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Isa Soares Tonight

Pakistani Strikes Targets Separatists' Hideouts Inside Iran; U.S. Launches Fifth Round Of Strikes On Houthi Rebels, Two Arrested In The Killing Of An Ecuadorian Prosecutor; Two Arrested In Killing Of Prosecutor; U.S. President Warns Of Disaster If Ukraine Aid Cut; Russia's War On Ukraine; Two Ukrainian Drones Allegedly Intercepted By Russia; Russian Artillery Fire In Kherson Claimed Two Lives; Interview With Mayor Of Lviv Ukraine Andriy Sadovyi; Scathing Report On Robb Elementary School Shooting; Families Of Uvalde Shooting Seeks "Accountability"; Countdown To New Hampshire Primary; Race For The White House; 2024 U.S. Election. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired January 18, 2024 - 14:00:00   ET



ISA SOARES, HOST, ISA SOARES TONIGHT: Hello, and a very warm welcome, I'm Isa Soares. Tonight, the region was already a tinderbox, now cross-border

attacks by two countries on the outskirts of the Middle East as stoking fears of further escalation. Today, Pakistan retaliated for an Iranian

strike on Pakistani soil with strikes of its own.

Iran says ten people, including women and children were killed in a south eastern province. Pakistan says it targeted Pakistani separatists fighters,

saying it was protecting its security as well as national interests. Virtually, the same language if you remember, used by Iran just the day

before after it targeted Sunni separatists inside Pakistan.

Both countries do appear willing to deescalate, but there's no denying in the extraordinary strikes by these two neighbors are unprecedented, and of

course, a major source of concern to many in the region. CNN's Ivan Watson has more for you


IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Survivors sifting through rubble after a series of deadly cross-border missile

strikes. This week's flare-up between Iran and Pakistan, adding fuel to a region already on fire.

(on camera): The Islamic Republics of Iran and Pakistan share a long and porous border. In a 48-hour period, their militaries have carried out tit-

for-tat drone and missile strikes into each other's territory. And unexpected crisis for two neighbors who just days ago appeared to be

getting along.

On Tuesday, Pakistan's prime minister held face-to-face talks with Iran's top diplomat in Davos.


WATSON (voice-over): But hours later, Iran carried out what it called precision missile and drone strikes on what it claimed were Iranian

terrorists in Pakistan's Balochistan region. Pakistan condemned what it called a breach of its sovereignty that killed at least two children. And

on Thursday, the Pakistani military struck back.

MUMTAZ ZAHRA BALOCH, SPOKESPERSON, FOREIGN MINISTRY, PAKISTAN: Per this morning, Pakistan undertook a series of highly-coordinated and

specifically-targeted precision military strikes against terrorist hideouts in Sistan or Baluchestan Province of Iran.

WATSON: Using killer drones, rockets and loitering ammunitions, the Pakistani military says it targeted separatist militants from the Baloch

ethnic group. Iranian authorities say at least ten people died prompting Tehran to condemn Pakistan. In fact, this week, Iran also carried out

missile strikes against northern Iraq and Syria.


A deadly show of force after ISIS claimed responsibility for twin blasts in the Iranian city of Kerman on January 3rd, which killed scores of


ALI VAEZ, IRAN PROJECT DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: This was really, primarily, a demonstration of force in a place that Iran taught

would have limited repercussions in terms of the risks of escalation. I think they underestimated how this would put the Pakistani government in a

very difficult situation.

WATSON: For its part, the Pakistani government seems to be willing to deescalate.

BALOCH: Iran is a brotherly country, and the people of Pakistan have great respect and affection for the people of Iran.

WATSON: The question now, does Tehran want a conflict with its much more populous nuclear armed neighbor? Ivan Watson, CNN.


SOARES: Well, also keeping the region on edge, a standoff over tax on international shipping in the Red Sea, the U.S. launched yet another round

of airstrikes against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen today. This is the fifth such attack this week, it is trying to bomb the Houthis into

submission, but they're vowing to continue their Red Sea attacks, calling them leverage to try to stop the war in Gaza.

