'This Week' Transcript 2-4-24: White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Sen. JD Vance
This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, February 4.
A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, February 4, 2024 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS starts right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC "THIS WEEK" HOST (voice over): Striking back.
LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: They have a lot of capability. I have a lot more.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice over): U.S. forces hit dozens of targets in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen days after three U.S. soldier were killed in Jordan. We're live in the region with the latest developments.
Plus, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People are beginning to focus. Everything's picking up across the board.
STEPHANOPOULOS: President Biden wins big in the South Carolina primary, as pressure from his predecessor causes gridlock on Capitol Hill.
DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The bad border deal would be worse than no deal at all.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice over): Is the bipartisan immigration deal dead on arrival?
SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK): We need to have zero people illegally crossing this border, and that is the target of this bill.
REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): What's been suggested in this bill is not enough to secure the border.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice over): We’re joined this morning by House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries and Republican Senator JD Vance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Biden re-election strategy is begging Taylor Swift for an endorsement.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have had enough of Taylor Swift for now.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I cannot think of a dumber political fight to pick than one with the Swifties.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voice over): Taylor Swift takes center stage in the 2024 campaign as some Trump supporters decide she's the problem.
All the political fallout with our powerhouse roundtable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it’s THIS WEEK. Here now, George Stephanopoulos.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, and welcome to THIS WEEK.
Retaliation for strikes against U.S. forces and Middle East shipping have continued through the weekend. The U.S. and Great Britain hit dozens of Houthi targets in Yemen Saturday following Friday’s strikes against 85 targets in Iraq and Syria. The big question now, will this spark a wider war in the Middle East or work to contain the conflict? We'll ask President Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan after this report from Marcus Moore in the war zone.
Good morning, Marcus.
MARCUS MOORE, ABC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, George, good morning.
We are right along Jordan's border with Syria. That's Syria just in the distance behind me. And tensions have been high here as officials confirm that U.S. and British forces, supported by six other countries unleashed a new, large scale attack on Houthi targets in Yemen, including deeply buried storage facilities and air defense systems. American F-18 fighter jets and warships with the Eisenhower carrier strike group firing guided Tomahawk missiles, striking 13 different locations.
Now, U.S. Central Command force is also saying earlier that they struck six Houthi anti-cruise ship missiles prepared to launch and destroyed 12 Houthi drones on Friday either mid-flight or ready to be launched from Yemen. And as you know, these drones are a serious threat to international trade transiting through the Gulf of Aidan. And U.S. officials saying that those strikes in Yemen are not linked to the retaliation for the January base attack. After several days of warning, the U.S. retaliating against Iran-backed proxies for the drone strike that killed three service members at an army outpost in Jordan a week ago. Iraqi officials say 16 people were killed, 25 wounded while a Syrian human rights group says 29 members of Iranian-backed militias were killed there.
The White House is signaling that more strikes are coming, but they don't want an escalation. Iraqi and Syrian governments quickly condemning the retaliation, calling it a violation of sovereignty, and they said that it threatens stability in the region.
And, George, a concern about escalation is growing among many here in the region. And the belief here is that as long as Israel's bombardment in Gaza continues, stability in this part of the world will be threatened, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: In fact, Marcus, we have heard from the Houthis. They're vowing to respond.
MOORE: Yes, that’s right. They have vowed to keep up their attacks on those ships in the Red Sea and that this will continue as long as the war in Gaza is happening. And the Houthis have said that they will only stop when a ceasefire is declared.
And, George, it is worth noting that these groups have still been able to carry out attacks despite the U.S. air strikes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Marcus Moore, thanks.
Let's bring in the president's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.
Jake, thank you for joining us this morning.
Just start out, what have our strikes achieved over the last couple of days? Is the retaliation done?
JAKE SULLIVAN, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, George, part of the purpose of the strikes, the central purpose of the strikes, has been to take away capabilities from the Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria that are attacking or forces and from the Houthis that continue to threaten Red Sea shipping. And we believe they had good effect in reducing, degrading the capabilities of the militias and of the Houthis. And, as necessary, we will continue to take action.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And so – so do you expect more retaliation for the strike against U.S. forces in Jordan earlier this week?
SULLIVAN: Well, the first thing that I would say, and you noted it at the top of your program, is that this was the beginning of a – of our response. There will be more steps. Some of those steps will be seen. Some may not be seen. But there will be more action taken to respond to the death of the – the tragic death of the three brave U.S. service members.
And we cannot rule out that there will be future attacks from Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and Syria or from the Houthis. We have to be clear-eyed about that. And the president, in being clear-eyed about that, has told his military commanders that they need to be positioned to respond to further attacks as well.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you concerned about direct escalation from the Iranians themselves?
SULLIVAN: Well, again, this is something that we have to look at as a threat. We have to prepare for every contingency. And we were prepared for that contingency. And I would just say, from the perspective of Tehran, if they chose to respond directly to the United States, they would be met with a swift and forceful response from us.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How – how much direct contact has there been with Iran to try to contain this conflict?
