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State of the Race with Kasie Hunt

Iran State Media: 100+ People Killed In Blasts Near Soleimani's Grave, Officials Blame Terror Attack; Iranian State TV: First Explosion Caused By Suitcase Bomb; Senior Hamas Leader Assassinated In Lebanon. Aired 11a-12p ET

Aired January 03, 2024 - 11:00:00   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN HOST, STATE OF THE RACE: Good day, everyone. I'm Kasie Hunt. To our viewers watching in the United States and around the world, it

is 11 a.m. here in Washington. It's Wednesday, January 3.

And we actually begin our breaking coverage today in the Middle East, because we have breaking news out from Iran. State media report more than

100 people killed and many more injured in two explosions in what officials are calling a terrorist attack. The blasts happened in the city of Kerman,

near the grave of slain military commander Qasem Soleimani. Soleimani was killed by a U.S. air strike four years ago.

CNN's Nada Bashir is following developments from Beirut. Nada, what's the latest on this?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: OK. This is certainly a developing story, but we are now getting more details from officials on the ground. As cited by

state media, as you mentioned, there are two separate blasts taking place in Kerman, injuring at least 141, but it was killing more than 100 people,

according to the latest count, as reported by state media, citing officials on the ground. There have been questions, of course, around the cause of

these twin blasts. And we have now heard from state media reporting that that first blast which took place at around 3 p.m. local time, according to

the country's interior minister, was caused by a bomb placed in a suitcase, placed in a car. Now, this car was located some 700 meters away from the

burial site of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani.

A second blast is said to have taken place about 20 minutes later, this blast about a kilometer away from a path where checkpoints were located for

pilgrims to pass through in order to visit the burial site of Qasem Soleimani. And according to an interview that Iran's Interior Minister gave

to us at the state broadcaster just a little earlier, the majority of those so far killed were killed by that second blast after rushing to the scene

of the explosion to provide assistance.

Now, of course, we have seen those dramatic videos emerging of crowds running away from the scene, emergency services rushing to support and help

those injured and those killed in this incident. Of course, state media now characterizing this, citing officials as a terrorist incident. Important to

note, of course, that this -- these twin blasts took place on the day which marks four years since Qasem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. strike on

Baghdad International Airport as ordered by then-U.S. President Donald Trump.

So, we would have been anticipating to see these enormous crowd gatherings to pay their respects to Qasem Soleimani. We are of course still monitoring

the situation, getting more details from the ground reports, a huge point of concern. We are also expecting to hear just this hour from the Secretary

General of the Iran-backed group in Lebanon, Hezbollah. Hassan Nasrallah set to give a speech today to mark the anniversary of Qasem Soleimani's

killing. Of course, we will be waiting to see his comments with regards to this latest incident, if it does -- if indeed he does address this attack.

HUNT: All right. Nada Bashir for us in Beirut. Nada, thank you for that report.

We're going to discuss all of this with our panel. Brett Bruen is President of the Global Situation Room; Laura Barron-Lopez is a CNN Political

Analyst, also White House Correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, and Washington Post Columnist, Josh Rogin also joins us.

Josh Rogin, can I start with you, although I don't -- there we go. Can we kind of look at the context here? And they're calling this a terror attack.

I want to underscore that CNN, we don't know. We don't have any information right now. What we know is what Nada just told us. But, of course, there

are concerns about the potential for the conflict that we're seeing between Israel and Hamas escalating to other parts of the region. Can you help us

understand kind of the contours of this? Why might there have been an attack at Qasem Soleimani's gravesite, especially now, and how it's

reverberating there?

JOSH ROGIN, COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right. Well, again, to be clear, we don't know. It's still early. But, generally, this fits a pattern

of attacks on Shiite, religious, significantly traveled places by Sunni militant groups. The most likely scenario, Occam's razor says, this was a

Sunni militant group attacking a Shiite place of worship. Of course, there are other possibilities, but the Iranian government hasn't waited to

actually do the investigation before immediately pointing to Israel. And that's where we get into sort of the real danger of an escalation that is

already happening of following this week's killing of a Hamas leader inside Beirut, which has already brought regional tensions to a boil.


So, even before we know who conducted this attack, it's very clear that Iran is going to blame Israel, and therefore, Iran will plan some sort of

retaliation on Israel. And when you think about what's going on in Israel, in the Gaza war, in its northern front facing Lebanon, what's going on in

the Red Sea with the Houthis attacking Israeli merchant ships, U.S. troops and all of these countries getting attacked in Iraq, you can see that this

is just pouring kerosene on the fire. You can see that this escalation ladder is getting pretty janky, and that all of the risks and all of the

dangers of this escalating into a wider war, again, with thousands of U.S. troops caught in the middle, is getting very, very high.

So, again, it doesn't really matter yet who did this. The point is that the escalation is very possible, especially in the next 48 to 72 hours.

HUNT: Right. It's a tinderbox.

