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Beyond the Brink; Israel: A Total of 550 Hamas Targets Struck; U.S. Weighs Drone Strike on ISIS Leader; Bust of Alleged Double Agent Implicates U.S.; President Obama, Governor Rick Perry Discuss Border Crisis

Aired July 9, 2014 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Jake, thanks very much.

Happening now, breaking news. Beyond the brink -- dozens more rockets are fired from Gaza into Israel, aimed at major cities and at Israel's nuclear reactor, while Israel pounds Palestinian militant targets in Gaza, where the death toll is growing, and where a ground offensive may happen, quote, "quite soon."

ISIS in the crosshairs -- as the brutal jihadist group goes on a rampage in Iraq, the U.S. considers a drone strike to take out its leader.

And crisis on the border -- President Obama will talk about it in Texas this hour with the Texas governor, Rick Perry.

But why won't he take a side trip to see what's going on firsthand?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Dozens of rockets rained down on Israel today, some intercepted over major cities like Tel Aviv, or, in a worrisome new development, near Israel's desert nuclear reactor at Dimona.

Israel is responding. Look at this.


BLITZER: Israel is responding with waves of air strikes, hammering targets linked to the Islamic militants of Hamas and other groups. Palestinians say the Gaza death toll is now at least 53, many civilians among them.

Israel warning its operation will intensify until the rockets stop.

And with 40,000 Israeli military reserves potentially on alert, the president of Israel tells CNN a ground offensive may happen quite soon. CNN's Ben Wedeman is standing by. He's in Gaza.

I'll talk also with a spokesman for Israel's prime minister.

But let's begin with CNN's Diana Magnay.

She's in the Israeli city of Ashkelon. That's right near the Gaza border -- Diana, what's the latest?


Well, just under a hundred rockets have come in from Gaza over the course of the day. And Israel has not let up at all on its air strikes of terror targets, as it calls them, within the Gaza Strip.

In fact, it says that it's looking to ramp up that operation not just to stop the flow of rockets, but to really target Hamas and damage its capabilities to send out more rockets -- rocket terrorism, as Israel puts it.

This is what Operation Protective Edge looks like as it enters its third day.


MAGNAY (voice-over): A Hamas commando unit tries to enter into Israel from the Mediterranean Sea. Stunning new video released by Israeli Defense Forces shows the attempted assault ending in a blaze of gunfire, as five militants are killed.

Dozens of militant rockets have been fired at Israel today, some as far as 140 kilometers over Tel Aviv and beyond. Those threatening civilian populated area intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system.

This wedding ceremony was apparently interrupted by an air raid siren, the bride running down the aisle to seek cover.

Israel may launch a ground invasion as the rocket attacks continue, says Shimon Peres, the country's president.

PRES. SHIMON PERES, ISRAEL: If they don't stop, for example, tonight, there won't be any ground entrance. But it will continue, sooner or later this will be the response.

MAGNAY: The Israelis say they will continue to strike Hamas targets inside Gaza, trying to hit concealed rocket launchers and weapons caches and command centers, they call them, mostly homes, until they have crippled Hamas' capacity to wage, in their words, "rocket terrorism."

This was the home of a senior Hamas commander, they say.

But defiance from the leader of Hamas, who blamed Israel for the escalation.

KHALED MESHAAL, HAMAS POLITICAL LEADER (through translator): The Palestinian people will not give in, will not surrender.

MAGNAY: Palestinian authorities say dozens of people have been killed since Israeli air strikes started on Monday, including eight women and 11 children.

Israel maintains that it tries to minimize casualties using telephone warnings and warning shots like this one, which caused people to flee this building.

This is not the first time Hamas and Israel have fought. And analysts say previous clashes may have convinced Hamas that it can win, even if it loses.

ANTHONY CORDESMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Because, in each case, whatever it lost, it gained back eventually in terms of reputation, rebuilding leaders, getting more outside support in terms of money and arms, and being able to tighten its control over Gaza.


MAGNAY: Here in Ashkelon, Wolf, over the last couple of hours, there have been five or six air raid sirens. People are alarmed just for those few 30 seconds, as they wonder whether to take shelter. But then life continues as normal.

Let's not forget that throughout this barrage of rockets against Israel, there has been no loss of life, whilst people in Gaza, the Palestinians there, count the death toll by the hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Diana Magnay along the border with Gaza, inside Israel.

Thanks, Diana.

We'll get back to you.

