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Inside Politics

Top Military Officials To Testify About Afghanistan Withdrawal; Trump: Any Jew Who Votes For A Democrat "Hates Their Religion"; Why Doug Emhoff Is Campaigning Today In Omaha. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 19, 2024 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Soon, a high-stakes hearing on the Biden administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021. Two and a half years after the bombing at the Kabul airport, the event remains a stain on the administration's record. President Biden has said he does not regret his decision to end America's longest war. But the chaotic and deadly way it happened, that moment struck a chord with voters, and President Biden's approval rating fell below 50 percent right after that and still hasn't bounced back.

Next hour, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hear from two of the top military officials who over saw the exit, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley and former Commander U.S. -- of U.S. Central Command, General Kenneth McKenzie.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is following all of this at the Pentagon. Oren?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Dana, this hearing starts in 30 minutes, so at 1:00. And as you point out, there will be two of the top U.S. commanders at the time, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley, as well as the Commander of U.S. Central Command.

Now, we have heard from both of these leaders before, including in congressional hearings about the Afghanistan withdrawal. And they have both testified that they recommended to President Joe Biden keeping a small force of U.S. troops there, somewhere between 2,500 and 4,500.

They both say that the president listened to their opinion, as well as other opinions. They felt they were heard. They felt they had the opportunity to present their position. The question then is, what is the difference with this hearing we're expecting to start here in just a short bit? And the answer is, now they are both civilians, which means they are not bound by the same rules of what they can and cannot say as they were when they were in uniform, the top U.S. general and the top general of Central Command.

So the question is, do they try to use a bit of that freedom to go further in their discussions of what happened, further in the criticism of how this all played out? And that's what we're watching for here. As civilians, do they say more than they have said before? This hearing will be at the House Foreign Affairs Committee. There, Republican Congressman Michael McCaul has criticized the Biden administration for not only how the withdrawal itself played out, and how it then quickly led to the collapse of the Afghan military and the government, but also he has been very critical of the government for not taking responsibility and having some sort of accountability for the suicide bombing in the closing days of the withdrawal that led to the deaths of 13 U.S. service members.

Here, McCaul talked last hour to Wolf Blitzer.


REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: I think somebody needs to be held accountable. You know, in what form that takes? We'll see where the evidence goes in this matter. Somebody has to say, I'm sorry for your child being, you know, killed at Abbey Gate. And that really hasn't happened.

And so I do think this will lead to accountability. It should.


LIEBERMANN: Back in September, shortly after the two-year anniversary of the withdrawal and of that deadly suicide bombing, McCaul held a hearing with some of the family members of those killed in that attack. He said some of those family members will be here once again today. That hearing's starting in just a short bit here.

I will also point out that U.S. Central Command conducted an additional investigation of the Abbey Gate bombing, interviewing some 50 more people, including about a dozen service members who were not part of the original investigation.


CNN has learned that investigation is complete as we wait to hear the conclusion itself. And, of course, Dana, we wait to hear what we learned from this hearing now that Milley and McKenzie, our civilians that might be able to say a bit more.

BASH: I didn't know that. That's some great reporting. And this is going to be a very important hearing coming up shortly.

Thank you so much, Oren. Appreciate it.

Coming up, new anti-Semitic rhetoric from the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion, they hate everything about Israel, and they should be ashamed of themselves.


BASH: We'll talk about Donald Trump's latest comments about American Jews, next.



BASH: Now to comments that are anti-Semitic and incredibly dangerous. Here's what Donald Trump said yesterday about American Jews in an interview with a conservative radio host.


SEBASTIAN GORKA, RADIO HOST: Why do the Democrats hate Bibi Netanyahu?

TRUMP: I actually think they hate Israel.


TRUMO: I don't think they hate, I think they hate Israel. And the Democrat Party hates Israel. Any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion. They hate everything about Israel and they should be ashamed of themselves because Israel will be destroyed.


BASH: Let's recognize this comment for what it is, a longstanding anti-Semitic trope that the true allegiance for Jews is to their religion rather than their country. It was used in Nazi Germany to justify the arrests, persecutions, and mass killings that attempted extermination of the Jewish people. And Trump has been pushing this trope for years.

