'This Week' Transcript 9-5-21: Cedric Richmond & Sen. Bill Cassidy

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

ByABC News
September 5, 2021, 9:43 AM

A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, September 5, 2021 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.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC "THIS WEEK" ANCHOR (voice-over): Fallout. Hurricane Ida leaves more than 60 dead across eight states.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: We saw a horrifying storm last night, unlike anything we have seen before.

STEPHANOPOULOS: As the Delta variant depresses job growth.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're not where we need to be in our economic recovery.

STEPHANOPOULOS: President Biden responds to both challenges, and his poll numbers sink after the chaotic exit from Afghanistan.

BIDEN: I was not going to extend this forever war.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Our creator endowed us with the right to life. Now we're about to make it law.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Texas enacts the strictest abortion ban in the country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What the Supreme Court is letting happen, essentially, a de facto and to Roe v. Wade.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We debate at all with White House adviser Cedric Richmond, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, and our powerhouse roundtable.

And 9/11 plus 20, the longest shadow -- 20 years after the September 11 attacks, the first look at our new ABC News documentary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody needed to die there. I don't think I ever saw a greater strategic purpose for being there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Martha Raddatz, Pierre Thomas, and Charlie Gibson, on air when the towers were hit, remember that tragic day and reflect on the toll of America's longest war.


ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's "This Week."

Here now, George Stephanopoulos.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, and welcome to "This Week."

As we head into Labor Day, the country is marking the 20th anniversary of 9/11 this week, still absorbing the harrowing and heartbreaking scenes from the chaotic exit to America's longest war. But Hurricane Ida's trail of devastation also turned our focus inward this week, exposed a country clearly unprepared for this harsh new climate reality.

And after the Supreme Court's conservative majority allowed Texas to enact the most stringent abortion ban in the country, Roe v. Wade is facing its biggest threat ever, a series of challenges for President Biden as he faces big political battles this fall with the lowest polling numbers of his presidency.

We're going to cover it all this morning, beginning with White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond.

Mr. Richmond, thank you for joining us this morning.

Let's begin with the devastation left by Ida. I know you're coming to us from New Orleans this morning. You were with President Biden on Friday. What's the latest on the situation down in your state? And what kind of federal emergency assistance will President Biden be authorizing?

CEDRIC RICHMOND, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, we have all hands on deck down here.

We issued a pre-storm disaster declaration. And then, in the middle of the night, after the storm hit, the president signed a disaster declaration. So, that freed up individual assistance for families and individuals. And we still encourage people to go to disasterassistance.gov and apply for benefits, and especially those critical needs assistance, so that we can get money in the hands of people to do it.

And one of the reasons why the president wanted to come down, and come down so early, is because he wanted to see things on the ground. And we know what the problems are, and we're actually helping to resolve them. And that is getting power back on in homes. That's getting gas to fuel stations. That's getting tarps out there so people can start to mitigate their damage.

And then it's to create and provide that assistance, so people that do come home after a week of not having electricity, they have to replenish their refrigerator. And most people don't think of it in that sense, but part of why we're here is, we want to know what real people deal with.

And that's a $400 expense, a $500 expense to replenish a refrigerator. So, we want to make sure -- I mean, that's just a small example of what we're doing. But we want to make sure we're meeting the needs as people encounter them and to let them know we're going to be here for the long haul.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The destruction really does highlight the need to counter the consequences of climate change. And they are countered with the infrastructure projects in the bipartisan bill passed by the Senate, the broader proposals of the Democrats' $3.5 trillion bill.

But, this week, Senator Joe Manchin argued to put a hold on the Democrats' bill, and it can't pass without his support. Doesn't that put both proposals at risk?

RICHMOND: We're going to keep working on both proposals.

If -- people have said from the beginning that both proposals were dead on arrival. People said that they would meet challenges. Well, that's what we do as an administration. We meet challenges. We keep working. We keep our head down until we get -- until we get things done.

And we saw that with American Rescue Plan. And we're going to keep doing that with the infrastructure bill. But people should see now, more than ever, how important it is to have resiliency and to shore up our electrical grid and invest in our infrastructure.

And then, on the reconciliation bill, the Build Back Better bill, it's important to address climate change. These once-in-a-century storms are starting to come almost every other year. They're bigger. They're stronger. They wreak more havoc.

If you look at New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, people should see what the climate change is doing. And we're going to address that in our legislation. And the president created this legislation over a year ago. So he was ahead of this, and now we just need Congress to come along with us so that we can protect the American people and then invest in them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you read Senator Manchin's op-ed. He said he's not for it. He says $3.5 trillion is too much. He's not going to vote for it. It can't pass without him.

