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Interview with State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki; Crisis in Israel; Obama Leaves Texas Without Border Visit; Interview with Texas Congressman Michael McCaul

Aired July 10, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Brink of war, or maybe Israel and Gaza passed that brink a few dozens rockets and missiles ago?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead: The U.N. pleads for cease-fire, but Israel says no way, not right now. As Palestinians hurl rockets at Jerusalem, Israel responds with punishing airstrikes.

The national lead. He was a handsome former Marine who fought to prevent military suicides and in public service announcements told veterans they were not alone. So, what drove him to take his own life? Sergeant Clay Hunt's mother joins us today.

And the pop culture lead. Hey, hey, they're the Monkees. Drummer Micky Dolenz joins us ahead of CNN's new documentary on the British invasion premiering tonight to reflect on how Beatlemania changed America and made him a believer.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We will begin with the world lead. Call it what you want, it sure looks like war, at least 81 Palestinians killed in Israeli airstrikes over the past three days, some of them women and children, according to Palestinian officials, some of them soccer fans gathered to watch the World Cup, according to reports, collateral damage as Israel carries out wave after wave of airstrikes on targets held by the militant group, specifically Hamas, the group that rules over Gaza, designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.

It's retaliation for this, a practically unbroken stream of rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. According to Israel, Hamas is firing a rocket every 10 minutes into Israel. Israel's Iron Dome defense system is knocking quite a bit of them out of the sky, but there is no sign of Hamas backing down.

Israel has aligned its forces alongside the Gaza border. That makes the specter of a full-blown ground invasion a very real prospect. There are no reports of any Israelis killed so far in this specific conflict, though the military there does say a rocket attack did wound two Israeli soldiers today.

The head of the United States, Ban Ki-Moon, begged for a cease-fire to be brokered, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that's not even on the agenda. Netanyahu put the blame for the death of those Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli strikes squarely on Hamas.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Hamas, by contrast, is deliberately putting Palestinian civilians into harm's way. It embeds its terrorists in hospitals, in schools, in mosques, apartment buildings throughout the Gaza Strip.

Hamas is thus committing a double war crime. It targets Israeli civilians, while hiding behind Palestinian civilians.


TAPPER: The flare-up in tensions between these two long-held adversaries has roots in the sickening murders of teenagers on both sides in the immediate past. Three Israeli teens abducted in the West Bank and killed last month, and of course a Palestinian teen also kidnapped little more than a week ago and burned alive.

His cousin, an American citizen visiting Jerusalem, says Israeli police wrongly accused him of throwing rocks and brutally beat him for it.

Let's bring in our Becky Anderson standing by live in Jerusalem.

Becky, you have been speaking to family members of these murdered teens. Who have you talked to? What did they tell you?


I spoke to the young Palestinian's mother earlier on today. I visited here in a neighborhood of Jerusalem not very far from here called Jafat (ph), which is only about a mile away from a very ultra-orthodox Jewish area here. That is the nature of Jerusalem, of course.

I wanted to find out some week-and-a-half after her son's brutal attack how she was, how she felt about the ratcheting up of this conflict and whether she felt that Arabs and Jews could live together going forward. She, I have to say, was very emotional and in no real mood for conciliation. Have a listen.


SUHA ABU KHDEIR, MOTHER OF VICTIM (through translator): Mohammad is a child, 16 years old. He is compassionate, not a troublesome child. He loves people. He loves to joke around. He loves to laugh.

ANDERSON: If you could think of one lasting memory of your son Mohammad, what would it be?

ABU KHDEIR (through translator): Everything reminds me of Mohammad. There is nothing that can make me forget him because he had a lot of humor in his life.

ANDERSON: Thank you. We're going to stop now.


ANDERSON: And, Jake, there were people at the house when I got there, and this is a week or so after her son's death. They were still there, paying their condolences, so clearly a very emotional time.

I also spoke to the uncle of Naftali Fraenkel, who was one of three teenagers who was abducted and murdered. And I have to say, perhaps he was in more of a conciliatory mood. He had rang Mohammad's father, and that had been widely reported after the Palestinian's death.

