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Inside Politics

Today: VP Harris Holds Event To Shine Light On Horrific Sexual Violence By Hamas On October 7th; Israel-Hamas War At Center Of Heated NY Democratic Primary Between Jamaal Bowman And George Latimer; Biden Campaign Ramps Up Efforts To Win Over Seniors; Surgeon General Demands Warning Label On Social Media Apps. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 17, 2024 - 12:30   ET



DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: What's worse? To get kidnapped, to be raped, or to get shot? That is a quote from Tali Biner. It's what she said she was asking herself amid the chaos at the Nova Music Festival in Israel on October 7th. And she was a lucky one. She was able to hide from Hamas terrorists as they raped and slaughtered scores of people, people attending the festival to listen to music and to promote peace.

More than 200 civilians were taken hostage that day, including women brought into Gaza and sexually assaulted. Today, Vice President Harris is holding a White House event highlighting how Hamas uses sexual violence as a weapon of war. There will be a screening of "Screams Before Silence," a documentary produced by Sheryl Sandberg, that includes first-hand accounts from former hostages like Amit Soussana.

I must warn you that Amit's story is disturbing, but important to hear.


AMIT SOUSSANA, FORMER HOSTAGE RAPED BY HAMAS: And he came towards me, and just pointed the gun really hard at my forehead. Screaming at me, take it off, take it off, and punching me. Until I could not hold the towel anymore. And he started touching me and I resisted and then he dragged me to the bedroom. And then he forced me to commit a sexual act on him.


BASH: Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. Thank you so much for being here.

Look, Amit's story should make every human being sick, sexual violence. We know that Sheryl Sandberg documented those horrific stories so that the world could bear witness, ice out denialism, and yet denialism still exists. How do you combat that?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): Well, Dana, thanks for shining a spotlight on this. The primary way that we combat it is by doing exactly what you and I are doing here, and that's making sure that we can shine a bright spotlight on the sexual and gender-based violence that Hamas perpetrated on its victims on October 7th. And that very likely, we know, are continuing to perpetrate that sexual violence.

And Sheryl Sandberg's film is searing but I'm really proud of the vice president and the second gentleman for using the White House's platform to make sure that the world knows that Hamas used sexual violence and continues to use it as a weapon of war is violating women, Israeli women.

And I hosted a forum with the second gentleman on Capitol Hill a few months ago, and the Israeli police came and showed us videos that were taken by Hamas terrorists themselves, engaging in the kind of sexual violence that Sheryl's film shows, cutting off the breasts while raping their victims. And firsthand accounts from first responders as well as others and Israelis who were hiding from Hamas terrorists.

BASH: And --

SCHULTZ: The denialism is outrageous.

BASH: Yes.

SCHULTZ: We have to make sure that we knock it down.

BASH: And as we both said, the vice president and the second gentleman, they're hosting an event at the White House. What words do you want to hear from the vice president during that event today?

SCHULTZ: Well, I'm confident I'll hear what she and the second gentleman have continued to say, and that is that there was sexual and gender-based violence that occurred on October 7th, that Hamas uses it as a weapon of war. And that any organization, either international or domestic, that denies it is essentially committing -- allowing the commission of acts of violence again and again.

There can't be an exception for Jewish victims. There can't be an exception for Israelis. The idea that it's me too, unless you're a Jew, is unacceptable. And, you know, when you have Republicans in Congress, like we did last week, defund the U.N. Population Fund, which provides resources all over the world to combat sexual violence against women across the globe.

You can see where Republican priorities are compared to President Biden and Vice President Harris, who are using the administration's platform to lead in making sure that these crimes are not only -- not denied, but that there are consequences for them.

BASH: Just a couple of quick questions about things related to this coming up in the United States Congress and on the campaign trail. First, you spent time in Israel since October 7th. You met with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He is scheduled to address Congress July 24th. Will you attend the speech? And do you agree with the notion of him being invited in the first place?


SCHULTZ: I will be attending the speech. And I, of course, believe that the leader of Israel, one of the United States closest allies and friends, not just in the region, but anywhere in the world that hearing from him is critical. And separate from whether you agree or disagree on some of the decisions that he's made. And every member has to make their own decision about whether to attend, but not only do I owe my constituents that, but it's a relationship that we need to honor.

BASH: And the war in the Middle East is presenting a real challenge for the Democratic Party. It's playing out of the ballot box this month. There is a primary contest in New York, the 16th district there, incumbent Jamaal Bowman, who has called stories of Israeli women that Hamas raped, quote, "propaganda."

