Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Event/Special

U.S. Currently Assesses Israel Not Responsible For Gaza Hospital Blast; Republicans Struggle To Choose House Speaker; President Biden In Israel. Aired 10:55-11:30a ET

Aired October 18, 2023 - 10:55   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You are looking at live pictures right now, nearly 6,000 miles apart on the left in Washington, D.C. House Republicans are trying to snap a sad streak of failure. On the right, in the Middle East, President Biden is promising to stand by Israel now and forever.

Moments ago, we just got a statement from the White House National Security Council asserting that Israel, based on the intelligence they've acquired, is not responsible for that explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday. This follows President Biden on the world stage, asserting that he has seen sufficient evidence to convince him that the Israeli Defense Forces are not responsible for the horror at the Gaza hospital.

Two stories with hugely important consequences across the globe, and CNN is on the front lines of both. I'm jake tapper in Washington.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AND CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS: And I'm Dana Bash on Capitol Hill where we still have a speakerless House of Representatives. In minutes, Jim Jordan plans to take his second shot at the speakership on the House floor. Tuesday's vote did not go well.

Twenty Republican defectors say, he is not fit to hold the gavel well more than Jordan's sources tell us that they expected. And today, the Ohio Republican needs to hold his entire conference minus four Republicans, a tall order considering what happened just a little less than 24 hours ago.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Sara Sidner in Israel where the American president has injected himself into a deepening Middle East crisis. The fog of war fueling outrage across Arab capitals like Beirut and in Amman after a blast at that Gaza City hospital. Today, right here in Tel Aviv, President Biden urged both Israelis and Palestinians to honor the humanity of the lost.

He also said the early evidence points away from Israel, that they are not responsible for the blast at that hospital. The Tuesday blast that the Hamas controlled authorities inside Gaza say killed hundreds in indescribable fashion.

TAPPER: And we will have much more from the Middle East throughout this hour, but we're going to start at home, at the U.S. Capitol and with CNN's Manu Raju.

And Manu, you have some new reporting on the race for speaker and on Congressman Jim Jordan's effort to get the speaker gavel. He lost that ballot yesterday. He got 200 votes from House Republicans, short of the 216, 217 votes he needed. Is there going to be another vote and will he be closer or farther away, do you think?

MANU RAJU, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY AND CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, he is poised to lose this vote that's going to happen in the 11:00 hour, it will be a second ballot. And I am told by Republicans who are part of that opposition that the opposition will only grow. And if not on the second ballot, almost certainly on the third ballot if Jim Jordan decides to do that. I am told that it could be 20, 25, maybe even up towards 30 Republicans will ultimately continue to vote against Jim Jordan.

The concern from the Jordan folks is that the longer this goes on, that more of those Republicans will ultimately peel off. Some of them said that they would only support him on the first ballot, and not necessarily are going to commit to vote for him on the second and third ballot. As one Republican who is opposed to Jim Jordan told me, he said the opposition team is unified, it is growing. And there is consensus that they plan to hold the line, to try to force Jordan out of the speakership.

Now, Jordan is trying to show that there is some progress. I caught him just moments ago on the way into congressman's office and he indicated that he wants -- that he is still staying in the race. We'll see how long that ultimately goes. But there is a belief in Republican circles that if he cannot show progress on this vote and cannot show progress on a third vote, there is no path for him on the speakership.


And they have to start to entertain what plan B is.

And, at the moment, there is growing discussion about trying to empower the interim speaker, Patrick McHenry, give him the authority to oversee the legislative process, pass a resolution as soon as today to give him temporary power.

McHenry, significantly, just moments ago would not rule out the possibility of himself serving in that position. Before, he has indicated he is opposed to that. But this all shows the desperate moment that Republicans are in, Jake.

And even there are some others who are still floating other possible candidates who could yet emerge and try to run for the speakership. But they will run into the same problems as Jim Jordan did, as Steve Scalise did, and then, initially, with Kevin McCarthy, who was pushed out of the speakership more than two weeks ago.