Let's get more from our Oren Liebermann who joins us now at the Pentagon. Oren, as we said, this is the fifth round of strikes. Do we know what the

targets were and whether these strikes are having the desired effect here?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: So the target of these strikes, and these were fairly small, certainly much smaller than what we

saw last week where two Houthi anti-ship missiles, unclear if there were ballistic missiles or cruise missiles, but U.S. Central Command says these

were prepared to launch against international shipping lanes in the southern Red Sea, which is when -- been where we've kept our eye and where

a lot of those Houthi attacks have been launched using ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drones.

This is the fifth such U.S. attack we've seen on Houthi targets in Yemen over the course of the last seven days, even if it is much smaller. The

problem here, and U.S. President Joe Biden seemed to acknowledge that it's just a couple of hours ago, is that it's not stopping the Houthi attacks,

and they continue to launch both drones and missiles.

In fact, earlier this week on Monday and Wednesday, Houthi attacks hit two U.S.-owned and operated vessels. It was minor damage, the ships continued

on their way, but that sort of continued attack is going to prompt the U.S. to continue to hit Houthi targets in Yemen in an attempt, first, to send a

message, and second, to try to slow down these attacks.

Now, just earlier today, Biden acknowledged that the Houthis have continued to launch their attacks despite the U.S. strikes. In that case, of course,

the question is, what's the point here? The Pentagon just a short time ago said even if those attacks continue, they are not at the same scale and

size of the barrage we saw last Tuesday when they fired 21 missiles and drones at once.

Of course, Isa, as long as the attacks continue, the threat to international shipping is there, and that, it doesn't appear that there's

any off-ramp here for the U.S. or for the Houthis. The Houthis promising they will keep the attacks going. The U.S. meanwhile --

SOARES: Yes --

LIEBERMANN: Saying if the attacks continue, so do the strikes.

SOARES: And that is the concern. Thank you very much, Oren Liebermann there for us with the latest. Let's get more now on all these various

regional hostilities that Oren was mentioning there. Joining me now on the show is Jasmine El-Gamal; a former Middle East adviser at the Pentagon and

CEO of Mind/Work Strategies. Jasmine, welcome to the show.


SOARES: I mean, there is so much for us to start off with, but let's start first what we heard. This the fifth round now of strikes --

EL-GAMAL: Yes --

SOARES: From the United States against the Houthis that we're seeing almost now daily, a tit-for-tat between U.S. and the Houthis. The aim --

and we heard Oren mention there to try to do degrade the Houthis. Can it work? Do you think it'll work? I mean, this is a war-hardened group here?

EL-GAMAL: Absolutely, and I love that term. I was going to say the exact thing. This is a battle-hardened group. They have been under attack for

years. They've been under siege, they've been in a civil war. I mean, they have the capacity to just keep going.

And the problem with the word deter or degrade is, what do you exactly mean by degrade, right? Like, are you trying to get them to not be able to do

any attacks at all? Are you trying to get them to not be able to attack U.S. ships or commercial shipping. The Houthis have built their arsenal in

the last few years.

They are now capable of reaching Saudi Arabia. They're capable of reaching the UAE. They're capable of reaching U.S. interests in all of those

countries --

SOARES: Yes --

EL-GAMAL: Naval bases, Air bases. And so, this is not a group that will be easily deterred. They've obviously said that they will not stop, they will

continue. They are doing this for the people of Gaza because no one else is standing up for them, and certainly, the West does not.

And they just have this capacity to keep going. So when we talk about deteriorating or degrading their capabilities, it's a very vague thing to


SOARES: Yes, indeed, and today, in fact, Jasmine, we heard President Biden, he was asked about how effective these strikes are. Have a listen to

what he said.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are the airstrikes in Yemen working?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNIITED STATES: Oh, when you say, working, are they stopping the Houthis? No. Are they going to continue? Yes.


SOARES: So, are they working or are they going to continue? Yes. So what is the strategy if we're just going to have tit-for-tat? What is the

strategy of the United States here? Because from what we've seen, and this is something that we've been looking at throughout the week, is that this

alliance, this Houthi alliance, Iranian alliance, I should say, it is expanding --

EL-GAMAL: Right --

SOARES: Under the same umbrella and the same narrative from the Houthis.

