Full transcript of "Face the Nation," April 28, 2024

On this “Face the Nation” broadcast, moderated by Margaret Brennan: 

  • Hanna Siegel, sister of Keith Siegel, who is being held hostage by Hamas
  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky 
  • Rep. Summer Lee, Democrat of Pennsylvania
  • University of Chicago political science professor Robert Pape
  • Catherine Russell, UNICEF executive director 

Click here to browse full transcripts of “Face the Nation.”   

MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m Margaret Brennan in Washington.

And this week on Face the Nation: Pressure builds to try and get the Hamas-held hostage negotiations back on track, and campus protests sparked by the Israel-Hamas conflict spread across the country.

On Saturday, more Hamas proof-of-life propaganda featuring another American hostage held in Gaza appearing very much under duress.

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MARGARET BRENNAN: President Biden vows that he will not rest until every hostage is returned and sends his top diplomat back to the region.

Plus, with $61 billion in aid now headed to Ukraine, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell apologizes to Volodymyr Zelenskyy for Senate Republicans’ role in that delay that took its toll on the country’s war effort.

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MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you feel your party is responsible for those setbacks?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-Kentucky): Many of them, yes. We – we took too long.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Plus: What’s helping fuel those campus protests from coast to coast? We will tell you.

It’s all just ahead on Face the Nation.

Good morning, and welcome to Face the Nation.

We begin today with foreign correspondent Debora Patta in Jerusalem.

(Begin VT)

DEBORA PATTA (voice-over): Like most days in Rafah, this one began with mourning…


DEBORA PATTA: … after more Israeli strikes hit what is mostly a tent city in the south sheltering over half of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians crammed up against the Egyptian border.

There were heartbreaking farewells to tiny bodies wrapped in shrouds. This infant has known only war her entire life. It’s been a brutal week for children. Even miracle baby miracle Sabreen al-Ruh, who was saved from her dying mother’s womb a week ago, lived just five days. She’s been buried next to the rest of her family.

Rafah is already under daily bombardment, but Israel keeps threatening a ground invasion. And Palestinians who’ve already fled multiple times keep asking, where will they go? Much of Gaza lies in ruin, the destruction on such a scale it is uninhabitable.

This morning, more humanitarian aid was airdropped over the territory, and this IDF footage shows the floating pier being built by the Americans near the Gazan coastline, which officials say will be completed early May, allowing more supplies to flow into Gaza.

But the dire warnings of imminent famine have not gone away. Already, the U.N. says one in three children under the age of 2 is acutely malnourished, prior to October 7, hardly any. And despite an increase in aid, the U.N. says it is still not enough to avert famine, which could spread across the north next month.

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DEBORA PATTA: Ahead of a possible rougher invasion, there are now last- ditch attempts to revive cease-fire talks.

Hamas has stepped up the pressure by releasing propaganda videos that show three hostages, including two Americans, still alive, but speaking under duress.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Our Debora Patta in Jerusalem.

And we are joined now by Hanna Siegel, whose uncle, Keith Siegel, is one of those American hostages.

Good morning to you, Hanna.

HANNA SIEGEL (Niece of Hamas Hostage): Good morning, Margaret. Thank you for having me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you for speaking to us.

I know that the Biden administration has reached out to you and your family. The FBI is analyzing that video released yesterday. What stood out to you? I think this is the first proof of life so far?

HANNA SIEGEL: We – we’ve always believed that he’s alive. We have to believe that he’s alive.

And his wife, my aunt, Aviva Siegel, who was held for 52 days, released in the deal that took place in November, she was with him. And so we knew – when she came out, she told us that he was alive. But this is the first time that we’re seeing him, that we’re hearing him.

It’s – it’s surreal.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you have “205” there. That’s the number of days he has been held.

In the video, your uncle, under duress, mentions the protests that have been taking place in Israel pressuring the government for a deal. Do you think that a deal can be reached at this point, and is it up to the United States to close it?

HANNA SIEGEL: I do think a deal can be reached. I mean, we – we know that. A deal was reached in November. Dozens of women and children were released, including my aunt, Aviva Siegel.

So we know that it’s possible. And I do think that’s really important to remember. The United States plays a critical role. It played a critical role in November. I think, you know, ultimately, this is a negotiation between Hamas and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel.

And one of the things that really worries my family and worries me is that it’s arguably not in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s political interest to close a deal. And, you know, for us, this is the moment. These videos – as you know, there was a video released a couple of days ago of another American hostage, Hersh Goldberg-Polin.


