We need to get to a point where there will be a victory in every encounter. If Hezbollah makes a mistake and strikes us, it will be destroyed, destroyed, destroyed.


SEBASTIAN: He goes on to say we're fighting for our home, our civilians, our sovereignty. It's clear that Israel sees this as existential and significant that he was there in the first place, Kasie, when Israel is laser-focused, of course, on the next potential stage in their fight against Hamas in the south.

HUNT: Right. Well -- so, Clare, the U.S. is also clearly incredibly concerned about this -- no -- because it would mark a pretty significant expansion.

SEBASTIAN: It would. Not only is Hezbollah more powerful and better armed than Hamas but, of course, it has tentacles throughout the region. It's been involved in several regional conflicts fighting on behalf of Bashar al-Assad's forces in Syria. It has alliances that might then become involved.

So it is really seen as a potential tinderbox in this conflict. That's why you see now two aircraft carrier strike groups the U.S. is deploying to the Eastern Mediterranean, along with other military assets that it's moving closer to Israel. Of course, on top of the frantic diplomacy that we saw President Biden in the region, I think this just shows how concerned they are -- and, in particular, Kasie, about that northern border.


HUNT: All right, Clare Sebastian in London for us. Thank you very much for your reporting this morning. I really appreciate it.

And thanks to all of you for joining us this morning. It's always wonderful to have you. I am Kasie Hunt. Don't go anywhere. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.