'This Week' Transcript 2-5-23: Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Chris Sununu & Adm. Mike Mullen

This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, February 5.

ByABC News
February 5, 2023, 9:39 AM

A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, Feburary 5 2023 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.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: well, what the heck is that?

KARL: The military shoots down the Chinese spy balloon that has been floating across the U.S. for days.

BRIGADIER GENERAL, PATRICK S. RYDER: The balloon has violated U.S. airspace and international law.

KARL: Secretary of State Antony Blinken postpones his trip to Beijing, another blow to U.S./China relations.

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: The PRC’s decision to take this action on the eve of my planned visit is detrimental.

KARL: All the fallout this morning with Senator Marco Rubio and the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen.

Hiring surge.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The state of the union and the state of our economy is strong.

KARL: President Biden boasts historic job growth ahead of his State of the Union Address. As Biden gears up for re-election, the republican opposition digs in.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): We're not passing a clean debt ceiling.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Everything they've done has been a mess. The record deficit. The record inflation. The record debt.

KARL: The latest with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu.

Plus, surprising numbers from our new poll and our powerhouse roundtable.

And --

RACHEL SCOTT: Do you trust that the water is safe?

GLENDA BARNER: I don’t. No. I don’t. I don't drink it.

KARL: No end in sight for Jackson, Mississippi's water crisis. Rachel Scott has a new series, "Through the Cracks."


ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it’s THIS WEEK. Here now, Jonathan Karl.

KARL: Good morning and welcome to THIS WEEK.

With the State of the Union Address just two days away, we have a new poll showing the steep challenges facing President Biden, and some alarming numbers for Democrats about the prospects of a Biden/Trump rematch.

But we begin this morning with the Chinese spy balloon shot down yesterday. The balloon first entered American airspace over Alaska ten days ago, before crossing into Canada and then re-entering American air space in Montana on Tuesday, spending the rest of the week floating across the mainland of the United States at an altitude of about 60,000 feet.

The Chinese insisted it was just a weather balloon that had veered off course. The Pentagon says it was a sophisticated, high-altitude surveillance system sent by the Chinese to spy on the U.S. The balloon's path went above the U.S. nuclear silos and other sensitive sites, sparking a major diplomatic clash between the United States and China and prompting Secretary of State Blinken to cancel a highly anticipated visit this week to Beijing.

And late yesterday, an Air Force F-22 fighter jet fired a single air-to-air missile into the balloon, bringing it down into the waters off the coast of South Carolina, where there is now an ongoing effort to retrieve the surveillance equipment it was carrying.

There are a lot of unanswered questions this morning about what the Chinese were trying to do, and about a second Chinese balloon spotted yesterday over South America. And what this means for U.S.-China relations.

Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen is here to help us sort it out.

But first we are joined by the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Marco Rubio.

Senator Rubio, thank you for joining us.

We're – we’re hearing the reaction from China now to the – the shooting down of this balloon. Their spokesperson has said that this was, of course, simply an accident, a weather balloon that veered off course. But then they said this. For the United States to insist on using armed force is clearly an excessive reaction that seriously violates international convention. China will resolutely defend the legitimate rights and interests of the enterprise involved and retains the right to respond further.

So, what do you make of that? It sounds like they are threatening, or at least suggesting, some sort of retaliation for – for the taking down of this balloon.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): Well, I can assure you that if we fly a balloon over China, they're going to shoot it down, and probably a lot sooner than we did. But I think there's an important thing to understand is, look, there's intelligence value to what this balloon did. That's why they have them. That's why they've used them. And we'll learn more about that here in the days to come, especially as we're briefed on it.

But there is a symbolic issue at play here. This is not a coincidence that this thing traversed the United States over sensitive military sites leading up to Blinken's, what was scheduled to be his visit to China. This is deliberate. They did this on purpose. They understood that it was going to be spotted. They knew the U.S. government would have to reveal it. That people were going to see it over the sky. And the message they were trying to send is what they believe internally, and that is that the United States is a once great superpower that’s hollowed out, that’s in decline.

And the message they’re trying to send the world is, look, these guys can’t even do anything about a balloon flying over U.S. airspace. How can you possibly count on them if something were to happen in the Indo-Pacific region? You’re going to count on – how can you count on them. If they’re not going to do anything about a balloon over U.S. air space, how are they going to come to the aid of Taiwan or – or stand with the Philippians or Japan or India if -- when the Chinese move on their territories?

So, I think that that’s really the – the key part here is they – they knew exactly what they were doing, and – and there was a message behind it.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC "THIS WEEK" ANCHOR: But the balloon was shot out of the sky. What do you mean? I mean, the balloon was taken down.

RUBIO: Yes, and I think they understood that ultimately that would probably be what would -- could happen, and then they would make this other statement about, oh, the U.S. is overreacting. It's just a weather balloon. Look how silly they got. That's part of it as well.

But what they know the world is going to see is, you have a balloon that entered through the -- Alaska, traversed everywhere from Idaho, Montana, across the Midwest, over some of the most sensitive – I mean look at the -- the flight path that this thing took. It's not coincidental. It went over ICBM fields, some of the most sensitive military sites we have, and then exited the southeast of the United -- seaboard of the United States and into the ocean.

So, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. When was it spotted? Why was it not brought down sooner over other areas? I'm open to listening to the arguments they make about why wasn't it dealt with sooner. But my point about -- you asked about China's comments. This is the – this is what they wanted the world to see, that they could send a balloon at 60,000 feet over U.S. airspace, over military facilities, and that we would be unable to stop it. And then ultimately, when we shoot it down, if we did, they would argue, look how they overreact to a weather balloon, which obviously is not what it is.