SULLIVAN: Over the course of the past few months, we’ve had the opportunity to engage in the passage of messages back and forth between the U.S. and Iran. But, in the last few days, the message that we have sent to Iran has been through our action, not through our words.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, tell us – tell us about where things stand now on the negotiations over a possible ceasefire and release of hostages in the Gaza war.
SULLIVAN: Well, George, we regard a hostage deal, the release of hostages, as both being obviously critical for getting people home to their loved ones, but also being critical to generate a sustained pause in hostilities that can support the flow of humanitarian assistance and that can alleviate the suffering in Gaza.
So, the president has put this shoulder to the wheel on this. He has spoken to the leaders in both Qatar and Egypt, two countries that are centrally involved in trying to broker this deal. We are in constant contact with our Israeli counterparts on it. And the goal is, in fact, to get a hostage deal in place as soon as possible. Ultimately that comes down to Hamas. And Hamas will have to be willing to say yes to an arrangement that brings hostages home. And we’re going to continue pressing from every direction to try to make that happen.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it imminent?
SULLIVAN: I can’t say it’s imminent, but ultimately these kinds of negotiations unfold somewhat slowly until they unfold very quickly. And so it’s difficult to put a precise timetable on when something might come together or, frankly, if something might come together. But sitting here today I cannot tell you it’s right around the corner.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What is the end game here? Do you see any prospect at all – he seems to have been ruling it out, Prime Minister Netanyahu, of some kind of a long-term deal that leads to a Palestinian state?
SULLIVAN: Well, the U.S. position on this is very straightforward. The only long-term answer to peace in the region, to Israel's security in the region, is a two-state solution, with Israel's security guaranteed. A Palestinian state that also has security guarantees for Israel. That’s what we’re going to keep working for.
We were doing that before October 7th. I think since October 7th the need to work on that has only increased and we would like to deliver an outcome over time that has illuded administrations of both parties for decades that is in the best interests, we believe, of everyone in the region and in the wider world.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Will it require a new Israeli government?
SULLIVAN: Well, I'm not going to get into Israeli politics. The U.S. can only advance our vision for what we think makes sense. And President Biden has been very clear about that. He’s been clear publicly on the two-state solution, he’s been clear privately in speaking with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we have to let the Israelis speak for themselves.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Meantime, the president has been pushing hard for more aid to Israel, more aid to Ukraine. He’s tied it to those negotiations over a possible border deal in the Senate as well. But last night we heard from the speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, that he’s going to put a provision on the floor this week that simply is aid to Israel. Your reaction?
SULLIVAN: Well, the timing is interesting. The senators have been working on a bipartisan basis for weeks, if not months at this point, on a comprehensive package that involves Israel, Ukraine, the Indo-Pacific and the border. They are getting close to having that done. And at that moment the House comes forward with an Israel only bill. We regard that not as actually trying to address the security of Israel, but rather trying to address politics in the United States.
And from our perspective, the security of Israel should be sacred. It should not be a political game. And so, everyone should get behind a comprehensive package of the kind that a bipartisan Senate -- a bipartisan group of senators are negotiating as we speak.
STEPHANOPOULOS: No indication that the House is going to do that. So, if they pass it and it gets to the Senate, would the president veto it if it came to his desk?
SULLIVAN: The president is going to support a comprehensive package. He doesn't think doing these things piecemeal makes sense, and we think we will get an opportunity for the Senate to move forward with a package. And then the real question should be put to the House, not to the president about how to move forward with that bipartisan deal. If that deal came to his desk, he would absolutely sign it without hesitation.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Jake Sullivan, thanks for your time this morning.
SULLIVAN: Thank you.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we’re joined now by the House Democratic leader, Hakeem Jeffries.
Congressman, thank you for coming in this morning.
REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Good morning.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's pick up where we left off there with Jake Sullivan.
You saw the speaker yesterday say that he’s going to bring a stand-alone Israel bill to the floor of the House. Your response?
JEFFRIES: Well, we'll evaluate that legislation over the next few days, and then on Tuesday morning, House Democrats will meet as a caucus.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you might be open to it?
JEFFRIES: Well, to decide the way forward as it relates to America’s national security priorities.
Clearly, we've got to support Israel's ability to defend itself against Hamas and to defeat Hamas. We also need to make sure that we're doing everything possible to bring the hostages home, including American citizens, and to be able to surge humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians who are in harm's way in Gaza through no fault of their own.
Beyond that, we also have to address the national security priorities of the American people in other parts of the world. First and foremost, certainly to support Ukraine's effort to push back against Russian aggression, also to support our allies in the Indo-Pacific -- Taiwan, Japan, South Korea. The legislation being put forth by House Republicans does none of that.
The responsible approach is a comprehensive one to address America's national security priorities.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Any prospect the speaker will put something like that on the floor?
JEFFRIES: Well, that remains to be seen. I think the Senate is working its way through to a comprehensive agreement. We could see text as early as later on this afternoon, if not tomorrow, and we should evaluate that when it's available.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about on the aid to Israel? Several members -- progressive members of your caucus have said that they want some conditions now on aid to Israel including your former New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
What do you say to them?
JEFFRIES: Well, Israel has a right to defend itself. And also, of course, a responsibility to conduct its war in a manner consistent with the international rules of conflict. We shouldn't put conditions on the ability of any of our allies to defend themselves, particularly against a brutal terrorist regime like Hamas.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What else needs to be in this bill?
