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U.S. To Consider "Appropriate Responses" To Red Sea Attacks; Liz Cheney: Today's GOP Has Not Chosen The Constitution; Undefeated Florida State "Infuriated" By Playoff Snub. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired December 04, 2023 - 05:30   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks for getting up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt. Just a handful of seconds before 5:30 here on the East Coast; 2:30 out west.

And this morning, the Israeli military has expanded ground combat to all of Gaza after talks between Israel and Hamas collapsed last week. Israel is now warning civilians to evacuate large areas of Gaza, including parts of southern Gaza. The IDF says it's destroyed about 500 tunnels and located more than 800 tunnel shafts, claiming that many were located in civilian areas.

Meanwhile Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, over the weekend, said that he has been pushing Israel to work harder at avoiding civilian casualties. He said, quote, "If you drive Palestinians into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat."

Here is Sen. Lindsey Graham on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): He's so naive. I mean, I just lost all confidence in this guy. Strategic defeat would be inflaming the Palestinians. They're already inflamed. They're taught from the time they're born to hate the Jews and to kill them. It's like this is a tranquil population only inflamed after Israel goes in to defend itself is really naive. This is a radicalized population.


HUNT: All right, let's bring in CNN military analyst and retired Air Force colonel, Cedric Leighton. He is a former member of the Joint Staff and the Pentagon. Colonel, it's always good to have you.

What's your reaction to what Lindsey Graham said there about Sec. Austin? He called him naive.

CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST, AIR FORCE COLONEL (RET.), (via Webex by Cisco): Yeah, that's wrong, Kasie. Good morning to you. Yeah, Sec. Austin is anything but naive.

And what he was -- what Sec. Austin was referring to was the fact that when you look at polling data for Palestinians in Gaza it was very clear that there was really lukewarm or zero support for Hamas before the 7 October response from Israel.

In fact, what's happening now, of course, is because the civilian population is being attacked. They are actually literally being driven into the arms of Hamas just as a way to defend themselves -- or at least in their perception. So for Sen. Graham to say what he said is just factually incorrect.

Now, Sen. Graham is correct to say that textbooks and other means of education in the Gaza Strip and very much depicted Israel as the enemy. That is certainly true.

But there are ways around that. You've got the example of Nazi Germany being de-Nazified after World War II, and other places going into a similar situation where the ideology of the state has been removed. So be it Russia, for example, is another example. And it's possible to remove that ideology if the population is given concrete examples of better behavior on the part of perceived enemies.

HUNT: A very, very difficult, thorny conundrum.

Colonel, let's talk about the military -- the U.S. military in the region because yesterday, a Navy destroyer shot down at least drones that were headed for it. And they also responded to a distress call from a commercial ship. I mean, this is an incredibly important shipping lane for the world.

What's going on here? How dangerous is what happened over the weekend in terms of potentially inflaming a wider conflict?

LEIGHTON: Yes, this is certainly a warning sign, Kasie, and part of the problem is that, as you mentioned, a lot of commercial shipping goes through this area. It's known as the Bab al-Mandab Strait that connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden. That area is full of all the traffic that comes out of the Suez Canal. So there is a lot of commercial traffic that goes between Asia and the Middle East, and Europe coming through this area.

And the fact that it is being put at risk by the Houthis, which is the group that controls a large portion of Yemen and is oh, by the way, supported by Iran, that makes it very difficult for commercial ships to go through this area.

The USS Carney, the destroyer that you mentioned, was actively engaged. They had a very busy day over the weekend where they were able to intercept several drones and destroy them. They also aided at least three commercial vessels in fending off attacks and luckily, no one was hurt in this situation.

But the problem remains that these shipping lanes are now being put at risk and it could very well impact the economies of the Middle East, Europe, and potentially, even the U.S. Because this is a global area of transport and that will make a potential difference in the way we trade our goods from one area to the other.

HUNT: Yeah -- no, for sure.

In a statement last night, U.S. CENTCOM -- Central Command -- said that they'll, quote, "consider all appropriate responses" to the drone attacks that these ships are coming under.

What does that mean?

LEIGHTON: Well, they are leaving their options open, Kasie. What they are trying to do is they're trying to warn the Houthis that at this particular point in time, they are putting themselves at risk by sending these attacks against these trips -- these ships. So you have not only the drone attacks but also missile attacks coming from Yemeni soil.


And right now, this would basically put us back into about the 2016 timeframe where the U.S. responded by taking out radars that were controlled -- radar installations that were controlled by the Houthis back then because of similar type situations. But, of course, this is a much more heightened period in time with the situation in Gaza unfolding the way it is.

So the Houthis have been placed on notice and it's very possible that we might see airstrikes against radar installations or missile installations in Yemen after these attacks.

