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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Newly-Released Hamas Hostage Describes Kidnapping And Captivity; This Morning: House GOP To Start Voting For New Speaker; Police Identify Person Of Interest In Murder Of Detroit Synagogue President. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired October 24, 2023 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good Tuesday morning. Thank you for being up early with us. I am Kasie Hunt. It is 5:30 here on the East Coast, 12:30 in Israel.

One of the two Israeli women released from Gaza just hours ago by Hamas spoke to the media from a Tel Aviv hospital where she and another former hostage have been treated. We're going to have more on that in just a moment.

President Biden said Monday all the hostages will have to be freed before the U.S. will ever consider pushing for a ceasefire in Gaza.


REPORTER: Why did you --

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we should have a ceasefire -- not a ceasefire. We should have those hostages released, and then we can talk.


HUNT: The U.S. continues to stand behind Israel as they lay the groundwork for an invasion of Gaza.

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is deepening. One hospital now completely without power. Hamas accuses Israel of a crime against humanity for barring the import of fuel into Gaza.

Now, CNN's Rafael Romo is live in Tel Aviv. Rafael, we just witnessed a very remarkable press conference from Yocheved Lifshitz, one of the two newly-released hostages. It was just a stunning thing to watch unfold. She says, "I went through hell. I was kidnapped on a motorbike driving toward Gaza in the field."

She then went on to talk about the treatment that she received at the hands of her captors. She says she and four other hostages were separated. There was one who was very ill who was treated with antibiotics. The message she seemed to be sending was that they were treating her well.

Of course, we can't lose sight of the fact that this was after Hamas butchered 1,400-plus Israelis and took, of course, more than 200 of them hostage as part of this.

What else did you hear as you listened to her speak?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kasie, and that's a very good observation. I think what she was trying to tell was that they were treated very harshly when they were kidnapped and taken hostage, and then everything changed and they were treated in a more gentle way once they were in Gaza.

And, Kasie, let me tell you, she appeared in remarkably good condition considering that she was in captivity for the least two weeks. And let's remember she's 85 years old. Her name is Yocheved Lifshitz and was telling journalists at a hospital here in Tel Aviv that she was taken into Gaza on a motorcycle, if you can imagine this, Kasie.

Let's hear what she just had to say a few moments ago.


YOCHEVED LIFSHITZ, HAMAS HOSTAGE RELEASED FROM CAPTIVITY (through translator): The lack of awareness of Shin Bet and the IDF hurt us a lot. They warned us three weeks beforehand and feels they sent fire balloons, and the IDF did not treat it seriously.


ROMO: And Kasie, she said she was hit with sticks and then was taken not a tunnel, describing a network of tunnels that looks like a spider web. That they were damp and moist and there was a paramedic. Once they got there, there was a paramedic there with them and then a doctor who went to see them every two to three days and also gave them access to medication.

She made one observation, Kasie, that was very interesting. She said they built a wall -- by they, they mean the Israeli government -- a very expensive fence that could not stop the terrorists from coming to get us, she said.

And we learned earlier that the two women released from Hamas custody yesterday, including Yocheved Lifshitz, who just spoke a short time ago as we just heard, and Nurit Cooper, who is 79 years old, had a very emotional reunion with relatives when they finally were able to get to the hospital here in Tel Aviv -- Kasie.

HUNT: Yeah, it's just an -- just an unbelievably remarkable situation. We also heard her there criticizing the Shin Bet and the IDF for what they did not do in the leadup to this massacre.


ROMO: Um-hum.

HUNT: Rafael Romo, thanks very much for your reporting. I really appreciate it.

All right, let's go to this story. In just hours, House Republicans are going to try, try again to nominate a speaker who can actually get 217 votes on the House floor. Signs, so far, not encouraging. For example, there are now eight Republicans running for speaker after, of course, Kevin McCarthy was voted out. Two other members of their leadership saw their bids flame out.

Now, the ones that are remaining here -- none of them are household names. There had been nine until Pennsylvania's Dan Meuser dropped out of the running on Monday after the closed-door candidate forum. He's under that red X there.

Many House Republicans seem to be bordering on a state of despair about how chaotic the three-week fight for the gavel has been and how it reflects on their party and, of course, the prospects or lack thereof for holding a majority after 2024.