RICHMOND: He's -- look, Senator Manchin is a valued partner. We're going to continue to work with him. But we're also going to continue to push our agenda. And part of this, George, is just the sausage-making process at the end. It just happens. And this is happening in public view. But it's not abnormal for this to happen in the legislative process. And we're still full steam ahead on trying to get our legislation passed.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Isn't it also going to be harder for the president to get this passed now that he has got a majority disapproving, according to our latest poll, of the job he's doing as president?

RICHMOND: No, I don't think so. I think what really will happen is people will start to realize what we need, the challenges that we're facing. We have to really take an assessment of what the American people are dealing with right now. They're dealing with COVID and the Delta variant. They're dealing with Hurricane Ida. They're dealing with a number of things. And we're meeting the challenges. And I think people appreciate that. Does it always bear out in poll numbers? Maybe, maybe not. But I've seen and I've done this a very long time. The leadership that the president is providing is appreciated, will be appreciated more. And you get ups and downs. And we're not worried about poll numbers. We're worried about the 1.2 million people in Louisiana that didn't have electricity. We're worried about the people in New York and New Jersey and Pennsylvania that are going through it.

So this has never been a president who worried about himself. He really worries about the country. So we're not worried about poll numbers. And the president will do the hard work to garner the support of his party. And that's regardless of anything else.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about the Texas abortion ban that passed this week. The president promised a whole-of-government response to this bill. What can the administration do to prevent the law from being carried out? I know he has tasked the Justice Department to look at that.

RICHMOND: He has tasked the Justice Department to look at the actual law and the options that we have there. He has HHS to look at other ways to make sure that women still have the right to choose and the ability to terminate a pregnancy or have an abortion if that's the hard decision they choose. And then he has tasked the Gender Policy Council to look at those.

So we're going to, as an administration, look at ways to counter this law in Texas which the president issued a statement and was very clear about the damage that that decision has done. And we're going to do everything we can to try to remedy that situation for people in Texas. It is just a cruel and destructive law on the rights of women -- for the rights.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaker Pelosi -- Speaker Pelosi said the House is going to vote on legislation to protect the right to an abortion all across the country. Does President Biden support that? And would he sign it into law?

RICHMOND: The president said on the campaign trail that we should codify Roe v. Wade. And to the extent that we're doing that, the president supports it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Cedric Richmond, thanks very much for your time this morning.

RICHMOND: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's bring in Senator Bill Cassidy -- Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

And, Senator Cassidy, thank you for joining us this morning. Let's pick up where we just left off with Mr. Richmond. This Texas abortion ban, do you support it?

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: I am pro-life. But let's be clear, George, the ruling on SCOTUS was that the plaintiffs did not have standing. It had nothing to do with the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade. It was only on if the plaintiffs had standing. People are using it to gin up their base to distract from the disastrous policies in Afghanistan, and maybe for fundraising appeals. I wish we would focus on issues as opposed to -- as opposed to theater. It was about if they had standing, nothing to do with constitutionality. I think we should move on to other issues.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, except that it -- so the law is being enacted right now. And let's talk about the underlying law, which is, talk about the substance of the underlying law. It gives private citizens the right to enforce this law. It actually tasks private citizens with enforcing this law. And The Wall Street Journal came out against that this week, they called it -- said in an editorial calling it the "Texas abortion law blunder," saying the law sets an awful precedent that conservatives should hate. Could California allow private citizens to sue individuals for hate speech or New York deputize private lawsuits against gun owners? So setting aside the standing issue, what do you think of the underlying substance of the law?

CASSIDY: I think the Supreme Court will swat it away once it comes to them in an appropriate manner. If it is as terrible as people say it is, it will be destroyed by the Supreme Court. But to act like this is an assault upon Roe v. Wade is, again, something the president is doing I think to distract from his other issues. And it is clearly not an assault upon the -- by the way, I'm pro-life. But just to say, the facts are this is about standing, about nothing else. And the Supreme Court will decide how to affect standing before all these other things play out.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC “THIS WEEK” ANCHOR: You don’t -- you don't think it signals the court is prepared to undo Roe v. Wade now?

CASSIDY: You know, so we can always talk about eventualities. We can always talk theoreticals. It makes good fodder.

But I’m kind of a guy who’s in the middle of a state in which 700,000 people don't have electricity, in which we’ve got a disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the administration is pushing a $3.5 trillion bill which will be to inflation what the withdrawal was to Afghanistan.

Now, if you -- you know, in my mind, I don’t think about theoreticals. I think about those things that are before me and that’s what I focused on.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, then, let’s talk -- let's talk about each of those.

Let’s talk, first of all, about this reconciliation bill. You saw Senator Joe Manchin's statement this week. As far as you’re concerned, does that kill the bill? And if it does, does it worry you that the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the smaller one that you support, will also die?