KARL: So you are a member of the so-called gang of eight. You're one of the congressional officials that will get briefed first on this. What questions do you want to ask?

RUBIO: Well, I think the intelligence value of it is always first and foremost on our mind. What – what do we believe they collected from it? What is the value of it? It is one of multiple platforms. Obviously, look, the -- countries spy on countries. China has satellites. China, unfortunately, has embedded in our country all kinds of Huawei software and hardware that could potentially be used for espionage. But what was the value of this platform? Because it's one we've seen them use now for a handful of years here. But – but what’s the value of it?

But I think Secondarily to it is really an understanding of, you know, what are we going to do about it in the future because I don’t believe this is the last time we're going to see this sort of thing happen. Again, I don't think this is coincidental. I think they did this on purpose to send a message to the world that they can enter American airspace and do so without us being able to do or willing to do much about it.

KARL: The suggestion that we’ve heard from Pentagon officials is there may actually be more intelligence value that we will glean from this. This was shot down over water. They hope to recover the payload largely intact.

Is it possible that we may learn some significant and important things about the way the Chinese are operating by retrieving this – this payload?

RUBIO: Potentially. It depends what we retrieve. Remember, this thing went into the ocean. So, it depends on what we retrieve. And, frankly, it also depends on what – who -- the Chinese sort of suspected that this might happen. I mean, look, they flew this thing across the middle of the United States. So I imagine whoever designed this thing and put it up there realized, hey, at some point the Americans may get their hands on this. It's quite possible that it was designed in such a way where there wouldn't be much value to us in that regard.

But, look, we're going to find out more. Those are the kinds of things that, obviously, will not be discussed publicly because if they knew what we gleaned from it, they'd protect themselves from it in the future. So, those are obviously some of the questions that we’ll want answered in the days to come .and it also depends what they're able to retrieve here, obviously. When you shoot something out of the sky and it goes into the ocean, you don't always get it back in a neat package.

KARL: Did Secretary Blinken make the right move to cancel that trip to Beijing?

RUBIO: Yes, I don’t know how you could possibly make that trip happen at this point with this thing happening. But – but I – again, I think these two things were linked. And I think most troubling, and I'm not – maybe it’s not true, I hope it’s not true, but there are reports in “Bloomberg” and other outsets that one of the reasons why the Biden administration did not disclose this balloon earlier to the American public, because it didn’t want to endanger or imperil his ability to travel over there.

But – but certainly I think once this happened, I think there’s no way he could have possibly made that trip at this stage.

KARL: And – and – and he shot it down, when he shot it down, based on the advice of – of the military. You don’t think he should have ordered – ordered it to be shot down earlier against the advice of – of – of the Joint Chiefs, do you?

RUBIO: Well, I think it first begins – well, I understand it – when did we first track it over airspace. Theoretically, if it entered through Alaska, NORAD, it’s our system of spotting things and protecting both American and Canadian airspace. So, it was spotted a lot earlier.

So, I’d love to hear from military officials about why wasn’t it addressed earlier, what were the options at that point.

Again, look, maybe in a closed session or maybe in the settings of -- with a benefit of hindsight, they'll have some real good arguments about why it couldn't be done.

I recognize that you shoot something out of the sky that’s the size -- that's the size of three buses and it lands in the wrong place, it could hurt, harm or kill people and damage infrastructure.

But by the same token, I think that if that was the case, then I think it really would have been helpful for the president of the United States to get on national television and explain to the American people, this is what we're dealing with. This is what I’m going to do about it and this is why I haven't done it yet.

None of that happened, and I don't know why. And in fact, I don’t now why they waited so long to tell people about this, and they knew the trajectory that it was on it seems from late last week, or early last week.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC “THIS WEEK” CO-ANCHOR: And we're also told, by the way, that this happened three times under the previous president. And, obviously, there were no public notifications there.

Senator Rubio, thank you for joining us. We really appreciate your time.

RUBIO: Thank you.

KARL: Let’s bring in Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to talk about this.

So, it’s been shot down. Now, what?

ADM. MIKE MULLEN, FORMER CHAIR, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF & U.S. NAVY (RET): Well, I think they’ll focus heavily on, obviously, recovering it. It’s in what I understand to be about 45, 46, 47 feet of water, which is -- which is relatively shallow. So, I suspect whatever the package is and how intact it is will be recovered, you know, relatively shortly. That’s one.

Secondly, I think strategically, this really damages a relationship between us and China, further damages, which was deteriorating. And I think that’s really the big part of this.

I would -- and I think the senator, you know, he keeps talking about they, which I understand. But one of the questions is, whether the right hand knew what the left hand was doing inside China? And quite frankly, not dissimilar to when Bob Gates was in China about a decade ago visiting, I mean, literally sitting with the president, when the PLA let -- tested a stealth aircraft. And by all reports, Hu Jintao didn’t know anything about it.

So, I think that’s a big question --

KARL: So, the suggestion is this could have been done by elements within the Chinese military to intentionally disrupt this visit by the secretary of state?

MULLEN: Clearly, I think that’s the case.

And I think to your question about whether Blinken did the right thing, I think he absolutely did. And there’s no way that he could have a meaningful visit and we have a host of issues that we need to address. The Biden-Xi meeting in Bali recently was attempting to put a floor on the relationship because things have deteriorated in such a bad point.

KARL: I mean, it seemed to be as almost a warming of relations that are going --

MULLEN: Well, it was. It seemed to be. We’ve had -- we’ve had staff talks since that time. And clearly, this puts a big dent in the -- in moving that forward in a constructive way, which we really need to do.