REP. BRETT GUTHRIE (R-KY): I think they just want government to function and this is not -- this is dysfunctional. And I just feel as that we're not functioning as a -- as a majority. And when you lose that usability to govern -- I mean, that's what we need to do.

REP. VERN BUCHANAN (R-FL): The people are very worked up down there about that and I think all of us are incapable. So we've got to stay here until we get it done.


HUNT: "People are very worked up down there."

Joining us now, CNN's Annie Grayer, who covers Capitol Hill for us. Annie, good morning. Thank you very much for being here.

This is a complete mess and I'm getting the increasing sense that they don't have confidence that they can unify around anyone. They don't really know what the plan -- what plan B would even look like. There is this push to try to get it done by the end of the night tonight.

Where do things stand?


What I've learned covering this is what we're told to expect is often not what is actually going to end up happening. I mean, we are now three --

HUNT: Fair.

GRAYER: -- weeks in without a speaker and Republicans have not been able to unify around one candidate.

But this morning, they are going to try again. They're going to meet behind closed doors and vote to try and elect a speaker nominee. Now, how that's going to work is -- as you mentioned, there are eight candidates, as you can see here.

TEXT: Tom Emmer, Mike Johnson, Kevin Hern, Byron Donalds, Pete Sessions, Jack Bergman, Austin Scott, Gary Palmer.

GRAYER: And Republicans are going to vote on secret ballot and each candidate who receives the least amount of votes with each round will get dropped out until there is one candidate who gets the majority of the votes. They will then be the speaker nominee. But Kasie, that's just part one.

As you mentioned, whoever is going to become speaker has to be able to get 217 votes on the House floor. And as we've seen with majority leader Steve Scalise in his bid and chairman Jim Jordan in his bid for speaker, both men had serious opposition preventing them from getting 217.

These eight candidates are largely unknown what their roadblocks will be but, in time, 9:00 a.m., and we'll see if there are -- there's anyone who can get consensus.

HUNT: I will say -- you know, I was -- I have been talking to a couple of sources and there did seem to be a question in a sense that while maybe they need to hit absolute rock bottom before they can try and use some sort of different solution, whether that's giving Patrick McHenry the gavel or -- I mean, as you point out, like, who knows what?

I was a little surprised to hear them say they didn't quite think that they had hit rock bottom yet. It seems like it could go either way today. Either they could actually hit rock bottom or maybe they'll figure it out.

GRAYER: I mean, Kasie, I think it's kind of like in the eyes of the beholder what rock bottom is. I mean, we are now three weeks with no speaker, which means that the House cannot pass bills. It can't work towards keeping the government open, which has a November 17 deadline. It can't provide aid to Israel, which with the war unfolding as we are seeing in real time, how much help is needed. It also can't help the war in Ukraine.

So what is it going to take for Republicans to unify? I mean, that is the question that I, too, am asking everyone -- all of my sources and everyone I see. And nobody seems to be able to give kind of a clear answer of what that final breaking point will be to get 217 votes and move on with this.

HUNT: Right.

Let's talk about Tom Emmer for a second. He is widely considered the frontrunner if you could call it that. He is the only one who is currently running who holds a post in the existing leadership.

But obviously, we've heard that the former president, Donald Trump, is not thrilled with Emmer. Now, there was some public back-and-forth yesterday and Emmer seemed to say hey, I'm going to work with Donald Trump. How much of a factor is the Trump effect in this right now?

GRAYER: Look, I think it's -- there's some effect but it's really unclear, I think, how big of an effect Donald Trump has in this speaker's race because Trump stuck his neck out and endorsed Jim Jordan for speaker and we all know how that turned out. Jordan couldn't get to 217 votes and had to drop out on Friday.


So I think there is some skepticism that the Donald Trump factor here will have an impact on Tom Emmer. But the two spoke over the weekend. There seems to be, at least publicly, a positive vibe between the two even if there is a history behind the scenes. So I think it's a kind of wait-and-see on that front.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, the former president started out thinking yeah, there's not really much in this for me. And then he kind of got involved, got a little bit burned, and I feel like we're kind of back to that.

OK, we're going to try and let them figure it out.

Annie Grayer, thank you very much for starting off what I'm sure is going to be a very long day early with us. I really appreciate it.

GRAYER: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: All right, we're going to go to some quick hits across America now.