HUNT: All right, Colonel Cedric Leighton. Thank you very much for being with us this morning, sir. I always appreciate your time.

LEIGHTON: You bet. Any time, Kasie.

HUNT: See you soon.

An ominous warning from Liz Cheney over the weekend. The former Republican congresswoman telling CBS News yesterday that the U.S. could be, quote, "sleepwalking into a dictatorship" if Donald Trump is elected to a second term. Cheney even going so far as to say she hopes her own party loses its majority in 2024.


LIZ CHENEY, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSWOMAN: I believe very strongly in those principles and ideals that have defined the Republican Party. But the Republican Party of today has made a choice and they haven't chosen the Constitution. And so, I do think it's -- it presents a threat if the Republicans are in the majority in January 2025.


HUNT: This, as those same House Republicans forge ahead with an effort to launch a formal impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden.

Let's bring in Grace Segers, staff writer at The New Republic. Grace, good morning. It's wonderful to have you on the show. This, of course, not out of character for Liz Cheney but still, a very stark warning for her. How much weight do her words actually carry?

GRACE SEGERS, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW REPUBLIC (via Skype): Well, good morning, Kasie.

I think that's what is most noticeable about this very stunning acknowledgement of her concerns is how little it will actually matter with her former colleagues. We are a couple of years removed from Liz Cheney being the conference chair of the Republican Party in the House and today, she is persona non grata.

Her former colleagues do not agree with what she is saying. In fact, they actively dismiss what she is saying.

And I think that what is particularly shocking about this announcement that she has is how little it will actually matter with House Republicans right now and even with Republican voters. I think that's part of why she is taking such a strong stance because she feels as if she needs to talk loudly to be heard. And I think that she will be heard -- just not necessarily by the people she's trying to reach.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, Grace, one of the things that she and her -- kind of the group that she's been running and has been doing -- and this, of course, her interview in connection with the book that she is releasing has been focused on elections. On making sure, in particular, elections officials in states -- things that might fly under the radar are not ignored if they are not seriously -- if they are not taken seriously. Threats to the actual process, kind of the way that the former president challenged things in the courts.

Do you think that effort is going to make any difference here? Because I do think you're right that she tries to sound this alarm but there's not a willing audience to hear it, at least not among Republicans. What about the rest of it?

SEGERS: I do think that this effort is probably likely to be the more effective of the routes that she has taken. It seems like she has taken the path of doing more P.R. events. Trying to actively get the word of her beliefs out there with the interviews, the books. And then there is the more practical and pragmatic route of taking action through lawsuits and legal action to try to prevent the kind of attempts to thwart an election that we saw in 2020 and early 2021 from happening again.

So I think that if there is going to be a lasting impact it is likely going to be from this latter path that she has taken and less so from the dire warnings that she has given. But again, I do think it matters that she is saying what she is saying. It's just right now, it's not going to reach her intended audience. It may be more for posterity for folks to look back on and say wow, Liz Cheney was right. I think that is probably what she is expecting more than actually reaching some of those former colleagues right now.

HUNT: And certainly a lot of what she does is with an eye toward history. [05:40:00]

Grace, I want to ask you about this formalization of the impeachment inquiry that House Republicans are now planning, led by the new speaker, Mike Johnson. Of course, Kevin McCarthy didn't -- honestly, it depends a little bit on how you read it, but likely just didn't have the votes for it on the floor so he pushed it through the committee.

But it puts the impeachment inquiry on shaky legal ground. Johnson now wants to push through something that is formalized to put more solid underpinnings underneath it.

Ron DeSantis, who is a former member of the House of Representatives himself, now governor of Florida, and, of course, presidential candidate actually dismissed this idea over the weekend. Take a look at what DeSantis had to say and then I'll ask you about it.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think they run the risk of doing an inquiry that doesn't necessarily lead anywhere while they've been ignoring a lot of the problems that our voters are talking about. Make sure you're not ignoring all these other issues and don't use that inquiry as kind of a trojan horse to not then meet your responsibilities on all these other things.


HUNT: I thought it was kind of interesting that he decided to go there. He's basically saying, like -- hey, voters care about, like, real other things and you're not focused on them.

What do you make of this?

SEGERS: Well, I think that an impeachment inquiry -- Ron DeSantis has a particularly vested interest in paying attention to what he thinks voters are paying attention to. And an impeachment inquiry is more of Donald Trump's horse than Ron DeSantis's.

So the members of the House who are still loyal to Donald Trump -- they were very, very angry in 2019 during the authorization of the first impeachment inquiry into former President Trump. And there is a little bit of revenge here and you can feel it on the Hill. There are folks who want to get back at Democrats for doing what they thought was so unfair to Trump.

