Return to Transcripts main page

Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Israeli Ground Troops Conducting Operation at Gaza Hospital; Soon: Biden to Meet with China's Xi in High-Stakes Sit-Down; GOP Tensions Hit New Peak: Claims of Punching, Violent Threats. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired November 15, 2023 - 05:00   ET




Gaza's largest hospital becomes a warzone as Israel launches a, quote, precise and targeted operation against Hamas targets with patients still inside.

Plus, the world is watching as President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping are set to meet just hours from now.

And, a shutdown averted on Capitol Hill, but several lawmakers still spoiling for a fight, literally.


REP. TIM BURCHETT (R-TN): Got elbowed in the back and it kind of caught me off guard because it was a clean shot to the kidneys.

SEN. MARKWAYNE MULLIN (R-OK): You want to do it now?

SEAN M. O'BRIEN, TEAMSTERS GENERAL PRESIDENT: I'd love to do it right now.

MULLIN: Well, stand your butt up then.

O'BRIEN: You stand your butt up, big guy.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT): Hold -- stop it.


HUNT: Good morning to our viewers in the United States and around the world. We're going to have more on those shenanigans a little later. I am Kasie Hunt. It's Wednesday, November 15th. It is 5:00 a.m. here in Washington, noon in Gaza where Israeli troops are searching the Al- Shifa hospital room by room and what Israel calls a precise and targeted operation. Israel claims the hospital sits on top of an underground Hamas command center, and that hostages were being kept at the facility.

But, Israeli radio reported a short time ago that the military had not yet found any indication hostages are in fact in the hospital. They say the search continues. And Israeli defense forces spokesman says the military is doing whatever it can to protect patients and civilians sheltering at Al-Shifa.


PETER LERNER, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES SPOKESPERSON: When approaching the hospital, we indeed informed the administrators to keep away from the windows, to make sure that the patients and civilians inside the complex keep away from the windows and take cover, because we intend on conducting our military operation in order to differentiate and distinguish between the civilians and the terrorists.


HUNT: All right. We're going to have much more on the ongoing situation at Al-Shifa in just a moment.

But all of this comes hours ahead of a highly consequential meeting between President Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The sit down comes with U.S.-China relations at a low point over Taiwan and a host of other issues. On Tuesday, Biden painted America's global leadership as resurgent, while suggesting China's economic troubles were causing real problems for its people.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: From my perspective, if in fact the Chinese people who are in trouble right now, economically, if the average home owner -- the home owner -- if the average citizen in China was able to have a decent paying job, that benefits them and it benefits all of us.


HUNT: All right. Let's bring in Robert Daly. He's the director of the Kissinger Institute on China and the United States.

Robert, good morning. It's wonderful to see you.

This meeting is obviously generating quite a bit of attention. In your view, what does success look like, here, for the president of the United States?

ROBERT DALY, DIRECTOR, KISSINGER INSTITUTE ON CHINA & THE UNITED STATES: I think that for President Biden, if he is able to make his concerns about the relationship known to China, if he is able to have a fairly smooth meeting without some of the snafus that have plagued previous meetings, then that's really enough. It would be good if you could also get an agreement on military to military dialogue and resuming that dialogue. He already has some agreement from the Chinese side to be more cooperative in trying to cut the trade of fentanyl precursors.

But primarily, what he wants to do is signal to the American people and signal to our allies that he is engaged with China in a responsible way and is trying to prevent conflict. He's not looking here for a specific outcome.

HUNT: So, what do you think might be a surprise or unexpected thing to come out of this meeting? I know these things are very highly choreographed, but obviously, there are very high stakes -- you know, there is the conflict in Ukraine, what is going on between Hamas and Israel in Gaza. Is there anything that you have your eye out for?

DALY: Well, President Biden will certainly ask Xi Jinping, who has a good relationship with Iran, to use that relationship, to try to rein in Iran's proxies, Hezbollah and Lebanon, but also in Syria and elsewhere.

Now, Xi Jinping cannot simply turn that tap on and off, he is not going to go to bat for the United States, but he also wants to be seen as a consequential international leader, and potentially as a peacemaker.


So, I think that if Xi Jinping would promise to at least make an effort along those lines, that would be extremely positive, although, you know, a positive signal would not change anything right away.

There are other things the leaders could do if they wished, none of which would change the basic trajectory of the relationship. For example, they could resume the Fulbright exchanges between the two countries, they could do other things to increase people to people relations, but it will mostly be signaling of a will to try to contain the rivalry between China and the United States. They cannot and will not do anything that changes that basic rivalries nature of our relations.

HUNT: So, Xi Jinping, President Xi also has on his agenda, here, in the U.S., major meetings with American tech CEOs, including, it has been reported, anyway, Elon Musk. He is also apparently inviting some of them to dine with him.

What is the significance of that, especially amid this escalating tech war that goes to intelligence capabilities and other significant national security questions?

DALY: China has a long history of trying to use American corporations, high tech, but in the past, manufacturing corporations, essentially as lobbyists to convince Washington that a stable, economically active relationship with China is in the United States interest.