HANNA SIEGEL: I do think that these two videos are a signal from Hamas that they are ready to make a deal and a reminder that there are American citizens being held, including – including Keith.

MARGARET BRENNAN: There are 133 hostages that we know of, five of them Americans. Why do you believe it is not in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s interest to cut a deal to bring them home?

HANNA SIEGEL: I think, you know, there is a lot swirling in the political landscape in Israel. And I’m not here to talk about that.

But there have been negotiations going on for months now. We’re at 205 days. There have been deals on the table. And they’ve proven elusive. And I worry that that is because of Prime Minister Netanyahu. So I think that now is the moment.

I think – I have faith that we can do a deal now. But I also think that, if that isn’t possible, then the Biden administration should think about what they can do directly to bring our American citizens home.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Secretary of State Antony Blinken is flying to the region now and is going to talk about a cease-fire and a hostage deal.

Do you know if the Biden administration is considering making a deal to bring the Americans home without the Israeli government’s approval or role here?

HANNA SIEGEL: I don’t know.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you want them to look at that option?

HANNA SIEGEL: What I know is that the Biden administration has shown unwavering and relentless commitment to my family and the families of all of the hostages.

And I know that it is their priority to bring all hostages, including the Americans, home. And so I know that they are doing absolutely everything that they can. Keith, in this video, I mean, he starts the video by saying how much he loves us, he loves our family.

And he’s obviously under duress. He’s gaunt. He looks weak. But that’s real. I know that he misses his family. He talks about – you know, I think the hardest part of the video is, he breaks down talking about being alone on Passover.

Those of us Siegels in America got together for Passover and those in Israel got together for Passover. And we had – we had this little picture of Keith at the table, but he’s not home. And so I have such faith, and I have felt the commitment from the Biden administration to get him back.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Keith’s daughter sent a recorded message to protesters who were in the streets in Israel last night.

And she said: “I demand the country’s leaders watch the video and see their father crying for help.”

Hamas released this as propaganda. Why do you think watching that video is important? What – what do you think is not understood by the government?

HANNA SIEGEL: First of all, my cousins, Keith’s kids, and his wife, of course, a hostage survivor herself, are incredibly brave.

And they have spent every single day going to anybody who will listen around the world and telling them, reminding them that there are people’s lives at stake. I think there’s so much swirling in the political realm that it’s easy to forget that these are human beings. Keith is a grandfather. He’s a husband. He’s a brother. He’s an uncle.

We’re a very, very close family. And that’s what we’re feeling, more than any of the political considerations, more than thinking about the day after and what happens. Those are really, really important questions, but I think this video is a reminder that these are human beings, and they need to come home.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The U.S. says Hamas is standing in the way of a deal.

Are you concerned that, if an invasion of southern Gaza, of Rafah happens, that your uncle will be at risk of death?

HANNA SIEGEL: Very concerned. I mean he – he talks in the video about bomb – hearing bombs all around him.


HANNA SIEGEL: And so we worry about the fact that he’s being held underground by a terrorist group, of course.

We worry about the fact that he’s starving. When Aviva came out…


HANNA SIEGEL: … she talked to us about how they were beginning to starve.


HANNA SIEGEL: And I can’t imagine that that hasn’t gotten so much worse.


HANNA SIEGEL: You can see it on his face. And we also worry about the bombs going off around him.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Of course. Of course.

Hanna, thank you for reminding us about the humanity here. And we wish you luck.

HANNA SIEGEL: Thank you so much for having me.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We visited Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill Thursday just after he apologized to President Zelenskyy for the delay passing the $61 billion aid package for Ukraine.

Leader McConnell acknowledged to us the six-month process, four in the Senate, was a costly delay for the Ukrainian war effort.

(Begin VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: In the time of the delay, Russia’s military land forces have grown back to where they were before the invasion, the army is 15 percent larger, and they’ve reinforced the 20 percent of Ukrainian territory that they hold.

These are all the words of the supreme allied commander himself. Do you feel your party is responsible for those setbacks?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-Kentucky): Many of them, yes.

We – we took too long. This issue was like a family reunion, if you will, with a lot of different points of view being expressed around the table. All the Democrats were for Ukraine. There is no question that the debate was in our family, on our side.

And there was a lot of skepticism for a long time, but I think it got better. And I think we proved that earlier this week.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you think changed minds?