KARL: And we’ve heard, it was interesting to hear Senator Rubio not really going into it again, but we’ve hard from other Republicans and from him before it was brought down, a lot of criticism of President Biden for not shooting it down earlier.

What do you make of that?

MULLEN: Well, I think -- I mean, certainly, what I’ve seen in reports is the president made a decision on Wednesday to shoot it down, and then basically turned it over to the military to pick the time and place.

It’s very clear to me that the intelligence value of this from a standpoint of what it was getting was not worth the risk of killing an American on the ground, and it’s a substantial package in terms of its size. And even in the less dense areas of the country, there was that possibility. And I know that’s why we waited to this point to take it down.

KARL: Is it also possible that they wanted to bring it down over water because it would do less damage as it fell to the ground? I mean, we hear about the intelligence value potentially of whatever it was carrying. It landed in water, which is different than landing on the ground.

MULLEN: Yeah, I mean, being able to figure out exactly what’s going to happen when you fire a missile into a package like that, that’s pretty difficult. I think the overriding concern was not hurting any American people on the ground.

KARL: We hear this has happened before. There’s this other balloon that was spotted just yesterday over South America. While you were chairman, did you -- were you aware of this, the extent of this program?

MULLEN: This program, at least by reports, is about 10 years old. It’s a fairly robust program and as -- as it’s been said, it’s not like spying on each other is a new thing.


MULLEN: So, to my knowledge, it’s the first time, you know, I’ve seen anything come over the country like this, there’s no question. And, obviously, you can’t hide it.

So, to what the senator said, I think there was -- you know, whoever launched this thing with deliberate intent and it doesn’t get here instantly, it takes a while. And I think he asked some good questions about, you know, when did we detect it and what were the decisions based -- what were the decisions, you know, earlier in its flight? And I think those will come out, you know, in the next few days.

KARL: And there is no way that this was just blown off course.

MULLEN: No. No, I – I don’t think so. This is –

KARL: Blown off course, just happens to go over our nuclear (INAUDIBLE) –

MULLEN: No, actually, I think I know enough about the system to know that you actually can navigate this system.

KARL: Yes.

MULLEN: It has propellers on it, if you will. So, I – this was not an accident. This was deliberate. It was intelligence, you know, and we need to do two things. We need to sort out all the details of that. More importantly, we need to make sure we can get this relationship moving in the right direction.

KARL: All right, Admiral Mullen, thank you very much for joining us.

MULLEN: Thanks, John.

KARL: Coming up, as President Biden prepares to deliver his second State of the Union Address on Tuesday, we'll have the surprising insights from our new poll.

Plus, Pete Buttigieg and Chris Sununu join us live.

We're back in 60 seconds.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've created more new jobs in two years than any president did in their entire term.

The biggest investment in the American infrastructure since Eisenhower's administration’s interstate highway system. Our roads, our highways, bridges, ports, airports, clean water systems, high speed internet, rail. Lower health care costs and lower prescription drug prices.

So let me ask you a simple question, are you with me?


KARL: President Biden sounding very much like a candidate for re-election at the DNC's annual meeting in Philadelphia on Friday.

But as we mentioned, our new poll this morning with "The Washington Post" shows significant warning signs for Democrats. More than half of the country disapproves of Biden's job performance, weighed down by significant discontent over the economy. Forty percent say they are worse off financially than they were two years ago. The most negative response to that question in nearly 40 years of our polling.

And as Biden prepares for a likely 2024 re-election campaign, less than a third of Democratic voters want to see him re-nominated. Perhaps most frightening for Democrats, in a hypothetical rematch of the 2020 election, Trump has a slight edge, 48-44, within the margin of error, over Biden.

Here to discuss – here to discuss it all is Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Thank you for joining us, Mr. Secretary.


KARL: So, I – we I hear the president's message. I expect it's what we'll hear on Tuesday, basically that the economy is back on track. How do you make that case when so many Americans don't feel it?

BUTTIGIEG: You make that case by pointing to the reality and recognizing that the story won't tell itself.

Look, what we're seeing is extraordinary. Record job creation. As the president has pointed out, more created in two years on his watch than four years on any other president's watch. And usually when you have unemployment go down like this, you have inflation go up. But right now, inflation is going down as well.

The economic track record in terms of creating manufacturing jobs, in terms of lowering costs, like $35 insulin for seniors. We tried to get $35 a month insulin for everybody, and Senate Republicans blocked us. But we were able to do it -- the president was able to do it for – for seniors.

Accomplishment after accomplishment.

And if you look at things like the infrastructure package that I'm working on that was passed in his first year, set up in his second year, it's really in the third and fourth years of – of his presidency –

KARL: That those projects start get – (INAUDIBLE) away.

BUTTIGIEG: Exactly. It takes a while to get them funded, stood up.

KARL: But –

BUTTIGIEG: Now we're starting to see the construction phase begin.

KARL: But the number that really struck me in our poll was only 16 percent -- only 16 percent say that they feel better off today than they were two years ago when Biden took office. That's a tough -- that's a tough number to – to – to make the case that, hey, happy days are here again.

BUTTIGIEG: Look, we've been through a lot. And, you know, the -- the president and the entire administration recognize that there continue to be headwinds, challenges, problems facing this economy. After all, the president took office under some of the most challenging circumstances facing any president in modern times.

But you look at things like the fact that real wages are up, the fact that the number of people participating in the labor force is up, again, something that doesn't always happen when you see those unemployment numbers coming down. And I think we can expect continued improvement, if -- if we stay the course of these successful policies.