Here's what he said in 2019.


TRUMP: In my opinion, you vote for a Democrat, you're being very disloyal to Jewish people, and you're being very disloyal to Israel. And only weak people would say anything other than that.


BASH: In 2022, he posted, "U.S. Jews have to get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel before it is too late." And this past September, while attempting to wish American Jews a Happy New Year on one of the holiest days of the year, Rosh Hashanah, Trump included this in his post, quote, "Liberal Jews who voted to destroy America and Israel because you believe false narratives."

That was, of course, just a few weeks before the horrific October 7th attack where Hamas terrorists slaughtered more than 1,000 innocent people in Israel and took more than 250 as hostages.

Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Becca Balint of Vermont. Thank you so much for being here. What's your reaction to those comments? REP. BECCA BALINT (D-VT): Well, of course, it's absolutely outrageous. But what we've seen from Donald Trump is as he's gotten older, as he's aging, he's become a highly distilled version of himself. He's vengeful. He's vindictive. He is ultimately incredibly insecure, and he projects.

And so as a former middle school teacher, I can tell you what it looks like when someone is acting from a place of insecurity with no impulse control. He is trying to call people disloyal because he himself is incredibly disloyal to the people around him.

BASH: I want to continue to kind of put this in context. I just did giving people a sense of what these kinds of statements have been used for in different variations in different forms in the past, but let's look at what's happening, of course, right now in the United States of America. Since the attack on October 7th in Israel, anti-Semitic incidents are already spiking.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, the incidents in the U.S. rose 361 percent in the three months after October 7th compared to the same period the year before. Congresswoman, you are the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. It's personal, but it's personal for all Jews, I think. How would you -- and I know that you've studied this as well. How do people who are predisposed to hating Jews perceive and take comments like what we just heard from Donald Trump?

BALINT: Oh, it just plays into the narrative that they've heard subliminally and overtly their entire lives. So the trope of the Jew that can't be trusted, the disloyal Jew has been with us for hundreds of years. So when he does this, again, normalizes it for everyone. It says, see, a former president is even speaking this, so there must be some kernel of truth in it.

And ultimately, we know that he is lashing out at American Jewry because they know they can see through him. 70 percent of American Jews voted for Biden in 2020. That is ultimately what this is about.

BASH: And what he sees, politically speaking --


BASH: -- is the potential, given the the discord in the Democratic Party about how Israel is prosecuting its retaliation against Hamas and to drive a wedge.

BALINT: Absolutely. He wants to drive a wedge.

BASH: But is it -- putting aside the very important context and calling it for what it is, which is anti-Semitic, just on the raw politics --


BASH: -- is there a wedge to be driven?

BALINT: I don't think there is. I don't think there is because ultimately, people can see through this. I do believe that.


And look, why is this happening right now? This is what I've been thinking about. Why is it happening now? Because he's had a terrible week. Because he can't secure a bond. And his business is being shown for what it is, a fraud. And he's gone to 30 different bond companies to ask for money. They've all said no.

He's feeling like a loser. So when he feels like a loser, this is what he do. This is what he does. He lashes out.

BASH: You were the first Jewish lawmaker to call for a ceasefire. That was several months ago. The war is still going on. Tens of thousands have reportedly died in Gaza. There are still hostages, Jewish hostages, in Gaza including Americans. What is your sense of how President Biden is doing at this point? I know you were just in the region.

BALINT: I was just in the region and something that we heard from so many partners on the ground, Dana, was that people believe that Biden is the one that can bring about stability to the region long term. And that is not something that they believe about our former president. And so, if you are someone who wants a safe and secure Israel and a safe and secure Palestinian state, the person who will help bring that about is President Biden.

BASH: Do your progressive friends, young people, are they open to that argument when you give it to them?

BALINT: Yes. They need to know the facts. They need to understand that a win for Trump is a win for Bibi Netanyahu. And Hamas will lose intellectually, ideologically when there is no longer a lack of a Palestinian state. They don't want Israel to live side by side in peace with the Palestinians. They want war constantly so they can wage their genocidal war against Israelis.