When I asked him whether he thought that Arabs and Jews could live together going forward, given the atmosphere here in Jerusalem and Israel and the Holy Land and what's going on in Gaza, the incoming rockets from there to here, we heard sirens tonight as rockets were shot out, as the Israeli rockets are going into or airstrikes are going into Israel, and he said he thought the future was bright, but he said the leadership really has to get together and start talking.

I got the sense that perhaps he felt that not enough was being done at the leadership level to really get things going. But it's tense here in Jerusalem tonight. It's tense all over this area and in the wider region, of course. These are tough times.

TAPPER: Becky Anderson in Jerusalem, thank you so much.

Let's bring in Diana Buttu in Nazareth, Israel. She is a human rights attorney and a former legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO. She has also served in the past as a negotiator in Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Diana, good to see you.

Let's just start with the simple question. Why is Hamas launching rockets into Israeli population centers and are any other Palestinians trying to stop them from doing so?

DIANA BUTTU, HUMAN RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, Jake, I think it's important to lay out the sequence of events.

There's been a collective punishment that has been imposed on the West Bank ever since the three Israelis have gone missing. Since that time, the Israelis have been placing a blockade and siege on the Gaza Strip and then later bombing the Gaza Strip. This is not coming out of a situation of nothing.

In order to stop it, there have been attempts by the president to broker a cease-fire. He has called the United States, indicating they want a cease-fire to be taken into effect. But Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it absolutely clear that he does not want to have a cease-fire.

So, given this sequence of events, I'm afraid that we're actually going to see things get worse in the short time.

TAPPER: OK. I'm glad you got out your talking points there. Let's get back to my question.

Why is Hamas launching missiles into population centers of Israel? And are any other Palestinians trying to stop them from doing so?

BUTTU: As I have indicated, Jake, there have been attempts to try to stop all of this, but the fact of the matter is, is that the Israelis have indicated that they are not interested in brokering a cease-fire or seeing any cease-fire take shape whatsoever.

So, this isn't just a question of people coming together and stopping them, because the Israelis have indicated very clearly that they don't want this to stop.

TAPPER: Israel says Hamas has launched rockets every month for the past 10 years, that since Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, 8,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel.

BUTTU: Well, Jake, that's actually factually incorrect.

There have been cease-fires that have been brokered in the past. And each cease-fire that's been broken has been broken by Israel. It hasn't been broken by Hamas. In terms of the numbers, the number, while they sound devastating, in terms of the effect, it's actually not.

We're talking about very primitive rockets, as compared to the F-16s and F-18s that the Israelis are using against the Palestinians. This is not an equal war. This is a one-side atrocity. And this is why I think it's very important for us to be putting civilians in the center of this and trying to make sure that civilians are protected.

The only way I think that this is going to happen is if we have an international protection force that is brought in to ensure that civilians are not being targeted and not being hurt.

TAPPER: Let's talk about protecting civilians, because obviously some Palestinian civilians, some innocent children and the like have been killed in this assault.

Israeli government officials say they're trying desperately to avoid civilian casualties. And there are reports of the spokesman of Hamas -- we actually have the video of him going on Palestinian television, urging people to serve as human shields, staying in their homes, even if the IDF is warning people in those homes because they're Hamas officials' homes that they're going to be destroyed.

They're telling them to stay there. Do you, at all, find that reprehensible, using women and children to be human shields to protect these homes?

BUTTU: Jake, I haven't seen that video. But if that were the case, that would be reprehensible.

I think that the bigger picture is that this isn't the case. What we have seen is over the course of the past couple of days more than 80,000 Palestinians killed. The population of the Gaza Strip, 43 percent of it is under the age of 14. And we have seen that half of the people who have been killed are women and children.

The idea that Palestinians use their children as human shields is racist and reprehensible. And the idea that the Israelis are somehow spewing this and we're to believe it is also racist.


TAPPER: Diana, it's not racist.

We have video of the Hamas spokesman on television telling people to stay in their homes, that it's an effective way to make sure to fight off the Israelis. That's not racist. That's just a fact.

BUTTU: Jake, I haven't seen the tape, first and foremost.

And, secondly, as I have indicated that, if this were the case, then that would be reprehensible. I somehow do not believe, though, that people are going to listen to somebody who says stay inside while your house is being bombed.