Now, we can argue the merits of the 2019 Trump impeachment versus a potential 2023 Biden impeachment and the evidence therein. But I think there is a lot of anger and in a sense, Republicans are acting from anger.

But as Rep. Chip Roy says, they want to feel as if Republicans are doing something.

And in some ways, this feels as if Republicans are doing something. They're setting up an impeachment inquiry. They're following through the promise to voters. But the question is, as Ron DeSantis points out, is that promise the one that voters want them to be paying attention to?

HUNT: All right, Grace Segers of The New Republic. Thank you very much for being with us this morning.

SEGERS: Thank you.

HUNT: All right. Ron DeSantis vowing to replace Obamacare if he's elected. Sound familiar? The politics of health care and how the Biden team is loving it.



HUNT: Welcome back.

Obamacare -- is this the issue that you expected to be a focal point of the 2024 race? It wasn't for me. But thanks to fresh attacks from both Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, the popular health care law is front and center once again.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're also going to fight to give much better health care than what you have right now. This is a newer subject. But Obamacare is a disaster and I said we're going to -- we're going to do something about it.

GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: President Trump promised that he would repeal and replace Obamacare and he didn't do it. Obamacare hasn't worked. We are going to replace and supersede with a better -- a better plan.


HUNT: And while Trump and DeSantis go head-to-head on that issue, Republicans seem to have very little interest in relitigating it. The White House planning to lay out a health care expansion package that the president would work to pass in a second term.

Let's bring in Catherine Lucey. She is White House reporter at The Wall Street Journal. Catherine, good morning. It's always wonderful to see.

So I get why Ron DeSantis is resurrecting this issue because he's trying to use it as an attack on Trump for failing. I mean -- and this was a pretty explicit failure for Donald Trump, which I think is why I'm so confused about why he still wants to talk about it.

What is going on?

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (via Webex by Cisco): Yeah. Trump saying this is a newer idea since it's not a new idea. Republicans have tried running on this before and it hasn't been successful, right? And a lot of them have dropped this in more recent elections.

The law is popular with most Americans and (INAUDIBLE) Republicans, but it's popular with most Americans. And it's not really clear from Trump or DeSantis what they're suggesting they would replace it with.

I think another thing to think about here is just we're still coming out of pandemic that really exposed how much people need health insurance. And so, it seems a risky proposition, in some ways, to really keep going down this road.

And the Biden team certainly thinks so. They really see this as a ditch (PH). They have seized on this. They're running ads on this. They're blasting statements. The president is talking about it. They really think that this is a -- you know, this is a strong moment for them to seize on -- to highlight why they think -- to make their argument that Trump is a problem.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, the Democrats I've talked to about this we're like you want to fight about Obamacare again?


HUNT: Great. Sign us up, no pun intended.

Let's talk about DeSantis for a second, Catherine, because there's some news over the weekend. And we're six weeks or so out from the Iowa caucus. Ron DeSantis has staked his entire campaign there. And the super PAC that has been bankrolling not just ads on the air but a lot of his events and travel, and other things is basically having this kind of last-minute shakeup. Never a good sign when you're so close to what's going on.

What's the behind-the-scenes drama playing out?

LUCEY: Yeah, there's a lot of turmoil over there -- a lot of changeover. And it's more significant for him because, as you say, this super PAC does a lot more than other super PACs usually do. It's really running all of the ground game, advertising. Most of his Iowa events are being done by the super PAC. So it's really sort of a lynchpin of his operation.


And they are under a lot of pressure. I mean, he has not pulled close to Donald Trump over the course of the last year and is now really competing with Nikki Haley for second place. So his campaign is -- you know, he is -- he is struggling to break out and they've really staked everything on Iowa. He's not saying he will exit the race if he doesn't do well there but that is -- their whole play is trying to have a strong showing in Iowa.

HUNT: For sure.

So, speaking of the frontrunner, Donald Trump, I want to show everyone what Trump was -- has been saying lately about democracy. Because, of course, Joe Biden has talked extensively and is really -- talk to anyone in his inner circle and they'll tell you he's very personally motivated by a need to defend American democracy.

Take a look, though, at how Donald Trump is trying to flip this script around -- watch.


TRUMP: Joe Biden is the destroyer of American democracy and it's him and his people. So if Joe Biden wants to make this race a question of which candidate will defend our democracy and protect our freedoms, then I say to Crooked Joe -- and he is crooked -- the most corrupt president we've ever had -- we will win that fight and we're going to win it very big.


HUNT: So this is a classic Trump move to take something and tell his audience that the opposite is true. I think it's important that we underscore that the opposite is, in fact, true of what he's saying.

But what do you see here?

LUCEY: Yeah, it's a bit of I know you are, but what am I? He has done this before. We've seen this before in his playbook, trying to flip the criticisms by him onto his opponent.