CASSIDY: Implicit in what Joe said is that he would accept a smaller bill. I think a smaller bill is disastrous. But on the other hand, the two are delinked.

There’s going to be a vote on September the 27th on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The very fact that Joe is saying he has to negotiate means that the vote on the 3$3.5 trillion inflation-igniting bill that comes later will come later.

And so, they are delinked. They are not connected. We'll vote on the infrastructure bill which will be voted on its on merits and it’s very meritorious. And then we'll have a later vote, they will, on the $3.5 trillion that will come back to the Senate.

Hopefully, by -- hopefully, by that time, cooler heads have prevailed and people recognized that it is wrong policy for the United States of America.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you're not concerned that if Senator Manchin's opposition stands, progressives will prevail on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi not to pass the smaller bipartisan bill?

CASSIDY: Well, of course, I’m concerned about that, which is why I want Republicans to vote for it, too. It should not be a party line vote in the House. It wasn't in the Senate. And folks say, well, Republicans are opposing for whatever reason.

I say go down to Lafourche and Terrebonne Parish, to people who will not have electricity back until September 29th and tell them you're going to vote against a bill which hardens our grid, which gives coastal restoration dollars, which has flood mitigation, which will build levees and protect Louisiana and other states from natural disasters, go to those parishes and tell them whatever cockamamie reason you have to vote no.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What is the situation in your state right now? And are you satisfied with President Biden's initial response?

CASSIDY: It is getting better. And the federal partners have been there. And so, I compliment the federal partners and thank them for that.

But we need gasoline and we need electricity and we need housing. And then we need to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill for the long term.

So, on the other hand, telling people it gets better when they're told they won't have electricity back until September 29th is cold comfort.

So, in the meantime, we need gasoline so that people can run their generators. And when that happens, I think folks will feel a little bit better about their current situation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're a physician. Is your state finally getting COVID under control?

CASSIDY: Yes. The numbers are falling down for delta. But our immunization rates are still way too low. And our ICUs still have too many patients related to what is essentially a vaccine-preventable disease.

And so, yes, it’s getting better. But we can imagine future waves. I still encourage people, please get vaccinated.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Cassidy, thanks for your time this morning.

The roundtable is up next. We'll be right back.



GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I'm pro-life. I welcome pro-life legislation.

What they did in Texas was interesting. It's a little bit different than how a lot of these debates have gone. So we’ll have to look. I'm going to look more significantly at it.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The Supreme Court making the decision that it did, not only disrespected women, it disrespected the Supreme Court and its former decision.

When we go back to Washington, we will be putting Roe v. Wade codification on the floor of the House.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC "THIS WEEK" ANCHOR: The debate is joined on the Texas abortion ban, Roe v. Wade, the role of the Supreme Court.

Let's talk about it on our roundtable.

We’re joined by Chris Christie, Donna Brazile, Heidi Heitkamp and Republican strategist Kristen Soltis Anderson.

And, Donna, let me begin with you.

I think you’re still a resident of Louisiana, at least part time. We just heard Senator Bill Cassidy from that state say the Democrats are overreacting in hysterics against a hypothetical.

DONNA BRAZILE, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: We're overreacting in terms of the storm?

STEPHANOPOULOS: In terms -- no, no, in terms of the Texas abortion ban.

BRAZILE: Oh, no way. No way.

And, by the way, I want to, first of all, thank Senator Cassidy for his leadership, as well as Cedric Richmond and the federal government. It is true that most people are still without power. Most people are still looking for gasoline and food. But the truth is, is that the government is there helping people get back on their feet. It's going to take a long time.

No, George, when the penalty for having an abortion after being raped is more severe than the penalty for rape, you know it's a war on women. This is bad. Bad news for women. Bad news for Texas women. Bad news for low income and minority women simply because -- and this -- they have gutted Roe v. Wade. This is bad news. And we should act as if what happened in Texas is likely to happen in many more states because the Supreme Court has opened the door for this to happen.

I'm not a lawyer, but I can tell you one thing, to allow this to go into effect when they have, in the past, denied other states who tried to have viability at, what, 15 -- 15 weeks, no, this is bad news.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris Christie, you are a lawyer.


STEPHANOPOULOS: This is something incredibly novel right now to essentially tasks private citizens with enforcing a law.

CHRISTIE: Listen, the law is novel, but the -- but as a lawyer, we need to understand, this is part of the problem when you have result-oriented people who want judges that way. Their -- the Supreme Court justices are following the law. They didn't have standing to bring this. They said we're not going to decide it now. Come back to us later when you have standing. That's the way the law works.

And if this were going in the other direction against people who are progressives or liberals and the court was taking action without standing to do something that they disagreed with, they’d be disagreeing with that.

