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Inside Politics

Blinken Demands Probe Of Israel Strike That Killed Aid Workers; RFK Jr. Argues Biden Is A Bigger Threat To Democracy Than Trump; Biden Facing Protest Vote In Wisconsin Over Israel Policy; Democrats Hope New Florida Abortion Ban And Referendum To Protect Abortion Rights Will Juice Turnout In November. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 02, 2024 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: We have new reaction from the Biden administration after seven humanitarian aid workers were killed in an Israeli airstrike overnight in Gaza. They were working for the World Central Kitchen, the food aid group founded by Chef Jose Andres. One of them is a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is demanding a full investigation.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We shouldn't have a situation where people who are simply trying to help their fellow human beings are themselves at grave risk. We've spoken directly to the Israeli government about this particular incident. We've urged a swift, a thorough, an impartial investigation.


World Central Kitchen says it coordinated its movements with the IDF and its workers were in marked vehicles with their logo. It is now pausing its operations there.

CNN's Melissa Bell now joins me live from Jerusalem. Melissa, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu did come out and admit that it was an Israeli airstrike that killed these aid workers, but said it was unintentional, that it was an accident. What more can you say?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. An unintentional incident that meant the loss of these innocent lives as the Israeli Prime Minister described them and promising that he was in touch, would stay in touch with the countries that these aid workers were from and vowing a swift investigation.

In fact, what we've heard, Dana, is Israeli officials, not just the Israeli Prime Minister, but the IDF spokesman, Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, all vowing. A swift and thorough investigation of the top level with, we understand, the IDF's top general getting eyes on any information that comes to them about what went on.

Because I think one of the reasons they're taking this this seriously, and they've communicated as quickly as they have is that remember that the IDF have repeatedly over the course of the last few weeks and months and specifically as this situation has gotten worse in Gaza, reassured -- communicated on the that they claimed to be working closely with humanitarian aid workers in order to be allowing them to do their job, which is trying to get some of the food to the more than 1 million people that the U.N. now believes area facing famine.

And I want to read to you a little bit about what Jose Andres himself had to say. It is seven of his aid workers, of course, who've tragically lost their lives. We had a tweet from him earlier this morning, urging Israeli authorities to stop restricting aid, to stop killing aid workers and civilians and to stop using food as a weapon, saying, "Peace starts with shared humanity and that needs to start now."

The outrage that we've heard, Dana, and not just from the countries of these -- where these aid workers were from, but also from U.N. organizations, everyone who's been trying to help on the ground in Gaza has been deafening ever since we heard about this tragic loss of life.

And remember that the World Central Kitchen was, of course, crucial to getting around the blockade by focusing efforts on getting maritime aid in and that 100 tons of aid that they just been delivering to a warehouse had indeed come by the sea. Now that they're stopping huge questions about who's going to fill that breach, Dana.

BASH: Yes. It's really, really horrible. Absolutely tragic.

Thank you so much for that reporting, Melissa.

Up next, back here in the U.S., RFK Jr. talks to CNN and makes some pretty wild comparisons, saying that Joe Biden is the one who's a threat to democracy.

Plus, Florida, Florida, Florida, the Biden campaign sees a path to making Tim Russert's words ring truer than they have in years. Maybe putting the sunshine state back in swing territory. Stay with us.



BASH: Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. certainly made some waves last night. In a lengthy interview with my colleague, Erin Burnett, he claimed that President Biden is more of a threat to democracy than Donald Trump.


ROBERT F. KENNEDY JR. (I), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The question was, who is the worst threat to democracy? And what I would say is I, you know, I'm not going to answer that question, but I can argue that President Biden is because the First Amendment, Erin, is the most important.

But Adams and Hamilton and Madison said, we put the guarantee of freedom of expression in the First Amendment because all of our other constitutional rights depend on it. If you have a government that can silence its opponent, it has license for any atrocity. Thirty seven hours after he took the oath of office, he was censoring me. No president in the country has ever done that.


The greatest threat to democracy is not somebody who questions election returns, but a president of the United States who used the power of his office to force the social media companies, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter to open a portal and give access to that portal to the FBI, to the CIA, to the IRS, to CISA, to NIH, to censor his political critics.


BASH: Now, let's just be very clear. This is an important fact check. Joe Biden wasn't setting out to censor Kennedy's speech or his political critics. His administration was encouraging social media sites to monitor and take down false information about the COVID-19 pandemic. There's no evidence that Biden himself was involved.