Once we realized we were not going to get a border result, I think our members really started focusing on the – the package. It was – it was clear that it was not going to have a border provision attached to it.


SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: And there are almost no good arguments against this. Every argument that made it – made by the opponents is provably wrong. And the facts, I think, were convincing for a number of our members, and they changed their minds.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You are leader for another eight months.

But you’ve said you’re going to stay and serve out your term. Donald Trump may again become president. According to our latest CBS polling, 79 percent of self-identified Republicans told us that the source of information they most trust on Ukraine and Russia is Donald Trump.

This sentiment doesn’t seem to be disappearing. How are you going to counter that?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: What I want to do and what I’m focused on is not the presidential race, but getting the Senate back.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But this isn’t the race. This is persuading public opinion.


I think the single most important thing I can do is make sure my successor is the majority leader, no matter how the presidential election comes out. I think the fact that our nominee basically decided not to continue whipping people against the package was a good sign. And I’m going to be advocating increasing the defense budget, no matter who gets elected, and preparing ourselves for the long term, which is China, Russia, and Iran.

This administration’s budget requests for defense haven’t even kept up with inflation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said the Republican nominee decided not to whip against the package, in other words, stopped telling lawmakers that – not to vote for it.

But we know Donald Trump is not a fan of – of Zelenskyy. Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary, recently had dinner with Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago and then told reporters that Trump said he won’t give a penny to Ukraine and that’ll be the way he forces an end to the fighting.

If that’s the fundamental belief of the man who’s going to be commander in chief, how do you stop him?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: What I’m doing is trying to change the Senate, so that we have a majority, no matter who wins the presidential election.

I can’t control that. I have some influence here in the Senate. I intend to use it, no matter who gets elected president, to increase our defense budget and get ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But that’s a challenge where you might have to be the firewall against your own party and its leader again.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: I have been willing to do that. I had something to do with changing opinion in the Senate on this issue. And I think a lot more of my members now understand the importance of it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: About a month after January 6, you voted to acquit Donald Trump after he was impeached.

And you said on the Senate floor: “Trump”…

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SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Didn’t get away with anything yet.

We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one.

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MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you still believe that former presidents are not completely immune from liability?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Let’s put it this way. I addressed that issue on February the 13th…

MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s active before the Supreme Court as we speak.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: … and January the 6th of 2021. I stand by everything I said then.

Obviously, it’ll be up to the Supreme Court to decide whether I was correct.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Part of what you said is part of this case in some ways, because you argued for the Senate not to convict Mr. Trump.

And central to his immunity argument is the claim that a former president who was impeached and convicted by the Senate can be criminally prosecuted. He was not.

Do you regret your choice? It’s part of the defense.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: I don’t regret anything I said then. I haven’t taken anything I said then back.

But the answer to your question is going to be in the courts. The Supreme Court’s going to decide that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you stand by your description of Trump as practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of January 6, and potentially criminally responsible and liable?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: I don’t know how many times you’re going to ask me the same question. I stand by everything I have said on January 6, and February 13, 2021.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I’m asking you the question because, since the past few months have passed and our last conversation, you’ve endorsed him for reelection.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: You need to get better research. I was asked that question three years again, if he were the nominee, would I support him?

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you said you would support whoever the nominee was.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: And I said yes, because the voters of my party across the country have made a decision. As the Republican leader of the Senate, obviously, I’m going to support the nominee of our party.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you have taken stands on issues you feel are of – of strong national security interests and morally imperative. That – that was your argument on Ukraine, and that you were bucking, in some ways, a populist opinion.

So, on this one, I’m just wondering how you explain that, when you say it was good enough for a number of Republicans that he’d be the nominee, because that is the populist opinion. It’s not taking the position that he has – he doesn’t live up to the role.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: The issue is – the issue is – the issue is, what kind of influence – even if I had chosen to get involved in the presidential election, what kind of influence would I have had?

MARGARET BRENNAN: You’re one of the most powerful Republicans.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: I’m – I’m the Republican leader of the Senate.

What we do here is try to make law. I like us to be in the majority.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Your worldview seems more aligned with Joe Biden when it comes to American leadership…



MARGARET BRENNAN: … in these global conflicts…



MARGARET BRENNAN: … than with Donald Trump.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: I certainly wouldn’t…

MARGARET BRENNAN: … who has spoken against Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has not endorsed the package that you just worked so hard to get over the finish line.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Yes. OK, look, I – I wouldn’t have withdrawn from Afghanistan. I wouldn’t have submitted four budgets in a row for defense that don’t even keep up with inflation.

