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CNN Live Event/Special

U.S. And Australia Stand Against Putin; Mike Johnson Elected Speaker Of The House. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired October 25, 2023 - 14:00   ET



PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We also see the strength of our alliance and our unwavering support for Ukraine, both countries, as a defense of sovereignty against Putin's brutality and aggression. Australia is a critical partner, together with the United States and 50 other nations, 50 other nations we've been able to put together, all doing our part to support Ukraine. And I want to thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for the new package of military aid you recently announced, -- and it's for Ukraine.

Look, Australia and the United States also share, in my view, a commitment to upholding international rules of the road, including freedom of navigation. Just this past week, the PRC vessels acted dangerously and unlawfully as our Philippine friends conducted a routine resupply mission within their own, their own exclusive economic zone, the South China Sea. I want to be clear; I want to be very clear, the United States defense commitment to the Philippines is ironclad. The United States defense agreement with the Philippines is ironclad.

Any attack on the Filipino aircraft vessels or armed forces will invoke our mutual defense treaty with the Philippines. And Mr. Prime Minister, today we renewed our commitment to defend the values that are at the heart of this alliance, and we continue to stand as one to forge a better future for both of us and all the region. So, I want to thank you again for being here. Thank you for your partnership and your leadership in this critical moment. And I'd like to now turn it over to you.

ANTHONY ALBANESE, AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you very much, Mr. President.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, we're going to continue to monitor this joint news conference, the visiting Australian Prime Minister and the President of the United States. The Prime Minister is about to make some remarks. We'll monitor that. Then they'll take questions, two questions from American journalists, two questions from Australian journalists. We'll have that for you, of course, as well. And Dana, as we were listening to the president of the United States, the House of Representatives made it official.

There is a new speaker of the House of Representatives, Representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, 51 years old. He will become the next speaker of the House. The Republicans finally, after all these weeks, managed to get their act together and do this. None of the Republicans were earlier opposed a Republican nominee for speaker. None voted against, against Mike Johnson, this time, he will become the next speaker of the House.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Fifty-sixth speaker of the House of Representatives in U.S. history. And Wolf, since you and I have been covering Washington and Congress in particular, the criteria for becoming speaker, it was multiple issues. And one was something back in return, namely a vote for speaker. And the ability to lead, to be a proven leader. And Mike Johnson has none of those things, has none of those qualities and none of those characteristics. He's relatively new. And in this particular environment, Wolf, that was the biggest plus for him. That was it.

It's that he doesn't have a lot of personal baggage and that he doesn't have the connections because in this environment, the connections that leaders have made have only made enemies out of a lot of the people in their own conference. And that really speaks volumes, Wolf, about where the House Republican conference is and frankly where the Republican Party is right now that is still led by the former president, Donald Trump.

BLITZER: Very significant historic moment indeed. I want to bring in our Jake Tapper who's joining us now from Tel Aviv. Jake, you've been watching Congress like all of us for a long time. The Republicans, as I keep saying, they finally got their act together. This is truly an important historic moment.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Yeah, and actually I have known Mike Johnson, Speaker Johnson, for about 18 years. I covered a story in Louisiana back in 2005. There was a parish that kept on bringing Christian priests into their parish to do school prayer even though the courts kept on telling them not to do so. And the ACLU kept on challenging the school district in that parish to stop. And he was, Mike Johnson at the time worked for a conservative group called the Alliance Defense Fund, I believe it was called. And at the time I remember being impressed at how smooth an operator he was.


And at how he was able to present very conservative viewpoints, very religious conservative viewpoints, in a very mild-mannered and smooth way. And I remember thinking, this is going to be a congressman someday. I did not, I will confess, did not think that he was going to be Speaker of the House within 20 years of that moment. But it's not entirely a surprise that he has risen so quickly. He has an ability to seem a lot more mainstream than I think the -- his ideology actually is. So, it is not entirely a surprise that he has been able to rise so quickly.