Brett Bruen, you spent your career or much of your career as a diplomat. Obviously, when something like this happens, phones start ringing, cables

start flying. What is your understanding of what might be going on behind the scenes here? And do you agree with Josh's assessment? What do you see

as the realm -- within the realm of possibility?


think it is correct. This does have a lot of the hallmarks of a Sunni extremist terrorist group that was potentially trying to create some show

of force at obviously an important moment/ milestone, Qasem Soleimani's four-year anniversary of his assassination.

However, I think Josh also raised a number of important points, and I don't want to get too speculative here.

HUNT: Sure.

BRUEN: But, nonetheless, I think it's important for just the broader context, because it is a tinderbox situation. One, you have different

factions within Iran. And this is a moment potentially for one faction to show weakness on the part of another faction, potentially even the Iranian

government. The second, which obviously Tehran is going to say, let's blame Israel. But, there is no indication that I've seen yet that this was an

Israeli operation. I think it's important to make that point in light of the assassination that did take place over the weekend against Hamas'

second in command.

However, it provides a Iran potentially a pretext, whether it's for going after Israeli interest, or let's not forget, four years ago, Iran held its

fire and did not respond in the way that many were expecting after such an important military strategist was taken off of the battlefield.

HUNT: Yeah.

BRUEN: Four years later, during the election year in the U.S., could we potentially see Iran? This is the beginning of Iran trying to further

destabilize what is already a very combustible region.

HUNT: Yeah, for sure. Laura, what are you hearing at this point from your sources at the White House? I mean, we also and Brett and Nada touched on

this as well, there was this assassination that Israelis -- Israel doesn't take credit or say yes or no that we did this. But, there are former

Israeli officials who are out there congratulating the security services on the assassination of this Hamas figure. The White House is out there saying

that they weren't aware that Israel was going to do this. How concerned are officials right now about the possible escalation here?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, & WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "PBS NEWSHOUR": Well, they're gravely concerned about an escalation into a

regional conflict, and they have been since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, and since attacked October 7. And so, they've been frantically working

to try to make sure that this doesn't escalate further. I mean, officials are still gathering information about the explosion in Iran on that front.

And so, we haven't heard from the White House on that yet. But, I think this is certainly something that, to your point, in an election year, the

President is just about to start his campaign in a matter of days, give his first campaign speech about domestic issues.

But, front and center on a lot of Americans find, particularly the Democratic coalition that Biden has relied on, is what is going on in the

Middle East. And it is what is happening with the Israel-Hamas conflict. And you're seeing that this is just becoming more fraught for the President

here at home, and that he is going to have to really show that he is actively working to try to see if there could be an end to what's occurring

over there.

HUNT: Yeah. Josh Rogin, can I ask you to weigh in on what Brett was talking about here with the sort of lack of Iranian response in the wake of the

initial killing during the Trump administration of Qasem Soleimani, and how they view Biden compared to how they viewed Trump, and how that fits in

with the election?

ROGIN: Right. Well, I reported on that extensively at the time. What I remember is that the Iranians did respond by sending missiles against U.S.

bases and actually injuring dozens, if not hundreds of U.S. troops who had traumatic brain injuries. And then, there was a re-retaliation (ph), and it

almost broke out into full scale war. Actually, President Trump pulled us back from the brink against the advice of like Pompeo and John Bolton, by

the way.


But, that's neither here nor there. The point is that neither side, the U.S. or Iran, wants an all-out war. What Iran is doing is it's activating

its proxies to harass the United States and Israel to put pressure on them to pull back in Gaza, but without spilling out into all-out war. But,

that's a very tricky calculation for them to make about our deterrence, and it's a very tricky calculation for us to make about their deterrence. And

in that misunderstanding, in that miscommunication, in that gap of knowledge and understanding of where everyone's red lines are, that's where

the risk of the war actually resides.

HUNT: Right. Brett, final word to you. You also, of course, have what's going on with the Houthis and Yemen. That also ties into this, and makes

the situation even more combustible.

BRUEN: It does, and you have tankers that are getting attacked. You have over 115, I think at last count, attacks against U.S. troops by, as Josh

was saying, Iranian-backed groups. I think all of this raises the specter that one miscalculation, that one potentially unseen wrinkle in some of

these plans, because let's bear in mind, today's attack was planned, planned by someone and somebody has an agenda here. And yet, obviously, it

can quickly spill over and the consequences of that, with everything that's going on in the region at the moment, is just quite extraordinary.

And last point, Donald Trump, there is a domestic play to what just took place here. And I think Donald Trump is going to look to make hay, trying

to make those comparisons with Joe Biden about what he would do at this moment, which obviously also increases the pressure on the White House,

because Trump is going to be out there saber rattling, and that is going to add to the pressure here in Washington.

HUNT: All right. Brett Bruen, Josh Rogin, thank you both very much for that conversation. Laura Barron-Lopez is going to stay with us.

Up next here, the Biden campaign hoping to cast their 2024 campaign as a fight for the soul of democracy, for the soul of America. We'll look ahead

to the President's January 6 speech, planned for Saturday. Plus, Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis hitting the campaign trail in the final stretch. The

final push out of the Iowa caucuses, up after the break.




