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Hundreds Now Leaving Gaza Through Rafah Crossing; 341 Foreign Nationals Arrived In Egypt From Gaza Today; IDF: Israeli Military "In Very Significant Areas Of Gaza City"; Barrage Of Explosions Seen In Gaza City Thursday Morning; Biden Interrupted By Protester Calling For Ceasefire; Biden: "Need A Pause" In Israeli Strikes To Get Hostages Out; Biden Calls For Pause In Fighting To "Get The Prisoners Out"; Tuberville's GOP Colleagues Blast His Military Promotion Holds. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 02, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, the desperate escaped from a war zone. Hundreds of Americans are waiting at the Rafah crossing, hoping to get out of Gaza as soon as today. This as Israeli forces are fighting face to face battles with Hamas and pushing into Gaza city. All in response to the unimaginably brutal Hamas massacre last month of some 1400 Israeli citizens.

Plus, President Biden is calling for a pause to get hostages out and aid in that new public posture comes as political pressure increases on the president from within his own party. And Republicans call out one of their own. GOP senators slam Tommy Tuberville for hours on the Senate floor for continuing to hold up hundreds of military promotions.

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

We're going to start with that urgent effort underway right now to get Americans out of Gaza. Hundreds of foreign nationals and dozens of injured civilians are expected to leave the Rafah border crossing, go through there at least today.

CNN's Melissa Bell is covering all of this from Cairo. Melissa, what are we seeing at this moment?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dana, what we understand is that a few dozen Americans have now made their way through the Rafah crossing, and here safely into Egypt after so many days of uncertainty. In fact, it wasn't until yesterday that this process began a tool having seemed completely blocked as far, Dana.

What we understand is that there should be many more to come. In fact, what happened overnight is that a fresh list was published with nearly 600 names on it, including the names of 400 American citizens who are due for evacuation today. So that process appears to be moving along fairly quickly when it comes to American citizens. This is a pretty opaque process. What we understand from the Egyptian side is that the full 7,000 foreign or dual national citizens who are inside the Gaza Strip, will be allowed out. How the daily lists are organized, is a matter for negotiation with Hamas, Israel, Egypt, and it is pretty opaque.

We don't really have much insight into that. From what we're hearing from the many different consular services that have turned up at the Rafah crossing to try and get their citizens out is that they don't have a great deal of say in how the lists are organized.

The other difficulty, Dana, that people are having is that we had another communications blackout inside Gaza yesterday, very difficult to be for families that are on this side or outside in the wider world to be able to get word to their families inside Gaza, that their names are even on the list.

So, it's a pretty chaotic situation inside still, people are making their way out at long loss and bringing with them details of what's been going on inside. And I think that is something already and in and of itself. That is a cause of some celebration for the families who've been waiting so desperately for the news that their loved ones would be able to get out. Dana?

BASH: Melissa Bell, thank you so much for that reporting. Now to Israeli forces, pushing deeper into Gaza. The IDF says troops are now in a "significant part of Gaza City as their fight against Hamas terrorist intensifies."

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is in Sderot. Jeremy, what are you hearing from the IDF at this point about what's happening right across the border from you?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, the chief of staff of the Israeli military saying that his forces have been operating inside of Gaza city, which is Hamas's stronghold in northern Gaza for the last several days. But he also says that they are operating, "in very significant areas of Gaza city." There has been intense fighting ongoing over these last six days since Israeli forces launched their expanded ground operation inside of Gaza, between Israeli forces and Hamas militants.

But even as Israeli forces push deeper into the Gaza Strip into that strongholds of Gaza city, they are also still dealing with intense battles with Hamas fighters right behind my shoulder in the north eastern most part of Gaza city. Throughout the day. Dana, we have been hearing active fights between Hamas militants and Israeli soldiers.