EL-GAMAL: Right? And it's not just expanding, it's becoming more empowered --

SOARES: Yes --

EL-GAMAL: As it goes on. So your question is a great one. What is the strategy here? When you look at U.S. involvement with groups like the

Houthis in the past. So whether it's in Afghanistan, whether it's in Yemen, whether it's in Syria, I mean, all of these so-called Axis of Resistance

Group, most of which are supported and armed and trained by Iran, the U.S. has never been able to defeat one of those groups.

Any of them really, militarily. It has just never been able to bomb them into submission or into oblivion because they have popular support. They

have a cause that they're fighting for, that resonates with people around them. In fact, the Houthis are not that popular --

SOARES: Yes --

EL-GAMAL: In Yemen. They are not popular. They -- their governance is awful. I mean, they are just -- they are not a -- you know, this type of

resistance organization that's lauded by the people the way they want you to think. But as long as President Biden continues to allow -- "allow",

maybe is a strong word, but provide unfettered support to Israel as it continues its assault on Gaza. The Houthis will have that moral high ground

to claims.

SOARES: So what is the strategy for the United States? What are they trying to --

EL-GAMAL: Right --

SOARES: Achieve here? Because like you said, degrading them, they're so war-hardened, they're not going to achieve that. Is this a message for Iran

you think, that they won't -- they can't let this happen, right?

EL-GAMAL: I mean, you really -- it's -- you have to look at it from a regional perspective, because as you said, all of these groups are

supported by Iran, and the U.S. and Iran obviously have huge tensions between them. So what the U.S. is trying to do first and foremost now is

prevent a huge escalation in the region.

That's why when it's targeting the Houthis, you saw the Centcom statement. It said, "we struck missiles that were about to be imminently launched. So

we were -- you know, they're trying to frame the topic in a way that's very -- they're kind of trying to put it in a box. They want to make sure people

know --

SOARES: And I'm glad you mentioned that.

EL-GAMAL: This is -- we don't want a war. A war is not good for anyone, certainly regional --

SOARES: Yes --

EL-GAMAL: Partners don't want a war. So, the strategy is just to kind of deter and degrade enough, but still show that the U.S. is not going to roll

over and let its assets be tapped.

SOARES: And this is what -- something that we have seen from Secretary Blinken in the region is trying to keep a lid on the war against Hamas in

Gaza, right? Try not to expand the tensions in the region. And we have heard from Prime Minister Sunak here, and we've heard similar comments from

the United States, where they're trying to separate. But --

EL-GAMAL: Yes --

SOARES: And I thought -- I remember what Sunak said. He said -- called it a malign narrative. I spoke to an ambassador earlier this week, a former

ambassador to Iraq and also to Afghanistan, he said to me, that you can't separate them. They're so interlinked and the word on the street, at least

in Arab countries is they are -- they are incredibly linked. Talk to that.

EL-GAMAL: I'm so glad you brought that up. That is such a good point. The U.S. continues to try to separate these two things as if they're two

completely different things. So there's the question of Israel's security and what's going on in Israel and Palestinian, quote-unquote, "peace

process" as --

SOARES: Yes --

EL-GAMAL: Crazy as that sounds right now. And then they have all this other stuff that's happening in the region, and they're trying to say that

one has nothing to do with the other. When in fact, every statement, everything that the Iranians are saying, that the Houthis are saying, that

Hezbollah is saying is about Gaza, is about Israeli aggression in Gaza.

And there's this refusal in the U.S. to acknowledge that. And I think it's at the detriment of all these players in the region and to regional


SOARES: And also in an election year. How do you think Republicans --

EL-GAMAL: And in an election year --

SOARES: Are going to play with this?

EL-GAMAL: It's such a tough moment for President Biden to be dealing with this, because the last thing he wanted his team spend almost his entire

presidency trying to -- and Jake, I think it was Jake Sullivan that said, keep the Middle East off his desk.


EL-GAMAL: He has never been a believer that the U.S. should go in and try to get involved and change the Middle East, change behaviors, all of that.

And so, the last thing he wanted was, in an election year, instead of focusing on what he's done at home, he's now having to get, you know, in

his -- in his mind, he's getting dragged back into another war in the Middle East.


