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5 Americans Freed After Being Wrongfully Detained In Iran; Soon: Five Americans Freed By Iran To Leave Qatar For U.S.; Biden Admin To Issue New Sanctions Against Iran; Today: Stellantis To Meet With UAW As Strike Enters Day 4; Trump: Six-Week Abortion Ban Backed By DeSantis A "Terrible Mistake"; Iowa Radio Host: Trump "Only Attacks Republicans From The Left" Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 18, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, freedom and the price of it. United States wins the release of five prisoners. The cost cash bonus for Tehran, $6 billion of previously frozen assets.

Plus, a deal Republicans can refuse. Kevin McCarthy brokers a pact to avert a shutdown, but already the agreement seems destined to fail. The only questions are when and where. And a terrible mistake. Donald Trump says Ron DeSantis's position on abortion equals electoral ruin for Republicans. Some conservatives read Mr. Trump's words and wonder what he actually believes.

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

But up first, breathing free air. A tarmac in Qatar gives five Americans their first taste of life outside captivity. And now those five Americans, each of whom spent years in detention are headed back to American soil.

CNN's Becky Anderson is joining us now from Doha. Becky, what is going on at this moment? And just describe the scene, the incredibly emotional scene not too long ago.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Free at last and headed home. That is the description of what was an emotional scene at the airport, just behind me here about an hour and a half ago. When what has been a decade's long nightmare for five Americans wrongfully detained in Iran, came to an end at least in its first leg.

And the Qatari jet that had transported them from Tehran landed here at about half past 10 eastern time, U.S. time this morning. That was towards the end of the day, Doha time the Qataris, of course, have been mediating this deal between the U.S. and Iran.

And really as they descended the steps and were met by the U.S. ambassador to Qatar. You could see the emotion, it was palpable, smiles, hugs, tears from all of them. This has been such a long time in coming. Siamak Namazi, for example, the longest held American in Iranian captivity, nearly eight years in the notorious Evin Prison, accompanied today by his mum back here and process before they head home to the United States.

What do we know about that departure? Well, it is any time now, we are told we've had no confirmation as of yet that they have actually departed Doha. But talking to the officials here, they wanted to process them, ensure that they were OK, and get them on their way. Because, of course, each of those five Americans, dual citizens, Iranian Americans simply wants to get home to their friends and their families.

So, a very, very emotional day. Right up into the last minute, right up until the point at which we saw those former hostages on the flight. It was really touching go. After all, we know there have been these prisoner swaps. Of course, in the past, we know that things haven't always gone to plan.

So, it was really keeping a lid on it today. And just hoping that things would come together. The Qataris have done a really remarkable job in what has been a complex and complicated negotiation. Of course, U.S. and Iran do not have direct relations, and therefore we're not in direct negotiations. Eight rounds of negotiations, and those Americans are now free. And as I say, they are headed home, Dana.

BASH: It's nice to report on some good news, for sure. Thank you so much, Becky. The Biden administration has just announced, it will issue new sanctions against Iran following the release of those five Americans who were detained there.

CNN's Arlette Saenz has more on that live from the White House. Arlette, what are they saying there about not only the decision to sanction, to add sanctions, I should say, but of course the timing?


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. President Biden in his statement celebrating the release of these five Americans. He noted that they will be issuing sanctions against Iranians, military -- department of intelligence, as well as former President Ahmadinejad. Now this comes as they are trying to hold those entities accountable for wrongful detentions in their country.

And the president specifically pointed to one American who has not been able to come home. And that is Bob Levinson, who was held in Iran for nearly two decades and is believed to have died while in Iranian custody. They are sanctioning Ahmadinejad due to his promotion of lies relating to Levinson's whereabouts, according to a senior administration official.

And one thing that officials have been very quick to stress amid the release of these Americans is that this has not changed the U.S. relationship with Iran in any way. They say that Iran is still viewed as an adversary that you're still a state sponsor of terrorism and that the U.S. is working to try to hold them accountable for their actions.

That is something that Secretary of State Antony Blinken seem to reiterate, as he spoke to reporters earlier today, saying that these discussions about releasing these Americans happened on a separate track from any other conversations that could or maybe are not happening with Iran at this moment, when you think of like the Iran nuclear deal.

But Blinken also talked about the human aspect to all of this. He said that he spoke with those detainees after they had arrived in Doha, saying that it was an emotional moment. Take a listen?


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's very good to be able to say that our fellow citizens are free. After enduring something that I think it would be difficult for any of us to imagine that their families will soon have them back among them. And that, in this moment, at least, I have something very joyful to report.