We've been hearing artillery fire going out from near our position here in southern Israel into the Gaza Strip, but also hearing mortar fire within the Gaza Strip. We know that Hamas fighters have been using mortars against Israeli forces. And what we've also learned is that Hamas fighters have been making use of that underground tunnel system inside of Gaza to ambush Israeli forces. That happened late last night, overnight, Israeli forces in northern Gaza were ambushed by Hamas forces according to the IDF. And we've been hearing that Israeli forces have broken down Hamas's northern most defensive front lines. But even as that happens, the fact that those tunnels exists, provides the -- presents the risk to Israeli forces, that those Hamas fighters can come in behind them and ambush them. And that does seem to be happening with some intensity over the last 24 hours. Dana?

BASH: Jeremy, I just want to underscore what you're reporting, and we've seen some of the images. But up until a few days ago, the bulk of the action that we saw was from the air. And what we're seeing in an even more intense way as the IDF gets closer and more into the urban centers, particularly Gaza city, you're seeing some real urban combat between IDF soldiers and the Hamas terrorists that they're looking for.

DIAMOND: Yes, that's right. That does appear to be beginning. And again, we don't have perfect insight into what's happening inside of Gaza, because journalists from, you know, are unable to get inside of Gaza, unless you were already in there before this fighting started on October 7. But it is true that the forces on the ground are engaging with those Hamas militants. They are making use of close air support. We've seen several Apache helicopters coming in to provide that air support.

The question now, Dana, is how far, how deep into those urban areas are they going to go. We've still seen the most densely populated areas of the cities including the Jabalia refugee camp yesterday, Israeli forces are still using airpower to target Hamas militants in those underground complexes in those densely populated areas.

The question over the coming days and weeks will be whether those Israeli forces will be willing to go deeper into those population centers, where the fighting again will be much, much more intense.

BASH: Yes. That's important to sort of clarify there, but it's not an either or it's a very much in and that's happening right now when it comes to the kind of fighting and the power that Israel is trying to use. Thank you so much, Jeremy, for that.

And here at home, President Biden is continuing to get pressure to support a ceasefire as Israel continues its military operation in Gaza. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez joins me from the White House. So, Priscilla, President Biden was interrupted at a fundraiser last night with calls for a ceasefire. Tell us what happened in that moment when he responded?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dana, this was a moment that really underscored the complicated political landscape that the White House is trying to navigate here. And notably, in a setting which was the campaign fundraiser, a campaign fundraiser for the president in Minneapolis yesterday evening. So, take a look at the video we have of that interaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, if you care about Jewish people, as a rabbi, I need you to call for a ceasefire right now.



ALVAREZ: Now, the president acknowledged that protesters according to reporters in the room saying, "I think we need a pause," a pause means give time to get the prisoners out. That referring to the hostages that are being held by Hamas in Gaza. Now, this is in line with what White House has said that they are urging for humanitarian pause to get the hostages out but also to get aid into Gaza.

And this is something we have heard from the president before including last week during a press conference, where he also suggested that he raised it with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, so far, though, Israel appears to have rejected the idea.

BASH: Priscilla, thank you. And it's always a question, a big question about what the president is saying publicly versus the sort of diplomatic speak that is going on, and maybe more frank speech that is going on behind the scenes between the president and the prime minister and others at lower levels. Thank you again, for that, Priscilla.

And as we just heard, President Biden is calling for a pause in the fighting. I want to talk to an IDF spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner. Thank you so much for joining me. Nice to see you again. Can you respond to what President Biden said last night? He said, pause the fighting in order to get the prisoners out. Will the IDF consider that?

LT. COL. PETER LERNER, IDF SPOKESPERSON: Dana, of course, we are very attentive to what President Biden is saying. And we have increased over the last week or so the amount of humanitarian supplies, those medical supplies and foodstuff and water that is coming in through Egypt. And you've reported extensively on CNN, how people have been evacuating and dual nationals and foreign nationals have been evacuating.


On the question of course, of a humanitarian pause, of course, the IDF does not conduct its activities, according at the level of diplomacies, we're busy conducting our war, taking the war to Hamas. The diplomats will conduct the diplomacy and I think we can leave it at that. Of course, we are very attentive to the political arena as well. And yes, we are pushing forward in order to meet our goals at destroying Hamas and making sure they never have the power to attack us ever again.