As Israel answers rocket fire with punishing air strikes, the death toll in Gaza, as Diana just reported, is climbing. As always, civilians are caught right in the middle.

Let's go to Gaza right now.

Our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is standing by with more from there.

What's the latest there -- Ben?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, we believe the death toll here has topped 60. There have been a variety of strikes, Israeli air strikes, in Gaza in the last few hours. Just about an hour-and-a-half ago, we heard from where we are right here in the middle of Gaza City, a large explosion. What happened was a car clearly marked "TV" was hit by an Israeli missile. The driver of that car was killed, several others severely wounded.

Down the coast in Khan Younis, at it looked like a cafe on the beach, that was hit. Several people were killed in that instance.

And we've really been seeing a steady number of strikes, really, from the far south to the far north all day long.

We were in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. We saw outgoing missiles heading toward Israel, Israeli counter strikes very soon afterward. That's an area where people are living. We were with a family for a few hours there. And they are just living in fear the entire time.

But as they pointed out to us, they've got nowhere to go. There are 15 people in this family. There's no way they can find accommodations. So like many people here in Gaza, they're just sitting, praying and hoping this fighting comes to an end as quickly as possible.

But it doesn't look like that, at the moment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there anything, as far as you know, Ben, behind-the- scenes that's going on, that could result in some sort of cease-fire?

WEDEMAN: We have no clear idea about any mediation efforts that might be going on. In November 2012, Mohammed Morsy, the Egyptian president, was quite instrumental, because he had good relations with Hamas, Egypt had diplomatic relations with Israel, they were speaking with the United States. They were able, after eight days, to work out a cease-fire.

Now you have a regime in Cairo led by President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, who is quite hostile to Hamas. Keep it in mind that Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood that Sisi has been cracking down on.

So that avenue really doesn't seem to be open. And there's no clear effort by any regional or international power to resolve this crisis at the moment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It looks like it's going to continue for some time.

All right, Ben Wedeman, be careful over there.

We'll stay in close touch with you.

I just want to alert our viewers, we're going to be speaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman, Mark Regev, momentarily.

But you're looking at a live picture from Texas, Dallas/Fort Worth. The president of the United States has just arrived there. He's going to be meeting with folks in Texas. He's apparently still not yet ready to go down to the border with Mexico, where there have been thousands of unaccompanied children who have crossed that border illegally into the United States.

There is the president. I'm anxious to see if the governor, Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, is there at the bottom of the stairs to receive the president of the United States. They will be meeting later.

Yes, there he is. There's Rick Perry, the governor of Texas. They have a little cordial welcome for the president of the United States. They're going to head over to an event where they both will be participating. They'll have an opportunity to discuss this major crisis in the United States right now.

Tens of thousands of kids, unaccompanied, illegally crossing the border, most of them coming in not from Mexico, but coming in from Central America, whether El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, other countries. They're making their way and the U.S. is trying to determine what to do with them right now.

So there you see Rick Perry boarding Marine One. The president of the United States boarding Marine One. They'll have an opportunity to speak aboard that brief helicopter flight to their location. And then they'll have a bit of a formal meeting on what's going on.

As so many of our viewers know, there has been an extreme, extreme difference of opinion, very critical comments from Rick Perry, as far as the president of the United States is concerned, on this whole issue of these thousands -- maybe 60,000 unaccompanied children that have come into the United States over the past few months and the U.S. is trying to determine what they're trying to do with them.

So there you see Marine One getting ready to take off and go to the the event, what's going on.

So the president of the United States is there.

All right, let me bring in our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, who has been watching what's going on -- Michelle, the meeting with Rick Perry will be significant. As far as we know, though, the president will still go ahead with his three fundraisers in Texas, but will not go down to the border.

MICHELLE KOSINKSI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. This has been an interesting little back and forth. I mean, in the first case, Rick Perry wasn't even going meet the president. He wrote him a letter saying, "Well, a handshake just isn't going to do it. I want to sit down and have a really substantive discussion about this."

Well, the White House didn't really respond to his request. But they instead invited the governor to another pre-arranged meeting. And that's where they're headed now. And that will be with some community leaders and faith leaders who are focused on this issue.

So the meeting is happening. It's kind of a compromise. There will be a one-on-one on board Marine One and then Perry has been invited to attend that roundtable discussion.

So it was kind of like the president saying yes without saying yes to Perry's specific invitation. Obviously, a lot of politics going on here. And the question has been asked a couple of times now, Governor Perry has been one of the president's harshest critics, a huge difference of opinion.