SAENZ: Now, it's unknown if President Biden has spoken with any of these Americans since their release. But he did talk about his commitment to ensuring that other Americans who are detained in other countries that the U.S. is working in an unflinching manner to try to secure their release and return them home to their families. But this is very welcome news for the administration and those families who are waiting to reunite with their loved ones here on U.S. soil a bit later today, hopefully.

BASH: Arlette, thank you so much for that report. And here with me is CNN's Christiane Amanpour. It's nice to see you in person. Also, again, nice to see you on a day like today. You have been reporting on this for years because they have been detained for years. What is your sense of why this moment? Why now? What happened?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, I think a couple of things. You heard from Secretary Blinken, and we all have talked about the emotional opening to his statement about their release. He is known to have a huge amount of humanity about him. He is known to have what he says he carries the names of the detained Americans probably all over in his breast pocket to concentrate the mind.

And I do actually think that it was a decision by President Biden and the administration by the Iranian supreme leader. By the way, he's the one who had to actually sign off on this, they had to be ready to make this deal. And that is what's happened.

I mean, look, we rattle the cages a little bit or rather Siamak did when he decided in March to actually make an appeal to President Biden, with a rare actually an unprecedented interview from inside Evin Prison.

BASH: Let's play some of that interview. It was your interview that you did in March. Let's take a listen and talk on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SIAMAK NAMAZI, PRISONER, EVIN PRISON: I keep getting told that I'm going to be rescued and deals fall apart, or I get left abandoned. Honestly, the other hostages and I desperately need President Biden to finally hear us out, to finally hear our cry for help and bring us home. And I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures. So, this is a desperate measure.


BASH: I mean, that was a remarkable interview that you secured again from inside this notorious prison in Iran. How was it based on your reporting that that helped us for what we saw today?

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, it's the fact is that it put their case into the spotlight, which it was lingering in the shadows, to be frank. It wasn't, as you've noted, politically correct for the administration to do this, because it did, and has drawn some predictable backlash and we'll talk about that in a moment.


But it was a desperate, you could Siamak voice trembling. And it was very, very difficult, but it succeeded in at least putting, he said, I have to do everything I can do. I must do my maximum for me and my fellow hostages, because otherwise, you know, I won't be able to live with myself.

It's also notable that Secretary Blinken, you know, put out a statement and actually just thanked also the governments of Oman and Qatar and others. But mostly them who really did do the difficult work of the negotiations because the U.S. and Iran don't talk directly, at least in this case.

So, there's a lot of players. There are lot of people who made it happen. And I think that a, you know, you talked about a bonus of cash, and this is called inside politics, that's the politics, right? There's no cash bonus. This was Iran's money. It's not taxpayers' money, Iran's money that American sanctions prevented from South Korea, South Korea owed this money to Iran.

But because of the complex sanctions' mechanism, it wasn't able to be delivered. And it will be directed by an escrow account in Qatar, but with U.S. Treasury Department eyes on -- -

BASH: And money from Iranian oil that has -- -

AMANPOUR: What they sold it.

BASH: That they sold it -


AMANPOUR: They sold it to South Korea, correct, legally. And of course, Republicans have done this. And you know, Siamak said, thank you, thank you, thank you to President Biden. And in my view, he'd said he'd been abandoned several times President Trump and abandoned him when he got his two times a prisoner swap, abandoned him and his ailing father.

BASH: So, just real quick. I want to get into what you just mentioned, which is the criticism the backlash, saying, you know, this is going to be a reason for other bad actors to take American prisons unjustly to take American hostages, because they're going to expect to get something in return.

AMANPOUR: Yes. Well, look, that's a, you know, everybody wants to make sure that this kind of thing doesn't happen again. And so there needs to be some, you know, global attempt to have a policy that makes the cost too high for the benefits. But, you know, the truth is that this is what the Iranians have done over a period of time to get these -- to get their money's out.

The backlash hasn't been enormous, if you notice, and let's face it. What is the alternative? President Trump came into office, withdrew from a perfectly decent arms control agreement, a very narrow arms control agreement that was working, cut off, you know, all sorts of, you know, potential positives, and then tried maximum pressure, saying he would get the hostages out and get a better deal and (cross talk), none of it happened. None of it happened.

BASH: Well, I think that going back to what you said, and what Antony Blinken said about the humanity here is the key thing to keep in mind that these (cross talk), excuse me, men were held or pawns.

AMANPOUR: They're pawns. They're pawns.

BASH: Thank you, Christiane. Appreciate it.

