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High Tension & Clashes At Campuses Nationwide As Protests Intensify; Columbia President: "Drastic Escalation" Of Protest Activity; 300+ Arrested At Columbia After NYPD Clears Occupied Building; Rival Protesters Clash At UCLA After Encampment Declared "Unlawful"; New Clashes Erupt On Multiple College Campuses Overnight; 250+ Former Obama-Biden Staffers Blast White House Over Gaza; Rep. Greene Says She'll Bring Up Vote To Oust Johnson Next Week; Trump Won't Rule Out Authoritarian Measures If He's Reflected. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired May 01, 2024 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Welcome to Inside Politics. I'm Dana Bash. We start with destruction, violence and hate on college campuses across the country. This was the scene just a short while ago at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Police clashing with protesters. 12 people were arrested.

Hours earlier, protests rocked the University of Arizona where campus police use chemical irritant munitions to remove protesters. Around the same time at UCLA, pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups were attacking each other, hurling all kinds of objects, a wood pallet, fireworks, parking cones, even a scooter.

And before that the NYPD was able to clear Columbia University after protesters barricaded themselves inside a campus building. 300 people were arrested at Columbia and City College of New York. But it is unclear how many were actually students. New York City Mayor Eric Adams warned this morning that professional outside agitators are getting involved.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS, (D) YORK CITY: There is a movement to radicalize young people. And I'm not going to wait until it's done. And all of a sudden acknowledge the existence of it. This is a global problem that young people are being influenced by those who are professionals and radicalizing our children. And I'm not going to allow that to happen as the mayor of the City of New York.


BASH: Many of these protests started peacefully with legitimate questions about the war, but in many cases, they lost the plot. They're calling for a ceasefire. Well, there was a ceasefire on October 6, the day before Hamas terrorists brutally murdered more than a thousand people inside Israel and took hundreds more as hostages. This hour, I'll speak to an American Israeli family whose son is still held captive by Hamas since that horrifying day, that brought us to this moment. You don't hear the pro-Palestinian protesters talking about that. We will.

Now protesting the way the Israeli government, the Israeli prime minister is prosecuting the retaliatory war against Hamas is one thing. Making Jewish students feel unsafe at their own schools is unacceptable and it is happening way too much right now.


ELI TSIVES, JEWISH STUDENT, UCLA: I'm a UCLA student. I deserve to go here. We paid tuition. This is our school. And they're not letting me walk in. My class is over there. I want to use that entrance. Well, I can think of -- will you let me go in. This can be over in a second. Just let me and my friends go in.


BASH: Again, what you just saw is 2024 in Los Angeles. Hearkening back to the 1930s in Europe and I do not say that lightly. The fear among Jews in this country is palpable right now. I want to go to CNN's Gabe Cohen at Columbia University. Gabe, what's happening right now.

GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dana, it's a quiet day here at Columbia. But obviously, it was a chaotic night. The center of this police activity that we saw last night was Hamilton Hall right here where we saw a huge crowd of officers enters through the second story window here, eventually arresting more than 200 protesters who were here in the building and outside in that encampment that had lasted here for days.

And now in the last few minutes, we have gotten this new letter in from Columbia's president, talking about that decision. Why it is that they called in the NYPD last night to clear out the protest. In this letter, the president writes this drastic escalation of many months of protest activity, mainly talking about those protests are storming Hamilton Hall. Pushed the university to the brink, creating a disruptive environment for everyone and raising safety risks to an intolerable level.

She adds over the last few months, we have been patient in tolerating unauthorized demonstrations, including the encampment. But of course, that now Dana has changed here with that action from the NYPD last night and now we are seeing a large police presence today. We know that the school had (audio blip) to stay here at Columbia until May 17, after graduation.


There is a lot of confusion because it's the restricted campus right now. We know behind us that is -- those are students, faculty members trying to get onto campus but only a central faculty and students who live here can get on. We have also heard concerns, Dana, from student journalists here. I spoke to one who was here covering the protests last night. They were the only ones allowed on the campus other than the protesters. Mainstream -- media has generally been forced to stay outside the campus. Students though, who were covering it were on campus.

