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Biden Vows Retaliation For Drone Strike On U.S. Base In Jordan; Kirby: "We'll Respond In A Very Consequential Way"; White House Blames Iran-Linked Militias For Drone Strike; Biden: "We Shall Respond" After 3 U.S. Troops Killed In Jordan; Senate Finalizing Bipartisan Border Deal That Trump Aims To Kill; Trump On Border Deal: "I'd Rather Have No Bill Than A Bad Bill"; Biden Says He'd "Shut Down The Border" If Congress Passes Deal. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 29, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, we shall respond. A region already reeling from war is waiting for President Biden's next move as he promises to retaliate against those responsible for a drone attack that killed three U.S. soldiers in Jordan.

Plus, tanking the deal. Donald Trump is pushing Republicans to abandon a bipartisan immigration bill they've been working on for months, he hasn't seen the plan. His goal is simply to deny President Biden an election year win.

And man up. That's Nikki Haley's message to the -- all but certain Republican nominee. She's trying to taunt Trump into debating her while planning more than a dozen fundraisers to bring campaign cash in for a needed or long fight.

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

We start with a major escalation in the Middle East. Today, President Biden is weighing options for how to respond to this weekend's deadly drone attack on a small U.S. outpost in Jordan. The White House blames Iranian backed militant groups, the regime in Tehran denies any involvement. President Biden is battling to retaliate but to do so in a way that avoids an even wider regional conflict.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We'll respond and will respond in a very consequential way. But we don't seek a war with Iran. We're not looking for a wider conflict in the Middle East. In fact, every action the president has taken has been designed to deescalate, to try to bring the tensions down. And obviously this attack very, very serious. Certainly, escalatory on the behalf of these militia groups, we have to take that seriously. And we will.


BASH: CNN's Natasha Bertrand starts us off from the Pentagon. Natasha, what are you hearing?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Dana, this is obviously something that the administration had been dreading, given that there had been over 150 Iran backed attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria since October. With the goal U.S. officials say of killing American service members. And we are learning that three U.S. army soldiers did -- were killed in this drone attack, more than 30 were wounded, including eight who had to be medically evacuated because their injuries were so serious.

Now, we are learning a little bit more this morning about just how this occurred. How this drone managed to make its way into this base and hitting near the living quarters of this facility. We are told that an American drone, which was returning from a mission was approaching the base at around the same time that the enemy drone was approaching.

The enemy drone followed the American drone onto the base. And it delayed the U.S. response because there was some confusion over whether that enemy drone was in fact, an enemy rather than an American drone. And so, all of this is contributing to the picture. U.S. officials now have of what happened here. But still, as you said, the U.S. doesn't know which group was responsible exactly for this attack.

Now President Biden is under increasing pressure to respond and respond forcefully even presidential candidate Nikki Haley is weighing in on this, saying that the U.S. needs to hit back hard. Here's what she said.


NIKKI HALEY (R) 2024 GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The very first strike that hit, you punch, and you punch back hard. What they should be doing is going after every ounce of production of those missiles. Wherever those missiles are, you take that out. You keep -- you take up the training sites.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Does that means striking Iran directly?

HALEY: It means striking the resources that are allowing them to hurt our troops. That's what you're doing.


BERTRAND: Now, it's worth noting that the Biden administration has done that before. They have attacked weapons manufacturing facilities in Iraq and Syria that they believe the Iran back groups are using to stage these attacks on U.S. forces. However, the question remains of whether the U.S. is going to take that step of striking inside Iran directly. It does not appear that that is the most likely option at this point. But certainly, the president is coming under increasing pressure to do something very strong.

BASH: He sure is. Thank you so much Natasha, for that reporting. Joining me here, CNN national security analyst Beth Sanner and Peter Bergen. Nice to see you both. Peter, I want to start with something that you wrote on today.

You wrote since the war in Gaza began, Biden's administration officials have been saying multiple versions of we got this and had been working hard to contain any wider conflict. The burgeoning regional conflict now involves 10 countries, Jordan, Iran, Israel and Syria, Iran's proxies and Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, Pakistan and the U.S. and the U.K. and four major terrorist groups: Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthis and ISIS.


I mean that lays out the scope, the breadth of the players that we're talking about here, very foreboding.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yeah. I mean, they've been saying for a long time, we don't want the regional conflict to widen. Now, Bush has -- Biden has a terrible dilemma, which is, how do you respond without just making it a bigger conflict?