What will come out of this meeting?

The White House's response has been, well, surely, this is such a big issue and both sides care about it, there must be some common ground -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll continue to monitor what's going on and see if any public statements are made by Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, and President Obama.

There is Marine One getting ready to take off.

When we come back, we'll get back to our top story. Palestinian rockets intercepted near Israel's secret desert nuclear site.

I'll ask the prime minister of Israel's spokesman, Mark Regev, what's going on. That's coming up next.

Also, a U.S. ally furious over American espionage. And what's more embarrassing, President Obama apparently didn't even know about it. The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, he knows what's going on. He's standing by. We'll discuss with him. That's coming up later.


BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story, the breaking news. Israel and Gaza right now on the brink of war. Israel is warning it will intensify its air strikes until Palestinian rockets stop falling. A ground Israeli military offensive could, in fact, be imminent.

Joining me now is Mark Regev. He's the spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mark, thanks very much for joining us. The president of Israel...


BLITZER: ... Shimon Peres spoke to our Becky Anderson, said a ground offensive in Gaza, in his words, may happen quite soon. What would trigger that? How close is your prime minister to authorizing a military ground offensive into Gaza?

REGEV: Wolf, we'll do what needs to be done to protect our people, and we've had over the last few weeks literally hundreds of missiles and rockets fired from the Gaza Strip on our cities, on our townships, on our rural communities, and it has to stop. Now, if it can stop without a ground offensive, that will be nice, but if we need to go in, if that's the only way we can stop those rockets, we're ready to do that, too.

BLITZER: It's a heavily populated area, nearly 2 million Palestinians crowded into a small area in Gaza. If you sent armored personnel carriers, tanks into Gaza, what would that accomplish? Because you know there are going to be a lot of innocent civilians who would get killed.

REGEV: We don't want to see any innocent civilians get killed. Ultimately, we don't see the people of Gaza as our enemy. Our enemies, those Hamas extremists who target our civilians.

And I saw your correspondent, Ben Wedeman report earlier today from Gaza. The people of Gaza didn't want this war either. They're angry at Hamas for starting this round of fighting, for firing all those rockets, forcing us to respond.

Let's be clear, Wolf. We've seen rockets come into the very heart of Israel. They've been shooting them at Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem. It's not just a border conflict. And what has to be understood is that over the last few years, Hamas with the help of Iran, has built a very formidable terrorist military regime with thousands of rockets.

Now we told Hamas, we urged them, we warned them, stop shooting the rockets. They didn't pay attention, and now we are acting; the Israeli army is in action. We are depleting that supply of rockets. We are dismantling that military infrastructure which ultimately threatens all Israelis.

BLITZER: But can you do that strictly with these air strikes or will it require from your perspective, a ground invasion?

REGEV: It remains to be seen, and we're ready for any possible contingency. It must be remembered, though. The Israeli operation is defensive. I'll say that again, it's defensive. Our goal is to bring peace and quiet to our citizens that have been on the receiving end of these rockets and missiles from Gaza for too long.

From our point of view, victory is peace and quiet. That's our goal, to protect our people. That's what any country would do if terrorists were firing from the other side of the frontier on its civilians. What would the United States do, if rockets were being fired from the other side of the frontier on American citizens? You'd also respond.

BLITZER: We've been reporting that some of those Palestinian rockets from Gaza were aimed at Israel's nuclear reactor facility in Dimona in the Negev Desert. What can you tell us about that?

REGEV: I don't specifically know that for a fact. I do know that they -- there were missiles launched on the city of Dimona and on cities throughout Israel and all of the way up north, if you remember the north of Tel Aviv to places like Kutera.

Now, this shows the capability Hamas has. People think of Hamas as a terrorist group, maybe with one or two bombs and a machine gun or two. This is a formidable military machine, a terrorist machine, and we are acting now to dismantle it.

Over the years, Iran has given millions in financial support and in technical support to build there in Gaza a very formidable arsenal. And who has the finger on the trigger in Gaza? Hamas, an extremist group, a fundamentalist group, one of these Islamic groups that is committed to violence and jihad, not so different from ISIS in Iraq or Hezbollah in Lebanon or even Boko Haram in Nigeria.

These are extremists. They are ruthless. They don't have a problem targeting civilians. They don't have a problem killing Palestinian civilians. They don't care how many Palestinian civilians die in the struggle of their -- in their holy war.

