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More Shells Land Near U.N. School; Interview with UNRWA's Robert Turner; Interview with Rep. Tom Cole

Aired July 31, 2014 - 06:30   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Ukrainian officials say they will stop military action today only to allow investigators access to the crash site. On Wednesday, a CNN crew was able to reach that wreckage, finding passengers' personal belongings scattered across the debris field.

Next stop, the Senate for a bill to overhaul the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs. House lawmakers approved overwhelmingly. Senators are expected to follow suit today. The bill gives the V.A. secretary authority to fire senior workers for mismanagement and allows veterans greater access to outside health care providers if they want more than 14 days for treatment at a V.A. facility.

So, former President George W. Bush has written a biography of his father George H.W. Bush. The book's publisher says it's an intimate illuminating account. The younger Bush's book will be released by the same company that published his memoir "Decision Points". The senior Bush turned 90 last month and I am assuming --


BERMAN: -- that is an authorized biography.

BOLDUAN: You can assume that.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I already take some down.

BERMAN: It's his job.

BOLDUAN: He goes deep on the socks.

CUOMO: Yes, ascension in the family. He was nothing compared to me.

BOLDUAN: I hope there's a whole chapter of his socks, because he does have cool socks.

CUOMO: Just a cool guy, still jumping out of airplanes.

BOLDUAN: I know. My God, I have yet to do that once, and I won't.

CUOMO: Not now.

BOLDUAN: Exactly, right now is not the time.

Now is the time to get over to Indra. Indra, what's going on with weather?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I like we're talking about. It's like weekend activities, so close.

Hey, it's Friday eve, I still stand by that, but here's the bad news. We're talking a lot of showers for eastern half of the country for several reasons. One, here's this low. Notice all the waves of energy kind of kicking around it. That's from now through Friday. Then what happens after that, the warm front hanging off the coast line. It's going to back in.

So, all this moisture off the Atlantic, all the warm mid-air will be just enough to bring the showers along entire Eastern Seaboard for the weekend, not anything anyone wants to see especially when we talk about a threat for severe weather today. So, New England today, places like Burlington and Concord, and even out towards Maine still looking for that threat of severe weather but really rough. You're talking about any places like Arkansas, Louisiana, looking about 2 to 5 inches of some heavy rain, just east of Dallas. Keep in mind if you're going towards Houston, you could be talking about delays out there.

This is the story everyone has been talking about. Look at these morning temperatures, 50s and even 60s in Florida in the summertime. This is rare, guys. You may be saying 70s, 80s. It's not that cool, but keep in mind 70 degrees in the South. That's not a temperature you should be seeing until October, so Memphis today, your high is just 77 degrees. Enjoy, that feels pretty good out there.

Another little piece of good news I want to end on, looking out towards the Atlantic, 60 percent chance yesterday, it was a 70 percent chance. Still high, we can see some development out there, with the better news right now the models are trying to curb it out to sea, thanks to the cold fronts kicking on through.

One piece of good news: we have some showers here, but it could mean we can take the bigger system and kick it right out to sea. We like that.

BOLDUAN: Yes, push it out to sea.

PETERSONS: Farther and farther.

BOLDUAN: Spaghetti models, the only time I don't like spaghetti.

BERMAN: It's Bermuda's problem, why should we care?


BOLDUAN: That's what John said, we didn't say that, did you?

CUOMO: I said nothing.

BOLDUAN: Coming up next on NEW DAY, we're going to have more on the overnight shelling in Gaza, near U.N. school. We're going to talk to the U.N. official about the bloody day and all of the bloodshed. Who do they blame? What happens now?


CUOMO: Welcome back.

Overnight, shells rained down near another U.N. school in Gaza serving as a shelter for displaced Palestinians. It is unknown where that shelling came from, but this comes just one day after a U.N. school shelter was hit by artillery killing 20. The U.N. blames Israel for the attack, but Israel places responsibility on Hamas.

Earlier, we spoke with Robert Turner. He's director of operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. We asked him whom he believes is to blame and why.


CUOMO: I know you're in a very difficult situation. What can you tell us about the latest?

ROBERT TURNER, UNITED NATIONS RELIEF AND WORKS AGENCY: Well, we continue to see massive displacement. We now have more than 225,000 displace in our schools and 86 of our schools, and we keep going through these numbers. We had 20,000, 50,000, 100,000 and, you know, we've perhaps created the impression that there's some kind of infinite capacity that we can continue to absorb these numbers and that they have some kind of comfortable life.

But what we have on average is more than 2,500 people living in these schools which have on average been 30, 35 classrooms. We're talking about 70 people per classroom on average squeezed into these schools. Frankly, we're approaching the breaking point.