And I think the American people will see, he seems very mild-mannered, he is very smart, he's very charming. His ideology is very far to the right. He's very conservative. He is a true believer. And it's going to be very interesting to see if that's a liability for him, given the fact that I think the centre of his party is actually probably not as conservative as him. The centre of the country, politically, is certainly much more close to the centre. I don't know that it will be a liability for him at all. But it will be interesting to see, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly will be. And I assume in the coming days and weeks, all of us will learn a lot more about Mike Johnson, the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. Jake, you're in Tel Aviv right now. I wonder, I assume you heard what President Biden had to say about the Israel-Hamas war that's ongoing right now. The president was very supportive of Israel's what he called right and responsibility to protect itself. He says Hamas does not represent the vast majority of the Palestinian people in Gaza or any place else. He was very critical of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, attacking Palestinians in the West Bank. And he was very strong in reaffirming his commitment to what is called a two-state solution, Israel alongside a new state of Palestine. I wonder how the Israelis and the Palestinians in the Middle East, where you are, Jake, are going to react to what we just heard from the president.

TAPPER: Yeah, it was very interesting. He seemed to be attempting to strike a balance. First of all, I don't know that his views that Hamas does not represent the views of Palestinians is completely agreed upon. Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, you've had him on your show. I've had him on my show. His view is that Hamas is actually representative of what Palestinians generally believe. And in fact, he argued that the reason that the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank has denied the people of the West Bank an election in years and years is because if they were to have free and fair elections in the West Bank, Hamas would win in a rout.

That is his argument. But beyond that, I think the larger point he's making is that the terrorist tactics of Hamas should not be blamed on the 2.3 million, million. Right now, we're just going to look at some of the footage on the Hill, and we see that Speaker Johnson, newly elected Speaker Johnson, is being welcomed, welcomed on the floor of the House. He is relatively new to -- Congress. Let's break in right now. We're going to listen to President Biden.


UNKNOWN: Mr. President, I want to ask about the conflict, the war in the Middle East. Twenty-four U.S. troops have been injured during 10 drone or rocket attacks on bases and 3 in Syria over the past week. You've told Iran to, quote, be careful as your administration tries to prevent the Israeli Hamas war from expanding into a larger Middle East conflict. But should Americans be worried that the war already is escalating? And after you answer that question, I'd like one more follow up, please.

BIDEN: One or 2 more, huh? Joey, look, we have had troops in the region since 9-11 to go after ISIS and prevent its -- reemergence in both anyway, in the region, having nothing to do with Israel at all. My warning to the Ayatollah was that if they continue to move against those troops, we will respond and he should be prepared. And it's nothing to do with Israel.

UNKNOWN: Well, let me, let me ask my follow up here. I want to discuss, oh, here we go. Yeah, your conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, who obviously you've known for decades and you had a very emotional. trip there last week to Israel. Have you sought assurances from him that he will hold off on a ground invasion into Gaza until the safe release of the hostages can be assured? And of course, those include 10 unaccounted for Americans.


BIDEN: No. What I have indicated to him is that if that's possible to get these folks out safely, that's what he should do. It's their decision. But I did not demand it. I pointed out to him, if it's real, it should be done. Thank you.

UNKNOWN: But aren't these hostages in jeopardy if there is a ground invasion?

BIDEN: You want to make a speech? No, look, obviously they're in jeopardy. The question is whether or not there's any way of getting them out. If we can get them out, we should get them out.

UNKNOWN: Prime Minister Albanese, and welcome again to Washington. President Biden cancelled his May trip to Australia because of debt ceiling talks in Congress to avoid a first ever default here in the US. More recently, congressional action has stalled as House Republicans try to pick a speaker. However, it does appear since we've been out here that the House has elected a Congressman Mike Johnson from Louisiana to that role. But are you worried that the gridlock in Washington will hold up the transfer of nuclear-powered subs to Australia as part of the AUKUS agreement? And are you concerned more broadly that the dysfunction makes the US a less reliable partner?

