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Secretary of State Blinken In Israel To Meet With Prime Minister Netanyahu; Tensions High On College Campuses Amid Israel- Hamas War; DeSantis Warns Trump Conviction Would Be "Fatal" In General Election. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired November 03, 2023 - 05:30   ET




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

And at this hour, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Tel Aviv meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As he got on his plane last night at Joint Base Andrews he said that he's going to be underscoring the need for Israel's military to minimize civilian casualties in their war against Hamas.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We've seen in recent days Palestinian civilians continue to bear the brunt of this action. And it's important that the United States is committed to making sure everything possible is done to protect civilians.


HUNT: Sources tell CNN that Blinken, President Biden, and his administration are warning Israel that the clock is ticking on Israel's war aims. The concern, public support for Israel could erode as the suffering in Gaza increases. Overnight, flares and explosions lit the skies over northern Gaza during a fierce bombardment.

CNN's Gustavo Valdes is live this morning in Tel Aviv. Gustavo, thank you for being here.

The IDF says that they've surrounded Gaza City and are intensifying operations. What does that mean in terms of Israel's progress toward their war aims?

GUSTAVO VALDES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what it means is that they see this as an opportunity to try to go after the Hamas leadership. But the question right now is how much Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to listen to Antony Blinken as they meet and try to find a solution to help those who are trapped in this operation -- this attack. You were mentioning how the Americans who have said that they support Israeli's right to defend themselves are also now calling perhaps for a little pause. Not a ceasefire but an opportunity to allow aid to get into the areas that are being hit the hardest by this Israeli activity in the area.

We keep hearing reports of hospitals being hit, people -- more people getting wounded, and the warnings that this could turn into a real humanitarian crisis.

And also, the regional leaders -- they are making increasing calls to have some restraint to try to avoid a larger regional crisis, especially in as we are expecting an important message -- proclamation later today by the leader of Hezbollah that is going to perhaps change the dynamics of what's happening in the region. That message later today could have larger implications.

But right now, the expectation is to see what is Benjamin Netanyahu going to do as he's listening to the U.S. Secretary of State.

HUNT: All right, Gustavo Valdes for us in Tel Aviv. Thank you very much for that report.

All right. We're going to bring in now Joel Rubin, former deputy assistant Secretary of State in the Obama administration. He -- Joel, good morning to you.

We have this picture from --


HUNT: -- the meeting that's going on right now -- or has been going on this hour between Benjamin Netanyahu and Antony Blinken. You see them there. Netanyahu's office just tweeted that out.

And what I want to kind of dig into here with you is the difference between what diplomats say in public and the message that they are trying to send behind closed doors. Because we can show what Blinken emphasized last night -- again, in public -- as he was leaving for Israel. Take a look.


BLINKEN: Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself and, again, to try to make sure that what happened never happens again. As democracies, the United States, Israel, and other democracies have a responsibility to do everything possible to protect civilians who may be caught in harm's way. I expect you'll see a focus there and particularly, how we can get, over time, two states for two people.


HUNT: So he mentioned there, obviously, the Israeli side -- Palestinian civilians looking at a two-state solution. But frankly, CNN's reporting is that the Blinken -- that Blinken and the Biden administration are being much more blunt with the Israelis in private.


What is your sense having been in some of these rooms and understanding kind of how this difference might play out what it may look like in private and how that's going over with the Israelis?

RUBIN: Yeah, Kasie, it's great to be with you.

Let's call this the tough love visit. What Sec. Blinken is doing is he's speaking to multiple audiences, clearly, as you point. First and foremost, he's speaking to the Israeli public and what he's doing there he's reassuring the Israeli public that the United States stands with Israel in its war against this blood-thirsty terrorist organization in Hamas.

But he's also -- to your point, he's going to talk tough to Prime Minister Netanyahu behind the scenes, of course, outlining the support the United States is providing. The support to try to ensure that Iran is deterred.

But also, he's saying what's your plan? I mean, this has been a consistent theme throughout, even prior to Israel's response to Hamas' October 7 attack. What is your plan for winning the peace, for securing dynamic after this conflict, and how are you going to provide assistance (PH) to the Palestinians.

And I think this reflects the domestic audience -- this last crucial audience, which is the American public. It's not a secret that the American politics are now roiling over this and over the response by Israel. And so, he's going to be very firm that there is a -- there's an unending level of support without questions or convictions on Israel right now, and he's going to have to make that very clear behind the scenes.

HUNT: Yeah, things really have shifted pretty quickly here --

RUBIN: Yeah.

HUNT: -- in terms of that.

And, in fact, to this point, in just the last couple of hours, overnight, 13 Democratic senators -- they published a letter urging a quote "short-term cessation of hostilities." So I'm going to with --

RUBIN: Yeah.