CUOMO: You call it an unfolding humanitarian crisis. What do you fear will happen?

TURNER: Well, I think we're looking at a number of different things. One is given the patterns here. Nobody could have guessed that we'll have this scale of displacement, particularly this scale of displacement in our installations or that the displacement would last this long.

These are schools. These are not shelters. They don't have showers or proper washing facilities. So, we have to try to put all that in. The water network in entire -- pretty all of Gaza is effectively not functioning. So, we have to tanker, including non-palatable water for uses for hygiene and cleaning. So, we're looking at a public health crisis in the schools, but a bigger problem in the bigger population.

CUOMO: Now, the worst part of this is that the schools are being targeted seemingly. The big question winds up being is this intentional or these accidental strikes? You say that you gathered fragments from an explosive device in the school that was hit yesterday. What did you find?

TURNER: Our assessment it was Israeli artillery that hit the school yesterday in Jabalya (ph). We're also is looking at the trajectory from which the fire came, it was clearly a north, northeastern area so we're confident that was Israeli artillery shells.

CUOMO: Now, obviously, you know, who did this is going to be a very important determination, the people taking a look at the fragments that you found, doing this assessment, are they experts, do you know what they are talking about, because these are dangerous assertions?

TURNER: Well, I think the evidence that we have and the statements that we've taken, we're confident in that and what we've called for is a full and transparent investigation by professionals, and we'll be happy to deal with that, and we did a final determination to say we're confident in our final analysis that it was Israeli artillery shells that hit the school. But more broadly, we need to understand why and how that happened, and we'll cooperate with that investigation and we'll expect, as the secretary general has said, that we expect some accountability for this.

CUOMO: Israel has said that the reason that they ever fire anywhere near a school is because militants use them as cover, that they had been operating in and around other U.N. schools, ones that you were forced to abandon. Is that accurate?

TURNER: We've called on all parties to the conflict, and we've been very consistent on this, to stay away from our installations, respect (AUDIO GAP) neutrality of our installations. We've been very clear on that. All parties need to do that.

If that activity is happening and it's understandable there would be a military response to that, but then I think there's also the question of what is the appropriate response. Is artillery shelling into an area where you know there's designated emergency shelters, the location of which in that specific case have been passed 17 times the latest the night before the incident, is artillery really the appropriate military response? These are the kinds of questions the investigation needs to ask.

CUOMO: What about the school today. Another school was hit. What do you know about that?

TURNER: I'm unaware of a direct strike on a school today. We do have a report of a school also in the north where a water facility has been described as a desalination plant or a pumping station was hit next to one of our schools. We've had ten injured in that. That was not a direct strike on the school.

CUOMO: All right. Mr. Turner, thank you very much. Obviously, you're doing such important work. Education is such a key to improvement in that area and obviously the last place that should be targeted by anybody.

Be safe. Thank you for keeping us informed. We'll be back in touch.

TURNER: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE) CUOMO: And obviously the accountability question is key and hopefully there are answers there very soon so we can make sure that this conflict spares as many innocents as possible.

Let's take a break here on NEW DAY. When we come back, vacation time is always a good thing except if you're lawmakers in Congress set to leave tomorrow for a five-week recess with all these scenes that are on your television right now ongoing in the world. We're going to ask a member of Republican leadership if they are going on vacation and how do they justify that?


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. We're following breaking news out of Israel. Overnight shelling near a U.N. school, just one day after yet another school was bombed.


BOLDUAN (voice-over): The death toll in Gaza now rising to more than 1, 300 people. 56 Israeli soldiers have been killed.


BOLDUAN (on camera): And Israel's military now calling up 16,000 additional reservists to fight against Hamas. Let's talk about this and much more with Republican Congressman Tom Cole from Oklahoma, a member of the House Republican leadership. Congressman, its great to see you. Thanks for coming in.

REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: Good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much. So I want to ask you first about what happened yesterday. They think maybe 20 people killed in this attack on a U.N. school. The U.N. blames Israel. Israel is blaming Hamas. What do you make of it?

COLE: Well, obviously it's a tragedy, and you regret any loss of life, but I think you have to look at the facts. Israel has been under pretty relentless assault by thousands of rockets. They've uncovered dozens of tunnels that terrorists traverse into their territory. In war, unfortunately, bad things happen and frankly, we've seen instances where Hamas has actually used schools to hide weapons. It's terrible, its regrettable. I think if the attacks on Israel stopped I suspect the Israelis would be more than happy to pull back and go home, but I think this is going to continue until the two sides, you know, come to some sort of understanding that there is not going to be cross-border raids on one another.