Now, elsewhere in Erin's interview as RFK Jr. woven allusions to his famous father and his uncle JFK, Erin pressed him on the widespread opposition to his candidacy from within his own family.


KENNEDY: Listen, I have a big family. I don't know anybody in America who's got a family who agrees with them on everything. I don't know if that's your situation, Erin, if you just have a family who believes everything you do is, you know, like unicorns and rainbows.

We could disagree on issues and we could disagree with passion and information, but we still love each other. And I love Rory. I love my family. I feel loved by them.


BASH: I think that Erin's family probably does think everything she does is unicorns and rainbows, don't you? But in all seriousness, Eva, I'm glad you're here because you are covering the independent candidates for CNN. I know you've done a lot of work in talking to people who are either intrigued by or already down with and preparing to vote for RFK Jr. What are you hearing? Why is this kind of argument resonating with them?

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Well, on his point that Biden could present a greater threat to democracy, I wasn't really surprised to hear that. I think sometimes here in Washington, we underestimate or don't really understand the full scope unless you travel the country. How much people felt deeply aggrieved by having to take the vaccine to reenter society, to go back to work. And so he is speaking directly to those concerns people that really believe that that is an affront. But the reason why Kennedy and his campaign is such a threat to the political establishment, both on the right and the left is because his ideology doesn't really fit in a neat political box.

You know, he talks about regenerative agriculture, you know, the water and soil being clean and getting chemicals out of our food. And that's something that you actually hear often on the left. But he also talks about being anti-war and wanting to negotiate a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine. But in the same breath sort of contradictory he is very emphatically pro-Israel.

And so his politics are quite complicated, actually. And I think that that is why Republicans and Democrats are nervous.

BASH: Well, what's not complicated is that he is very clearly, very explicitly saying, I don't fit into a box, a Democratic box, a Republican box. And if you voter don't fit into that, then I'm your guy. And I just want to put up some of the most recent polling we have.

And one is just showing in the Quinnipiac poll. This is back in October. Kennedy was at 19 percent. And then more recently, the -- in March, Kennedy was down to 13 percent. I should note two things. One is Jill Stein, who was not in the first poll, was a part of that and she got 4 percent. I don't know if that's taking away from some of Kennedy's support, but it did drop just a little bit, Leigh Anne.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: So those polling results is why the Biden campaign and Democrats are now, this year, taking Kennedy and third party candidates extremely seriously. They have staffers devoted at the DNC dedicated to third party candidates, former Biden. Aides have formed a super pack to let voters know who RFK Jr. and other third party candidates are.

So this is something that they are taking very seriously because when they look back at 2016, a lot of Democrats will say that third party candidates were a spoiler for Trump.

BASH: Let's look back even further than 2016 to 2000 because Erin and her team found a comment, a soundbite from RFK Jr. back then, talking about Ralph Nader. I want to play that for you, and then Kennedy's response to Erin last night.


KENNEDY: There's a political reality here which is that his candidacy could draw enough votes in certain key states from Al Gore to give the entire election to George W. Bush.

Whoever gets elected, there's going to be changes around the margins, you know, like that tax and abortion or whatever.



KENNEDY: Both of them only have four years and I don't think they can dismantle democracy in four years. I think Americans institutions are too great for that. And the chance for me to actually change the nature of governance in this country to restore democracy, the chances of that happening are too great and too important for me to give up this contest.


BASH: What are you hearing from your Biden sources?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, these are all of the reasons that the Biden campaign and national Democrats are not treating him as some joke fringe candidate to be laughed out of the room. I think the really big task at hand for Democrats right now is figuring out how exactly to define him and also figuring out so who are the voters who are most likely to be RFK curious?

Who are the voters who are turning out to some of his campaign events and don't see him as a French candidate? I mean, is it the fascination with him being, you know, anti-vaxxer and frustrations going back to the COVID years? Is it the Kennedy name or is it just plain old, you know, frustration and be, you know, being fed up with Biden and Trump and the fact that it is going to be that race again?

And is it going to be enough for Democrats to sort of try to scare voters and say, look, the fact that he is in the race, if you support him, that means another four years potentially of Donald Trump, or do they need to be more explicit and specific in trying to define him?