HUNT: Welcome back. President Joe Biden is kicking off the New Year with his first major campaign push. He is planning to give a speech on January 6

near Valley Forge, where George Washington camped in the winter 1777 with the Continental Army. Just to spell that out a little more clearly,

President Biden will start 2024 near the place where the first Americans spent a terrible winter fighting to keep the still unrealized dream of a

free democratic America alive. And he'll do it three years to the day after rioters breached the U.S. Capitol at the urging of a President who wanted

to stay in office after he lost an election. Got it? I think we got it.

The Trump campaign, meanwhile, kicked off the year with a memo outlining their central arguments, including trying to say President Biden is

undermining American democracy, and also previewing how they will defend the former President against criticism over those four criminal indictments

that he is facing. "These are not just indictments against Donald Trump. They're indictments against millions of freedom-loving, hardworking

Americans across this country."

How is that for contrast in a general election? Let's dive into this with today's panel. Matt Gorman was Communications Advisor on Republican Senator

Tim Scott's presidential campaign. Mark Longabaugh is a Democratic Strategist who worked on Bernie Sanders 2016 race. And Laura Barron-Lopez

is back with us. So, yes, lots of metaphors. Let's -- I want to actually -- let's just have the Biden campaign spell this out, because this was all, of

course, laid out. We've all been waiting for the Biden campaign to kick off its general election push. This is how they're choosing to do it. This is

how his deputy campaign manager put it earlier today on CNN. Watch.


QUENTIN FULKS, BIDEN-HARRIS DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: We chose Valley Forge, George Washington, as you just said, you know, unionized colonies there and

brought them all together. And then, he became President and set the precedent for, you know, peaceful transition of power, something that

Donald Trump and Republicans refused to do. It's just as late as yesterday. And you know, we believe that they pose an existential threat to democracy.

And over the last four years, that threat to democracy has only grown, and our campaign wants to communicate that message to voters that, you know,

Donald Trump is telling us every day, who is going to be if he is reelected President.


HUNT: So, Matt Gorman, let me start with you here. As someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about how Republicans are going to run against that

message from President Biden, do you think setting this up this way is the right move for the White House?

MATT GORMAN, FORMER SENIOR ADVISOR FOR TIM SCOTT CAMPAIGN: To use another metaphor, I think of more is when I used to play baseball coming off the

offseason. You want to get some slow pitching. You want to be able to get a few cracks in the cage. I think this message for Joe Biden is more of that.

I say this for years. If January 6 is factoring in your vote, wherever you feel about it, you've known who you are voting for, for years. This, I

think, less about trying to persuade the people who hate both Biden and Trump and to get them out to vote for one or the other, as it is about

activating and engaging his base, getting them recognizing that, hey, it's an election year. Time to wake up, more than anything else.

HUNT: Mark Longabaugh, do you agree with that?


harkens back to the way Biden opens his first President -- the presidential campaign in 2020, with the speech again -- with the video against

Charlottesville. But, I also think you got to remember that right behind these two speeches, as you have State of the Union, and they're going to

talk about freedom. If you harken back to Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms", one of those was freedom for one. And so, I think that you're

going to see Biden lay out a future agenda that's going to fight for middle and working class Americans like they have over the last three years.

HUNT: Laura, there has been some criticism of the White House team for waiting until now to really start to fully engage into -- for them, because

they've repeatedly said, well, you know, it's -- Trump is not -- and honestly, Trump is not the nominee, quite yet. Is this -- are we seeing

them finally kind of join the battle? Or are we -- I mean, and -- do you feel like -- I mean, I definitely talked to Democrats who feel like it's

all too little too late. And they've been kind of frantic about what the White House hasn't been doing here.

Now, of course, all those doubters were proved wrong in 2020 when President Biden went on to become the nominee, and ultimately the President of the

United States. But, I mean, what's your reporting tell you about how this fits in to the rest of the year?

BARRON-LOPEZ: Well, I think this is going to clearly be one of his central themes throughout the entire election year, which is threats to democracy

and the threat that he says that former President Donald Trump poses, and then broadening that out to a tax on abortion and other freedoms that the

White House really wants to say that the Republican Party, not just former President Trump, but the larger Republican Party also supports instituting

bans on abortion and on other reproductive healthcare access.


And so, that's going to be a key thing for them this election cycle. I know a lot of Democrats want the White House, want the Biden campaign to lean in

heavily to the abortion argument, because it was so successful for them in 2022, and in special elections that we've seen throughout the few years.

I just want to add to something that Matt was saying, because, yes, we may be -- know the voters that are going to vote against Trump because of

January 6, but some of them became independents after January 6. So, they didn't necessarily vote that way in 2020. And I've talked to a number of

Republicans in battleground states who are these McCain-era, Romney-era Republicans who said that after January 6, you're not going to vote

Republican again, or at least in this current -- this upcoming election cycle. So, those could potentially be a few added at the margins for Biden,

and he knows that this type of argument that he is making this coming weekend is something that really speaks to them, because it is all about

the Constitution and democracy for those more moderate Republicans.