Longtime fixer-turned-critic Michael Cohen is set to testify at Donald Trump's civil fraud trial in New York today. Attorney General Letitia James says that her office opened their investigation after Cohen told Congress in 2019 that Trump significantly overstated his wealth before taking office.

Police in Detroit have identified persons of interest in the stabbing death of a synagogue president but they say they're not yet ready to name a suspect. They say the assailant likely acted alone and they think it wasn't motivated by anti-Semitism -- OK.

And New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez entered a plea of not guilty to a charge alleging that he conspired to act as a foreign agent to Egypt, but the senator left the courthouse without comment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have anything to say to your constituents?



HUNT: He later described this charge as, quote, "as outrageous as it is absurd" -- OK.

All right. Up next, President Biden determined to get his response to the Israel-Hamas war just right. What he says about the possibility of a ceasefire, next.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Two more hostages have been released by Hamas but there are still more than 200 being held captive. President Biden spoke about Hamas in relation to the hostage situation on Monday.



BIDEN: I think we should have a ceasefire -- not a ceasefire. We should have those hostages released, and then we can talk.


HUNT: Hmm.

Wolf Blitzer asked John Kirby about Biden's comments.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": What did the president mean by saying "and then we can talk"? Is a ceasefire, John, on the table if Hamas releases all of the hostages?

JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESPERSON: I thought the message was pretty clear to Hamas. Release all the hostages. That needs to be -- that needs to be the first move here. They've got to release all the hostages. We're not talking about a ceasefire right now. In fact, we don't believe that this is the time for a ceasefire.


HUNT: All right, let's bring in Joel Rubin. He's the former deputy assistant Secretary of State for legislative affairs in the Obama administration. He's also a Democratic candidate for Congress in Maryland. Joel, good morning to you.

The -- what the president had to say there -- he, it seems, clearly misspoke, saying oh, we should have a ceasefire before quickly correcting himself and saying no, we shouldn't have a ceasefire until these hostages are released.

Obviously, there have been calls from the Europeans and from other nations in the region saying this ceasefire should happen. The U.S., at this point, seems to say absolutely not. These hostages need to be released before we even consider talking about that. I have a really hard time seeing that changing. What's your view?


I agree with you. I think right now the talk of a ceasefire is very much an inside ball -- a political one here in Washington. But the administration has been clear the whole time that they are not going to tell Israel what to do directly in terms of military operations. And there is space for those operations to go forward. Even President Obama, yesterday, posted that he's not calling for a ceasefire.

So I think what we're seeing is this sort of delicate dance where there are civilians in harm's way. There are hostages right now. No one controls whether or not they're going to be released. Qatar is negotiating. The Israelis and Hamas are talking through Qatar. And so, there's clearly a real concern about whether or not they would get trapped in any military offensive.

But a ceasefire certainly is being pushed publicly but is not really in the cards right now from the administration.

HUNT: Well -- and, of course, the question whether a military operation to rescue some of these hostages might be the best move.

RUBIN: Yeah.

HUNT: Unclear at this point. Lots of fog around that question.

I want to show you a little bit -- and earlier this hour, we had a remarkable press conference from Yocheved Lifshitz. She is one of the two Hamas hostages that was just released. And she was accompanied by her daughter at a Tel Aviv hospital where she spoke and we have kind of a brief piece of what she had to say. There's some translation, of course, because she wasn't speaking English. But take a look at what -- some of what she had to say.


SHARONE LIFSCHITZ, DAUGHTER OF HAMAS HOSTAGE, TRANSLATING FOR HER MOTHER: There are a huge network of tunnels underneath. It looks like a spider web.


HUNT: That, of course, her daughter translating --

RUBIN: Yeah.

HUNT: -- what she had just said. You know, she kind of told the story. She said, "I went through hell." She was on the back of a motorbike. She was bruised. And then she was taken into these tunnels.

I mean, just your reaction?

RUBIN: I mean, the whole emotional rollercoaster of what she was describing -- I was listening to it earlier and trying to hear some of the Hebrew that she was using as well. And she's a very interesting person also in terms of her story. She's a peace activist and sort of describing the nightmare of being taken, then being treated decently.


And then -- I've got to tell you it was remarkable -- her sort of direct criticism of the Israeli Defense Force. That's going to send shockwaves in Israel, certainly, because the IDF is looking to invade and the Israeli people need to have confidence in the IDF. So a seething, sort of an anger about the failure of Israel to protect its southern cities.

