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85-Year-Old Freed Hamas Hostage: "I Went Through Hell"; Talks Underway To Secure Release Of More Hostages; Israel Prepares For Ground War In Gaza; Stefanik: House GOP Picks Rep. Tom Emmer As Its Speaker Nominee. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 24, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, I went through hell. That's how one of the two elderly hostages released by Hamas describes what she endured after being kidnapped and held in tunnels inside Gaza for two weeks. Yocheved Lifshitz wants the world to know about the brutal assault, how she was held underground and the surprising level of care, she said she received from the same terrorist group responsible for the barbaric slaughter of countless people in Israel.

Her story, no doubt stirring a slew of mixed emotions for families of the more than 200 hostages still believed to be inside Gaza, after being violently snatched from their homes on a day that was both the Jewish Sabbath and a Jewish holiday. Sources tell CNN that the timing of a ground invasion remains fluid as talks continue to get more hostages out.

Here is what the Secretary of State Antony Blinken, said just moments ago about the families of hostages.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: None of us can imagine the nightmare they're living, something no family should have to endure. Their loved ones must be released immediately, unconditionally, and every member of this council, indeed, every member of this body should insist on that.


BASH: CNN's Jake Tapper joins me now for more from Tel Aviv. Jake, let's start with that harrowing account from 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz. She was one of the two Israelis released last night. She was held for more than two weeks by Hamas, and she's really talking in detail about the moment she was abducted and the violence that she endured.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. A really chilling account from Yocheved Lifshitz about her really upsetting experience. She spoke earlier today at a hospital in Tel Aviv. She was there with her daughter surrounded by news media. She had some really tough comments about warnings ignored by the Netanyahu government and the Israeli Defense Forces before the attack, weeks before the attack. She spoke in both Hebrew and English.


YOCHEVED LIFSHITZ, RELEASED HOSTAGE: I went through hell. We didn't think nor knew we could get into this stage. The ramp pitched in our kibbutz, it was a painful act. They brought us into a hatch of a tunnel. On the way, I was lying on the side on the motorbike, legs to one side, body to the other. The Shabaab were hitting me, so they didn't break my ribs. But it was very painful and made it difficult for me to breathe.


TAPPER: And I have to say also, I mean, the country of Israel is still really in a state of shock from what happened two Saturdays ago October 7. And the fact that there remain more than 200 hostages, not just Israelis, but people from all over the world is still part of that trauma. And the refrain of release the hostages, released the hostages.

A lot of people in Israel feel like the rest of the world has really just moved on and is focused entirely on the humanitarian crisis that is going on in Gaza. And they feel like the rest of the world has completely ignored the fact that there remain 200 hostages in Gaza.

BASH: Yes. And I know you on the lead, and we hear it Inside Politics and all over CNN, we are not forgetting, in fact, we have a family member of somebody who is still inside Gaza to speak with us later in this hour. Jake, I know that what we heard was also some surprising detail about medical care that you have said that she received while in captivity. What can you tell us about that?

TAPPER: She did talk about that. And it's interesting to focus on that. Because remember, Hamas, the terrorists of Hamas went into Israel. And the plan was to take hostages, to kidnap innocent people. The plan was to do that. Take a listen.



LIFSHITZ: There were guards and a paramedic, and a doctor who took care of the fact that we'd have more or less the same medicine. There we laid on mattresses. They really took care of the sanitary sites, so we wouldn't get sick.


TAPPER: So, as she talks about the care that she received, keep in mind, these are the same people that burned babies and slaughtered moms in front of their children, and on and on. These were individuals that were meant to be kept as hostages, for Hamas as used as hostages. So that's important to keep in mind. These are not people who all of a sudden decided to become great humanitarians. It's just that they wanted these people to be kept separate for their own purposes. BASH: It's part of their strategy. It's part of their manipulative campaign. That, as you said, was very, very well-orchestrated. Jake, and we also need to remember that you have his husband was also taken and he's still being held there. So, if I were her, I would be careful in what she said.

TAPPER: Yes. And that's another thing to remember. Yocheved's daughter also spoke at the press conference today.


SHARONE LIFSHITZ, DAUGHTER OF RELEASED HOSTAGE: My heart is with my father and the other 218 people also that are still held hostage. This is a great sign that other things can happen.


BASH: And, Jake, we should also know -- -

TAPPER: So, four hostages -- -

BASH: Go ahead.

TAPPER: Go ahead. I'm sorry.

BASH: Please.

TAPPER: Well, I was just going to say four hostages of the 225 had been released, but that, there's still hundreds still in Gaza.

