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Democrats Pressure Biden to Push Israel for a Ceasefire; Israeli Jets Pound Gaza as Hamas Rocket Fire Resumes; Parties Split Over House Vote on January 6 Commission; Protests Erupt After Officers Not Charged in Fatal Shooting; Texas, Arkansas Brace for Heavy Rain, Dangerous Flooding; CDC: 60 Percent of U.S. Adults have at Least One Vaccine Dose; Massive Cyclone Kills at Least 40 Amid Covid Crisis in India. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired May 19, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM, Israeli forces carry out a fresh round of attacks in Gaza. Now the Biden White House is facing increasing pressure over calls for a ceasefire.

Plus, we're just hours away from a key vote on a commission to investigate the January 6th insurrection. Why a top Republican wants to vote against it.

And a CNN exclusive report, migrants and smugglers use new military- style tactics to avoid being captured at the U.S. border.

Thanks for joining us. And we begin this hour with growing pressure from Democrats in the U.S. Congress for President Biden to push Israel for a ceasefire in the Middle East. A new round of Israeli air strikes today has killed four more civilians in Gaza including a local journalist. That is according to the official Palestinian news agency. The death toll stands at 218 in Gaza, while 12 people have been killed in Israel.

The Israeli air force said a 25-minute attack by more than 50 jets hit a weapons depot, a rocket launcher and a command and control center in southern Gaza. Outrage over Israel's air strikes prompted widespread demonstrations across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. At least four people were killed in clashes with police.

Journalist Elliott Gotkine joins us live this hour from the southern Israeli city of Ashdod. So Elliott, what is the latest on this deadly exchange of fire that continues despite these efforts to find an end to the violence?

ELLIOT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Rosemary, it does continue. And actually, just as you were speaking in that introduction I heard around about ten kind of, you know, dull thuds which suggested those were air strikes taking place in the Gaza Strip, which is about 20, 25 kilometers to the south of where we are right now. So there is no doubt that this is continuing. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be saying that at least for now there is no end in sight.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Hamas and Islamic Jihad received blows they didn't expect. We have taken Hamas years back. We will continue as long as necessary to bring the quiet back to the citizens of Israel.


GOTKINE (on camera): And rockets have also -- still being fired at Israel as well. As you referred to yesterday, there were mortar rounds or projectiles being fired from the Gaza Strip, one injured a soldier. That prompted the authorities to close the crossing there between Israel and the Gaza Strip which had been opened temporarily to allow for humanitarian aid to go into Gaza Strip. And then two migrant workers from Thailand were killed when a mortar hit the agricultural packaging factory they were working at, which was just outside the Gaza Strip.

And I know from colleagues who were down there yesterday afternoon, the sirens were not always going off, there were not always warning signals for people to hear to enable them to try to take cover.

Now, at the same time as we've been discussing, things seem to be -- the momentum seems to be gathering on the diplomatic front. There were reports all over the Israeli media today saying that perhaps a ceasefire had even been agreed already and that it would come into effect on Thursday.

Now, CNN spoke with a senior Hamas leader, called Isak al-Risak (ph), and he said that those reports were simply untrue, but that there is continued efforts to try to reach a negotiated ceasefire. We know that the Egyptians and the French and the Jordanians are also pushing that, and of course, hopes that the Biden administration will also come on board as well.

CHURCH: Indeed. Elliott Gotkine bringing us the very latest from Ashdod Israel, we appreciate it.

Well some U.S. lawmakers are growing impatient with the Biden administration's behind the scenes approach to diplomacy.


That was clear on his visit to Dearborn, Michigan, home to one of the largest Arab-American communities in the United States. President Biden spoke with Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in Congress. She's been harshly critical of the president's stance on Israel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I tell you what, Rashida, I want to say to you that I admire your intellect, I admire your passion and I admire 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.


CHURCH: Well, despite the administration's quiet diplomacy a White House official says President Biden did use a firmer tone with Prime Minister Netanyahu in their latest phone call. But Kylie Atwood reports international allies are pushing for more.


KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN U.S. SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The Biden administration continues to engage in diplomacy in an effort to bring an end to the violence in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. And most recently Secretary of State Tony Blinken had phone calls with his counterparts from Bahrain and Morocco. They discussed outreach to try to bring an end to the violence. Also their concerns over the fact that this violence is now continuing on.

But this diplomacy, quiet and intensive diplomacy, as Blinken has described it, comes as there is growing pressure on the Biden administration, particularly from their own party, to call more clearly for a ceasefire. Now, President Biden has said that he would support a ceasefire, but he has not outright demanded or called for one. There are questions as to why the Biden administration is not putting more pressure particularly on Israel to call for and to engage in a ceasefire. And this is putting the Biden administration more and more isolated from its own party on this issue.

Kylie Atwood, CNN, the State Department.


CHURCH: And just hours from now the House of Representatives faces a key vote whether to move forward with a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6th Capitol insurrection. The bill is expected to clear the House easily. But the Republican House leadership is making no secret of its opposition. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says he will vote against the bill and McCarthy's number two in the House Steve Scalise is now urging other House Republicans to oppose it, too. CNN's Ryan Nobles has more on what their motives might be.


RYAN NOBLES, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The plans for a commission to investigate the January 6 Capitol insurrection have hit a serious roadblock.

In a statement rejecting the bipartisan deal, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, quote, "Given the speaker's shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation."

McCarthy is insistent that groups like Black Lives Matter and Antifa, as well as the Good Friday death of a Capitol Police officer, be included in the commission's work.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): If you're going to have a commission, you should look at the whole broad spectrums. We just went through a whole summer of riots throughout the city. We should grasp that as well.

NOBLES (voice-over): The bill can pass the House with only Democratic support but would need 10 Republican votes on the Senate side.

Senate Republican Whip John Thune said the passage of the commission now is, quote, "uncertain," as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell weighs his options.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I think I'm safe in characterizing our conference as willing to listen to the arguments about whether such a commission is needed.

NOBLES (voice-over): McCarthy himself could be a key part of the panel's work, especially given the phone call he made to former President Trump as the riot was heating up.

MCCARTHY: I engaged in the idea of making sure we could stop what was going on inside the Capitol at that moment in time. The president said he would help.

NOBLES (voice-over): McCarthy told other Republican members Trump told him during the call that the rioters cared more about the election results than he did. Some have even suggested he could be forced to testify in front of the commission.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): I wouldn't be surprised if he were subpoenaed. I think that he very clearly and said publicly that he's got information about the president's state of mind that day.

NOBLES (voice-over): And then there is the politics of all of it. Trump could become a focus of the investigation. And in recent weeks, McCarthy has gone to great lengths to tie himself to the Trump wing of the party, helping purge Liz Cheney from Republican leadership.

Trump defender Congressman Matt Gaetz celebrating McCarthy's decision, tweeting, quote, "Now, finally, McCarthy sees it my way."

Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries says --

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): It's hard to take Kevin McCarthy seriously at this point.

NOBLES (voice-over): It's not the first time McCarthy has inserted politics into a congressional investigation.


During the lengthy GOP-led probe into the Benghazi attacks, McCarthy bragged about how the process damaged Hillary Clinton politically.

MCCARTHY: When you look at the poll numbers of Hillary Clinton, they have dropped, unfavorable is pretty high.

NOBLES: Now despite the fact that Republican House leadership has said very specifically that they don't want their Republican members to vote for this 1/6 commission Bill it seems likely it will pass the House easily on Wednesday and will do so with at least some Republican support. The bigger question is what happens when it makes its way to the Senate, it will need at least ten Republican votes in order to pass. The Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer promising on Tuesday that the bill will make its way to the Senate floor.

Ryan Nobles, CNN on Capitol Hill.


CHURCH: Reaction to McCarthy's opposition to the bill has predictably split along party lines. Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern had scathing words for McCarthy suggesting the house minority leader was motivated by fear.