BOLDUAN: You make a good point that Hamas they have found, they say that Hamas is hiding weapons in schools, but also you signed a letter, you signed on to a letter, a resolution on Monday. They're asking the U.N.'s top human rights official to condemn Hamas for using civilians as shields. If Israel is found to be at fault in this attack yesterday, does Israel deserve the same criticism from the U.S. Congress? COLE: If they deliberately targeted a school, which I don't think for

a minute they did, that they knew had no military activity going on, then that would be one thing. And, again, you know, we're engaged here, two sides in mortal combat and, unfortunately, there will be collateral damage, but you need to go back to who started this incident and who has refused to stop it. .Israel has abided by every attempted cease-fire. Egypt tried to broker one. Hamas rejected that, so I think the aggressor here is pretty clear and frankly, I think one of their objectives, you know, is to achieve, honestly, high casualties to get global sympathy. But I think if you look at the facts it's pretty clear who is aggressor is and who is acting to defend their territory and their people.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, the fact of the matter is there's not much the U.S. Congress can do to stop the fighting right now between Israel and Gaza. But what more do you think the secretary of state or President Obama should be doing to bring about, at the very least, a sustained cease-fire or bring a resolution to this?

COLE: Look, I think they actually are trying to do the best they can on that. I think they have been unequivocal in their support for Israel and its right to defend itself. I think they have also -- Secretary Kerry has tried to broker several shorter term truces. A couple of those have happened I think with the hope that they would actually grow into a longer thing. I don't have a lot of criticism here of either the administration or the secretary of state certainly, but I do think, and, you know, people need to understand, the United States stands with it its friends and opposes aggression.

We're willing to help in any way that we can. We've certainly done a lot of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians and to people in both Gaza Strip and on the West Bank. Those are appropriate things, but other than using our good offices it's hard to make peace between people unless both parties want to make peace. Right now it doesn't appear to me that Hamas wants to do that.

BOLDUAN: One of the problems we're facing right now when you're talking about trying to provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinians is they're saying that there's nowhere that they can go. They're going to these schools. This U.N. school had 70 people per classroom. They're plain and simply running out of space. Does United States Congress, United States government need to come forward and very clearly state that there are some things, like schools, like hospitals, that no matter what are just simply off limits because these folks need some place, these civilians need some place to find safe haven.

COLE: Well, I think there would be safe haven immediately if Hamas would stop firing rockets into Israel, would stop dozens of tunnels. Not one tunnel, not two to smuggle terrorists in to kill innocent Israelis in their bedrooms at night. Let's understand, again, this is a Hamas-initiated exchange of hostilities and I think the Israelis are awfully determined that they're going to root out these tunnels, that they are going to destroy as many of the missile sites and missile launchers as they possibly can. It's hard to argue with that. If the situation were similar, if we had missiles being fired at us by a neighboring territory I would suspect the American reaction would be pretty stern, swift and decisive.

BOLDUAN: Let me turn your focus to one issue that the House is moving on in the hallways that you're standing in right there, this lawsuit against moving forward with this lawsuit against President Obama, especially with regard to Obamacare. You know this. A lot of folks, Democrats, the president included, say this is a political ploy. This is a mid-term move by House Republicans. What realistically do you guys want to get out of this lawsuit?

COLE: Well, frankly, remember, there was a lawsuit begins the president that was called a political stunt, a political ploy when he usurped the right of the Senate and issued recess appointments when the Senate was not in recess. He lost that case 9-0 in the Supreme Court, so it's not as if the president has not been pretty aggressive in pushing executive power. So we would like to get some clarification here. We've got a lot of tools at our disposal. I think most of them are disproportionate. You're not going to do things like cut off appropriations to important parts of government. That inconveniences the American people, or nor do I think you ought to do things in a legislative sense to harass the president.

We've got a disagreement between the two branches and this is not uncommon. You go to court and so that's what we're seeking to do, because we do think he's overreached. He's changed the affordable care act 41 times without congressional approval, and he's lost, by the way, a number of lawsuits in this area, so I think it's the appropriate tool to try and rein in the executive branch. If we lose the case, we lose the case, but we will at least have tried.

BOLDUAN: That's what I want to ask you about. With regard to the courts many constitutional experts that we've talked to, they raise serious doubts that the courts will even take it up. There's an issue can the U.S. House show that they are actually harmed -- the party that is being harmed in this situation, in this case. If the courts don't take it up or if you lose, is that it? Is the fight over Obamacare over?