HUNT: I want to put up some polling, Matt, I mean, to this point about people -- I take your point that people who are voting on January 6, they

kind of know which side --


HUNT: -- they're on. But -- just to kind of show you how this narrative has evolved, 35 percent of Republicans say that they think the January 6

protesters were mostly peaceful. Whereas, of course, only six percent of Democrats believe that. 77 percent of Democrats believe the protesters were

violent, just 18 percent of Republicans. And then, you can see those numbers there, equally both. Now, as somebody that was at the complex, I

saw it with my own eyes, the protesters were not protesters. It was a violent mob at the Capitol. And Police officers that I know personally were

injured. And obviously, we saw deaths as well at the Capitol. So, just to kind of clear that up.

But, I think this says a lot about kind of where our political discourse has gone in this time. And the fact that you now have -- when people talk

about J-6 heroes on right wing media, oftentimes they're talking about the people that were there. They're not talking about Police officers that were

defending the Capitol.

How does that -- it's -- I -- sometimes I struggle to kind of grapple with this, because I do have a personal connection to it. But, it really has

become a political dividing line, like, what do you think about what actually happened that day? How do you think about, like, for your party,

and how do you see that kind of playing out as we -- it does seem like we're going to have a fight over. What does it mean? Like, what does

democracy mean?

GORMAN: I think a couple things. I take your point, and I agree. So many things have now become trivialized where the truth is factored into where

you are ideologically. I can mean -- I've seen some things this morning where you have the left defending things and right defending things. And

it's like you go back 10 years, and it was like this is -- it was a little nuts on that. I really do genuinely believe, and this is coming back from

being on the trail for a year, that when you have inflation and the border and things that are affecting people's lives directly, just like January 6

affected yours and other people's lives and other ways directly. You were there. Right? I respect that.

I think it's harder to make the argument to someone who is paying more for gas, paying more for inflation. You need to put that aside a little bit.

This certain concepts are more important than that.

HUNT: Right.

GORMAN: I think that is a just a tougher sell to make when somebody saying Iowa or New Hampshire is going about their day-to-day life, just trying to

make ends meet.

HUNT: So, do you buy -- I mean, in the midterms, there were -- I mean, I talked to a number of especially Democrats afterward who said, honestly,

they were surprised at how democracy resonated as an issue.


HUNT: So, do you think it's going to be different in 2024 than it wasn't 2022?

GORMAN: I think we need to be careful, because I've seen these exact same polls. I think democracy becomes a catch all for both the left and the

right for worrying about the state of the country in a very serious way. Right? I think on the right, if you were to ask, are you worried about the

state of democracy? They associate a little bit of capitalism and socialism. I know a lot of abortion voters also might have kind of what --

kind of went in that democracy pocket, so to speak. It becomes a catch all for both sides to really kind of say that I am seriously worried about the

state of the country and its future.

HUNT: Is that how you see it to, Mark?

LONGABAUGH: Well, I mean, I agree with Matt's original point, which is this is a good way for, I think, for Biden to open the campaign. I also think on

the issue of abortion, sending the Vice President out shortly after this, that's going to be one of her central issues this year. But, having said

that, I think it's a danger for Democrats to assume that they're -- that voters are going to be complete -- all voters are going to be completely

focused on this divide on democracy. And I end -- and that's why I think it's very, very important that Democrats make an argument on the economy

and on the future.


Stan Greenberg put out a poll right before the end of the year that many of us studied, and there is a good message for this President in there. It's a

populist message. I hate to say it. It puts a little Bernie-esk (ph) in its mentions, take on the corporation and the billionaire class, fight to lower

prescription drug costs, restore the Child Tax Credit to cut child poverty. I mean, there is a populist message that's waiting to be delivered out

there. And on this point, I don't think we can see that ground on the economy. I think we also need to talk about Biden's accomplishments on the

manufacturing front in terms of the CHIPS Act and the IRA bringing back and lowering unemployment to one of the lowest levels that we've had in a long,

long time.

So, I think there is an argument that needs to be made out there. And there is a group of -- it's very small in today's politics of swing voters who

are going to make up --

HUNT: right.

LONGABAUGH: -- their decisions out there. And I think we have to make a case.

HUNT: Yeah. All very good points. I want to turn now -- we still are -- we're less than two weeks away from the Iowa caucuses, and we want to kind

of drill down on some of the latest that's been going on there in the last few days, hours. And we've got two new ads from Nikki Haley and Ron

DeSantis, which I want to show you. I think -- we should just note that, again, they are not attacking the person that they actually need to be if

they wish to be the Republican nominee here in a few short months. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: DeSantis called China "Florida's most important trading partner." DeSantis even allowed a Chinese Military contractor to

expand just miles from a U.S. Naval Base. Phony Ron DeSantis. Too lame to lead. Too weak to win.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tricky Nikki pretends she is tough on China. But, as governor, she promised to do whatever it takes to get Chinese companies set

up in our backyard. And we just can't trust tricky Nikki.


HUNT: So, Matt Gorman, I'm too lame to lead. I mean, Donald Trump could have run that ad against Ron DeSantis.



HUNT: Like, what -- I mean, it's a race for second place.

GORMAN: It is.