Here’s what I think we need to do. We need to have an honest conversation about abortion in this country. There is obviously a lot of discontent in many, many states across the country with Roe v. Wade. And as long as we don’t have an honest conversation about whether this really is a federal constitutional right or not, we’re not going to be able to resolve this issue. And what you’re going to have are laws like Texas that look to jerry-rig the statues to get around Roe v. Wade. So let’s have an honest conversation about it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Heidi, what do you make of Chris’ argument that the Supreme Court -- the conservative majority there was following the law and not politics?

HEIDI HEITKAMP, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Actually, I agree with him on that. But what this has done is ignited a political debate for the first time because for generations after generations, since Roe v. Wade, women have accepted that this is settled law. For the first time we've seen an earthquake among the activists, among people who were concerned about reproductive rights saying this could happen. Now all of a sudden we are at a spot where this could happen.

And I think the reason why you saw Senator Cassidy duck this issue it's politically very dangerous for the Republican Party to have to explain to a suburban mother why her daughter who was raped, you know, three months ago no longer has a choice. And so I think that politically the reason why you don't see the Republicans talking about this as a major pro-life victory is because politically it's extraordinarily dangerous and it has dominated the discussion in a week that should have been pretty good for the Republicans.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Kristen, Democrats do seem to believe that having Roe v. Wade on the ballot could help them, especially in the midterms.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: They do. Now bear in mind, the midterms are a long ways away. And I think sometimes the politics of this issue -- assumptions get made about how it will affect voters that don't wind up playing out. Recall eight years ago, you had Wendy Davis become a rising star in the national media because she filibustered an abortion bill on the floor of the Texas legislature, but she never wound up winning another election in Texas again. That sometimes the politics of this issue and the way we talk about it at a national level differ from state to state.

Now it's true that nationally only about 38 percent of Americans support an abortion ban that starts at the heartbeat. And so that's why it's incumbent upon pro-life activists who -- I think a lot of the folks in the Texas legislature are aware that this is not necessarily the most popular policy, but they believe that that little person that's the size of a blueberry that has a heartbeat, forget the politics, that's what they believe.

But we do live in a democracy. You have to win hearts and minds. And so what the pro-life community needs to realize is you have to wins hearts and minds of voters not by passing laws that are going to pit neighbors versus neighbors, but instead we've had an unbelievable decline in the abortion rate over the last two decades. And it's not a result of restrictions. It's a result of a decline in demand. Let's create a country where every time someone sees that little blueberry on an ultrasound, they're excited, because it's the beginning of an exciting new chapter in life.

BRAZILE: But you're going to allow private individuals that have no link to women or their families to be able to sue, to be able to harass abortion providers, to be able to harass someone who might not know if they're even pregnant. Look, I -- I have never been out there as an open crusader for abortion. I believe this is a personal choice between a woman and her doctor. But this is a moment when you have to say, you're going to allow some stranger to get into my business or into my family's business? They have no right to do that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris, what about that argument, The Wall Street Journal was making a similar argument, the precedent this sets to have private individuals doing this?

CHRISTIE: Look, again, George, I think it's -- you're -- because people aren't following the law and doing things in a cogent way, you get laws like this who are trying to jerry-rig around Roe versus Wade, which in my view as not only as someone who is pro-life but also as someone who is a lawyer...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But can you support a law like that?

CHRISTIE: Listen, what I support is an honest conversation about abortion in this country. And the fact is the much more significant case, quite frankly, than this Texas case, is the Mississippi case.

BRAZILE: Mississippi one.

CHRISTIE: Because the Mississippi case is following the law the way it's supposed to go and it's going to put a 15-week ban in front of the Supreme Court. And, again, remember how Roe versus Wade was decided. Out of nowhere the United States Supreme Court decides that first trimester is not to be protected. And they're moving forward. Science has changed so much since then. And what Kristen is talking about, I would argue too, that one of the reasons why you're seeing a decline in abortion is because of the increase in science and how much more people know about viability. And when they know that, they're more appalled by the act of abortion than they were back in 1973,

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is Roe v. Wade dead?

HEITKAMP: I totally disagree with Chris. I don't think this isn't about the science or about what's happening. This is about fundamentally women being able to make a choice. And what I'm concerned about is how it's going to further divide the country because reversal of Roe v. Wade does not eliminate abortion in this country. It eliminates a national right for abortion. So now all of a sudden blue states like California, New Jersey, New York, all of a sudden say, we believe in a women's right to choose. We believe that women have that choice with their doctor to make this decision. And you're going to see a further polarization of this country of human rights and women's rights. And so this is extraordinarily dangerous.