JEFFRIES: Well, as the Senate is working its way through to a possible bipartisan agreement dealing with our national security priorities in other parts of the world, supporting our NATO allies, stopping Russian aggression, which is necessary -- and Ukraine has done a very good job showing incredible resilience against a brutal Russian attack, we can't abandon that.
And we also, of course, have to work on the challenges related to our broken immigration system. We'll see what emerges from the Senate in that regard.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Perhaps. But isn't that dead on arrival in the House? The House Republicans have made it very clear they’re not going to consider something like that.
JEFFRIES: It should not be dead on arrival. See -- you know, we need more common sense in Washington, D.C., less conflict and less chaos.
We're in a period of divided government. That means we should be trying to find bipartisan common ground. House Democrats have made that clear. On any issue, we'll work with our Republican counterparts when it makes sense in terms of delivering real results for the American people.
How can a bill be dead on arrival and extreme MAGA Republicans in the House haven't even seen the text? They don't even know what solutions are being proposed in terms of addressing the challenges at the border.
House Republicans at this point are wholly own subsidiaries of Donald Trump. They're not working to find real solutions for the American people. They are following orders from the former president.
That's the height of irresponsibility. That's what the American people dislike about Washington, D.C. at this moment.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It's pretty clear that this week, there is going to be a vote to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas. Do the Republicans have the votes to pass it?
JEFFRIES: That remains to be seen, but there is no evidence that House Republicans have produced to show that Secretary Mayorkas has engaged in an impeachable offense, has broken the law, has committed a high crime or misdemeanor, which is the standard for impeachment.
What does impeaching Secretary Mayorkas have to do with fixing the challenges at the border? The answer is absolutely nothing. This is a partisan, political stunt and it should be abandoned by my Republican colleagues.
STEPHANOPOULOS: When it comes to politics, President Biden won the South Carolina primary, 96 percent of the vote last night. A resounding victory there. But he’s still locked in a dead heat with Donald Trump, according to some polls, behind in many of the key swing states. What does he need to do right now?
JEFFRIES: Well, it was a tremendous victory in South Carolina, a decisive one. And I think it demonstrates that as we enter into the campaign season, the American people are beginning to focus on President Biden's incredible track record of results. From the American Rescue Plan, shots in arms, money in pockets, kids back in school, rescuing the economy from a once-in-a-century pandemic and allowing the American economy to emerge as the most advanced in the world.
Yes, more needs to be done in terms of addressing affordability and the inflationary pressures, and President Biden has a vision to do that. Infrastructure and investment passed, clean water in every community, bringing manufacturing jobs back home to the United States of America, lowering the price of insulin to $35 per month for millions of Americans when it had cost $4,000 a year. This is an incredible track record of results and accomplishments.
We will not run on this track record simply to say to the American people, reward us, but we can say, trust us. We say what we mean, and we mean what we say. We're going to continue to put people over politics and deliver real results for the American people. And when the American people process that, George, I think President Biden will continue to be in a strong position to be re-elected.
STEPHANOPOULOS: All signs do now point, though, however, to a close election. Even the prospect that perhaps that it could be thrown to the House. What are the prospects that a majority of states, delegations will be controlled by Democrats if indeed this is thrown to the House?
JEFFRIES: Well, we're going to work very hard to make our case to the American people that we are focused on finding common ground, exercising common sense, to deliver the common good and make progress for hardworking American families. If we are able to successfully articulate that vision for the future, people over politics, lower costs, better paying jobs, growing the middle class, safer communities, fixing our broken immigration system, I think we're going to be in a strong position in November to deliver a House Democratic majority.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Hakeem Jeffries, thanks very much for your time this morning.
JEFFRIES: Thanks, George.STEPHANOPOULOS: Coming up, 14th Amendment challenges to keep Trump of the 2024 ballot head to the Supreme Court this week. Our legal experts going to break it down. We’re back in two minutes.
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J. MICHAEL LUTTIG, FORMER FEDERAL JUDGE: It was a masterful opinion of constitutional interpretationof the disqualification clause in the 14th Amendment.
LUTTIG: It is unassailable as a matter of constitutional law.
FORMER GOV. NIKKI HALEY, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think Donald Trump needs to be president. But I will beat him fair and square. We don't need to have judges making these decisions; we need voters to have -- make these decisions.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That was former conservative judge Michael Luttig and Nikki Haley, weighing in on the Colorado ruling to remove former President Trump from the state's primary ballot. The Supreme Court set to hear arguments Thursday over that 14th Amendment of the Constitution which bars anyone from holding office who engaged in insurrection.
Let's talk about that with our chief legal analyst, Dan Abrams, and Sherrilyn Ifill, who's launching the 14th Amendment Center For Law and Democracy at Howard Law School this year.
And, Dan, let me begin with you. What are you watching for from the Supreme Court this week?
DAN ABRAMS, ABC NEWS CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, this is going to be a -- a critical ruling. The question's going to be what issue does the Supreme Court focus on?