And part of what I think you're going to see on Tuesday, when you see the president's addressing the nation and the Congress in the State of the Union is a reminder that this successful approach stands in stark contrast to a strategy that -- that would focus on things like preserving tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, looking at cutting Social Security and Medicare, which we're hearing about from a lot of House Republicans.


KARL: Although Kevin McCarthy says those are -- that's not on the table. He's going to -- you know, no cuts to Social Security or Medicare.

But I want to ask you about the -- these negotiations, or are they negotiations -- over the debt ceiling? I mean, you have warned that, if the United States defaults on its debt, that it's going to cause huge problems for the Department of Transportation, huge problems for the economy writ large.


KARL: How are those negotiations going? And can we call them negotiations?

BUTTIGIEG: Well, I think the president's been very clear that the full faith and credit of the United States is not negotiable. Remember, this is not a decision or a negotiation about how much to spend or even how much to borrow. This is about whether the United States pays its bills. And we always do. We've done this dozens and dozens of times, under Democratic and Republican presidents. And there should be no question that the United States will pay its bills.

Now, I will also say that there are always negotiations going on over the -- the fiscal path of the United States. The president's going to present his budget in about a month, and there is a very natural, healthy push-pull process, when it comes to what that budget's going to look like.

KARL: So you could have that debt ceiling pass but also an agreement to limit spending? And the two don't -- I mean, they're, kind of, simultaneous but not...

BUTTIGIEG: Yeah, because one is not appropriate for negotiation; the other one is. But let me also say, when it comes to the budget and where we're headed, and keeping up the economic growth and the investments that we're making on infrastructure and everything else that the president's going to propose, we haven't seen any indication that -- that House Republicans are ready to put pen to paper on what they want to see, which is why it's very hard to understand what exactly they're proposing to cut.

KARL: Exactly, the -- the secret plan to balance the budget. How -- how soon do you expect the president to announce he's running for re-election?

BUTTIGIEG: That's out of my lane and above my pay grade at the same time. What I know is that, whether we're talking about...

KARL: Do you want him to run? Do you want him to run again? I mean, you saw our poll. You have a large number of Democrats say they don't want him to run again.

BUTTIGIEG: He is an absolutely historically successful president, and I want to see that continue. Again, I've got...

KARL: So you want him to run again?

BUTTIGIEG: Look, I'm -- when I'm appearing in this capacity, I can't talk campaigns and elections. But let me say this. I'm incredibly proud to be part of this team that he has built and to be part of the results that he is delivering, the -- the biggest infrastructure package since Eisenhower, the most significant economic achievement package since -- since FDR, all, by the way, while -- while having the most -- the slimmest congressional majority of any new Democratic president in about 100 years. And, again, we're just two years in.

So what he's -- what he's achieved is extraordinary. And when I see tongues wagging about polls and this sort of thing, I can't help but think about, you know, the tongues that were wagging in October. One thing this president has done again and again and again, whether it's politically or whether it's policy-wise, is defy expectations. And that's one of many reasons why I'm -- I'm humbled and honored to be part of this team.

KARL: All right. Secretary Buttigieg, thank you for joining us here on set. We'll talk to you again soon, I'm sure.

BUTTIGIEG: Thank you.

KARL: All right. Let's get the Republican response now from New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu.

Governor Sununu, thank you for joining us. Before we get to politics, I've got to ask you about the -- the big story over the weekend, over this past week, the Chinese spy balloon. Did the president make the right call to shoot it down?

SUNUNU: Too little, too late. Look, at the end of the day, they saw this balloon coming. This is all about China poking at us. This is all about China testing the American resolve, whether it's with TikTok or the balloon or whatever the thing is going to be next month. They know that tensions are escalating, and they want to see what kind of leadership we have. And, no, the president failed on this one, should have been a lot more transparent, should have taken action a lot sooner and gotten it done.

But, believe me, this is not the last we're going to see of China. I know the president wishes that, but it's not.

KARL: But -- but the military advice he had was to wait until it was over water. Do you think he should have disregarded the military advice?

SUNUNU: There were clearly opportunities to take care of -- to take care of the balloon before it finally got over the Atlantic. They -- there were reports that they saw it coming in from the Pacific, that it was coming in over the forest, that it was coming in over the Aleutian Islands.

So, there was a lot of opportunity to take care of this before it ended up in Montana and they realized, oh, gee, we have a problem.

So, again, you have to have leadership. You have to be transparent. You have to be fast-acting.

They weren't. They weren't at all.

KARL: OK. So the president's State of the Union Address Tuesday, what -- what do you want to hear from him?

SUNUNU: Look, I’m a -- I’m a free market principled Republican. I’d love to hear that he's sending -- focusing on an efficient budget, sending more opportunity back to the states, actually believing in locals, believing in individuals and individual liberty.

But I know what we're going to hear. We're going to hear him take credit for, you know, adding more jobs than ever before. After a pandemic, that wasn't -- that wasn't very hard.

He's going to kind of talk about, oh, we have unemployment finally coming down and inflation coming down. Well, it was inflation was at a record high. Of course, it’s coming down. It couldn't have gotten any higher.

So, look, the president is going to do what he does, try to take credit for all of this stuff. But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter about the speech. It matters what's going on around this country, it matters just talking to people.

Go into a store, go into a grocery store and just talk to people in the cereal aisle. What are they feeling? You know, do they feel confident about this leadership that the president -- no. Your polls -- your own polls just showed that, right?

So at the end of the day, the best leadership is one that looks inside, says, what are we doing right? What are we doing wrong, right? If we don't acknowledge the problem, so we can't fix it.