ALBANESE: I regard the United States as a very reliable partner. And I regard the relationship that I have with the President as second to none of the relationships that I have around the world or indeed domestically for that matter. It's a relationship of trust. And I think this visit symbolises that. This is the ninth visit that I've had with President Biden. I got to meet President Biden when he was Vice President Biden just next door here some years ago. And I'm very confident in the discussions that I've had with Democrats and Republicans that there is very broad support for the AUKUS arrangements and that there will be support for the legislation going forward.

And I think that would be a very good thing. It is in the interest of Australia, but it's also in the interest of the United States. And everyone that I have spoken to similarly in the United Kingdom across the political spectrum are all supportive of the AUKUS arrangements. We in Australia have managed to get it. So, we get one question each. Yeah, good try. But Channel 10 Australia.

UNKNOW: You get him Jojo (ph).

UNKNOWN: President Biden, just staying with AUKUS, AUKUS is in many ways your creation. It's Australia's largest ever defence deal and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has gone all in. Can you give a personal guarantee that you can get all the necessary legislation through Congress and lock in this deal, essentially future proofing it before the end of this presidential term?

BIDEN: Do you know anyone in the elective office can give a personal guarantee that happens?

UNKNOWN: Well, we'd like you to try.

BIDEN: I'm going to try, and I believe it will get done. Look, last week we requested $3.4 billion in supplemental funds to boost submarine production and maintenance to meet US needs and also support AUKUS. Australia is making a significant, significant investment in the United States and its ability to produce submarines as part of this deal. And more importantly, it's important that Congress move quickly. And the fact is that I'm confident that we can get this done because you remember when we put the deal together, the response of Democrats and Republicans in the United States, the response around the free world was this is a very, very good thing. A very good thing. So, the question is not if, but when.

And JoJo told us that we got a new speaker, or likely have a new speaker. I hope that's true because we have to get moving. We have to get moving. And so, I'm confident that we are going to be able to get the money for AUKUS because it's overwhelmingly in our interest. When I was asked, when we put together the deal, I was asked by Xi JinPing when we were just trying to surround China. I said, no, we're not surrounding China. We're just making sure that the sea lanes remain open. He doesn't unilaterally be able to change the rules of the road in terms of what constitutes international airspace and water space, et cetera. And so that's what this is all about.


It's about making sure we have a close, and it's in addition to the fact that we put together the quad, which they didn't like. The quad is a very important piece as well. It's about maintaining stability, stability in the Taiwan Strait, the Indian Ocean, the whole, that whole area. And I think it's going to increase the prospects for long- term peace rather than anything else. Oh, I get that. I get that. Okay. PBS, Ms, Ms. Lopez.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, PBS WHITEHOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President, thank you. If I may, I have a breaking news question, and then an Israel one. First, after 22 days, House Republicans just elected Mike Johnson of Louisiana as the Speaker of the House. Johnson advocated conspiracy theories about voting machines in a rigged election in 2020. He encouraged his colleagues to join a lawsuit to invalidate the results of 4 states. So, if you win re-election in 2024, are you worried that a Speaker Johnson would again attempt to overturn the election?

BIDEN: No, because he cannot. Look, just like I was not worried that the last guy would be able to overturn the election. They have about 60 lawsuits in all the way to the Supreme Court and every time they lost. I understand the Constitution.

LOPEZ: And if I may very quickly, in the 18 days since Hamas killed 1,400 Israelis, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says Israeli forces have killed over 6,000 Palestinians, including 2,700 children. You've previously asked Netanyahu to minimize civilian casualties. Do these numbers say to you that he is ignoring that message?