I'm going to be most interested in the oral arguments, on what questions are they asking? I mean, there are all sorts of outs here for the Supreme Court. There are all sorts of ramps. The question is, are they going to view it substantively? Are they going to evaluate whether there was an insurrection or not? Or are they going to ask questions more about whether the president is covered by this? Is this something where there needs to be a conviction of the crime of insurrection?
There are all sorts of possible issues, and this is where the oral arguments get a little interesting, which is where they focus at least may give us a hint as to what they're particularly interested in.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you go in assuming that the court, a majority of the court is looking for a way not to strike Donald Trump from the ballot?
ABRAMS: Absolutely, absolutely. I have no doubt in my mind that the court will figure out a way to allow Donald Trump to remain on the ballot.
And, by the way, that may mean even just sending it back to the lower courts, et cetera. But I would be absolutely shocked if the court upholds the Colorado ruling.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Sherrilyn, you believe the 14th Amendment is pretty clear on this matter?
SHERRILYN IFILL, HOWARD UNIVERSITY VERNON JORDAN ENDOWED CHAIR IN CIVIL RIGHTS & NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND PRESIDENT, DIRECTOR-COUNSEL EMERITUS: Yeah. As a matter of law, of text, of legislative history of intention, the answers to all of the questions that Dan raised are very clear, are very cut and dried.
Section three of the 14th amendment is very clear that those who formerly took an oath for office, who formerly served in office, who participated in -- subsequently participated in insurrection, are barred from serving in either state or federal office. It's not just Donald Trump, but this happens to be the case involving him.
And if you look back to that legislative history and what the framers of the 14th amendment were trying to do, they understood the need to be able to protect the republic.
You know, George, after -- after the Civil War, when they were reconstituting the Congress, the vice president of the Confederacy tried to take a seat in the United States Senate. He had been elected by the white citizens of Georgia. Four Confederate colonels tried to be seated. Generals tried to be seated. And they understood that they had to protect against what they called "those who, having been defeated in the field, seek to win in the -- in the political realm."
So they understood what insurrection was. We are new to this, fortunately. But this was placed in the Constitution with the vision that forever more the republic would need this tool to protect itself.
And I think there's no question that Donald Trump fits into this. There's an excellent decision from the Colorado trial court and from the Colorado Supreme Court that this Supreme Court is going to have to grapple with.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you confident that the Supreme Court is going to see the law the way you do?
IFILL: No. I'm never...
IFILL: I'm a civil rights lawyer, George. I'm never confident the Supreme Court's going to see the case the way I do. But, you know, if you -- if you think about it -- I mean, I was listening to Dan earlier. You know, whether or not Trump participated in an insurrection, the Supreme Court is not a fact-finding court. Those facts have already been found by a trial court, a dually legitimate trial court. Donald Trump and his lawyers had the opportunity to defend him. Witnesses were called; evidence was heard; experts testified; historians testified. And there is a very thorough, detailed decision that lays out the case.
So the Supreme Court really can't ask those questions in its role as a reviewer. What they can ask about is the law, and they can ask a series of questions I think they will ask. Is this provision self-executing, right? Does there need to be some statute from Congress that authorizes removal?
They can ask those kinds of questions, and those are the questions I'm going to be focused on, listening to the argument. What I think this court will want, a majority of this court will want, is some indication that they cannot act without something else happening beforehand, and that something else being in the hands of Congress.
I agree that they will be looking for an off-ramp, but I would stress again, by the court's own philosophy, if one looks at the history and tradition of Section 3 and applies it to this situation, this case is cut and dried.
It's astonishing how closely this insurrection and Donald Trump's participation in foment it aligns with the goals of the framers of the 14th Amendment in creating Section 3.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Dan, this is likely not the last time the Supreme Court is going to be walking into this election this year. You've got the appeals courts still dealing with whether or not President Trump -- former President Trump is immune from any kind of prosecution.
What do you make of this delay, though, by the appeals court?
ABRAMS: Well, first of all, the Supreme Court could decide not to hear that issue, right? The first thing is going to be, does the Supreme Court even agree to hear it?
But, yeah, look, you and I have talked about this on the set of "Good Morning America" that I expected there to be a ruling earlier from the appellate court. They seem to be moving pretty quickly on this question of, is there immunity? And now, suddenly, there's a delay.
And you have to believe that this is because the three judges are trying to figure out a way to craft this where maybe they all agree on something. They recognize the importance of the case. Something's going on, right?
Based on the way that they were moving forward so quickly initially, something happened to put a delay in the process which as you know, has now led the trial court to say we can't move forward with a trial date at this point until the appellate court weighs in.
And by the way, once the appellate court weighs in, there's going to be all sorts of other procedural questions depending on what the ruling is. It could go to request for en banc, which means the entire court as opposed to three judges hearing it. They have to make a decision there.
If it does go to the Supreme Court, there's a briefing schedule. There’s amount of time each side gets.
So, the process moves on, the top -- the clock is ticking and the question becomes, does the appellate court factor in when the election is? And in theory, they shouldn't. In reality, it's hard to believe they don't.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Sherrilyn, do you think we'll see a trial on the January 6th case this year?
