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Trump Attacks Haley, Biden Praises Her As They Each Launch Bids To Win Over Her Supporters; Haley: It's Up To Trump To Earn The Votes OF My Supporters; Trump Calls For Debates With Biden Hours After Haley Suspends Campaign; McConnell Endorses Trump Despite Years Of Clashes And Tension; Dem. Rep. Adam Schiff To Face GOP Ex-Baseball Star Steve Garvey In Marquee California Senate Race; Rep. Adam Schiff, (D-CA), Is Interviewed About Senate Race; Ukraine: Russian Strike Near Zelenskyy's Convoy Kills Five; WHO: Children In Gaza Facing "Severe Levels Of Malnutrition" Amid Humanitarian Aid Shortages; Sen. Menendez Hit With A Dozen New Criminal Charges. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 06, 2024 - 17:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a tough one. I'd have to say April 25 because it's not too hot, not too cold. All you need is the light jacket.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY: We tend to think Trump may approve of that Ms. Congeniality reference, given his affinity for all things well, perfect.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We had a perfect phone call with the President of Ukraine.

The one in Atlanta was a perfect call.

That was a perfect call. This is even more perfect.

Perfect phone call.

Perfect call.

Perfect call. It's congenial.


PHILLIP: We will of course bring you those Supreme Court arguments on April 25. And don't forget your light jacket. The news continues right now on CNN.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, it's game on in the historic Biden-Trump rematch after the Super Tuesday results persuade Nikki Haley to exit the Republican race. We're tracking the fight for her supporters and the strategies on both sides on this, the eve of the President's critical State of the Union address.

Also tonight a big Super Tuesday winner joins us live. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California will weigh in on the next phase of his costly Barkley (ph) campaign for the U.S. Senate and the broader stakes of the 2024 election. And will also get a first-hand account of the deadly Russian attack near the convoy of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. A key Zelenskyy national security adviser who was there joins us live this hour.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the Situation Room.

Tonight, the 2024 floor race for the White House is at a high stakes pivot point after months of anticipation that President Biden and Donald Trump would face off again, Nikki Haley's exit and Super Tuesday have effectively sealed the deal. Our correspondents are covering every angle of this unprecedented moment in American politics. First, let's get to CNN's Kristen Holmes. She's in Florida covering former President Trump.

Kristen, what is Trump now saying after Haley's announcement?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, even wait until after Haley's announcement for firing off on social media. He posted while she was speaking while she was calling on Donald Trump to bring Republicans into the fold to earn the voters that had supported her over him. He lashed out at Haley saying this, "Nikki Haley got trounced last night in record setting fashion despite the fact that Democrats for reasons unknown are allowed to vote in Vermont and various other Republican primaries. Much of her money came from radical left Democrats as did many of her votes and was 50 percent according to the polls. At this point, I hope she stays in the race and fights it out until the end."

That he went on to say that Nikki Haley's supporters should join Donald Trump and that movement again, after saying that they were radical left Democrats. Now, of course, it's also comes after Donald Trump months ago tweeted that anyone who gave information or gave money to Nikki Haley, any donors, would not be welcome into Trump's orbit, which is hard to believe, given that they are very welcoming right now to donors and to people writing checks. But all of this said, there are specific people within Trump's campaign advisors that I'm talking to who say that they know they need some of these Nikki Haley supporters.

Now some of them were Democrats, some of them were never Trumpers, people who were never going to vote for Donald Trump. But there is a faction of these Nikki Haley supporters who are Republicans who are just looking for an alternative but will ultimately back the Republican nominee or likely back the Republican nominee. That is who they are focused on the campaign, reaching out trying to come up with solutions to that.

Well, Donald Trump himself is taking his message in another direction. But it is clearly a pivot to the general election, we saw numerous Republicans coming out to back Donald Trump and Donald Trump saying that he needed to debate President Joe Biden as well. Now, keep in mind, Donald Trump did not participate in one single primary debate essentially saying that he didn't have to because he was leading by such a wide margin, now we have heard from Biden's camp essentially saying this wasn't the time to talk about it. But Donald Trump's team, as we have reported before, they are itching for those general election debates, they want to put him on the stage. They believe this is a big part of their tactic to win in November.

BLITZER: Let's see if that takes place. Kristen Holmes in West Palm Beach, Florida, thank you very much.