It's what I do as governor. It’s what a lot of folks do. You need to see more of that out of Washington.

KARL: But there are signs of a turnaround here, aren’t they? I mean, inflation is down. Gas prices are, you know, way off, about $1.50 off their high.

And you can't ignore that unemployment number, 3.4 percent, the lowest in decades. I mean, that -- that matters, doesn't it?

SUNUNU: A turn -- yeah. A turnaround from where we were? Of course, that was going to turn around. But believe me, we're going to be in three or four years of stagflation.

They're pulling $80 billions out of the economy with quantitative tightening, which they should have started two years ago, by the way. They're finally getting their arms wrap around interest rates and controlling that, which again, they should have done two years earlier.

I’ve been very vocal. I think Janet Yellen should have been fired. She played politics knowing what the macroeconomics results were going to be.

So, you’re going to get -- you could still get a lot of cash out there in the economy. You're still going to have this inflation. Inflation doesn't go down, right? Just the monthly number gets better.


KARL: The increase is less, right.

SUNUNU: But our prices are not going to start dropping, that's not the way it works. That's right.

The prices are not going to go back to where they were. I know the Biden administration likes to pretend that. You just had secretary Buttigieg on.

They put a trillion dollars into infrastructure and transportation so we can build more roads, but it costs twice as much to build a road.


SUNUNU: So, all they did was create an inflationary problem so we didn't have to deal with the inflationary problem at the government level. It’s just backwards macro economics.

KARL: So --

SUNUNU: And we need leadership that understands this stuff at a real level, to make real difference, not try to take credit for, you know, point in time talking points. And, oh, we got -- we got down a couple -- tenth of a percent on unemployment.

That's not what this job is about. This job is about creating long-term benefits, long-term structure that we can all kind of drive into.

KARL: So, I understand and it sounds like it here that you're considering running for president. What's the deciding factor going to be for you?

SUNUNU: It sounds like it from this interview?

KARL: Yeah.

SUNUNU: I’m not sure about that but --


KARL: Yeah. It sounds like -- it sounds like your message, right?

SUNUNU: There are conversations.

KARL: But you're thinking about it?

SUNUNU: Yeah, the message is new leadership. Look, well, yes. I’m definitely thinking about it, and having those conversations.

But at the end of the day, you're going to have a lot of Republicans that get in that race. They're all really good people. They’re really good candidates. You have Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo and Governor DeSantis and a lot of folks that are going to get in.

And you got to have that discussion about where we're going to go, both as a party and make sure we’re going there as a country.

Now, like I said, I’m kind of that live free or die individual liberty. I believe government has to get out of your way.

And we've done it really, really well here in New Hampshire. We're sharing that model across the country. No sales tax, no income tax, most efficient government in the country, number one in individual liberties. All those statistics.

But how are we doing it? How does the system work? And then, how does it translate into real world things like mental health, opioids, what's happening with education, right?

We all despise and hate this woke cancel culture, but what -- what can we actually do not just at a government level, but making sure those changes are happening in our community?

KARL: You saw what our poll said about Trump/Biden. Do you think Donald Trump can beat Biden?

SUNUNU: No. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, November of ’22 showed us that, right? Trump is going to be seen as a very extreme candidate. The country is going to push back against it.

If we -- just look at the results of three months ago, and that shows you where extreme candidates are going to end up falling. It can’t -- it can't get done. He could get the nomination, but he can't get it done.

And what I tried to espouse to Republicans is, look, we want to vote for the most conservative candidate that can win in November and get stuff done in '25.

KARL: OK. Governor Sununu, thank you for joining us. We appreciate your time.

The roundtable weighs in next. We will be right back.


KARL: The roundtable is here ready to go.

We'll be right back.



REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The president and I had a – a good first meeting. I shared my perspective with him. He shared his. We walked out saying we would continue the discussion. And I think there is an opportunity here to come to an agreement on both sides.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Start treating each other with respect. That's what Kevin and I are going to do. Not a joke. We had a good meeting yesterday. I think we got to do it across the board.


KARL: President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy both expressing some optimism after their first meeting on the debt ceiling.

Let's bring in the roundtable.

Former DNC chair Donna Brazile, “Politico’s” senior political economist – columnist Jonathan Martin, our senior White House correspondent Mary Bruce, and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

So, Mary, State of the Union Tuesday. I assume this is basically like the opening salvo of the re-election campaign. Biden is running for re-election, right?

MARY BRUCE, ABC NEWS SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly seems that way, yes? And Tuesday is a good opportunity for a soft launch, right? He hasn't made it official. But, yes, this is a chance for him to really outline the argument for him to have another four years. We know what to expect here, right? He’s going to argue that the economy is strong, based especially off of the latest job numbers. He's going to say he deserves credit for that. And make the case that he deserves another four years to continue it.

The problem is that that message hasn't been resonating. I mean, right? Look at the poll, four in ten Americans say that the economy isn't helping out. They feel worse off now than they did when he started. And the poll also shows that Americans just aren't feeling him, right? They aren't feeling the effects of any economic growth in their wallet. But they also aren’t enthusiastic about him. And that’s a real problem.

I mean these numbers really stand out to me, right? Six in ten Americans say they would be disappointed or even angry if he wins again. That is more than the just 56 percent that have a negative response to Trump winning.

So, the president has to make a compelling argument. He has to be convincing. And he really does have to set the stage for why he deserves another four years.

KARL: I mean, Governor, it's hard to say stay the course when the answer to are you better off now is -- for so many Americans is no.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you listened to Secretary Buttigieg. You would have thought we were in, you know, the Eisenhower economy for God's sake.