IFILL: Well, it's hard to say. I think, George, we're unfortunately focusing on appellate court where we should be focusing on the Supreme Court which in December received a petition from Jack Smith on December 11th or so, asking them to take the court -- take the case ahead of appellate review in order to keep the schedule, and the Supreme Court declined to do so.
Of course, the Supreme Court has done this before and many times during the Trump administration. They did it in the case involving Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce's deposition. They did it in the travel ban case.
They did it in the UNC -- the University of North Carolina affirmative action case. They did it in the case of young people suing under climate change. They did it in DACA.
Why did they not do it in this case, the case of paramount public interest involving whether or not the president can be prosecuted under the charges that Jack Smith has brought?
So while we're focusing on the appellate court, I think it's important to remember that the Supreme Court fumbled the ball on this in December -- and by fumbled, that sounds like it's accidental. I don't know whether it was or not, but this was -- Jack Smith tried to avoid this, and this seemed to me a very appropriate case in which the Supreme Court on matter of law of presidential immunity could have taken this ahead of the appellate court and we would be on schedule.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you both for your time this morning.
The roundtable and Republican Senator J.D. Vance are coming up. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JD VANCE, (R-OH): -- working class to a very dark place.
His leading our political discourse to a very negative place.
If Trump was elected president, he has to be a much different president than he was a candidate. As a candidate, he was fundamentally divisive, arrogant.
I'm a Never Trump guy. I never liked him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: That was JD Vance back in 2016. Now he's a Republican senator from Ohio supporting Donald Trump and he joins us this morning.
Senator, thank you for joining us this morning.
Back in 2016 you also wrote that Trump is unfit for office. Why have you reversed yourself?
VANCE: Well, I think in office, actually, George, he did a great job. But he proved me wrong. He also proved a lot of other people wrong, which is why I think he's doing so well in the polls these days. We have to remember, George, that Joe Biden promised to return to normalcy. And yet we have a world on fire. We have war in the Red Sea, war in Eastern Europe, war on the southern border, a terrible drug crisis. And of course, a lot of young Americans who can't afford to buy a home because interest rates are so high.
So, compare that to the track record of four years of Donald Trump, where we actually had a secure border, we had rising wages for the middle class, and we had the American Dream that seemed more attainable and more achievable for more people. It's hard not to conclude that I was wrong and so many were wrong about Donald Trump back in 2015. He delivered George, he did a good job. And I think it's why we ought to give him another run at it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Of course, wages are rising now. And we just saw that economic forum coming this week showing the economy continues to grow new job growth, as well. But since then, Donald Trump not only lost the 2020 election and tried to overturn the results. He also faced a series of legal judgments and indictments. Most recently, this E. Jean Carroll case where juries have found him liable for sexual assault and defamation, leading to ads like this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Supporting Donald Trump sends a message to every abuser.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A stunning verdict.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every rapist.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Former President Trump has been ordered to pay 80 --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And every man who's ever used his power --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- to write or --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- to hurt a woman. Because if he can do it, why shouldn't they?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you respond to that, that you're supportive Trump is sanctioning that kind of behavior, sexual assault and defamation?
VANCE: Well, I think it's actually very unfair to the victims of sexual assault, to say that somehow their lives are being worse by electing Donald Trump for president, when what he's trying to do, I think is restore prosperity. So, I think it's insulting to victim -- victims of sexual assault. If you actually look at so many of the court cases against Donald Trump, George, this is not about prosecuting Trump for something that he did. It's about throwing him off the ballot because Democrats feel that they can't beat him at the ballot box. And so, they're trying to defeat them in court.
This case, like so many legal cases against Donald Trump, they're trumped up they're -- they're an extremely left-wing jurisdictions, or it's actually the Biden administration prosecuting his chief political rival. I think most Americans recognize that this is not what we want to fight the 2024 election over. Let's fight it over issues. Let's fight it over how to redeliver prosperity to the American worker and peace to the world at large, not over these ridiculous court cases that frankly, they've been throwing at Trump for well before he became a political candidate. And they're going to be going after him for a long time because his agenda is actually a threat to the people who have been calling the shots in this country for far too long.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You call it a ridiculous case. These were juries that found him liable for sexual assault in defamation. That's ridiculous?
VANCE: These are juries, George, in extremely left-wing jurisdictions. These are cases that are very often funded by left-wing donors and their cases that are funded explicitly to harm him politically not to seek justice for any particular group of individuals.
George, if you look at all of these cases, the through line, two-fold. Number one, they’re funded by Donald Trump’s political opponents, and the goal here is not to help us actually have a real conversation about how to advance the country forward. Their goal is to defeat Trump at the courts because these people know they can’t defeat him at the ballot box.
It's really shameful actually, George, if you think about so many of these people who say, we're – we’re living in a world where there's a threat to democracy. Donald Trump or his supporters are threats to democracy, and yet they're using the courts to deny the American people from even having a choice. If you don't like Donald Trump, of course, you can vote against him, but you should at least have that choice. And it's telling that the people who talk about threats to democracy are trying to destroy the democratic process in this country.
We've got to talk about the issues, George. There are so many crises happening all across the world. There are so many problems right here at home. I think Donald Trump is the best guy to fix those problems. And I think that we have a very, very good chance of persuading the American people.