And as Natasha said in her report, they've already responded. They're putting up ammunition depots and stuff. They've killed leaders of these groups. So, what do you do? And one potential avenue is massive cyberattacks perhaps that are deniable.

But you know if you're not going to attack Iran, what are you going to do? And so, we'll see. But, you know, obviously, what they sought to avoid has happened. And, as you say, 10 countries are now involved in different ways and four major terrorist groups.

BASH: Beth, you were deputy DNI, Director of National Intelligence. Take me inside, what this kind of meeting is like our meetings are like right now inside the national security council?

BETH SANNER, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, there are multiple meetings, right. And in each of these meetings, what everyone in the room is considering is, what are the range of options? What's on the table? And what will be the reaction of the different parties to different options, both the immediate reaction and then this long-term idea of reestablishing deterrence.

And I was around during the Soleimani strike in January of 2020, briefing President Trump at that time. And you know, the issue is that you have to understand that it's not about just one strike. It has to also be -- deterrence isn't about one act, four months, three months after the Soleimani attacked, two U.S. servicemen were killed and a case soldier in a strike inside Iraq. So, these things -- you know, you have to do short term and you have to do long-term.

BASH: Well, let me show you some of what the more hawkish members of Congress are saying that the president should do in the short term. Senator Wicker strike directly against Iranian targets and its leadership. Senator Lindsey Graham strike targets of significance inside Iran. Senator Cotton, devastating military retaliation against Iran's terrorist forces. Cornyn target Tehran. So, you have those pretty, again hawkish Republicans, but powerful voices when it comes to foreign policy. Then let's just stick with the Republican Party for a second because this is quite interesting. Then you have those who are more in the Donald Trump, America, first wing of the GOP, which have growing influence in the GOP. Nancy Mace. Let's listen to what she said this morning.


REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): This is all Joe Biden's fault. It's ironic because the same people on the left, the same Democrats who said that Donald Trump would start World War III. Are the exact same people on the left who are literally trying to start World War III. If Biden is going to go after Iran and do strikes or cause a war, he better come to Congress and make his case and get our approval.


BASH: Peter?

BERGEN: Well, the Republican Party is divided. But I mean, to pick up on Beth just said, I mean, you couldn't do anything bigger than killing Soleimani. He's the leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the leader of the Quds Force. He is the most important military leader in Iran. The Trump administration killed him. Did that deter Iran? No.

I mean, so -- like, you've got to look at the facts here a little bit. And so, we're just saying we're going to have to take out that leadership. Well, it didn't deter them last time. So, you know, what will deter them this time? You know, who knows. I mean, that's a subject of intense debate.

But they're not -- they haven't been that well deterred, nor the Houthis nor anybody else. And we -- you know, the other question is, as you go up the escalation ladder to try and get dominance. At what point does you escalate so far that it is World War III?

SANNER: Exactly. I mean, I think that going for Tehran, for example, is such an easy talking point from someone who's not actually going to be held responsible for that decision. You know, when you're sitting in these meetings and you're thinking about and discussing the implications of these actions.

You know, the person sitting behind that oval office desk is responsible, ultimately. And so, I kind of consider this, you know, free for all and these potshots aren't serious. They're not serious. If you take that strike to Tehran now, what do you have left?


BASH: You mentioned World War III? And that's sort of something that not a lot of people are saying out loud. You've covered conflicts and terrorist groups. In fact, thank you for gifting me with these books.

BERGEN: The dollar off because (Inaudible) BASH: Thank you. I know with the signatures, have been in all seriousness. Put this in the sort of context of what we've seen in the Middle East over the past, I don't know, two decades, three decades more, and how your level of concern is on that meter?

BERGEN: Yeah. I mean, I'm just picking up World War III was simply picking up what Mace said. You know, I mean this is as big a deal as the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which had all sorts of unintended consequences.

BASH: By the way, that's a big statement.

BERGEN: Well, I mean, we're at that point, right. I mean, if there are really 10 countries involved, either as -- carrying out attacks, being the subject of attacks. You know, this thing is not -- it's like the frog that is slowly -- in that slowly boiling pot of water. At what point do you say, yeah, we really are in original conflict. I think we are.