There's even more evidence tonight of Donald Trump's tightening grip on the Republican Party. The Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell just endorsed Trump despite a years long history of friction between them. Let's go to our Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju. He's up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, tell us about this major endorsement and how it actually came about.


MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Mitch McConnell has indicated for some time that he would ultimately endorse the Republican nominee. But he has a tortured past with Donald Trump. They have not spoken since December 2020 in the aftermath of the Electoral College certification of Joe Biden's victory, Mitch McConnell declared Joe Biden the winner, they have not spoken since that point. The then president was angry at him for that, McConnell did vote to acquit him in his second impeachment trial after January 6, but then blamed him on the floor of the Senate said Trump was morally and practically responsible for the attacks that day. Ultimately trumped then bust McConnell and his wife repeatedly sometimes in racist terms to his wife, Elaine Chao, a Taiwanese immigrant.

So today I had a chance to ask McConnell how he reconciles his past without his support of his party's nominee.


RAJU: How do you reconcile your Trump endorsement with the fact that you call him practically and morally responsible for January 6? And, and the fact that he insulted you and your wife repeatedly?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: On February the 25th 2021, shortly after the attack on the Capitol, I was asked a similar question, and I said, I would support the nominee for president even if it were the former president. And he obviously is going to be the nominee of our party.


RAJU: Then just to look back, though, Wolf, at what he said on the Senate floor in the aftermath of January 6.


MCCONNELL: President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS HOST: If the president was the party's nominee, would you support him?

MCCONNELL: The nominee of the party? Absolutely.


RAJU: So, this represents, Wolf, and really the Republican establishment falling in line behind their party's nominee despite their concerns about the past, despite everything they have said in the past. We have seen not just Mitch McConnell, but all of his top deputies on his leadership team, Senate Republicans, in particular, top Senate Republicans were slow to embrace Donald Trump, unlike their counterparts in the House that have fallen in lockstep behind Trump. But now that he is on his way to getting the nomination, things have changed, as you can see from Mitch McConnell's announcement there. But Wolf, they still have not spoken despite that announcement that came today.

BLITZER: Interesting. Very interesting, indeed. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.

Now to President Biden in his emerging political strategy as his rematch with Donald Trump is now set in a State of the Union addresses tomorrow. CNN Senior White House correspondent MJ Lee is on the story for us.

MJ, how is the President seizing and all these developments on the Republican side just ahead of his critical speech to Congress?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, with just one last man standing in the Republican contest, this really is the official beginning of the general election for the Joe Biden campaign. That means that everything that the campaign does going forward increasingly so is going to be with an eye towards November and really broadening out Joe Biden's base and coalition going forward. Now, even before Nikki Haley officially dropped out of the presidential race this morning, we know that the Biden campaign officials and that team have been watching those supporters. These are the folks that they see as sort of the gettable voters, the folks who they say are turned off sort of permanently by Donald Trump.

And the statement that we saw from President Biden earlier today, after Nikki Haley dropped out, we saw him explicitly making that outreach to precisely those voters. He said in that statement, "Donald Trump made it clear that he doesn't want Nikki Haley supporters. I want to be clear that there is a place for them in my campaign."

So, Wolf, I think just looking ahead to the rest of the week for the Biden campaign and the Biden White House. There really is no separating out Super Tuesday last night and the State of the Union remarks that are coming up on Thursday. I think the very themes that are animating the general election argument for President Biden, those are the themes that we very much expect to see woven throughout his speech coming up on Thursday, and obviously incredibly important, because this is the last time that he'll have that setting to address folks before he faces voters again in November, Wolf.

BLITZER: He'll have a huge audience around the country on television to be sure. Thanks very much, MJ Lee, at the White House.

Let's break all of this down with our political experts. And Jamie Gangel, Trump slammed Haley, as we all know --


BLITZER: -- while also trying to extend somewhat of an olive branch to her supporters right now. But her campaign expose some potential setbacks and serious problems that Trump has right now.

GANGEL: Absolutely. Yes, Donald Trump has his base. We have known that the whole time. And now he is the presumptive nominee. But now we asked to think of out the general election and the people who voted for Nikki Haley and some of the other Republican candidates he needs them because his one political strategist said to me, this comes down to four words, get out the vote in those battleground states. So he needs women, he needs Independents, he needs suburbans.


Is he going to get the die hard never Trumpers? Probably not. But those people in the middle, he needs to get them.

BLITZER: It was interesting, Gloria, because Haley said it's up to Trump to earn the votes of her supporters. How does he go about doing that?

