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President Biden Holds Press Conference with Israeli Prime Minister During Trip to Middle East; President Biden Asked Questions about Iranian Nuclear Ambitions, Relations with Saudi Arabia, and High Inflation in U.S. Economy. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired July 14, 2022 - 08:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so there we have it, the news conference in Jerusalem, the prime minister of Israel, the president of the United States answering a few questions, reporters' questions. Israeli and American journalists asking questions.

David Sanger is with me. You were watching very closely. Hovering over this not only is the president's upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia but the fear of Iran potentially developing some sort of nuclear capability. Also, Ukraine to a certain degree, they mentioned Ukraine, they're watching what's going on with the Russian -- the brutal invasion of Ukraine, and that's hovering over these talks as well.

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's right, Wolf. And I think there was an important distinction between what you heard Prime Minister Lapid, who is obviously a caretaker prime minister right now, and President Biden. President Biden kept going back to the bedrock American phrase that the U.S. will never allow Iran to build a nuclear weapon. And what Prime Minister Lapid said starting at the opening of his statement was the entire free world must stop Iran if it continues with its nuclear program.

It sounds like a semantic distinction. It actually goes to the heart of the difference between the U.S. and Israel on this. Israel's fear is that by the time Iran actually got to a nuclear weapon it would be too late to stop it. So they have been conducting sabotage operations, assassinations to slow the enrichment of uranium.

President Biden has said and said again today a diplomatic solution is the best way to get this done. That's why he's trying to restart the 2015 agreement. The problem is he's been trying that for 18 months now, and the Iranians aren't playing. And it's not clear at this point whether there's really any hope left that they would get into that agreement.

BLITZER: A very significant moment right now, the concern that the U.S. and Israel and some of the other states in the region, the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates have as far as Iran is concerned, hovering over these talks. Very important.

Kaitlan Collins is our chief White House correspondent. Kaitlan, you were there in the room. What was your thought? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, of

course, one of the biggest questions surrounding this trip has been whether or not he is going to bring up the brutal murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi when he does make his trip to Saudi Arabia tomorrow after he wraps up his first stop here in Israel during this four-day swing through the Middle East. And the president was asked about that, and he said that his views on the killing of Khashoggi had been clear. Obviously, Wolf, those are references to comments he made on the campaign trail when he said he did believe it was a flat-out murder. He vowed to make Saudi Arabia is pariah for that, and said that the current government, which is the still the current government that he'll be meeting with when he goes there, has no social redeeming value.

And so he said his views are clear that if people in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else for that matter are not aware of what his views on Khashoggi, then they haven't been around very long. That was the quote that the president used.

But when he was pressed directly on whether or not he will bring up Khashoggi in this meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince that he is expected to have in about 24, 30 hours from now, Wolf, he hedged a bit. He said he always brings up human rights, but he did not say specifically that he will bring up Khashoggi. Obviously, Wolf, that is a very sensitive subject in the Saudi royal family given the United States has assessed that the Crown Prince authorized the murder of this reporter, it was really a butcher more than a murder. And so that is going to be a big point of question looming over this entire trip.

When you talk to U.S. officials and the president's top advisers, they know that. They are aware of that. And that will be a part -- and they knew that they were going to be asked questions about that, Wolf. And so, of course, he is making the argument that there is a broader point to his trip, which is not just when it comes to oil production but also security overall and making sure there is not a vacuum of leadership in the region for places like China and Russia to make inroads.

So that is going to be the argument that you are hearing from the White House. But it was notable that he did not specifically commit to mentioning Jamal Khashoggi's name, just saying that his views on what happened to him are clear.

BLITZER: He says they're well-known from the very, very beginning. Let me get reaction from the former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Joseph Westphal, who is watching all of this very closely as well. Ambassador, thanks, once again, for joining us. What did you think about what the president of the United States said, and for that matter what the Israeli prime minister said about Saudi Arabia?

JOSEPH W. WESTPHAL, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SAUDI ARABIA: Yes, Wolf, I believe that the president is looking at this trip with a very long-term agenda. As he said, his views on the Khashoggi murder and other issues with human rights are pretty plain and clear. But this trip is not about dealing with that issue directly with the Saudis. It's really about Iran, it's really about a future security agreement among all the Gulf states.


