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CNN Live Event/Special

GOP Rep. Mike Johnson Expects To Win On First Speaker Vote; Soon: GOP Faces Crucial Test With Speaker Vote; Soon: House Speaker Vote As Israel-Hamas War Rages; Soon: Biden Holds News Conference At White House; Humanitarian Crisis Worsens In Gaza As Fuel, Food, Water Run Out. Aired 11:55a-12:30p ET

Aired October 25, 2023 - 11:55   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following breaking news on very consequential events that are converging here in Washington, as well as in the Middle East. On Capitol Hill, the House of Representatives is about to try again to do what it has been unable to do for three weeks, choose a House speaker. Over at the White House, President Biden is getting ready to hold his first formal news conference since the October 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel. CNN is live in the war zone in the Middle East, as well -- as all of this unfolds right now.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington along with Danna Bash. She's up on Capitol Hill. And Jake Tapper, he's in Tel Aviv.

Let's go to Capitol Hill first. Suspense is clearly building right now as we close in on the House Speaker vote, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: It sure is. House Republicans settled on Congressman Mike Johnson as their fourth nominee for speaker. That happened late last night. He is just their latest hope for ending the party infighting that has left the House of Representatives without a speaker for more than three weeks, paralyzed the United States government. That of -- all of course, since hardliners ousted Kevin McCarthy.

But like other nominees before him, Johnson has to clear a really big hurdle. And that is, he needs 217 votes in order to lock up to speaker's job. He can only afford to lose four votes of fellow Republicans. That means it's going to be very tight again, given the party's very slim hold on the majority. So, the question is whether Johnson can seal the deal, we're going to find out soon.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Here in the Middle East, we are monitoring the humanitarian crisis in Gaza at a critical moment. The main United Nations agency working there says that they're now on the brink of halting operations due to a lack of fuel. We're going to have the latest on that, and on the Israel-Hamas war throughout our special coverage.

BASH: Let's start with CNN's Manu Raju, who has been covering all of the developments all week, three weeks, overnight, in the morning, you name it, he's standing there. Manu, what is your sense talking to so many sources that you talk to about whether Mike Johnson is going to be the guy who can pull this off, who can actually get the votes for the speaker's gavel?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Dana, there's widespread belief within the House Republican Conference that this in fact will be the time that Mike Johnson will be elected Speaker of the House. This, coming after more than three weeks of bitter Republican infighting and disarray that has left this chamber completely paralyzed, unable to act on issues of national and international significance. But now, Republicans believe it's time to move on. Members of the hard right are aligned with Johnson on his politics. Members who are more centrist, more to the swing members just say it's time to move on and get a speaker elected here.

Now, just moments ago, Johnson told our colleague, Annie Grayer, that he will win on the first ballot. That is his expectation at the moment. And so far, we have not heard opposition within the ranks.

They tested this behind closed doors yesterday. There were 22 members who did not appear for the vote. There are three members who voted present. Those three members who voted presidents are expected to vote for Johnson and we expect the Republicans who are to attend this vote to vote yes.

That means that Johnson could be elected speaker in this hour and take the -- assume the speaker's office just down the hall from me. And then confront huge issues that he will have to deal with that have been completely sidetracked as Republicans have tried to resolve this -- these -- all these -- this internal leadership battle and this crisis within their own ranks. Namely, how to fund the federal government, and how to deal with aid to Israel and Ukraine. All major issues are on his plate, assuming he has the votes later this hour. Dana.

BASH: Manu, thank you. And, Wolf, I had a member say to me this morning that Mike Johnson at this port is the person with the fewest enemies. And that is likely how he is going to seal up this deal. We'll see if that actually happens, but I think that's quite telling, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see if he's elected the speaker of the House. Dana, standby. I want to bring in CNN's Harry Enten right now. He's been digging into Congressman Mike Johnson.


Harry, what do people need to know about the man potentially who might be the next speaker of the House?

HARRY ENTEN, CNN SENIOR DATA REPORTER: I think a lot of folks were asking, who the hack is Representative Mike Johnson? So, let's talk about who he was before Congress, all right. He was an attorney with a focus on constitutional law. He worked as a college professor. He was a little bit in our industry. He was a conservative talk show host. He served in the Louisiana State House.