HUNT: -- that means pause to bring in aid and the minimize --

RUBIN: Yeah.

HUNT: -- harm to civilians.

You see them there. Mark Warner, in particular, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, signed onto this letter. That really stood out to me because he's not typically known as someone who is always in kind of the most progressive corners here.

What does this kind of -- this group and the sending of this letter say to you?

RUBIN: Certainly, Congress is on the continue -- on a continual dialogue with the White House and the State Department, and other agencies about what's happening. And it's feeling the heat domestically, but it's also concerned about the broader picture for American national security in the region.

You know, we've just gotten out of a couple of decades of war in the Middle East and nobody wants to see us get pulled in. And this means that our strategy has to ensure that a) we're supporting Israel, but that b) we also understand that Israel knows that we have needs, too, and that we need to keep the region from flaring and having this become a regional war.

And I think you're going to see Sen. Warner, in this case, coming in. That's how he thinks. He thinks about the broader national security question, understanding that the threat environment is not so simple as one country versus one terrorist organization. We've been through that in the United States. One country versus a terrorist organization, be it al Qaeda or ISIS -- it doesn't resolve all the problems.

So they're giving some support from President Biden and President Biden and Sec. Blinken, in this case, is going to point to the prime minister and say look, your friends, our friends, Congress -- they are telling us we need to have some hard answers. And he can bring that as well and that will strengthen him on this trip.

HUNT: Yeah, that is an interesting way to look at it. Perhaps this letter should be viewed as cover, basically, for the Biden administration to kind of say hey --

RUBIN: Yeah.

HUNT: -- this is kind of where things stand and it's not just -- it's not just us.

Joel Rubin, thank you very much --

RUBIN: Thanks.

HUNT: -- for being with -- up with us.

RUBIN: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: I appreciate your time.

All right. House Speaker Mike Johnson makes the first move in a fight with Democrats and the White House over war funding. The House passed a $14.3 billion standalone emergency aid package for Israel. It does not include funding for Ukraine. And it includes cuts at the Internal Revenue Service to pay for some of this emergency aid. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the bill "deeply flawed"

and says it won't even be considered by the Senate. This is the first time that aid to Israel has been conditioned on other policies.

And Cornell University has canceled classes today to acknowledge the quote "extraordinary stress" its campus has been under. One of Cornell's students has been arrested after being accused of making violent antisemitic threats against Jewish people at the school.

Since the conflict started last month, Jews, Palestinians, and Muslims in the U.S. have expressed growing fears over a reported spike in hate-motivated attacks. The Anti-Defamation League says compared to a year ago, they have recorded a nearly 400 percent increase in antisemitic incidents in the days following the Hamas attacks.

Joining us to help us understand what it's like on college campuses right now, especially for Jewish students, is Ethan Fine. He is a junior at Indiana University and president of the Indiana Israel Public Affairs Committee.


Ethan, thank you for getting up early. I know I remember when I was in college, 5:00 a.m. would not have been a fun wake-up for me.

But I know what we're here to talk about is obviously pretty serious and I'd like to hear from you what your experience has been on campus in recent weeks and especially, how it's changed since this conflict broke out.

ETHAN FINE, JUNIOR AT INDIANA UNIVERSITY (via Webex by Cisco): Yeah, absolutely, and thanks so much. Good morning. I really appreciate the opportunity to be here.

So, Jewish students across the country are facing a wave of antisemitic intimidation, harassment, and physical violence unlike anything I think anyone has ever seen before. We're being attacked on campus by anti-Israel, pro-Hamas students who are really just spreading these horrific messages.

At Indiana, specifically, we've seen antisemitic graffiti littered around campus. Antisemitic slogans like "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free." These are calls to wipe out the state of Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

On campus, specifically, at Indiana, we've -- Jewish students have been censored. The Indiana Daily Student, our news -- our newspaper on campus, published an op-ed that literally called for the elimination of the state of Israel, and that's just unacceptable. Jewish students tried to respond to that by publishing op-eds, but also some rebuttal pieces. They were denied.

And so there's really an effort not only to censor Jewish students but to intimidate them, and it's coordinated. The same newspapers repeatedly defended the Hamas terrorist attacks by trying to contextualize them, and there's no doing that. I mean, imagine if a Jewish student wrote an article in the newspaper

on campus saying that Gaza should be destroyed. That would be absolutely abhorrent. And there would be no safe place on campus. They would be ostracized because that's just really an absolutely horrible position to take.

But that's exactly what's happening on campus -- on campuses across the country. People are calling for the annihilation of the state of Israel. They are calling for more dead Jews. And it's really -- it's really scary.

HUNT: Yeah.

FINE: And we're not intimidated. We're not going to be censored.