You know, I mean, look, here's the problem. Politicians, when they run for office, you don't always win. Sometimes the other guy loses. Joe Biden’s president because Donald Trump lost. Joe Biden didn't win. And Joe Biden’s never taken possession of that fact. And so he continues to do what he did when he was running, which he thinks was great because I won. No, you didn't win. Trump lost.

And you can't change who somebody is, John. In the end, Joe Biden is not an exciting candidate. He's old. He's boring. And the American people are not relating to him. And that's why those numbers are the way they are. That was the same in 2020 but he was running against someone who was so toxic that he won anyway.

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO SENIOR POLITICAL COLUMNIST: But, Governor, as long as Donald Trump is still looming out there on the horizon, Democrats are going to be loyal to this president. At least Democratic.


MARTIN: Democratic (INAUDIBLE) because they perceive the threat of Trump as making it sort of imperative that Biden is the nominee again to keep Trump out of the White House.

But that leads to the elephant in the room, which is, what happens later this year if at some point Democrats realize, say this fall, that Trump is not going to be the nominee of the GOP, is there then a, you know, awakening, if you will, about, well, maybe it isn't the best idea to nominate a president who – who’s underwater – underwater and 81 years old.


DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER DNC CHAIR & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, let me just say this. The American people wasn't just voting for a man. They were voting for a vision. They were voting for a president who could take them beyond the current toxicity of Trump and to a future where a president invests in the American people, invests in jobs, invests in the economy, invests in our infrastructure. That's what they were voting for. You keep discounting the fact that --

CHRISTIE: No, they weren't.

BRAZILE: No, Governor, I – I give respect to practically everything you say about Donald Trump, but the one thing you will never say about Joe Biden was that he was sleeping on the job. He has been working deliberately to help the American people grow this economy.

KARL: I mean the –

CHRISTIE: That's not what the American people think.

BRAZILE: And you know what – and – and – but – but, look, the Republican Party is in a – is in a down mood. They're in a funk. I mean, when you look at the numbers today and where the Republicans are, they're against anything that Joe Biden promotes. If Joe Biden says the sun is coming up tomorrow, the Republicans will say, "Oh, no, it's not."

CHRISTIE: IN the same...


BRAZILE: Y'all are in a down mood.

CHRISTIE: Donna, in the same way, that's the role of an opposition party, in the same way that the Democrats were against everything that Donald Trump was for.

BRAZILE: Not everything.

CHRISTIE: Yes, they were. They were against...

BRAZILE: Not everything.

CHRISTIE: Everything that he was for, they were against. And the fact is, by the way...

KARL: Criminal justice reform.

CHRISTIE: Well, OK, and so...


... and Republicans voted for the infrastructure bill. We can all find little pieces.

KARL: Yeah, that's something, a handful.

CHRISTIE: But in the end, this is...


KARL: ... does some significant bipartisan legislative achievements, but -- but let me point to something...

BRAZILE: Lots of them.

KARL: And I want to get you on this, Donna. In on our poll about Democrats, not Democratic leaders, who are all with Biden, it seems, but look at Democratic voters. Democratic voters, only 31 percent in our poll want Biden to run again. Fifty-eight percent want someone else.

Now, look at the flip side. Republican voters, and you see it regarding Donald Trump, 44 percent want him to run again. I mean, much closer. What -- how is it that, at this point, we're at a situation where Republicans are more enthusiastic about a Trump re-run than they are a Biden re-election?

BRAZILE: Because Democrats are always thinking about the future, and we're thinking about the future of the country and the future of our political party. And, look, if you go back to last summer, many Democrats said, "Hey, we don't want -- we don't want what we have, but you know what? It's better than the alternative."

I recognize that the president will have great challenges, and building back the majority coalition that he assembled in 2020, I do believe that he has the ability to overcome some of these challenges. Will it be easy? No, because you've got to bring in this young group of voters. And you know what? They're not looking at what's going on today. They're thinking about their future, and they're looking for someone else.

MARTIN: Jon, at some point, there's going to be a -- a Democrat who's very ambitious, out there in the ranks of governors, or in the Congress, who looks at this -- this data that you're talking about and realizes the political leaders may be all deferential to President Biden, but our voters have a different view. And polling...

KARL: So you think he might...


KARL: ... there may be a challenger?

MARTIN: And, boy, there's an opportunity, if, if, if Trump fades. I think this is the key. So much of Biden's future hangs on Trump because that sort of force field around Biden is, sort of, emboldened by Trump. If Trump is not the threat this fall that he is seen as today and he's fading, I think Democrats are then going to ask questions about Biden and why they should be nominating Biden. But it totally hangs on Trump.

BRUCE: But, to Jonathan's point, so much of it and so much of the Democrats' argument, a lot of the argument that's coming out of the Biden team on this, is that Biden is the only one who can beat Donald Trump. And that's part of the argument for why he should run again and be the re-elected again.

MARTIN: Right.

BRUCE: But you look at poll after poll after poll, and those numbers are close, very close for Democrats. So to make the argument, which is a lot for them, that Biden's the only one who can beat Trump, and they think that's an argument that extends to people like Ron DeSantis, if you continue to see numbers that show it that close, I wonder, to Jonathan's point, if that changes the calculus.

KARL: It's such a -- it's such an argument to say that Biden beat Trump, therefore he's the only who can beat Trump. There are only two people in the history of mankind who have run against Donald Trump in a general election. One won and one lost.

CHRISTIE: Right. Well, look, we've got to remember what the 2020 election was like. Joe Biden didn't -- barely had to leave his basement in Wilmington. He didn't have to campaign.