I will say -- and of course, if you -- if we have a Trump-Biden showdown, Trump is going to hammer him for that. He's going to say --

SOARES: Yes --

EL-GAMAL: You're dragging us in, I took us out -- you're dragging -- it's really bad for Biden.

SOARES: Yes, you can see where exactly how the rhetoric will go --

EL-GAMAL: How the rhetoric will go --

SOARES: The narrative, he's tried to drive that narrative --

EL-GAMAL: Not to mention that President Biden is losing a huge amount of support for the way that he has supported Israel and what is happening --

SOARES: Of course --

EL-GAMAL: In Gaza right now. So --

SOARES: Supplying weapons as well --

EL-GAMAL: Really tough situation for them. But I will say this, I will say that the U.S. has so far not being listening to people -- the U.S.

administration has not been listening to people who are telling it, including regional partners, pay attention to Gaza. What is happening in

Gaza is affecting the entire region, it's affecting us. We live here and we're telling you that. And so far, it just hasn't been resonating.

SOARES: Really important insight, Jasmine, so good to have you on the show --

EL-GAMAL: Thank you --

SOARES: Thank you very much for coming in. And still to come on the show tonight, Ecuador is under a state of emergency of a ramping gang violence.

We have the latest -- a victim prosecutor, we'll bring you the very latest from Guayaquil, I believe, we are live. That's next.


SOARES: Well, police in Ecuador have arrested two people in the latest high profile violence. A prosecutor says, one Suarez was shot dead in his

car on the way to a hearing. Suarez was leading the investigation into the armed takeover of a TV studio, if you remember, last week during a live


And now, we are hearing, thousands have been arrested in a crackdown on gang violence since then. Our David Culver joins us now from Ecuador with

the very latest. And David, this assassination of the prosecutor just shows really not just the brutality, but also the challenge here, David, for

authorities, what they have on their hands. Do you get the sense that the government is in control of this moment, of this crisis?

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It feels -- it feels like, Isa, that there are moments of control, and then there are moments where it's the

terror groups that are stepping forward with very loud and clear messaging like you pointed out there, the assassination of a prosecutor.

A prosecutor who was involved in what was a very public case and still ongoing. That is the takeover of that TV station. And that's really the

moment that awoke this country and the entire world fairly to say that this country is dealing with a turmoil, that they are struggling to get under

control right now.

And so, if you go back to when this really kicked off, and that was with the alleged escapee, Fito, the notorious gang leader on January 7th from a

Prison complex here in Guayaquil, that was then followed the next day by a state of emergency. And then the day after that was when we saw the

violence kickoff.

We saw the takeover of the TV station, gunshots rang out in some of the streets here and really created a sense of fear. But what we have now seen

since is this crackdown that you point out, certainly it's visible. We see it in the streets, you see the military out there, you see police. And we

can even show you some video from one of the prisons a few hours ago.

And this is actually the same prison complex where Fito either is still is or escaped. And I'll explain why I say that.


But you're looking at armed forces and police going in there at the same time. They say this was scheduled, according to one military source, and

that it had nothing to do necessarily, we don't know, with the prosecutor's assassination. But it's something we're curious, given the timing. And that

they were in there looking for prohibited items and trying to maintain control.

Now, why do I say, Isa, the suspected escape. I was speaking with one top military commander here who said, quite frankly, we don't know. I'm

thinking, how do you not know if one of the inmates is no longer in your custody? And it speaks to the dysfunction within the prison complexes

because this is not a closed off cell that you would see in the movie, so to speak. I mean, this is an indoor-outdoor complex that's surrounded by

several perimeters. One of which is now the armed forces, then within that you've got the national police, and then the prison guards at the center.

And so -- but it seems that they are split up amongst the gang so as to maintain some control. And then there's some self-rule going on there, too.

So, that's what makes this also chaotic and really difficult to comprehend. Needless to say, there's a spillover effect, and that's what's happening

here within Guayaquil where you see folks who, for days, didn't want to leave their homes. Some of them said we just want to put on Netflix, stay

inside, get our groceries, and no need to step out.