HUNT: I mean, I feel like we've been -- it's the same story we've been covering all the way along. Is DeSantis like looking over his shoulder at

Nikki Haley right now in Iowa or --

GORMAN: He should be. I mean, look, this comes down to expectations game. Who can credibly appear on CNN and on Fox on the night of the Iowa caucuses

and say we beat expectations? Is that DeSantis? If Nikki comes in second, Ron DeSantis is going to have a very tough morning that day after. And

look, at this point --

HUNT: I mean, people are going to be on the plane asking him if he is going to drop out.

GORMAN: Yeah, right.

HUNT: Yeah.

GORMAN: But also, Nikki has had a lot of buzz. She needs to do well in Iowa, especially now running these ads to be able to sustain that bumper.

She is much stronger in New Hampshire. I think right now if you're in one of their camps, you are saying to yourself, look, the Iowa caucus is

different than almost any other election out there. Right? You need to get people on a cold January night in Iowa, freezing temperatures, to support

your guy. So, it's a matter of disqualifying if you can find people that are don't like Trump, want an alternative, but don't want to know between

DeSantis and Haley who can do it. That's their message right there.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, Mark, you've worked on the Democratic side on races in Iowa.


HUNT: I mean, I remember at flying with you guys from Iowa to New Hampshire on Bernie Sanders' plane or some --


HUNT: -- questions and I'm -- I question whether we're even going to have their votes counted.

LONGABAUGH: I also remember, you were the only person that came with us to Florida after we -- they upset Michigan.

HUNT: I did.

LONGABAUGH: Bravo. Bravo.

HUNT: Thank you. No. Yes. I think I was the only person on the conference calls the next morning that wasn't surprised you have won Michigan, which

is why I showed up in Florida the next day. Yeah. But -- I mean, you've done races there. Matt is right. I mean, it is -- the caucuses are



HUNT: Getting people out for you is more complicated in Iowa than it is elsewhere. But, you had the experience with Bernie Sanders, and he was

particularly good at caucuses, not least --


HUNT: -- because his supporters were so committed --


HUNT: -- to this strange --


HUNT: -- and they showed up in this strange process. It seems to me that the person that has that kind of commitment in the Republican field right

now is not Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley. It's Donald Trump.

LONGABAUGH: I think that's true, and I'm going to differ, I don't know, Republican primaries as well as I know Democratic primaries in those two


HUNT: But, I think from a mechanical perspective.

LONGABAUGH: From a mechanical standpoint, one of the things that's very true about the Iowa Republican caucus is they're dominated by very

conservative evangelical Christians. That's Trump's political base. I think it's very hard to shake that. But, the one thing that I would point out, if

you look back over history, there is -- these things can be very dynamic. Gary Hart finished with 17 percent of the vote against Walter Mondale who

got 49 percent of the vote in Iowa in 1984, one point ahead of George McGovern, just one point, catapulted him into a dramatic victory in New

Hampshire. So --

HUNT: Yeah.

LONGABAUGH: -- these things can move very, very, very quickly.

HUNT: I feel we must have a rule. Anyone that mentions Gary Hart, we should drink.

GORMAN: No. You get nothing.

LONGABAUGH: So, I don't know if Nikki Haley can pull off that trick or not.


I don't know. And I certainly would not say that even if she is able to pull that off and score some kind of upset in New Hampshire that she is

going to secure the Republican nomination. But, I do think there is always the opportunity that something could happen.

HUNT: Very quick last word.

BARRON-LOPEZ: I mean, I just feel like this entire primary campaign season, it feels a bit like trying to make fetch happen, because it's -- for me, it

was like trying to make this a real actual primary race, and it's just not one right now. And even if Haley surprises and even if Ron DeSantis

surprises, I mean, they've been focusing everything on Iowa and New Hampshire. Trump can then, the way Biden did in 2020, just come back,

roaring back Super Tuesday and all the other states and then take it home to the nomination.

HUNT: Trying to make fetch happen, 2024. We're going to leave this conversation here. We're going to take a quick break. Voters want to know,

can anyone solve the immigration mess? The huge impact of the battle at the border is likely to have at the ballot box.


HUNT: Welcome back to STATE OF THE RACE. I'm Kasie Hunt. We're live in Washington. Immigration shaping up, of course, to be a central issue in the

2024 campaign. In just a few hours, House Speaker Mike Johnson planning to tour the southern border with a group of House Republicans, trying to put

the blame for the recent migrant surge on the Biden administration. All of this as a House Committee prepares to push forward with formal impeachment

proceedings against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over his handling of the crisis. President Biden acknowledges the problem, but

blames Republicans for holding up border security funding.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We gotta do something. They ought to give me the money I need to protect the border.


HUNT: All right. Our panel is back with me now. And this actually just in here, former President Donald Trump putting an OpEd in the Des Moines

Register on the border.


He writes, "Nearly a quarter million immigrants crossed in November alone, and that's likely a vast undercount. Migrants are overwhelming our cities.

Drugs, criminals, gang members and terrorists are pouring in. On my first day back in office, I will terminate every open borders policy of the Biden

administration and immediately restore the full set of strong Trump border policies."