I want to ask you, Jon. You've covered presidential races.

KARL: You're going to ask me now?

CHRISTIE: Yeah, I'm asking you.


KARL: Turn of the table.


CHRISTIE: Do you see Joe Biden on Air Force One doing seven, eight campaign stops a day, at 82 years old, and being effective?

Can you imagine how many gaffes there are going to be in those speeches, how many mistakes, how many outright falsehoods there will be -- not because of any other reason than he's just making it up?

KARL: Well, I don't -- I don't know. I don't...

CHRISTIE: Jon, look, he's not -- he is not capable of running a traditional American race. And what he had in '20 was a gift. He had Donald Trump, who was toxic, and he had...


CHRISTIE: And he had a pandemic which prevented him from having to go out and speak every day.

KARL: I mean, the only thing Democrats will point to is the midterms. And the midterms looked good for Joe Biden. Joe Biden was out there, not in every state, but he was out there, and Democrats way out-performed.

BRAZILE: And, look, I recognize, because I used to be on those planes going to six and seven events a day. And, by the way...

CHRISTIE: Sometimes eight and nine.

BRAZILE: Well, hell, yeah.


But, you know -- I said "hell," sorry about that.


But, look, the point is, is that Joe Biden knows how to put together a winning coalition. He did it in 2020, and if he has to do it again, he will.

Look, Ronald Reagan announced, on October 17, 1983, all right?

KARL: His re-election.

BRAZILE: His re-election.

MARTIN: When should Biden announce, do you think?

BRAZILE: He should not announce until late -- late summer, early fall.

KARL: Wow.

BRAZILE: What -- and who's running against him?

KARL: Yeah.

BRAZILE: Right? All he has to do is make the deadlines and get on the ballot...

KARL: Does that sound feasible? What do you think about when he'll announce? What are you hearing?

BRUCE: All they will say is, "after the State of the Union," which does not help to clarify anything.

KARL: The fall is after the State of the Union.

BRUCE: But the point is, like, there's no pressure on him to announce now. There's not...


BRUCE: There's not -- I don't know if he gains anything by announcing early.

BRAZILE: Marianne Williamson?

BRUCE: Financially, politically, he could put this off, you know, for months and months and months.

BRAZILE: Marianne Williamson is the only one that's thinking about it.

KARL: I want to turn to the other guy -- the other guy, Trump, who is right now the only...

MARTIN: It rings a bell.


KARL: ... the only announced candidate for president on the Republican side, I believe.

Now, Governor, let me ask, there's been a lot of question about, you know, potential candidates; would you support Trump if he was the nominee? I won't drag you through that again. But I want to play Trump's answer to that question.

He was asked this week, "Would you support the nominee regardless of who it is?"

And this is what he said.


HUGH HEWITT, HOST, "THE HUGH HEWITT SHOW": My question to you, Mr. President, if you're not the nominee, will you support whoever the GOP nominee is?

FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP: It would depend. I would -- I would give you the same answer I gave in 2016. It would have to depend on who the nominee was.


KARL: I mean, this is as the RNC is going around saying that, as a condition to get into the debates, all candidates will have to say that they have promised to support the nominee. I mean...

CHRISTIE: Well, it tells you one of two things, right? It tell you that, if Trump is aware of that and is making a conscious decision, it said he doesn't want to debate; he doesn't want to be on the stage.

KARL: Do you think that's the case?

CHRISTIE: I think it might be. Because I think he knows that debates this time will be much, much different than they were in 2016.

KARL: Because he has the record to answer for?

CHRISTIE: Exactly right. But, also, look, if you're a candidate and the RNC is saying that to you, that this is the demand, say, "Yeah, when everybody else agrees, when everybody says yes, I'll say yes."

But I would say this. You'd be dumb, as a Republican candidate for president, in my view, if you say, "Yeah, I'll support the nominee no matter who it is," but Donald Trump, who is the front-runner, says, "I won't necessarily do that."

"Well, the hell, man, when the front-runner says he'll support the nominee, then count me in, but until then, forget it."

KARL: I mean, what -- what -- you had a very interesting article this week saying that, you know, talking about how slow Republicans are to come out to -- and Nikki Haley, we're probably going to hear from in a couple of weeks. But what's -- what's going on, on that front?

MARTIN: Well, Jon, I am so struck by not just the slowness that the field is developing, but I think by the fact that this is going to be a much smaller field than we've seen in past GOP races. I think there's a couple reasons for that.

One is, just dealing with Trump is a hassle. You played the clip there. Will he or will he not endorse the nominee?

I think, for a generation of senators, especially, who are in their 40s and 50s, just sit it out and just see what happens down the road. I also think it's important -- a DeSantis issue, he appears to be a strong Trump alternative. He's constantly baiting the left, which only helps him on the right. And I think, with donors especially, that can suck a lot of oxygen out of the room.

And I think, lastly, it is just a money question. There's only going to be so much money available for GOP candidates this time around because they're not going to want to burn cash on somebody that they think will prolong the race. They're desperate to find a Trump alternative, and fast.

BRAZILE: I wore red today to represent your side of the aisle, Chris.


CHRISTIE: So generous of you.


Our heart is warmed by that.

BRAZILE: And you've got your -- and you've got your blue tie on. So I love the compliments here. But here's the thing. Donald Trump ran as an insurgent in 2016. And there's a lot of power when you're an insurgent. There's no power when you're not an insurgent. He is the incumbent, and he is going to have to continue to go out there and get endorsements, supporters and raise some money. The Republicans will have a large field because you have a lot of governors, and you have a lot of other talent that's been sitting on the sideline, and they are going to take on Donald Trump.

