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CNN NEWSROOM

Israel Shooting Down Hamas Rockets; Leaders Trying To End Gaza Crisis; Gridlock Driving Moderates Away; Gridlock Driving Moderates Away; Missiles Fly in Gaza and Israel

Aired November 19, 2012 - 13:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Suzanne Malveaux. The death toll in Gaza reaches 100 on this the sixth straight day of attacks between Israel and Hamas. That Israeli missile strike you just saw killed a senior official from Islamic Jihad. It happened only hours ago in Gaza City, but many of the Palestinians killed so far have been women and children.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE.)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: The deadliest strike killed 10 members of one family. You're looking here at the rubble of what was once their home. Three Israelis have also been killed since the missiles and rockets started flying.

CNN is right in the middle of covering the crisis. Earlier, our own Fred Pleitgen witnessed a shelling on the border between Israel and Gaza. Got a chance to see Israel's response live on our air. He was speaking with Carol Costello when it all happened. Take a look.

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FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There, over in the sky, you probably won't be able to see it here, there's an interceptor missile taking of right now. That is the iron dome interceptor. Right there, if you just saw the flash in the sky, that was a rocket coming out of Gaza that was just intercepted right now. So, it appears as though, at this point in time, there is another barrage being fired from Gaza into this part of Israel close to the Israeli border. And as I was just telling you, this town here on the border is one that does take a lot of fire very frequently.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Fred Pleitgen is live near the Israeli-Gaza border. And, Fred, this is not the only time you've had to hit the deck. Are things getting worse? Are they escalating as the evening goes on?

PLEITGEN: Well, it seems as though right now it's quieted down for a little while. However, you never know how long that's going to last. I'm actually in the town of Ashkelon now. We've moved on a little bit. And this town has also received several barrages of rockets from Gaza throughout the day. Four rockets came into this place. Three of them were intercepted by the iron dome missile defense system. That's the one that you also just saw in action in that clip that you showed before where the rocket goes up and takes out missiles that are fired from Gaza. One of the rockets that came down hit a residential building here in Ashkelon. We are told, so far, that no one was injured in that. However, of course, all of that does take a toll here on civilian life.

There are other places in Israel in the border region around Gaza where people were, in fact, injured, especially Askel (ph), the region where a lot of rockets came down there. So, certainly, while it does not really appear to be intensifying, it's also not decreasing. It's continuing at a very, very high pace, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Fred, tell us what it's like for the people there on the ground. Is this just part of their daily life? Are they taking cover? What are they doing? How are they responding to all of this?

PLEITGEN: Well, they're certainly taking cover every time they hear air sirens, but it's also something that they just have to build into their daily lives and they certainly are. One of the interesting things about the folks who obviously live around the area close to Gaza is they have sort of an eerie routine with all of this. They don't just take rockets in these times. They also take rockets in the best of times when there's no military operation going on. It's not as frequent as maybe one every two weeks or one every week, but it's certainly something that has shown these people that they have to take these alarms very, very seriously, that they have to run for cover, that they have to go into these hardened shelters to protect themselves, and that's, of course, something that they're doing now as well.

But it's becoming so much that it's also taking a toll on their daily routines. If you go to malls here, about 80 percent of the shops will be closed, and, of course, it's taking an especially hard toll on children where a lot of people are just keeping their children inside for almost the entire day just to make sure that they're safe. So, yes, it is having a big impact. It might not be things getting destroyed. It might not be as much -- of course, also human suffering going on, but it is something that is having a very, very deep impact on the lives of people here. That's what people here tell us, yes, they support the military operation by and large, but they also want it to end as fast as possible -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Excellent reporting. Thank you, Fred.

World leaders, they are keeping a close watch on the conflict as it intensifies. President Obama, of course, one of them. He spoke carefully, but forcefully, about the situation. Here's what he said.