And you spoke about what happened at Cornell and, I mean, those language -- that language and that rhetoric is being repeated across the country.

HUNT: Ethan, what would you like to see the administrators of your university be doing right now?

FINE: Absolutely phenomenal question. And look -- and I'll start by saying that Indiana has been a phenomenal place for Jewish students, and that's actually one of the main reasons that I -- that I committed here and decided to go here.

But there's a lot that can be done in addition to condemning Hamas and issuing statements of support for Jewish students. And first and foremost, there has to be really strictly enforcing the student code of conduct. Intimidation and harassment are not allowed. And there's a -- you know, students on campuses have the right to free speech but there's a limit. The code of conduct needs to be enforced.

Indiana University, in 2018, formally endorsed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition of antisemitism. And when I was in student government, we worked to pass that in student government as well. And that blatant -- that very plainly lays out what is and isn't antisemitic.

And there's a ton that the university can do while still working within the confines of students' First Amendment rights to very clearly just say if you call for the destruction of the state of Israel, that's antisemitic. If you hold Israel to a double standard, that's antisemitic. Refusing Jewish students the right to -- the Jewish people the right to self-determination, that's antisemitic. And holding Jewish students accountable for what's happening in Israel, historically or currently what's going on, that's antisemitic.

HUNT: Right.

FINE: All those things are happening and that needs to be -- that needs to be addressed. And students who are harassing and intimidating other Jewish students need to be held accountable.

We had a professor here at Indiana University, just yesterday, rip down posters of hostages. And he, himself, called it tribalist propaganda. He said that Jews are using our pain for propaganda. I mean, that is just (audio gap).

We are -- we are facing hostile environments in the classroom and the dorms. Students are being harassed in the dorms for being Jewish and supporting Israel. And something needs to be done. The universities need to address it beyond just saying we condemn Hamas and stand with Jewish students.

HUNT: All right, Ethan Fine. Thank you very much for being with us. It's an important perspective --

FINE: Thank you.

HUNT: -- to bring. Have a -- have a wonderful day.

FINE: Thank you so much.

HUNT: All right, up next here, Ron DeSantis trying to stomp out what some are now calling "Bootgate." So why are we talking about foot fetishes? That's next.




GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is no time for foot fetishes. We've got serious problems as a country.


HUNT: Not unfair. Not an unfair statement. If the shoe fits, I guess, wear it?

Ron DeSantis has been trying to quash rumors that he wears lifts in his boots to appear taller. You see the boots in question right here. You can see it under the banners. There we go.

The Florida governor was confronted over this by a podcaster this week -- watch.


PATRICK BET-DAVID, PBD PODCAST: And what they're trying to say with this is that in your boots you have heels.

DESANTIS: No, no, no.

BET-DAVID: That's what they're trying to say.

DESANTIS: Yeah. Those are just standard off-the-rack Lucchese.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: Let's take one more look at the boots. Just let's look at them again. Let's take that banner down and look at those boots. Oh, that's him walking across the stage. So he might lose an inch or two with a pair of plain old loafers.


He, I guess, has not lost his sense of humor about this. Take a look.


DESANTIS: I know Donald Trump and a lot of his people have been focusing on things like footwear. I'll tell you this. You know, if Donald Trump can summon the balls to show up to the debate, I'll wear a boot on my head.


HUNT: OK, let's bring in Daniel Strauss, CNN national political reporter. Daniel, we are, once again -- I don't know if I quite want to say gutter politics but we're not that far off. The DeSantis campaign is selling golf balls around this as well on their website to try to underscore the point that he was making. I will say he does seem to be trying to be a little more humorous about it than perhaps he's been in the past.

What do you make of this?

DANIEL STRAUSS, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: You are clearly loving this. Look, I mean, there's always some sort of silliness or, like, quirkiness to a campaign season.

Remember in 2016, Marco Rubio and drinking water, or there was a discussion about the size of hands of Republican candidates. And this is just that.

I guess you can argue that this is really -- the deeper question here is that whether Ron DeSantis is phony even about his shoe size and height and will admit to who he really is, I guess. But it's just -- this is just what happens in a campaign cycle. It's kind of fun.

HUNT: Yeah. Well -- and obviously, the undertones of masculinity -- who's masculine and who's not.

I appreciated Nikki Haley getting in there being, like, well, I can run in high heels. I don't know about you boys.

STRAUSS: He should just embrace -- you know, has he said short king yet? He should just go for it. Come on. Like -- I mean, the golf balls is -- you know, that's part of it, right?

HUNT: Yeah, of course.