BASH: I think you just even though you are wearing a uniform, you just very diplomatically said, no, Mr. President, we're not going to do that right now. And on that note, you've heard him. He has gone from saying that Israel has a right to defend itself full stop that in the days after the horrible, unimaginable attack on October 7. And now he's calling for this pause.

And you understand a big reason why he's doing that. There's a lot of political pressure that he is getting here in the U.S., especially within his own party. President Biden is one of your biggest allies in the entire world right now. So, does Israel take what he said to heart?

LERNER: Dana, I understand the line of questioning. But of course, as you pointed out as a man of uniform, that would be well beyond my paygrade. The situation on the ground is what we are dealing with how Hamas have utilized the Gaza Strip as a staging ground, putting all of the Palestinians lives at risk, that are being utilized as human shields for Hamas.

And we are operating in a way in accordance to the laws of armed conflict to try and minimize the civil strife that the people of Gaza are currently suffering. Unfortunately, you know, this is the reality, not a war that we wanted. It was a war that we were drawn into, a war declared by Hamas when they butchered and massacred over 1400 people and abducted 242.

So, when President Biden is saying, to get the prisoners home, of course, we of course report that the prisoners, the hostages, the people that are being held from, a nine-month year old, a nine-month- old babies, to the men and women in their 80s, they need to be released, they need to be released now.

We are trying, we are operating on the ground to bring that release as soon as possible. Indeed, we rescued one private Ori Megidish a few days ago and brought her home to her family and we're operating in order to bring them home. So, that the operational level and the diplomatic level, and the diplomacy is left for the diplomats.

BASH: Can I just get you to respond to what the U.N. said about the strikes that hit the refugee camps? The U.N. said it could amount to war crimes. What's your response?

LERNER: So, I don't accept that at all. All of our operations are conducted within the strict rules of the laws of armed conflict. And based on our operational doctrine, which is basically diff to distinguish between civilians, non-combatants and terrorist organization for three weeks now.

We've been calling on the people of northern Gaza to evacuate Gaza, evacuate the north, go south, move to beyond the Wadi Gaza to get out of harm's way. That is what we've been trying to do. Hamas, on the other hand, have been telling people and threatening them and intimidating them, and in certain cases, even establish checkpoints to actually physically prevent people from going south.

So, this is, you know, we are looking very, very carefully and even in times, calling off strikes. But when there are people and when there is infrastructure that is being used to conduct strikes against Israel. And even in the last hour, we've had rockets fired again at the heart of Israel, and over 7,500 rockets have been launched at Israel, all of those intended to hit Israeli civilians. All of those in themselves are war crimes.

So, our responsibility as the Israel Defense Forces is to defend the people, to restore safety and security. And once we achieve our goal and read the world of Hamas as a governing authority of the Gaza Strip as the tools and abilities. Once we relieve the world of that organization, that merciless government of Gaza than the lives of people in Gaza, the Palestinians in Gaza, and Israeli lives will be much better.

BASH: Yes. I mean, if not for the Iron Dome, we would see enormous number of civilian casualties inside Israel. Before I let you go, we are hearing from our reporters, their IDF forces are saying that they are currently surrounding the Gaza city area and are operating in significant areas already of Gaza city. Does the IDF intend to take control of the entire Gaza Strip?


LERNER: So, what is the importance of Gaza city in this conflict, in this war, it's important to understand. Hamas have turned Gaza city into the beating heart, their fortress of terror. That is where they operated out. That is where they conducted their activities. That is where you're seeing war. The prime minister of Hamas in Gaza, the mastermind of the massacre, that is where he made the decision to finance, plan and instruct on the execution of the attack.

So, of course, as we conduct our encirclement of Gaza city, and as we conduct operations from the air and from the sea against targets in Gaza city, which we have been doing for the last three and a half weeks. We will be pushing forward to pursue it in order to achieve our goal in dismantling Hamas as the governing authority of Gaza to diminish and destroy the terrorists' capabilities and make sure that they can never ever be a threat to Israel again.

BASH: Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

LERNER: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: And coming up, Senate Republicans go after one of their own lasting Tommy Tuberville for his months long hold on military promotions. We're going to talk to one of the few senators supporting Tuberville, next.