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My message to all of them was that Israel has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory. If that can be accomplished without a ramping up of military activity in Gaza, that's preferable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: I want to bring in now our Jill Dougherty at the State Department. Jill, we know the President said that he is traveling in Asia, but he is, of course, keeping up with what's happening in the Middle East. Tell us about the diplomatic efforts that are underway to try to negotiate some sort of cease-fire here, some sort of deal.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you, they are burning up the phone lines. That's essentially what the United States is doing. You know, of course, President Obama is watching this very closely, but he is being updated by Secretary Clinton. And I just ran out of the briefing to do the slide shot, the briefing here at the State Department, and they gave a list, again, of more phone calls the Secretary has been making over the past few days. You know, it includes the prime ministers, basically, from Israel, Egypt, the U.N. Secretary general Ban Ki Moon, French foreign minister Qatari, prime minister, foreign minister, and the Turkish foreign minister.

You can see what they're doing is tapping the countries that have the most influence. Number one would have to be Egypt, very, very important. And also, Turkey. But, right now, you can see the delicate balancing act by the President and Secretary Clinton is saying the same thing. On the one hand, Israel, they say, has the right to defend itself against these rocket attacks from Gaza, but it also has to try to keep this to a minimum and try to bring this, as they keep saying, de-escalate the situation -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Jill, Senator John McCain had a very interesting suggestion about who he thought should get involved. What do we make of one of the people that he would like to put out there?

DOUGHERTY: Well, let's listen to what Senator McCain said. It's an -- very interesting proposal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Tried to find someone even as high- ranking, frankly, as former president Bill Clinton, to go and be the negotiator. I know he'd hate me for saying that, but we need a person of enormous prestige and influence to have these parties sit down together as an honest broker.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGHERTY: OK, but, of course, Suzanne, a person of high stature could be the President of the United States, the current president of the United States, so that's one of, you know -- it's a proposal. I don't think that it's really going to go very far. At this point, there are people who are trying to somehow work as not middle men, but people who will, you know, put influence where it's needed, and, again, especially Egypt. Don't forget that Egypt gets $450 million per year from the United States, and just at the top of the briefing, Victoria Newland was asked whether there's some type of stipulation in the law with that money which would require them to put pressure on Gaza, the Palestinians in Gaza, to stop those attacks.

She said, not specifically, however, she indicated when that money is appropriated, State Department has to talk with Congress. And if there are concerns, dot, dot, dot, then there might be something. So, that threat of withdrawing money, stopping money, et cetera, is always out there.

MALVEAUX: Yes, also a very powerful tool. Jill, thank you very much.

Here's what we're working on for this hour.

(voice-over): Here is what we're working on for this hour. The violence along the Israeli-Gaza border is escalating. We look at what they are fighting over.

And it's three weeks since Superstorm Sandy hit and, still, people are without electricity.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's hard to see the people suffering. It's hard to see the children cold.

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MALVEAUX: Some finally returning home only to find decay.

Plus, will the do-nothing Congress finally work together to fix the economy?

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SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: Every tick of the clock is going to ratchet up the risk to the economy.

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MALVEAUX: The risk of going off the fiscal cliff. Senator Olympia Snowe hopes this time the President and Congress find common ground. We'll talk with this Republican moderate leader as she prepares to leave the Senate, next.

This is CNN NEWSROOM and it's happening now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: It's the latest political drama playing out in Washington. will Congress and the White House reach a deal to prevent the massive spending cuts and the tax hikes known as the fiscal cliff slated to go in effect in January? Well, one retiring senator calls the whole thing a self-inflicted travesty and a manufactured crisis. And that's the kind of Congressional gridlock behind the decision by Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine to call it quits. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SNOWE: People are deeply frustrated and angered by the inability, you know, of elected officials here in Washington to get together.

And it's become an all or nothing proposition, and that failure, I think, has really eroded the public's confidence.

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MALVEAUX: Senator Snowe joins us from Capitol Hill. Good to see you. I know you've been very busy here. You decided not to run for re- election because of, goodness, all the partisanship that we've seen, and a very, very frustrating experience, and you've talked a bit about this. You are still in a lame-duck session of the Senate. Is anything going to get done? Can lawmakers even reach a deal?

SNOWE: Well, they must and they better and we should because this is critical for the nation. All eyes are watching not only in America, but around the world, and it's going to be absolutely pivotal. There are many dangers in delaying, deferring the issues surrounding the fiscal cliff, so I'm pleased that both the President and the Congressional leadership met on Friday and sounding the notes of optimism and now we have to, obviously, translate those words into action. And the sooner the better, Suzanne, because of the urgency of this issue and, more importantly, as to whether or not there is a capability in Washington in working together on a bipartisan basis. Obviously, there's enormous skepticism across the landscape, and rightfully so. So, that also has to emerge sooner rather than later.

