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Biden Calls Xi Talks "Some Of Most Constructive" They've Had; Biden: "Mildly Hopeful" About Gaza Hostage Negotiations; Congress Passes Funding Bill, Averts Government Shutdown. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired November 16, 2023 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thank you for being up early with us. It's always great to have you. I'm Kasie Hunt.

Our big story at the bottom of the hour, President Biden touting his high-stakes talks with Chinese leader Xi Jinping as quote, "Some of the most constructive and productive" that they've had. It comes after a year of silence and rising tensions stoking fears that the two countries are on a path towards direct conflict. Now, Biden says they have new agreements to curb fentanyl production and to restore military communications.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're reassuming military- to-military contacts -- direct contacts. As a lot of you press know who follow this, that's been cut off and it's been worrisome. That's how accidents happen -- misunderstandings. So we're back to direct, open, clear -- direct communications on a direct basis.


HUNT: And CNN's new White House reporter Camila DeChalus joins me now. Camila, we're so thrilled to have you. Welcome to CNN. I know you've been on this program before in your previous roles, but it's really wonderful to be able to welcome you here in an official capacity.

So let's just start with the news. What were the big takeaways from the Xi-Biden meeting?

CAMILA DECHALUS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: I think some of the biggest takeaways was the fact that both presidents have made it clear that they are willing to take efforts to improve the relationship between the two countries.

I think one of the biggest things that were notable was that Biden said going into these meetings that he really wanted to touch upon fentanyl. And both of these countries -- both of these presidents came out saying that they are going to take efforts to curb fentanyl production. And that's a really big deal just considering how Republicans had been openly criticizing Biden and saying that he's not doing enough to curb and mitigate the flow of fentanyl coming into the country and being produced in the U.S. And so that's a really big deal.

And especially, seeing the steps that they've taken to open up proper channels of communication when it comes to military operations just really emphasizes what Biden was trying to achieve, and that was to diffuse the tension between these two countries that have been heightened in the last few months.

HUNT: Right. Well, as our Stephen Collinson wrote in his lead, it happened, therefore it was a success.

There was one speed bump, I should say, in the wake of this because our MJ Lee asked the president about Biden's previous comments that he believes that the Chinese president is a dictator. Take a look at what Biden had to say.


MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, after today would you still refer to President Xi as a dictator? This is a term that you used earlier this year.

BIDEN: Well look, he is. I mean, he's a dictator in the sense that he is a guy who runs a country that is a communist country that is based on a form of government totally different than ours.


HUNT: From the U.S. perspective it feels like Biden is stating the obvious, but the Chinese put out a statement overnight saying that this was erroneous.

What impact will this have?

DECHALUS: Well, Biden just basically doubled down on comments that he's made in the past, and there has been this question of will this kind of detract from the progress that was made during the summit. And the answer is it still remains to be seen.

At this time, Biden has said that he knows that both presidents are not going to see eye to eye on exactly everything. But the important is -- the important thing is the fact that they're going to have open lines of communication to talk through some of their issues and policy stances.

So at this point in time, Biden is just kind of reiterating things that he's said in the past and it's going to remain to be seen whether they're just going to move forward in this steady progress. They've said that they are -- this is just one of many meetings that they're hoping to have in the upcoming months.

HUNT: All right, Camila DeChalus, thank you very much and welcome again. I hope to see you soon.

And turning now to the war between Israel and Hamas, President Biden said this about hostage negotiations at last night's press conference.


BIDEN: I have been deeply involved and moving on the hostage negotiation. I think the pause and that Israeli -- that the Israelis have agreed to is down to -- I'm getting into too much detail. I know, Mr. Secretary. I'm going to stop. The -- but I am -- I am mildly hopeful.



HUNT: Mildly hopeful.

He is also urging Israel to be very careful with their raid on Gaza's largest hospital, Al Shifa -- a facility that's now shut down because of a lack of fuel and supplies.

On Wednesday, the IDF claimed Hamas weapons were found inside the hospital and they promised more concrete evidence today. Hamas says Israel's claims are not true. CNN cannot independently verify either side's position.

CNN's Scott McLean joins us now from Istanbul. Scott, there's a lot here. I mean, what can you tell us about the ongoing talks about any release of hostages?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kasie, yeah. You heard the president there say that he is mildly hopeful about their release. Obviously, he said that the Qataris have been very helpful in that -- in that effort. He has also said that he's been deeply involved himself. And he went on to say later on that five or six times a day he is working to try to be helpful in actually securing the release of those hostages.