I mean, he could have said that first paragraph at the escalator event that I attended when he announced that he was running for President, Matt

Gorman. This is something -- I mean, the border state governors have sent many of these migrants as well north to cities that are run in large part

by Democrats. These Democrats are not happy with the Biden administration. Does -- how does this not just play into Donald Trump's hands?

GORMAN: I cannot tell you. Being on the road for a year with Tim Scott, the issue of border security and just the border and immigration in general has

a salience like I have never seen. Especially in Des Moines Register, all these areas which are not even close to border, we have fentanyl coming in

to their cities, ravaging with overdoses, it is a huge, huge issue. And you're right. I mean, even in Arizona, Katie Hobbs, Democratic Governor,

when I was down there in Yuma over the summer, housing, hospitals, Police, city services, overwhelmed. It is something that has salience not just with

the base voters, but also independents in a way that, when I see Republican candidates talk about the border, you cannot go and talk about it too much.

It really has that much salience.

HUNT: Yeah. Mark, I mean, you were talking earlier about populism and --


HUNT: -- how that's -- Democrats have (inaudible). I mean, this in many ways is a populist issue.

LONGABAUGH: Well, that's how -- that's when people talk about Donald Trump being a populist. They're not talking about an economic populace. They're

talking about a social issue of kind of agenda here. So --

HUNT: Well, there is an economics argument to this immigration issue.

LONGABAUGH: Well, there is some economic arguments. But, I mean, you get into drugs and crime, and it's a multifaceted --

HUNT: I get that crosses over.

LONGABAUGH: Yeah, multifaceted. Listen, this is a very, very difficult issue for Democrats. I mean, I mentioned the Greenberg survey here a few

minutes ago. That's the number two issue Greenberg found in terms of people's concern right after inflation. So, I think the administration is

going to have to deal with this issue. But, of course, Donald Trump, as usual is the case, isn't telling the truth, because the Biden

administration kept many of his original changes as they came into office. So, I think --

HUNT: Yeah. Those -- some were reversed by the court.

LONGABAUGH: That's true.

HUNT: I take your point --


HUNT: -- that when they had a choice, they often stuck with it.

LONGABAUGH: That's right.

HUNT: Laura, what is the White House doing about this? I mean, you saw -- that was Biden late last night coming back from his Caribbean vacation. He

was throwing a question about this. And the White House has -- I mean, they have said to the Hill that they're willing to make significant border

policy adjustments as part of this package. But, I mean, there are progressives who are really upset about that.

BARRON-LOPEZ: There are that are very upset because the administration has signaled, based on what sources have told me, that they're willing to do a

lot in terms of mass deportations, do more in terms of limiting different access to asylum seekers that would totally overhaul actually the current

U.S. asylum law. And that was something that Democrats forcefully attacked former President Donald Trump on repeatedly, including Kamala Harris, the

Vice President, saying that the actions that Trump took during his administration were even unconstitutional. And you're seeing that the Biden

administration is moving more and more in that direction on clamping down on the border. And they did keep in place Title 42, that deportation-era

policy for a very long time, despite running on the fact that they were going to undo it.

And they've also put in place much more restrictive immigration policy even after Title 42 was taken away by the courts. So, those are things that

they've done. I mean, Biden is clearly saying he wants more money for border security. He wants to actually come to a deal. But, House

Republicans are saying that they want a much more hard right bill, and that it's either that or nothing. And that will be where potentially the deal

breaks down.

HUNT: Right. Well, and of course, they have to get it through the Senate as well. I mean, Mark, quick last word to you. I mean, if you're the

President, I mean, do you run as a -- if you're President Biden, do you run as a hardliner on immigration in general election?

LONGABAUGH: I think that's really tough. I think you got to thread the needle on this one, because I do think there are a lot of progressives that

would be very upset if they go too far. And so, I think they've got to find a middle ground. I mean, they sent some State Department officials to meet

with the Mexican government about this issue. I think they've been working hard on it. I think they've got to get more support and more financial aid

into some of these cities, which the cities are really burdened by this challenge. So, I do think they need to do more, but I would caution them

not to go too far.

HUNT: All right. The panel is going to be back for one more thing.

But, up next, we're less than two weeks out from the Iowa caucus. Can Ron DeSantis or other Trump rivals close the gap? We've been talking out here.


But, ahead, we're going to talk to one of my favorite Republican strategists out of Iowa about the challenges candidates face. David Kochel

is up next.


HUNT: The countdown is on to the Iowa caucuses. A reminder that, of course, Donald Trump lost Iowa to Ted Cruz back in 2016, one of the toughest blows

he took on his march the nomination. Trump has a massive lead there now. But, he and his team did not forget that loss, and they consistently kept

up pressure on his rivals there, especially Ron DeSantis. DeSantis now looking over his shoulder at a rising Nikki Haley. A strong performance

from her could give her a springboard to New Hampshire just eight days later.