But this member of the Student Press told me that he and the other members of the Student Press were forced to leave by the NYPD before they made those arrests. They had to leave to a point where they could not actually see the protests unfolding. Take a listen to the concerns he raised to me just a little while ago.


MEGHNAD BOSE, COLUMBIA JOURNALISM GRADUATE STUDENT: Footage that we have from last night is very special. And that footage already raises some troubling questions about the NYPD conduct on the campus. If we had more journalists there -- student journalists, we would have known much better what actually unfolded in front of Hamilton Hall.


COHEN: And Dana, we're getting in new aerials of this cleared encampment as we're seeing it today. But of course, we have not been on the campus yet today to see it with our own eyes. Certainly, a lot of questions remain after that NYPD activity, the visuals that we have seen as that student journalists raised concern with. Those are visuals that are coming either from the NYPD or the protesters themselves. So, a lot of questions still lingering today.

BASH: Gabe, thank you so much for that report. And we thank all of the journalists, especially the student journalists for help -- for helping us tell this story. We're going to go now to the West Coast where violent clashes erupted on the campus of UCLA overnight.

CNN's Stephanie Elam joins me now live from the campus. How's it looking this morning, Stephanie?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Things are very calm at this hour. Now, Dana, I can tell you this is where we saw a lot of the melee that was happening overnight. Now security just coming back out here at 9 a.m., local coming back out. But as you can see, this is the area of contention last night where these barricades were set up like this, with this walkway in between but you can see where they were broken down.

And you can see that in the video. It looked like people from this side were breaking down the encampment from the pro-Palestinian side last night, throwing objects in there. As well as it looks like some sort of maybe pepper spray or something coming from the other side over here.

You saw the security and media trying to keep it safe. But there is visible images of that there was violence like there's -- looks like blood on the ground here. You can see it on the grass around where we are standing now. And we have a new update because of all of this, UCLA just tweeting now due to the violence last night that they are closing -- or I'm sorry, canceling classes today and asking students to stay away from this area of the campus after those clashes where you saw fireworks being deployed.

We just saw that it was uncomfortable and dangerous. We've heard from some of the student journalists who actually said that worked for the Daily Bruin saying that some of their people were hurt. And so, you see some of those signs out here now still, and they're asking for the UCLA leadership to be accountable and to do something to make it safe for the students that go here, Dana.

BASH: Yeah. And I just earlier this morning saw a statement from the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, saying that they are appalled at the violence that took place last night. And even including actions by protesters who do not represent the Jewish community or our value of. So, Jewish organizations taking responsibility and distancing themselves from those who are -- who are not acting appropriately. Be nice to see that on all sides of this. Thank you so much, Stephanie. Appreciate that important report.

I want to talk now to my panel about the politics of all of this. CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Jackie Kucinich of The Boston Globe, and Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times. Thank you so much, all of you for being here.

I want to start with what we have heard so far from the White House. This is a statement from Andrew Bates. He's the Deputy Press Secretary. Quote, President Biden respects the right to free expression, but protests must be peaceful and lawful. Forcibly taking over buildings is not peaceful, it is wrong. And hate speech and hate symbols have no place in America.

Now just keep that up for a second. Andrew Bates, good guy. You know, this has nothing against Andrew Bates, but he's the Deputy Press Secretary. He's certainly not the president who we haven't heard from. He's not the communications director we haven't heard from. He's not the press secretary who we haven't heard from. This is very telling that this is what we have so far with everything that's going on from the White House and the president of the United States.


ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, last week I was traveling with President Biden when he was going to New York. And you would think obviously that just the time the location and the destination that I was going into it thinking, oh, he's going to make a statement here. He's got to come over and talk to the press about what we're seeing unraveling. And we didn't see that. He didn't come over.

Now, I don't think that's going to be able to last. This is how we've seen them message on this so far. Statements that clearly condemn antisemitism, and don't condone violence, calling for peaceful protest. But again, it's in written statements. And now you're entering also graduation season too. President Biden is slated to speak at two graduation ceremonies.

You would think that he is going to have to address this, as well as reporters who're going to keep asking about this. But you know, they're navigating tricky politics here. Usually, you would see -- it's usually, you know, Republicans attacking Democrats for being a party of crime or disorder. You're starting to see, though Democrats in Congress, as well as Republicans concerned about what's going on as well.