Keep in mind that the gulf states for the most part, there's a lot of trade that goes on between them and Iran. It's under cover, it's in the cloak of darkness, but there's quite a bit of business activity going on from Oman all the way to Jordan. So -- I mean, to Kuwait. So I think part of this is to solidify their agreement that Iran is not just nuclear weapons but their activities in the region has to be stopped.

Wolf, when I was ambassador and I was leaving in 2017, in January of 2017 to return home, the king asked to see me. And I went to see him, and he said the following things. He said, Ambassador, please pass this message on to president-elect Trump, tell him that, first, we believe in the right of the state of Israel to exist. In fact, we believe that Judaism is the eminent place where Christianity and Islam were born from. And we want peace in the region, and we are very hopeful that there will be a two-state solution with respect to the Palestinians.

So the king feels strongly about the Palestinian situation, but I think Saudi Arabia has turned a whole new leaf about their opportunities to work with Israel and to improve relations, and hopefully have diplomatic relations with them.

BLITZER: Yes, we will see if that happens, if the Saudis join the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Morocco, some of these other countries in fully normalizing relations with Israel. We should find out fairly soon. Ambassador, thank you very much.

Bianna, as you noted, the subject of Ukraine did come up in the remarks by Prime Minister Yair Lapid as well as from the president of the United States. And it's interesting at this particular moment there are all these reports out there that Iran from a military point of view wants to help Russia in its battle against -- in its invasion of Ukraine for that matter. Give us some perspective on that.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SECURITY GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, it was interesting to hear Prime Minister Lapid, actually, the first words he mentioned were not Iran but Russia's unjust war in Ukraine. And there had been a lot of attention and focus and some criticism as to perhaps the lack of attention and the lack of aid that Israel had been providing to Ukraine since this war began. Israel had said that they had been really put in a difficult position given their relationship with Russia, given that Russia is there in their backyard in Syria, and given the large Russian community within Israel, even though Israel is home to a large Ukrainian-Jewish community as well.

But the question of Iran is really at the top of the mind not only because of their nuclear program, but obviously because of their relationship with Russia as Vladimir Putin is expected to travel to Iran next week for a summit with leaders there and with Turkish President Erdogan. And this comes on the heels of U.S. intelligence just this week alluding to Russia wanting to be -- or interested in purchasing drones from Iran, signaling that they are seeing a depletion in their own drones. There had been reports earlier a few months ago that China had suspended its sale of drones to Russia.

So really interesting to hear that Iran possibly stepping up in this front, and obviously this bringing up the president and his comment, President Biden once again today reiterating U.S. support for this unjust war in Ukraine and telling Israeli television in that interview yesterday that U.S. is there for however long it takes to help Ukraine defeat Russia and have Russian troops leave their soil.

BLITZER: Yes, very significant indeed.

Kaitlan, I thought it was interesting -- and let me just get your thoughts. I know there were -- it's called two and two, two questions from American journalists, two questions from Israeli journalists. Those were the ground rules for this joint news conference that we heard from the president and the prime minister. But the president, President Biden was not asked about what's going on back home as far as the U.S. economy is concerned and the high levels of inflation, 40- year highs right now just announced yesterday. Were you surprised?

COLLINS: Yes, just two questions. Of course, one of the most immediate two pressing issues that he was asked about was this meeting that is happening tomorrow with MBS, and also what is happening with Iran, given you see from what they were talking about here where Lapid was pressing President Biden on Iran, how he thinks it should be handled, saying he doesn't think that just words will do the trick, that they want to see. And instead President Biden saying he believes diplomacy is the best pursuit here. So those were two very important topics, obviously, but so is the economy.

Ad of course President Biden is making this four-day trip here with oil and security on his mind, but also an eye on what's happening back at home with the economy, because as soon as those numbers on inflation came out yesterday, the president issued a statement saying that he believes they were unacceptable but out of date.


And his officials have been bracing for those numbers to be bad, they had been preparing reporters, coming out with talking points, basically giving their side of things before they came out. They were worse, I think, than what the White House expected when they actually came out, seeing that 9.1 percent inflation rate from year to year. So of course, that is still going to be something that he is dealing with. It is going to be top of mind when they're talking about oil production because they want to bring town gas prices. So that obviously is a huge topic here, Wolf.