What they don't want to talk about is weird juries in New York City. They want to talk about how to make their lives better and how to bring the world to a more peaceful place.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, juries in New York City are not legitimate when they – when they find someone liable for sexual defamation and assault?
VANCE: Well, when the cases are funded by left wing donors and when the case has absolute left wing bias all over it, George, absolutely I think that we should call into question that – that particular conclusion. We have to remember, of course, that these cases exist, not because they were trying to seek justice. Reid Hoffman, a far left donor, did not fund this case because he cares about what happens to sexual assault victims. He funded this case to harm his political opponent, Donald Trump. It's pretty weird. It's a weird thing to do to use the courts in this way. It's never happened before in American history. And, yes, I think it should call into question the entire apparatus that's being used to go after Donald Trump.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you're not troubled by the sexual assault and defamation. Let me ask you about January 6th. You’ve mentioned as a possible vice president for Donald Trump. Had you been vice president on January 6th, would you have certified the election results?
VANCE: Oh, George, this is such a ridiculous question, in part because the law has changed here. We, of course, had a major legal change in the Electoral Count Act.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I didn't ask you about going forward. I asked you what you would have done. I asked you what you would have done.
VANCE: George, here's what I think – here’s – here’s what I think happened in 2020. And I know you guys are obsessed with talking about this. I have to make a point here. You constantly say to people like me, why do you talk about January the 6th, why do you talk about the election of 2020, and then you ask about this multiple times during a six minute interview.
But, look, you asked the question, and I'll answer it. Do I think there were problems in 2020? Yes, I do. Do I think it was a problem that big technology companies, working with the intelligence services, censored the presidential campaign of Donald Trump? Yes. Do I think it's a problem that Pennsylvania changed its balloting rules in the middle of the election season in a way that even some courts in Pennsylvania have said was illegal? Yes, I think these were problems, George, and I think there is a political solution to those problems.
So, litigating which slate of electors were legitimate I think is fundamentally the political solution to the problems that existed in 2020. It's a reasonable debate to have. And I find it weird, George, that people like you obsess with what I call what happened in 2020, you're so incurious about what actually happened in 2020, which is why so many people mistrust our elections in this country. We’ve got to do better, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not the least – I'm not the least bit incurious. In fact, you laid out a litany there, but you didn't answer the question. I asked, would you have certified the election results had you been vice president?
VANCE: If I had been vice president, I would have told the states, like Pennsylvania, Georgia and so many others that we needed to have multiple slates of electors and I think the U.S. Congress should have fought over it from there. That is the legitimate way to deal with an election that a lot of folks, including me, think had a lot of problems in 2020. I think that's what we should have done.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So it's very clear, you would have done what Donald Trump asked you to do there, not what Vice President Mike Pence did.
You said that that's about the past, but, of course, Donald Trump --
VANCE: No, no, George – George, it’s not – no, no, George, it’s not about what – it’s not about what –
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that’s what you just said.
VANCE: George, it’s not about what Donald Trump asks somebody to do. It's about, what do we do when you have a problem like what happened in 2020? How do you respond to it? How does the political system respond to this? You can't have a media apparatus that looks, for example, at the intelligence services working with technology companies to censor Americans and say, well, we just can't deal with this. There's no solution to this problem.
And by the way, George, I don't want to talk about this stuff because I think what happened in 2020 is far, far less important than what's happened since 2020. The wide-open southern border, the fentanyl crisis plaguing our communities, the inflation crisis that is making it hard for Americans to afford a good middle class lifestyle. We need to litigate the 2024 election about those issues.
You guys are obsessed with talking about 2020. I'm happy to answer the questions, but I think it's a disservice to the American people that you're so preoccupied with it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it's President Trump who's preoccupied with it, too. He's the one who's talked about pardoning those who participated in the riots. And you did just answer the question. You would refuse to re-certify the election.
I do want to talk about the agenda for 2024. Because you also have laid out very clear advice for what you want Donald Trump to do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VANCE: I think that what Trump should do, like, if I was giving him one piece of advice, fire every single mid-level bureaucrat, every civil servant in the administrative state. Replace them with our people. And when the courts -- because you will get taken to court -- and when the courts stop you, stand before the country like Andrew Jackson did, and say "The chief justice has made his ruling. Now let him enforce it."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Fire everyone in the government, then defy the Supreme Court?
You think it's OK for the president to defy the Supreme Court?
VANCE: No, no, George, I did not say fire everyone in the government. I said replace the mid-level bureaucrats with people who are responsive to the administration's agenda. That's called democracy.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Every civil servant in the administrative state.
VANCE: One of the problems -- no, George, I said the mid-level bureaucrats. And one of the problems that we have in this government...
STEPHANOPOULOS: You said, "every civil servant in the administrative state."
VANCE: Who don't actually -- who don't -- let me finish the answer, George. You asked the question. We have a major problem here with administrators and bureaucrats in the government who don't respond to the elected branches.
Let's just give one very real-world example of this. In 2019, Donald Trump, having defeated ISIS, said that we should redeploy our troops in Syria and Jordan out of the region. You had multiple members of the Defense Department bureaucracy who fought him on that.