AMANPOUR: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: And right now, negotiations are underway as the United Auto Workers unprecedented strike against the Big Three automakers enters day four. The union and automakers returned to the bargaining table over the weekend but did not reach a resolution.

CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich is just outside the Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan. Where you can see there lots of protesters, lots of strikers, I should say on the picket line behind you.

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, certainly are and they are encouraged that negotiations are ongoing. You had Ford and General Motors meeting at the main bargaining tables over the weekend, Stellantis meeting at that main negotiating table today.

But we heard from UAW President Shawn Fain that progress was slow. And that is why you have President Biden directing acting labor secretary Julie Su and senior White House adviser Gene Sperling to come to town, to come to Detroit to try to move these negotiations forward and try to reach a deal. Despite the fact that the union has made it pretty clear that they don't want White House involvement in these negotiations.

And now, Dana, today, all eyes are actually on Canada. We are watching the union Unifor, which represents more than 5000 foreign workers there that have their own strike deadline of 11:59 pm tonight. If that union does not reach a deal with Ford, you have thousands more workers going on strike, that will impact about three plants in Canada, which will actually have a greater impact than a partial shutdown at this plants.

And new analysis from Moody's Analytics says that a strike lasting here in the U.S. through the end of the year will stall the U.S. economy. And Dana, if this strike goes on for just six weeks that will have an economic impact, coupled with other economic headwinds like a potential government shutdown, rising mortgage rates and people having to pay student loans again in the coming month. Dana?

BASH: It's a lot to digest there. Thank you so much for that, Vanessa. Appreciate it. And up ahead, former President Trump refused to take a clear stance on abortion this weekend, while his 2024 rivals Barnstorm (Ph) Iowa confronting the hot topic head on. We're going to go live to the Hawkeye State, next.




BASH: Now to the campaign trail and a revealing answer from the frontrunner because of what he would and would not say. What he did tell NBC News about abortion reflects what he thinks about the general election and how little he feels he needs to cater to a key group of Republican voters now.


KRISTEN WELKER, NBC NEWS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: If a federal ban landed on your desk, if you were reelected, would you sign it at 15 weeks?

DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: Are you talking about a complete ban?

WELKER: A ban at 15 weeks.

TRUMP: Well, people are starting to think of 15 weeks. That seems to be a number that people are talking about right now.

WELKER: Would you sign that?

TRUMP: I would sit down with both sides and I'd negotiate something, and we'll end up with peace in that issue for the first time in 52 years. I'm not going to say, I would, or I wouldn't. I mean, DeSantis is willing to sign a five-week and six-week ban.

WELKER: Would you support that? You think that goes too far?

TRUMP: I think what he did is a terrible thing and a terrible mistake. But we'll come up with a number. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is live for us in Iowa. Jeff, I imagine those comments aren't going over well with evangelicals, particularly that very important voting group where you are in Iowa?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Dana, it is a very important voting group. And in fact, the rival candidates have been spending the weekend here, wooing those evangelical voters. There was a major event over the weekend in Des Moines, where more than thousands evangelical voters were listening to those candidates speak. The former president was not there. But his comments are certainly reverberating around the campaign trail.


Now there is a mix. There are some who would like to see a pragmatic approach taken to this because they do worry about the general election being a challenge for Republicans with abortion being for in Senator. But we did sit down with a pastor in Des Moines, Pastor Mike Demastus, who's met with President Trump before, and he's had this concern about the former president's views.

Listen to what he said.


PASTOR MIKE DEMASTUS, FORT DES MOINES CHURCH OF CHRIST: Why would you say that something like a heartbeat bill is too strict. Why would you say that? Because that's given me questions. I don't understand it. Helped me figure that out. And his answer for me wasn't the best, to be blunt with you.


DEMASTUS: His answer was that we are now in a better position to negotiate a better place.


ZELENY: So, this is one of the central issues that will of course, be litigated and decided over the next four months. The Iowa caucuses just 119 days away. Now, the pastor says he is undecided, as are some evangelical voters. But Dana, there is no doubt. The former president still holds a grip on many of them.

He'll be coming here to Iowa on Wednesday to Dubuque County. A key part of the Catholic constituency and faith-based groups here in Iowa where he was will certainly be asked about this. So, there is no doubt these evangelical voters are so important here in Iowa. This is one of the many things that we'll have to factor in. Dana?

BASH: Very interesting conversation there, Jeff, appreciate it. Here to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Phil Mattingly, Lisa Lerer of the New York Times, CNN's John Berman, and Jessica Washington of the Root. Hi, it's nice to see you all. Great to be here in New York. (crosstalk). Watch out. I know.