That they will have a difficult, if not impossible, time of getting to the 217 votes needed to be elected speaker, given the significant divisions that are still within this badly divided Republican Conference, trying to figure out a way forward here, but, for the moment, no consensus, and Jim Jordan poised to lose this vote, potentially by even a worse margin than he did yesterday -- Jake.

TAPPER: It is unprecedented. And it is, frankly, embarrassing. And we will get back to this vote we expect to see happen soon.

But now let's go to Israel and the American president President Biden and the anger rippling across Arab capitals, specifically about that incident at the hospital.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is in Tel Aviv, where President Biden just wrapped up his trip.

And, Kaitlan, we just got this very consequential statement from the National Security Council. We should note, it is not unheard of for the Palestinian authorities, the hospitals and the Health Ministry, which are controlled by Hamas, which the U.S. government does label a terrorist organization, it is not unheard of for them to misfire and kill their own people accidentally and blame it on Israel.

And it does seem as though that is what the National Security Council believes happened here.


And, Jake, this comes after a lot of uproar and unrest that happened as a result of that explosion at that hospital in Gaza, with a lot of governments and even some lawmakers blaming the Israeli government, as, of course, you saw Palestinian authorities also doing similar yesterday.

But now we do have a clear statement, one of the clearest that we have gotten yet from the U.S. administration, saying that they do not believe Israel was responsible for that explosion. This is from the National Security Council, President Biden's National Security Council.

And the spokesman says in a quote: "While we continue to collect information, our current assessment, based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open-source information is that Israel is not responsible for the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday."

And, Jake, that is the most clear statement we have gotten in writing yet. But, of course, one just came from the president himself standing over my shoulder a few moments ago, when he said that they did believe, based on what they have assessed, that it was an errant rocket that was fired by a terrorist group in Gaza that was responsible for what happened at that hospital yesterday.

And, obviously, that is hugely consequential of a statement, for the president of the United States to back Israel up in those denials, based on not just what Israel has said, but he says based on his own Pentagon's assessment, Jake, of that, given what we have seen happen.

I mean, part of this trip is not happening because of that. He was supposed to go on to Jordan, and meet with the leaders there, the president of Egypt as well. Those are meetings that are not happening. He's going back to the United States now. And so that is certainly significant, Jake. And, of course, this

entire trip was intended to not only just come here and show solidarity with Israel, but also to meet with other leaders in the area to figure out the path forward.

And, of course, he only met with one world leader,and that was the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, here. And those meetings centered on humanitarian aid, which he said Israel had agreed to let it come through Egypt -- or to let it come into that, entering into Gaza.

That is significant, since they have not been able to get any aid through that crossing so far. We haven't heard any comments from the Egyptians yet, Jake. And that would be hugely consequential. But it's kind of a wait-and-see situation to make sure it actually gets through, because we have seen instances in the past few days where they have said the Rafah Crossing was going to open, only for people to rush there and for it to not open.

And so I think there's a lot of question of the follow-through here of what this is going to look like. And, also, what are the tangible achievements coming out of this visit, beyond the president saying it wasn't Israel behind that explosion, and also that humanitarian aid is going to flow into Gaza?

TAPPER: Right.

I mean, one of the things that's important for this visit, I believe, that President Biden was hoping to talk to the leaders of Jordan and other Arab countries about is what happens after Israel achieves its goals in Gaza, what happens after they decimate the lead worship of Hamas, what happens for the Palestinian people.


Obviously, he can't talk to the leaders of Jordan, Egypt and other countries, he can't come up with those solutions.


And he's going to have a phone call with the president of Egypt on the way home and the leaders of Jordan. But, of course, you have heard President Biden. He said it in his own words. Nothing compares to face-to-face diplomacy and actually having that.

The White House has acknowledged that it is a setback that those meetings are not happening in person. And for a U.S. president to come here, Jake, to the Middle East, and to have those leaders cancel on him and say that that is why they cannot come, that is a remarkable statement, in and of itself.