So what happened? We have people who are sitting ducks in the Levant right now, three of whom just got killed because the bureaucrats aren't listening to the political branches.
That's a fundamental component of our government, George, that whoever is in charge, agree or disagree with him, you have to follow the rules. If those people aren't following the rules, then of course you've got to fire them, and of course, the president has to be able to run the government as he thinks he should. That's the way the Constitution works. It has been thwarted too much by the way our bureaucracy has worked over the past 15 years.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The Constitution also says the president must abide by legitimate Supreme Court rulings, doesn't it?
VANCE: The Constitution says that the Supreme Court can make rulings, but if the Supreme Court -- and, look, I hope that they would not do this, but if the Supreme Court said the president of the United States can't fire a general, that would be an illegitimate ruling, and the president has to have Article II prerogative under the Constitution to actually run the military as he sees fit.
This is just basic constitutional legitimacy. You're talking about a hypothetical where the Supreme Court tries to run the military. I don't think that's going to happen, George. But of course, if it did, the president would have to respond to it. There are multiple examples throughout American history of the president doing just that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You didn't say "military" in your answer, and you've made it very clear you believe the president can defy the Supreme Court.
Senator, thanks for your time this morning.
VANCE: No, no -- no, no, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Roundtable's up next. We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Back now at the round table joined by Former DNC Chair Donna Brazile; Former RNC Chair & Trump Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Washington Post Congressional Reporter Mariana Sotomayor; and Politico Senior Political Columnist Jonathan Martin. Thank you for being here.
Donna, let me begin with you. We saw 96 percent of the Democratic primary vote, pretty low turnout in South Carolina yesterday for Joe Biden. But a new ABC Poll out this morning showed he's still trailing Donald Trump by five points. What does he need to do now?
DONNA BRAZILE, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR & FORMER DNC CHAIR: George, this was the beginning of a Democratic process, and when as we go along, including the Nevada next week and on to Michigan and Super Tuesday, Biden will pick up additional momentum. This is -- up until now, it's been really a race for the Republican nomination. So, this is an opportunity for Joe Biden to once again show up, to turn out his base, and to begin to figure out how to pivot to enlarge that base that he built in 2020.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What's the case that Donald Trump needs to make right now?
REINCE PRIEBUS, ABC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER RNC CHAIR & FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, I think you're going to see that the Trump campaign is going to start shifting their focus and there's just general chaos in regards to Biden's administration, whether it be in the Middle East, whether it be crime, whether it be the border, turning the whole chaos word on its head against Joe Biden.
And look, Joe Biden's two things have happened this week not good for him. One, Trump's court cases seem to be fizzling down the road and away from being resolved before the election, which has been the Democrats' real hope here. And they're losing that. And Biden's polling is so stuck. It's stuck at 37, 38%. Approval is very low. And he's behind in every battleground state, on average in America, and that comes with all the court cases, all the -- all the attacks on Trump yet Joe Biden is losing everywhere across the country.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Marianna, we just heard Reince say that the Trump campaign wants to use this chaos and it seems pretty clear. You cover Capitol Hill, and every day that Trump and his allies are determined to make sure that nothing happens on Capitol Hill this year.
MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR, WASHINGTON POST CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we have seen Republicans fall in line, especially when it comes to any directive that Trump has given most notably on border security. That's the big debate that we should expect on Capitol Hill this week. I mean, it's not surprising. And you actually hear Republicans saying the quiet part out loud, why are we going to give Biden any wins, he doesn't deserve any wins. We shouldn't be tackling a number of these issues in a presidential year, just let the voters kind of figure it out.
That's actually a point that a lot of Republicans know when it comes to the question about impeaching Biden, that's a little bit trickier on Capitol Hill. And Republicans are saying just let this election play out. They're trying to not actually answer that question --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is there any chance at this bipartisan border deal, Ukraine and Israel funding gets through, or is that dead on arrival?
SOTOMAYOR: I mean, it seems pretty good. We're still waiting for the Senate to release the text of this. It's possible to get through the Senate. Getting it through the House, I mean, we basically saw Speaker Mike Johnson admit that they're going to delay putting that on the floor. And he also has a number of Republicans in his conference already publicly saying that if you put the border security bill on the floor, if you put a Ukraine funding bill on the floor, they will motion to vacate him.
So, this is a bigger question for House Republicans. It seems I don't want to say it's dead-on arrival. But it seems like it's headed to that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Jonathan, you have a column in Politico this morning saying that Democrats are not keeping their eye on the ball when it comes to third parties, that the real threat is not no labels. It's third party on the left.
JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO SENIOR POLITICAL COLUMNIST: George, there's a precedent for this twice in the last 25 years, Democrats live this nightmare. Ralph Nader in 2000, Jill Stein in 2016, but they understand this risk. And this risk has been elevated in the last few months, because of the war in Gaza. It's a straightforward math issue.
If Joe Biden loses 30,000 to 40,000 votes in Wisconsin and Michigan places like Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Madison, that's the election. That's the presidency.
And there's been so much focus in Washington on no labels. Will it be Joe Manchin, who's going to run this in, that? We know the threat to Biden today, and today, it's Jill Stein, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Cornell West, they don't need to get a lot of votes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are they going to get on the ballot in the place (INAUDIBLE)?