People don't want to die, Jake. And the fact that the Israelis continue to drop bombs on them doesn't make them want to die any more. It's simply a fact that what the Israelis are doing is they're dropping bombs of a magnitude that we have never seen before on a captive civilian child population.

TAPPER: Well, it's horrific. But I can't believe that -- you tell me people don't want to die. There is a culture of martyrdom that we hear about all the time.

One of the big differences between the horrific incident of Mohammad Khdeir being killed and the three Israelis being killed is that whoever killed the three Israelis, it's possible that they will have streets named after them and they will get money from Hamas or from outside groups for killing the Israelis, whereas the Israeli government condemned the murder of Mohammad Khdeir.

BUTTU: Jake, I think that you're actually mistaking things.

If you look inside Israel, there are more than 42 cities that have names of streets named after people who themselves have killed and very openly killed Palestinians and are proud for killing Palestinians.

There isn't a culture of martyrdom, Jake. This is a situation in which Palestinians are being killed by the Israelis. Palestinians live and they want to live. They want to be able to live just like every other human being around the world.

And this constant refrain of a culture of martyrdom is very offensive. Palestinians just want to live their lives as normal human beings. And the fact that this military occupation has gone on for such a long time is creating a situation in which Palestinians are dying, not because they want to die, but because Israel is killing them.

TAPPER: Diana Buttu, thank you so much. BUTTU: Thank you.

TAPPER: When we come back, it's becoming a little bit more obvious that Germany's leader is a little fed up with the United States, the latest move in the spy game that means one key American is being forced to say auf wiedersehen and pack his bags coming up.

Plus, forget the teleprompter. The bear is loose, President Obama going off script and off on House Republicans, how he laughed and mocked and threw their own comments back at them.

That's all just ahead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Continuing with our world lead. Over the last few days, we pressed Israeli and Palestinian voices about how to stop the escalating conflict in the Mideast. But what about the U.S. role?

President Obama wrote this, this week in an Israeli newspaper op-ed that peace between Israelis and Palestinians is necessary and still possible. But what concrete steps can the Obama administration really take to end this crisis?


TAPPER: Joining me now is the spokeswoman for the State Department, Jen Psaki.

Jen, good to see you as always.


TAPPER: Secretary of State John Kerry has been on the phone. He spoke with Palestinian President Abbas, he spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

How involved is the U.S. in this crisis?

PSAKI: Well, we're very engaged with the parties. The secretary has also been in touch with leaders in the region, including the Qataris, the Egyptians. And that will continue.

He's in touch with anyone who can play a role in influencing Hamas and bringing an end to the indiscriminate rocket attacks that are going into Israel.

TAPPER: Is it that simple?

If Hamas stopped firing rockets into Israel, this would end this immediate crisis?

PSAKI: Well, Jake, I think de-escalating the tensions on the ground is certainly in the interests of everyone. And Hamas is the aggressor here in terms of -- of their efforts to send rocket attacks into Israel. Israel has the right to defend themselves and it has every right to protect their people.

So there's no reason to be responsive if there aren't rocket attacks coming into Israel.

TAPPER: Jen, your employer, the U.S. State Department, classifies Hamas as a terrorist activity --

PSAKI: We do.

TAPPER: -- as a terrorist group.

Is it time for this unity government between Fatah and Hamas, is it time for it to dissolve? Is it -- is it just -- is it possible for there to be peace if Hamas is in the government?

PSAKI: Well, Hamas is not a part of the technocratic government right now, which is a really important point. And obviously, given the tensions on the ground, given the recent tragedies that occurred just a couple of weeks ago with the death of -- the death of the three Israeli teenagers, the talks between Hamas and Fattah are really frozen at this point in time.

But we have our own principles that we believe any government would need to abide by in order for us to continue our relationship.

But right now, our focus is on reducing the tensions on the ground and de-escalating the situation that's impacting civilians, both in Israel, as well as in Gaza.

TAPPER: Israel and -- and other observers might say that you're -- you're parsing there when it comes to whether or not Hamas is part of the unity government. I -- I take your point technically, that they don't have members in the government. But let -- let's move on.

Let's turn to Iraq. Iraq has notified the U.N. that ISIS has obtained some nuclear material, low grade uranium.

Isn't it concerning that these materials are so easy for these groups to obtain in -- in Iraq?

Does this elevate the threat from ISIS?