MALVEAUX: Senator, both sides, at least seem to have a tone, a different kind of tone they're talking about. OK, we are going to be bipartisan, we're willing to give a little bit. But when you watch and when you listen to what they are actually saying, specifically on the issue of raising taxes, there doesn't really seem to be very much movement. I want you to listen to what Congressman Tom Price said on State of the Union with Candy over the weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TOM PRICE (R), GEORGIA: Well, we need to look at an increasing revenue through pro-growth policies as well as --

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: But not on the tax hikes, correct?

PRICE: No, tax revenue which means broadening the base, lowering the rates, closing the loopholes, limiting the deductions, limiting the credits, and making certain that we identify the appropriate spending reductions so that we have, indeed, a balanced approach.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: So, Senator, we know the President is still insisting on raising taxes for the wealthier Americans, those making more than $250,000 a year. Where is the compromise? Do you see a compromise forming in any way? SNOWE: Well, first of all, I think it is important to note that both sides have shown some flexibility, first, on the Republican side that revenues will be on the table, and then, secondly, on the Democratic side is that they will review entitlement spending and spending cuts. So, that argument is behind says. Now is going to be the question of what consists of the policies embraced in both of those approaches.

And as far as Republicans are concerned, obviously there is an issue on tax rates. I happen to think it's how best to achieve that balance, and one through itemized deductions or perhaps the combination of both. I mean, I know the President has proposed that, but, again, I think we have to look at everything and know that in the final analysis, they have to reach a balanced approach which is really what the mandate was in this last election, working together in balance and making sure the wealthy do pay their fair share.

MALVEAUX: Senator, I'm dying to ask you this question. I mean, you've got issues like this fiscal cliff, the debt ceiling debate here. It reaches crisis, right, before Congress does anything. Why does Congress actually -- why do they behave that way?

SNOWE: Well, Suzanne, that's a great question. It's one that the American people are rightfully asking, and that's why they're so angry and fed up with the posturing in Washington that's led to this stalemate and deadlock. They have manufactured all of the crises that have developed in the last two years with regard to the economy and the debt ceiling and the fiscal crisis, deferring the tax cut expiration, the spending cuts. All of that has been manufactured by Congress.

It's because it was all positioning for the next election. All about the politics. It wasn't about the policy. It wasn't about the best interest of the country. And that's really what was my frustration is that we weren't working for the common good of this nation at this critical and pivotal moment.

MALVEAUX: All right, Senator, stay with us. We're going to continue our conversation on the other side of the break. We're going to talk a little bit about what you're going to do after you leave the Senate and how you're going to encourage some bipartisanship through Olympia's List. So, we'll bring you that next.

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MALVEAUX: We are back with Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine, who is retiring because of all the frustration over the gridlock in Washington.

Senator, thank you for joining us. You've got a long list of accomplishments and firsts in your political career. I want to go over this here because you were the first woman in history to serve in both houses and in state legislature, both chambers of Congress. When you were first elected to Congress, you were the youngest Republican woman. And you were the first woman to secure a full-term seat on the Senate Finance Committee. So, long list there. What are you most proud of, and what do you hope or had wished you've been able to accomplish that you didn't?

SNOWE: Well, first of all, I'm proud of the fact that I've been able to serve the people of Maine. It's truly been an honor and a privilege.

Secondly, it's being able to work on behalf of women. When I first came to the U.S. House of Representatives, I joined the Congresswoman's Caucus and I was co-chair for a decade of the caucus on a bipartisan basis with then Congresswoman Pat Schroeder, and we were able to accomplish much in spite of our differences. I've always said that that's a great model and example of what's important and how you can work on a bipartisan basis.

And finally, what I wish I could accomplish, I wish we had had a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. That's one of the things that I have worked on since my early days in the U.S. House of Representatives, because we would not be in the fiscal situation that we're in today had we had that balanced budget amendment.