I have got plenty of differences with the current administration. Whether I will have differences with the next administration remains to be seen. I know what – what I think. And it doesn’t make any difference what the outcome of the presidential election is. I’m going to be focusing on this remainder of my time in the Senate.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What I hear you saying – tell me if I’m getting it wrong – is that you can stop Donald Trump if he’s commander in chief. Even if you’re not leader, you’re going to do the most you can to counter this isolationist worldview and to counter…


MARGARET BRENNAN: … or limit what he could do if reelected.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: I’m going to counter, no matter who’s elected president, advocating things that I think are not good for America.

What I care about is, what does the person who actually gets elected ultimately do?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Should Mr. Trump, as candidate, as representative of your party, go and see Ukraine for himself?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: I – I’m not going to give him any advice. I – I’m focusing on turning the Senate Republicans into the majority here and focusing on advocating, as I think I successfully did this very week, for moving away from the isolationist movement that began with Tucker Carlson.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It began with Tucker Carlson?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: It did. He has a huge – he had a huge audience among rank-and-file Republicans. And I think it was very destructive, very impactful on regular Republican voters and created a big problem.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because he mimicked Republican propaganda and amplified it, and then that’s been repeated on the House floor, as the House Intel Chairman said?

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Well, I certainly disagreed with him. And he certainly ended up where he should have been all along, interviewing Vladimir Putin.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Will you fact-check Donald Trump when he says these things? Because he has also repeated some of these claims.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: I’m not going to give any advice to our candidate in the – in the presidential election. What I’m focusing on is turning the Senate into a majority Republican.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Our full interview with Leader McConnell is on our Web site and our YouTube channel.

We will be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Our Mark Strassmann reports on those college campus protests that have erupted across the country.

(Begin VT)

MAN: Back up! You back up!

MARK STRASSMANN (voice-over): All the clamor on campus keeps spreading, a clash of more than ideas, riot gear at Ohio State, Tasers at Emory University in Atlanta, mostly pro-Palestinian protesters at times scuffling with police, waved on by school administrators, with hundreds of arrests, communities like the University of Texas turning on each other.

Israel’s war on Hamas has another front line…

PROTESTERS: Free, free Palestine!

PROTESTERS: Let my people go!

MARK STRASSMANN: … a free speech and hate speech campus debate that’s anything but academic.

STUDENT: If you want to protect free speech, then you don’t break up peaceful protests.

GREG LUKIANOFF (President and CEO, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression): People didn’t seem to be aware of how bad the situation for free speech and academic freedom already was on campus until October 7.

MARK STRASSMANN: Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a group defending the right to free speech.

Do you have the sense that any of this is moving the ball forward?

GREG LUKIANOFF: Some of the ways the protest has been going on, on college campuses has been alienating more of the public than bringing it in.

MARK STRASSMANN: On Columbia University’s west lawn, civil disobedience, this ongoing tent city, galvanized national protests. They want the university to divest investments in Israel and companies they say profit off repression of Palestinians.

PROTESTER #1: Send them home!

MARK STRASSMANN: Dueling protests at Columbia, pro-Israel, pro- Palestinian, reflect a larger welter of opinion and emotion, passion and perceived prejudice.

PROTESTER #2: People would be up in arms and protesting that right away. But because it’s the Jews, I feel like nobody cares.

MARK STRASSMANN: All this coast-to-coast commotion is well into its second week, and what began here at Columbia has now rippled overseas.

From Paris to London, university students occupied buildings and marched in the streets. They’re echoing this U.S. student movement, at times a moment that’s been unflattering, even dark, from intolerant protesters to stumbling universities.

GREG LUKIANOFF: A lot of campuses are teaching young people to think like activists and less like scholars. When you’re reduced to just shouting at each other, that is a failure of some of the things that makes higher education so special.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We will have more on what’s fueling those protests coming up.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Join us next week, when we will talk to South Dakota Republican Governor Kristi Noem about her new book, “No Going Back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We will be right back with a lot more Face the Nation, so stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION and the kickoff of our 2024 battleground tracker polls. Our CBS News battlegrounds are those seven key states where things could go either way. Today we’re looking at three of them that Biden won in 2020, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. In effect, Trump and Biden are running even. The former president is up 1 percentage point in two of those states, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The current president is up two over Trump in Michigan.

Joining us now is our executive director of elections and surveys, Anthony Salvanto.