BLITZER: We have some video that we've shown our viewers, and I want to show it once again. These were Hamas commandoes, if you will, storming a beach inside Israel. The IDF spotted them, killed them. There are now reports another beach episode took place today. Is that right?

REGEV: That's correct. Israel has been attacked by Hamas and Gaza from the air through all these missiles and rockets; through the sea, those commandos and those terrorists came through the sea, through the Mediterranean in boats from Gaza; and we have also had an attempted attack underground; and they've been tunneling under the frontier, trying to bring in terrorists that way into Israel.

Hamas is a threat. It must be understood, but everyone who wants to see peace between us and the Palestinians, and ultimately, that's what we want. That's what all people of good will want to see is peace and reconciliation, but Hamas is the very opposite of that. Hamas is a violent, vile terrorist group that says, "My country has no right to exist, not in any borders."

And they say any Israeli civilian, man, woman and as we saw last week, children, as well, are legitimate targets in Hamas' war of terror. And so Israel is perfectly within our rights under international law to defend ourselves against these terrorists.

BLITZER: Mark Regev, thanks very much for joining us. Mark Regev is the spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Later, we're going to get the other side of the story, my interview with the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat. He's on the West Bank. He'll be part of our special SITUATION ROOM report, coming up at the top of the hour on this crisis unfolding in the Middle East. Saeb Erekat will join us exclusively in the next hour.

Also, will the U.S. assassinate the leader of ISIS? We're getting new information about a possible targeted killing. Stand by for that.

Plus, a close U.S. ally outraged right now over allegations of spying. Did the CIA deliberately keep President Obama in the dark about this espionage?


BLITZER: As the brutal jihadists of ISI spearhead a bloody insurgency in Iraq, their leader could be in the U.S. crosshairs. Any decision on whether to pull the trigger on a drone strike is up to the commander in chief. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been digging into this development.

Barbara, what are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, certainly the U.S. has demonstrated time and again that it can strike militants and kill them using drones. The question now is will Iraq be the next front line?


STARR (voice-over): ISIS insurgents taking over Iraqi military barracks. Disturbing destruction of tombstones at holy sites by ISIS, but now could the reclusive and violent ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, soon find himself a target?

His appearance for the first time at a crowded mosque in northern Iraq raising the question why wasn't he killed outright?


STARR: CNN has learned the Pentagon is considering under what circumstances it would recommend to President Obama that al Baghdadi be targeted for killing by a missile-equipped drone.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The good thing about going after al-Baghdadi would be that it would decapitate ISIS as we know it.

STARR: The U.S. has long had a $10 million reward on al-Baghdadi's head.

No one will directly say he is on a kill list, but U.S. officials tell CNN that intelligence is being gathered on so-called high-value targets in Iraq.

President Obama would have to approve any decision to kill al- Baghdadi. Several conditions would have to be met.

First, that he poses a threat to the U.S. Pentagon officials have said ISIS does threaten the U.S. embassy and Americans in Iraq. Then, would the intelligence be precise enough to target him without risking civilian casualties? Militants like al-Baghdadi know, the U.S. will not strike a mosque and would not risk killing large numbers of civilians. More difficult to determine, what would killing al- Baghdadi accomplish.

FRANCONA: Killing al-Baghdadi might cause a problem for the leadership of the Islamic state, but it's not going stop the movement. People are still going to flock to the caliphate. What might happen is if you kill al Baghdadi you may drive people who were sitting on the fence to do just that.


STARR: Now there's no indication a hit to kill mission is imminent, but the U.S. is collecting all the intelligence it can in Iraq, officials tell us, and U.S. military reconnaissance flights over Iraq just went up. It was about 30 flights a day. Now it's about 50 flights a day -- Wolf.

STARR: We'll see what the president of the United States decides to do about this. All right. Thanks very much, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

And even as the U.S. weighs the targeting of an enemy, the U.S. has also managed to infuriate a very, very close ally. Germany once again upset with the United States over allegations of spying. Our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta has this report.


JIM ACOSTA, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One week, two different allegation of German spying for the U.S. German prosecutors today said they're investigating a German defense official accused of passing secrets to Washington just days after the revelation that an intelligence operative was allegedly working for the CIA riled German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): If the reports are correct, it would be a serious case. If the allegations are true, it would be, for me, a clear contradiction to what I consider to be a trustful cooperation between agencies and partners.

ACOSTA: Her stern warning comes as U.S.-German relations are already shaky after last year's disclosure from leaker Edward Snowden that the NSA was listening in on Merkel's phone calls.

