Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

IDF Conducts Operation Inside Gaza's Largest Hospital; IDF Raids Gaza's Largest Hospital In "Targeted Operation"; FBI Dir. Wray, DHS Secy. Mayorkas Testify On Threats; Wray: Hamas "May Exploit The Conflict" To Attack U.S.; Wray: War Has Raised Threat Of Attack In U.S.; Soon: Biden, Xi To Hold Critical Summit In California; Biden On Eve Of Xi Talks: China Has "Real Problems"; Trump Speaks Glowingly Of Xi's "Strength". Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 15, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, a hospital in the crossfire. Israeli forces raid Gaza's largest hospital conducting what they say is a precise and targeted operation against Hamas. And say, IDF soldiers brought critical supplies for patients in a dire situation but still no proof of their reason for invading the hospital.

Plus, Biden and Xi face-to-face a critical summit between the U.S. and China is about to begin. What can the two leaders accomplish with tensions incredibly high? So are the stakes for this meeting. And Capitol fight club day of elbows, jabs, insults and threats. I'll speak with a lawmaker who almost came to blows with the witness right in the middle of a Senate hearing.

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

We begin today in the Middle East, where Israeli forces are reportedly inside the besieged Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza. Both Israel and the U.S. say intelligence shows Hamas is running a command center underneath the hospital. But the situation is reportedly growing increasingly dire for patients with Al-Shifa Hospital officials saying that thousands of civilians are sheltering there.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is covering all of the developments from Israel. Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Dana. Well, you know, as we've reported for days and weeks now, the Israeli military has come under a great deal of criticism because of its military operations in and around hospital areas. They're inside of Gaza, which in from we've heard from officials and health officials on the ground there creating a -- what they described as a catastrophic situation.

And what is happening and unfolding today is really significant. This military operation which started nearly 20 hours ago, around the -- inside the Al-Shifa hospital there in Gaza city, which is the largest and most significant hospital there in the strip. That is the area that has been the focus of so much fighting throughout the day today. The Israeli military official said just a short while ago, that they are working on providing "concrete evidence" that will prove that Hamas military fighters have been using the area around in the hospital and in particular underneath the hospital as a command and control center from which they've kind of launched their military operations for not just in this recent fighting but for years.

So, this is a huge moment in terms of what exactly what kind of evidence military officials here in Israel are going to provide about what they have found inside the hospital. Staff have told us and described a very dire situation. One person describing it as horrific that you could hear the cries of children and the cries of elderly people who are inside the hospital. This is an area where many civilians have sought refuge.

Israeli military officials say that they had gone in there earlier in the day and told hospital staff to shelter away from windows, get into safer positions inside the hospital. Despite all of this, Hamas officials have said today that they described the descriptions from Israeli military officials today as a blatant lie and cheat propaganda.

U.S. officials in the White House have said just a short while ago as well, that they concur with the assessment that Israeli military intelligence has about exactly what Hamas military fighters are doing in and around this hospital. So, we're awaiting here this evidence that the Israeli military says they're going to provide in the hours ahead.

BASH: Ed, thank you so much for that reporting. Let's keep talking about this with my next guest, the IDF international spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht. Thank you so much for joining me. Earlier today you told my colleagues that there were no firefights at the time that you were speaking with them inside the hospital. Now there are reports coming from inside the Al-Shifa Hospital that explosions are shaking the buildings and the whole complex. What is the status right now?

LT. COL. RICHARD HECHT, IDF INTERNATIONAL SPOKESPERSON: The staff is as I said earlier, we didn't target the hospital. We didn't come to conquer or take over the hospital. We went in for something very specific. We are aware of the sensitivity and the location of the patients in the hospital. And we are doing everything we can in a very precise and surgical way to get to the intelligence that we're looking for. And again, this is going to be a long haul.


I mean, Ed said that before, there's not going to be -- there might not be like a winning picture. We show that also when I went in with Nic Robertson to run TC (Ph) hospital. There were peers and others far away. This is going to take time. It is going to take time.

BASH: I understand you say that you didn't go in to conquer the hospital. Those were your words. But just first, can you talk about what we're hearing from officials who are there right now that there is firefighting going on. Is that true?

HECHT: I'm not aware of firefighting going on inside the hospital as we speak. When I came on to this interview with literally intelligence. I'm not aware of firefighters or people firing people inside the hospital. I don't believe that we were being shooting. We were shooting only if we see a Hamas terrorist. I am aware that when we went in last night, there was some engagement an outside part of the hospital. And when we went in for more -- I'm dam aware, there was no firefighters within the hospital.

BASH: OK. So, what is the mission of the IDF inside that hospital right now? What are the IDF soldiers doing?

