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House Republicans Look to Put Biden on Defense With Border Visit; Biden to Open 2024 Push With January 6 Speech Near Valley Forge; Iran State Media Reports 100+ Killed in Blasts Near Slain General's Tomb; Tiny House GOP Majority About to Get Even Smaller. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 03, 2024 - 12:30   ET




REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): The question is do Republicans have the will to fight for that one simple sentence, which says we're going to fix this problem.


DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Clearly, from his hotel room in San Antonio before he goes to the border.


DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I mean, the divide that we see there I think is less a divide among Republicans broadly in the country and more of a divide between Senate Republicans and the House Republicans.

BASH: That's fair.

CHALIAN: And I think that's a different kind of divide than we see broadly in the Republican electorate.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And I will say having reported on this and talking to sources, there have been major concessions on this point that that coalition that the president is worried about does not like. But Republicans won't -- are still not on board with it.

BASH: Yeah.

ALVAREZ: So, it sort of leaves it at a stalemate. And I will also note that the -- what they are fighting for and the -- getting the deal to a supplemental includes money for the border.

BASH: Yeah.

ALVAREZ: So, not getting a deal also means not getting money for the border.

BASH: Yeah, cut off your nose to spite your face. That does happen every once in awhile in Congress.


BASH: This afternoon on "THE LEAD" Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson joins Jake Tapper for a live interview from the border. You can watch it right here on CNN live at 4:00 p.m. Eastern.

And with the calendar officially flipped to 2024, the Biden campaign is tweaking its message for the year ahead. How the president is planning to tackle a possible Trump rematch, next.



BASH: President Biden will use a revolutionary war battlefield for his first campaign event of the election year. The setting, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The date he will give this speech, January 6. So, you can probably guess what the topic will be. CNN White House Correspondent Arlette Saenz joins us now. Arlette, what are you hearing from your sources about how he's crafting this first big speech of the campaign year?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, it's no surprise President Biden is opening his 2024 campaign push with a focus on democracy, as it has been a key focus and animating issue for him in his re-election bid. And President Biden will use this speech on January 6th, the three years since that insurrection at the Capitol, to really sharpen his argument in warning that Former President Trump poses a direct threat to democracy.

Now, this speech is really setting up one of the first real political campaign split screens between Biden and Trump of this year. President Biden will deliver these remarks near Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. It is there, a Revolutionary War site where George Washington commanded his troops, where President Biden will try to make this contrast argument. Meanwhile, Former President Donald Trump will be hitting the campaign trail in Iowa as he's working to try to secure the GOP nomination.

But Biden campaign officials have been quite eager to really ramp up their pressure and contrast with the former president at a time when some polls have shown Biden trailing his predecessor in hypothetical head-to-head matchups. But campaign officials are telling voters that they believe they need to look at what Former President Donald Trump did in office and take him at his word. And that is the message the campaign plans to stress throughout the next year.

BASH: Reporting (ph), appreciate it.

And joining me now -- joining me now is Biden campaign head -- at the Biden campaign headquarters rather, in Wilmington, Delaware, is Senator Chris Coons, who serves as the co-chair of the Biden-Harris campaign. Thanks so much for joining me, Senator. Let's start with what Arlette was just talking about, the strategy of the Biden campaign looking forward. I'm going to simplify it. Less about Joe Biden, more about Donald Trump. Good idea?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Well, Joe Biden has got a very strong record of accomplishments to run on, and he and many of us who are campaign surrogates are going to continue to remind the American people of just how much he's gotten accomplished over the last three years, how strongly we have come out of the pandemic and the economic challenges that that created.

But it's also important to remind the American people how much chaos there was during the Trump presidency, what his leadership was like, and how January 6th three years ago was the culmination of that in which the former president literally mobilized a mob to go attack the American Capitol. It is worth focusing on the ways in which Former President Trump is clearly signaling that if he were re-elected, he would continue and extend and expand the chaos we all experienced during his four years as president.

BASH: Senator, I am going to ask you about a report from my colleague, Isaac Dovere, about the plans inside the Biden campaign going forward. And in that report, he learned that one of your Democratic colleagues in the House, Steve Horsford, he went to the White House, met with Biden officials, and urged them to move off using the term Bidenomics, saying that it's a phrase centered too much on the president and not appealing to voters enough.

Do you agree? How is that message, which is -- was so prominent, sort of in the back half of 2023, how is that going?

COONS: Well, Dana, let's focus on what's happening on the ground. The good news is that there has been an all-time high in our Dow Jones, in the stock market. There's a steady reduction in inflation. Prices are coming down both for insulin. The major manufacturers of insulin, this month, began a $35 a month price cap. But your average American isn't feeling it. They are still paying too much at the grocery store. They are still paying too much for rent or for housing.

And so, we have our work cut out for us in connecting with average American families who although they hear the news about how much has been accomplished or they hear us talk about an all-time high stock market, they are just not feeling it. So to the extent, I will agree with the Congressman, we need to sharpen that message and deliver it in a more effective way. But I am convinced that over the coming year, our economic circumstances will slowly, gradually, broadly get better for working people, for families of all kinds across our country.


BASH: I notice you did not use the term Bidenomics. Was that intentional or you just skipped over it?


COONS: I am perfectly happy to talk about Bidenomics. I was just choosing instead of focusing on the term --

BASH: Got it.

COONS: -- to talk about what's actually happening on the ground in the United States.