Now, what about in Congress, right? So, he's been representing the Louisiana's 4th Congressional District now for since 2016. Now he is in the leadership, but he's not too high in the leadership, right. So, he's the vice chair of the House Republican Conference.

Here's the other big thing you should note about him. He served on Trump's first Senate impeachment trial defense team. He is an ardent defender of Donald Trump. And we can see that in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election, right?

So, what we see is that Johnson, in fact, had drafted the House GOP legal brief, supporting the Texas suit. And he objected to certifying the 2020 election results. Of course, now perhaps, there's some interesting sort of back and forth where perhaps some Republicans want to forget about it. So, let's take a look back a few years ago, and compare it to now.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON, (R-LA): Madam Speaker, we have a solemn responsibility today. We must vote to sustain objections to states of electors, submitted by states that we genuinely believe clearly violated the constitution and the presidential election of 2020. This is the threshold legal question before us. And it's an issue before us for the state of Arizona.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Johnson, you helped lead the effort to overturn the 2020 election results.


ENTEN: So, that was Virginia Foxx, who was sort of brewing at the end there. And you kind of get this idea that Republicans perhaps don't want to necessarily focus on what's dividing them. They want to be united as a conference. And I think that, you know, we should sort of note why Mike Johnson couldn't fac succeed. He kind of tries to get in that middle of the Republican caucus. He doesn't want to be too far out there on the right side of it.

So, he voted to raise the debt ceiling, but not to avoid the government shutdown. Now, though, he's asking for a possible continuing resolution to keep the government open. Here's the other thing about Johnson. He sponsored more bills that passed than the average Republican, so he has an ability to get things done. And he's been able to sort of get this broad GOP support.

So, remember, of course, what we had was Matt Gaetz here. Matt Gaetz, of course, essentially sunk, sunk, Kevin McCarthy. And of course, Mike Lawler, what we saw there was he of course, sunk Jim Jordan. So, we had support both on the left and sort of on the right side of the GOP caucus.

One little last thing I'll note, in terms of fundraising. Mike Johnson has not necessarily been the biggest fundraiser in the world. He is not anywhere close to Kevin McCarthy as a fundraiser. He's not even near where Tom Emmer who saw some improvement from 2019 to 2021.

So that's something I think that a lot of Republicans will sort of be wondering about. Can in fact, Mike Johnson raised the money they need, we'll just have to wait and see. Just like we'll have to wait and see whether or not Johnson becomes speaker later today. Wolf?

BLITZER: We will find out fairly soon. Lots to discuss here. Harry, thank you very much. I want to bring our panel and start with David Chalian, our political director. David, what's the significance of someone who was very actively involved in trying to decertify the 2020 presidential election, which of course, Joe Biden won. What's the significance of this person eventually potentially becoming the speaker of the House?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, I think it was perfectly on display, right. Yesterday, Mike, Tom Emmer served as the speaker designee for four hours. He is somebody who voted to certify the election results in 2020. That is anathema to Donald Trump and Donald Trump's Republican Party.

And I think that's the significance here that you -- if you were trying to overturn the legitimate election results of 2020, that is a credential to sell in today's House Republican conference, not a disqualifying factor in today's Republican conference. And that is a crucial piece of where we are. It gets to Trump's sway in the party, it gets to where this party is at the moment and why they are still -- it's why we also sort of our where we are we've been seeing -- -


CHALIAN: A party at odds with itself.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: And Wolf, to that -- to David's career, you know, this is a member who wasn't just on the bus for Trump. And in the election denier, he was driving the bus. But several both Republicans versus and Democratic sources said to me today, that A, they think he has the votes as any reported that he could get it on the first ballot.

And that the fact he's not well known, is actually helping because moderate Republicans don't have to worry when they go back to their districts. their constituents don't know yet. Just how conservative he is. One Republican source says to me, he doesn't present the way Jim Jordan presents. People just don't know.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Who does. Where is his jacket for one thing? But you know, I think he is a person who's hard to demonize. You know, it's very easy to demonize somebody like a Jim Jordan who's a firebrand. He's out there. He's fighting. And then Donald Trump can demonize Emmer (Ph) because he didn't believe the election was rigged.


