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Israel Hits More Targets in Gaza as Hamas Continues Rocket Attacks; Soon, Biden to Speak in Dearborn, Michigan; Biden Pursuing "Quiet" Diplomacy on Israel-Gaza Fighting; Growing Push to Vaccinate Hesitant Evangelicals in U.S.; Biden Speaks on Economic Agenda at Ford Plant in Dearborn. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 18, 2021 - 13:30   ET



BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now today Palestinians, in east Jerusalem and the West Bank have been observing a general strike in solidarity with their fellow Palestinians in Gaza.

We have seen large confrontations, protests between Palestinians and Israeli forces in all the major cities of the West Bank.

And also here. This is the neighborhood where there are four Palestinian families who are under threat of forced eviction by Israeli settlers.

And this has been a flash point, even though it's been in the news recently, going back to 2008-2009.

But because there was a pending court case in the Israeli Supreme Court, what we've seen over the last month is that there have been protests, there have been confrontations between Palestinians and supporters of the Palestinians among the Israeli population and the security forces here.

So this is where the spark of the current conflagration first happened -- Ana?

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Ben Wedeman, there in Jerusalem, thank you.

I want to discuss with CNN political and national security analyst, David Sanger. He's also a national security correspondent for "The New York Times."

David, I have to warn you, I might have to interrupt because the president's about to speak in Michigan.

First, the White House says its strategy is quiet diplomacy when it comes to the Middle East conflict. Do you think that approach will be effective?

David, can you hear me? It's Ana in New York.


CABRERA: We're obviously having an issue with David Sanger's connection there. Forgive us.

We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back with much more on the conflict in Israel.

But also remarks from the president as he speaks in Michigan at a Ford plant there.

Stay with us.



CABRERA: Welcome back. Live pictures in Dearborn, Michigan, inside a Ford facility where the president is currently touring.

We have our Jeff Zeleny live on the ground in Michigan as the president pays this visit today.

Jeff, what is happening there right now? And talk about the significance of the president's trip today.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, President Biden is going to be speaking just momentarily here at this Ford electric vehicle plant that is going to be producing the F-150 Lightning.

That is the all-electric, first one in the fleet of America's best- selling pickup truck. That's going to be coming out next year.

But the president is going to be using this as a moment to talk about his economic agenda, talk about why the U.S. needs to lead the way in terms of competition.

Of course, this all leads into his jobs plan, this all leads into his climate change plan. So this is all part of a piece of that here in Michigan, a state he narrowly won last year, turning it blue after President Trump carried it in 2016.

But one of the ways he did that, by winning Michigan, was winning strongly here in Dearborn.

And now this is the site of one of the largest Arab-American populations in the United States.

So the timing of this trip, long scheduled, well before the rising violence in the Middle East, is coming at a time when the president is actually being protested.

Demonstrators are gathering in other parts of the Dearborn about a mile or so from here. Not necessarily protesting the president being in the White House. But trying to draw attention to his policies and urging him to try and step up the pressure on Israel to deescalate the violence in the Middle East.

So this is something that the White House is stepping into rather gingerly here.

I'm told the president is not expected to address that here in his speech coming up shortly in Dearborn. He's just going to be talking about the economy.

But, Ana, certainly a sign of the rising tensions in the Middle East, having a big impact on his domestic agenda and plans as well.

CABRERA: It is interesting, Jeff, to know that the president has been so vocal on the economy and hammering home in multiple events each week some kind of economic message about reopening and getting Americans back to work and creating jobs.

And the need for these infrastructure proposals, and spending that he's trying to convince Americans are worthy.

But he has been very quiet when it comes to the situation that's happening in the Middle East. Even though there's mounting pressure on him to take a stand.

We're seeing them clap, presumably, because the president may be coming to the podium. As soon as he gets there we will, of course, listen in.

But let me pop back to you there, Jeff.

What do you make behind the president's strategy to not speak publicly about the Middle East and to focus all of his message on economic matters?


ZELENY: Well, look, this is something that the president -- is part of his economic recovery plan. Of course, there was relief and now recovered.

He needs to, you know, really get the economy jump started again so they have not -- they have never wanted their focus to be on the Middle East.