BIDEN: What they say to me is I have no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed. I'm sure innocents have been killed. And it's the price of waging a war. I think we should be incredibly careful. I think, not we, Israelis should be incredibly careful to be sure that they're focusing on going after the folks that are propagating this war against Israel. And it's against their interest when that doesn't happen. But I have no confidence in the number that the Palestinians are using.

LOPEZ: Thank you, Mr. President. Prime Minister Albanese, you're traveling to China early next month. President Biden has said China should expect, quote, extreme competition from the United States. Do you support extreme competition with China? And what does that look like for you?

ALBANESE: Well, we have strategic competition in our region. That's a fact that we are living with. The relationship with China is one where the principle that I bring to it is to cooperate where we can, disagree where we must, but engage in our national interest. It is in Australia's interests as well as China, but I believe in the global interest for us to have a relationship where there is dialogue. And hence, I welcome the fact that I have been invited to China. I'll be traveling at the same time as we will commemorate 50 years since the first visit by an Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, to China in a short period of time now.

And I think that is a positive thing. It is good that various senior representatives in the US administration have had meetings with their Chinese counterparts in recent times, because dialogue is always a good thing. Through dialogue comes understanding and comes a diffusion of tension. We want a peaceful and secure region, but we want one as well that's based upon the rule of law and where national sovereignty, including issues such as the South China Sea and the right of passage in that important waterway there, the East China Sea, the Taiwan Straits, is respected. And that is Australia's position. We cooperate very much with the, with the United States on those matters and on others, but I look forward to a constructive dialogue when I visit Shanghai and Beijing.

BIDEN: Extreme competition was not conflict. Read the whole paragraph. I talked about we're going to compete with China on every way according to international rules, economically, politically, and other ways, but I'm not looking for conflict.


JEFF CHAMBERS, THE AUSTRALIAN: Jeff Chambers from The Australian. President Biden, as mentioned, Prime Minister Albanese flies to Beijing next Saturday to meet the Chinese President and Premier. Your administration has raised deep concerns over a very long period of time about the Chinese Communist government's aggressive coercion and intimidation tactics, maritime claims in the South China Sea, as we've seen with the situation with the Philippines, state-sponsored cyber- attacks. Last week, we heard from the spy chiefs talking about theft of intellectual property on an industrial scale and obviously human rights abuses. What do you make of China's re-engagement with Australia? Can Australia trust Beijing? And can Australia do business with China?

BIDEN: Trust but verify is the phrase. And look, China is having their own internal and external difficulties right now. China's economic growth is stagnant compared to what it was. China has engaged in activities that Russia and many other activities that others have engaged in, in terms of intimidation and dealing with other countries. But the fact is that I have met with Xi Jinping more than any other world leader has. I've been over 68 hours of private meetings, he and I, with simultaneous interpreters, starting back when I was Vice President, because it wasn't appropriate for a president of the United States to be meeting with the vice president.

So, I travelled 17,000 miles with him. And I've subsequently, in addition to that 68 hours, I've also had another, they tell me they keep meticulous contact, another, I think, 12, 15 hours of discussions, just he and I. And I think that he is realizing that there are, for example, his Belt and Road Initiative. Well, we're going to compete on that. And we're going to, we're doing it a different way. The Belt and Road Initiative has ended up dead in the noose for most of the people signed on. We are working with our G7 partners to provide infrastructure for the very nations that he's trying to deal with. We want to, for example, -- at the G20, we were able to act on a proposal I had to bring, to build a railroad all the way from Riyadh, all the way through the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Israel, up through Greece, and then across the, not the railroad, but pipeline across the Mediterranean, up into Europe.

UNKNOW: You're the reliable partner?

BIDEN: Pardon me?

UNKNOWN: You're the reliable partner in terms of, when you say you're going to deliver something, the U.S. at its part is delivering.