HECHT: So, we're looking for specific Hamas infrastructure that we have intelligence on. So that's why we went into something very specific inside the hospital. As I said, this is going to take time. We might come out after we find what we find. And this is going to be ongoing because there might be a tunnel, there might be a weapon caches. This is going to be a long haul, Dana.

BASH: A long haul meaning what that they're going to be in this hospital for days, for weeks. Can you be more specific when you say long haul?

HECHT: I'll be waiting to see the assessment of the operation this evening. And then we'll make our assessments if we need to be more inside the area to get what we need to get. We'll be there. We believe that the hospital is our interest -- in the hospital we'll be able to work and take care of the civilians that are in dire situation and need care.

Today, there's fuel coming into Gaza through the Rafah crossing. It's not as our goal for this hospital to keep taking care of his patients. Sadly, Hamas have installed themselves and have been working from underneath the hospital.

BASH: So, what is the IDF doing to reach that goal to not just protect patients but help the patients who were in dire need of a base and the doctors who are trying to treat these patients who are in dire need of basics, fuel, medicine, all the above. Is the IDF helping to provide that as they come into that hospital?

HECHT: Dana, we've been trying for weeks. We've been trying for weeks, also to have people leave the hospital. We created a safe passage from the hospital for people to connect to the quarters, a lot of people left. Two nights ago, when there was a fuel crisis. And again, Hamas have the fuel by the way.

But we came and gave canisters of fuel. Sadly, they didn't take the fuel, maybe because Hamas didn't allow them to. Today when we went in and we took incubators, we took food, we took humanitarian assistance when our soldiers came in. We are doing everything we can. And I know it's pretty dire and hard in there, but we have to take care of Hamas.

BASH: What is the end goal with regard to the hospital? I understand that your end goal with regard to Hamas is to try to find Hamas terrorists who you believe are there. And again, I just want to stay, we have not yet seen evidence of that. But before I get to my question, can you just answer. Is it your intention that the world will see the evidence that you say exists, that Hamas is operating inside and below that hospital?

HECHT: I don't think it's my goal. My goal is to show the world. My goal is to make sure that the Hamas infrastructure is dismantled. Just like we didn't run TC two days ago or we showed Nic Robertson a weapon stash inside the hospital. Again, it'll take us time and we'll release the data that we need to release.

We don't have a goal of staying in the hospital. If we understand that there's tunnels that we can access from another area and allow the hospital to keep being active, then we'll make sure that happens. We're not targeting the hospital.

BASH: All right. Well, you just answered my last question, which was whether the goal is to stay in the hospital, and you just said it is no. Obviously, we're all awaiting the evidence that you say exists about the Hamas command and control inside that hospital. Thank you so much for coming on and giving us an update.

HECHT: Thank you Dana, for having me.


BASH: And here in Washington on Capitol Hill this morning, the FBI Director Christopher Wray and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas testified about threats to the U.S. and spoke of the surge that they are seeing here in the United States since the start of the Israel Hamas war.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: Our most immediate concern is that individuals or small groups will draw twisted inspiration from the events in the Middle East to carry out attacks here at home. That includes homegrown violent extremists inspired by a foreign terrorist organization and domestic violent extremists, targeting Jewish Americans or other faith communities like Muslim Americans.


BASH: Joining me now to discuss that in more CNN's Evan Perez and CNN's Jim Sciutto. Evan, I'll start with you because listening to this testimony, it's obviously very complex. But what is your impression about the sort of kind of threat, the flavor of threat?

Are they reporting that it is concerned that there are copycats, people who are seeing what happened in Israel, the barbaric attacks? And I know we're seeing some evidence of kind of copycat rhetoric online. But is there concern that it will actually escalate to a violent attack? Or is it more about actual threats of Hamas inside the U.S.?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a couple of different ways that they're approaching this. One is exactly what you just mentioned, which is the possibility that someone could go from just making threats online to actually carry out something. And obviously, there's been a skyrocketing number of threats against Jewish Americans, antisemitic threats, as well as against Arab Americans, Muslim Americans in the United States.

But there's a second bucket -- one of the things that the FBI director talked about is that there's a number of people associated with Hamas who are now under investigation. And what happened was after October 7, the FBI did a reassessment. They know that there are people who are associated with Hamas, supporters of Hamas inside the United States.

A lot of this has been mostly people associated with financing and trying to raise money for Hamas. And so, the big concern has been is, does this change our perception. The way that attack unfolded and then the brutality of it. Does this mean that we now have to worry about Hamas attacking inside the United States, which heretofore has not been a real concern. And so that's one of the concerns that they have now is trying to reassess that.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Listen, one thing, whenever I speak to intel officials, I'm sure you have the same experience in terms of biggest threats to the U.S. They'll talk about Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, big picture threats, but they'll always say to me, don't forget the threat of terrorism. It's never gone away. Yes, there's been a low since ISIS inspired attacks, et cetera.