So, China is still doing that. It wants the business community to be a stabilizing factor, or what Xi Jinping calls, ballast, within this relationship.

Xi Jinping also needs the investment of these corporations. The clip from President Biden upfront made it clear, China is in the middle of the domestic, economic crisis and she should think needs investment. He wants to demonstrate to American corporations that China, in fact, is investable, that they cannot succeed, there. That's one of his major goals.

HUNT: This obviously comes as we are now less than a year out from the presidential election and the last time, President Xi was here meeting with the U.S. president, it was with former President Trump and there was, apparently a particularly delicious piece of chocolate cake involved. I forget the exact phrase that was used.

The tone and tenor here is obviously going to be different, but of course, the Chinese have to be thinking about the domestic political environment in the United States and how that potentially affects this.

What is -- what is your sense of how they are thinking about the uncertainty around the electoral politics, here in the U.S.?

DALY: Well, it used to be that China would get very concerned whenever there was a presidential election, that there would be a spike in anti-China rhetoric. That was true for many years, and it will be somewhat true this year, except that the anti-China rhetoric from China's point of view has not become a constant factor in the relationship. It doesn't cease.

And so, the election itself will be a slight blip, but only a slight blip when the level of political invective from China's point of view is always extremely high. They have also become somewhat inured to that.

During the Trump administration, especially during COVID, during the trade war, there were an awful lot of insults and attacks of an unprecedented sort. The secretary of state Michael Pompeo at the time called on the Chinese people to rise up and overthrow their government. So, this has been a constant barrage and I think that they have become a little less sensitive to that, although they do expect China to be an issue, not necessarily on voters' minds but on politicians' minds in 2024.

HUNT: Makes sense. All right, Robert Daly of the Kissinger Institute, thank you very much. Very thankful for your time, sir.

DALY: Thank you.

HUNT: All right, Congress now on a path to averting a rapidly approaching government shutdown after House lawmakers passed a stopgap bill on Tuesday. It's a major victory for the newly elected speaker, Mike Johnson, but also serves as a warning. The measure passed by a vote of 336 to 95, with 209 of the yes votes coming from Democrats and a significant number of the no votes coming from Republicans.

The two-step plan funds some parts of the government until January 19th, and the rest of the government until February 2nd, and does not include any aid for Israel or Ukraine. Now, the Senate needs to approve the measure and it needs to be signed by President Biden.

Meanwhile, you could cut the tension on Capitol Hill with a knife. Hopefully, no one brings one, as fighting among lawmakers hit a new peak, or, honestly, eight new low. Kevin McCarthy is denying an accusation from Congressman Tim Burchett that the former House speaker elbowed him in the back, really gave him -- gave him a punch to the kidneys.


Yes, yes, this seriously happened.



BURCHETT: I was doing and interview with Claudia from NPR, a lovely lady, and when she was asking me a question -- and at the time, I got elbowed in the back and it kind of caught me off guard because it was a clean shot to the kidneys. I turned back, and there was -- there was Kevin.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Bruce Westerly and I were walking out, and I guess a reporter was interviewing Burchett or something, I guess our shoulders hit because Burchett looks at me, and I didn't know what he was talking about. I did not run and hit the guy, I did not kidney punch him.


HUNT: Seriously, boys?

Then, there is this. A Republican senator and former mixed martial arts fighter inviting the Teamsters president to a fistfight in the middle of a hearing. Believe it or not, there is more -- which, we will have later in the show.

All right. Coming up, a dramatic battle unfolding in Gaza that could have huge ramifications for the Israel-Hamas war.

Plus, the man who is accused of attacking former Speaker Pelosi's husband takes the stand in his own defense.

And, parts of Iceland evacuated ahead of a potential volcano. Stay with us.




JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL SPOKESMAN: Now, to be clear, we don't support striking a hospital from the air and we don't want to see a firefight in a hospital where innocent people, helpless people, sick people are simply trying to get the medical care that they deserve, not to be caught in a crossfire. Hospitals and patients must be protected.

(END AUDIO CLIP) HUNT: The White House saying it does not want to see a firefight inside a Gaza hospital, but at this time, Israel says their military is conducting a, quote, precise and targeted operation, end quote, at Gaza's largest hospital, Al-Shifa.

Clare Sebastian joins us live from London.

Clare, what else do we know about this operation, at the moment?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kasie, it's ongoing and very dynamic. We understand that we are about ten hours in or at least 10 hours since the IDF first announced that it was happening, and precise and targeted have to be the operative words here, because this hospital has not been fully evacuated. In fact, we understand from officials in the Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza that as of Tuesday, they said there were some 7,000 displaced people sheltering in the hospital, some 1,500 medical staff.

On Monday, another official within that ministry told us that there were about 700 patients. We don't know how many of them are still there. But certainly, this will be and is a very delicate operation for Israel. And when it started, the IDF said that they thought there might be hostages also in that sprawling complex of the Al Shifa hospital.