But you have this kind of, I don't want to use the word milk toast, that's not quite the right word. He's a serious person who is not prone to getting in big, huge fights with people. He is known as a listener, I was told. He is hugely conservative, but he doesn't wear it on his sleeve all the time. So, he can get along with moderates and listen to them. It'll be interesting to see what happens with Ukraine aid, for example. But you know, he's not a devil incarnate.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He can listen to them. And by all accounts of his colleagues, he will listen to them and does listen to them. But he's never been a chairman. To David's point, that's a lie that Trump won the last election is now deeper in the Republican bloodstream. The Republican Party constantly faces this choice when it picks its leaders. He will do that in the presidential race.

Here's a chance here to say, let's move on. Let's flush that away. It is not true. It is a mistake. Let's move on. No, they're going to elect the speaker today. It looks like who, as Jamie said, was driving the train. Not just voted for it but he was driving the train trying to help Trump.

But the question is, so this is a victory for Republicans that they end the circus after three weeks and they get a leader. OK. So, they've picked a leader. Now what happens? Can he get the votes to, you know, to avoid a government shutdown, like Israel aid, no brainer? Can he get Ukraine aid? Or will the party have a fight over that. And then what?

Every time they need to vote on anything significant, that's when they fracture, because they have a very fractured narrow majority. And so, can a guy who's never let a committee, now lead what we have seen is an incredibly fractured, divisive conference in which a decent number of them don't really care about governing.

They care about attention. They care about -- they like disrupting the process. They like taking the wheels off the car. And so, look, you know, he has a giant opportunity to prove that some guy, you know, some nobody can rise up and be a star and bring them together but there's so much parallel.

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: The fundamental reality here is that while, yes, we may see the circus, this three- week circus ends today. Just because they're able to get 217 votes on the floor, it doesn't mean that any of the fundamental fractures, as John was saying in this party have been fixed.

Because the reality is John Boehner, you know, kind of up and quit one day because he was so frustrated with these dynamics. Paul Ryan was pressed into the speakership. and then resigned from Congress. Said, you know what, I'm not only am I stepping out of the speakership. I am leaving town because this was so frustrating.

Kevin McCarthy badly wanted this job and got thrown out because of these dynamics. Just because Mike Johnson today doesn't have enough people saying hell no to him, doesn't mean that any of those problems have been fundamentally fixed. It's just that these two groups of people are increasingly apart from each other, the institutionalists and the pro Trump MAGA wing of the party, but they can't govern it, they can't hold any power at all without each other. And I'm just not convinced that just because they get together today will mean that they can keep the government open or continue to govern.

BLITZER: I just want to point out, they're just taking a procedural attendance vote right now to make sure everyone's there who's supposed to be there.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, listen, and you know, the questions that Kasie is raising here that everybody's raising here about whether or not they're going to be able to come together. We're going to know very quickly, right? If you think about aid to Israel, you think about aid to Ukraine, are those going to be packaged together?

Is that something that folks in Congress, particularly the people who wanted Kevin McCarthy -- -

BLITZER: That's what the Biden administration is proposed?

HENDERSON: That's what they're proposing. Will the House majority allow that, particularly some of the hardliners there, and then quickly after that, keeping the government open? Is this something that he's going to be able to do? There's all this reporting about, they're going to maybe give him something of a longer leash going forward in the next couple of weeks, we'll see it actually.

I think the other issue is even pivoting to 2024, as you said, he was leading the bus for election denialism. What does it mean in 2024? If he is speaker of the House still, and Donald Trump doesn't win the election. Does he further try to undermine democracy in 2024 and use his seat as speaker of the House to wreak havoc on the system once again?

BLITZER: You know, David, he's not just that he voted against certifying the election results. He was one of the leaders in decertifying the election results.

CHALIAN: Well, he was an architect of drafting an amicus brief for this case that Texas was bringing that had nothing to do with Texas, had to do with some battleground states. It was so absurd. The Supreme Court didn't even like, deal with it. And yet, it was his strategy, and he was the chief whip for Donald Trump in getting Republicans to sign on to this absurd lawsuit.


To your point about keeping the government open and just functioning. As you guys are saying, it's only a few weeks since he was one of 90 Republicans who did not vote for the continuing resolution. He was not with a majority of his conference of the conference he's going to lead now on that issue. He was on the opposite side of Kevin McCarthy.