PSAKI: Well, first, let me say that the Iraqi government did the right thing by alerting the international community. The IAEA looks into these -- any of these complaints or requests. They've done that. They're doing that now.

And they've also issued a statement that I would point anyone to, to take a look at. This is medical and scientific equipment. So, our level of concern is not high in this case.

TAPPER: The German government has asked the CIA station chief at the U.S. embassy in Berlin to leave. This is, of course, the second report of the U.S. spying in Germany.

We really seem to be in a -- in a rough period in the U.S.-German relationship right now.

PSAKI: Well, I would disagree with that, Jake. Obviously, there are points in every relationship where you may have disagreements or you may have rough patches. And certainly we've gone through some serious discussions with the Germans over the last several months. But we also work together very closely on a range of issues, whether that's the P5-plus-1 negotiations or that's the situation on the ground in Israel. And that will continue.

And the secretary, I expect, will be able to engage with the foreign minister soon, in the coming days.

TAPPER: Well, I'm not saying the relationship is ending, but you would grant that it's a rough patch when these things happen?

PSAKI: Well, the sign of a strong, important relationship is one where you are able to get through the rough patches. And we have every confidence we'll be able to do that in this case, as well.

TAPPER: All right, Jen Psaki at the State Department.

Thank you so much.

PSAKI: Thanks, Jake.


TAPPER: Coming up next, President Obama cracking up the Democratic crowd today at House Republicans expense.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You hear some of them -- "sue him," "impeach him." Really?


TAPPER: That was just the start of the routine. Stick a brick wall behind him.

Plus, he started the church of Joe Pesci and never passed up a chance to verbally destroy organized religion. Now, George Carlin gets something of a last laugh, in a fight with a church on his old New York City block.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In the national lead -- President Obama in the skies aboard Air Force at this hour, after ending his closely watched and heavily criticized trip to Texas, without going to the border to see with his own eyes the tens of thousands of undocumented children in detention centers at the border, as many Republicans and some of his fellow Democrats called for.

President Obama waved away those calls while in Dallas.


OBAMA: This isn't theater. This is a problem. I'm not interested in photo-ops. I'm interested in solving a problem.


TAPPER: Yes, if there's one thing the president is not interested in, it's photo-ops. No interest in photo-ops whatsoever.

Let's bring in White House correspondent Michelle Kosinski.

Michelle, Texas Republican Governor Rick Perry, he had some harsh words for the president after meeting with him.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I know. The speech that the president just did today was actually in a theater. So, that was kind of interesting, given his language yesterday.

But, whoa, this speech. I mean, it started out all "I love barbecue" and helping the middle class. We thought maybe there, with today at least, just a mention of immigration and bam, the president went off on House Republicans, making fun of them, laughing at their attempts to sue him when they're not voting on immigration and so, he throws down the gauntlet to them to, quote, "do something."


OBAMA: "Sue him," "impeach him." Really? For what? You're going to sue me for doing my job?

KOSINSKI (voice-over): He may not be at the border in Texas, but the president used every bit of this opportunity.

OBAMA: I've got a better idea -- do something. If you're mad at me for helping people on my own, let's team up. Let's pass some bills.

KOSINSKI: Speaking for 40 minutes, hammering home his frustration with Republicans in Congress. Yes, on immigration.

OBAMA: They won't even take a vote on the bill. They don't have enough energy or organization or I don't know what to just even vote no on the bill.

Ronald Reagan passed immigration reform and you love Ronald Reagan. Let's go ahead and do it.

KOSINSKI: Answering in a big way the words that keep coming in Washington, over how the situation at the border got to this point.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is a problem of the president's own making. He's been president for 5 1/2 years. When is he going to take responsibility for something? KOSINSKI: Whether he should go to the border, even from some


REP. HENRY CUELLAR (D), TEXAS: I'm not interested in a photo-op of the president being there. I'm interested in him looking at the kids.

KOSINSKI: The president, though, says right now, he's only interested in action, solving the problem, asking Congress to approve nearly $400 billion to secure the border and take care of these children under law, and grant more leeway in getting them sent back more quickly.

REP. BOB GOODLATTE (R), VIRGINIA: The Congress will find the appropriations to do the things that are necessary, but not $3.7 billion.