BASH: Got it. I want to turn to something that is before you and the United States Senate when you come back to town, and that is aid for Israel. It's tied up with border security and other issues. Your colleague just on Israel, Bernie Sanders -- Senator Bernie Sanders released a new statement this week, urging Congress not to pass any additional aid for Israel while the Netanyahu government is conducting the war in Gaza. Now, even you've said that Benjamin Netanyahu is an exceptionally difficult partner. Do you think it's time for a new leadership in Israel?

COONS: Look, Dana, I hesitate to call on a close ally that is a democracy to engage in a change in their elected leadership. But as you just cited, I have repeatedly commented on how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pulling in a different direction than our president, and then many in our Capitol, both Republican and Democrat, who for a long time have viewed a two-state solution where Palestinians have some hope -- some prospective of self-governance as the only real path forward.

Every time that President Biden and the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, National Security Advisor go to Israel, engage with the Netanyahu cabinet and with the prime minister, he often seems to then want to disagree or pull it in opposite direction. It is making our sustained close alliance and partnership more and more difficult. Although, Dana, I will remind you, Israelis just announced a significant troop withdrawal from Gaza in recent days.

BASH: Yes. And obviously, I totally understand, Israel is a democracy and it is not the practice of most American politicians to get involved, particularly with a close ally, but the United States has leverage. And what Senator Sanders is saying is, let's use the leverage we have, which is the money and not give it to Israel as long as Netanyahu is the prime minister. Is that -- would you be willing to go that far?

COONS: No, I don't think conditioning our aid to Israel on a change in their elected leadership is something that I'm comfortable with. But continuing to send forceful messages, both publicly and privately, about critical policy matters, I think is an important way, even with close allies, that we deliver important messages. Two members of Netanyahu's cabinet have -- Ben Gvir and Smotrich -- two ministers have recently made public remarks that suggest that removing the Palestinians from Gaza is part of their ultimate objective.

And I maybe mischaracterizing it, but in a quick review of recent comments and exchanges back and forth between the administration, that is something where because it is so sharply contrary to our policy positions as a country, in Congress, that there was a sharp denunciation of those particular positions. Similarly, when there was settler violence in the West Bank, there was clear and sharp comments made both by the administration and that I support, calling for an end to settler violence that was seeking to change the facts on the ground and to impose more and more needless civilian deaths on Palestinians and to further inflame the conflict.

President Biden is doing the right thing in trying to deter a broader regional fight and that's becoming harder and harder as developments in the region make it more difficult. We have deployed significant assets to intercept Houthi attacks, to prevent Hezbollah from further expanding, to prevent Iran from further expanding this conflict. But that becomes difficult if we have a partner who is pulling in different directions than we are.

BASH: Very diplomatic. Senator Chris Coons, I really appreciate you coming on. You mentioned Iran. We're going to talk after (ph) the break about breaking news out of Iran. More than 100 are dead after two separate explosions struck near the grave of an Iranian military commander. Stay with us.



BASH: Breaking news out of Iran, state media says more than 100 people were killed and nearly 200 injured in two blasts near the grave of an Iranian Military Commander Qasem Soleimani, exactly four years after he was killed in a U.S. airstrike. Here's the moment one of the blasts hit a very crowded street.



BASH: Iran is calling this a terror attack, but as of now, no one has claimed responsibility. CNN's Nada Bashir is following developments from Beirut. Nada, what are you hearing and what are you learning about this attack?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: We are still getting more details from reports on the ground in Iran. We have seen in the last couple of hours that death toll steadily rising. Iran State Broadcast is saying that at least 103 people have been killed. 188 said to have been injured, many of them are set to be in a critical condition. Of course, there are mounting concerns, as you mentioned, over what caused this explosion, the motive behind it.

The details according to State Media citing officials on the ground is that there were two separate blasts around the burial site of military commander -- Iranian Military Commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed four years ago today in a U.S. strike on Baghdad International Airport, a strike that was ordered by then U.S. President Donald Trump.


BASHIR: And today, what we saw there is hundreds, perhaps even thousands of pilgrims gathering around this burial site, heading towards the burial site to pay their respects. And according to Iran's Interior Minister who spoke to the State Broadcast earlier this evening, many were indeed killed in what was a first blast at around 3:00 p.m. local time. Reports from state media suggest that this was a bomb placed in a suitcase that was detonated remotely, as far as current assessments stand. That was about 700 meters away from Qasem Soleimani's burial site.

A second blast then going off about 20 minutes later, just about a kilometer away from that burial site. And according to the Interior Minister, the majority of those killed so far were killed by that second blast, as many were heading to the site of the explosion to provide help and assistance. Of course, we have seen that dramatic video now emerging, showing crowds running away from the street, emergency services responding, trying to provide support to those injured who were transported to nearby hospitals.

As you mentioned, Dana, no claim of responsibility just yet. But, authorities on the ground have characterized this as a terrorist attack. Authorities also declaring now, tomorrow to be a national day of mourning.

BASH: Yeah, somebody trying to stir up even more chaos in a very, very unstable region. Thank you so much for that report. Appreciate it. Up next, we will come back to the United States and look at the incredibly shrinking House Republican majority. It's about to get even smaller.



BASH: House Republicans' already slim majority is about to shrink even more. Ohio Congressman Bill Johnson says he is resigning on January 21st. Meaning, he will be around for the first crucial vote to keep the government open, but not the second. That leaves the House with 219 Republicans, 213 Democrats, and three vacancies. Meaning Republicans can only afford to lose two votes on any party line measure after January 21st.

Now, Johnson's announcement follows Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy's departure and the expulsion of George Santos. A special election to replace Santos is set for February 13th in New York. No word on when California will call an election to replace McCarthy.

That is it for INSIDE POLITICS. Thank you so much for joining us today. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts after the break.