He has preferred his foreign policy focus to be on China, among other issues, as well as his upcoming summit likely this summer with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But there's no doubt, the Middle East, as it does for every president and every White House, it rears its head and becomes an issue that presidents have to deal with.

The difference now is the Democratic Party has changed dramatically since Joe Biden rose through his years in the Senate, even as vice president.

So now there's a large split inside the Democratic Party really calling on this White House to take a more aggressive stance against Israel, to urge the president to call for a cease-fire in a very strong way.

And so this president is not eager to wade into that. He, of course, is going to have to, he's spoken with leaders on both sides over the weekend. But he is not eager to have this overtake his agenda.

So it's not necessarily overshadowing his trip here to Michigan, but it certainly is competing with his trip.

But again, I am told the president is not, again, going to address this here, which will be the -- about the fourth or fifth day in a row of him not talking about this rising violence in the Middle East.

But we did see he had a brief private conversation with a member of Congress here, Rashida Tlaib, who, of course, has been very vocal, urging the White House to step up their efforts to deescalate the violence here.

So it will be unclear how long the president will be able to walk this fine line. But for now, we're told he's not planning on focusing on that at his address at this Ford plant -- Ana?

CABRERA: OK, Jeff Zeleny, thank you.

Clearly, that is not the president making remarks just yet.

We'll take a quick break. And we'll take you there as soon as the president begins speaking.

Stay with us. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



CABRERA: A crisis of faith? A recent survey shows white evangelical Protestants were the U.S. religious group most likely not to get a COVID vaccine and now prominent leaders, like the Reverend Franklin Graham, are trying to change that.

Curtis Chang and Kris Carter are, too. They are the co-founders of Christians and the Vaccine, a campaign working to persuade evangelicals to get vaccinated.

Great to have you both with us.

Curtis, what do you think is behind the reluctance of evangelicals to get vaccinated?

CURTIS CHANG, CO-FOUNDER, CHRISTIANS AND THE VACCINE: This reluctance is fundamentally driven by a profound distrust of institutions, especially secular institutions. Because the decision to take the vaccine really is a decision to trust institutions, the big pharma, government, the FDA, CDC. You're only going to take the vaccine if you trust institutions.

And what we're seeing in the evangelical community is a profound distrust of institutions, one that's been heightened by some internal issues within the evangelical church but also by external forces trying to exploit this distrust.

CABRERA: And we've heard some conspiracy theories thrown about, about, Kris, from people reluctant to get the vaccine, talking about microchips inside the vaccines.

Where did that all begin?

CHANG: Well, that began from external forces.

You have to understand, there's three primary forces that are coming from the external to the evangelical church that are exploiting some internal tensions and issues within the church.

So the three forces are, one, conservative media has made it a business model to recruit evangelical eyeballs by intensifying distrust, by promoting alarmist stories. That's the first force.

The second one has been conservative politicians that have thought to gain votes by inflaming the distrust of evangelicals from the establishment in Washington.

And then the third is online social movements. That's where we see movements like QAnon and the anti-vaxxer movement purposely targeting evangelicals to heighten their suspicion to sell products or gain recruits for their movement.

Again, evangelicals, we have own problems internally, but it's important to highlight that we're also being targeted by forces to recruit our votes, eyeballs and, in some cases, with the vaccine, our very bodies.

CABRERA: Kris, let me ask you, obviously evangelicals are people of faith. They have a deep faith when it comes to their religion.

Why can't they have faith in these vaccines?

KRIS CARTER, CO-FOUNDER, CHRISTIANS AND THE VACCINE: Yes, it really does go back to this same sort of fundamental point that Curtis has already made about institutional distrust.

And frankly, that sort of distrust as some level is built into our faith, right? We're, as evangelicals, one of Jesus' words was to be in the world but not of the world.

There's a little bit of a sense that many evangelicals have of struggling with authority from institutions, like the CDC, or NIH, or certainly large companies like pharma. That's where really the core of it is. But we really set ourselves up to be more susceptible to these things because of some of the things that have happened in recent years, vis- a-vis, you know, our consumption of conservative media, and some of the folks we hear in conservative politicians.