Making the latest spy controversy more embarrassing is that President Obama apparently didn't know about it. During a conversation with Merkel last week, a White House spokeswoman told CNN the president was not aware of this issue at the time of that call.

BOB BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Oh, that's a clear-cut mistake on the part of the CIA not telling the president, you know? An espionage arrest in Germany, you tell him the moment you hear it.

ACOSTA: Former CIA operative Bob Baer says Germany's decision to go public with the cases should worry U.S. officials.

BAER: I mean, the Germans must really, really mad. Usually, things like this are handled quietly.

ACOSTA: "The New York Times" reported administration officials were frustrated with the CIA for not alerting the White House, which had to jump into damage control mode.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The relationship that the United States has with Germany is incredibly important. This is a very close partnership that we have on a range of security issues, including some intelligence issues.

ACOSTA: Still, the U.S. spies on nearly every country in the world, even allies. Even as President Obama assured Merkel earlier this year that the U.S. is no longer listening in on her phone calls, he hinted other forms of intelligence-gathering would continue.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We do not have a blanket no-spy agreement with any country, with any of our closest partners.

ACOSTA: Merkel was hardly satisfied.

MERKEL (through translator): I think the whole debate has shown that the situation is such that we have a few difficulties yet to overcome.

ACOSTA: With Merkel's help crucial to retaining Russian President Vladimir Putin and the violence in Ukraine, the question is just how much this new spy story will damage one of the president's most important friendships.

Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


BLITZER: We will discuss what's going on in this U.S.-German relationship, the allegations of espionage, in a few minutes. Congressman Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he will join us from Capitol Hill.

Also, President Obama near the epicenter of the border crisis, should he go down to the border and see it firsthand? We're live in Texas with details of his meeting with one of his sharpest critics.

Plus, dramatic new video of the exploding warfare between Israel and Hamas, our SITUATION ROOM special report coming up at the top of the hour.


BLITZER: President Obama has now arrived in Texas. That's the epicenter of the immigration crisis that's seen tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing into the United States.

And while Republicans are blaming the president, he's firing right back in an escalating blame game.

Let's bring back our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski. Michelle, what is the very latest? Because this crisis is escalating, as we all know.

KOSINSKI: Right, both sides fired up today. As you said, the president is in Texas, not at the border, but he's meeting with community leaders and one of his toughest critics, the Texas governor.

Today, the Justice Department moved more resources to the border. But the much bigger-picture question here is, will Congress even approve that nearly $4 billion the president is asking for to deal with this long-term problem?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KOSINSKI (voice-over): Today, far from the border in Denver, President Obama did address the immigration crisis in a slam on Republicans.

OBAMA: Congress just said no to fixing our broken immigration system in a way that strengthens our borders and our businesses, despite the fact that everybody from law enforcement to corporations to evangelicals -- there is a coalition around immigration reform that's unprecedented. These guys still can't get their act together.

KOSINSKI: The administration defends itself.

CECILIA MUNOZ, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE DOMESTIC POLICY COUNCIL: The whole federal government is all over this situation.

KOSINSKI: It is true they tried to get out ahead of the problem in May, mobilizing resources, but on Capitol Hill today, Republicans were furious, as the president continues to not plan to see the border situation himself, the thousands of children in temporary shelters.

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: The root cause literally is we have got to stop incentivizing parents and other immigrants coming into this nation.

KOSINSKI: They're blaming Obama for not only failing to prevent this, based on sharply rising numbers of unaccompanied minors starting around 2012 and exploding this year.

Governor Perry down in Texas warned the White House about this specific issue two years ago, but they're also saying the president's sudden granting some amnesty to kids brought here illegally years ago by their parents is a cause.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: It is the disaster that is the direct consequence of President Obama's lawlessness, the direct, predictable, foreseeable, consequence of granting that amnesty as the number of children, unaccompanied children immediately began to skyrocket.

KOSINSKI: The congressional anger out there includes wanting to see more border security, the same thing the White House blames them for holding up in not passing immigration reform, but even some Democrats now are balking at showing President Obama the money he's asking for.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: What I'm going to be focused on is accountability, who is in charge, what the plan is, who is going to be held responsible before we spend $3.7 billion. So we have got a lot more questions to be answered before I think we run too far ahead.


KOSINSKI: Today, the White House says it needs more detention facilities and is thinking about using ankle bracelets on some immigrants to make sure they show up for hearings, a big problem.