BASH: Is it tricky, though? I mean, listen, you've covered Joe Biden for a very long time as Hubei (Ph) since he was in the United States Senate. We know how he feels about this. And my understanding is that there is a lot of debate inside the White House about how he should come out. But by not coming out just on the raw politics of this. I've talked to some Democrats who say that they're worried that he -- he looks weak.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: And that is one of the central concerns for all Biden's supporters in the West Wing and beyond about his candidacy for the next six months. Is he going to be a strong leader? I was talking to someone who's a longtime Biden ally, who was trying to explain the context of this. And they said, this is sort of a confluence of events here where he needs to be a strong leader, but he also normally plays this empathetic role.

And those two are very much at odds in this matter here. It's complicated, without question, as you just laid out. There are no simple solutions. But if you use history as a guide, our friend, Peter Baker, at the Times this morning reminded us of what Joe Biden was doing in the protests in '68. He was just finishing law school. And he said, I wear a suit coat. I'm not a protester.

We know that he does not like these images of disorder. But that is a central worry. Just some Democrats are facing his presidential campaign. Is he going to be a strong leader here? Are these images of disorder going to sort of overtake this?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Or and even if he does run out the clock on the student protests, because graduation as you pointed out is soon, perhaps there won't be as many students on campus. These protesters -- perhaps these protesters, but there have been protesters at many of Joe Biden events and many Democratic events that the White House Correspondents' dinner this past weekend. There was a huge amount of protesting.

So, the fact it until they're able to do something perhaps, you know, Blinken gets a ceasefire or something like that. He's -- until that happens, he's going to -- he's going to have to deal with this.

BASH: And Jeff -- yeah, absolutely. And Jeff, I want to read a part of a letter that you obtained that was sent yesterday to both President Biden and President Obama, signed by many, many, many hundreds. It looks like of not high-ranking officials, but officials who worked for Obama and Biden that speak to perhaps why he is -- has not said, hey, the president has not said anything yet.

President Biden, you, not committed -- not uncommitted voters or third-party candidates are risking a Trump presidency and our democracy by defending the war crimes and agenda of a foreign far- right government. You are ignoring the growing majority of Democratic voters who recognize Israel's war in Gaza as genocide and demand that immediate -- an immediate and permanent ceasefire.

Now, I just want to say this that this is pointed out to me by a high- ranking Democrat, that you know, what's not in here? There's no mention of October 7. There is no mention of what started this. There's a sort of a passing reference to the hostages, including six Americans believed to be held in inside Gaza.

ZELENY: And that is one of the -- perhaps that puts in stark relief the challenge here. Because the -- as you said at the beginning of the broadcast, you know, October 7 was not that long ago, but it is largely fallen out of the immediate conversation that is happening on some of these college campuses and protests.

But what this letter is, it's the latest in a series of letters. The last one came in November, I believe. And but what's different about this, it's calling for an end to funding for the Israeli military operation, which is not likely to happen, given what --

BASH: Right.


ZELENY: The funding was just passed in Congress, but it's also calling for an immediate ceasefire. But what this speaks to is just the -- really the dissident war within the Democratic, a progressive left movement here unlike anything we've seen certainly in this era.


KUCINICH: I mean this has been a divide and this is just -- this has exacerbated it and we've never seen it.

BASH: And then you of course have this happening in the middle of a very intense presidential campaign. And Donald Trump is not just letting this happen in a vacuum. He is engaging. He did so last night. Listen to what he said.


DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (voiceover): Biden is supposed to be the voice of our country, and it's certainly not much of a voice. It's a voice that nobody's heard. And you look, I don't think he's -- I don't think he's able to do it. I don't think he's got what it takes to do it. But he's got to. He's got to -- he's got to strengthen up, but he's got to be heard.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KANNO-YOUNGS: We've seen this playbook before even in 2020. I remember when there were protests in Portland as well outside of that courthouse. We started to see criminal justice protests breaking out. Trump trying to say, look, Biden is overseeing this disorder and chaos. Biden trying to push back on that by showing sort of his police and crime bonafides, and law and order bonafides. I think that's the message you're probably going to see moving forward.