KOSINSKI: With no uncertain insistence from President Obama.

OBAMA: Hope is what gives young people the strength to march for women's rights, civil rights, gay rights and immigration rights.


KOSINSKI: And so, right now, the Senate appropriations committee is tackling this. They're asking a lot of questions.

And earlier today, Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee was asked point-blank by Dana Bash, are you going to pass this funding request by the president? He said, well, they are looking at targeted appropriations, targeted tweaks. So, this could pass but it seems pretty obvious that Republicans are going to want tomorrow changes, Jake.

TAPPER: Michelle Kosinski at the White House, thank you so much.

Let's bring in Congressman Michael McCaul, who represents a wide swath of Southeast Texas, and has been highly critical of the president's handling of this problem. He's also the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Congressman, thanks for being here.


TAPPER: If you're one of these House Republicans the president has been poking fun at. He has a point, why won't House Republicans even vote on immigration reform, which does include greater protection at the border?

MCCAUL: Well, this is not about immigration reform. It's about security. And I would argue if he wants solutions, taking shots at Republicans -- House Republicans is not the most effective, most productive way to go about this process.

We are looking at his supplemental request. I'm on the task force.

TAPPER: It's about $3.7 billion. MCCAUL: Precisely.

What we want is a message of deterrence. I went down to the border, unlike the president who came to my home state and couldn't take the time to go down and see these kids, these children, on the border. Instead he goes to fundraisers.

I think that's a real slap in the face to the crisis at hand. I think this needs real solutions and it's going to require us working together.

TAPPER: What do you think of the $3.7 billion?

MCCAUL: We're scrubbing the numbers. I think it's a little bit inflated. I think we're -- we want to -- we will appropriate money towards this. But we want it to go towards deterrence.

We cannot allow all these kids to come across the border. We're going to have to start turning them back. Otherwise, they're going to keep coming.

I think the president's message has always been, you know, we're open for business. Come on in. And his policies have dictated that. That's what's caused a crisis.

When I talked to Department of Homeland Security, they say it is this false message, a permiso, free pass getting into the United States that's driving all these kids coming across.

TAPPER: Some of that, of course, from the law signed by President Bush that you voted for in 2008 which would treat Central American kids differently than Mexican kids. Mexican kids sent back immediately. Kids from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala not sent back. They're given a chance to make their case. In retrospect, was that a bad law? Do you wish you hadn't voted for it?

MCCAUL: It was a fast track bill. We didn't even have a recorded vote on it. Feinstein put the amendment in, unintended consequences to legislation. I think you're going to see Congress go back and look at that law so that when Mexicans cross they're treated the same as other than Mexicans from Central America.

To me, that makes sense. If you're a Mexican crossing, there's an expedited removal. If you're other than Mexican, there's not. And I think that's the problem with the law right now, and I think lawmakers need to look at, at changing that law.

TAPPER: One of the issues is a lot of these kids are fleeing poverty. But some of them are fleeing worse than poverty. And some of them are I mean, Honduras, I believe is -- is it Honduras or Guatemala, the murder capital --

MCCAUL: Honduras.

TAPPER: Honduras, the murder capital of the world. And El Salvador and Guatemala aren't too far behind. They're also top five. Are you not all worried about that you send these kids back, I understand the precedent, but you send these kids back, you might be sending them to death.

MCCAUL: Well, look, under the law, if there's a fear of persecution or violence, legally, they can stay in the country. But the problem is that current law, they're in Health and Human Services custody within 72 hours, and then they're brought together with family members in the United States. Most of these little kids, very sympathetic.

I got to tell you, Jake, I was some 17-year-olds that didn't look like little kids to me that, quite frankly, concern me about them coming into the United States, with no education, can't speak English. I'm not sure what they're going to be doing in the United States of America.

We want to be compassionate and humane in what we do, but we have to send a message of deterrence, otherwise they're going to keep coming into the United States.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman Michael McCaul, thank you so much. We appreciate your time.

MCCAUL: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: When we come back, their meeting was described as constructive, but Rick Perry and President Obama's comments after leave some questions about just how constructive it actually was.

Plus, he's won the Nobel Peace Prize and two Grammys. Will President Obama be adding an Emmy to his collection next? The commander-in- chief's surprising nomination, ahead.