And, today, Democratic Senator Menendez spelled out the politics of it this way. He said his Republican friends in Congress can't have it both ways, that you can't threaten to sue the president and criticize for taking action when you don't take action on immigration yourselves. He called that totally and transparently political -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michelle Kosinski at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's go to Dallas right now, CNN's Ed Lavandera. He has been covering the story for us for a long time.

What's the latest there, Ed? What are you seeing, what are you hearing?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just saw Marine One land here this building -- behind this building where President Obama, Rick Perry and other leaders here in the Dallas area will be meeting.

President Obama just shuttled over from DFW Airport and had had a one- on-one meeting on Marine One. Rick Perry met the president there at DFW and they met privately, a one-on-one meeting, in that chopper ride over from DFW airport over to Love Field Airport, where we are, and that took a little less than 15 minutes, and now they're inside.

We are told that they do have the opportunity to continue their one- on-one dialogue inside the building behind me, but we're still waiting on updates from what was said. We're told that the president might have comments to after the meeting here with various community leaders in Dallas that are discussing the immigration crisis issue, and they will continue to do that as President Obama continues his trip through Texas, Wolf.

BLITZER: Are they letting video cameras in there? Will we see live what's going on in this exchange, for example, the president has with these faith leaders and the governor?

LAVANDERA: We won't see it live. We will have some video to share here shortly.

The traveling news media pool that travels with the president is in the process of doing that and we will be trying to turn around that video for you as quickly as we can, but that is -- that is in the works, but it will not be live.

The entirety of the meeting will not be transmitted, so we will have a very short glimpse into what is going on behind closed doors here independent.

BLITZER: Just a little photo-op, as they say.

All right, thanks very much, Ed Lavandera. He's on the scene. We will check back with you.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now.

Joining us now, Dan Restrepo. He's a former presidential adviser on Latin America, a contributor to CNN en Espanol. Also joining us, our CNN political commentator the Republican strategist Ana Navarro, and Kate Linthicum of "The Los Angeles Times." She's covered these stories for a long time.

You worked, Dan, for President Obama. Is he making a mistake by not actually going down to the border? I spoke to Henry Cuellar, the Democratic congressman from that border area in Texas. He think the president is the , he's got three fund-raisers, why not see firsthand these unaccompanied young kids and what they're going for?


It's not a matter of understanding or not understanding. I think the president understands very well what these kids are going through. And he's put resources in the government against this problem.

As you well know, the president of the United States showing up somewhere is awfully disruptive. What we don't need are more photo ops here. We need people working the problem. So, I don't think the president is making a mistake here. But it's certainly one of these things that he will be criticized if he went or he will get criticized if he didn't go.

BLITZER: Do you think he's making a mistake?


I think it could have been a chance to use his visit there as a bully pulpit, particularly to send a message to the region and to the parents that are sending these kids. That being said, I'm not going to fixate on that because I think it's very much time to stop wagging our fingers at each other, to stop the partisanship and to stop the blame game.

Here, we need the feds, we need the border state governors and we need the governments of the region. We need Republicans and Democrats to work together to address what is a critical situation going right now.

BLITZER: Is there a way out of this, Kate? Because it looks like the two sides are so far apart right now. You have been covering this immigration crisis for a long time.

KATE LINTHICUM, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, it's interesting.

I mean, it's just become such a politicized issue that it seems like every option that the government chooses to deal with this crisis, it gets met with resistance. You saw that last week here in California when the government started sending some of these families who couldn't be housed at the border because there wasn't room into the interior U.S. to start processing them there.

In California, in the town of Murrieta, those immigrant buses were turned away by protesters who said, we don't want them here. So it's incredibly polarizing and it makes it difficult for people like President Obama.

BLITZER: So, Dan, you worked for the president on these kinds of issues. What can he do right now, especially if Congress doesn't appropriate that nearly $4 billion funding request he's put forward? RESTREPO: Well, Ana was right here. And we need everybody working this problem. And the president and the administration have moved the resources they can out of the existing base to work this problem.

There's no on/off switch here. This is not something you could end right away.

BLITZER: They could change the 2008 law that President Bush signed which has complicated this decision about not sending these unaccompanied minors back to their homes.


RESTREPO: That requires Congress as well. And that requires Congress...


BLITZER: Does the president want to change the law?

RESTREPO: I don't think so. I think he wants more discretion.


BLITZER: Because Dianne Feinstein says he already has discretion.