So, Anthony, why are they so close if Biden won them in 2020?

ANTHONY SALVANTO: The reason this time is, I just asked people, to start to campaign, how do these candidates make you feel? And the top answer for each of them was, worried. Then you look at the Biden numbers particularly, and he gets feelings of insecurity, which could be kind of tough for a sitting president, although calm is one that accrues to his benefit. But then for Trump you get feelings of anger, right, that’s particularly true for Democrats, also some insecurity. And neither one of them does very well on eliciting confidence.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The economy is always issue number one for voters. How is it faring in these three states?

ANTHONY SALVANTO: And it is again here. But what’s interesting is this story starts back in 2020. When we polled these states, at the time the pandemic was going on. People then said the economy in those states was bad.

So, we asked them now, OK, has it gotten better? And very few people say that it has. In fact, many say they feel it’s gotten worse. And inflation is the reason that they say that.

But what’s also interesting is, we asked them, OK, look back to the economy during the Trump years, how do you remember it? And a majority say they remember it as being good.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because they forget about the pandemic?

ANTHONY SALVANTO: Well, they seem to be skipping over the pandemic. And that’s exactly what that tells you in their memory of this. But it also explains now when you ask them, OK, now let’s look forward, they say – more say they feel they’d be financially better off under Donald Trump. And that cuts directly to vote. And that is helping the former president.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, in these three particular states, access to abortion is legally protected. How much of a motivator will it be then for voters there to actually go to the polls?

ANTHONY SALVANTO: That’s probably the key question. It is for Democrats. What you see is, these other states where there has been abortion laws, Arizona, with that 1864 law, Florida with their law going into effect, their ban, you know, six-week ban going into effect, voters in these states, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, say they’re watching what’s happening in those states. So, what’s happening there is not staying there, in their minds. And what’s important there is it becomes a national issue.

And so here we see, especially for Democrats, when they are saying they feel angry that Roe v. Wade was overturned, they’re voting overwhelmingly for Joe Biden. But for the ones who say abortion should be legal but they’re not angry about this, they’re dissatisfied, they’re unhappy about it, the race is much closer. And what that tells you is, for the Biden campaign in particular, it’s going to be an exercise in motivation, it’s going to be trying to put that issue even higher on the issues list. And that is the big thing on which – on which their, you know, fortunes might hinge.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Anthony Salvanto, thank you.


MARGARET BRENNAN: And we go now to Democratic Congresswoman Summer Lee. She joins us from her district in Pittsburgh.

Good morning to you, Congresswoman.

REP. SUMMER LEE (D-PA): Good morning. Good to be with you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You just heard our CBS polling in reference to your home state. I know last weekend Governor Shapiro told us, “if President Biden’s pause on natural gas permits goes on a long time it will cost Pennsylvania jobs.” And we’re seeing in our polling the perception that Donald Trump would be better, 49 percent of voters said, than Joe Biden, 33 percent, on these oil and gas exploration issues. This seems to be a headwind for Democrats in your state. Are you concerned?

SUMMER LEE: Yes. I think that there’s – I think there’s a lot to be concerned about, right? I think that when we look at these polls, you know, we’ll pull out one issue at a time. But the reality is, is that there are a number of issues mixed together that make voters feel confident, that make voters – some other voters feel hopeless or feel like maybe there’s a little reason to participate. And I think that we’re dealing with that a lot, right?

When we talk to voters throughout my election, we talk to a lot of voters who, whether it’s the economy, the price of, you know, goods, gas, food, things of that nature, or abortion, like all of these different issues, made voters feel like there was very little options that they had and that they didn’t want to participate. And we have to figure out something very quickly to address that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: In your primary, which you won, your Democratic challenger’s point of attack was your willingness to break with President Biden in his unequivocal support for Israel with its war with Hamas in Gaza. You’ve called for a ceasefire.

If you believe that this is such a matter of conscience and so important, can you truly ask progressive voters to go and vote for Joe Biden in November?

SUMMER LEE: Yes, I think that we do that every year. Every two years we ask voters, progressive voters, we ask black and brown voters, young voters, and we ask them to weigh the totality of our options, right? The totality of a candidate. The totality of the things that we care about, that we come to the polling places with. And that’s not new, right? This is an issue that gets a lot of issue. And there are going to be very reasonably a lot of people who will feel apprehension about that. And I think that is not a foregone conclusion that there’s just nothing that Democrats can do.