He didn't really give us a lot of detail though on where things are at. You heard him mention the Israelis agreeing to a pause but then he kind of cut himself short there.

We have heard in recent days from U.S. and European officials that there is at least some level of optimism about getting a deal done. The broad parameters would be that Hamas would release a number of prisoners, primarily women and children, in exchange for a pause -- a prolonged pause in the fighting -- perhaps as long as five days.

Hamas has also quoted the number of prisoners it's willing to release at 70. And during the course of that pause in fighting those 70 would be released -- or whatever the number is -- in exchange for a number of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisoner -- prisons as well.

Part of what's slowing this down, of course, is the indirect nature of all this -- communication -- the difficulties with communicating with Gaza as well. But there is some level of optimism at this stage.

Kasie, the president also mentioned during that same press conference that it is fact that Hamas has a command center underneath of the Al Shifa hospital. Perhaps he knows something that we don't know but there is no publicly available evidence at this stage to suggest that is, in fact, true. The IDF has put out a video yesterday showing what it said was weapons inside of the hospital itself.

But there is no evidence thus far that there is a complex, sophisticated tunnel network underneath that hospital that serves as a Hamas command and control center -- Kasie.

HUNT: All right, Scott McLean. Thanks very much for your reporting.

And for more on the hostages and the situation at Al Shifa hospital, let's bring in CNN global affairs analyst, Kim Dozier. Kim, good morning.

Let's talk about these hostage negotiations. I kind of -- I want to dig in on that and questions around whether and how what's going on at the hospital plays into them. I mean, this has been something -- it's bubbled up. It's receded. It's come back again throughout the 30-plus days of this conflict.

What do you see in how leaders are talking about this that tells us more about where it might stand?

KIM DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST (via Webex by Cisco): Well, I'm also hearing from my sources that there is a deal that's done for the swap of several dozen women and children from -- who are being held hostages, and those in Israeli jails being held in Israeli prisons. But the deal getting executed is dependent on Israel being at a state where it is willing to pause military operations.

You can see from the Israeli Defense Force's perspective and the government's perspective there that perhaps they thought after proving to the world that Shifa hospital was, as they'd said, a center for Hamas operations that then they would pacify critics at home who want them to press forward with the war and say this three-day pause is worthwhile and we're going to get something out of it and hey, we just have this huge victory.

But at this point, since they've only found a handful of weapons -- maybe a few dozen that they've shown the media, which could be dismissed as personal weapons from patients who were brought to the hospital, that's not the evidence that they need to then feel that they can rest on their laurels for a few days and allow a pause in fighting and an exchange in hostages and prisoners.

HUNT: Yeah, it says a lot that we could potentially say that these are personal -- it's a personal AK-47 next to an MRI machine, but fair enough.

What do -- what do you know about what is under Al Shifa? I mean, that seems to be a big question. The president seems pretty convinced that he knows what's under there. There's something that somebody's not saying.

DOZIER: Well, the U.S. and Israel have a very intense intelligence- sharing relationship and what Israel often does is hand over a lot of its raw signals and video, photographing intelligence. So I know that they've been working together for years on detecting tunnels underneath Gaza and using spectral analysis from satellites in the air and things like that.


So it seems the Israelis have shared something that has convinced the White House. They wouldn't stick their neck out like that and say we also believe with high confidence that there is a command center under there unless they really think there is one.

Now, look, Hamas has seen Israeli forces approaching this hospital for some time and potentially had time to, as the Israelis have suggested, collapse some of the entrances. There's also a possibility that the tunnels ran under the hospital but there are no entrances from within. But the Israelis don't seem to think that's the case.

It's a vast complex and they've got a lot left to search. And they've got to do it carefully because with each new building in the complex that they go into it could be booby-trapped or there could be a fighter hidden amongst the staff that presents a threat to Israeli troops.

HUNT: For sure.

All right, Kim Dozier. Thank you as always. I really appreciate you being here with us. Thank you.

And now this. FBI Director Christopher Wray firing back at a Republican congressman who pushed him on a January 6 conspiracy. We'll show you that.

Plus, the House bracing for the Ethics Committee report into Congressman George Santos. We know one thing that won't be in it. That's ahead.



HUNT: Welcome back.

A wild rant from a Republican member of the House Homeland Security Committee during a hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. It happened while FBI Director Christopher Wray was testifying about potential terror threats. Congressman Clay Higgins, of Louisiana, accused Wray of using FBI agents to fuel the violence on January 6 -- watch.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: If you are asking whether the violence at the Capitol on January 6 was part of some operation orchestrated by FBI sources and/or agents, the answer is emphatically not. REP. CLAY HIGGINS (R-LA): You're saying no?