GANGEL: Including her vote.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: By not coming out and criticizing Nikki Haley at every moment. You know, the exit polls last night were really interesting. There was one in North Carolina in which 81 percent of Haley supporters said that their votes for Trump are not automatic, that that they wouldn't necessarily go to Trump. And, you know, he has to earn her vote as well. I mean, she had a lot of things to say about him during the campaign, largely on foreign policy.

And, you know, so these folks are not necessarily going to go to Donald Trump. They're also not necessarily going to go to Joe Biden. They're kind of in the wilderness right now. And, you know, there's a phrase some pollsters are using called double haters, people who hate both of these candidates and don't know what to do. And I think a lot of the Haley supporters fit into that category right now.

BLITZER: You know Maria Cardona, I thought it was interesting that shortly after Haley delivered her speech today dropping out of the race, Donald Trump immediately called for debates with Biden even though he had ducked all those debates with the Republican candidates leading up to now. What do you make of that?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that just signifies that he is ready. Even though he hasn't gotten the nomination, officially, he is ready to call this a general election, and it's off to the races. And that's fine. Because tomorrow night, for Joe Biden's State of the Union speech, that's going to be essentially his very first general election speech as well.

And I think in that speech, you're going to see Joe Biden do a couple of things. He's going to lay out his accomplishments, but he's going to be very personal about it in terms of everything that he has done to boost the economy on a macro level, but also on a very micro level, which is what people haven't really felt yet, right? He is going to really lay that out. And then he's also going to talk about remind people, you know, the body and the mind have a way of forgetting trauma, we suffered trauma under four years of Donald Trump. And so it doesn't surprise me that a lot of people maybe have fuzzy memory about that. The Biden campaign, and I think starting tomorrow night without necessarily mentioning Donald Trump, Joe Biden, the President is going to remind people exactly what is at stake that this is a more dangerous, a more feral, a more retribution obsessed Donald Trump this time around than what we have ever seen. And that Joe Biden is the only one who has beat him before, he's the only one who can beat him again.

BLITZER: We'll see how he does it tomorrow night in official speech before a joint meeting of the House and the Senate. So you've got to be a little careful and not get too much politics in there. Not too much blasting of Trump.

Scott Jennings, on this McConnell endorsement, this is what McConnell told Politico's Jonathan Martin about Trump's behavior that day. Let me put it up on the screen. I'll read it. "He put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. I feel exhilarated by the fact that this fellow finally totally discredited himself."

You know Mitch McConnell very well. How does he go from that stinging criticism to endorsing Trump for the office he says that Trump disgraced?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, number one, he is, as he said in his press conference today, he said he was always going to support the party's nominee. And he's had that position since way back in 2021. And number two, you know, his punditry there, like a lot of Republicans turned out to be false. I mean, the fact is, a lot of people after January 6 thought Donald Trump was going to be left for dead politically by both parties and most Americans and that just hasn't turned out to be the case. As we saw last night, the Republican Party has coalesced around him.

He's got the Republican institutional leadership now with McConnell and others. I mean, he's got a pretty unified party. These polls are talking about with Republicans who supported Nikki Haley, I don't actually think these people are Republicans in the traditional sense anymore, I don't think a lot of them voted for Trump before, I don't think they intend to vote for him now. And I think, frankly, when you look at going from McConnell's endorsement today to all the votes that he's gotten in these primaries, you could make a strong argument that his party is far more unified behind him than Biden is behind him.

BLITZER: Interesting. You know, it's interesting, Jamie, as you well know, because you've been covering this for quite a while, Liz Cheney is again, bugging her fellow Republicans writing this on social media. Let me quote her. "We have eight buttons to save our republic and ensure Donald Trump is never anywhere near the oval office again." What are you learning about what she's planning?


GANGEL: This is game on for Liz Cheney. Now that Trump is really the presumptive nominee, he'll probably clinch the delegates next week. She has announced today, again, really what she has said she will do and that is she has vowed to do whatever it takes to keep him from being reelected. I expect this means she will be calling out Trump very actively. I think she may be traveling to battleground states.

And I also would not be surprised to see Cheney campaigning for Democrats, especially for the House and Senate because she thinks it is critical for Democrats to control the Congress. We are in an upside down world.

BLITZER: Will she endorse Biden?

GANGEL: She has not said whether or not she will endorse him yet. But she has said very specifically, she will do whatever it takes to keep Trump from winning.