I mean, the White House will not deny that when you talk to officials. They -- you have heard some of them on the record talking about why they're not doing that, what that looks like. They do acknowledge privately, Jake, that it is a setback, and that it is meaningful. I mean, the last time the president was here in Israel, I was with

him, and he went to Saudi Arabia after that. You're not seeing meetings like that happen. And, of course, this is an even more heightened period of time, given the conflict and the war that we are seeing playing out right before our eyes.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins in Israel, thank you so much.

Now over to Dana, who's been talking to House Republicans all morning about the speaker vote we will see start soon.

Dana, do your sources believe that Jim Jordan has the votes?

BASH: No. Nobody here who I'm talking to, including and especially people close to Jim Jordan, believe that he suddenly has the votes to become speaker in this first -- today.

And you earlier use the word embarrassing to describe what has been going on here now for more than two weeks, a speakerless Congress in that dome behind me. Most Republicans who are serving in that House of Representatives agree with you that it is embarrassing.

And yet, Jake, I have spoken to House Republicans -- these are members -- who have used similar language to me, even though they sit on different parts of the conservative spectrum. And that is, the question right now is, how much pain do Republicans in the House need to take? How much do they want to endure before they get to the place where they have a House speaker?

And Manu mentioned some of this in his reporting. What we are looking for today is whether -- well, first and foremost, whether or not Jim Jordan has fewer Republican votes than he did yesterday, which is probably -- probable, even beyond possible.

The other is David Joyce, Jim Jordan's fellow Republican from Ohio, who has said publicly that he wants to make a motion to give Patrick McHenry, who is the temporary speaker, who has really virtually no powers, more powers.

And the question at this point is, when is he going to strike with that? Will he do it after the second vote that Jim Jordan is expected to lose? Will he wait a little bit longer? Nobody knows the answer to this, because the threshold for pain, political pain, perception, the pain of perception, and all of that seems to be quite high when you're looking at these House Republicans, despite the very real situation that this world is in.

And, again, so many Republicans who are serving behind me, they understand how bad this looks.

TAPPER: All right, Dana Bash, thank you so much on Capitol Hill.

I think we can all agree on that. It looks bad. It looks real bad, in the immortal words of Elaine Benes.

(LAUGHTER) TAPPER: Nia, let me start with you.

We do have some news here from Capitol Hill. Speaker-designate Jim Jordan says he wants to put two measures to a vote this morning, electing him as speaker and whether more power should be given to interim speaker Patrick McHenry.

So those are the two measures he wants to put forward. I think I have a feeling I know which way it's going to go.


TAPPER: Although I have been wrong before.


HENDERSON: Yes, yes, but rarely, rarely.

Yes, I mean, I think the House is inclined to deny Jim Jordan the speakership, right, again and again and again. He sort of bullied his way here. That didn't leave many friends or much support for him. So he's seeing that.


TAPPER: Well, he has a majority of the majority.

HENDERSON: He does, but he has 20 people. And if he -- we will see what happens today, if it's 25, if it's 30.

But, yes, people didn't take too kindly to the way that he has conducted himself up until now, right, with the bullying and the pressure campaign. And, also, he doesn't have much of a record, right? I mean, if you think of the people who were in this seat before him, and they had legislative accomplishments, they had been in leadership.

And he's kind of been an outside agitator. And so now people don't really want to see him in that post. We will see what the other measure gets. I imagine this is going to be more popular. People like Patrick McHenry.

It is kind of ridiculous that he's in that spot with no power. And they clearly need to get something done in the House, particular given the state of the world right now.

BORGER: You know, the great irony here is that Jim Jordan has to negotiate with people he used to call corrupt members of the establishment, the cartel that is running Washington.


And suddenly now -- and about a handful of them deserted him yesterday, but now he's got to go to them and say to them, I'd like your vote, after a long tenure of doing nothing but deriding them and saying that they don't belong in the Republican Party anymore, that it's the new Republican Party.