Little by little though, in the past few days, they said we can't be inside forever. They liken it to the COVID lockdown. We're not doing this. Yet

they realized there are going to be moments that, to your point of control, it seems the terror groups take the lead and they caused what ultimately

could be collateral damage that involves innocent folks.

SOARES: Yes, and when I spoke to a former presidential candidate actually for Ecuador, he said, you know, the gangs control those prisons. It is the

gangs and not the government.

CULVER: Right.

SOARES: It just speaks to, really, what we have been seeing and the fear, of course, that it's being felt throughout the country. Thank you very

much. David Culver for us there in Guayaquil in Ecuador.

CULVER: Thanks, Isa.

SOARES: Stay across the story. Good to see you, David.

Still to come tonight, as Ukraine's president seeks war funding. U.S. President Joe Biden pushes American lawmakers to keep key from what he

calls a disaster. We'll talk to the mayor of Lviv, Ukraine. That is next.



SOARES: Welcome back everyone. As Russia's war on Ukraine approaches a two-year mark, the fight over Western funding for Kyiv continues. And U.S.

President Joe Biden is warning Congress it must act now.

Meanwhile, Moscow is claiming they downed several Ukrainian drones deep inside its territory. The Russian Ministry of Defense says one was

destroyed over the Leningrad region. Another was intercepted above the capital region. Meanwhile, according to a regional official, Russian

attacks on Ukraine's southern Kherson region killed two and injured seven others.

Well, joining us now from Washington is the mayor of Lviv, Ukraine, Andriy Sadovyi. Mayor, welcome back to the show. Of course, I'm used to seeing you

in Lviv. It's great to see you there in Washington. Just tell us about your trip to Washington and what you're hoping to get out of it, Mayor.

ANDRIY SADOVYI, LVIV, UKRAINE MAYOR: Thank you. I received invitation from Mayor Conference in Washington. But in Washington, we have conversation

with mayor, with State Department. We built about Ukraine, about future. 30,000 of my citizens today on the front line and we built in view unique

ecosystem, unbroken rehabilitation, socialization, high level qualities, surgically prosthetics. We built accommodation for wounded IDPs. It is huge


And together with mayor of Manchester and mayor of Liverpool, we found it special accommodation, unbroken cities. And we present in Washington, our

initiative for American cities. My idea, very simple. Every Ukrainian city must have collaboration. We sit in Great Britain and cities in United

States, but we must together build our future.

Today in Ukraine, we protect democratic values. We think about future all time, but support from United States very important for me and my citizens

all time. We check current situation in United States. I think after last meeting Biden with American leaders, we will have huge support. But without

military support, very difficult to protect our independence.

SOARES: And as you well know, as you're meeting lawmakers there, Mayor, that -- you know, there is huge discussion in the United States over

funding for Ukraine. There is some division in the United States over this. Do you believe that the funding will come through? The funding that we know

Ukraine desperately needs? The funding that we know that President Zelenskyy has been calling for in Davos this week? What have you been

hearing from both sides of the political aisle?

SADOVYI: I believe in Ukraine. I believe in our victory. Today, we have support from European countries, and I think we will have huge support from

America, from Canada, from different countries in world. It is very important, not only Ukraine. It is very important for democracy. Today in

Ukraine, we create a future. Two system fire, democratic system and --

SOARES: I hear you. I hear you, Mayor. But what are U.S. lawmakers telling you? Are they saying -- when they say, we stand by you or whatever it

takes, does that come with funding? Does that come with financial aid for this fight that you say Ukraine's going to win?

SADOVYI: We need financial support from United States, and I think we will have this support. But this support very important for protect democracy.


SADOVYI: Democracy in world. I think that United States will, together with Ukraine, with democracy. I believe in United States. I believe in our



SADOVYI: Never give up. Only victory.

SOARES: And we heard, Mayor, today from President Joe Biden, who basically cautioned that cutting off any sort of assistance Ukraine would be in his

words, a disaster. What would no U.S. aid here, no aid from the United States. What would it mean for Ukraine?

SADOVYI: I believe in my citizens. ?I believe in Ukrainian people. We will fight for our independence.


