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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Biden Makes Case For Wartime Aid To Ukraine, Israel; This Morning: House Set To Vote Again On Jordan For Speaker; Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-TX) Discusses Wartime Aid And The House Speakership. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired October 20, 2023 - 05:30   ET



BETSY KLEIN, CNN PRODUCER: -- it is a critical moment for both the U.S. national security and the future of democracy.

Now, the president has often said this is an inflection point in history in the battle between autocracy, the world's dictators, and democracy. And he made the case that this is a critical point in that fight saying, really, it is time for the U.S. to step up.

Here's the president.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: American leadership is what holds the world together. American alliances are what keep us, America, safe. American values are what make us a partner that other nations want to work with. To put all that at risk if we walk away from Ukraine and if we turn our backs on Israel, it's just not worth it.


KLEIN: Now, President Biden said that supporting U.S. -- that supporting Israel and Ukraine is a smart investment. That it is imperative as we both seek to stop Russia and Hamas from causing more destruction across the globe. And also because it sends an important signal of deterrents to other bad actors and adversaries who are also seeking to cause -- to really build off of this --


KLEIN: -- the events of the last week.

And Biden was speaking directly to the American people. He was trying to galvanize support as the White House is about to make a $100 billion request for more assistance. That includes $60 billion for Ukraine, $10 billion for Israel, $14 billion for border security, something the White House is going to have to really sell.

And there's an uncertain path forward. They are confident that they will get bipartisan support. But without a speaker in the House of Representatives, the future is sort of uncertain timing-wise. HUNT: Entirely uncertain, Betsy. That's a very fair characterization.

You know, I think it's worth underscoring that this is really personal for the president -- this idea of defending democracy. It's the reason he argued he got into the 2020 campaign in the beginning of it all and it's really motivated him fundamentally.

He also, Betsy, talked about anti-Semitism and Islamophobia here at home?

KLEIN: Yeah, that's right. And I think that was really a moment that stood out as he spoke forcefully against both of those. We've seen a rising tide in both in the last week or so. And really making the case that this is the time for Americans not to be silent -- to step up, to call it out.

He also had a message for those who have been impacted and said listen, I see you and you are American.

HUNT: Yeah, all right.

Betsy Klein, thank you very much for being up early with us this morning. I really appreciate it.

KLEIN: Thanks.

HUNT: And more demonstrations underway right now over Israel's airstrikes on Gaza. The anger fueled, in part, by a Hamas narrative claiming that Israel struck that hospital in Gaza and as the State Department advises all Americans overseas to exercise increased caution in a worldwide alert.

CNN's Nada Bashir live in Amman, Jordan for us. Nada, explain to us what's going on behind you. What are you seeing? What are protesters trying to say?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well look, Kasie, behind me now Friday prayers are ongoing. (Audio gap) for Friday. But it is after these prayers they are expected to begin a march through downtown Amman in protest against (audio gap) the siege and, of course, in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Look, we've seen protests in Amman. We've seen protests across the Middle East from the outset of this war on an almost daily basis, but these demonstrations are getting bigger and bigger and they are spreading across the region as they are across the globe. And, in fact, here in Jordan, this is an issue which is deeply personal for many. More than 50 percent of the population are either Palestinian or of Palestinian descent.

When you walk around the city, that feeling -- that sentiment is clear. Many are hanging Palestinian flags out of their windows, out of their cars. Many chanting pro-Palestinian chants. This is a moment that is deeply important, deeply significant, deeply personal to many here. But it's not just in Jordan. We have seen protests in Lebanon, in

Egypt, in Libya, Tunisia, Iraq, and the occupied West Bank, and they are spreading. They are getting bigger. In Cairo, we know that protests will be taking place today with permission of the state. That is a significant move by the Egyptian government.

We've heard that vocal condemnation from Arab leaders as well. In fact, we've heard vocal condemnation from international rights groups. Independent U.N. experts have accused Israel of carrying out -- accused them of carrying out a siege that could amount to crimes against humanity. And this is an issue which is not going to go away here in the Middle East -- Kasie.

HUNT: Yeah, all right. Nada Bashir for us in Amman, Jordan. Thank you very much for that report.

All right, let's come back to Washington now because in just a few hours Republican Congressman Jim Jordan is planning to hold a news conference ahead of a planned 10:00 a.m. vote to choose a House speaker. This, if it plays out as we expect, would be the third vote since Kevin McCarthy was forced out. Jordan lost the first two rounds but he has vowed to keep trying.


This, despite a meeting last night with holdouts opposing his bid where Jordan tried to woo members to his side. Several Republicans told him they're immovable in their opposition and that he has no path to become speaker. Quote, "The purpose of the meeting was to make it crystal clear that it's over," these members said.