BLITZER: Historic exciting times, indeed.

BORGER: She can talk to those Haley voters.

CARDONA: Oh, he's just --

GANGEL: Absolutely right.

CARDONA: Exactly right.

BORGER: Those kind of undecided voters who may be --


BORGER: -- clean Democrat or, you know, middle of the road. You know, Liz Cheney can be quite persuasive.

GANGEL: No question.

CARDONA: That's exactly right. Make the same arguments that Nikki Haley has made.


BLITZER: All right, everybody standby --

BORGER: And more.

BLITZER: -- we have a lot more to discuss.

Coming up also, a Russian missile strike in southern Ukraine kills five people. Our next guest was traveling with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy when his convoy was almost hit by that Russian strike. Stay with us. You're in the Situation Room.



BLITZER: All right, this just into CNN, the House has just passed a package of six key funding bills as lawmakers race against the clock to beat a Friday deadline to avoid a federal government shutdown. Now the measures go to the Senate. We'll watch this very, very closely. Very significant.

Right now let's turn to one of the highest profile and most expensive U.S. Senate races in the nation. Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California is now set to face off against the Republican, the former baseball star Steve Garvey, for the Senate seat previously held by the late Dianne Feinstein. Schiff and Garvey advanced in yesterday's open primary as the two top vote getters beating out Democratic Congresswoman Katie Porter and Barbara Lee. Congressman Adam Schiff is joining us now live.

Congressman, first of all, congratulations to you. Thank you very much for joining us. Some Democrats, as you well know, have accused your campaign of boosting Republican Steve Garvey. This is what Congresswoman Katie Porter said about that last night. Listen to this.


REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA), FORMER CALIFORNIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Our opponents threw everything, every trick, millions of dollars, every trick in the playbook to knock us off our feet. And our opponents spending more to boost the Republican than promoting his own campaign.


BLITZER: So congressman, how do you respond to that?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), CALIFORNIA SENATE CANDIDATE: We ran a campaign, Wolf, based on my record of leadership and the really big fights, the challenge of protecting our democracy for a man who wants to be a dictator on day one, but also my ability to deliver for Californians. What I've been able to do in terms of bringing back millions to build affordable housing, build an early earthquake warning system, I work to establish the goal line light rail to bring up to date textbooks to our classrooms. I'm the author of the California Patient Bill of Rights.

And I think what you're seeing in some of my Democratic colleagues is the frustration that a narrower message that is more based on performance art than performing an office just doesn't resonate. And I think there's a message here for Democrats around the country, and that is, voters value results, not just rhetoric, not just who can produce viral videos, but they want someone who gets the job done. And that's what I'm offering to California. And I think that's what propelled us in the primary and will propel us in the general election as well.

BLITZER: Yes, you had an impressive win in the primary. Congressman, as you know, President Biden will make his State of the Union address tomorrow night. That speech comes amid a string of new polls showing him losing, potentially, to Donald Trump in November. What does the President need to do tomorrow night to turn his campaign around?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, I think if our campaign and success in a state like California is any indication, he needs to emphasize what he has done. And what he has done has been remarkable, the most aggressive effort to combat climate change in history, the infrastructure bill, the CHIPS and Science act that brought back so many jobs and continues to, but also how he'll continue to address these challenges that people are facing. People are working harder than ever and still struggling to pay the rent or pay their mortgage or put food on the table. So both what he has done, which is remarkable, what he is going to do. And I think the contrast also between someone who's good and wise and decent in Joe Biden with, you know, someone who has no ethical compass and Donald Trump is going to smell victory at the end of the day.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll see how the President does all that tomorrow night in the State of the Union address. As you know better than I do, a pro-Palestinian protesters disrupted your victory speech last night out there in California. Super Tuesday, by the way saw many Democrats vote uncommitted to oppose President Biden's handling of Israel's war against Hamas. Is the Biden administration, Congressman, doing enough right now to put pressure on Israel? And do you fear this could potentially cost Democrats a whole bunch of votes in November?


SCHIFF: I think the President is doing what he should do, and that is tried to bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict, try to make sure that a terrorist group no longer governs in Gaza, that the hostages are released, that we get back to a path to a two state solution, and then figure out the political consequences of doing the right thing later. But not the other way around. I'm glad he's not approaching this from the perspective of what's best for me politically, but rather, what's best for the rest of the world, what's best for bringing about a lasting resolution. We have two states living side by side in peace and security.