CHRISTIE: Well, look, if that's what we call the system that our founders set up, which is, if the right is not enumerated in the Constitution, it reverts to the states to decide. And each one of these states, in my view, should be able to make this decision on their own. And the people in those states do otherwise, we might as well just have an all-knowing, all dominant federal government that gets to decide every question in this country. I don't think that's what we want. And I know it's not what our founders wanted.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Kristen, it does appear that a lot of states are going to be at least studying the Texas bill, trying to pass it themselves.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: And, again, this is that whole rule of unintended consequences, right? I think the structure of this law, by sort of pitting neighbor versus neighbor, creates a precedent, if it winds up being upheld, that says you can a pass a law not that says you can sue your neighbor over abortion, but that you could sue your neighbor over anything that Republicans or Democrats in the legislature don't like.

I think that is -- you're even seeing a number of sort of pro-life activists very wary to come out in support of this bill itself because of that very mechanism of pitting neighbor vs. neighbor on this.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Heidi, let's talk about President Biden as he faces these challenges.

I talked to former Congressman Richmond about the president's poll numbers. He is underwater right now, especially after this chaotic exit from Afghanistan. How does he right the ship?

HEITKAMP: I think he rights the ship by once again refocusing on health care, refocusing on getting the Delta variant under control, getting us back to work, and helping -- a good suggestion I would have is move that infrastructure bill up.

Show that you can lead in a bipartisan way.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The bipartisan infrastructure billion.

HEITKAMP: Absolutely, in a bipartisan way. Get that done. Get that behind you.

And then the mistake that the president and the administration has made is, they passed great legislation, the child credit. It has the hugest effect in moving children out of poverty. We have been wanting to do that forever.

They have not barely taken a victory lap. You have got to start talking about what you have done. Instead of taking on more water and playing defense, they need to play more offense.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Donna, you're already seeing progressive, though, like AOC, saying, wait a second, we're not going to pass this bipartisan bill if Joe Manchin and other moderates are against the bigger Democrats-only bill.

And so I want to put the question to you that I put to both the congressman -- I mean, Senator Cassidy and former Congressman Richmond. Doesn't this put both bills in jeopardy?

BRAZILE: No, I hope not, because we definitely need that infrastructure bill.

Look, I was with the progressives of trying to have a -- what I call a two-track strategy. Ida, which hit my folks at home, hit me in D.C. and hit my buddy over here, I mean, Ida was a destructive you know what. So get that infrastructure bill.

We need 21st century infrastructure, like, yesterday.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Even if it -- even if it costs...

BRAZILE: No, look, what is the cost, OK?

We need to get the infrastructure bill done. And then we also need to go back and say to Mr. Manchin, who has put a strategic pause on the so-called reconciliation bill, begin the negotiation. We can do two things simultaneously. We can walk and chew gum.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's the debate, Chris Christie.

What is Joe Manchin doing here? Is he saying, I'm never going to vote for it, or is he just getting leverage?

CHRISTIE: No, he's saying what he's been saying all along, which was $3.5 trillion is too much. He's not saying he will never vote for any bill. That's not what I'm hearing.

I'm hearing him saying, if it's 3.5, I'm not voting for it. That leaves wide open everything from zero to 3.4, right? And I think that's what Joe Manchin is doing.

But back to your -- the question you asked Heidi for a quick second. Look, the problem for the president is that the images from Afghanistan and what happened in Afghanistan, and, quite frankly, his stubbornness in trying to get out there and say it was a success.

The American people, whether you're Republican, independent or Democrat, can't look at Afghanis hanging on to the bottoms of planes and falling off, can't look at Americans left behind, when the president promised you right to your face that the troops would stay until every American was out -- he didn't tell the truth again. And the Afghanistan withdrawal was a disaster.

I don't think we're going to be talking about Afghanistan in the midterms necessarily, but what we're going to be talking about is the president's incompetence and the administration's incompetence in that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Kristen, and the president's poll numbers, especially among independents, just seem to crater. That's why -- that's why he fell so hard.

How deep a cut is this? How does he recover from it?

SOLTIS ANDERSON: It's significant, especially considering that the next midterm is one where, historically, Republicans would be favored, whether it's through redistricting and reapportionment or just being the party out of power.

Republicans already have sort of the wind in their sails. And so if Biden's own popularity is falling with critical swing voters, that's a huge problem. And it's not just about Afghanistan. It's not even just about the lackluster jobs report we have seen in the last week or so.

You go back, and his job approval on COVID used to be much higher than his overall job approval, that it was sort of boosting everything up. But you had a little bit of a mission accomplished moment from the Biden administration around the time that the CDC first said you can get rid of all of the mask mandates if you're vaccinated, everything's great.

The Delta variant changed that. The Delta variant doesn't care what your politics are. And it's put Joe Biden in a position where he can no longer say, we beat COVID.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we saw its impact on the unemployment numbers this week as well.

It does seem like the president's political standing certainly hurt by the Afghan exit, but it begins and ends with handling this pandemic.