But also, one moment that stood out when President Biden came into this press conference after his meeting with the prime minister was he said it was good to be here in the capital of Israel. Of course, Wolf, we are in Jerusalem, and later in the president's remarks he praised the Abraham Accords that were formed during the Trump administration while Trump was in office, talking about how they not only believe that they have been impactful, but he wants to build upon them. That is a big point of talking here when it comes to making -- normalizing relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, something that the president said he believes is going to take a long time but is something that they are working on doing. It was a very notable statement that stood out when he said that he does believe Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's an important point as well.

Hadas Gold is with us as well. Hadas, you are our Jerusalem correspondent. You have been doing a lot of reporting on potentially trying to revive some sort of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which have been, for all practical purposes at least, dead in recent years. We did hear the president repeatedly say that the United States supports what's called a two-state solution. Israel alongside a new state of Palestine both living in peace, both becoming democratic states. And President Biden is reiterating that right now, he's going -- before leaving for Saudi Arabia he is going to be going to Bethlehem on the West Bank and he's going to be meeting with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Is there any realistic hope, and you've been doing a lot of reporting on this, Hadas, that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks can in fact get off the ground?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In short, Wolf, no. And I don't think that most Palestinians would be very pleased with what they heard at this press conference, especially right off the bat, as Kaitlan noted, President Biden acknowledging that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. This was one of the Trump administration moves, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moving the embassy here.

And he was specifically asked by an Israeli reporter about whether his visit tomorrow to an east Jerusalem hospital that mostly serves Palestinians, because keep in mind Palestinians, they want east Jerusalem, the eastern part of the city, to be the potential future capital of a state of Palestine. And he is apparently not being accompanied by any Israeli official.

There was a question about whether this is some sort of symbolic gesture to the Palestinians that he does recognize that East Jerusalem could be their future capital. And he said simply, no, that it's no change to their position. Jerusalem is Israel's capital.

And while we did hear his commitment to a two-state solution, there is just no political momentum either internally between the Israelis or the Palestinians towards any major moves towards peace. There is political chaos and uncertainty within both the Israelis and the Palestinians. There is a recognition by the Americans that there is just not going to be any sort of major moves towards that. And that's why during this visit, during this press conference, what we're hearing most about is, of course, Saudi Arabia and Iran. That's the focus of this visit. The Palestinian-Israeli peace process is being put to the side, put on hold. President Biden in his remarks acknowledging that it's not going to happen in the near future.

BLITZER: What the U.S. keeps saying, what others keep saying is that if Israel does, in fact, continue to develop these positive relations with other Arab countries, and now they've done so with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, but if the Saudis, for example, were to emerge, that might help try to restart some Israeli- Palestinian peace talks as well. Let's see if that does emerge down the road.

All right, guys, everybody stand by. I want to go back to John and Brianna right now. They have got other important news that we're watching as well.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much, Wolf. That was so interesting.

And as Kaitlan and Wolf just pointed out, one subject that was not asked about at this news conference was the U.S. economy. U.S. inflation hitting a 40-year high in June, rising 9.1 percent year to year. President Biden has said, yesterday he said the rise is unacceptably high.

Joining me now is Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Thank you for being with us. I want to play for you some sound of people that we have talked to at CNN who right now, they say they're suffering. Listen.


KAREN MARTIN, FLORIDA SINGLE MOM: I'm not making ends meet. I'm not making it. I'm setting my savings. I get paid tomorrow and already my whole paycheck is spoken for. And it's the first time in my life I have had to apply for food stamps because I don't know how we are going to continue eating groceries.


REPORTER: Would you be able to afford to stay?

BONNITA WESLEY, VIRGINIA RESIDENT: No. Oh, no. No indeed. I probably will have to move in with my kids or whatever.


BERMAN: So what can you say to these people this morning?

HEATHER BOUSHEY, MEMBER, WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL FOR ECONOMIC ADVISERS: Well, certainly, as the president said yesterday in his statement that, you know, inflation is unacceptably high and this is a problem facing Americans all across the country, the president understands that. It is why he has focused so much of his attention doing everything in his power to reduce the high costs facing families.

But let's be clear, some of the most significant steps that we could do right now are actually things that he needs to partner with Capitol Hill on. There are steps that Congress could take to reduce some of the big ticket costs facing families and that legislation has been languishing over there.