Multiple sources say an earlier GOP meeting grew heated with some members getting really angry at Jordan and Congressman Mike Bost cussing out Matt Gaetz who led the rebellion, of course, to depose McCarthy. McCarthy yelled at Gaetz to sit down, a reporting says. And when Gaetz didn't listen, another member in the room yelled "sit the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) down, Matt."

Afterwards, Gaetz seemed to shrug off the hostility.


REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): Oh, yeah. I think his passions are a little inflamed. I think he's working through the stages of grief and might be with the (INAUDIBLE).

REPORTER: Did Congressman Bost lunge at you as well?

GAETZ: What's that?

REPORTER: Did Congressman Bost lunge at you as well?

GAETZ: I think he was pretty animated. I don't know if I would describe it as a lunge.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: OK, so we're debating whether or not there was a physical fight over how to become Speaker of the House behind closed doors.

Let's bring in Tia Mitchell, the Washington correspondent at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Tia, good morning. It's lovely to see you.

Jordan has scheduled this 8:00 a.m. press conference after what was clearly a very contentious night of trying to convince people to get on board with him. We expect he's going forward to a third vote but I think we're all going to be listening very keenly because at this point, we're not 100 percent sure yet what he's going to say.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION (via Webex by Cisco): Right, and good morning to you as well.

It is -- it's very interesting that he's decided to go to the public first before the House convenes at 10:00 a.m. As you said, we don't know if he's going to forge forward. That's what we think he's going to do. That's where all signs are pointing that he is going to try a third time to be elected House Speaker.

But one of the reasons why it's unclear what Jim Jordan is doing is because as you've noted, the Republicans who oppose him were pretty resolute as things broke up last night that they're not changing their minds, and there are a lot of them.

Kevin McCarthy was removed from the speakership with eight opponents. Jim Jordan had about 20 last time there was a public count. Twenty-two to be exact. And so, he would need to flip all but four. He can only lose four votes. And so, it just doesn't look like he has the math but the signals are showing us that he might be wanting to move ahead with a third round of voting anyway.

HUNT: Right. And, of course, the sort of thing that's been dangled out there is this idea that they could install Patrick McHenry, who is the pro -- the temporary Speaker of the House for a limited period of time -- say, until January -- to keep the government open. To pass this funding for Israel and Ukraine that the White House wants to push through.

But the reality is Patrick McHenry really doesn't want the job and he keeps saying repeatedly my goal is to make Jim Jordan the speaker.

Does that still feel like a live possibility at this point?

MITCHELL: So, it doesn't feel like much of a possibility. Number one, not only because interim speaker McHenry has kind of thrown water on the idea. But when we were in the hallways talking with Republicans yesterday a lot of the rank-and-file members didn't want to go with that -- with that scenario. Didn't want to go with that possible way of breaking up the logjam.

A lot of them said their constituents want them to elect a speaker. They don't want to just kind of have someone appointed and empowered in the interim. So there were a lot of Republicans who said no, I would not support empowering McHenry on the floor.

Now, could it possibly pass with the help of Democrats, yes. But one of the things -- one of the themes, even back to October 3 and Kevin McCarthy's ouster, is that not only is this a problem of Republicans' making but they have not yet decided they are ready to engage with Democrats to get out of it. So, Speaker McCarthy did not engage with Democrats to try to keep his speakership.

And now that, for 2 1/2 weeks, the speakership has been vacant -- right now, Republicans are not ready to engage with Democrats on perhaps empowering McCarthy or something else that can be done to, again, open the House back up. So they're just engaging with each other and they're at an impasse. They can't find a path forward with Republicans only but they're not ready to negotiate with Democrats.


HUNT: Yeah. Kevin McCarthy was ready to talk to Democrats, like right there at the very end. It was like we've got a little bit of messaging suddenly -- oh, it's about the institution. And then there was a lot of anger leveled at Democrats when they declined to help him keep the gavel.

I mean, look, big picture here, Tia. You -- your paper is out of Georgia, a critical swing state that voted against Donald Trump and seemed to reject this -- these kinds of politics as well in Senate elections. It's been a pretty consistent reality. I mean, the bottom line is this is really reminding Americans of the chaos that goes with a Trumpian Republican Party.

MITCHELL: Yeah. And I think it's, again, something that Republicans internally have to wrestle with the fact that didn't come in a vacuum. And in a lot of ways, there were political benefits to aligning with President Trump -- to aligning with an America First mentality.

But now, some of these same Republicans are seeing what can come with it -- being targeted by far-right activists. They are saying they're receiving death threats. We have Georgia Rep. Drew Ferguson is one of those Republicans who currently doesn't support Jim Jordan and he said he and his family had faced death threats.