COLE: No. We'll probably move on to, again, other tools. There's multiple legal challenges to Obamacare. This is actually much more about a constitutional balance of power, checks and balances that we all read about. We think the president's move to upset them, and not just in this area. We've singled it to a single area for the purposes of litigation, but, you know, we can go across the board, unilaterally suspending immigration laws, ignoring statutes in the Bergdahl negotiation. There's multiple times the president has overreached. And again, these kind things are pretty common. 70 percent of the lawsuits that Congress has aimed at the president in recent years have been filed by Democrats against President Bush so it's not as if both parties don't do this.

There's constitutional clarity that comes out of it on occasion, certainly did in the case of the recess appointments so again, I think the Democrats like to actually hype this up and act as if they are under some sort of relentless assault. This is actually Congress defending its prerogatives in an appropriate way, going to the appropriate forum and trying to get resolution of a legitimate dispute with the president of the United States.

BOLDUAN: Both parties do it, for sure, but I think the criticism that you hear and the frustration from the American people is when that's the only thing that they honestly see that Congress is doing at this time is filing lawsuits and that's why I want to get to that issue of immigration really quickly because we're running out of time.

COLE: Let me correct quickly. Yesterday we passed an extraordinary overhaul, largest one in modern history of the veterans health care facility. We did a $1 trillion plus omnibus bill earlier this year.

BOLDUAN: An excellent point.

There is across-the-board outrage on that. That's not necessarily compromise when you see a department that is so poorly run.

COLE: It was absolutely compromise. I mean, there was a serious negotiation between the House and the Senate across partisan lines, between Bernie Sanders and Jeff Miller, and they arrived at a good solution. They worked together, and they got it done.

BOLDUAN: All right. So can you get that done on immigration, and are you -- are you prepared to stay in town until something is actually agreed upon across party lines?

COLE: Yes. I'm always prepared to stay in town or come back to town. I suspect we will not adjourn. I think we'll stay in pro forma session so if there can be agreements, Congress could return immediately and enact it. We're actually going to pass a bill today that actually addresses the problem, provides the president with additional resources, gets at the core issue and, unfortunately, so far, he's blamed all of this on a 2008 law I think incorrectly, but let's assume he's right and then told us you can't change the 2008 law in any way. He's offered absolutely no suggestions, you know.

We know from news reports that the administration was warned in 2012 and 2013 the situation was brewing and took no preemptive action, so we're trying to address an emergency and we're willing to come back and work areas. This is a border crisis situation. Really, the immigration overhaul debate is irrelevant. If immigration legislation had been passed, and this were going on, and it would be, it would still be illegal, so we need to deal with the immediate problem. We think we've got the appropriate answers.

BOLDUAN: And the volley will go back and forth. The House will do its will. We already know that the president says he will veto that bill. He's already threatened that. We'll see where the Senate goes, and if you guys stay in town to figure it all out.

COLE: It would be great if he offered an answer and proposal of his own. He hasn't done that.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, thank you very much for your time.

COLE: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: All right.

Chris, over to you.

CUOMO: Hey, you pushed all the important points there, and you got a pretty good acknowledgement, we haven't heard that before. They may stay in pro forma session instead of adjourning all together so maybe they will be able to get something done. They certainly have enough to do. That's one story we're following. A lot of other news this morning so let's get right to it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They'll continue to fire rockets, they will get back rockets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 13 days since MH-17 was blown out of the sky and remains here a monument to cruelty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Putin does not respect our president. I see this as becoming a real threat to the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have no plans to impeach the president. It's all a scam.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Come on and help out a little bit. Stop being mad all the time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The deadly Ebola virus spreading even further.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very fast moving and its very terrifying. They are not going to be discharged alive.


CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome back to NEW DAY. Let's get straight to the latest breaking developments in the Middle East.


CUOMO (voice-over): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will keep pursuing Hamas' terror tunnels into Israel with or without a cease-fire, adding this is just the first phase of a demilitarization of Gaza. The president of the Palestinian authority now reaching out to the U.N. secretary-general claiming Israel's strikes constitute war crimes and he's asking for more help.

BOLDUAN (voive-over): Overnight more shells fell near a U.N. School in Gaza. A spokesman for the U.N. Says the school was not at the actual target. It comes a day after Israel responded to militant rocket fire with deadly strikes on an outdoor market.


BOLDUAN (on camera): Gaza officials say 17 people were killed in that. We're going to show you some really powerful and very difficult video to watch of that attack. At one point the camera man who is filming this was actually injured. His assistant had to pick up the cameras, and he kept filming. We want to warn you the video is disturbing, and part of it is graphic, but it is important also to see.