BASH: What are your real quick answers to that --

MCKEND: Or they might have to level with some of these voters and say, hey, I know that some of the stuff that he says might make sense to you, but listen, you know, I am the best candidate for the job. I've already been here for years, you know, pick me.

I think that they have to sort of negotiate with some of these voters. I will tell you the voters I met at the Oakland rally he held last week, it was voters who voted for Biden in 2020.

BASH: Oh, that's interesting.

As we go to break, I just want to quickly -- so our viewers have an understanding of where he is right now, because he has to get on the ballot. He is now only on the ballot in Utah, but his Super PAC and his campaign says that they have met the signature requirements to get on in Hawaii, Nevada. Underscore that Arizona, Michigan and several other swing states that will determine the election.

Thanks, everybody.

Coming up, Florida was one of the swingiest of swing states until it turned decisively red in the Trump era. The Biden campaign says they saw something last night that makes them think maybe they can turn it back. We'll explain after a break.



BASH: Voters are headed to the polls in Wisconsin today. Spoiler alert, Joe Biden and Donald Trump will win their party's primaries, but Democrats will be watching how many people vote against the president as a way to potentially send a message about his response to the war in Gaza.

Our Jeff Zeleny is standing by in Madison, Wisconsin. Jeff, the president announced this morning that he's going to come there to Madison next week. It's probably the most liberal part of the state of Wisconsin. What are you seeing there? And what do you expect as you talk to people there tonight?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, that trip was no accident, announcing that he'll be coming to Madison next week. And here's why. They realized that to rebuild that Biden coalition is winning coalition. He needs to get young progressives on board.

And there is a question on the ballot here today that's called uninstructed. What that means is, you vote to send your delegates without instruction to the democratic convention in Chicago, and that is being used as a protest vote for people who are really unhappy at this administration over its handling of the Israel Gaza war.

So that is what we are looking for tonight. How many uninstructed votes are there? It's similar to the uncommitted from Michigan. It's just called something different here in Wisconsin, but that will certainly show how much work the Biden campaign must do in the coming months.

BASH: About you. But to me, Wisconsin is, obviously, there are several swing states, and we're going to talk about perhaps a new one in one second. But, Wisconsin is the one that I am watching the most because --

ZELENY: Right.

BASH: -- Michigan is important, but Wisconsin, to me, could be the whole ballgame.

ZELENY: It absolutely could. And here's why. If you just think back in 2016, Trump won by about 23,000 votes in 2020. Biden won by about 21,000 votes. The difference is there was no Green Party candidate on the ballot in 2020. So third party candidates could be a major deal here in Wisconsin.

We've seen so many different elections here over the last decade or so. And it really is a red-blue divide here. One difference is I talked to a lot of party officials, abortion. That is also something that was not a front and center in the 2020 conversation. It is now. So every election is different, of course, but Wisconsin, the fundamentals are largely the same. It's going to come back to Wisconsin, of course, why President Trump is here for the first time in nearly two years, and President Biden comes on Monday.

BASH: Let's talk about Florida while I have you. You're, obviously, pretty far from Florida right now --


BASH: -- but you and -- I and you especially have covered the kind of ebbs and flows of Florida as a swing state over the years. I mean, let's just show our viewers what we're talking about. Everybody remembers 2000. And if you don't, you should. Bush won by 0.01 percent. And then he won by 5 percent, went over to Obama for both of his elections.


And then Trump won in 2016 and 2020 until, I don't know, last night the Biden campaign thought, you know, we're going to put our money elsewhere, like places where you are, like Wisconsin. But because of this ruling on abortion, a six week ban saying that it's OK, and allowing a measure for abortion rights to be on the ballot, which tends to be a vote driver.

How realistic do you think, based on your discussions with Biden officials and other Democrats, that this Florida decision, set of decisions, could really put it in play?

ZELENY: It certainly is adding sort of a new element to this campaign. Just when you think you sort of know everything that's going to be happening when the battlegrounds are set. This is a something that's been added and it's a something the Biden campaign views as a gift.

They believe it is winnable. They know it's very difficult to win. Kind of the question, will they spend money there? Will they start spending money in Florida? That will tell us how really winnable they think it is. Dana?

BASH: Yes. Great point. Always good to see you. Thank you so much, Jeff. Appreciate it.

Thank you so much for joining Inside Politics. CNN News Central starts after the break.