RESTREPO: Well, there's clearly a legal debate as to whether he has the discretion he needs to do this in as expedited a fashion.

What the administration is trying to do here is this very careful balancing act being a nation of law, being a nation of immigrants, being a compassionate nation, but one that also controls its immigration system. It is a really tough issue that will take a lot of concerted work here in the United States and, as Ana pointed out, in the region itself.


BLITZER: Because, you know, Ana, there is a different standard for Mexican unaccompanied children who get into the United States or Canadian unaccompanied children, for that matter, as opposed to those from Honduras, or El Salvador and Guatemala.


BLITZER: The standard, if a Mexican kid comes in, they are immediately deported right away, no court hearings, no nothing.

On the other hand, if you're from Central America, you go before a judge.

NAVARRO: It's for contiguous countries, which in this case are Mexico and Canada. And then that's the different standard.

The bottom line is, yes, he want wants to change this law and, yes, these kids -- there's a lot of consensus that these kids should be repatriated in order to send a message to the region. The question is, do we have the stomach to do that? Does this president and does this country have the stomach to do that, to start filling up planes with kids and returning them to a very volatile, violent region, where we know there's gang violence and we know there's insecurity?


BLITZER: That's an -- it's an important issue.

Kate, in Los Angeles, we are now hearing -- and you can update us on this -- this is a development that is raising some concern out there. L.A. police, they're saying they not going to heed the requests of the federal government to go ahead and start these kinds of deportations.

What's going on out in L.A.?

LINTHICUM: Well, this week, the Los Angeles Police Departments joined cities and counties around California in saying that they were no longer going to honor ICE hold requests. So the federal government has really made an effort to identify people who are already in the -- in the legal justice system. People who are in jails to target those people for deportations.

And the main way that they've apprehended immigrants has been through jails and counties. After people serve their sentence, ICE asks the police department in this case to hold those immigrants there for up to 48 hours. For a long time the LAPD and other agencies did that, now they're saying they're not going to do that because they think that they may be liable for holding people beyond, you know, serving their time.

BLITZER: ICE being the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Dan, is the L.A. Police not going to honor a federal law, if you will? What's going on here?

RESTREPO: This is underscoring just how broken our overall immigration system is right now. I mean, this is an indication, both the tradition of using local law enforcement as holders of first resort of undocumented immigrants who are in the deportation process, but also that now you're getting these state and local entities that are saying no. You've seen it in the opposite extreme, right? You've seen in Arizona state and local officials try being tougher.

It all underscores that our immigration system is broken. Our immigration system needs to be fixed and it can only be fixed if Democrats and Republicans can work together in Washington and Congress to fix it.

BLITZER: Well, you know, the president of the United States, right now, we saw them get on Marine One with the governor of Texas, Rick Perry, who's thinking once again of running for the Republican presidential nomination. I don't know if these two guys can get some common ground because they -- Rick Perry has said some really nasty things about the president in recent weeks. NAVARRO: And I'm sure -- and the president has said some fairly nasty

things about Republicans. Get over it. We have a crisis at hand and they've got a duty to this country to secure the border, but also to be the moral country that we are and they've got to do it.


BLITZER: Can they do something -- can they do comprehensive immigration reform before the November election?

NAVARRO: You know, I have been the last one to declare it dead, but I think not. Look, when you've got John Boehner, when you've got Congressman Luis Gutierrez, and when you've got the president declaring it dead, I'm not going to come --


BLITZER: Do you think it's dead?

RESTREPO: But it could be resurrected in a moment. If John Boehner shows the leadership of putting this in front of the house, the votes exist for comprehensive immigration reform in the House. They don't exist the majority of Republicans in the House don't support it, but the majority of the House does, a little bit of leadership from John Boehner would go a long way.

BLITZER: Are you still out -- you're in California, Kate, Murrieta, there were a lot of protesters who didn't want these young kids coming there to be held at least temporarily. What's the latest out there as far as the angry reaction that we saw on some of these demonstrators?

LINTHICUM: Yes, so plane loads of kids and they're mostly mothers continue to arrive from Texas. Currently, they're being bused to Border Patrol processing stations not in Murrieta. They haven't yet successfully transported immigrants there because you've seen every time they try really large protests by people who are upset that Obama, you know, hasn't in their minds done a better job of securing the border and those protesters have vowed to continue this protest and take it across the country in the coming weeks.