REP. JIM MCGOVERN (D-MA): I think the only reasonable conclusion is that he is afraid of Donald Trump and he doesn't want to offend him, doesn't want to get disinvited to Mar-a-Lago. But it is sad and it is pathetic and getting to the truth matters here. My hope is that my fellow Republicans will stand up to the bully in Mar-a-Lago and do the right thing and get to the truth.


CHURCH: But some Republicans say it's actually the Democrats who are afraid.


REP. JIM JORDON (R-OH): This is going to be impeachment round three, it's going to be one more attack and broadside against President Trump. The Democrats are afraid he's going to run again. That's why they want this commission. To just go after him one more time.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): The commissioners are going to be named by Congressional leaders including Speaker Pelosi who is, let's face it, ultimately responsible for security of the Capitol. If there were security lapses, and there were, she needs to be held accountable as well and if she's picking commissioners that will never happen.


CHURCH: And we are following a legal setback for the Trump organization. The New York state Attorney General's office is now actively investigating the Trump organization in a criminal capacity along with the Manhattan District Attorney. The probe is no longer solely a civil matter. The teams are investigating whether the Trump organization improperly inflated assets on financial statements to secure loans and obtain economic and tax benefits. They are also investigating how Trump organization employees were compensated. Former President Donald Trump has called the investigation politically motivated.

Well, protesters took to the streets in North Carolina after the three sheriff's deputies involved in the fatal shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. were not charged. Officials said they were justified in their actions and will be reinstated and retrained. CNN's Joe Johns has a look at the new bodycam video showing the fatal interaction, but a warning, some of the footage is graphic.


ANDREW WOMBLE, PASQUOTANK COUNTY, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Mr. Brown's death, while tragic, was justified.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The final word from the Pasquotank County District Attorney Andrew Womble on the investigation into the fatal shooting of Andrew Brown Jr., no criminal charges for the officers involved in the 42-year-old's death.

WOMBLE: When you employ a car in a manner that puts officers lives in danger, that is a threat. And I don't care what direction you're going, forward, backward, sideways, I don't care if you're stationary and neither do our courts and our case law.

JOHNS (voice-over): Newly-released video shown by the district attorney shows the attempted arrest on April 21st, when deputies in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, were attempting to serve Brown with two felony warrants and a search warrant. This was the first public viewing at the much discussed the body cam videos, and the entire incident last just 44 seconds. In the videos, you see deputies jump in the back of a truck before confronting Brown in a parked BMW.

You see the vehicle move, deputies shout for Brown to stop. And then the deputies opened fire. The vehicle eventually comes to a stop, after 14 shots are fired.

The D.A. says Brown used his vehicle as a weapon against the officers, a sharp contrast of what the Brown family's lawyer said after they viewed the police bodycam footage last week.

CHANCE LYNCH, ATTORNEY FOR ANDREW BROWN JR.'S FAMILY: When the first shot fired, he was sitting in his car and then he began to back up. At no time did we see him go towards a sheriff deputy at any time, the first shot was fired and what we saw was after he was fired, he began to back up, because he wanted to get out of there.

JOHNS (voice-over): They say Brown's death was whitewash today by the district attorney.


WOMBLE: Dr. Kelly determined Brown suffered two gunshot wounds, one to the right shoulder of the arm that was non-lethal, a second wound to the back of the head of the base of this call near the hairline.

JOHNS (voice-over): A contradiction to the independent autopsy commissioned by Brown's family.

WAYNE KENDALL, ATTORNEY FOR ANDREW BROWN JR.'S FAMILY: What our preliminary autopsy report shows is that there were five penetrating bullet wounds to the body of Andrew Brown Jr.

JOHNS (voice-over): The family released a statement, following the press conference saying in part, to say this shooting was justified, despite the known facts is both an insult and a slap in the face to Andrew's family.

JOHNS: Yet another demonstration here in Elizabeth City on Tuesday night. Protesters have called for the recusal of the district attorney. He says he's going to keep doing his job. But as far as the federal government is concerned, this case may not be over. The Charlotte field office of the FBI has announced a civil rights investigation.