HEITKAMP: Well, I absolutely agree, because the economy begins and ends with how we handle the pandemic.

And so what he needs to do is say, these are the -- these are the economic policies that will address our public health crisis from now until the future. This is what we need to do to get our infrastructure back up and running. This is what we need.

He needs to refocus. And when you go on to the next big kind of progressive package, you are leaving behind all the really good things that you have done that you should be talking about right now.

And so I think it -- it requires a recalibration. And that recalibration cannot come after the midterms. It comes too late.

And, George, you might remember this -- during the Clinton administration, I was the attorney general in North Dakota. I could see the erosion for President Clinton. I sent up the alarm saying you got to pay attention. They didn’t pay attention until after the midterms. We’re able to recover and then get reelected.

But the time is now. It cannot be done in two months or three months. They’ve got to recalibrate.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And now, he's going to be facing all this, Donna Brazile, as we head into the 20th anniversary of 9/11 this week with the Taliban back in charge of Afghanistan.

BRAZILE: It's tough. Look, the president wasn't elected to make everybody feel good, but he understands that people are feeling pretty you-know-what right now. He has to toughen it up.

The American people want him to project strength, even if at times when we’re making --


STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, Chris is kind of arguing that he was actually too strong, too stubborn. Is he --

BRAZILE: No, no. Look, look, war is messy. We know that.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, he made it messier, Donna.

BRAZILE: Well, I don't know if he made it messy.


BRAZILE: There were a lot of fathers in this mess and some mothers, too. But the point is, is that he has to project strength. He has to project strength not just in fighting this COVID. He has to project strength in getting us back on our feet in the Gulf and across the country. He has to continue to lead the American people. That's what they elected him for.

And he cannot grow wobbly because a couple polls -- he’s going to get some bad poll numbers. Just continue to do the job the American people elected him to do. That’s what he has to do, I believe.

CHRISTIE: There's a difference between stubbornness and strength. I didn’t say he was too strong. I said he was too stubborn.

And I think he disregarded the advice of his generals clearly in a way that causes --

STEPHANOPOULOS: The generals were wrong for an awful long time as well.

CHRISTIE: But, George, this one was pretty -- this one was pretty easy. What he did was he put a cap on the amount of money that they could spend on the withdrawal. He put a cap on it, and he said you spend it however you want.

But the amount of money he gave them wasn't enough to keep Bagram Air Base open and do what they had to do at the Kabul airport. So, they had to make a choice. And when you didn’t have both of those options, we saw what happened.

But the even bigger problem here is that he can’t convey that strength if he’s not going to be a president who takes questions. And I think one of the big problems he's got right now is every time he goes out before the press, he's telling people, well, they told me I can't take questions, or I can only take questions from you.

He -- you can't project strength if you look scared. And Joe Biden looked scared to answer questions. And then when he does, in the interview with you, he winds up not telling the truth, or --

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a little strong to say he wasn't telling the truth. Circumstances changed. He said it’s different from what he -- the outcome was different from what he said during the interview.


CHRISTIE: But, George, he said -- what changed? He said, until every American is out of Afghanistan, our soldiers will not leave. Our soldiers left and there are Americans still in Afghanistan.

So, either he didn't tell the truth to you or he didn't know what he was talking about. But either one doesn’t project strength.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all we have time for today. Thank you all for your insights.

Coming up, Charlie Gibson, he anchored ABC's coverage during the 9/11 terror attacks 20 years ago. He's going to join Martha Raddatz and Pierre Thomas to reflect on that day and all that followed when we come back.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Our documentary series, “9/11 Plus 20: The Longest Shadow” is playing all week long on ABC News Live and Hulu. We’ll have a preview, next.


STEPHANOPOULOS: America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan marked the end of America's longest war. A war that fundamentally changed our country. All week long we’re going to be examining what it’s meant for our culture, our politics, our sense of security in a new documentary series. Here’s a first look at “9/11 Plus 20: The Longest Shadow."


LINSEY DAVIS, ABC NEWS: Good evening, everyone. I’m Linsey Davis. We are coming on the air at this hour with the breaking developments overseas. The fall of Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Taliban just came to Kabul.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The chaos, the panic, the desperation that you're seeing down at the airport.

Local reports say people could be seen falling from the plane as it departed.

LOREN CROWE, FORMER U.S. ARMY INFANTRY CAPTAIN, SEVEN YEARS OF SERVICE: This is the mirror image of 9/11, the falling man who jumped out of the Twin Towers trying to escape. It’s -- I mean if -- if somebody were writing this as fiction, it would almost be too much.

Some of it is not surprising. All of it’s disappointing. I don't think anyone should have been under any illusions that the country wasn't going to collapse. It's one thing to pull out. But pulling out without a plan in place is unforgiveable.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will pursue nations who provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you're with us or you are with the terrorists.


