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Inside Politics

Nine Republicans Vie To Be Speaker; IDF: Israel Strikes 320 Targets In Gaza Overnight; Democrats Risk Splintering Over Support For Israel. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired October 23, 2023 - 12:30   ET



MANU RAJU, CNN HOST: There's ample doubt that none of them can. It's been an all out free-for-all since Jim Jordan became the second Republican to step aside amid this paralyzed House and the inability of Jordan and before him, Steve Scalise, to get the 217 votes they needed to be elected speaker. Can any of these nine do just that?

There has been a furious effort behind the scenes to try to lock up the vote, commitments before a secret election will take place tomorrow morning to nominate the next speaker of the House. The front- runner is viewed as Tom Emmer, the House Republican whip. But he is by no means to lock this race up given the fact it's incredibly crowded.

I talked to one of them just earlier today, Congressman Don Meuser. He's a Republican of Pennsylvania. His task, he says, is try to unify this badly divided Republican conference.


REP. DAN MEUSER (R-PA): McCarthy was taken out unfairly. Those people took him out, most of them, maybe all of them are my friends. But as I said, I respect each and every one of them. That's got to be the case moving forward. The American people want us to stop this dysfunction and get on with it.

RAJU: Just on the aid to Israel and Ukraine. Do you agree with the president and McConnell those two issues should be linked together?

MEUSER: Absolutely not.


RAJU: And that's going to be one of the big questions for any of these potential speakers. How they will deal with key legislative issues that cannot be acted upon in this GOP leadership crisis, namely how to move forward aid to Israel, how to move forward aid to Ukraine, how to avoid a government shutdown.

You heard the congressman there tell me that he would not support tying Ukraine aid to Israel aid, even though that is what Joe Biden has called for and even what Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has called for. So, even once the speaker is elected, Dana, I expect a huge fight over

these consequential huge issues but they can't even act upon it until a speaker is elected.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: A fight among House Republicans? It's shocking. Totally shocking.

Manu, thank you so much. Appreciate that.

Here with me in the studio to share their reporting, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Leigh Ann Caldwell of "The Washington Post", and CNN's Daniel Strauss.

Leigh Ann, I've seen you out there. You've been walking the halls, working the members along with Manu. What are you hearing? What's your sense?

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Echoing Manu's reporting, it's going to be really difficult for anyone to find 217 votes. They have nine candidates right now, a contested race.

Divisions are running deep. Feelings are hurt. Revenge sometimes top of mind. And so it's going to be extremely problematic and difficult.

They're going to try. Tom Emmer is the front-runner. But Trump team is working to make sure that he is not elected. I just confirmed a few minutes ago that Trump, who was going to stay out of the race, has now directed his allies to take down Emmer.

BASH: Because?

CALDWELL: There's a long list of things. He hasn't endorsed Donald Trump. He voted to certify the election.

BASH: Ding, ding, ding. That's where I was going on that follow-up.


BASH: Well, on that note, let's just look at -- this is in many ways, a personality contest, but it's also about some key issues. One is as you said and there's a lot on your screen so let me walk you through. The first two are Tom Emmer and Austin Scott, first two of nine candidates for speaker. They're the only ones who supported, voted to certify the election, which is where Tom Emmer will go sideways with Donald Trump.

Also, Ukraine aid, they support that and they support the debt ceiling. They supported the debt ceiling deal. So those are the first two who actually align with Senate Republicans and frankly, the White House, particularly on Ukraine.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I mean, it is pretty amazing when the cardinal sin is that you supported this certification of the election. But that's where we are.

Look, I'm not sure that this is going to be policy-driven at all. I mean, that is not the point here. The big question as we enter another week, is this a fever breaking?

Are donors or party elders to the extent there are any anymore, are they weighing in and saying guys, enough is enough? So, I'm not sure if any of these nine are different than the three. Some have much less baggage, obviously, but the reality is that no one is going to line up perfectly. So, I think it's going to take an outside force or someone coming to their senses internally.

One of these nine maybe has better relationships with some of these members. That's what we're about to find out. But it's not necessarily their act role in all of these votes. It's going to take an outside force to say guys, finally, it's over.

DANIEL STRAUSS, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yeah, I mean, look. It is -- we haven't seen in many corners of the GOP right now, fever breaking in any sense. This is no different.