He's being challenged by George Latimer, who says he is unabashedly pro-Israel. Again, this is a Democratic primary. Have you made a decision? Are you going to weigh in and support one or the other?

SCHULTZ: All I'll say about that race is that it is terribly, terribly unacceptable that the rhetoric that Jamaal Bowman has used he's engaged in anti-Semitic rhetoric. He has for the entire eight months until just last week, when it was clear polling was problematic for him, finally condemned the -- what Hamas perpetrated against Israelis on October 7th. The -- he is engaged in conduct unbecoming of a member of Congress and it's terribly unfortunate and his constituents will have to decide whether they want to return him to the Congress.

BASH: Yes. And he also walked back the denialism later of the sexual assault that went on on October 7th. But -- so it sounds like --

SCHULTZ: Not real.

BASH: You're -- but you're stopping short of endorsing his opponent.

SCHULTZ: I -- this is a race in New York and, you know, I generally don't get involved in congressional races outside of my home state. You know, only occasionally. I'm no longer the chair of the DNC, so I'm staying focused on Florida and making sure we can win the majority because the Republicans have proved over and over again that that's essential because we have to make sure that we can stand by our ally Israel and not use it as a political wedge in a political football.

Bring the hostages home, get this deal agreed to so that we can end --

BASH: Yes.

SCHULTZ: -- the war and make sure that Gazans can get the humanitarian aid they need.

BASH: Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, thank you so much for joining me today. Appreciate it.

SCHULTZ: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: And ahead, President Biden courts a critical voting bloc, voters 65 and older. Could they give the president a boost in his rematch against Donald Trump? We'll discuss after a quick break.



BASH: We are entering the upside down. The Biden campaign is hoping that he can make up for growing discontent among young voters by winning a bigger share of older voters. Our own Jeff Zeleny is here now, but he recently went to the swing state of Michigan to take a look at the outreach and talk to those voters himself.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At 86, Gussie Farris spends no time worrying about the ages of the oldest American presidential candidates. For those who do, this loyal President Biden supporter has this to say about Donald Trump.

GUSSIE FARRIS, BIDEN SUPPORTER: He's way less capable in the brain area.

ZELENY: In the brain area. OK. Delicate way to put it.

ZELENY (voice-over): As Trump turned 78 on Friday, just three years younger than Biden's 81, age is an unmistakable part of the race. But the Biden campaign is suddenly embracing it in a different way.

FARRIS: I'm a senior and I vote.

ZELENY (voice-over): Turning to Farris and other seniors to build a critical piece of his coalition.


BASH: So I love when you go out and do these stories. Obviously, my panel is back here. I want to play one other soundbite from a different voter who you talked to. Her name is Linda Van Werden, also of Michigan. Let's listen to what she said.


LINDA VAN WERDEN, MICHIGAN VOTER: A lot of people have said Biden's old. Yes, he is old, but he's not insane. And he has the experience and the knowledge that we need. And he is the man for this particular position at this time.


BASH: I just want to say whatever Linda's buying or eating, I want some. She does not look like a senior. She was great. Anyway, back to the content of what she was saying.

ZELENY: Well, look one of the things is really interesting about this. I mean, every four years, obviously, the ages of voters change. So now baby boomers make up the vast majority of senior voters. Some seven and 10 seniors are baby boomers.

That did not -- that was not the case in 2008 when Barack Obama was on the ballot, for example. So that's one of the dynamics here, but look, it's been nearly a quarter century since Al Gore ran in 2000 that a Democratic candidate has won the senior vote. The reason the Biden campaign is going after them so much.

It's a part of their coalition that actually has stuck with him. Younger voters have been a problem. Voters of color have been a huge challenge for him.


But one of the things is they pay more attention to the news. They're focused more on history. The democracy argument resonates more with them. Protecting Medicare is important on and on. So that is why the Biden campaign last week launched a seniors for Harris and Biden. And we went out to Michigan to have conversations with some of these.

Look, it's not a monolith, of course, but there absolutely is a -- an interesting conversation there. And voters of the president's age had a lot of interesting things to say about his age, saying, look, they -- it's a contrast between Trump and Biden and almost all of them brought up Trump's age because of course he turned 78 last Friday.

BASH: Yes, I mean --

ZELENY: So his age was in the news.

BASH: That's the other thing I was going to say. They're both seniors. And just so people understand how important of a voting block this is, I want you to look at the 2020 exit polls and the key swing states at how big of a share. In Pennsylvania, 28 percent of the voters were 65 and older, Michigan, 30, Wisconsin, 26, Arizona, 31, Nevada, 30, Georgia, which, you know, that's only 19.