CABRERA: Our colleague, Elle Reeve, she talked to parishioners and the pastor at Life Tabernacle Church in Louisiana. Take a listen to what they told her.


ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Are you going to get the vaccine?

JEFF JACKSON, LIFE TABERNACLE CHURCH PARISHIONER: No. It's detrimental to your health. It starts going into conspiracy theory type stuff.

REEVE: Uh-huh.

JACKSON: But I believe it's Bill Gates and them trying to kill us.

JACOB MCMORRIS, LIFE TABERNACLE CHURCH PARISHIONER: I feel like -- and I know it works medically -- but when you put something in you to help you stop from getting it, you know, that just doesn't work for me. I've never liked the idea of that.

TONY SPELL, PASTOR, LIFE TABERNACLE CHURCH: You have a 99.6 survival rate. Why do you want somebody to contaminate your bloodstream with something that may or may not hurt you?


CABRERA: Kris, what would be your message to some evangelical leaders who are dismissing or, in some cases, actually spreading disinformation about the vaccines?

CARTER: Yes, it's a really hard, hard message to speak to people who are actually spreading disinformation.

And I'll just tell you, frankly, we don't focus on that extreme end of the spectrum because we believe and research has shown there's a massive movable middle.

The big issue within the evangelical community is frankly not the extreme conspiracy theories. It is more just genuine concern, legitimate concern, medical concerns. But also this issue of just fundamental distrust.


And what we need -- it's what started to happen is it's become normal to distrust something like a vaccine. And that's not healthy for public health reasons.

That's a very dangerous thing when distrust becomes sort of the built- in way that you think. So, we're really trying to focus on that massive movable middle that

is open to and has been shown to be open to rational, helpful thought that can direct them toward what's most helpful and healthy for them.

CABRERA: So, quickly, Curtis, what do you think needs to happen to breakthrough with this group?

CHANG: I think we need to mobilize evangelical voices. And certainly, from the high-profile folks, like Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffers, who have come out in favor of that. That's going to help.

But what the research shows is that movable middle is going to be most moved by people in their immediate community, by their pastor, by their friend in their church, by their friend, who are -- who's in their mom's group.

And that's why we created

We're producing these short videos where every day Christians can share videos to their social network, to their friends and fellow church members, as part of opening up the conversation on vaccines on a very granular level of relationship to relationship.

We're in the ground-game phase of vaccine outreach. This is going to be won or lost on the individual -- congregational and individual friend network.

And we need to equip these folks to have the resources to share with their friend network.

And that is actually where secular public health still has a role to play. Their voice is not going to be persuasive. So it's going to be the voices of evangelicals.



CABRERA: Thank you so much.

CHANG: All right.

CABRERA: Curtis Chang and Kris Carter, thank you so much. I appreciate both of you.

President Biden is set to speak any moment from now. You can see him -- live images as he walks up to the podium at this Ford plant in Michigan. Let's listen.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My name is Joe Biden, and I'm a car guy. I got -- please sit down.

I got through high school and college and law school because my dad ran an agency. And I'm delighted to be here.

I want to say something else up front. I'm standing here because, about 180 years ago, when I first got elected to the Senate, gov --


BIDEN: -- the UAW elected me.


BIDEN: We used to have the highest percentage of auto workers of any state in the nation because we had a small workforce and two giant plants, plus Mopar and a few other things going on.

So I want to thank you.

Look -- and I want to thank a good friend of mine, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. As my mother would say, Gretchen --


BIDEN: And God love you, dear.

You've got a backbone like a ramrod. You got a brain as big as anybody in the business. And you are so honorable. It's a delight to know you.

And anything I can do -- as I said to you before, I'll come campaign for you or against you, whichever will help the most.


BIDEN: And, Ang -- I want to thank Angela. We were talking backstage. Backstage, yes, on the other side of the truck. And I want to thank her very much for being so gracious.

And, Rory, I know you're new to the labor movement, but you're doing a pretty good job.



BIDEN: Where is Rory?

Rory, thank you, pal. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And everyone at the UAW for being the best auto workers in the world.

You know, and I want to thank Bill Ford and Jim Farley for hosting us and investing in our workers and in our country.