BASH: Yes. And as I toss it back to you, I just wanted to also underscore something else that Lifshitz said, which is a pretty harsh criticism of the Israeli government saying the officials there who were supposed to keep her and everybody else safe. They didn't take the threat of Hamas as seriously as they should have ignored warning signs and also was critical of that border fence between Gaza and Israel, which Hamas just kind of tore through.

TAPPER: Yes. Well, there's a lot of criticism of the Netanyahu government and IDF. And that will be as the campaign continues against Hamas. That will be coming to the fore no doubt in future days. CNN is also learning. There are talks underway right now to try to release even more of the hostages being held by Hamas. And CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live for us in Ashkelon right now. Jeremy, what are you learning about that?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, there are still more than at least 200 hostages who are being held by Hamas and some of these other militant groups inside of the Gaza Strip. And while we have seen two Americans released initially, and then these two Israeli elderly women who were released yesterday.

What the U.S. and Israel are now pursuing is something on a much bigger scale. They are pursuing the release of a large number of hostages simultaneously. But these are very, very complex negotiations. And as of yet, it's not clear whether or not these talks will actually succeed in resulting in the release of additional hostages.

These talks involve not only the U.S. and Israel, but also the key intermediaries with Hamas, and that is the country of Qatar, as well as the Egyptian governments which are key to this deal. And the hope is to try and reach for a big group of hostages all at once.

But there are a number of complex factors involved in this, namely, Hamas has been calling for a ceasefire to release these hostages. The Israeli government has been quite clear that they will not agree to a ceasefire at this time. And the Hamas has also been calling for fuel to enter Gaza.

Now on that front, what we have seen is some movement on that front in the last several hours with the IDF chief of staff saying, that they will now allow fuel in places needed to treat civilians inside of Gaza, but that they will ensure that that fuel will not be able to reach a Hamas.

Now that is a major, major shift in position from the Israeli government, from the Israeli military, which up until now has been adamant that it will not allow fuel inside of Gaza, even as it has begun to allow some other humanitarian needs like water and food into this coastal enclave.

Now, what's clear is that as these talks go on, President Biden and the Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, they have remained in close communication speaking by phone as recently as last night.

TAPPER: All right, Jeremy, thank you so much, Dana, back to you.

BASH: Thanks, Jake. And I want to bring in Lieutenant General Mark Hertling to talk more about what is going on on the ground or at least may go on. And I should note that General Hertling, you of course, were the former commanding general for Europe and the Seventh Army.


We know, sir, that senior U.S. military officials, including three- star Lieutenant General James Glynn, are in Israel to advise the IDF ahead of a potential ground invasion into Gaza. You and that lieutenant general were both in Iraq at different times though. But given the experience that you each have what kind of advice do you think he could be giving to the Israelis?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING (RET.), FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL, EUROPE AND SEVENTH ARMY: Yes, Dana. It's interesting. We both had experience in Mosul, one of the largest cities in Iraq. Mind came in 2007 and '08, his came during the ISIS invasion, Operation Inherent Resolve. And in both of those situations, I would suggest we learned an awful lot of how to fight inside the cities.

How to try our very best to avoid civilian casualties, because you're talking about terrorist operations on a civilian battlefield. We fought in areas where the streets were narrow, and the houses were large. What's fascinating about all of that, is Hamas, more than likely is much more challenging than anything I saw with Al-Qaeda or anything General Glynn saw with ISIS.

BASH: That's a big statement.

HERTLING: They have the tunnel conflict. I'm sorry.

BASH: I say, that's a big statement, because it certainly wasn't a walk in the park in Mosul.

HERTLING: No, it certainly wasn't. As you know, you reported some of this, it was extremely challenging from combat in the cities in an urban environment perspective. His was harder than mine. What the Israelis are going to face going into Gaza is harder than both of ours combined, I would suggest.

But having said all that, we learned a lot of lessons. The ability to really focus on targeting the right kinds of cells, how to avoid as much as possible civilians on the battlefield. But truthfully, even in that situation, there were a lot of civilian unfortunate innocent civilians that died. We also did not have to deal, neither one of us had to deal with hostages, at least on the scale that you're talking about here in terms of multinational operations.

BASH: You know, my understanding is that there is some concern at the Pentagon General Hertling about the Israeli objective being clear. They want to dismantle it. They want to eliminate Hamas. But the plan to achieve that is less clear. Is there any way to formulate an achievable plan to release -- excuse me, to reach that goal, particularly given the challenges you just described?