We now heard just a couple of hours ago via Israeli radio that they have not found any signs of those hostages. But searches are still ongoing, major caveat, that doesn't mean they won't find any evidence of those hostages. And we're finding out more about those searches essentially.

There's Palestinian reporter for the WAFA News Agency at the hospital who has been sending us updates. He said that is really soldiers were in the buildings and the departments of the hospitals, conducting -- conducting what he called search and interrogation operations, essentially bringing out young men. He said that they have now gone into the basement of the hospital, where many of the evacuees were sheltering, taking 30 young men, told them to take their clothes off, and send them off to the first floor.

So, look, the IDF has said that part of the work here is to try to distinguish, essentially, Hamas operatives from innocent civilians. This seems to be how they are getting that done. But this is clearly a pivotal moment in this conflict, Kasie, one that the IDF and Israeli forces have been building up to.

And it will be a critical test as that pressure mounts on Israel to do more to protect civilians, as to how they will do that, certainly, we are already hearing some concerns, significant concerns, from the likes of the U.N. and the World Health Organization this morning.

HUNT: All right, this unfolding story. Clare Sebastian, thank you very much for your coverage. I really appreciate it.

All right, just ahead here, a new timeline in the Georgia election subversion case. What that means for Donald Trump and his allies. And, an update on plans to reopen a Los Angeles freeway after a major




HUNT: Welcome back.

We have crickets across America, now. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is now saying the election subversion case in Georgia against Donald Trump and others might not wrap until early 2025. That's well past the presidential election.

In August, she said she hoped for a trial date in early 2024.

California's governor says interstate 10 in Los Angeles ravaged by a massive fire over the weekend, is expected to be repaired and reopened in the next three to five weeks. Officials believed the fire was intentionally set.

The man accused of attacking Paul Pelosi, the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, testified at his own trial, Tuesday. David DePape told jurors about his right-wing political views and belief in conspiracy theorists. He said other targets included Congressman Adam Schiff, actor Tom Hanks, and former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr.

All right, now to weather. Southwestern Iceland declares a state of emergency as 3000 residents are evacuated over a potential volcanic eruption. In the meantime, rain continues across much of the southeastern U.S. and Gulf Coast, today.

Here to explain it all, our weatherman, Derek Van Dam.

Derek, good morning to you.

These pictures out of Iceland, just wow.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS CERTIFIED METEOROLOGIST: Yes, you didn't know that you could add volcanologist to this title, Weatherman Van Dam, right? You'd have to make that one rhyme.

HUNT: And you are a meteorologist. I know that, I just -- you know, I can't help myself. Okay.

VAN DAM: Good luck making that rhyme.

HUNT: Exactly.

VAN DAM: The pictures coming out of Iceland are absolutely incredible, but terrifying for the 4,000 or so incidents that call this home. You are looking at what is called a ground intrusion, and that is caused by a series of earthquakes that scientists and volcanologists believe a tunnel or corridor of magma is currently traversing underneath this town, which is located across this portion of southwestern Iceland. And there have been thousands, literally thousands of earthquakes

since late last week and that is making this area on high alert.


In fact, the magma corridor that they have detected underneath the ground is roughly about 500 meters below the surface. Yeah, that's too close for comfort because what they are worried about is the magma actually coming through those cracks you saw on the video just a moment ago. But that is running basically through the town of Grindavik, that is the location we are so concerned about. They have put up all kinds of sensors from sulfur dioxide sensors to GPS data to satellite imagery.

And they have come up with this, the ground has actually separated, moved, ground deformation is what they're calling it, by up to one meter. That's roughly three feet. That is literally a split in the ground. Think about that, right through your hometown. Scary stuff.

Now, this is certainly not a volcano. We are bringing it stateside now, but this is a larger storm system that is going to wreak havoc on southeastern Florida, particularly into Miami and the Fort Lauderdale region.

The weather prediction center upping the wording, today. We have a moderate risk of excessive rain that could lead to flash flooding. Fort Lauderdale has had an incredibly rainy year. They have topped over 100 inches of rain, so far.

Normally, they would have about 61 inches. Their wettest year ever recorded back in 1947, 102. So, we are doing that and I am concerned about this location.

I have to show you this, Kasie, because they had some record rainfall in Fort Lauderdale in April at this year that caused flooding at the airport. Some of our computer model showing over 15 inches of rain in that location here, through tomorrow, so, something to be concerned about.

HUNT: All right. Something to keep an eye on. Our weatherman, Derek Van Dam, I will see you tomorrow.

VAN DAM: And volcanologist.

HUNT: And volcanologist, you know. We will put that in there in your chyron for you.

VAN DAM: Just put it and.

HUNT: See you tomorrow, my friend. I appreciate it.

VAN DAM: All right.

HUNT: All right. Just ahead, here. Presidents Biden and Xi face to face in California today. What's on the table at the high stakes meeting? And, GOP tensions hit a new low. Smackdowns, accusations, threats,

what a mess. That's next.