Joining us now is a man who many a Republican has hoped would help him win the Hawkeye State, David Kochel, ran the state for Mitt Romney in 2012,

worked for Jeb Bush in 2016. Kochel, thanks for being here. It's wonderful to see you. I do think it could be easy to overlook, given how much Donald

Trump is leading his Republican rivals by in national polls, just how closely his campaign has paid attention to Iowa. They've invested in their

operation there. Trump has gone there repeatedly. They just don't seem to have taken their foot off Ron DeSantis' neck there. Is that your read on

why he may be doing as well as he is there?

DAVID KOCHEL, IOWA REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yeah. I think that's part of it. I think they learned the lesson in 2016 that you can have big gaudy poll

numbers. Everybody knows you're the celebrity. You have big packed rallies. But then, when it comes to caucus night, as Matt Gorman was saying, it's a

cold night in January. It's hard to get people out. And Trump never built a ground game in 2016. And this time, I think they're not going to take

anything for granted. They've got those gold leaf caucus captain hats going around with a big packet of instructions for people. It's really --

caucuses are a very complicated thing to organize. And I don't think they have taken any of this for granted. And you're right. He hasn't taken his

foot off the pedal.

HUNT: What's your sense of where -- how the momentum is moving here, two weeks out?


Because -- I mean, you know as well as anyone that that can really matter more than anything who is moving up at the moment that the voters are going

to their caucus sites, who is moving in the other direction. What does Ron DeSantis need to do? What does Nikki Haley need to do? Is there any world

where this isn't just a Trump win?

KOCHEL: Well, sure. Iowa and New Hampshire both always deal up a surprise for people. So, I wouldn't say there is -- this is a fait accompli, Trump

is going to be the nominee and will win Iowa. He is expected to win Iowa, and he is probably expected to win by a bunch, because he is over 50

percent in the latest couple of polls we've seen. As for momentum, the holidays kind of -- we haven't seen a lot of polling over the last couple

of weeks. So, it's hard to say who is really moving. In the fall, Nikki Haley was definitely moving up. Her crowds have gotten bigger in Iowa. But

then, DeSantis counters with a very important Governor Reynolds endorsement and of Bob Vander Plaats endorsement. And he has built a pretty big ground


I think that -- they've also talked about. It's not like it's gone unnoticed. They have spent a ton of money in Iowa organizing. I spent a lot

of time, done the 99 counties towards full Grassley. So, I think this is kind of coming down to a race to see who gets the right to go on to New

Hampshire, who has momentum going to New Hampshire. And then, Iowa and New Hampshire together really need to winnow this field down to two people,

Trump and someone else. And so, that's what I think we're looking for in Iowa and New Hampshire both. That's kind of the twin starting gates.

HUNT: Do you think it's a foregone conclusion that that number two is Nikki Haley?

KOCHEL: Well, yes. She has been very strong in New Hampshire. She has moved up a lot there. She kind of had a rough week last week, which I think -- it

looks like Chris Christie is kind of on the attack now in New Hampshire. But, she raised a ton of money. I saw she put up a big number in this last

quarter. So, she has had the resources. She is outspending DeSantis in Iowa right now. So, it's looked like she has been the one with the hot hand for

the last month or so. But, again, it's Iowa. It's a little different. It's a more conservative electorate. Ground game really matters. These

endorsements from Vander Plaats and Governor Kim Reynolds, who is very popular in Iowa, will definitely -- will help DeSantis a lot.

So, I think -- I don't know if it'll be a photo finish between the two of them in Iowa. And I don't know if they'll beat expectations versus

President Trump, which is, I think, what each of them are looking to try to do. But, DeSantis is going to need to pull something pretty big, I think,

to go into New Hampshire with any momentum at all, because it looks like Nikki Haley has had the strongest hand there. And if you can make an

argument that someone could actually beat Donald Trump in New Hampshire, you'd make the argument on her behalf. She has got the popular governor

there, Chris Sununu on her side. So, we'll see how this plays out of Iowa. But, usually, Iowa will deliver up a surprise, and I think that's what

they're both counting on right now.

HUNT: So, speaking of what Iowa delivers or doesn't, I have to say, the track record on delivering accurate results in a timely fashion is slightly

in question. I mean, I remember back to 2012 when you were -- you and I were both with Romney then, and he left that state having won the caucus.

It turned out that was a bit of a mistake. Rick Santorum actually won the clock. Yes. Of course, by the time we figured that out, the history had

already been written, and it didn't really matter. But, we saw it again in the 2020 cycle with Democrats, to the point that Democrats just got rid of

Iowa as their first caucus. I mean, what do you expect from the apparatus counting the votes this time? And do you think we can trust whatever we

find out?

KOCHEL: Well, the 2012 thing was a -- was kind of an anomaly because it was so close. I think Romney won on caucus night by eight votes. And when they

did the recertification, it was lost by 14 votes. I mean, we're talking about just a tiny --

HUNT: But, they decided to announce it when it was that close which arguably they shouldn't have done.

KOCHEL: Yeah. I mean, everybody is going to claim victory if they have the opportunity to do so. Look, I think the Republicans have done a much better

job counting the votes. It's a much easier process. Obviously, the Democrats have a very complicated process where you've got the viability

threshold, and it's really a delegate allocation thing. And it's not the raw vote. Nobody ever -- nobody knows if Hillary Clinton actually had more

supporters than Bernie Sanders did in in 2012 -- in 2016. It's hard to say how those came out.