JOHN BELLINGER III, LEGAL ADVISER, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL 2001-2005: In the days after 9/11, our intelligence agencies concluded that the nerve system of al Qaeda had come out of Afghanistan.

ANDY CARD, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF, 2001-2006: Afghanistan was the place where Osama bin Laden found refuge.

BELLINGER: So this was not just retaliation, but to prevent more attacks that we have to go into Afghanistan.

PETER JENNINGS, FORMER ABC ANCHOR: And so it has begun. The battle, as the president put it, has now been joined.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Two thousand nine hundred and seventy-seven people were killed on September 11th. And in the wake of the worst terror attack on America, U.S. public support was firmly behind President Bush and his administration to go after those responsible.

BUSH: We will not only deal with those who dare attack America, but we will deal with those who harbor them.

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY, 2011-2013: We went into Afghanistan and eventually found ourselves trapped in a terrorist war.

CROWE: My entire adult life has been spent in the shadow of the Twin Towers falling. It's unimaginable to me what my life would have been like had that not happened. Almost certainly I wouldn't have joined the Army. I gave up everything for -- to do that. I mean, that was my 20s, right? I gave up, you know, my time, my youth, my health.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Loren Crowe was 25 years old when he was commissioned as an infantry officer in the Army. By the time he was sent to Afghanistan, the U.S. was seven years into the war on terror.

CROWE: I was a platoon leader in charge of 30-some-odd infantry guys and some support soldiers. We were placed on a RM (ph) combat outpost, sort of right up against the Pakistan border, the furthest outpost in our battalion from the battalion headquarters in the Pech River Valley. I hated the Pech. I hated that we were there. The job was to hold on.

We really relied on initiative from wherever we could find it. So when you found someone who could step into a role, you needed that person in that role. And Brandon Farley was one of those people. Brandon was shot and killed on a mission in a close ambush in Kunar in September of 2008. It's the worst day of my life by far and hopefully remains so, because I can't imagine going through anything worse than this. I took it as a personal failure. My job was to keep him alive. Nobody should have died there. Nobody needed to die there. I don't think I ever saw a greater strategic purpose for being there.


STEPHANOPOULOS: So much sacrifice, "9/11-plus-20: The Longest Shadow" will be streaming every night this week on ABC News live and on Hulu.

Up next, Charlie Gibson, Martha Raddatz, Pierre Thomas all covered that fateful day 20 years ago and the impact it has had on our country ever since. We'll share their reflections after this.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Up next, our ABC team reflects on the 20 years since 9/11.

We will be right back.



CHARLES GIBSON, FORMER ABC NEWS ANCHOR, "WORLD NEWS" AND "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": "Good Morning America" was in progress on the East Coast and the Midwest, but we're joined by the entire network.

Just to show you some pictures at the foot of New York City, this is at the World Trade Center, obviously, a major fire there. And there has been some sort of explosion. We don't fully know the details.

I just saw another plane coming in from the side. So this looks like it is some sort of a concerted effort to attack the World Trade Center that is under way in downtown New York.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Charlie Gibson nearly 20 years ago on 9/11.

And we are glad to welcome him back now. Charles Gibson is joining us, along with chief global affairs anchor and "This Week" anchor Martha Raddatz, chief justice correspondent Pierre Thomas.

And, Charlie, I just have to begin. Take us back to those first moments when you were watching and telling the whole world what was going on.

GIBSON: Well, we were in a commercial break.

And Stu Schwartz, who was our control room producer, said: Something's happened at the World Trade Center. We think a plane has hit the building. But we don't know for sure. We have a traffic camera trained on the North Tower. You're on the air. Go.

And that's all the warning we had. Diane and I -- Diane Sawyer and I were there. And we were bewildered. We were bewildered, just like everybody else.

And then, of course, the second plane came into frame and you just played the little bit after that. And we knew at that point the United States was under attack.

But, internalizing that, George, you know, the hardest part -- first of all, I don't think I ever -- any of us ever imagined that a plane could be used as a weapon against a building and then later that people would jump. It was just beyond my can (ph) and then that the buildings would come down.

Each one of those was just a shock. It took so long to internalize it and to realize just the magnitude of what we were undergoing.

And, Diane, when that second plane hit, said oh, my God. And I’ve always thought what a wonderful reaction that was. She knew just right away that we had a lot of people gone.

STEPHANOPOULOS: A lot of people gone.

We couldn't have imagined also, Martha Raddatz, that it would lead to America's longest war, a 20-year war that just ended last week. It has a lot of people wondering, especially those in the military, were the sacrifices worth it now that the Taliban is back in charge?

RADDATZ: And a lot of people are questioning that. But if you talk to people on the ground, they say we did what we were told to do. We fought for the United States. We fought for the brothers and sisters next to us.