HIGGINS: You're saying no -- OK.

WRAY: Not violence orchestrated by --

HIGGINS: Let's move on.

WRAY: -- FBI sources or agents.

HIGGINS: Are you familiar with -- do you know what a ghost vehicle is? A director -- the director of the FBI certainly should. Do you know what a ghost bus is?

WRAY: A ghost bus?

HIGGINS: A ghost bus.

WRAY: I'm not sure I've used that term before.

HIGGINS: OK. Well, it's pretty common in law enforcement. It's a vehicle that's used for secret purposes. It's painted over.

These two buses in the middle here -- they were the first to arrive at Union Station on January 6 at 0500. I have all this evidence. I'm showing you a (INAUDIBLE).


HIGGINS: These two buses --


HIGGINS: -- were painted completely white.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Point of order.


HUNT: This is insane.

Higgins has long pushed the widely debunked theory that it was the FBI and not Trump supporters who incited the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Wray has obviously denied the accusations.

All right, now this. After a theatrical Tuesday in Washington, things actually did get done under the dome. Last night, the Senate passed the stopgap spending bill in an 87-11 vote, avoiding a government shutdown.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): It is really a very, very good night for the American people. This year, I am happy to announce there will be no government shutdown. As of Friday night, the government is staying open.


HUNT: Lots of thumbs up from Schumer there.

The bill now heads to President Biden's desk where he is expected to make it official.

Let's bring in Mychael Schnell, congressional reporter for The Hill. Mychael, good morning. It's always great to see you.

The shutdown was averted. The apocalypse did not happen. However, we are going to be back here in January talking all about this.

How did this come to be, and is it really the good news for the Speaker of the House that they are claiming? Because I sort of secretly suspect it's not, but I'm interested in your reporting.


Look, a hurdle was absolutely cleared this week. As you mentioned, a shutdown will be averted by that Friday night deadline. But this is really cutting its work out for Congress in the next two months. This was a two-step continuing resolution, so that means that part of the government will be funded at current levels through January 19. The other part of the government will be funded through February 2.

So what does that exactly mean? It means that Congress is going to again have to avert a partial shutdown by mid-February, by mid- January, and another partial shutdown by the beginning of January. And as we saw that was a heavy lift back in September, and again this week, it's going to be an even heavier lift in January and February for a couple of reasons.

A, Speaker Johnson has said that he's done with continuing resolutions. He said he's not going to do any more short-term funding bills, which is really going to put pressure on lawmakers to finish their work with these 12 appropriations bills -- these single-subject appropriations bills -- which I'll note, at least in the House, have come under a lot of controversy. In fact, the House wasn't even able to advance one of those bills this week because of conservative opposition.

HUNT: Yeah.

SCHNELL: So this is going to be a heavy lift for Speaker Johnson and Congress. So again, while it was a victory and an achievement this week, there's still going to be a lot of work cut out for Congress in the next two months.

HUNT: Yeah -- no, it's a good point. Like, the hardliners are demanding hey, we've got to pass these bills, but then they're like not even allowing their leaders to bring them to the floor, which it just paralyzes the whole situation. Mychael, while -- I certainly went to bed early so I was asleep while a lot of this was happening. But a lot of senators have been on the floor at least until 3:00 in the morning overnight. And these are Republicans who are frustrated with Tommy Tuberville, the senator from Alabama and also a Republican who has been holding up military nominations now for months.


I want to show everyone a little bit about what -- of what's been transpiring on the Senate floor in case you weren't up late watching C-SPAN 2 -- watch.


SEN. TODD YOUNG (R-IN): Mr. President, there are now tens of Americans watching us on C-SPAN 2. I intend to continue reading through these brave patriots --

SEN. JONI ERNST (R-IA): We would have asked for individual voice votes tonight because that's what has been asked for in the past but unfortunately, has not been honored. So again, I stand for life. I will be an ardent supporter of life and I will continue combating that, but I will not do it at the expense of these individuals.

SEN. DAN SULLIVAN (R-AK): Why punish patriotic military members over a dispute that they have no ability to fix and they didn't cause?


HUNT: So, Mychael, I will note all of these members that we showed on camera, plus Lindsey Graham -- they all have personal ties to the military. They served in it in some capacity.

Frustration is very clearly building here among Republicans. Is it going to change anything?