And I think that's also going to this question of the ceasefire. Israelis don't want a ceasefire because they don't want to have a perpetual threat coming at them from Hamas, and holding off right now would lock that threat in.

And so, there's a lot going on. The emotions, clearly, are high in Israel right now. And getting her out is -- thank goodness she's out. And it just reminds you about how many people are still in captivity. Every life saved is saving a universe, as we say in Judaism. So it's wonderful that she's free.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, you're right to point that out. I mean, she directly criticized, as well -- the quote was, "The lack of awareness of Shin Bet." And she said --

RUBIN: Um-hum.

HUNT: -- that they warned us -- she's talking about Hamas there.

RUBIN: Yeah.

HUNT: Three weeks earlier, she's claiming, that they warned them. In fact, I think we can actually show everyone what exactly it was she said about this that you were just talking about. Take a look.


Y. LIFSHITZ (through translator): The lack of awareness of Shin Bet and the IDF hurt us a lot. They warned us three weeks beforehand and feels they sent fire balloons, and the IDF did not treat it seriously.


HUNT: Joel, do you have a sense of what she means there about these fire balloons and that the IDF did not take it seriously?

RUBIN: Yeah. You know, Kasie, the specifics of that I'm not exactly sure because we obviously weren't there. But clearly, the people on the southern border -- and that's where she lived -- were very aware of Hamas activity underway and were concerned.

And, you know, there's a covenant between the people of Israel and their defense forces. The covenant is that we serve. We are all conscripted. All of Israelis are conscripted after age 18 unless they're exempted for religious reasons. And the trade-off is that we get security and good leadership.

And so, right now, what she's implying is that nobody listened to them. Nobody paid attention to them on the southern border. In fact, they were left alone to fend for themselves.

And the nightmare that unfolded -- that doesn't undermine the argument that the Israeli Defense Force needs to take action, but it does point to a seething anger and frustration inside the Israeli public right now that they are in this position and that they were left defenseless in many instances.

And this is not unique to her. This is a discussion point across the board in Israel and it is something that is going to continue to dog the government of Israel regardless of where things head in the military operation.

HUNT: Yeah.

You know, you mentioned her background as a peace activist.

RUBIN: Yeah.

HUNT: And one of the other things -- I was talking with a gentleman who used to work for the FBI about what's going on from Hamas' perspective in terms of choosing to release here. Because in addition to saying these things and criticizing the IDF, she also spoke about the fair treatment she received at the hands of doctors, medics, and others once she actually was inside Gaza. The message seeming to be OK, they're treating these hostages well. That, obviously, something in Hamas' interest. A message in Hamas' interest to send and one that she did give them.

What is your view of the strategy behind that?

RUBIN: Very complex and very politically savvy. Hamas is dripping out the release of individuals. The release of two Americans over the weekend certainly made news here in the United States and it's going to make news in Israel -- these being Israeli civilians.

And it is buying time if you're Hamas. They're buying time. They're trying to figure out ways to prevent further onslaught. They're using these human shields intentionally. There's a reason why they stole a couple hundred civilians is to make trades and make deals and fortify themselves.

But it does still bring in the human connection and it does have an impact on the psychology of the Israeli body politics -- Israel's body politics, certainly -- the discussion that we're having now. It's going to impact the discussion today here.

And it just puts a human face on the tragedy of this entire situation. The human face of Israeli civilians getting murdered, of Palestinian civilians getting killed in harm's way of a terrorist organization cruelly committing acts against the Israelis and its own people to accelerate this and provoke this kind of military conflagration. And so, it just adds more complexity to it.


I don't think it changes the overall strategic picture but it really does bring people's hearts into this even deeper.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, watching her, frail as she was, and that.

RUBIN: Yeah.

HUNT: She's 85 years old. To listen to her talk about the ordeal that she went through with -- as her daughter translated -- I mean, just a -- just a stunning -- a stunning image.

Joel Rubin, thank you very much for your time --

RUBIN: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: -- this morning.

And we have had a very emotional morning here as one of the hostages just released by Hamas was speaking out just a short time ago, telling the world that she went through hell. You're going to hear more from her ahead on "CNN THIS MORNING." Don't go anywhere.