BASH: It was a heated showdown last night on the Senate floor that lasted more than four hours. Republicans blasted their fellow GOP senator Tommy Tuberville because he's been -- has had a hold on military promotions over his disagreement with the Pentagon's abortion policy.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R-SC): No matter whether you believe it or not, Senator Tuberville, this is doing great damage to our military.

SEN. TODD YOUNG, (R-IN): To undermine the safety and security of American people during this perilous time, just doesn't make any sense to me.

SEN. MITT ROMNEY, (R-UT): And it's simply in my opinion, an abuse of the powers we have as senators to say if there's something we vehemently disagree with, that we're going to use that power to hold up the promotion of over 350 men and women in our military.

SEN. JONI ERNST (R-IA): I really respect men of their word. I do not respect men who do not honor their word.

SEN. DAN SULLIVAN (R-AK): Xi Jinping is watching us right now. I can't believe they're not letting these guys' command. He's lovingness. So as Putin. They're loving it. How dumb can we be man?


BASH: Tuberville, who has been holding up these military promotions since February, just spoke to our Manu Raju.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You heard each of these senators say one-by-one that these people, the military personnel have nothing to do with the policy. So, why we're holding?

SEN. TOMMY TUBERVILLE (R-AL): But it's the only way I can get their attention. And I hate, I have -- I've told y'all want to hate to have to do this, but somebody has got to listen to us.


BASH: Manu is joining me now. Boy, this does not seem like it's going to get solved anytime soon.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, absolutely not. In fact, Tuberville told me that, no, he will not back off his insistence said the Pentagon abortion policy to reimburse military personnel travel to get abortion services, he wants that scrapped, won't back off as a result. But in talking to Republicans, including members of the Republican leadership, it is clear their patience as worn then, and they don't support Tuberville continuing down this path.


SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD): I support what he's trying to accomplish, but I think how you go above that matters.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): He's correct on the merits. But I think we also have a pressing need to confirm these leaders in the military, given the dangerous world we're living in.

SEN. JOSH HAWLEY (R-MO): Why do we even elect leaders if they're not going to actually resolve differences within the conference?

RAJU: What should the Republican leaders do?

HAWLEY: Like, actually give a solution. I mean, what are they good for? I mean, what's Mitch McConnell doing?


RAJU: So, you hear that from the last Senator, Senator Hawley going after Senator McConnell, showing the tension that still persists within the Republican conference. But one thing to watch, Dana, is an effort by the Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer to try to circumvent Tommy Tuberville. Change the rules so they can approve all these nominations in one fell swoop, but they need Republicans support to do that, meaning 60 votes in the Senate, nine Republican senators.

I talked to a bunch of them today. John Cornyn, for one does not support changing the rules. Others, though, are open to it. And that's where I mean, this may end up, given that there seems to be no other end insight to this growing tension and impasse here in the Senate.

BASH: Manu, thank you so much for that reporting. Joining me now is Republican Senator Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma. He is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Thank you so much. It's nice to see you in person. You have defended Senator Tuberville's decision to place this hold, nine months, 300-plus promotions on hold. Do you stand by that even right now?

SEN. MARKWAYNE MULLIN (R-OK): You know, it's a process, and every senator has a right to do what they're doing. And what you're seeing is a process work its way through. I think people are getting impatient. Tommy absolutely coaches right on with his decision or what he's doing and he has the right to do it, and I defend that right.

It's just -- right now we have a lot of military families that are in complete limbo. They can't move. They were supposed to have orders to move based on their promotion. Those kids should be starting different schools, who are right here in the process of, do they decorate for Christmas or do they not decorate for Christmas? And how do we get off center?

We've talked to the coach multiple times about Paul's will have an off ramp, and he's looking for it. I will say he's trying to find a solution, but at the same time -- -

BASH: So, you understand what he's doing. But you think that it's like, enough already?


MULLIN: I think, maybe we should narrow the scope and say, OK, if we're going to hold people accountable for this decision that Secretary Austin made, which they need to be held accountable. Let's look at the people that are making the decision, hold those individuals up and the families, the colonels that are trying to take new command or lieutenant colonels that are advancing up.