When we look at an election like mine, we’ve seen how popular it is to take a pro-(INAUDIBLE) stance, how popular it is to call for a different direction in the policies that the United States has towards the war in Gaza, towards sending unconditional weapons, offensive weapon to Netanyahu, and our government still has time to react. We still have time to listen to the folks who have feelings about that. And that’s what we have to do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you went to meet with some of the campus protesters out in Pittsburgh recently. You were in support of some of those young people who have chosen to protest against what’s happening in Gaza. Do you hear from them, that they’re excited to go vote for Joe Biden?

SUMMER LEE: To be honest, you know, we don’t. It’s not a topic that, you know, always comes up, but it does a lot.

I think that the number one goal for them right now, you know, just listening to what they have to say, is that they want to see a ceasefire in Gaza. They want to see the indiscriminate bombings and killings end, right? That is the reason why they’re on – there’s a lot of noise around this that – that distracts from that. There’s a lot of noise that tries to take away from that central message. But that is the central thing that they are fighting for. And they believe and they feel like our government can do more. And that’s what they’re looking for. They’re looking for some sort of acknowledgment from our leadership that they hear our needs, that they hear these young people saying that we want our country, we want our government to go in a different direction.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I hear you clearly distinguishing between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel, but some people, and I’m sure you know is, hear criticism and understand it as anti-Semitic when it is critical of Israel.

The prime minister of Israel said that what’s happening on America’s college campuses is horrific. He said the protesters are anti-Semitic mobs. And he compared it to what’s happening in German universities back in the 1930s.

How do you respond to that, or the perception of that, perhaps among some of your constituents?

SUMMER LEE: Certainly. You know, his language is intentional. And it’s always been. But the one thing that I know is that Benjamin Netanyahu has not been on a college campus in the United States. He has not talked to these students. He has not seen their encampments. He has not seen or heard the message that they’re delivering. And he doesn’t want to hear it, right? His number one goal is, you know, what he’s doing over there. And anything that – that harms or – or helps – or makes it harder for him to achieve that goal, he’s going to – he’s going to distract from.

But this idea that every criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic is dangerous. There is a fair critique that we must make of every government, of every war, of every appropriation. And when we say that students who are engaging in the time honored tradition of civil disobedience, of campus protest and action are inherently bad or inherently anti-Semitic, particularly as we see Jewish students standing in solidarity with Muslim students or Arab students and black students, when you’re on the ground, you see that all of those students have been working together or have been learning and educating together. And they are all in one voice crying for a difference in direction, particularly from Benjamin Netanyahu.


SUMMER LEE: So, I’m not shocked that he would want to cast them as evil, cast them as the wrong.


SUMMER LEE: That’s been his M.O.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congresswoman, thank you for explaining what’s happening within your party and your position. We’ll have to leave it right there.

We’ll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: And we’re joined now by the founding director of the Chicago Project on Security and Threats, University of Chicago Professor Robert Pape, who has new findings on the college protests over the Israel- Hamas War.

Welcome back to the program.

I understand you’ve been surveying about 5,000 students, 600 colleges and universities between December and January, because this stretches back to right after October 7th.

ROBERT PAPE (Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago): Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What did you learn about what’s happening?

ROBERT PAPE: The big thing we learned is that the feelings of fear on college campuses are more widespread and more intense than we have known. Overall, 56 percent of Jewish students report feeling in personal danger. Close behind, 52 percent of Muslim students report feeling in personal danger. And 16 percent of all students who are not Jewish and not Muslim, this is 2 to 3 million college students, also report feeling in personal danger.

We also asked them in text boxes why. And over 1,000 students told us why. And what they’re reporting, Margaret, is not TikTok. What they are reporting is observing acts of physical violence and intimidation right I front of them. Jewish students are seeing Jewish buildings attacked. Muslim students are seeing people counter back – counterattack against Muslims. The students not Jewish and not Muslim, they’re just seeing everyone getting attacked. Also, protest chants are playing a role.

So, what we are seeing in general is that this is not fading away. This is a direct function of the escalation in the Middle Eastern conflict over there. And this is having spillover effects on our campuses and, of course, in some cities.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, went up to Columbia University this week. You had four Democratic lawmakers, all Jewish, who went, they said, in solidarity with Jewish students there and threatened to withhold federal funding. Is that kind of political involvement helpful or is it putting fuel on the fire?