It strikes me that in this case, it would be change if Hamas were to become an active terror organization inside the U.S. beyond fundraising. As Wray noted, he said today, it's largely been fundraising, it doesn't mean they can't change. But that would be a change, it would be a qualitative change in their activities.

But it is too easy, sadly, for someone to just do it on their own. And that was the substance of the ISIS threat in the U.S. at the peak of their capabilities was a homegrown someone reading something online, taking a gun, constructing a small explosive device and attacking and we saw attacks like that, you know, for years. That seems to be the primary focus.

But to Evan's point, they're taking another look because of the brutality of October 7 to see if well, do we have just a Hamas financing problem here? Do we have a home loan problem? Or could we have an operational problem as well and they're definitely looking.

BASH: And just to state the obvious because we've seen it in a very fulsome way. And that it being that the target of a lot of rhetoric and some violence in the United States and around the world has been the Jewish community and also some in the Muslim community as well. Let's listen to what the homeland security secretary said about that.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: In the days and weeks since we have responded to an increase in threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab American communities and institutions across our country, hate directed at Jewish students, communities and institutions add to a preexisting increase in the level of antisemitism in the United States.


BASH: This is not below the surface. This isn't what they're seeing on the dark web. This is spilling out -- if we open universities across and elsewhere, across the country.

PEREZ: Right. I mean, you saw it Cornell and other places in the United States where this has become very, very real. And it's a very scary time for, especially for Jewish Americans who are being targeted, and really just the focus of a lot of this. And so, the question is, you know, is there someone sitting right now at home, but getting sort of infuriated with the -- what they're seeing happening in Gaza who wants to act out? And that's the big concern.

BASH: It is a concern. And luckily law enforcement and private organizations are monitoring that consistently. Thank you so much. You stick around. Coming up a crucial summit between President Biden and President Xi of China. The high stakes, very high stakes. So, what will the two leaders actually accomplish? We're going to talk about that next.



BASH: President Biden is in San Francisco facing a critical foreign policy challenge. Soon he will meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in an effort to cool tensions between the two superpowers. CNN's David Culver is in San Francisco. His final preparations are underway. David, set the scene?

DAVID CULVER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Dana. Yes, the two leaders waking up here in San Francisco. They're expected to leave their downtown hotels in about a little under 90 minutes from now. They're going to head to an offsite location described just south of the city as a historic estate, a mansion as our Kevin Liptak has reported. And that's going to be the setting and it may sound superficial to describe but those optics are actually really important particularly for the Chinese side.


Now, it's expected to last about four hours after which we will likely hear from President Biden. As far as what's to come out of this remains to be seen. We know obviously the biggest focus is going to be cooling those tensions as you mentioned. But for the specifics, perhaps something on fentanyl and the Chinese stepping forward to crack down on it, perhaps something with regards to establishing communication between the two countries militaries again, maybe even something on climate.

But more than anything else, it's essentially going to be to have the U.S. China issue, not be so front and center for President Biden, who wants to refocus his efforts looking at the Israel-Hamas conflict, Russia and Ukraine and the 2024 campaign.

As for what the Chinese want out of this and you can bet if there's a concession that they're going to give, they're going to want to see something on their side. It's going to be economy related, Dana. They are struggling right now. So, it will be -- have to be something that will boost their economy and that in turn provides social stability there.

BASH: David, thank you so much for that reporting. Joining me here at the table, CNN's Kasie Hunt, CNN's Jim Sciutto is still with us, Tolu Olorunnipa of The Washington Post, and Margaret Talev of Axios.

I want to start where something that Graham Allison, former assistant secretary of defense said about this relationship. He said, Biden and Xi will further clarify both leaders understanding of two contradictory but nonetheless inescapable facts. First, the U.S. and China will be the fiercest rivals' history has ever seen. Second, each nation's very survival requires a degree of cooperation from each other. That's sort of an important way to set up what we're talking about here.

Jim, you worked in China, you lived in China, you were working in government, not the Chinese government, the United States government, you understand this complex relationship.

SCIUTTO: This is one of those meetings where the biggest deliverable rather is that they're talking and that's important given particularly the frigidity of the relations over the course of the last year with some genuine flashpoints, right? I mean, the Chinese surveillance balloon cruised over the entire continental U.S., right, we shot it down.

You've had close encounters between U.S. and Chinese warships, U.S. and Chinese war planes and surveillance planes, each of which has its own danger of escalation. So, the fact that they're talking is important. The fact that they're talking about military, to military communications is important. That's long been a priority for the U.S. to avoid those small events from becoming bigger ones.

On the big strategic issues, though, they're not going to settle those here. And it's not clear that they will settle those, right. I mean, you have a rising power and an existing power. And at the core of these disputes are ones that neither side is willing to bend on.