SCHNELL: First off, you're exactly right that the frustrations are absolutely building. And it was kind of funny there -- Todd Young setting expectations for how many people were tuning into this move to try to overcome Tuberville, which I'll note was the second time in recent weeks that this group of Republicans have gone to the Senate floor in public and have tried to overcome this military hold by Sen. Tuberville.

Look, this week, Democrats launched an effort to try to overcome this. They had a rules change resolution that would have basically allowed the Senate to move forward with a large bulk of those military nominations. It advanced through the Rules Committee but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that he was not going to support that effort at this point, essentially meaning that it will not have the 60 votes needed to cross the finish line.

But it was significant that McConnell said that he was not going to support it at this current moment, seemingly leaving the door open --

HUNT: Right.

SCHNELL: -- to potentially down the road supporting this effort to change the rules, which is not favored by Republicans at the moment. But a number of lawmakers have recognized that if this blockade continues -- and there are more than 370 million -- 370 military nominations being held up -- that if these frustrations continue and Tuberville refuses to relent, they may have to move forward with that -- with that idea.

HUNT: Indeed.

All right, Mychael Schnell, of The Hill. Thank you very much for being with us this morning. Always appreciate it.

Now this. Elon Musk under fire after agreeing with an antisemitic post on his social media platform formerly known as Twitter and now called X. When a user claimed that Jewish communities pushed, quote, "hatred against whites" Musk responded, saying quote, "You have said the actual truth."

It comes as Musk has repeatedly been criticized for promoting content attacking Jewish people at a time of rising antisemitism. Back in September he liked a notorious white nationalist post calling for the ban of the Jewish nonprofit, the Antidefamation League.

Last month, he encouraged his nearly 160 million followers to follow an antisemitic account known for spreading lies before he deleted the post.

All right, up next here, Mr. Rock goes to Washington. What Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson was doing on Capitol Hill yesterday.

And today is Red Cup Day, Starbucks' busiest day of the year. Why employees have decided to walk off the job. That's coming up on "CNN THIS MORNING."



HUNT: Welcome back.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson took a trip to Capitol Hill yesterday. He was seen with senators, including Sen. Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin. They discussed topics including military recruitment and the XFL, a football league that is partially owned by Johnson.

Yeah, he's so much taller than everybody else.

The Rock also took this photo with members of the U.S. Capitol Police. They tweeted, quote, "We talked to a potential new recruit today." I'll take that.

And he was also asked about his potential for president. He didn't answer those questions.

All right, up next, what does a headlock in the NBA get you? Well, if you are Draymond Green, it is apparently a five-game suspension.

Andy Scholes has this morning's Bleacher Report. Andy, you predicted something like this would happen.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yeah, you knew the NBA was going to have something to say about the fracas that we saw Tuesday night between the Warriors and the T-wolves because obviously, the optics were not good.

And they came down hard on Draymond Green for his role in the skirmish. The NBA suspending him five games for running in and putting Rudy Gobert in a headlock. So that suspension is going to cost Green about $770,000. The league saying the length of the suspension is based in part on Green's history of unsportsmanlike acts.

Klay Thompson, Jay McDaniels, and Gobert were all fined $25,000 for their role in the skirmish.

All right. We had a battle for first place in the East last night. Both Boston and Philly 8-2 records heading into this game.

The Celtics without Jaylen Brown and Kristaps Porzingis, but they had no problem against the Sixers. Derrick White -- 14 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter. Al Horford also coming up big. He knocked down four threes on his way to a season-high 14 points. Jayson Tatum, a game-high 29.

Boston with a big road win 117-107 to improve to 9-2 on the season.

LeBron James, meanwhile, getting his 108th triple-double of his career against the Kings last night. He's now fifth on the all-time list, but not enough though against the Kings. Domantas Sabonis 29 points and 16 rebounds. The Kings had the Lakers their first home loss of the season 125-110 in that one.


And finally, some brutal news for the Browns and their fans on Wednesday. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is going to miss the rest of the season after suffering a shoulder injury in last Sunday's win over the Ravens. An MRI revealed Watson has a broken bone in his throwing shoulder that's going to require surgery.

The Browns gave up three first-round picks and gave Watson the richest guaranteed deal ever -- $230 million. But due to suspension and injury, he's played just 11 games in two seasons, Kasie. So that's not really working out for them.

But hey, week 11 starts tonight -- Bengals-Ravens. Finally, a good Thursday night football game. I'm excited.

HUNT: A good one. I'm excited. I've got to say it's a rough season to be a quarterback -- wow.

SCHOLES: It hasn't been good, yeah.

HUNT: All right, Andy Scholes. Thank you very much.

SCHOLES: All right.

HUNT: Always great to see you.

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