BASH: (Inaudible) do you agree?

SANNER: Well, we're not over in terms of the risk of escalation. Hezbollah today, 10 attacks inside Northern Israel. That is the next point and it's different than this.

BASH: Thanks, guys. Appreciate it. A bipartisan group of senators has a deal for one of the toughest border bills that we've seen in decades. But are Republicans and Congress going to side with Donald Trump and tank it? We're going to talk about that after a break.




BASH: Congressional Republicans have a choice to make this week. Make a deal with Democrats on a tough new law to protect the U.S. southern border or listen to President Trump and block it for reasons that appear to be nakedly political.

CNN congressional correspondent Lauren Fox joins me now from Capitol Hill. What's your sense would provide there in the hallways of Congress?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, I think there's a huge question of not what is directly in this bill, but how Republicans are going to manage the politics of this situation. The reality is this bill includes many provisions that when Donald Trump was president.

He hoped would be made into law, including things like raising the threshold for asylum seekers, increasing the speed at which those cases can be processed and immigration courts across the country, as well as given the president no matter who that person is, whether it's Joe Biden or President Trump in the future. Giving that person more room to shut down the border, if there's an emergency, or if crossings increase at a level that is really high.

And the question right now is whether or not Republicans are willing to say yes to this deal? You heard yesterday from Chris Murphy. Here's what he said.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): We do have a bipartisan deal. We're finishing the text right now. And the question is whether Republicans are going to listen to Donald Trump who wants to preserve chaos at the border because he thinks that it's a winning political issue for him. Or whether we are going to pass legislation, which would be the biggest bipartisan reform of our border and immigration laws in 40 years.


FOX: And the threats that some Republicans are getting, Dana, they're not hypothetical. You know, you saw over the weekend, James Lankford facing a center from his state party in Oklahoma, saying that they would no longer support him unless he agreed to stop negotiating on this deal. So, the threats are real. The reality for lawmakers and the political threats that they may face, they're real. But it becomes a question now and Senator Thom Tillis put it to me last week. Where are Republicans? And are they going to have the courage to vote yes on this deal?

BASH: I mean, it is just mind blowing, Lauren, that James Lankford, who is as bad as conservative as they come is being threatened by the party -- a Republican Party in his state because he is trying to work on doing something that will at least take a step towards helping the border crisis. It's really mind blowing. Thank you so much, Lauren, for that great reporting.

Let's talk more about all of this with my panel here. CNN's Kristen Holmes, CNN's Priscilla Alvarez and NPR's Ayesha Rascoe. She is also the author and editor of the new book HBCU Made: A Celebration of the Black College Experience. Tomorrow that is available everywhere. You can get your books. Thank you so much for coming.

OK. You're an Oklahoma girl who and you're somebody who has been covering Donald Trump forever. What are your -- what's your sense of sort of the push and pull? Actually, you know what, I wanted to do something. Before you answer the question, I want our viewers to hear from his mouth what Donald Trump said this weekend about this.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: He is the leader of our party. There is zero chance. I will support this horrible open borders' betrayal of America. A lot of the senators are trying to say respectfully, they're blaming it on me. I said, that's OK. Please blame it on me, please, because they were getting ready to pass a very bad bill. And I'll tell you what a bad bill is -- I'd rather have no bill than a bad bill.


BASH: Go ahead.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, I think we have to take a step back to what immigration means in a general election. This is an issue that Donald Trump not only is campaigning on now, but really started campaigning on in 2016. In most aggressive way we have seen.

Donald Trump wants to run his campaign on three big issues. One of them is immigration. The other is crime in the economy. There is a chance that the economy will look very different by next November than it looks right now in terms of getting better. Crime, we've seen statistics showing that it is going down. Immigration is a number one issue across the country that Donald Trump believes that his record and his rhetoric will help him in a general election.


So, when you hear him saying this, you have to remember that some of this is self-preservation. The better it gets on the border, the less he has to run on. And we know right now that this is an issue not just for Republicans, but for Democrats as well. Nationwide, independents. This is something Donald Trump wants to hold on to.

BASH: And that's what is so critical for people to understand. Is that -- yes, there are arguments, which we can talk about in a second or questions about whether this bill will really help this president or any future president crack down at the border.

But when it comes to the raw politics. As I said at the beginning, it is so naked. And that is something that James Lankford, Republican from Oklahoma, the person negotiating this made pretty clear when he spoke this weekend.


SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (ROK): Republicans four months ago, would not give funding for Ukraine, for Israel and for our southern border because we demanded changes in policy. So, we actually locked arms together and said, we're not going to give you money for this, we want to change in law. And now it's interesting a few months later, when we're finally get to the end, they're like, oh, just kidding. I actually don't want to change in law because the presidential election year.


PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I also want to say as those remarks show and what the former president is doing, it shows the obvious politics here. It's also forced President Biden in in a way that he has not done since he took office. I have attended many speeches. But on Saturday at his -- in South Carolina at a dinner, he ticked off border security in that speech and talked about the emerging border deal and said he would shut down the border and do it quickly. That was a notable moment. Up until this point, he has not touched this issue in such a clear and decisive way in saying, I am willing to take a tougher stance on this. And the Republicans are the ones that are not letting me do it.

And give us a preview of what we're likely to hear in the coming days and weeks and trying to repackage the way that Democrats talk about border security and saying, we tried to go the hard way. We tried to be tougher on this issue. But you all didn't let us do it. I'm seeing President Biden do that publicly in a way that I had only heard about happening behind the scenes is pretty remarkable.

BASH: I totally agree. That was a moment when he said I'm going to shut down the border. And that is a little bit risky for a Democratic president in an election year because there are those who are on the left of his party who will look at that and hear that and say, wait a minute, what, that's our Democratic president saying that.

AYESHA RASCOE, NPR HOST, "WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY" AND "UP FIRST": Well, and he already runs into this issue, right? Like he has a much more difficult line to kind of tow, then Trump who can just go all the way out because the Republican base is very united and how they feel about immigration, it's not really complicated. It's like, they feel the same way.

On the left, you have those who are very concerned about immigration policy. They want it to be humane. They want people to retrieve it with respect and dignity. And they feel like that's why we were voting for Biden. And part of his problem is going to be getting those people on the left, who are concerned to come out and have the enthusiasm.

BASH: But obviously -- but obviously, the politics of this, as you were discussing are so intense and so real across the board, even for some Democrats, certainly independents. I just want to play some of what Kristi Noem. She is the governor of South Dakota. Very much openly saying she'd be proud to be Donald Trump's running mate. Went down to the border last week. And she actually used to serve in the House of Representatives. She's on the Trump train when it comes to opposing this emerging border deal. Let's listen to some of our exchange.


BASH: The asylum process and the detention process. I mean, it is a mess. So why not at least fix that? Why not take yes for an answer.

GOV. KRISTI NOEM (R-SD): I think that he would have the ability to fix that broken immigration policy. If the president could show that he was acting in good faith, make an announcement that that you're changing your policies, you're reallocating resources and going to start protecting the United States of America. And you'd have Republicans coming down to the White House asking that to be partners on fixing our immigration policies.


BASH: Kristen?

HOLMES: Well, obviously, I mean, that's part of what is actually going on here is that they are saying, meet us in the middle. And she's saying, OK, if you actually say that we'll come to you in the middle. The other part of it that she has to go along with you -- has to as a strong word, but she's going to go along with whatever Donald Trump is saying and try to spin this into that way.

Because as you said, she's openly said she wants to be vice president. We know that she believes that is a possibility that you deserve a Trump administration. She has been one of his biggest supporters. I also think that again, this is just going to show you how important the politics of immigration are going to be in 2024 general election.


I mean, even Nikki Haley kind of seemed to dance backwards when she was talking about this versus saying we should pass it. Then saying, oh, if we pass it, it's not going to be good enough. We'll also -- she's also saying the same polling we're all seeing, which is that immigration's top issue.

BASH: We're out of time but I know you wanted to make a point.

ALVAREZ: I just want to say put aside what's in the deal. There's one thing missing from that deal. It just tells you everything about Democratic Party right now. It's the legalization of undocumented immigrants. There has always been in every bill. It's not in this one that tells you everything about where they're headed.

BASH: And I asked Nancy Pelosi that very question, and she said it was never part of this discussion, which again, makes your point perfectly. Everybody standby. Nikki Haley says she isn't going anywhere. She's taken her attacks on Donald Trump to a new level. She's fascinating up money from some of her party's biggest donors. Does she have any path though to beating Trump? That's next.