And again, a majority of Republicans to actually avoid a shutdown to pay the military and all that. He was on the short side of, no. And now he's floating this idea of a possible continuing resolution through January 15, or April 15, to keep the government open, if they don't finish all their spending bills before November 17. You already see how he's having to move from where he was to try and do this very difficult task of keeping this fractured conference to that.

GANGEL: Well, I think he's got to discover who he really is. And so, to members have to discover who he really is because it's very hard to move from the position of saying no continuing resolution to suddenly be the architect of a continuing resolution. And I think quite frankly, part of this is the complete exhaustion on the part of the Republicans and the and the recognition that they look like clowns for the for the last few weeks, and that they had to do something and in the Republican caucus, somebody who denied the election is OK.

It's OK. Not for those members who won in the Biden districts, perhaps, but for most of them, it's OK. Which is why when the journalist asked a question about it last night, she got booed because they're like that's over. We don't want to deal with anymore tabula rasa, we're going to start with a clean slate. And who's better to start with a clean flight than someone we don't know really well.

KING: Yet. And the fact that one of the Congresswoman Foxx said shut up.

GANGEL: Right. A shut up. Yes.

KING: It's anti-democratic -- they are anti-democratic. They simply are, that's a fact. And they're anti free speech. They're anti quiet. They don't like questions that they don't like. They don't want to answer questions that they don't like, well, sorry. Welcome to America. That's the great charm of the American experiment, that we ask questions that people get to ask these questions.

But going forward to David's point, so soon to be Speaker Johnson it appears was against this continuing resolution which forgive me America, that's the Washington speak for keeping your government open until he because they can't pass an actual budget. So, now the plan is either January or April, he says he'll go into the conference, they elect him speaker then they'll go into a room and say what do we want, January or April, OK.

If he gets one of those two. So, January just when they're starting the presidential nominating process or April when actually the primary season is kicking into a higher gear. We're all of these House Republicans have to go home, and you know, most of them don't have primary challengers but that's all they worry about.

90 percent of them only worry about being challenged from the right, right? And so, he's going to -- then the actual -- they're going to finally pick a leader, that's when they actually have to govern, that's when they actually vote and that's what the Kasie's point. All of these fractures about what to do, how to spend will blow up again.

BLITZER: All right guys. Everybody standby. We're waiting for the House speaker vote. We will come very soon. While Israel pounds Gaza with another round of airstrikes in response to Hamas attacks and concerns about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza continued to grow. We'll have all the latest on the ground. That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)



BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage. Take a look at this. So, you're looking at the floor of the House of Representatives here in Washington where lawmakers are about to vote on the fourth Republican speaker nomination. It's been more than three weeks since the House had a speaker, which means no votes on any aid for Israel's war against Hamas. No votes on anything else of substance.

CNN's Jake Tapper is joining us now live. He's in Tel Aviv. Jake, the dysfunction here in Washington D.C., isn't having a real impact on the Middle East?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, people in the Middle East are very concerned about the potential impact in terms of the fact that the legislative branch of the U.S. government can do really nothing as of now.

CNN's MJ Lee is at the White House where President Biden is going to take questions from reporters in about an hour from now. And MJ, this will be President Biden's first news conference since the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel on October 7.

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. And you have obviously seen how this Israel-Hamas war has been a consuming focus for President Biden over the last few weeks. And we certainly expect that to be a major topic of discussion between the president and the Australian prime minister. You will recall that the president had to cancel a previously scheduled visit to Australia earlier this year when the U.S. government was on the verge of a debt default.

And so, this invitation to the White House serves as a way for the Biden administration to reinforce and double down on that U.S.- Australian alliance. And this is an alliance that has so much right now to do with, trying to counter China's influence in the region.

You'll recall that it's within the last few years of the two countries reached a major agreement to provide Australia with nuclear powered submarines. That has everything again to do with trying to counter China's military might in the region.

But I will tell you, Jake, of course goes without saying, that even with all of this going on at the White House today with a seat dinner to follow. White House officials are very closely monitoring what is going on in the House of Representatives. There is a top, top priority for the administration right now, which is getting tens of billions of dollars an additional aid to Ukraine, to Israel. And at this moment in time how exactly House Republicans will deal with that matter is entirely uncertain. Jake?