I mean, it just one is economic, the U.S. is denying China high tech, right, that it views as essential to its national interest and rose. Biden is not going to move on that. A Republican president won't move on that. So that's an issue they're going to have to set aside.

BASH: Here is what President Biden said yesterday as he previewed this meeting.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: To get back on a normal course of corresponding been able to pick up the phone and talk to one another when there's another crisis, being able to make sure our military still have contact with one another. We're not trying to decouple from China. What we're trying to do is change the relationship for the better.


BASH: So that's what he said in public. Kasie, here's what he said in private at a fundraiser. President Xi is another example of how reestablishing American leadership in the world is taking hold. They've got real problems, folks.


KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: I will do it. I take it any day of the week. I mean, look, he's acknowledging there the reality that part of what has pushed President Xi into this is the fact that he has, you know, domestic challenges at home. But, you know, the reality is, I do think his presence here is also more complicated than just the meeting between Biden and Xi.

I mean, I think it's really interesting that he's having this dinner with business leaders afterward that business leaders had to pay to attend reportedly, according to our David Culver, that, you know, members of Congress want to look into all of a sudden, right? I mean, there are so many layers here.

And then big picture, of course, I think one of the things that's going to come out of this is how it plays on the presidential campaign. Now in the next couple of months as the Republicans, you know, take it and use it, you know, they're just going to all bash him over it, right. I mean, unquestioningly, right.

And then it's going to also play into any general election. If Trump were to be the nominee. He of course had his own. I think the phrase out of that meeting, Margaret, correct me if I'm wrong, but with something like the best piece of chocolate cake that had ever been consumed, like at a meeting at Mar-a-Lago, right. I mean, we could be going back to that, right.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Those really matters, yes. But to your point, I mean to Kasie's point like we're already seeing Nikki Haley right bash Biden over the same, he practically begged for the meeting. The U.S. relationship with China and who's up and who's down in the power struggle is going to be one of the backdrops to 2024.


But I think like look at the three stages on the sort of the world theater where there're clear implications for this. There's Ukraine, and Russia's war in Ukraine. There's the war in the Middle East now between Israel and Hamas and there is the concern around Taiwan, and what the U.S. wants China to do and what China wants the U.S. to do vis-a-vis Taiwan assurances.

Xi is going to want assurances from Biden that the U.S. posture towards Taiwan hasn't actually changed. The one potential deliverable appears to be around fentanyl. And around this agreement for China to make it harder for the components used to make fentanyl to end up in Mexico.

BASH: It's a big deal.

TALEV: And that's an important political -- domestic political issue for Biden, but for Biden, Xi who've known each other for so many years, who in theory have had good relationships before. That's not all.

BASH: OK. I'm glad you set me up for this next soundbite or this walk down memory lane. This was during the last presidential campaign February of 2020, what then Vice President Biden said about Xi.


BIDEN: I spent more time with Xi Jinping than any world leader had by the time we left office. This is a guy who is -- he doesn't have a democratic with a small d bone in his body. This is a guy who is a thug, who in fact has a million Uighurs and reconstruction camps, meaning concentration camp.


BASH: Tolu, I want you to jump in on that. But before you do, I just one thing that Margaret said, which is that most -- and you also said most of the Republican field is jumping all over this, you know who is not, Donald Trump. Listen to what he says.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: Presidency is like central casting. There is nobody in Hollywood that can play the role of presidency, the look, the strike, the voice. It's good to have a good relationship with Putin and Xi and all these people that have lots of nuclear weapon.


TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, President Biden has a tough role here and that he needs to play to a domestic audience, while also dealing with some really thorny issues on the world stage.

BASH: Well also being president.

OLORUNNIPA: Well also being president, well also handling, like Margaret said, there are theaters across the world where China is going to be playing an important role. And his Republican rivals are saying the world is on fire. They're saying there's a war in the Middle East, there's a war in Russia, Taiwan is at risk.

And so, he's having to focus both on the domestic audience of the politics of 2024, while also, you know, dealing with the fact that Trump is saying, while I was president, we didn't have all of these crazy wars. We didn't have terrorist attacks, even though, you know, there's some fact checking that needs to be done.

BASH: It's also that his approach -- his Trump's approach is to sort of cozy up with these people.


SCIUTTO: And not just with praise, I mean, should Trump by his own advisers' accounts escapes Xi the OK to imprison Uyghurs in Xinjiang, right. And so, on the substance, the political hey does not have bases.

BASH: Standby everybody. Great discussion coming up. Joe Biden has a big problem with young voters. Can he turn them out in 2024 like he did in 2020? The fate of his reelection hangs on the answer, and our Jeff Zeleny has a new reporting next.