BASH: Is he open to that?

MULLIN: I think the conversation -- -

BASH: He didn't sound like it to Manu.

MULLIN: I think the conversation has taken place. But the worst thing you can do is try to force somebody's hand. And so, there's a right way -- -

BASH: After nine months, I think forcing their hand is -- -

MULLIN: You know, I agree with that. And Dana, we've offered Secretary Austin, and I've had, coach has offered Secretary Austin multiple times, come in visit with us, come in and have a conversation with us. He hasn't one time came into the committee and talked to us specifically about this issue. We've also often say, hey, let's have a vote on the floor. Let's vote on this on the floor, and let's see where that is.

But a lot of Democrats, they don't want to take this vote, because it's not popular in their state either. When you start talking about reimbursing military personnel for traveling for this specific purpose of having an abortion, it goes against the Hyde Amendment, plus a rule that President Biden himself voted for that was in the NDAA back years ago.

BASH: Let me just -- I want to move on. But let me just ask you about one specific example, because it's sort of easy to get lost in the numbers and the timeline. Marine Commandant Eric Smith, who's a member of the Joint Chiefs, he has said that his task, which he's doing, it was not sustainable. He's doing multiple jobs at the highest level. 58 years old, he just collapsed over the weekend. Hopefully, he's going to be OK.

Doesn't that highlight the extreme stress that this one senator is putting on the people at the highest levels of the military who have national security in mind that that's in?

MULLIN: To take an incident that happened with the commandant and think that Tommy had something to do with that, I think there's a large reach. A marine is designed and is trained to go through the most difficult times for days and days and weeks and weeks and weeks upon end.

It's not sustainable for him to do his job correctly, but to add the extra pressure to it. I don't think what coach did at all contributed to what happened with the commandant, it's an unfortunate situation with cardiac arrest. You know, in 58, it's young. I actually thought he was younger than that. But I mean, 58 years, you know what, my dad, he had cardiac arrest at 52. And it's a bad situation.

BASH: Let's turn to Israel. And the House is likely to pass a limited bill $14.5 billion in aid to Israel, which is paid for by cutting money for the IRS. That proposal again is probably going to pass. Is that something that you would support, that you want to support that? Or should it be broader including --

MULLIN: Well, I would love to see it combined. I'd love to see it combined with Ukraine. Because Ukraine, we have an obligation to Ukraine, just as much as we have an obligation to Israel. I've said this multiple times. But we signed a Budapest Memorandum in 1994. Guaranteeing Ukraine, we stand with them in the event is specifically, in the event that Russia were to invade them if they give their nuclear weapons.

There's no expiration date on that. So, we gave him a word, we're only as good as a word. So, we got to stand with Ukraine. And we've got to stand with Israel. Now, if the House has to separate it to get it passed, fine. They have to work their chamber the way they can. And Speaker Johnson is doing the best he can.


BASH: So, you think that -- it sounds like what you're saying is that ultimately, you believe the Senate will pass a larger package and that it'll be up to the House. You do and you will vote for that?

MULLIN: I would vote for it. Yes. If it's not the packages proposed now, I want to make that very clear. The 106 billion, I'm not supporting that. There is some real changes that need to be dealt with. And we got to make sure no money is going into the hands of Gaza. Because Hamas, it controls everything that happens with Gaza.

Right now, we're sending in aid through USAID, and Hamas has taken it and selling the food, selling the medical supplies and making money off of it when it's supposed to go for humanitarian purposes. And I know this firsthand. I know this for a fact. There's no argument for that. So, if we send in cash, they're going to do the exact same thing.

So, the package is to make sure that we're not supporting Hamas in any way whatsoever. But I do believe that this passes the House, which I believe it will. Then when it comes over the Senate, we'll probably combine it and send it back, and it may get broke up again. At the end of the day, we just need to get something passed.

BASH: Thank you. Thanks for coming in.

MULLIN: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

BASH: Nice to talk to you.

MULLIN: Absolutely.

BASH: And coming up, Hunter Biden is breaking his silence with an emotional op-ed about the fight to get sober and the politics of his battle with addiction as he sees it.