However, generally speaking, Republicans have been supportive of Donald Trump and supportive of trying to appease the conservative base as much as they can, but now they've reached their limit when it comes to Jim Jordan. But there are some aspects of the base who don't like that and are now kind of turning on some of these same Republican lawmakers.

HUNT: All right, Tia Mitchell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Thanks very much for being with us this morning. I really appreciate it.

And President Biden calling on Congress to answer the call and fortify the war efforts in Israel and Ukraine. Did he make his case? We're going to ask Texas Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett, up next.




BIDEN: We can't let petty partisan angry politics get in the way of our responsibilities as a great nation. We cannot and will not let terrorists like Hamas and tyrants like Putin win. I refuse to let that happen.


HUNT: President Biden making his case for more aid for Ukraine and Israel. The question is will Congress answer?

Let's bring in Democratic Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett of Texas. Congresswoman, good morning. I'm very grateful to have you.

REP. JASMINE CROCKETT (D-TX) (via Webex by Cisco): Good morning. It's good to see you, Kasie.

HUNT: So, as you just heard there, President Biden linked together these threats posed by Hamas and Putin. He wants billions of dollars for both of these things.

Do you agree that they are tied together?

CROCKETT: Oh, absolutely. You know, the unfortunate thing is most Americans do not vote for their leaders based upon their foreign policy chops, but the reality is that everything is kind of coming to a head. And most of the American people do not fully understand how much we do behind the scenes when it comes to financial aid in general to foreign countries.

And the fact that the president was able to tie together the border, tie together Israel, as well as the humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, as well as Ukraine, it's really important that we do that -- as well as Taiwan. They are all interrelated.

For everyone that says that we're being overrun, the best way to make sure that we're number one, not overrun, and that we do what we say we're going to do as good allies is to make sure that we help to stabilize these situations and help those modern-day democracies that believe in defending themselves and make sure that they can do that.

HUNT: Congresswoman, do you think that there is enough money in this request for the border? A lot of Republican critics of Ukraine funding say look, we've got all kinds of problems at home. Our border is in crisis. There's only $14 billion of this $100 billion request aimed at solving that problem.

Do you think that's enough?

CROCKETT: You know, I honestly -- I'm going to be very honest with you and tell you I don't know what the number is, and I honestly don't think that my Republican counterparts know what that number is either. Because we've been talking about border issues for years and seemingly, no one has resolved the issue.

But, once again, when we talk about foreign policy, one of the things that we need to make it clear about is that you have people that are risking their lives. People aren't risking their lives because things are just so amazing here. They're risking their lives because things are so bad at home. People don't naturally want to leave their homes and want to leave their families.

And so, what we need to make sure we do is number one, make sure that we're helping out these other foreign countries to make sure that people don't want to leave home. We've got to make sure that we've got good trade policies going. We've got to make sure that we are helping those modern-day democracies not crumble in front of their eyes.

And make sure that people don't want to come to the United States. And then when they do come to the United States, what we need to do is we need to make sure that people are working. If they are going to be here we need to help out those businesses that need the laborers and we need to make sure that we are not overburdening our --


CROCKETT: -- cities and saying that they need to take care of them.

HUNT: Yeah.

Let me ask you about -- one of your colleagues, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, put out an initial statement that seemed to blame Israel for the bombing of the hospital in Gaza. Obviously, the hospital bombing was an incredibly tragic event regardless of how it was caused, but the U.S. later assessed that the Israelis were not responsible for what happened.

Do you think that your colleague, who was quick to blame Israel, made a mistake?


CROCKETT: You know, I can't say what information she had that made her decide to put that statement out. We've not talked about that.

What I can say is that for me and my office, we wanted to remain very cautious about this. You know, I even received a text message from someone about this particular incident and they said well, you came out really quick against Hamas. And I said Hamas, number one, said they did it. Israel said they did it. No one actually took claim over what happened at the hospital.

So, for me, we are granted the ability to have top security clearance meetings where they give us this intel. So I said I can't go out on a limb, especially against one of our allies, and be wrong. So, for me, I decided that I needed to wait and get the information.

HUNT: Fair enough.

Let me ask you about what's going on in the House because obviously, your legislative body is currently unable to function entirely. We're expecting to hear from Jim Jordan here in just a couple of hours. We expect that to be him trying to convince people as to why he should continue to be speaker. We're expecting a third vote on the floor.

There is this question hanging out there about Patrick McHenry. And from your perspective -- I mean, Democrats would have to decide what to do if we were to get to that point -- whether or not they would support empowering McHenry temporarily with more power than he currently has as the temporary Speaker of the House.

Would you support McHenry taking on the speakership temporarily?