With American support, it is easy here. Without, it is very, very tough. But today, we have good coordination with Great Britain, with different

countries. We must support Ukraine, but it is very important for democracy. For me, United States, it is leader democracy worlds.

SOARES: And very quickly, we are almost -- what? Two years into this war. I know that, like, I hear your messaging, Mayor, that you're going to win.

I hear there's result, but we have also seen reports from our team on the ground of very war weary soldiers of families who want to see their loved

ones, desperately want to see their loved ones that have been for so long on the front lines.

Meanwhile, the parliament is expected to pass a new mobilization law, right? That could bring up to 500,000 more men into battle. How would that

be received by Ukrainians? What's the mood like? I know you're going to tell me you're going to win the war, but what is the mood right now?

SADOVYI: We must protect my country. And I ready protect. My citizens ready protects. I think our parliament made a very important decision maybe

next week, but you must know, very interesting information. Ukrainian army, it is not 1 million people. Ukrainian army, it is forty million people. We

have unique chance protect our country. Unique chance.

This war, try not two years. This war, try for hundred years. It is big battle between democracy and between totalitarian. You must believe in

Ukrainian victory. I believe in Ukrainian victory. Never give up. Only victory.

SOARES: Mayor, I appreciate you taking the time to speak to us from a very busy schedule. Thank you very much, sir. Good to see you.

SADOVYI: Thank you.

SOARES: And still to come tonight, cascading failures of leadership. That's how the U.S. Justice Department describes the police response to the

Uvalde school shooting. The message the attorney general delivered to families of the victims. That is just ahead.



SOARES: ?Well, I just released report from the U.S. Justice Department is reinforcing -- I mean, reinforcing, I should say, what many people already

believed. It is calling the law enforcement response to the 2022 massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas a failure. The 575-page report

says police officers almost immediately froze once they heard the sound of gunfire. And it took one hour and 17 minutes from the point the shooter

walked into the school until he was stopped. 19 students and two teachers were killed that day.

Well, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland met with families of victims, as well as survivors of the attack. He says, loved ones deserved better

from law enforcement. Have a listen to this.


MERRICK GARLAND, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The law enforcement response at Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022, and in the hours and days after was

a failure that should not have happened. Our children deserve better than to grow up in a country where an 18-year-old has easy access to a weapon

that belongs on the battlefield, not in a classroom.


SOARES: Strong words there. Well, Evan Perez has followed this story for us from the very beginning and he's with us in Uvalde this evening. And

Evan, this was, I think it's fair to say, a pretty scathing report. What stood out to you? What were your takeaways?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely. So, this report is scathing because of a lot of things that we knew and some new

things that we learned from this report. Including the fact that, you know, while law enforcement was present, while the police were there, 370 of

them. And while children and their teachers were hiding or trying -- or are locked in a room with this shooter, there were 45 rounds fired by the

shooter. Again, law enforcement standing outside.

Families were told that their loved ones were alive and it turns out that were not. There was obviously a lot of false information. A lot of focus by

Texas authorities on claiming that there was a heroic police response when obviously there was not in those initial days.

And those are the things that the Justice Department is pointing out as part of this report. And one of the things that they're doing is also

suggesting some improvements that police can make. Obviously, as you know, and as we all know, the United States has a huge problem with gun violence

and with mass shootings. These things keep happening, and so as a result, police have to be better trained to be able to respond and try to stop

these things from happening.

I think one of the remarkable things about being here just in the last couple of days, you know, the attorney general and the release of this

report has really brought back the flood of emotions from that day back in May last year when those -- when that shooting happened. He met with the

families for about two hours. Took their questions. And as you heard there in the sound that you just played, there's still a lot of emotion that is

coming forward just from, again, being here and meeting with these family members and hearing them ask for accountability, which to this day really

is still missing. Isa.

SOARES: Evan Perez there. We still heard very heart wrenching comments and reaction, of course, from those families. And like you said, many of them

still calling today for accountability. Evan Perez, live for us in Uvalde. Appreciate it, Evan. Thank you.

And still to come tonight, just five days until the crucial New Hampshire primary. We'll have more on how this could play out and really what's at

stake. That is next.