So, I think he's doing the hard work. And I want to see a hope, a deal in which hostages are released. There is a pause in the fighting to get those hostages out to get more aid into people in Gaza, to make sure that there's food and medicine for innocent civilians in Gaza. But we also need to make sure that a terrorist group is no longer running Gaza.

BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, once again, congratulations to you. We'll stay in close touch. We'll invite you of course back here on several occasions. Appreciate it very much. Thank you.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, I'll ask a key adviser to the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the Russian attack that came dangerously close to their presidential convoys. We'll get his first head account right after the break.



BLITZER: We're following very dramatic developments in Ukraine right now, where at least five people are dead after a Russian strike hit just what 500 meters from a convoy carrying President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the visiting Greek Prime Minister.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): We saw the strike today. You can see who we are dealing with. They don't care where they strike. I know that there are victims today. I don't know all the details yet. But I know that there are dead and wounded. We need to defend ourselves, first and foremost. The best way to do that is with an air defense system.


BLITZER: Right now I want to bring in Igor Zhovkva. He's the chief diplomatic adviser to President Zelenskyy. Igor, thank you very much for joining us. You were with President Zelenskyy in Odesa, when this Russian attack struck very close by. What happened exactly? Can you share with us what was going on? And do you have any indication at all that Russia was specifically targeting your group?

IGOR ZHOVKVA, DEPUTY HEAD OF THE OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: Look, we were in the end of the visiting the port of Odesa and my President was showing to Prime Minister Mitsotakis, how the green corridor work in. The green corridor was Ukraine established despite Russian efforts to break our cargo transportation of grain to the poorest countries.

And we were ending this presentation. And I mean, boarding the cars in the motorcade when we saw the strike actually. And then that's what was happening. It's really was less than 500 meters from us. What was that, you cannot exclude anything with these insane people who are striking every day, every night, every corner of my country. So you cannot exclude it was directed at the delegation of my President or at the delegation of the foreign guests.

What we exactly know that Russia is doing this day by day, night by night, the previous night in Odesa, 20 drones were hit in Odesa. And almost all of them were intersected. What we also know that several days ago, the drone was hitting the residential area, the outskirts of Odesa, killing 12 people. And part of the building was completely demolished, ground zero, and 12 people were killed, including five children. The smallest was just four months old and the eldest was nine years old.

So that is what is going on in my country. They really -- they don't care where to hit. They hit against peaceful citizens. They hit across the fire of high level guests. They hit across civilian infrastructure. That's what they do.

BLITZER: After today's strike, Igor, do you believe President Zelenskyy is in any sort of danger, specific danger from the Russians? How closely is Russia tracking his movements?

ZHOVKVA: Well, I do know how close the Russia is striking his movements. But I know that Russia is tracking all the Ukrainian nation. I mean, yes, they want to destroy us as a nation. They want to destroy Ukrainian people. That's what they are doing practically from the first day not only of open aggression, which started in 2022, but starting from 2014. And this is what unfortunately, we can say that it will happen because this ballistic missile was coming from the territory of the occupied Crimea, and it took to the missile less than three minutes to reach the target, the target of the site of the port of Odesa.

And unfortunately, carefully mentioned, at least five people were killed and several and several injured. So we're all in danger. And certainly we cannot have it as it is. The main thing for the international community after this incident, to help us with more air defense. Had we had enough air defense, this ballistic missile could have been intercepted because we exactly know that the patriot systems can intercept ballistic missiles. It was proven several times in Ukraine. Had we had the long range or artillery we could have reached to the Crimea, to the occupied Crimea and just destroyed this launcher who today made this horrible attack.


BLITZER: Speaking of air defense systems, we also just heard President Zelenskyy say Ukraine desperately needs more air defenses. But as you know, Igor, do U.S. aid to Ukraine is still hung up in the U.S. Congress. How difficult is it for Ukraine to fight this war right now without more U.S. weapons and ammunition?

ZHOVKVA: It's really difficult because, you know, every day of procrastination, every day of any procedures to do or thinking is unfortunately, bringing additional deaths to Ukrainians, additional wounded people. So yes, we need air defense, we need the air defense not somewhere in storages. But such state just like Kharkiv, like Odesa, like Dnipro, like other cities of Ukraine. So yes, we count on the -- there is bigger procedure of the Congress, my President is in constant dialogue with both representatives of both parties is in contact with the U.S. administration.