But I want to stress here that for Trump, this is about power and this is about -- this comes at a time when on the campaign trail and in Congress, he's worried about losing control, losing his iron grip on the party.


So he wants whoever emerges from this extended speaker fight, he wants that person to be incredibly pro-Trump, incredibly supportive of him, no matter what he does.

BASH: Yeah, except his guy, Jim Jordan, lost. And so his attempts at that has not gone anywhere.

Leigh Ann, I want you to listen to what Mike McCaul, who's the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said just yesterday.


REP. MIKE MCCAUL (R-TX), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I have to say and it's my 10th term in Congress, this is probably one of the most embarrassing things I've seen because if we don't have a speaker of the House, we can't govern. And every day that goes by, we're essentially shutdown as a government.


CALDWELL: Yeah. He's not wrong. He's absolutely right.

Electing a speaker of the house is always hard work but it's usually one of the easiest things that a party does and we've spent three weeks on this exact issue and there's no end in sight. Government funding runs out on November 17th. We have this $106 billion Ukraine, Israel package that the White House is wanting to get passed.

And, you know, every single day as McCaul says that they are focusing on this, they are not going the work.

BASH: Yeah, you've got to wonder when the adults in the room like Mike McCaul who are calling this embarrassing and have been for weeks just kind of take over and say, okay, that is enough. And also talk about why there's no woman in line to be there. But that's a different conversation unfortunately.

Thank you all.

And up next, the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza is getting worse. One hospital is reportedly overwhelmed with bodies, low on electricity and has forced its doctors to operate without proper medication. So what are Gaza's neighbors, the Arab neighbors doing to help? We're going to talk about that and more, next.



BASH: New video shows children and families running from what Palestinian officials said were intensified air strikes on Gaza City.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The Palestinian Foreign Ministry says a large number of people were killed in the strikes this morning.

Meanwhile, a U.S. official say more than 500 Palestinian Americans are believed trap in Gaza desperately waiting for an opportunity to leave Gaza.

CNN's Nada Bashir joins us now live from Jordan.

Nada what are the Arab nations in the region doing, if anything, to help the desire humanitarian situation in Gaza?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well, look, Jake, from the outset of this crisis, we have seen countries across the Middle East preparing aid, getting that aid sent to the El-Arish Air Base near Sinai in Egypt, of course, waiting for the opportunity for the aid to make it across the Rafah border crossing. But as you know, the amount of aid that is getting in through the Rafah border crossing is a trickle of aid compared to what is needed inside Gaza. Less than 1 percent of the aid they typically would have received over two weeks has entered the Gaza Strip and that is a huge concern given the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe we are seeing.

But that aid is continuing to be stockpiled by Middle Eastern countries. Also, of course, there are intense efforts on the diplomatic front. We saw over the weekend the Cairo peace summit, leaders from across the world, but also particularly from the Arab world gathering together, focusing on trying to eliminate the humanitarian catastrophe but also to bring an end to ongoing and intensifying conflict. No resolution was reached at the peace summit but we did hear vocal words of condemnation from the likes of King Abdullah of Jordan, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

And, of course, we've heard from King Abdullah condemning the violence in Gaza, condemning the violence in the West Bank, as well as condemning violence seen in Israel. He has called for an immediate cease fire as well as efforts to mediate some sort of peace agreement on the basis, he said on Saturday, of a two-state solution.

Now, of course, we have heard concerns being expressed by Arab leaders over the prospect of an evacuation process, of more Palestinians being made refugees. King Abdullah has described this as a war crime and a red line for Jordan.

TAPPER: All right. Nada, thank you so much.

Dana, back to you.

BASH: Jake, thank you so much.

And coming up, many progressives here in the United States are increasing their calls for a ceasefire and condemning their fellow Democrat in the White House, President Biden, for supporting Israeli retaliation. One progressive, however, is not falling in line with his colleagues. We're going to talk to Congressman Ritchie Torres, next.



BASH: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS.

In the 16 days since Hamas attacked Israel, antisemitic incidents in the United States have increased. In San Diego, a Jewish community center closed indefinitely after two vandalism attacks. Swastikas were drawn on a New York City's deli door and a professor from Cornell University is on a leave after -- a leave of absence after saying he was energized by Hamas' attack and more broadly on college campuses, student protests have glorified the Hamas terrorists who attacked the music festival on October 7th.