HERTLING: Well, it's challenging. First of all, Dana, because what you have is a lack of a political government within Gaza. You know, Hamas has been running the care of the Palestinian people, 2 million for the last 10 years or so. When you don't have a government that ensures water or electricity or sewage or care for the people with healthcare. Things break down and you lose the trust of the people.

So, when Israel goes in to strikes targeted spells, it's very difficult to say, you not only have to defeat the enemy, but then you have to give the civilian population something to look forward to and that's not part of the plan right now.

BASH: Wow. That's going to be very, very difficult. General Hertling, thank you so much for being on. Appreciate it.


BASH: And back here in the United States, here in Washington, House Republicans are meeting behind closed doors again to try to pick a speaker. Will plan D work better than A, B or C. Plus, another Trump lawyer pleads guilty in Georgia and he's cooperating with prosecutors. How dangerous could she be to the former president?




BASH: Welcome back, some breaking news on Capitol Hill. Let's get straight to Manu Raju for that news. Manu, what are you hearing from inside that meeting behind you?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: House Republicans just nominated Tom Emmer, the House GOP whip to be the next speaker of the House. This is according to Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who chairs the Republican conference. Putting out a post on Twitter saying that, he in fact won the Republican nomination. We'll wait where the final vote count ultimately was.

The final bout and the fifth bout was against him and Congressman Mike Johnson of Louisiana. They had battled over initially started the day with eight candidates, now down -- then down to five, ultimately down to two and Emmer winning the nomination.

The question now is how close is he to the 217 votes he needs on the House floor to be elected speaker. And, and three weeks of Republican infighting, that has led this chamber completely stalled, unable to act on legislation in the aftermath of the historic and unprecedented ouster of Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House.

Once he was removed from the office. There had been -- Republicans have been unable to find any consensus behind a replacement. Steve Scalise, initially Jim Jordan initially, they won their Republican nomination to be speaker, but they were unable to get the votes on the House floor.

Can Tom Emmer, the new Republican nominee to be speaker, get the votes or will he meet the same fate as Jordan and Scalise? That is going to be a huge question. Now behind closed doors. These members said that they would do ensure that they could get the 217 votes first, before going to flip to the floor. They made that promise to members in last night's meeting.

And we do expect, Dana, a vote to test that of sorts. They had been to some discussion that there would actually another secret ballot vote sometime this afternoon to ensure that the nominee, now Tom Emmer can actually get the 217 votes, or will there be any detractors? And I can tell you there are some.

One Congressman Rick Allen of Georgia told me that he would vote against Emmer because of his support for codifying same sex marriage in the previous Congress. Also, others concerned about his record on spending issues. That is something that the House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry told me earlier. He didn't say if you'd vote against him.


But the margin so narrow, only four Republicans, he can afford to lose on any party line vote. Can he limit defections? And can he get there and get this House moving? All huge questions. And the upfront of the Tom winner -- Emmer winning the Republican nomination to be the speaker of the House to move this chamber out of its state of paralysis. Dana?

BASH: So, Manu, you said that you believe that there might be another secret ballot behind closed doors to ensure that that 217, or whatever number it is, given how many people will be present for the House floor vote, that it can be attained by Emmer. Do you think it's going to be secret? Or do you think people are going to do it publicly? Or is it still unclear?

RAJU: It's a bit unclear. Most of the time as you know, in these conference meetings are all done by secret ballot. So, I expect that will be the same case here. But this is a different process than we saw with Scalise and with Jim Jordan. Scalise didn't have anything like this and then ultimately bowed out.

Jim Jordan, went to the floor on three separate occasions, was rejected by a number of his colleagues, it's ultimately 25 Republicans voted against him on the floor. Now they would put that test to the members and say, all right, well 270 members actually vote for Tom Emmer, test that proposition here.

How many defects will be a huge question for Emmer. If they decide to -- if he can get the votes, it could be a floor vote as soon as tonight, if not, this process could drag out and we'll see was ultimately able to be elected speaker. Dana?

BASH: Manu, thank you so much for that breaking news. Appreciate it. Let us know as soon as you hear anything else coming out from outside that room. Here with me with their reporting is Seung Min Kim of the Associated Press, and Jackie Kucinich of The Boston Globe.

You know, what a concept that they're going to actually try to work this out behind closed doors and not try to do it on the House floor. And when I say that I am not saying it's a bad thing for America to see the process working. The process just hasn't worked in that way.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Right, right. We've had a several embarrassing defeats, whether it's Scalise not being able to make it to a full floor vote, or Jim Jordan losing several times. So, you do see why they kind of want to lock this down before there is an actual public vote that we all can see.