Joe Johns, CNN, Elizabeth City, North Carolina.


CHURCH: And earlier CNN spoke with several of the attorneys of Andrew Brown's family. They remain adamant the officers involved were not justified in using deadly force.


KENDALL: The DA is wrong. This was not a justified shooting. Anybody watching that video can see that Mr. Brown was attempting to get out of the way of these deputies who were pointing weapons at him.

HARRY DANIELS, ATTORNEY FOR ANDREW BROWN JR.'S FAMILY: This DA sound more like a criminal defense attorney. He has cherry picked, unilaterally picked what he wants to show to try to make a justification of these officers act. In fact, even with the attempt to do as that -- to do that, he still -- the video still is clear that this is not a justifiable shooting. So even in his efforts to try to cherry pick, you don't have anything to cherry pick because it still shows an unjustified killing of Andrew Brown.


CHURCH: They are now asking the Justice Department to intervene in the case. Meantime, the FBI has separately announced it will open a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting.

Extreme weather is barreling across parts of the southern U.S. right now, more than 100,000 customers are without power in Texas, many of them around Houston. Flash flood warnings are issued for the area. And in neighboring Arkansas officials report flooding has damaged homes, trapped cars and forced rescues. Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has more -- Pedram. PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, good morning, Rosemary. A

very concerning weather pattern shaping up here across portions of eastern Texas, western Louisiana, parts of Arkansas into Oklahoma as well. And the elements in place here to dive and bring Gulf moisture directly towards this region of Texas and Louisiana and unfortunately, the past couple of days have played out very similar to this where 72- hour totals have brought down as much as 16 inches of rainfall across this region.

And over 30 million Americans now underneath these flood alerts and some areas flood warnings meaning flooding is imminent or occurring. And then notice the thunderstorm activity here. Counting the past 12 hours almost 50,000 lightning strikes. You speak to the difficulty of getting through the night here when it comes to the risk of flooding. Talk about how loud it is outside here with these thunderstorms just roaring right through in region of eastern Texas, of course, densely populated areas. That's a level 3 there on a scale of 1 to 4 for flooding and excess rainfall there.

For Houston into Lake Charles, that's for this morning into this afternoon. The threat shifts a little farther towards the north and east there and minimizing just a little bit but unfortunately does keep Houston in line on a level 3 once again going towards Thursday afternoon.

And then there is this. The moisture directed towards this region similar to what we call an atmospheric river pattern. We see this sometimes across parts of the Western United States where you get just a deluge of rainfall, and this could be the case here over the next couple of days. The energy just remains directed towards this region.

Of course, a lot of severe weather as well in recent days, upwards of well over 100 severe weather reports, nearly 30 of them related to tornadoes to go along with all that mess that's in place. And then there is the big time heat. Look at the Eastern U.S., the warmest weather of 2021 upon us here, temps in New York City, in Washington, Rosemary, climbing up to near 90 degrees while back towards the Southwest triple digit heat in the forecast, Phoenix up to 101 -- Rosy.

CHURCH: Thanks so much for that Pedram, appreciate it.

Well just ahead the one time epicenter of the coronavirus here in the United States takes a big step towards normalcy.

Also ahead, the International Olympic Committee responds to growing concerns over the safety of the Tokyo Games.



CHURCH: The United States has reached a hopeful milestone in the pandemic. On Tuesday, the CDC reported 60 percent of adults have at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. Since receiving authorization last week more than 3 million children ages 12 to 17 have their first dose as well.

And some good news from the World Health Organization, new COVID cases around the world have declined for the third week in a row. 4.8 million infections were recorded last week a 12 percent drop in new cases. CNN's Erica Hill has more now from New York.


ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Reopening 2021 brought to you by vaccines and falling case numbers.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Yesterday, CDC reported 17,724 new cases of COVID-19, the lowest daily case numbers since June 2020.

HILL (voice-over): Hospitalizations and deaths also dropping. These 15 states did not report a single COVID-related death on Monday.