And a lot of them are saying, you know what? Sorry. We kind of remember the way things went with you and we don't trust you. And he doesn't have that kind of, well or that reservoir of trust, as someone who's raised a lot of money for people, as Nia points out as someone with a great legislative record. He has none.

And these so-called moderate conservatives are saying, you know what? I don't think so.

TAPPER: Why do I feel like, somewhere, John Boehner, is...

BORGER: A glass of wine.


TAPPER: ... is neck-deep a Jacuzzi full of merlot just watching this all and just relishing it, because these are a bunch of people who were -- just made his life so difficult, when he was actually trying to be an effective speaker and work with the reality of a political system that had two parties and checks and balances.

BORGER: And what did he call Jim Jordan?

TAPPER: He called Jim Jordan a legislative terrorist. Apologies to anybody out there who's actually dealing with real terrorism in another part of the world.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: So in addition to what Nia and Gloria just said, let's just be frank. He is too controversial. He is too toxic.

If he became the next speaker of the House, there would be a political backlash. I mean, this is what Republican members of Congress are saying to me. They are afraid they would lose the House, they would lose power.

There's one other person I think we need to discuss here, and that is Kevin McCarthy. Yes, Kevin McCarthy...

TAPPER: Who predicted that Jim Jordan would win the speakership yesterday on the first ballot.

GANGEL: Yes. So, look...


GANGEL: He endorsed...

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: He also predicted he would have won his speakership on the first ballot as well.

TAPPER: He said, bring it on.


TAPPER: It got brought.

GANGEL: He did come closer than Jim Jordan. He was only minus-eight. Jim Jordan was minus-20. And I'm told the numbers are going in the wrong direction.

Kevin McCarthy supported Jim Jordan. He endorsed him. He voted for him. But my Republican sources on the Hill say, behind the scenes, Kevin McCarthy is not too sad about this, because, at the end of the day, misery loves company.

If he can't be the speaker, why should Jim Jordan be the speaker? And this is all moving toward Patrick McHenry as this compromise. And let's not forget, Kevin McCarthy is the person who picked Patrick McHenry to be in this job.

TAPPER: Oh, by the way, like, it was 2000 -- I don't even know the year, but it was at some point during the last few years.

A Democrat -- I was talking to a Democratic member of Congress. And we were talking about the McCarthy era that was to come.

BORGER: Right.

TAPPER: It was before the Republicans took control. But we all saw what was happening.

And she told me, this Democratic member of Congress, that, as soon as McCarthy was elected, he was going to have to worry about Jim Jordan. I mean, it was not a secret.

BORGER: But he brought him in.


BORGER: He ended up bringing him in.


TAPPER: But it was not a secret that he was going to have to watch Jim Jordan over his shoulder the entire time, not Steve Scalise, that Jim Jordan was the threat.

So I don't know what machinations, if any, were going on behind the scenes. But that was always the perceived threat. And this member, this Democrat that was telling me about this was getting this from her Republican friends.

BORGER: Right.

TAPPER: I mean, it was always kind of known within the Republican Caucus and the Democratic Caucus, that Jim Jordan was the threat.


And, also, I mean, this is like high school, in a way, because there's also this bad blood between McCarthy and Scalise. And then there's bad blood between Jordan and Scalise and who likes whom and who can get along with whom and who's going to help you get elected.

And I think you're right about McCarthy. I think McCarthy's kind of sitting back and saying, I got about as many votes as Jim Jordan did.

TAPPER: Oh, he got more.

BORGER: And I'm -- right, and I'm not -- and I'm not the speaker.

So there's no solution to this problem, other than going in a totally different direction.

CHALIAN: But the issue -- you're right about all those players and their relationships.


CHALIAN: But what is being put on display to the American people is a Republican Party incapable of governing.


CHALIAN: That is what is being put on display.

And, yes, this is a problem for the Republican Party to solve, but it's actually obviously impacting every American, no matter what which party you're in, because the House of Representatives is not open for business.