So the president takes this seriously, it's one of the reasons he has focused so much on all the different steps he has taken to reduce energy prices facing Americans, allowing more oil to come from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, working with refiners to encourage them to be producing as much as they can at capacity, as well as, you know, putting on the table a federal gas tax holiday.

So the president has taken a series of steps but one thing that he wants to make clear is that, you know, while we have seen the price of oil fall significantly, we actually haven't seen prices at the pump fall as much.

So the president has also called on, you know, gas sellers to reflect those prices that Americans are paying.

So this is a challenging issue but the president has taken concrete steps to address it.

BERMAN: Gas prices have stopped 29 straight days, but Americans are going to need that extra money from the gas prices because the core rate of inflation month to month actually creeped up a little bit which means everything else besides food and gas prices actually rising a little bit there.

And one thing I also want to point out is based on the last measurements from other countries, the rate of inflation in the U.S. is higher than it is in Canada, France, Italy, Japan, India, Mexico, China. Why?

BOUSHEY: Well, here is a couple of things. I mean, first off, let's be clear, the bulk of the increases in prices last month were due to energy and food and most of that was indeed due to energy.

So, this is really the result of, you know, the United States and countries everywhere coming out of historic pandemic where we have seen these ongoing challenges with supply chains, these fragile supply chains that businesses created around the world that have made it difficult to get products to shelves in the time of this recovery from a pandemic.

You add on top of that this unprovoked war that Putin has been waging in the Ukraine and that is why we have seen prices rise. So, these gas prices -- and, again, as you pointed out, this is a global phenomena. Again, coming out of the pandemic is global, the supply chain challenges are global and the energy challenges are also global.

BERMAN: Absolutely, there's no question about that, but the countries I have just listed that have lower year to year rates of inflation at last measurements have all been hit by the pandemic and by energy prices as well. And I'm just trying to understand why it's a higher rate of inflation here in the United States.

BOUSHEY: Well, there are other countries that do have higher rates than the U.S. I mean, you know, certainly countries have their baskets of goods and particular things affecting their economies. But overall what we see is this global trend towards higher prices and you see many countries that are reaching record peaks like the United States.

And, again, it is because in large part right now because of this energy crisis. And so, figuring out ways to contain the crisis in energy and for countries like the United States and Europe, of course, is taking concrete steps to wean ourselves off of these global oil markets because that is what's making all of these economies so vulnerable right now.

It's why the president continues to focus on his clean energy agenda that can help make sure that we see prices in the future that are lower and less volatile than what we and other countries are seeing today.

BERMAN: I do understand the measures that you say the president has taken on gas prices, and I also understand there are measures that the president cannot take alone.

In a "New York Times" article today, there was a former Carter administration official who was warning don't make the mistakes he said that we made, and he basically says don't take half-measures, take full measures, do whatever you can.

There are things still the president can do that he hasn't. For instance, the tariffs on Chinese products. Why not?


BOUSHEY: Well, the president has focused on a series of steps, you know, for the past year, the target had been making sure that supply chains were functional because that was core to inflation. As the challenges focused on energy, that is where his priority has been, focusing on making -- doing -- taking what steps he can do to increase the supply of oil and refine products to gas stations.

You know, so he has put all options on the table and, you know, has even of course put on the table this idea of a federal gas tax holiday and encouraged states to do the same. So he has taken the steps that -- he has taken a variety of steps so far and continues to look at all of his options.

BERMAN: All right. Heather Boushey, member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, thank you for being with us this morning.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Joining us now is the anchor of "CNN NEWSROOM", Poppy Harlow.

Such an interesting interview and I want to take it back to where it began which was playing for her the voices of Americans who are struggling and I wonder -- look, maybe it's only so much that the White House can control, Poppy, but if I'm that single mom whose voice is cracking and she's talking about her financial situation, I don't know if I feel so much better an listening to that.

POPPY HARLOW, ANCHOR: Did you feel that listening to her? I was just thinking what if that were me for our kids? And that is so many Americans right now, everyone is feeling it everywhere.