But, I think it'll be a clean town on the Republican side. We deliver results pretty quickly. The reason it took so long that night is just

because it was so darn close, and everybody was paying attention. By the way, that was just -- that was one of the great night, political nights of

all time on television watching that play out. But, I think this is going to be a fast result and an accurate result.

HUNT: All right. David Kochel, thank you my friend for being here. I hope you'll come back as this race continues to unfold. See you soon.


We're going to update you on our breaking news this hour. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is delivering an address in Lebanon right now, and this

comes a day after the assassination of a senior Hamas leader in Beirut. Tuesday's strike is widely blamed on Israel. Tensions in the region are

rising even further today. State media in Iran say at least 103 people were killed in explosions near the burial site of slain military commander Qasem

Soleimani. Officials there are calling it a terror attack.

And CNN's Nada Bashir is following developments for us from Beirut. Nada, what have we learned?

BASHIR: We are still getting more details around the specifics of what is being described now by officials in Iranian state media as a terrorist

attack. As you mentioned there, twin blasts near the burial site of the late Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani. That first blast,

according to state media, citing officials on the ground, are reportedly caused by a bomb placed in a suitcase in a car that was parked about 700

meters away from the burial site of Qasem Soleimani. A second blast going off about 20 minutes later, around 3:20 p.m. local time, about a kilometer

away from the site.

According to Iran's Interior Minister who spoke to the state broadcaster just a little earlier today, many of those who are killed, at least 103 so

far, were killed in that second blast. Many had been rushing to the scene of the initial blast to help those who had been injured. And as we know, at

least 140 have been injured so far, some of them said to be in a critical condition. Now, as we know, state media reporting -- characterizing this as

a terrorist attack, and we know now that Iranian authorities have declared tomorrow to be a day of national mourning in light of this attack and the

fatalities that we have seen. Of course, concerns that we will continue to see that death toll rising.

Of course, we are still getting more details around the specifics of this, around the possible motive behind this attack. As you mentioned, of course,

we are also hearing from the Secretary General of the Iran-backed group in Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary-General of Hezbollah. He is currently

speaking right now. He briefly addressed the attack in Iran at the beginning of his speech. His speech very much focused, of course, on the

anniversary of the death of Qasem Soleimani, who was killed four years ago today in a U.S. strike on Baghdad International Airport, a strike OKed by

then-President Donald Trump. He addressed this a little earlier in his speech, expressing his condolences to the men, women and children, he said,

were targeted and martyred today at the site of Soleimani's burial.

HUNT: All right. Nada Bashir, who has been covering these very much tinderbox of escalating tensions in the Middle East throughout the day and

night there for us, Nada, thank you very much for that report.

And it is time for us to take a quick break. But, don't go anywhere because our panel is coming back with one more thing.


HUNT: Welcome back to STATE OF THE RACE. The panel rejoins me. Before we go, we always ask for one more thing on the campaign trail or in Washington

you're watching in the coming days. 30 seconds each. Matt, what are you watching?

GORMAN: House is going to get a lot more tighter. Bill Johnson, Congressman from Ohio, is resigning to become President of Youngstown State. This on

top of Kevin McCarthy, former Speaker, resigning, and George Santos obviously being expelled. That's going to leave a two-seat majority for

Republicans in the House. They'll get by government funding OK, but two- seat majority (inaudible) precarious is a understatement.

HUNT: Indeed. It's possibly paralyzing. Mark, what's one more thing from you?

LONGABAUGH: Well, right as we come up on these opening contests, one thing that I want to -- that most people are going to miss out on is the fact

that Democrats have reshuffled their nominating calendar. I don't think it's going to bother us a bit this year, because we have an incumbent

President who is going to run the table. But, in 2028, it's going to be a problem with New Hampshire, first in the nation primary.


If they're not going to move, if they're going to go first in the nation, that's going to create a real dilemma for presidential candidates in 2028

as to whether they skip that contest and allow somebody else to catch momentum, or they adhere to what the Rules Committee has put down as the

calendar. It's a real problem.

HUNT: Yeah. I'm going to go with anyone that skips New Hampshire, is probably going to rue that decision. We'll see.

LONGABAUGH: I agree. So -- that's going to create a problem for the DNC, obviously, because --

HUNT: Yeah.

LONGABAUGH: -- they're threatening to knock people out of debates and whatnot.

HUNT: It sure is. Laura.

BARRON-LOPEZ: I know this has been getting a lot of attention this week. But, former President Trump's likely coming appeal of the Colorado Supreme

Court's decision to the actual U.S. Supreme Court on whether or not he is invalidated under the 14th Amendment is disqualified.

HUNT: Right.

BARRON-LOPEZ: That could be a very big decision in the coming weeks.

HUNT: Indeed. All right, everybody, thank you very much for being here. I'm Kasie Hunt. That's the STATE OF THE RACE for today, Wednesday, January 3.

You can always follow me on Instagram, and the platform formerly known as Twitter. Don't go anywhere. "ONE WORLD" is up next.