NAVARRO: I think their situation has made the prospect of comprehensive immigration reform that much more difficult to do because emotions are flaring up, because the vitriol is ratcheting way up. And because, frankly, you know, we can stand here, we can sit here, and we can spew out all sorts of statistics about how much more secure the border is today than it used it, what people are seeing are children go through that border, it becomes a very difficult --

BLITZER: I'm sure the president looks back and regrets the fact the first two years of his administration when there was a Democratic majority in the Senate, a Democratic majority in the House, he didn't push for comprehensive immigration reform.

RESTREPO: There was a lot to do. There was an economy in a free fall that needed to be saved.

BLITZER: But you can do more than one thing at a time.

RESTREPO: And he did more than one thing in those two years and certainly I think the president wanted to see immigration reform, still wants to see immigration reform and it shouldn't have been just when it was controlled by Democrats. This is something that Rick Perry's predecessor, then Governor George W. Bush and then President Bush supported, pushed and the Republican Party has lost its way on this issue and if it can find its way -- I agree with Ana that the emotions are very high. But all of this also just underscores how desperately we need --

NAVARRO: Well, I don't know if the president regrets not having done it the first two years. I sure as heck regret that.

BLITZER: I know you do.

All right. Guys, stand by. We got more to discuss, Ana, Dan and Kate. We're going to continue our conversation.

Also we're following the breaking news, the fighting between Israel and Hamas escalating now to new deadly levels. Is an Israeli invasion of Gaza imminent?

A SITUATION ROOM special report coming up at the top of the hour.



SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Frankly my Republican friends can't have it both ways. They can't criticize the president, in fact, sue the president for abusing his executive authority and at the same time come to this floor and criticize him for a lack of leadership when they won't even cast a vote. That is nothing if not totally and transparently political.


BLITZER: Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Ana, does he have a point?

NAVARRO: Look, I think there's a lot of frustration going on. And particularly these eight guys and Bob Menendez was part of that Gang of Eight in the Senate that worked so hard, put so much time and so much on the line to get an agreement to see it go nowhere. There is a lot of frustration going on, on both sides. And I think what you're seeing, as my friend Bob, venting.

BLITZER: How much frustration is there within the White House right now on this issue? They must be totally, totally upset about how it's unfolding.

RESTREPO: I think there's a significant amount of frustration. Obviously they saw this coming in the sense that they've been pushing for reform. You need a system that works and this is one of the symptoms of a system that doesn't work. There's a lot of frustration and there's frustration with our Central American partners and their inability to get ahead of the crime and violence and economic problems that have plagued Central America for a long time that are now manifesting.

BLITZER: Is there something the president -- we're going to hear from him shortly. Is there something he could say that could ease this crisis right now?

RESTREPO: Part of it is the message that he's been out with which is talking about not sending these kids. Not putting them on these perilous journey, and getting the resources he needs to be able to start sending kids back in a more expedited fashion than we've had. One is to respect the rights. This is a very tough balancing act.

NAVARRO: He needs -- he needs to clarify and make it just perfectly obvious that these kids that are coming do not fall under the current executive action that covers the Dream Act. He needs to say that over and over again.

RESTREPO: Over and over again, yes.

NAVARRO: Because I think there's something --

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Kate because she's been reporting on this.

These parents who send their kids unaccompanied from, let's say, Honduras or Guatemala or El Salvador, through Mexico all the way to the United States and these -- whoever is taking them, they get paid, what, $5,000, $6,000 a head, do their parents really are under the impression once they get across the border into Texas they are free and clear to live a wonderful life in the United States?

LINTHICUM: Well, we're hearing yes, that that's -- those are the rumors circulating in these Central American countries, that you basically get amnesty when you're crossing the border. Interestingly, if you look at what's happening, that's almost the case. I mean, you have such overcrowded border facilities there that these kids and their parents, if they have parents with them, are being released, you know, sometimes just 24, 48 hours after they turn themselves into Border Patrol authorities.

BLITZER: All right.

LINTHICUM: And are just given a notice to appear at a later date in immigration court.

BLITZER: All right.


NAVARRO: And yes --

BLITZER: Hold on a second. Hold on, guys.

LINTHICUM: That was like amnesty.

BLITZER: We got to take a break right now. But we're standing by to hear the president of the United States.

Kate, Dan, and Ana, thanks very, very much.

We're following also the breaking news. Coming up next, new rocket fire, fresh airstrikes, Israel and Hamas stepping up their fighting. Deadly consequences.

A live SITUATION ROOM special report is next.