So, I think they are trying to make peace with that. But I think the bigger question, George, and you alluded to that, is why were we there for 20 years?

And when you look back and look at all the change and one general after another saying we can do it, I think that’s very much a military mindset. We can do it. We can do this.

But I think it was going much more poorly than we knew about at the time. They were determined to make a difference, but there was so much that was going wrong and so much the public didn't know, especially those Afghan forces.

And President Bush promised the people it was not just a fight to clear us of al Qaeda. It was a fight for freedom. So, I think that mindset was there in Afghanistan. That was in the mindset of all the military commanders who went in there and the presidents, that it is bigger than that until Joe Biden decided to pull out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Pierre, it transformed so much of our society. Of course, it especially transformed law enforcement, especially the mission of the FBI.

THOMAS: George, it's painful to even think about that day on so many levels. But I remember talking to senior FBI officials and you could feel the utter failure that they knew that had just taken place.

And I remember talking to a senior FBI official before the World Trade Center bombing and attacks. They were utterly not prepared. They were talking about things like if there's an attack because you recall the CIA Director George Tenet was running around saying his hair was on fire that they knew some kind of attack was coming.

But the mindset of the FBI was, quote, they would be prepared to have evidence response teams. And they would figure out who would have done it, not how to prevent it. And that is the thing I’m just stunned as I think about it now remembering that that senior FBI official, the mindset was not to prevent the attack, it was thinking about how they would respond to an attack, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Charlie, one of the images that stuck with me from those days so powerfully, all those members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats together on the steps of the Capitol, showing the country we were unified. What a journey we’ve been on since then politically?

GIBSON: What a quaint notion that is now, and how quickly that disappeared. President Bush was wonderful in that period of time of rallying the country.

Martha points to something that I think is very important. Obviously, we're going to go over and over as we did after 9/11, we're going to go over and over what the failures were in Afghanistan and particularly the failures perhaps in not being able to get people out sooner.

But what I came out of 9/11 with -- and it's the parallel that I see here is the future. We came out of 9/11 with our naivete destroyed, the belief that we were an insular nation, with two oceans to protect us. That went away and we began to realize we are vulnerable. And the question was just how vulnerable are we and how continually vulnerable are we going to be?

Now, what I worry about because this is such a difficult country, Afghanistan to govern, can the Taliban have it or do -- are we going to have something like Somalia with just warlords in charge in various parts? But do we have any residual, leftover intelligence in that country that can give us some warning or will it become simply a breeding ground for future attacks? Those are the questions we're left with, I think, now, at tacks against the United States, and those were the questions we were left with after 9/11.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Of course, Martha, that is the danger. President Biden has made it very clear that he sees the internal situation in Afghanistan as basically not our business. We can’t solve those problems any more. The question will be, can we protect against any comeback of al Qaeda and ISIS.

RADDATZ: It is much, much harder. The CIA director, William Burns, said it is much, much harder. There is a risk.

And given that the Taliban is now in control of that country, something we did not expect, and you’ve heard everyone say no one predicted 11 days, how are we going to know what the future is?

We heard the chairman of the Joint Chiefs was interviewed this weekend saying there could be a resurgence in one to three years. But this is the same chairman who was surprised by the 11-day takeover of the Taliban. This was also the chairman who predicted we could win in Afghanistan.

So I think it is a huge, huge question. I do think, George, that the country will move on. They'll move on. They'll forget about Afghanistan. What Joe Biden did was supported by the public, maybe not the execution of that, which was chaotic and deadly, but they'll move on. And, meanwhile, things will fester there.

But what has happened is we will look, as a nation, at how we fight wars, why we fight wars. But this will probably reappear in a few years and there will be a larger threat, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Pierre, finally, one of the ironies of these last several years, for so many years, al Qaeda and ISIS, the number one terror threat to the United States, now the number one terror threat, home grown.

THOMAS: That is exactly right. They're more concerned about far-right radicals. They've killed more people in this country since 9/11 than foreign-based terrorists.

Right now, as we approach 9/11, George, I can tell you, I was speaking to a senior law enforcement official and they're less concerned about the capacity of al Qaeda or ISIS to do a 9/11 scale attack. I don't know if they'll ultimately be proven correct about that. But they're more concerned about the fact that ISIS and al Qaeda, through social media, can basically brainwash people thousands of miles away to act independently without command and control from them. That is the concern this week. And I can tell you, combined with the domestic terror threat and that threat, law enforcement is as antsy as I've seen them in quite some time.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you all for your reflections and your insight.

That is all for us today. Our commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks will continue this week on all our programs with live coverage of the ceremonies in New York, Washington and Shanksville at 8:00 a.m. Saturday.

Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Have a happy and safe Labor Day.