MALVEAUX: Do you feel somewhat vindicated after this election that the Republican Party is now re-examining, doing some soul searching about their positions and whether or not they've moved too far to the right?

SNOWE: Well, you know, I'd rather not have been in the position "I told you so," because for many years I had been arguing that we had to work in the middle and that we had to appeal to women and to minorities. And obviously that didn't happen. And as a result, we're in a situation that we're in today where we lost dramatically in this last election. So the Republican Party will have to be introspective. They're going to have to begin to review their approaches and understand we need to return to our roots, for example, to fiscal responsibility. I wish we had, you know, had initiated and driven the balanced budget amendment when we were in control of both branches.

MALVEAUX: Right. So I guess a little bit of "I told you so" at this point.

Tell us really quickly what you're doing when you're going to leave the Senate. I understand there's Olympia's List. You're going to try to still move forward and fight for bipartisanship.

SNOWE: I am. And that's what contributed to my decision is how best I could contribute in another way with my 34 years of experience on Capitol Hill in both the Houses and Senate. Give my voice to the frustrations on the outside from an insider's perspective. And I created www.olympiaslist.org website to create a social media movement and also to support candidates in the future and individual members of the Senate and the House who are willing to work on a bipartisan basis. I want Americans to understand there's a way to influence this process by supporting those who are willing to cross the political aisle and create a reward for doing so.

MALVEAUX: All right. Senator Snowe, thank you. Good to see you. And good luck on your future endeavors. Good luck on everything. We appreciate it.

SNOWE: Thank you, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Sure.

It is day six of the cross-border fight between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. What this means for the region and possible U.S. involvement.

Plus, churches helping those left homeless after Superstorm Sandy. How people are helping keep the faith while picking up the pieces.

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MALVEAUX: Want to return to our top story. The fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. This media building in Gaza City was struck by Israeli air strike for a second straight day. It's home to a number of Palestinian media organizations and specifically a 24-hour Hamas network, but has also been used by international media companies as well. Israeli officials said the strike targeted four senior Islamic jihad members who were hiding in the building. Our Ben Wedeman, he is near there.

And you're on the ground in Gaza. Tell us about, first of all, this air strike on this building, what it has meant and how people are responding to this.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, this was -- is just actually right behind me. You can't see the building right now because it's dark. There's no electricity there.

What we saw was three missiles striking the building at about 3:20 in the afternoon local time. And we saw a great big ball of flame coming out of one of the bottom floors. We rushed over there and there's already a large crowd of just onlookers and journalists. And a little while afterwards, we saw the ambulance services bringing out a man who was severely charred. We later learned that he was dead.

Now, the Israelis are saying that one of the men they killed, or they think they killed, was the leader of Islamic jihad's so-called military media office. We haven't -- we don't know if that was actually one of the dead.

Now, the building was more or less empty because it had been struck yesterday as well. But certainly this strike coming right in the middle of Gaza has put people on edge. There are many less people out on the streets, even though under, in these days, there aren't a lot of people out anyway. But almost completely deserted at the moment. And, of course, continued concerns from Palestinians here about the possibility of an Israeli ground attack.

Now, we do have some late-breaking information. I just got off the phone with a senior Hamas official involved in the contacts with Israel to achieve some sort of cease-fire. He said that through the Egyptian government, Hamas has sent a proposal for a cease-fire. They're hoping to hear back from Israel he said either this evening or sometime early tomorrow.

Apparently there are two main sticking points at the moment. One is Israel's demand for a buffer zone inside Gaza. And the other is a demand for a complete end to arms smuggling. Hamas's position is they don't have complete control over the Gaza Strip. There are other groups, like Islamic jihad, that have -- that are also operating, and they say we just can't control them. We can't guarantee their actions.

Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Ben, one final question here. Do both sides -- I mean do they believe that these offers for a cease-fire, the conditions for both sides are serious?

WEDEMAN: I don't think there's any question that they're serious. And we saw this four years ago, even though, obviously, officially there are no direct contacts between Hamas and Israel. There's a lot of messages being passed back and forth between the two sides through Egyptian middle men, so to speak. So there's no question that they're serious. Certainly both sides have an interest in bringing an end to this latest outbreak of fighting.