We're at a great inflection point in American history. How we handle the next four to 10 years is going to determine where we're going to be 30, 40, 50 years from now. It's one of those moments in American history.

This is an incredible facility.

Representative Debbie Dingell, another dear friend. I know John's looking down and he's saying, we're finally getting it down, huh. We're getting it done.

Debbie, you are.

And Representative Dan Kildee is a good friend.

Representative Brenda Lawrence.

And by the way, be careful what you say to Representative Slotkin. She knows more than you and they may be watching you.


BIDEN: Where are you?

I tease her all the time.


BIDEN: She's a great, great, great addition to the Congress.

And Rashida Tlaib? Where's Rashida?

I'll tell you what, Rashida, I want to say to you that I admire your intellect, your compassion and your concern for so many other people.


And it's from my heart, I pray that your grand mom and family are well. I promise you I'm going to do everything to see that they are on the West Bank.

You're a fighter. And, God, thank you for being a fighter.


BIDEN: And Annie Leven (ph) -- I know a lot of Levens (ph) -- and Hailey Stevens (ph), thank you all as well.

I also want to thank Mayor O'Reilly of Dearborn for my passport into the city. Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

And my buddy, Mike Duggan. He is my mayor.

I got -- I was sitting one day in the Oval with Barack Obama, President Obama when I was vice president. And he looked at me like it was just something off the -- he said, by the way, I want you to go fix Detroit.

I said, say that again? What am I going to do?


BIDEN: He said, you can get anybody in the government to go with you, you just do it. First call I made was this guy.

You brought it back. You're a great mayor. And you're a great friend. You got a lot of courage, Mr. Mayor. Thank you.


BIDEN: And two great friends, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, who couldn't be here because they're back fighting like hell, fighting for this industry and the people in this state and for labor.

Labor industry, federal, state, and local leaders all together, that's America at its best. And that's what I so admire about what Bill Ford is doing here.

And I want to -- everything that these workers, this historic complex in the state represent, is something that I hope gets modeled around the country.

It's about respect. It's about dignity. The dignity of work.

My dad used to say, Joey -- and I swear to God, when he left Scranton, when coal died -- my dad was a salesperson. He wasn't a coal miner. My great-grand pop was.

But he said -- he used to say, when he moved to Delaware -- he had to leave because there were no jobs. And left us with our grand pop for a little over a year and he commuted back and forth from Wilmington, Delaware to Scranton on the weekends.

And we got back down to Wilmington, he used to say to all of us -- and I was, I guess, then about I was going to the third grade.

And he would say, Joey, remember, I mean this sincerely, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It's about your dignity. It's about respect. It's about your place in the community.

I really mean this. Look your kid in the eye and say, honey, it's going to be OK. It's going to be OK.

It's not labor. It's union. Because what you allow people to do is hold their heads up, make a decent living, and have pride in what they do. Pride in what you build, pride in what you give this nation.

And I wanted to be here today, the day before you unveil the next generation of America's best-selling vehicle to the entire world, to thank you.

Thank you for showing how we win the competition of the 21st century. You know, how the future's going to be made. It's going to be made here in America. Made in America.


BIDEN: And I have to say, this brings me home. For more than 30 years, my dad would move to Delaware and manage automobile dealerships in Delaware, including a Ford dealership.

And, man, did I like that '57 Ford Fairlane. Oh, boy, it ain't got nothing on after F-150. But all kidding aside, that's what got me through school.

And you know, I doubt I'd be -- I doubt I'd ever contribute $50 billion, $50 billion in support of about 500,000 American jobs, half the one million American jobs it supports overall, like the 150 series.

I just got a tour of the groundbreaking electric vehicle center here, along with UAW workers. They showed me the technology they're using to build this first-ever fully electric F-150.

I was able to sit in it. Quite frankly, they let me see it. So I apologize to you at home won't see it until tomorrow.

But, man, you're going to like it. And I'd sure like to drive it. I wonder whether or not I can lose the Secret Service and go out to the track.

But -- you all think I'm kidding, don't you?


BIDEN: The press knows I'm not.


BIDEN: Look, the future of the auto industry is electric. There's no turning back.


And as Rory says, the American auto industry is at a crossroads. And the real question is whether we'll lead or fall behind in the race to the future.