ROBERT PAPE: It is putting fuel on the fire because it’s so one-sided. If Speaker Johnson had gone together with Hakeem Jeffries with an actual plan to bring calm – and we’ll talk about what that might look like – then this is a different story. But by come – making it a surprise, by making threats, you know, if you don’t do x we will fire y and we’re going to do x and this is all a surprise, this is actually not helpful for crowd control at all.

So, I also study the actual violent part of this, and the number one thing when you have protests and that are building is, don’t do a surprise. In Portland, during the George Floyd protests, you might remember, DHS surprised Portland. That escalated things. This is a very bad idea.

So, you need to have a more thoughtful approach to calming tensions that go beyond crowd control and that are not simply one side is right, everybody else is wrong, and we’re going to hammer it through until we win.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, who is that first line of action coming from? Is it university presidents or are you talking about law enforcement?

ROBERT PAPE: There are roles here for university presidents, law enforcement and national leaders. And, actually, talking to law enforcement here directly, in folks who do this in Chicago, law enforcement is actually much more sophisticated, I think, than you might see from the national (INAUDIBLE). So, that’s why I think it’s so important to focus on the solutions from the perspective of our university leaders, our national leaders, because they are only episodically involved with dealing with violence and political violence. And that’s really why it’s so important to focus on what our university leaders should be doing and our national leaders beyond simply crowd control.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It sounds like you’re saying people have forgotten how to have a civil conversation about a heated issue.

ROBERT PAPE: Well, they’ve –

MARGARET BRENNAN: And isn’t that what university is supposed to be about?

ROBERT PAPE: They are. But know – October 7th caught all of us by surprise. And it caught universities by surprise. So, we are simply – we have policies. We have policies at (ph) the Calvin Report (ph) at the University of Chicago. These were many of the campus policies and our practices developed in the 1960s. And almost no leader who was running either our government or a university was involved in the 1960s. And the issues we’re dealing with today are new. They’re not completely new, but I would say like 90 degrees new. And that is what we have to come to grips with and not just assume everything was fine before.


ROBERT PAPE: So, they will just fade away and they will be fine again.

MARGARET BRENNAN: There’s a lot of focus on the physical protests right now, but going back to October, you had those three Palestinian boys shot in Burlington, Vermont. You had congressional hearings grilling college university leaders for not reigning in the language used on campus. I mean this has been going on for six months now. Does it stop when the school year ends?

ROBERT PAPE: I don’t think we can count on that for several reasons. Number one, we have graduation season to get through. Number two, many of our colleges now have summer programs that are quite extensive. So, for many colleges and universities, things don’t completely come to a halt during the summer. But also next fall, fall is all – not that far away. And this could also happen again. It could happen in – in the middle of our election season as well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You betcha (ph).

ROBERT PAPE: So, there are many, many reasons, the Chicago convention, there are many reasons why we should take calming steps now.


ROBERT PAPE: And again, not just keep assuming, oh, yes, everything’s fine. We just need to get through the next day or two or the next week or two and then things will just fade away. I think that was an assumption by many quite important and credible leaders.


ROBERT PAPE: That assumption now needs to be pushed aside.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Professor, thank you for your insights.

ROBERT PAPE: Absolutely.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll be back in a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to take a closer look at the growing humanitarian crisis when it comes to the world’s children. Catherine Russell is the executive director of UNICEF, and she is just back from Israel and the West Bank.

It’s good to have you here.

CATHERINE RUSSELL (Executive Director, UNICEF): Thanks, Margaret. Good to be here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I know you met with some of the families of Israeli children who are still being held hostage. There’s a one-year-old. There’s a four-year-old.


MARGARET BRENNAN: And you met with Israeli officials about access for aid going into Gaza.

Did you get any good answers?

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Well, we got some good answers, which is that I think a growing awareness of how critical it was for us to get more aid in, and specifically what we needed, more access points, better security. You know, I’m certainly not the only person who made those arguments and advocated with the government of Israel.

But we have seen a little bit of an improvement in Gaza, so that’s a positive that came from it. Obviously, the needs still far, far outweigh what we’re able to do, but at least we’ve seen some progress.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You also went to the Palestinian West Bank.


MARGARET BRENNAN: And 2023 was the deadliest year for children in the West Bank since they began monitoring at the U.N. in 2005. With all of the attention on Gaza, tell me what’s happening to kids in the West Bank right now.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Yes. Well, it’s – you know, the first day I met with, as you said, the hostage families. The second day I was in the West Bank and heard there about the challenges children face every day just trying to get to school, the barriers they face, the difficulty in sort of moving around, the checkpoints, all the rest of it.