So, since you said that, I'll let you speak first. So, you're not intimidated by John Berman? I'm kidding. What do you make of the fact that Donald Trump is very much, as I said at the beginning, planning for the November election, and not the short-term lobbying of conservative voters who are expecting their nominee to be as conservative and hardcore on anti-abortion as they can be.

PHIL MATTINGLY, ANCHOR, CNN THIS MORNING: That he can read the polls. I mean, look, first off, he is who you thought he was on this issue. And I think that's important to state, while he certainly had changed the trajectory of abortion and abortion rights in this country with his three Supreme Court nominees that were confirmed and ended up playing a critical role in overturning Roe vs. Wade.

He has always been kind of tough to pin down on this issue and has largely been driven on this issue back in 2016, by outside advisors who were saying this is something you have to do, put out the Supreme Court list because you have to talk about this, you have to get away from the pro-choice position that he held as a businessman.

He doesn't feel the need clearly to be that person anymore or trying to hedge that way. And I think the reality right now is, it is kind of the paradox of this race where any other candidate who said what Trump said then, Nikki Haley didn't say anywhere near that. And still, the way she tried to hedge on it, got her -- had a couple tough days with evangelical, Christians had a couple tough days with primary voters. And Trump just kind of skates along. And it's fascinating.

BASH: So, this is about what he would do in the future. He has a lot of capital with these voters because of the fact that he made good on the promises that he made in 2016 to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade, and he knows it. Listen to what he said there.


TRUMP: I did something that nobody thought was possible, and Roe v. Wade was terminated, was put back to the states. Now, people, pro- lifers have the right to negotiate for the first time.


BASH: The right to negotiate for the first time, I'm still not entirely getting what he's trying to say there. But on the overall abortion issue, it does seem like, yes, he is separate from every other candidate. But again, because he did what he said he was going to do.

JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, CNN NEWS CENTRAL: Well, he a traditional candidate, this would be in the first three sentences of every campaign speech that he would give during the Republican primaries and caucuses, right, this would be something he would lean into. He doesn't usually get to it until halfway through because he's talking too much about the last election to get to it. But that would be something he would run on would be the Supreme Court nominees. But this comment that he made in this interview over the weekend, to an extent it's playing right into the hands of Ron DeSantis. The question is how bigger Ron DeSantis' hand at this point because they may not be -- -

BASH: Well, that's a call back to (crosstalk)

BERMAN: It is right. Well, my point is that (crosstalk) the last three non-incumbent winners in Iowa, right, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz. Now none of them want to be president, but they all won largely by playing to the evangelical conservative base there.


That's how you win Iowa. That's how Ron DeSantis is running, hoping that he can tap into that -- I mean Donald Trump just gave him this gift however, to Phil's point, you know, there's no reason to believe today that the gift is enough to get the DeSantis over the finish line.

BASH: And on -- your right, and on back on Donald Trump, there are prominent people in Iowa, who have swayed over the evangelical community, who say Donald Trump is not your man, Steve Deace, who is an Iowa radio host, says this further confirms to Iowans, this is not the same Trump we once knew. This Trump only attacks Republicans from the left.

JESSICA WASHINGTON, SENIOR REPORTER, THE ROOT: Yes. I mean, I think obviously, these comments are striking, right in a Republican primary. But I keep thinking back when I was covering an anti-abortion rally in D.C., and it was a massive rally. And I spoke to people who said Trump is not our guy who's going to parrot our talking points. He is not our guy who I think even maybe fundamentally believes this.

But he is the guy who was put in the Supreme Court nominations. I believe that this had already happened at the time. And they were saying, he is doing what he says, he's going to do on this issue. He is getting results and results for what we care about, not what he says. So, I do think this maybe doesn't hurt him as much as it does a traditional Republican candidate.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Look, I think, no evangelical voter believes, are very few, I would think in 2016, that they were voting for Donald Trump because he was this really strong anti-abortion warrior. They were voting for him because he promised them. He promised to sort of return Christianity to power in many different ways in a much broader array of issues. And they thought, as you point out, he would deliver.

We have no indication that his hold on that segment of the party has weakened in any way in the years that have passed. Like, it's certainly the traditional way to go for DeSantis in Iowa would be to run on this issue to go to the right of Trump on it and try to make inroads with evangelicals. But just as in 2016, where evangelical voters did not follow their leaders, we have no expectation or no indication that they would do so this time around. BASH: All right, everybody standby. When we come back two weeks in counting Republicans announced a deal late Sunday to continue funding the government. But can speaker Kevin McCarthy get it across the finish line? We'll talk about that next.