BIDEN: Well, I hope, not just me, I hope the United States is a reliable partner when we act. But it wasn't just the United States that agreed on that. Because look, even to this day, when my discussions with -- the Saudis and the Crown Prince, was he wants to see a reconciliation take place. It's overwhelmingly in his interest. It's in Saudi's interest. The idea that you'd have the nations of the Middle East cooperating, economically and politically, changes the dynamics significantly. And so, I just think that it is, -- it's something that it's in everyone's interest, including long-term, in China's interest.

UNKNOWN: Prime Minister as well. Have you had a chance to speak to Benjamin Netanyahu? I know there's been efforts made. Obviously, the President was there in Israel last week. Are you still endeavouring to speak to the Israeli Prime Minister?

ALBANESE: I am. I have spoken with the Israeli Ambassador on a number of occasions. We continue to, -- we understand that, obviously, Mr. Netanyahu has pressures on, which, at the top of the list, is not. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're going to break away from the White House for a few moments. I want to go to this historic moment in the House of Representatives. Hakeem Jeffries is about to introduce the next Speaker of the House, Representative Mike Johnson, who has just been elected. Let's listen to him.


HAKEEMM JEFFERIES, MINORITY LEADER OF THE U.S HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: From the great state of Louisiana and the 56th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the Honorable Mike Johnson.


REP. MIKE JOHNSON, HOUSE SPEAKER ELECT (R): Thank you. Thank you all. First, a few words of gratitude. I want to thank Leader Jeffries. I do look forward to working with you on behalf of the American people. I know we see things from very different points of view, but I know that in your heart you love and care about this country and you want to do what's right. And so, we're going to find common ground there, all right? I want to express my great thanks for our Speaker Emeritus, Kevin McCarthy.



JOHNSON: Kevin has dedicated over two decades of his life to selfless public service, 16 of those years in this House. And you would be hard-pressed to find anybody who loves this institution more or has contributed more to it. He is the reason we're in this majority today. His impact can never be overstated, and I want to thank him for his leadership, his friendship, and the selfless sacrifice that you and Judy have made for so many years. You helped build it, Kevin, and we owe you a great debt of gratitude. I want to thank the dedicated and overworked staff of this beleaguered House.

They accept praise so stoically. But Ms. Susan Cole, our House Reading Clerk, and, yes, yes --. Listen, all the clerks and all the staff, you know they're terribly overworked. This has been a grueling process, but they have served an integral role in keeping our republic, and we thank them for that service. I know we all do. I want to thank my dedicated wife of almost 25 years, Kelly. She's not here. We couldn't get a flight in time. This happened sort of suddenly. But we're going to celebrate soon. She spent the last couple of weeks on her knees in prayer to the Lord, and she's a little worn out. We all are. I want to thank our children, Michael and Hannah and Abby and Jack and Will. All of our children sacrifice. All of them do, and we know that. There's not a lot of perks to being a member of Congress's kid. And so, I want to thank all your families as well for what they endure and what they've had to endure for the last few weeks. We've been here a while.

I want to thank my faithful mother, Jeannie Johnson, who bore me at the age of 17, and my brothers Chris and Josh and my sister Laura and all their families and all of our extended family. In Louisiana, family is a big deal, and we've got a bunch of them. I especially want to thank all the extraordinary people of the great state of Louisiana. We have never had a Speaker of the House hail from our state, and so they've been lifting us up. I thank the people of Louisiana for the opportunity to serve you in Congress, and I am humbled by your continuous support. We will make you proud. To my colleagues, I want to thank you all for the trust that you have instilled in me to lead us in this historic and unprecedented moment that we're in. The challenge before us is great, but the time for action is now, and I will not let you down.

I want to say to the American people on behalf of all of us here, we hear you. We know the challenges you're facing. We know that -- there's a lot going on in our country, domestically and abroad, and we are ready to get to work again to solve those problems, and we will. Our mission here is to serve you well, to restore the people's faith in this House, in this great and essential institution. My dad -- It was mentioned my dad was a firefighter. He was an assistant chief of the fire department in my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, a little town in northwest Louisiana.