But again, the reason why this is challenging here is, you know, rhetoric only goes so far. And unless you have a legitimate ceasefire, unless you have the president coming out and forcefully, you know, talking about this, unless the reality of the ground changes. I don't know if the pressure will relent.

BASH: All right, everybody. Coming up with everything that we've been talking about everything going on. You may have missed a big announcement this morning from Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene that she does plan to force a vote to try to oust House Speaker Mike Johnson. When will that happen? And how will it go down? We'll tell you up next.




BASH: New this morning, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene says she is moving forward with her plan to oust House Speaker Mike Johnson. She's mainly citing his vote to send aid to Ukraine. But the vast majority of her party is against her. And top Democrats say they will vote to save him if it comes to that.

Jackie Kucinich and Jeff Zeleny are here now. I just start with that, Jeff Zeleny, that it kind of got lost with all of this news. But Hakeem Jeffries, the top Democrat coming out of this meeting yesterday saying, OK, you know, he's got our back.

ZELENY: And this is something that they've been planning quietly but have never said so explicitly out loud. But Marjorie Taylor Greene is sort of using that by as a reason for she's doing it and said, I can't wait to see all the chaos in Democratic primaries across the country.

But I think the bigger point -- the statement from Speaker Johnson on this, responding to this. He said, wrong for the country, wrong for the House. We'll see what actually happens with this. I don't know if her bluff can be called or not, but.

BASH: Well, Manu Raju is now with us, who of course, has been talking to members of Congress all morning long. Manu, what are you hearing?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. I've been speaking to a lot of Republicans. Those most of the Republicans are opposed to this effort. In fact, even though just like the Congressman Matt Gaetz, who was, of course, the ringleader of that first successful effort, tried to oust Kevin McCarthy in the fall. He does not support this effort to oust Mike Johnson, believes it is coming at the wrong time politically for his party.

And that's really what allow those hardliners who do not support obviously, Mike Johnson. They say, they may not support some of his deals that he has cut, but they certainly do not support the timing of all this worry that it could be a backlash against them politically.

Now there is some division though within the ranks. One Republican Warren Davidson of Ohio told me that he will support -- actually advancing it, because at first there will be a procedural motion next week to try to kill this measure. That is what the Democrats plan to vote in large numbers to kill -- to kill in the first motion. Warren Davidson told me he would vote to advance.

And so, Marjorie Taylor Greene has a handful of Republicans who may vote for on the actual first motion, but ultimately. She will fail overwhelmingly because Democrats and mass with most Republicans plan to vote to kill it on that first vote actually, Dana.

BASH: I mean, what a story. What a moment. Thank you so much Manu for that reporting. Up next, a new interview with Donald Trump. That would be shocking. Unless you've been paying attention to Donald Trump on the campaign trail. We're going to talk to the reporter who did the interview and wrote the cover story quote, if he wins.




BASH: We want to spend some time now in an insightful and telling interview with Donald Trump about his plans for a potential second term. He spoke for more than an hour to Time Magazine about how he governed, voters send it back to the White House. The headline, if he wins.

He's promising a massive deportation operation and says he'd be willing to use the military to do it, which would be against the law. Still, Trump said quote, if I thought things were getting out of control, I would have no problem using the military per se. We have to have safety in our country. And he made clear, he'd have no problem putting his finger on the scales of justice.

Question: Would you fire a U.S. attorney who didn't prosecute someone you ordered him to?

Answer: It depends on the situation, honestly.

Question: So, you might?

Answer: It would depend on this situation. Yeah. On the other hand, he said he'd considered pardoning every January 6 rioter.

Question: Would you consider pardoning every one of them?

Answer: I would consider that. Yes. You would?

Yes, absolutely.

Does he expect violence if he loses the election? His answer, quote, I don't think we're going to have that. I think we're going to win. And if we don't win, you know, it depends. It always depends on the fairness of an election.

And he was asked. Do you see why so many Americans see language like that, you know, dictator for a day, suspending the constitution. Trump responded. I think a lot of people like that.

Eric Cortellessa is the reporter who did that interview and joins the discussion now. Thank you so much for being here.