CROCKETT: So, as you can see, Democrats are united. So this is one of those things that we would have to game behind the scenes.

I do have my concerns about expanding upon the powers of the speaker pro tem. I want to make sure that whatever we do doesn't necessarily set a bad precedence. So I am concerned and we need to definitely look at the pros and cons.

And honestly, if we're just going to get more of the same, which is more of a nothing burger, then I'm not really interested. So we would have to have some guarantees.

We know that our Republican colleagues decided that they wanted to renege on the deal that they had already made with the president. So what will that look like? What are we talking about when we say we open the House back up? Because people keep saying that we're not getting anything done, but I would argue that we hadn't gotten anything done. If we had, then we wouldn't still have a looming shutdown over our head. We had months and months and months -- almost 10 months to pass a budget and it didn't get done.

So what does it mean to open the House? What exactly are we going to get done? Are we just going to pass resolutions that say that we stand with our allies or are we actually going to have thoughtful conversations and make sure we send the aid that they need?

HUNT: So, if the -- if you could get a commitment from Republicans to keep the government open at the levels that were agreed to between the president and Kevin McCarthy earlier this year -- if you could get a guarantee that some sort of Israel aid package -- Israel-Ukraine aid package was going to move, would that be enough for you -- for Democrats as you're in these rooms, or do Democrats need more than that from Republicans if they are going to help them out of this jam?

CROCKETT: Well, I mean, Hakeem Jeffries is our leader so I'm going to defer to him on it. But personally, I will say that would be a really good start in making sure that when we open the House we are doing the people's work in the people's house by doing exactly what was agreed upon and making sure that we could actually move forward.

Right now, the bills that they were passing -- they weren't going anywhere, anyway. You can't pass these crazy bills with these crazy spending cuts where we're going after the LGBTQIA community. Where you're trying to pass a national abortion ban in the form of appropriations. It's just never going to work. Not to mention the DEI issues that we have in so many of these bills.

So, once again, it depends on what we're going to do if we're going to open the House, but I don't see myself really going out there to try to throw the Republicans a bone just so that they can we finally got the House back open when they still aren't doing anything that is of value when they open the House.

HUNT: It's going to be an interesting week -- weekend -- a potential future with no Speaker of the House.

CROCKETT: Don't say weekend. Do not say the weekend.

HUNT: It sounds like that's what we're on track for.

Congresswoman Jasmine Crockett, thanks very much for your time. I really appreciate you being up early with us.

CROCKETT: Absolutely.

HUNT: All right. Israeli officials say their troops have the green light to enter Gaza. When the highly-anticipated ground invasion could begin, ahead on "CNN THIS MORNING."



HUNT: A key spokesman is one of several dozen members of Hamas detained in the West Bank this morning. The Israeli military describing it as part of a widescale counterterrorism operation which ended with more than five dozen members of Hamas in custody.

Reporter Elliott Gotkine is following developments live for us from London. Elliott, good morning to you.

This is drawing some fierce pushback from at least one Palestinian group. Can you explain who this person is and what we're hearing?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Kasie, he's a spokesman for Hamas. He's the main spokesman in the West Bank. He's spent a total of something like 24 years in Israeli prisons in his career.

And I suppose it a bit strange seeing this and wondering if this may not go down in the annals of the Shin Bet, the domestic security agency's greatest detective exploits because they've literally said that they've detained a spokesman for Hamas on -- and I quote this -- "suspicion of acting on behalf of Hamas," which I suppose is pretty obvious if he's a spokesman for them.

But I think what we're also seeing here more broadly is a blowing of the lines between I suppose the political side of Hamas and the military side. Israelis seemingly no longer making that distinction and is going after Hamas both in the West Bank and, of course, in the Gaza Strip. And the spokesman for the IDF, this morning, saying, in his words, "We

will go after -- we're going after each and every one of them," referring to anyone in Hamas inside the Gaza Strip that it thinks was involved in this terrorist attack on October 7, which has sparked this war that we're seeing right now.

There were some other interesting things that the spokesman was saying this morning, talking about the northern border with Lebanon and the flareups we've been seeing with Hezbollah.

The Iranian proxy in the south of Lebanon saying that, quite simply, "Every time they shoot, we'll shoot back." He said that the situation right now -- that Israel is trying to contain the situation and that Hezbollah knows where the line is to avoid this spiraling -- I suppose, out of control -- into another front.


He also gave some updates on the hostages. There are 203 hostages and 100 people missing -- Kasie.

HUNT: Just stunning numbers. So very difficult on both sides of this conflict at this point.

Elliott Gotkine, in London. Thank you very much for that report.

And thanks to all of you for joining us. I'm Kasie Hunt. Don't go anywhere. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.