You saw today in Israel President Biden talking about an unprecedented request for aid to Israel that he's putting forth to Congress. Well, there's not a functioning Congress right now to deal with that.

TAPPER: Not a functioning legislative branch.

On the left side of your screen is President Joe Biden saying goodbye to Israeli officials in Tel Aviv as he prepares to depart and get on Air Force One following a trip that was successful in one regard with Israel, and unsuccessful, in the sense that all of the Arab leaders with whom he was planning on meeting canceled the trip and -- canceled their part of the trip.

On the right, they are taking attendance, just like they do at the beginning of the day in grammar school. They are doing that in the House of Representatives because they are trying to see who is there,so they know what exactly the threshold is, in terms of how many votes Jim Jordan needs to achieve to win the speakership, which we do not anticipate he will do on this second ballot for the speakership in this latest incarnation of Republicans in disarray.

We're going to have more CNN special live coverage after we squeeze in this quick commercial break. We will be right back.



TAPPER: At any moment, the U.S. House of Representatives, the Republicans in the House of Representatives are going to give it another go. We expect nomination speeches for speaker to start soon.

Then, Congressman Jim Jordan will get another up-or-down vote on whether House Republicans want him to hold the speaker's gavel. We're going to go live to the House floor the second that starts, but first on to Israel and Gaza.

The White House National Security Council is siding with Tel Aviv in a global fight to assign blame for that horrifying hospital tragedy.

Sara Sidner is live for us in Tel Aviv.

And, Sara, President Biden is now on his way back to Washington, D.C., after a consequential day.

SIDNER: Yes, I mean, a very consequential day if you look at what he did here.

First, he stood very, very strong with Israel, making that unequivocal. Then he talked about the humanitarian aid that he says is being worked out to try to get aid into Gaza, where you have some two million people. More than 50 percent or about 50 percent of the population are children. They're under the age of 18, who are suffering without water.

They're suffering without electricity. They do not have fuel, and they're running out of food. And so that is one of the things that they're trying to get into the country, with some caveats.

I did just about an hour ago speak with the prime minister's office's spokesperson here in Tel Aviv, the Israeli prime minister's spokesperson, and she told me that that deal had not been completely made yet, that they are working on the details of some sort of a corridor that they would not be striking as some of this humanitarian aid would go in.

But the situation there in Gaza is getting desperate by the hour.

I do want to go to CNN's Ben Wedeman. He is in Southern Lebanon, where we have been watching protests all day long.

They have gotten quite big. We saw some fires burning there in Lebanon as well, stoked by that hospital blasts that the president now says has -- he has he has seen evidence and that he is siding with Israel, Israel saying they were not responsible for that blast, that they were -- it was the Islamic Jihad, the other terror group inside of Gaza, that was responsible for it, by accidentally firing off an errant rocket.

Ben, what are you learning about what's happening there in response to that hospital blast?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sara, we saw a large rally by Hezbollah in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

But most eyes were on the town of Awkar, which is about eight miles north of Beirut near the U.S. Embassy, where hundreds of protesters clashed with Lebanese security forces, protesters throwing rocks, firing fireworks in the direction of the police, the police responding with water cannons and tear gas.

And then, later, it appears that the army intervened and basically broke up the protest. And now it appears to be over. But tensions are running high in Lebanon. The U.S. State Department has said that family members of U.S. Embassy staff and non-emergency personnel can leave the country, given the precarious situation.

France has advised its nationals not to travel to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia just putting out an announcement advising all Saudis in Lebanon to leave the country immediately -- Sara.

SIDNER: Yes, I mean, you have been in that region. You have watched these things explode into a much bigger issue. And there is always a fear that there is going to be a battle coming from the north into Israel as well.

Thank you so much for giving us the details on all that is happening there.

Let's go now to Nic Robertson. He is in Sderot, near -- very near the Gaza border. I think the closest point from Sderot to Gaza is about 2,500 feet.