So, speaking of DeSantis -- I mean, on a more --

STRAUSS: Yes. HUNT: -- kind of serious note, I -- he, yesterday, was -- did an interview where he essentially said it would be fatal for Republicans to nominate someone who was convicted of a crime. That obviously is different from what happened when he raised his hand on the debate stage to say that he would vote for a convicted felon in Donald Trump where he to be the nominee.

I talked to Chris Christie about this yesterday. Take a look at what Christie had to say.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, then, I wonder why he raised his hand at the first debate and said that he would support him even if he was convicted, let alone indictments? If he was a convicted felon, he said he would support him. Now, Gov. DeSantis had to cheat off everybody's paper before he made that answer on the debate stage and was the last to make a decision on that one. But now maybe he's changing his mind.

I don't know. We don't know which Ron DeSantis to believe. We don't know which Nikki Haley to believe. She raised her hand and said she would support him even if he was a convicted felon.


HUNT: It is a pretty remarkable switch for DeSantis.

STRAUSS: Yeah. I mean, look, the truth about this is that among the supporters -- some of the supporters that both DeSantis and Trump depend -- they don't feel that any of the alleged crimes Donald Trump faces are actually things he perpetrated. They feel that this is part of a larger quote-unquote "witch hunt" to undermine Trump and his candidacy.

So, for DeSantis, this is another example of how he's worried and trying to not alienate those voters that he needs that say that they will vote for him if Trump were out of the race, but also contrast himself with Trump. It's a very, very tough road to navigate.

HUNT: Daniel, the next debate is coming up on Wednesday. It is Ron DeSantis' last chance?

STRAUSS: No, I don't think so. I mean, look, he is one of the more -- his name I.D. is higher than most candidates. He has one of the better war chests. It is not an ideal position for any candidate to be moving most of their operation to one state as DeSantis has done with Iowa.

But look, at the same time, the oxygen is leaving the room. Each time -- there are fewer and fewer so-called chairs on stage for these debates. And Trump has maintained a significant lead throughout this entire primary. So there's --

HUNT: Yeah.

STRAUSS: We're running out of time here for some kind of surge of another candidate.

HUNT: And while he is very much at risk if not already in a position where Nikki Haley is basically surpassing him in the face for second place, which could be a death (INAUDIBLE) for him.

Daniel Strauss, happy Friday. Thanks very much for being here.

STRAUSS: Happy Friday.

HUNT: Have a good weekend.


HUNT: All right. Coming up this morning, we're going to hear from Joe Biden's top diplomat who is back in Israel right now. More on Antony Blinken's balancing act in Tel Aviv. That's next.



HUNT: Welcome back.

The Steelers pull off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Titans on "THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL."

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Andy, good morning.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yeah, good morning, Kasie.

Those terrible towels were out for Thursday night football and the Steelers sending all those fans home happy with a win over the Titans. But it was not easy. They were down 16-13 midway through the fourth quarter.

Kenny Pickett leading Pittsburgh on an 11-play 92-yard drive ending on this touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson. That was his first T.D. catch since 2021. So the Steelers take the lead.

But it was a scary moment for Tennessee as they did try to answer. Wide receiver Treylon Burks -- he's going to go up trying to catch this ball and his head is going to hit hard on the turf. He would remain down.

A stretcher actually would come out to get him. Burks did give the thumbs up on his way out. And after the game, Coach Mike Vrabel said he was alert and moving.

Pittsburgh would get a late interception and hold on to win that game 20-16.

All right, to the NBA where Victor Wembanyama -- the Spurs taking on Kevin Durant and the Suns for the second time in three days. Wemby leading San Antonio to a big 27-point lead in this one before the Suns came storming all the way back. They tied the game in the fourth quarter. But Wemby would then score 10 points in a two-minute stretch. The 19- year-old 7-foot-four rookie going off for a career-high 38 points to go along with 10 rebounds and two blocks as the Spurs pull away to win 132-121. Wemby now just the third teenager in league history to put up those kind of numbers, joining LeBron and Kevin Durant.

All right, and finally, last night's matchup between TCU and Texas Tech interrupted by a loose opossum on the field. Check this out. The critter galloped toward the goal line before finally being captured. He did not go quietly, though. Kasie, it was hanging onto the turf --

HUNT: Oh my goodness.

SCHOLES: -- with those sharp claws -- look at him -- as he was dragged out of the stadium.


So it was 7-7 when the opossum took the field. Tech went on to win 35- 28.

So, Kasie, maybe they need to keep that opossum around somewhere. Maybe keep it in the stadium off to the side or something.

HUNT: It is the new mascot. Oh my God, I love this. I'm obsessed. He's like don't -- I want to watch the game, too. What are doing with me?

All right.

SCHOLES: That's great.

HUNT: Well, that's a great way to start the weekend, Andy. Thank you very much --

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: -- for being with us this morning.

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