While many have spoken out against this hate, Congressman Ritchie Torres of New York has remained one of Israel's most vocal defenders and the congressman joins me now.

Thank you so much for being here.

You are a proud member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.


But on the issue of Israel, your very vocal position is notably very different from many others. For example, you wrote that the, quote, Democratic socialist industrialist complex indoctrinates young Americans with an anti-Israel hatred so virulent that it renders them indifferent to the deadliest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.

Why do you think that is happening?

REP. RITCHIE TORRES (D-NY): Look, there's been a concerted campaign to demonize Israel, as if it is the root of all evil. And when you systematically demonize Israel, what inevitably follows is the dehumanization of Israeli victims. What inevitably follows is the Democratic socialist rally that glorifies the terrorism of Hamas. So, in my opinion, the hatred for Israel, the hatred has been taken

too far. And, you know, hatred is dangerous because it could easily harden (ph) into violence.

And we've seen the demonization of Israel lead to a global outbreak of antisemitic violence, vandalism and vitriol. You know, here in New York City, there was a Jewish woman punched in the face abruptly, unprovoked simply because she was Jewish.

And so, we are seeing antisemitic incidents take hold in an atmosphere of amplified antisemitism and high end hatred against Israel as a Jewish state.

BASH: Congressman, your colleague, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, she is also like you, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, she called you out on Friday. Listen to what she said.


REP. ILHAN OMAR (D-MN): How many more killings is enough for you? Is it 1,000 more, 2,000 more, 3,000? How many more Palestinians would make you happy if they die? Would you be fine if all of the people of Gaza were gone? Would that make you happy? Would that be the thing that makes you proud?

And maybe that's the question you should ask Ritchie, is he okay? How many more Palestinian lives is he comfortable with?


BASH: What's your response?

TORRES: I mean, I obviously resent those comments. You know, every casualty is a tragedy, every war is a humanitarian crisis. But we have to keep in mind the causes of the war.

Israel did not start the war. The war was imposed upon Israel by the barbaric terrorism of Hamas which butchered 1,400 Israelis, including babies.

You know, my colleague, Representative Omar, has voted against Iron Dome which is a missile defense system that protects Israeli civilians from relentless rocket fire. If it were not for Iron Dome interceptions, there would be far more dead Israelis, far more, by orders of magnitude.

And so, the policy position that she has taken would have led to more dead Israelis and more dead Palestinians.

BASH: You know, this deepening divide among you and people who believe what you believe and other progressives has been really fascinating to watch and kind of bewildering to a lot of people where you are, on both sides of it, because even before the October 7th attack, a lot of Jews who describe themselves as liberal, who believe in social justice was shunned by their fellow liberals for saying that they believed in Israel as a Jewish state. And that is a divide that is exploding. In "The New York Times," they actually posted something that the Black

Lives Matter in Los Angeles said after the October 7th attack, they said, quote: When a people have been subject to decades of apartheid and unimaginable violence, their resistance must not be condemned but understood as a desperate act of self-defense.

That again was Black Lives Matter Los Angeles.

What is your take on this?

TORRES: Well, I reject the notion that there's a divide, with a few exceptions. Just about every Democrat has unequivocally voiced support for Israel and condemned the terrorism of Hamas and stood by Israel's right to defend itself. So --

BASH: But there is a divide among progressives?

TORRES: Not in Congress. I think the overall majority of Congress stands for Israel's right to defend itself.

But, you know, I view it as a matter of human decency. You know, imagine a mother whose baby has been murdered in cold blood. I cannot imagine anything more callous and cruel than telling that mother you are to blame, you had this coming.

That, to me, is indecent. You know, this is not about politics. You k now, this is not about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.


This is about human decency. It is indecent to blame the victims of terrorism rather than the terrorists themselves. It is indecent to glorify terrorism as resistance. It is indecent to lionize the paragliders who gunned down 260 Israelis at a music festival.

And so, ultimately, for me, this is a matter of moral common sense and moral decency.

BASH: Congressman, I know that you're -- you're getting backlash for some of those comments that you've made, and you've been very active online, on your social media in saying what you just said to me here. I really appreciate you coming on and I hope that you come back.

TORRES: Absolutely.

BASH: Thank you so much.

And thanks to Jake Tapper in Tel Aviv for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

Thanks for all of you for watching.

"CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts after a quick break.