Sounds like there is some sort of munitions going off. Can you tell me what's happening there?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Sara, what -- I think what we're hearing at the moment are artillery strikes coming from Israeli howitzer positions into Gaza.


And judging by the time between the explosion of the howitzer firing out and the detonation on the ground, they're firing a relative short distance. There was another detonation there. So, some of them -- and there were -- there was the explosion with it.

So, there is a degree of artillery fire. It's not unusual. Perhaps it's a little close-range, more than normal, in terms of how far the guns are firing. But this is -- this has become the sort of background normal, no airstrikes at the moment, but definitely these heavy artillery pieces, howitzers, appear to be firing into Gaza.

SIDNER: Yes, the war continues, for sure. There is a question about the timing of and when there may or may not be a ground offensive, which, initially, it seemed imminent. We are now waiting to see what happens next.

Thank you so much for all your reporting there, Nic Robertson, on the border with Gaza. I will send it back to Jake in Washington.

TAPPER: Thanks, Sara. We're going to come back to over the next couple of hours quite a bit.

Just minutes ago, we heard directly from the White House National Security Council, which asserts that the current U.S. intelligence about the Gaza hospital blast backs up the assertions from Israel that Israel was not responsible.

This is from the NSC's Adrienne Watson -- quote -- "While we continue to collect information, our current assessment, based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open-source information, is that Israel is not responsible for the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday" -- unquote.

Let's bring in a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner.

Lieutenant Colonel Lerner, what can you tell us about what intelligence the Israelis have shared with President Biden and with the U.S. that backs up the IDF claim that it was Islamic Jihad that was responsible for the rocket hitting the hospital?

COL. PETER LERNER, SPOKESMAN, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: Well, you can imagine that we shared more than we have shared with the public.

And, obviously, what is shared behind closed doors will remain behind closed doors, but it's obviously along the same themes and understanding. We utilized our intelligence, our operational data, and our aerial footage in order to identify exactly what happened last night.

And we came to the conclusion and asserted that the IDF was not responsible for the strike, for the explosion in the Al Ahli Hospital, and it was indeed a Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket that malfunctioned and fell on the hospital.

And, indeed, the IDF established and initiated a high-level investigation, and established that there were no operations, no strikes by the IDF, not by the air force, not by ground forces, and not by our naval forces. We found that the radar tracked the trajectory of the rockets, and that, indeed, they went over some 10 rockets that were fired in order to kill Israelis.

And one fell short and malfunctioned on its way to -- on its way to Israel. But it malfunctioned and fell inside Israel, inside the Al Ahli Hospital. And, indeed, it caused all of that damage.

And, finally, the communications that our intelligence intercepted, which was just one source that we have shared with you, but have -- we have cross-referenced that and crosschecked that -- and, indeed, when you hear the Hamas terrorists communicating between one another, saying Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched rockets, and one of them fell in Al Ahli, it basically leaves no question about who was behind it. So I'm very encouraged by the fact that the U.S. is also confirming

independently about this, but we are certain of what we know.

TAPPER: There is -- there does appear to be Al-Jazeera footage of missiles -- I'm sorry -- rockets launched around that time. Has that been verified as legitimate?

LERNER: Yes, of course, they were broadcasting it live.

And I actually have an image here of the launch -- of the broadcast. And this is a screen capture of what they did. And you can see this is -- at just 6:59, you see the Al-Jazeera emblem, and that's the rocket that actually fell into the hospital.

And it's on -- it's online. And it's on our Twitter feed. And you can -- you can see for yourself. You don't -- didn't need to investigate it. All you need to do is flip a channel and see it as it happened.

This is the sad story of things being prematurely reported based on Hamas saying, this is an Israeli strike. And that, I think, is one of the lessons that we need to understand, that this -- Hamas is an organization that will butcher babies, and it's in their bedrooms.

They will have no problem lying to the media.

TAPPER: Protests, nonetheless, are spreading throughout the Arab world.

It appears that the leaders of many Arab nations canceled their visits with President Biden based on this misinformation from the Palestinian Health Authority.