I mean, I think it is important to note that he continues to falsely say that the 2020 election was stolen and Trump and his allies tried to overturn that loss. And that he said that he would prosecute the Biden family -- Biden and his family if he was elected.

But he's -- I mean, I think, as you said, the president and the Biden campaign see democracy as an important argument. We saw that was a motivating issue in the midterms. And so, Trump is trying to figure out a way to counter that.

But I think it's also important to note that in the midterms that candidates who ran on his platform and ran on these statements about the election being stolen didn't do well. That those weren't successful arguments for them.

So it's -- I think it will be interesting to see how this catches on with Trump.

HUNT: For sure.

All right, Catherine Lucey of The Wall Street Journal. Thanks very much for being with us this morning.

LUCEY: Thank you.

HUNT: All right. George Santos no longer in Congress but he's leaving behind plenty of problems for the House GOP. We'll have details on the fallout from his expulsion up next. (COMMERCIAL)


HUNT: What is the point of playing games? That is the question Florida State's coach wants to know the answer to. And plenty of other people do, too, after the Seminoles were snubbed by the College Football Playoffs despite winning all of their games -- literally undefeated.

Coy Wire has this morning's Bleacher Report. Coy --


HUNT: -- good morning.

WIRE: Coach Mike Norvell, for the Seminoles -- he used words like infuriated, disgusted. The commissioner of the ACC called it unfathomable. And some Seminoles players, Kasie -- they were bursting out in anger when this announcement was made yesterday. Others were glued to their seats just in total shock.

They have just become the only undefeated team ever from a Power 5 conference to not make the College Football Playoff. The chair of the playoff committee said that losing their star quarterback Jordan Travis with a season-ending injury two weeks ago was the reason. Two one-loss teams -- Alabama and Texas -- making it instead.

Travis tweeted this. "I wish my leg broke earlier in the season so y'all could see this team as much more than the quarterback. I thought results matter." He went on to say I'm sorry.

Could you imagine, Kasie, being in a position where you felt like it was your fault your team didn't make it -- and even though they, arguably, were deservingly meant to be in there?

HUNT: I mean, I get Michigan and Washington were locks and they had some tough decisions to make down here, but how -- I just don't understand how it is that Florida State, of all the teams that they had on the table, are the ones that have to pay the price, considering that they are, in fact, undefeated. I mean, is this just like a cynical TV play? I mean, what is going on?

WIRE: Yeah. I mean -- and it's -- and it's -- no other major sport, Kasie, has just four teams making a playoff. I mean, it's -- this is a ridiculous situation and it's a good thing that they're going to a 12- team playoff so that we won't ever be in this situation, hopefully, ever again.

HUNT: Please, please, yes.

WIRE: Yeah.

HUNT: All right. Well, let's talk NFL.

WIRE: I know you're a big NFL fan. We'll get to your Eagles. This is -- one of the big games was this NFC Championship rematch and potential preview of the 49ers and Eagles. Lots of pregame chippiness, chirping, trash talking in Philly. You know how they do.

But this game was all San Francisco. Brock Purdy continues to be this revelation as a former Mr. Irrelevant. He threw four touchdown passes. Two of them went to Deebo Samuel who is an absolute monster. He also had a rushing touchdown.

But check this out. Third quarter, more chirping. This time, the 49ers' Dre Greenlaw. And Dom DiSandro put a hand on Greenlaw. Both of them ejected.

The Niners win 42-19 -- sorry, Kasie -- improving to 9-3.

HUNT: Just, well.

WIRE: They're just one game behind your Eagles now for that coveted first-round playoff bye.

And the Packers doing something nobody's been able to do -- beat the Chiefs with Taylor Swift in attendance. But Green Bay had their own secret weapon -- the GOAT, Simone Biles, who is married to Packers safety Jonathan Owens.

And you know who is not a secret weapon anymore? Jordan Love. The Packers quarterback who replaced Aaron Rodgers -- he throws three touchdown passes for a second-straight game.


The Chiefs would have a final try. Chiefs superstar Patrick Mahomes -- he would scramble around in the final seconds. He would throw this Hail Mary hoping that he could tie up the game, but the ball would drop to the ground as Green Bay holds on for the win.

Finally, let's get this week started off right, Kasie. Miami's Tyreek Hill -- five catches, 157 yards, two touchdowns, and a 45-15 beatdown of the Commanders. He's on pace to break the single-season receiving yards record and he's in the front seat of a rollercoaster. And our EARLY START winner for best touchdown celebration of the day goes to the Dolphins.

HUNT: Very well-deserved. Sorry, also, Travis Kelce -- whoops.

WIRE: Yeah.

HUNT: Coy, thank you.

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