BASH: Yes. River to the sea. That means eradicating the Jewish state of Israel.

Thank you for coming on. Appreciate it.

BALINT: Thank you.

BASH: Nice to see you.

And coming up, why is the second gentleman of the United States, Doug Emhoff, campaigning today in Nebraska? Believe it or not, the entire presidential election could come down to the Cornhusker state. We are going to explain it to you after the break.



BASH: Nebraska isn't exactly a battleground state, but today, second gentleman, Doug Emhoff, is campaigning for the Democratic ticket in Omaha. Why Omaha? Well, it's much more than somewhere in Middle America, as the counting crows once sang. The election results there could very well determine who wins the presidency in November.

CNN's Harry Enten joins me now from the magic wall. OK, have at it. Explain to our viewers the electoral math here, Harry.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: All right, have at it. There's nothing more I love than explaining the electoral map. All right, let's just assume that we're going to assign the winner in 2024 to the winner who won in 2020. And what we see is Biden with 303 electoral votes, Donald Trump at 235.

You'll notice in Nebraska there's a little light blue. Why is that? Because Nebraska, like Maine, are the only two states in the nation who give an electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district. One of those congressional districts is right in around Omaha, and Joe Biden won that district last time around.

Now what happens if we start giving Donald Trump some states where he's leading in right now? So let's give him the state of Georgia. Let's give him the state of Arizona. Let's give him the state of Nevada. All of a sudden, look at this, 270 electoral votes to 268. Joe Biden barely wins on the strength of carrying Nebraska's second congressional district.

Now, if we zoom in, and all of a sudden we give that district to Donald Trump, it's a 269 to 269 tie. So that's a big reason why Joe Biden's there. But that's not the only map where we can see how Nebraska's second congressional district could make a difference.

How about we go back, we're going to give Joe Biden back Nevada, we're going to give him back Arizona, and we're going to give him back Georgia. But let's say then, we take away Pennsylvania, and we take away Michigan. What do we get here? A 269 to 269 tie with Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District, the fact that Biden carried it, making it a tie.

So Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District, although quite small, only one electoral vote could in fact make a big difference in this election.

BASH: Absolutely incredible. So many different options that lead to that. So, given how important that district is, tell us more about the makeup of that swing district.

ENTEN: Yes, what's going on in Nebraska's second congressional district? So let's take a look at some recent results. All right, as we pop out here, what do we say? Well, we see that it's just very much of a swing district. Look at this. Don Bacon, the Republican representative won it by three points in 2022, but Joe Biden carried it under the current lines by six points.

And then back in 2016, Donald Trump barely carried the district by two percentage points, so it goes back and forth. The question is, why does it go back and forth? Well, why is Nebraska's second congressional district so close? So let's make this big for you and we're going to bring it down here.

Well, Republicans still hold a party registration edge of about three points in the second congressional district, but it's also a very well educated district. 40 percent of adults in the district have a college degree. That puts it in the top quarter of all districts with a college degree. And, of course, if you're following anything about politics, you know that elections have been increasingly tied to education levels, with more educated districts going more democratic over the last few years.


BASH: OK. So let's look at one other scenario. Let's go back to that blue wall. Biden wins Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin keeps the blue wall up as it was last election. Donald Trump takes Nevada, takes Arizona, takes Georgia, three states he did not take last time around. That Omaha electoral vote it also goes to Trump. It's still tied.

ENTEN: That is correct. So it is still tied in that particular instance. And what happens in this scenario? That to me is what's so interesting. Well, the House gets to choose who the president is, but it's not each member of the House, it's each state delegation getting one vote.

Right now Republicans hold an edge in delegations. The other thing to note is that the Senate, in fact, will pick the Vice President, and of course, it's the new Congress, not the current one, that will ultimately choose this. Just another thing in this wacky and wild world of the political world we live in, Dana.

BASH: OK, Harry, as always, thanks for breaking it all down. Really, really interesting.

ENTEN: My please. Thank you.

BASH: Thank you so much for joining Inside Politics today. CNN News Central starts after a break.