MARTIN: Well, that's the key, not all three will but can leave Florida (ph) with the libertarian line now. Stein wants to get on the Green party line. That's important, because that makes it easier for them to establish parties, if you can get on those lines in key states. That is decisive.
STEPHANOPOULOS: The question is will Taylor Swift make up for that? It's one of the things the Biden campaign is looking at right now.
Reince, I got to bring this to you. Because Fox News at least several of the personalities on Fox News seem to have become obsessed with the idea of Taylor Swift helping Joe Biden, some even going so far as to say that it's part of a conspiracy, a psychological operations conspiracy led by the Pentagon.
PRIEBUS: Well, I'm not going to go there. Look, I think the whole thing.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, that still (INAUDIBLE) --
PRIEBUS: No, I mean, I think it's a powder keg of stupidity. You've got --
PRIEBUS: -- two of the most -- you're talking about two of the most popular things in America right now. Taylor Swift and the NFL. And we've got a party that wants to, you know, grow the tent. I don't think attacking those two Taylor Swift and the NFL is obviously the way to go. I think we ought to have a few things in America that we can agree on. And those are two things, but --
STEPHANOPOULOS: So where is this (INAUDIBLE)?
PRIEBUS: -- and even if she does take a political position. She doesn't like Trump, fine. That's not going to change, I don't think, anyone's votes in November. But what could change people's votes is if, you know, you started coming up with these kinds of conspiracy theories (INAUDIBLE) --
STEPHANOPOULOS: But let's say, where does this come from? You're in tune with Republican voters, you're in tune with Fox News. Where did where does this all come from?
PRIEBUS: Look, I -- you know, I think a lot of the things that are out there are cliques. I think it's popularity. It's the -- it's the -- it's the race to saying something, you know, outrageous to get people to listen to you. And it's a big part of politics today.
I mean, look, we live in a world where division is profit, unities a loser. Social media algorithms are driving I think our country further apart. And this is just one more of many things that you can read online or in social media that you have to just join for fun.
MARTIN: George (ph), it's also which side are you on, too, right? And Taylor Swift is basically picking Team Blue effectively, and so for Team Red, that's that. But, you know, it is puzzling though because, as Reince points out, it's like going after, like, oxygen or, like, golden lab puppies. I mean, it's like, it's hard to find more popular figures than the NFL, the last remaining unifying institution in America, and Taylor Swift, the biggest pop star in the world.
BRAZILE: Guys, can I just say something? As someone who loved NFL, before Taylor Swift started dating one of its favorite stars --
BRAZILE: Look, I took a picture with Drew Brees the other day, so I'm still trying not to wear the same clothes. But, the fact is that she's a cultural icon. She speaks to many voters under the age of 40, both Republican and Democratic voters. So, I don't get the fact that the Republicans are attacking someone who is such a unifier with young people.
MARTIN: Yeah, right.
BRAZILE: I didn't become a Swifty until after the song "Karma" and of course, the album "Midnights" which is up for another Grammy Album of the Year. But this attack on her, it's so much an attack on women.
PRIEBUS: Another part of this is the NFL viewership -- I mean, if you took NFL viewers and you did a poll of the election, are you voting for Biden or Trump, Trump would win that election. I mean, the idea that you would attack really a big foundational issue within NFL.
BRAZILE: Why would he win? He doesn't look like he's ever thrown a ball in his life.
PRIEBUS: You've got to learn how to count votes. And --
BRAZILE: Why would Trump win that? Reince, why would Trump win that vote (ph)?
PRIEBUS: It's not Republicans attacking Taylor Swift. It's some people on the internet --
PRIEBUS: -- that are hitting send on a tweet. That's all this is. And so, there are plenty of other people like me --
BRAZILE: Stupid (inaudible).
PRIEBUS: -- that are calling it what it is.
BRAZILE: Can I address one issue? This whole issue of chaos, you know, I have been sitting here thinking chaos. Chaos when Joe Biden is not only delivering on his promises to get us out of the pandemic, we're the envy of the world when it comes to the economy. He's growing the economy. He's investing in manufacturing. Black unemployment is the lowest in American history.
PRIEBUS: No, it's not.
BRAZILE: I mean, so -- yes, it is.
PRIEBUS: No, it's not.
BRAZILE: Oh, seriously?
PRIEBUS: Black unemployment?
BRAZILE: Black unemployment. I mean, look, we're not going back to slavery, OK? We are -- I'm saying in terms of what Joe Biden has been able to do to help ordinary Americans, middle-class Americans, he's done a great job, and why are Republicans holding up a bipartisan border deal when we can finally resolve the crisis at the border? But they want to get Donald Trump an issue.
PRIEBUS: OK. Well, 99 percent of what you just said is wrong.
BRAZILE: Like what?
PRIEBUS: And the question is, why -- why aren't the voters in these battleground states in agreement with you? Why is Joe Biden losing outside the margin of error --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Guys, and that's going to -- we're going to have to end on that question. I'm sorry. Thank you all for your time today. We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "World News Tonight," and I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."
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