[12:20:00] BLITZER: All right, MJ Lee, thank you so much. I want to turn to CNN's Jeremy Diamond, who is in Israel here in Ashkelon specifically. Jeremy, what are you hearing about the Israel defense forces' next move?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, what we are seeing right now is an intensification of airstrikes carried out by the IDF on the Gaza Strip. All of this designed to prepare the terrain in Gaza, according to the IDF for a potential ground invasion. A ground invasion that we know, the Israelis appear willing to delay for a few days that are at the request of the United States in order to allow for more time for hostage negotiations.

But the fact that they are continuing to carry out those intense airstrikes indicates that Israel is still intending to move forward with that ground invasion. Even if it waits for a few days, it will not wait indefinitely to move forward with those plans. And we know that overnight, the IDF carried out airstrikes that destroyed several tunnels, they say, and also took out several Hamas commanders.

But what we also know, Jake, is that these intensified airstrikes are leaving a, you know, a significant number of casualties, including civilian casualties, more than a third of casualties of those killed inside of Gaza, in these two plus weeks of war have been children, which you know, you see these absolutely devastating images, not only of the aftermath of some of these airstrikes, but also in hospitals, which are increasingly running out of fuel to be able to carry out operations.

Not only for those who are critically injured in the strikes, but also of course, for patients who need lifesaving care, whether that is dialysis or prenatal care. The World Health Organization now says that 12 of Gaza's hospitals are out of service because of a lack of fuel. And so, there's no question that as Israel continues to intensify its air campaign inside of Gaza, as Hamas continues to harbor its fire fighters in civilian areas as well, that the toll for civilians inside of Gaza is only growing. Jake?

TAPPER: Now to CNN's Nic Robertson, who's in Sderot. Nic, people in Gaza say they desperately need that fuel. Is it coming? And if not, why not?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: It doesn't appear to be coming. It appears to be part of that negotiation over release of hostages that also involves calls for a humanitarian pause, or some might call it a ceasefire. The IDF, Israeli government are putting pressure on Hamas in every way they can. They said this from the outset that that seize the cutting off of food, water, all supplies to Gaza.

So, it is, it is an intentional pressure point. And the gas is the one thing, is one of the key things that will ultimately put pressure on Hamas. The one of the other key things I should say, as well, of course, is the continuing artillery strikes or continuing airstrikes that we've been seeing down along close to the border to Gaza today. But I think when we consider where these apparent negotiations are, both sides seem to be coming down to the wire and Israel lost the initiative to Hamas, because they captured so many hostages. And one of the only ways it can regain them is with this extreme pressure point, which is fuel, and neither side seems to be backing down. And that's where we seem to be tonight, Jake?

TAPPER: So, Nic, I mean, one of the things that I've heard from Israeli officials are, one, that they're willing to allow more supplies and if Hamas releases more than 200 hostages. And two, their concerns about fuel are that Hamas uses that fuel for rockets that are constantly used against Israeli population centers. And two, that Hamas uses them for oxygen, further extensive network of tunnels, right?

ROBERTSON: Yes. Hamas uses fuel to fight the war. There's no doubt about it. If they don't have fuel, then they can't fight their war as effectively whether it's moving their soldiers around, whether it's providing electricity to run the pumps that keep that underground -- deep underground network of tunnels supplied with oxygen, with air, for all sorts of things.

Of course, the fuel is used in hospitals as well. And that's how Hamas uses that as a pressure point against Israel and how it tries to enlist the support of the international community and the more pressure there is on the hospitals because of more civilian casualties. The greater that works to Hamas' effect because it's able to sort of put some muscle if you will behind the narrative around fuel.


But absolutely, they need the fuel and that's the Israel's point. Put the fuel into Gaza and it will end up in Hamas's hand because they're the controlling authority. They have the guns. They have the ability to get their hands in essence on whatever they want. Jake?

TAPPER: All right. Nic, thank you so much. Nic Robertson in Sderot to Israel. Appreciate it. We're just moments away from what looks to be the final decisive vote for House speaker. Mike Johnson, the congressman from Louisiana. We'll bring that to you live, next.