CATHERINE RUSSELL: Yes. And as you said, there is an increase in violence. And I think just in this year alone there have been 40 children, Palestinian children, killed, two Israeli children killed. There’s just an uptick in violence. And it’s, as always, children who are really impacted by that.

You also mentioned, you know, I met with the hostage families. I mean they’re devastated by what’s going on. Some children still being held. Others who are traumatized either by being held themselves or by seeing family members killed and hurt.

And I think I would just say that overall I came back feeling like there’s just so much pain and misery everywhere you look. And it’s really unfortunate to see it. And just praying for a better day for everyone in the situation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The U.N. says every ten minutes a child is killed or wounded in Gaza. I mean that just hits you in the chest when you hear that.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Yes, it’s a shocking number. And it is what’s happening.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s horrific.


MARGARET BRENNAN: And the U.S. called this week for an investigation of this mass grave that was just found in Gaza of hundreds of people. Were there children there? What do you know?

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Yes, we don’t – UNICEF doesn’t know much about that, honestly. I think that – I would say a couple things. One, there needs to be a full investigation of what happened. And I think that at some point will certainly, I hope, take place.

And second, to me, it argues again for the importance of having international press in Gaza. I say this over and over again because you have disputes about what has actually happened, what’s going on. And I think not – you know, look, there are incredibly brave Palestinian reporters and press people there who are doing an incredible job. Many of them have suffered so much. People have been killed. I think having the international press in there is also really important, and I hope that that gets – that that changes sometime soon and international press folks can get in, really make their own assessments of what’s going on.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And if the Israeli government allows for it –


MARGARET BRENNAN: I think a lot of news organizations would absolutely go in.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: And they should be there. They should be seeing what’s happening.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The U.S. military, as you know, is setting up this port that’s supposed to be opened sometime in May. We had Doctors Without Borders chief on recently.


MARGARET BRENNAN: And she said to me, “There’s a slow motion massacre of people suffering from deprivation of food and water for six months in time.”

You can’t drop lentils from the sky is what she said.


MARGARET BRENNAN: You need a mass medical response. Is there any plan in place to do this, to revive some of these children who are starving to death?


MARGARET BRENNAN: And will it come before there is an invasion of Rafah?

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Well, let me say a couple things. One, the humanitarian situation, especially for children, is incredibly worrying everywhere. We know in the north where it’s been very difficult for humanitarians to get in with food, and as you’re pointing out, children in particular need what we talk about as therapeutic feeding, right? So they need plumpy nut or sort of interventions by medical professionals. So, it’s not, as you say, just dropping in food. That’s not enough. We need to do more for little children.

It is definitely not anywhere near where it needs to be. I think that the, you know, the idea of the port, the idea of air drops, you know, all – look we support it’s getting much – getting as much aid in as we possibly can. But the truth is, the most important thing is getting more and more in through road access. That’s the best access. It’s the safest access. It’s the best for humanitarians and it’s the easiest way for us to actually get around.

Having said that, it’s very difficult to do that for so many reasons, not least of which the roads are all torn up, right? We have security issues. So, it’s a challenging – it’s a challenging sort of array of problems.


CATHERINE RUSSELL: And I think we need multiple ways to try to respond to it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Please tell me what is happening in Sudan, which is the biggest displacement crisis in the world for children right now.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: Yes, Sudan is terrible for children. It is, as you say, the largest displacement. Millions of children are on the move. Almost no children are in school. I think 90 percent of children are out of school. There’s incredible violence, including sexual violence, that children are suffering and witnessing. Children are suffering from malnutrition. It’s absolutely a devastating situation and we all need to pay more attention to it for sure.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And these are the next generations that we are talking about.

CATHERINE RUSSELL: You know what, Margaret, that’s the thing about working with children, right? It’s like, on the one hand they’re so vulnerable to everything that happens to them. And, you know, you mentioned Rafah. I mean if there’s an incursion into Rafah, that’s unimaginable to imagine what the violence will be like and what – how they will suffer.

But whether it’s in Gaza or in Sudan or Haiti or so many other places, children are suffering so much. And we all talk about children of the future. Well, OK, then we need to protect them. We need to make sure that they are educated and healthy and have some decent future ahead. And that’s critical for them and it’s critical for their countries and it’s critical for all of humanity.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Catherine Russell, thank you for your insights today.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s it for us today. Thank you all for watching. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I’m Margaret Brennan.


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