But, I mean, if you just look at the blue wall --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And, you know, I just looked at a Marquette University poll because the issue, one big issue for senior voters is, of course, Medicare and Social Security. And in that poll, 47 percent of them said Biden would do a better job saving Medicare and Social Security compared to 35 percent or something for Trump. That's a big margin.

And that, you know, that you have to pay attention to because the Democrats are going to talk about how Republicans wanted to reduce Medicare --

BASH: Yes.

BORGER: -- and Social Security. And you can't get away from that issue no matter -- you know, remember Biden promised them they weren't going to reduce it at the state of the union, but it is a huge issue for those voters.

BASH: Yes.

BORGER: And I don't know how Republicans get around it. BASH: And I just want to emphasize what you just brought up which is where seniors have voted, how they voted --

BORGER: Right.

BASH: -- party wise over the past -- more than half a century. If you look at this, it really was the only Democrats who have won seniors Bill Clinton twice and then Al Gore in 2000.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, right. It's really remarkable. And it's not only President Biden's promise to protect Medicare and Social Security, but they're also selling what they have already done in President Biden's term. Some of the more popular initiatives that the White House talks about is capping the insolence costs. Well, that's for Medicare beneficiaries.

So these seniors know that this is a president that has already done things that are impacting their lives directly right now. And again, the Biden campaigns and Jeff alluded to this, the Biden campaigns old theory of the case is that if and when people know about the dangers of Trump, they will, you know, ultimately pull the lever for Biden.

Well, seniors are much more likely to be paying attention to the news. They have the memory of the Trump years. So that's why right now the Biden campaign loves the senior narrative, and they're having a lot of fun with it right now.

BASH: All right, everybody stand by because still ahead, social media could come with a warning label. Why the surgeon general is cracking down on what he calls a mental health emergency. Stay with us.



BASH: I'm sure you're well aware that there are warning labels on alcohol and cigarettes. Well, today, the U.S. Surgeon General once said he wants a similar warning on all things social media. Dr. Vivek Murthy says immediate action is needed to fight the threat social media poses to children.


VIVEK MURTHY, SURGEON GENERAL: Not only have companies not demonstrated that their platforms are safe for kids, but there's growing evidence of harm. So that's deeply concerning to me, not just as surgeon general, but as a parent myself. Now, a warning label would help parents to understand these risks. Many parents don't know that those risks exist.


BASH: CNN's Meg Tirrell is here to break it all down. You know, listen, this is a relatively new phenomenon. Parents having a better understanding fighting back. Now the government is trying to get involved. Can you kind of lay out why social media is so high risk for kids?

MEG TIRRELL, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the surgeon general has been calling attention to this since at least last year when he put out an advisory about these associations with harm. In today's opinion piece that he wrote calling for this warning, he cited a few data points. One is that kids on average are spending almost five hours per day on on social media.

He also cited a study published in JAMA Psychiatry that found that kids who spend at least three hours per day on social media have double the risk of mental health problems like feeling symptoms of depression and anxiety. He also cited data showing almost half of kids say that using social media makes them feel worse about their bodies.

And so, putting a warning label like this on social media would require an act of Congress, but he's not only calling for legislators to stop there with that warning. He also wants to see increased regulation of these companies, including by trying to stop harassment of kids on these platforms to prevent the platforms from collecting sensitive data from children, restrict the use of features like autoplay and require sharing data on health effects with the public if the companies collect these so that they can be independently audited by scientists, Dana.

BASH: And talk about what parents and families can do in the meantime, or even if this actually does go into effect.

TIRRELL: Yes. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our colleague, has done a lot of work on this, even with the surgeon general himself. You know, some of the tips they've put out there are to have the conversation with your kids. We've got to start there by talking about it.


Another is to establish tech free zones. Maybe before bedtime or around dinnertime. Put the phones and social media away. A third is to band together with other families so that you feel like you all have sort of shared guidelines and your kids don't feel like you're only -- you're the only ones who are trying to put this -- these limits into place. And, of course, examining our own habits would be helpful as well, particularly around bedtime.

BASH: Yes. Oh, well, that's a whole different conversation, which we can have offline.

Thank you so much, Meg. Appreciate it. Such an important topic.

TIRRELL: Thank you.

BASH: Thank you so much.

And thank you for joining Inside Politics. CNN New Central starts after a quick break.