ANDY SLAVITT, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER FOR COVID-19 RESPONSE: We're winning with the war on the virus, and we need you to help us finish the job.

HILL (voice-over): Nearly 60 percent of the adult population in the U.S. has now had at least one shot. Kentucky's governor now urging kids in his state to roll up their sleeves.


GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D), KENTUCKY: We need your help to protect people. We need your help to overcome a challenge that we adults can't do on our own.


HILL (voice-over): Ohio's governor noting a major boost in vaccinations on the heels of that FDA authorization for 12- to 15- year-olds and his state's new Vax-a-Million plan announced last week which will award five $1 million prizes to vaccinated Ohioans.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO: Last Friday, May 14th, was the highest day of shots administered in the last three weeks.

HILL (voice-over): The CDC warning in a new report that low vaccination rates in rural areas could prolong the pandemic. The nation's top infectious disease expert embracing the CDC's latest guidance.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I am now much more comfortable in people seeing me indoors without a mask.

HILL (voice-over): California won't adopt that guidance for another month, but fully vaccinated New Yorkers can drop the masks and distancing tomorrow.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: If you're vaccinated, you win freedom. It's as simple as that. HILL (voice-over): Baltimore not ready to loosen restrictions despite Maryland dropping its statewide mandate last week.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a little confusing county versus city.

HILL: In Texas requiring masks could earn counties, public health officials and school districts a $1,000 fine. Texas Governor Greg Abbott signing an executive order on Tuesday which bans state governmental entities from requiring face coverings. Now, public schools can still require masks through June 4th but after that it's not allowed regardless of age or vaccination status. Texas lifted its statewide mask mandate on March 2nd.

In New York, Erica Hill, CNN.


CHURCH: Well meantime, India is reporting its deadliest day of the pandemic so far. The country has recorded more than 4,500 deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday. The most deaths in a single day since the pandemic began.

And that's in addition to at least 40 people dead as monster cyclone sweep through India. The storm has destroyed roads and buildings, impacting coronavirus relief efforts across the country. And CNN's Anna Coren joins me now live from Hong Kong to talk more about this. So Anna, as India hits an unwanted grim death toll it's also dealing the aftermath of that deadly cyclone. What is the latest on all of this?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's the western states of the country that have been severely impacted by this storm, particularly the state of Gujarat, which is where the Prime Minister Nagendra Modi landed a short time ago. He is going to be surveying the damage by air traveling over the hardest hit areas whilst meeting with the state's chief minister.

It really has complicated the situation in those states. Many of them had been seeing a surge in infections in the last few weeks. So with this cyclone, as you say, it's the strongest to have hit this region in over 20 years. It has suspended the vaccination program in many of these areas and now the cleanup and the wide scale destruction that it has left in its wake is just going to cause more and more problems.

Narendra Modi, he has said when he addressed the public yesterday, that they really need to scale up vaccine production. We have to remember that he and his government have come under widespread criticism for the handling of the second wave, but also of the vaccination program and the shortage of supply.

The Serum Institute of India, which is one of the largest manufacturers of vaccine in the world, its CEO came out yesterday saying that they did not export vaccine at the expense of Indians. Its focus now very much on producing for local demand. We have to remember that only 3.2 percent of Indians have been fully inoculated. Such a long way to go -- Rosemary. CHURCH: Just incredible, isn't it? Anna Coren brings us the very

latest on what is happening across India. Appreciate it.

Well, Tokyo is under intense pressure to cancel or postpone the Olympic Games this summer due to the pandemic. The International Olympic Committee is addressing those concerns. And just a short time ago the IOC president announced the games will be held in a safe way and he believes Tokyo 2020 officials are managing the situation and the risks.

For more on this we want to bring in CNN's Blake Essig. He joins us live from Tokyo. Good to see you, Blake. Of course 80 percent of people across Japan don't want to see these games go forward. What is the latest on the likely future of them?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Rosemary, these games have been deeply unpopular for a long time and with the chorus of criticism that has been flowing for, you know, days and weeks now.