We do hope that in a very soon manner, this issue will be tackled. We will have the supplementary financing for our immediate needs, because they will not only help us to regain to renew our counter offensive, but they will save lives, so we brace.

BLITZER: And if that additional U.S. military assistance doesn't come forward. What is your greatest fear?

ZHOVKVA: Well, if the additional Ukrainian -- U.S. support will not come for what it will be much more difficult for us really difficult, we will be really in danger. But what should we do? We will definitely fight. Well will definitely fight because what is left for Ukraine, we will need to restore our territory. We need to defend life of our people. We need to win.

BLITZER: Igor Zhovkva, thank you very much for joining us. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the people of Ukraine. Thank you once again.

And just ahead, some of the youngest victims of war, you're going to see how the conflict between Israel and Hamas is taking a huge toll on children stuck in Gaza.



BLITZER: Now to the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. At least 20 people including babies have starved to death in North Gaza, that according to the Palestinian health officials. CNN's Nada Bashir reports on the children who are enduring the brunt of this crisis. And a warning to our viewers the content you are about to see is disturbing. But the mothers of the children you are about to see what their story is seen.


NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER (voice-over): Tiny limbs, bones protruding. The constant sound of crying from children now facing starvation in Gaza. In this overrun hospital ward, anxious mothers watch on as doctors provide whatever care they still can. But for some, there is nothing more to be done. Three year old Mila, who had been suffering from acute malnutrition, now another victim of this merciless war.

She was healthy. There was nothing wrong with her before. Mila's mother says. Then suddenly, everything dropped. She wasn't eating anything. We had no milk, no eggs, nothing. She used to eat eggs everyday before the war. But now we have nothing.

Across Gaza, too many are feeling the pain of this deepening hunger crisis. Small children emaciated and malnourished, these were little Yazan's (ph) final moments. His tiny fingers gripped in his mother's hand. He like Mila would not make it. Others are still just barely holding on. But there is no telling how long they will survive.

Standing beside Mila's body, Dr. Ahmed Sanam (ph) says many children at this hospital are now dying due to a lack of food and oxygen supplies. With limited aid getting in, many have grown desperate, searching for food wherever they can. Nine-year-old Mohamed (ph) says he walks for about a mile every day to collect water for his family.

You seem sad, why, this journalist asked him. Because of the war, he says. It is all too much. On Tuesday, U.N. experts accused Israel of intentionally starving the Palestinian people in Gaza. Noting that the Israeli military is now targeting both civilians seeking aid and humanitarian convoys. Israel has denied targeting civilians and says that there is, quote, no limit to the amount of humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza. But the reality on the ground paints a very different picture.

There is no food, no water, no flour, cooking oil or anything, this woman says. Death is better than this. According to a senior U.N. official, at least a quarter of Gaza's population is now said to be just one step away from famine.

With aid agencies facing overwhelming obstacles in getting the bare minimum of supplies into Gaza, and as Israel's ground offensive threatens to push further into the strip's densely populated South, time is quickly running out.



BLITZER: And Nada is joining us now live. Nada, how systemic are these issues of getting aid in?

BASHIR: Well, look, Wolf, the extent of the obstruction that we are seeing is troubling. The United Nations says some 40 percent of admissions under their coordination were either denied or obstructed by Israel last month. We are still seeing the prolonged closure of border crossings from Israel into Gaza.

And we are also still seeing Israeli protesters physically blocking aid trucks from accessing Gaza with little to no intervention from security forces on the ground. Now, we are beginning to hear from international allies of Israel, including the United States taking a firmer stance when it comes to pressuring Israel to allow for more aid to get into Gaza. The Biden administration has been clear, they've said that there is simply no excuse for more aid not to be allowed in.

We know according to the Pentagon, as well, that the U.S. is considering a maritime corridor it is reviewing its options there. And of course, we have seen humanitarian aid now being air dropped into Gaza by the U.S. and other international allies, that that has drawn some criticism from aid agencies have described this as a temporary measure carried out with little to no consideration for how this aid can be safely and fairly distributed on the ground.

Now, of course, the amount of aid actually getting in at this stage is simply not enough. It is a drop in the ocean in comparison to what is actually needed in Gaza. And as you saw in our report there, Gaza is teetering on the brink of an outright famine. Wolf?