But I do think, you know, Manu pointed this out that the easy part for Tom Emmer is, now over the easy part was getting that title of speaker designate for the House Republican conference. And the hard part is making sure that you can -- you lose that you're able to get the vast majority of the Republican conference on board.

And I think one thing that we should really focus in on -- be focusing on for the next several days is the Trump factor. I mean, Trump has made it clear, and his allies have made it clear that this is not a guy that he wants.

I thought it was really interesting how he -- how the former president got really involved over the weekend, calling the several different speaker candidates, because he knows that if he wants to be president, if he is the president, you know, in some fashion in January 2025, he's going to want a close relationship with the guy who leads the House Republican conference, and he doesn't have that with Emmer as of yet.

BASH: No, no, not at all, because he doesn't like Emmer, because Ember has said that Joe Biden is the president, among other things. Jackie, we're being told that Tom Emmer got 117 votes in this secret ballot behind closed doors. That's a far cry from the 217.


BASH: You know, I don't do that. That math says that, well, that's why I'm in TV news. But I do know that that's hundred.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Yes. And there are, I mean, there are Republicans that are going to wait to see what the former president says. There are Republicans that are already Manu mentioned one, who aren't happy about his voting record. He voted to fund the government.

And you know, what he's going to have to do it again, in three weeks, if he's the speaker, which is why nothing has changed the atmospherics that dogged (Ph) Kevin McCarthy have not changed. If you're the speaker of the House, and you are, you know, in-charge of making a deal with the Democratic Senate and the Democratic president in order to get the government funded. You're already going to be at a disadvantage with the Republican conference in three weeks' time.

BASH: I mean, think about what you just said. The one of the biggest negatives, aside from the fact that he thinks Joe Biden as president is that. He thought it was a good idea to keep the government open, and that that's a strike against him in many of the corners of the House conference. And I'd say, you're right, but I just think about what that says about where they are.

I will say that one of the big differences, it's time, and it's been three weeks without a speaker, and I want you guys to listen to some of what Manu and our other colleagues on the Hill have heard from very frustrated House Republicans.


RAJU: What are you hearing from your constituents back home about this mess?

REP. PAT FALLON (R-TX): They wanted to over with. They want us to clean up the mess, which is what I think we're all set here to do.

REP. DAN NEWHOUSE (R-WA): Everybody i's frustrated. And I think that's the general consensus around the country and us included.

REP. MARC MOLINARO (R-NY): And spent some time in the district talking to neighbors. There's frustrated as we are either. I'm they're angry and I'm angry.



BASH: So, the question literally as we speak, is whether that frustration will translate into having the 100 or even close to the 100. People who didn't vote for Tom Emmer in the secret ballot, vote yes, and make him the speaker and get on with the people's business.

KIM: Right, it's the frustration. And frankly, it's the embarrassment. I don't think anyone in the House Republican conference will say, this is a great moment for them right now. And, you know, going back to the government funding point, they wanted to spend the six weeks from, you know, September 30 to November 17, actually working on different legislation to fund the government.

And they've essentially wasted three weeks when the House is basically closed, unable to operate, fighting amongst themselves. And it's been very difficult to do actually the work that they wanted to prevent in the first place.

BASH: Yes. No, it's so true. And well, again, that's sort of the logical thing to bring up about basic funding of the government because it is going to run out in November 17, I believe it is. And so, the question that I've been wondering, and I was talking to some people here about this, is, at what point does this bleed over into the 2024 presidential race?

I mean, you talk about Trump, and the Trump factor is its own kind of animal. But the question is whether or not people are looking at the only part of the U.S. government that is run by Republicans and saying, do I want these guys to be in the White House?

KUCINICH: We had reporters in Iowa and New Hampshire, asking this exact question. I think a week ago, and at that point, they were -- you were hearing the same thing, both from the presidential candidates, the Republican presidential candidates, and people on the ground, telling Republicans to get it together because they were embarrassed.

And there were several voters that we spoke to, that were worried about independents. Looking at what's happening in Washington and saying, you know, well, these guys don't have their acts together. We're going to go with someone else next time.

BASH: Yes. It is a very real question. OK. Let's see, we're all on pins and needles. Thanks for your reporting to both of you. Up next, amid the good news that 85-year-old Yocheved Lifshitz was released. I'm going to speak to an Israeli man whose mother is just about her age, 84 years old, but she is still missing and in desperate need of medication. Stay with us.