It's going to be an interesting primary season, Jonathan. But Trump is still the front-runner.

KARL: Let me ask you the question I asked Sununu. Can Trump beat Biden?

CHRISTIE: I don't think so.

KARL: And what did you make of Sununu?

CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I know Chris really well. I mean, I've known him for 15 years. I mean, listen, everybody is playing around with the idea of, will I run or won't I run?

And -- and I think the reason it's developing slowly, Jon, is because nobody sees any imperative to do it, like, first of all, who wants to be the first in the pool with Donald Trump, right...


... when he has no one else to shoot at, and his whole life is about shooting at people?

You know, why do you want to necessarily be the first in the pool to do that?

And, secondly, there's no push right now from any other outside forces to say, "You must make a decision tomorrow." And so when there isn't, there's no reason to begin -- listen, I've been through this. It is a long, difficult process. To the extent you can make it shorter, that's good.

KARL: Seventeen candidates in 2016 filed, I think, for the ballot in South Carolina. I think this time around we'll see seven to nine do that.

Here's one date to watch. That's this summer, the RNC summer meeting in Milwaukee. They're going to have a debate. So I think that's the one for...

KARL: Who's going to be in that debate?

MARTIN: ... that will get candidates in the race, by the summer, to be on that stage.

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO SENIOR POLITICAL COLUMNIST: -- this summer, the RNC summer meeting in Milwaukee, they're going to have a debate. So I think that's the one --


JONATHAN KARL, ABC “THIS WEEK” CO-ANCHOR: Who's going to be in that debate?

MARTIN: That'll get candidates in the race by the summer to be on that stage.

KARL: Whether or not Donald Trump will be on that stage is actually a very --

MARTIN: And Chris Christie. And Chris Christie.

KARL: Or Chris Christie.

All right. We are -- we are out of time. Thank you very much to the roundtable.

Coming up, a first look at a new ABC series that follows the money of federal programs and the communities that what slip through the cracks.

Stay with us.



CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA, MAYOR OF JACKSON, MS: Safe, drinkable, reliable, sustainable, and an equitable water treatment facility is a much longer road ahead. As I have always warned, you know, even when the pressures restored, even when we are not under a boil water notice, it's not a matter of if these systems will fail, but when these systems will fail.


KARL: The mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, on this week last year after 150,000 residents have been under a boil water notice for more than a month. Five months later, many are still without access to safe, clean tap water.

Senior congressional correspondent Rachel Scott follows up on efforts to fix Jackson's water system in her new series "Through the Cracks."


RACHEL SCOTT, ABC NEWS SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ted Henifin was appointed by a federal judge to try to fix the water crisis in Jackson. He's only been on the job for a few months, but the problems here go back decades. The city’s crumbling water plant is in desperate need of repair.

TED HENIFIN, JACKSON, MS INTERIM WATER SYSTEM ADMINISTRATOR: This is really a failed system from an infrastructure standpoint.

SCOTT (voice-over): He took us inside the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant, giving our cameras exclusive access at the city’s main water treatment facility.

SCOTT: This is the start of what every Jackson resident wants, clean, safe drinking water.

HENIFIN: Every day. And we’ve been really good at producing it.

Unfortunately, had the gaps where we can’t keep the pressure up because the system’s full of leaks, can’t get all the production out of here because we're missing some critical parts. All those things contribute to these episodes where we’ve had these – these disasters.

SCOTT (voice over): The condition of that water treatment plant is felt by Jackson residents like Glenda Barner.

SCOTT: Do you trust that the water is safe?

GLENDA BARNER, JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI, RESIDENT: I don't. No, I don't. I don’t drink it. I don’t. I have not drank Jackson city water in years.

Still watching my cabbage greens.

SCOTT (voice over): The grandmother of seven often has to prepare meals for her entire family just using bottled water.

BARNER: And I think about it not just for myself, but as a city. We shouldn't have to go through this. We really shouldn't.

SCOTT: In 2022, Mississippi received $429 million from the bipartisan infrastructure bill to address water infrastructure directly. We asked the mayor for an update.

MAYOR CHOKWE ANTAR LUMUMBA, JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI: None of the money has been allocated at this time, and the application process has not been released by the state.

SCOTT: But there was an application process. ABC News has learned leaders in Jackson did not apply last year for any of that funding, and only recently applied in 2023.

BARNER: You depend on your city, your federal, and your state government to help you in times like this, but they're having infighting over the politics of it. You know, they say they're allocating money. Where's the money? Who's spending the money? What's the money being spent on?

SCOTT: Even without the money from the infrastructure bill, the city of Jackson is still receiving more than $800 million of federal funds. Some of that from EPA grants, the American Rescue Plan in Congress. Henifin is in charge of figuring out where that goes.

In a newly released financial plan obtained by ABC News, Henifin lays out how he intends to fix the city’s water distribution system and address leaks, but it will take time. The plan spans 20 years. Though some improvements will be seen in the first five.

SCOTT: What do you tell residents when you hear from them about their frustrations, especially those that are losing patience?

HENIFIN: A little bit more patience, maybe, which is hard to ask. They've suffered. It's been terrible.


KARL: Thanks to Rachel for that. Her full report airs tomorrow night on “ABC NEWS LIVE PRIME WITH LINSEY DAVIS.

We'll be right back.


KARL: That's all for today. Thank you for sharing part of your Sunday with us. And tune in Tuesday night at 9:00 p.m. I'll be joining David Muir and our entire political team for live coverage of President Biden's State of the Union and the Republican response.

Have a great day.