There is a lot more the White House can do. You're totally right about the Carter administration, that piece, that number -- not only the former Carter treasury secretary, a number of high ranking economic officials came out and said don't make the same mistakes we did. Price caps don't work, a gas tax holiday for three months is going to cost a lot and have very little effect and as everything else gets more expensive, they just put the money to that, what you pointed to her.

There is more they can do. They can't do everything but I don't understand still why no decision has been made on the China tariffs. I don't understand. I mean, the head of President Obama's Export/Import Banks said in "The Wall Street Journal" yesterday do it and do it now, it could save American households $1,000 a year and bring down inflation a percent within a year.

So I don't know why he wouldn't make a decision on that now when you hear people like this.

BERMAN: Yeah. No, she clearly -- by the way, I want to give full credit, you pointed out to me that "New York Times" article and helped me understand I think some of the things that are important here because the issue is what can and can't the White House do.

There are things. There are things the White House can't do. Some of the things they have done may have contributed a little bit to the fall of gas prices over -- over the last month.

HARLOW: Maybe. Let's hope. A little, yes, for sure.

I don't think there's a lack of will and a lack of trying but I do think that at some point, I mean, she talked about the war in Ukraine being a driver of inflation. Yes, but as you pointed out all these other countries are facing those same two headwinds of the pandemic and the war.

Jerome Powell in his testimony last month was specifically asked, is the war in Ukraine the primary driver of inflation, he said no. It's not the primary driver.

So being very honest with how we got here, why we got here, why we were wrong like Treasury Secretary Yellen did concede which is important helps us figure out how we can get out of this.

But to your point, Brianna, at the beginning, not only is it inflation, real wages as we were talking about earlier, real wages, what you feel like you're taking home hourly workers, they're lower, they're down 3.6 percent over the last 12 months.

So, you feel like you're making less, you are realistically and you are spending so much more.

KEILAR: You're spending more and the savings is just going out the window.

HARLOW: Out the window, and then these student loan payments will start again in a month. So, there you go.

KEILAR: Poppy, thank you so much. We will be tuning into you at the top of the hour.

HARLOW: See you then.

KEILAR: So, first on CNN, former President Trump tried to call a member of the White House support staff who was talking with the January 6th committee, our new reporting on this ahead.



BERMAN: First on CNN, sources say that former President Trump tried to call a member of the White House support staff who was in talks with the January 6th committee. So that's new.

The exact identity of this person still unknown at this point. The witness did not pick up when Trump called and contacted an attorney. This was not someone Trump would routinely communicate with and this attempted call came after Cassidy Hutchinson's explosive testimony.

Joining us this morning, Maggie Haberman, CNN senior -- I'm sorry, excuse me, senior political correspondent at the "New York Times" and a CNN political analyst. And Astead Herndon, national political reporter at "The New York Times" and also a CNN political analyst.

OK, Maggie, an attempted phone call from the president to a White House support staff member. Important, why?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, for a couple of reasons. The committee seems to think if this is -- you know, this is the conversation that they were referring to the other day in testimony as another act of possible witness tampering. So this sounds like it was somebody who Trump tried to reach out to, who Trump does not routinely talk to, for what reason we don't know.

A phone call alone, John, is not necessarily an act of obstruction, obviously all of these other data points that this is not somebody that Trump was routinely in contact with apparently raises a lot of questions, but there is a bunch of stuff that we don't know still. It will depend on what the identity is of this person, but as I understand, it is somebody who could have corroborated pieces of Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony and that is also, I think, why it's raising concerns.

KEILAR: The committee has put this now in DOJ's hands. What does that mean?

ASTEAD HERNDON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The committee is going to make that openly in these hearings, they've said that they're hoping that DOJ is looking at them and kind of taking those next steps. This committee knows that it cannot really do the fullness of what folks want when it comes to criminal charges against folks who may have committed criminal acts. That has to come from the Department of Justice.

And so this is -- this is a fact-finding mission, this is a narrative setting mission and certainly a first draft of history on the issue of what happened on January 6th, but the accountability is going to have to come from the Department of Justice side. And that's why we are seeing increasingly a lot of Democratic politicians, a lot of activists, a lot of grassroots folks looking to Merrick Garland to say that is where the real decision right side going to have to come from. President Biden has made sure to step away from that so that decision

is coming just from the Department of Justice but there is increasing pressure from folks looking at the Department of Justice to act.