SOARES: Well, in just five days, if you're counting, New Hampshire will host its presidential primary. But two out of the three major Republican

candidates aren't even campaigning there today. Donald Trump is in Florida attending his mother-in-law's funeral, but he was in the Granite State last

night where he's hoping to win big after a knockout round, of course, if you remember, in Iowa. And his focus was on Nikki Haley. Have a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If she wins, Biden wins, and I'm telling you that. A vote for

Nikki Haley this Tuesday is a vote for Joe Biden and a Democrat Congress this November, because that's what's going to happen.


SOARES: But Haley is hitting back. Last night at her rally, she took a swipe at Trump's age.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The majority of Americans have said they don't want their options to be two 80-year-olds

for president. We've got to move past that.


SOARES: Ron DeSantis is also notably absent from the campaign trail today. He's back in his home state of Florida, but is expected to return to New

Hampshire on Friday.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is in New Hampshire and joins me now. And Omar, we have, what, five days now until this primary gets underway. Donald Trump clearly

looking to win big like he did in Iowa. Is this something we can expect? What should we look forward to?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's certainly something he hopes will actually happen. But the interesting thing is that the voting bases in

Iowa versus here in New Hampshire are radically different. For one, here in New Hampshire, a lot more of a moderate Republican base. But also, in this

primary, you can have independent voters, or undeclared as they were known officially in this state, they can participate in the primary.

And the reason that's significant is because that's a group that Nikki Haley has pulled especially well and even better than the former president

who has dominated. Again, many polls to this point, but of course, that first contest in Iowa as well, taking 98 out of 99 counties.

So, while it is still very much a steep hill to climb here, this really, at least in these early stages, is the best opportunity we've seen from any of

these candidates. So, at the very least, pose a very serious challenge to the former president, and that's simply because some polls have shown Nikki

Haley in particular within single digits of Trump, which again, no candidate has been even close to doing so far.

SOARES: And we heard Mr. Trump focusing his attacks, Omar, on Nikki Haley. And Nikki Haley has also been calling for a face-to-face with Trump. Have a



HALEY: The second he says he's going to get on the stage, I'm ready. He hasn't done anything. He threw a temper tantrum last night. He's doing

other things to attack me, but he won't get in front of me and answer the questions.


SOARES: So, I mean, how likely is this to happen?

JIMENEZ: You know, that's a great question. I would say based on Trump's track record at this point, I would say it's not likely. He has not

participated in any debates or any forum like that up until this point. But one thing that Nikki Haley has done there is she really tried to paint this

as a two-person race between her and the Former President Trump.

Now, despite Ron DeSantis still being in, and he finished better than her in Iowa, she's looking at her opportunities here where DeSantis has not

pulled nearly as well as her. And again, that's where that framing comes from.


But we were just at some of her events earlier today. And one of the interesting shifts that we saw today is that before she had really been

criticizing Donald Trump in the context of Joe Biden as well. Sort of, painting both of them with this broad stroke. But today was the first day

we heard her specifically going after Donald Trump. And she even told reporters when we were at one of her rallies that who's the reason that

Republicans lost the House, the Senate and the White House? Donald Trump. Donald Trump. Donald Trump to quote her.

SOARES: And -- yes. And --

JIMENEZ: And so, just hearing his name specifically out of her -- yes. Go ahead.

SOARES: No, I was going to say, some may argue, you know, these attacks should have started much sooner.

JIMENEZ: Oh, yes. Oh, definitely. And, you know, that was one of the big criticisms of her, in particular, when someone like Former New Jersey

Governor Chris Christie got out of the race. One of the reasons people even flocked to him at all was how hard he was going against Trump.

So, when he dropped out, there's this vacuum. And one of the criticisms of folks that were maybe hesitant to go towards Nikki Haley was they felt she

was not criticizing him enough. Maybe this is the beginning of that in this final stretch towards the primary. But at the very least, we know she is

going to be trying to find every bit of support she can, knowing that it's a very steep hill to climb.

SOARES: Omar, appreciate it.

The Republican presidential town hall routine. Nikki Haley, of course, our Jake Tapper at 9:00 p.m. eastern time.

That does it for us for this evening. See you tomorrow. Bye-Bye.