BLITZER: It is so heartbreaking indeed. Nada Bashir, thank you very much for that report.

Right now, I want to get to a Houthi ballistic missile strike on a commercial ship in the Red Sea today that killed at least three crew members on board. It's the first time casualties have been reported marking a significant escalation in the conflict. CNN's Oren Liebermann is joining us live from the Pentagon right now. What are you learning, Oren?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have seen about 45 attacks on commercial and U.S. Navy vessels over the course of the past several months as the Houthis began attacking commercial shipping lanes in the Red Sea. You see there, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, but those have dramatically escalated over the course of the past few days.

First, we saw the Rubymar ship associated with the U.K. That was the first ship attack by the Houthis to sink and this in and of itself is an escalation, an anti-ship ballistic missile launched against the True Confidence, a ship that his Barbados flag and Liberia owned according to U.S. Central Command. That attack did serious damage to the ship itself. It killed at least three crew members and wounded four more according to Central Command. Three of those are in critical condition. They have been evacuated from the True Confidence. Again that is a Liberia flag, I'm sorry, Barbados flag Liberia own vessel that came under attack.

U.S. Central Command points out that there have been five anti-ship ballistic missiles launched by the Houthis towards both commercial vessels and the USS Kearny, a destroyer in the region, so these attacks continue. Wolf?

BLITZER: Oren Liebermann, at the Pentagon. Thank you very much.

Coming up, a dozen new criminal charges for embattled Senator Bob Menendez why federal prosecutors are now accusing the New Jersey Democrat of obstruction, bribery and extortion.



BLITZER: There's more trouble tonight for Senator Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat embroiled in a foreign influence scandal, a superseding indictment unveiled by the U.S. Justice Department adding a slew of new criminal accounts and fresh legal peril. CNN's Kara Scannell has the latest.


KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Embattled Senator Bob Menendez, now facing a dozen new criminal charges stemming from a years long bribery scheme.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you planning on running for reelection?

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D-NJ): You can have the statement.

SCANNELL (voice-over): Federal prosecutors allege the New Jersey Senator obstructed their investigation by feeding false information to his attorney who passed it on to authorities. A grand jury indicted Menendez on 12 new counts including conspiracy, obstruction of justice, acting as a foreign agent, bribery and extortion. Prosecutors allege the senator and his wife, Nadine, received hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, including mortgage payments and a Mercedes Benz convertible. A search of their home turned up $480,000 in cash, including envelopes of money stuffed in jacket pockets and gold bars.

MENENDEZ: For 30 years, I have withdrawn thousands of dollars in cash from my personal savings account, which I have kept for emergencies.

SCANNELL (voice-over): In exchange, the then Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who still sits on the panel allegedly agreed to help the governments of Egypt and Qatar and three New Jersey businessmen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, anything to say this morning?

SCANNELL (voice-over): Menendez is now charged with causing his lawyer to mislead prosecutors by saying the car and mortgage payments were loans. In fact, authorities say Menendez knew that payments were bribes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The indictment alleges that Senator Menendez use his power and influence to benefit the government of Egypt in various ways.

SCANNELL (voice-over): The new charges come after New Jersey businessman, Jose Uribe, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with investigators. The senator who is up for reelection this year has strongly denied the allegations, saying quote, these prosecutors are trying to get me to give in simply by making wild allegations again and again without actually proving anything. I am innocent and will prove it no matter how many charges they continue to pile on. And he resisted calls from fellow Democrats to resign.

MENENDEZ: A sensationalized allegations are now creating a rising call for my resignation despite my innocence, and before a single piece of evidence has even been introduced in a court of law. The United States Attorney's Office is engaged not in a prosecution but a persecution. They seek a victory not justice.


SEN. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA): He has the right to have his day in court and absolutely, but he doesn't have the right to necessarily be a senator, and he definitely doesn't have the right to be in classified briefings would that involve nations that he is now credibly accused of being a foreign agent of.


SCANNELL (on camera): Wolf, today, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was deeply disappointed with Menendez's conduct. This comes as the race for his Senate seat is heating up in the Garden State. The Senator has three -- less than three weeks to decide if he's going to run for reelection. And he is two months away from his criminal trial. Wolf? BLITZER: All right, we'll see what happens. Kara Scannell reporting, thank you very much.

Coming up, we'll have more on our top story. The Biden-Trump rematch coming into sharp focus tonight, as Nikki Haley suspends her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Stay with us. You're in the Situation Room.