'This Week' Transcript 4-3-22: White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain & Sen. Roy Blunt
This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, April 3.
A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, April 3, 2022 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST (voiceover): Turning point?
JOHN KIRBY, UNITED STATES ASSISTANT TO THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: What they call de-escalation I call repositioning.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voiceover): Russian forces pull back from Kyiv, focus their fire on Ukraine’s east. Putin lashes out at his top advisers.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He seems to be self-isolating. And there's some indication that he has fired or put under house arrest some of his advisers.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voiceover): Pain at the pump.
BIDEN: As Russian oils comes off the market, supply oil drops and prices are rising.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voiceover): With gas prices soaring, President Biden taps an emergency reserve.
MITCH MCCONNELL, MINORITY LEADER OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE: A million barrels is a drop in the bucket.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voiceover): Closing in.
REP. LIZ CHENEY, (R-WY): We're entering a critical stage of our investigation.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voiceover): A federal judge finds Donald Trump likely broke the law on January 6th as the Justice Department steps up criminal probes of Trump and Hunter Biden.
MERRICK GARLAND, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: We follow the facts and the law wherever they lead.
STEPHANOPOULOS (voiceover): Topics [ph] this morning for our headliners, White House Chief of Staff, Ron Klain, Republican Policy Committee Chair, Senator Roy Blunt, and our powerhouse roundtable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's "This Week." Here now George Stephanopoulos.
STEPHANOPOULOS (on camera): Good morning and welcome to "This Week."
Five weeks into Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is Russia losing the war? Russian forces appear to be retreating from Kyiv in the face of stiff resistance. But President Zelenskyy warned that they are leaving behind a catastrophic situation around Kyiv. He's bracing for more bloody fighting as the focus moves to the east. And overnight, Russian forces firing missiles on the strategic core [ph] city of Odessa.
Senior National Correspondent Terry Moran starts us off from Lviv. And Terry, we know Russian forces are pulling back from Kyiv, we don't know exactly what that means.
TERRY MORAN, ABC NEWS SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, George.
We don't know exactly what the withdraw means. But one thing is clear, the war that Russia started 39 days ago has changed. Seizing Kyiv was a primary Russian war end [ph]. They’re trying to deny that now. But the evidence says otherwise. They committed huge forces to it and took huge losses, especially in equipment, armor in trying to fight for it. And now they are withdrawing.
But U.S. and Ukrainian officials say that this looks more like a redeployment with Russian units seen redeploying to the east of the country where a major battle looms in the coming weeks. And while those Russian forces have withdrawn, they have exposed behind them hellish scenes and possible war crimes.
There are bodies in the streets. Reports of a mass grave and signs of looting, as well. The Ukrainians are extremely concerned about the extent of this in the other occupied areas as well.
And then today, as you mentioned, a major attack in Odessa, in the south. A missile attack that hit an oil refinery and three fuel depots sending black smoke over that city and a sign that no matter what happens here in the north, the Ukrainians are celebrating [ph] that this war is a long way from over.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Terry, what more do we know about these atrocities in the wake of the retreat?
MORAN: George, there is no question as humans’ rights [ph] watch and as the Ukrainian prosecutors are saying that there is evidence of -- significant evidence of war crimes. The mayor of Bucha, which is just a few miles outside of Kyiv, says there is a mass grave there with 300 bodies in it. Now, that needs to be confirmed, but there were also bodies evident on the streets. People with their hands tied behind their back, other evidence of war crimes and extensive looting, as well. There were armored trucks that had dish washers and washing machines packed in them, perhaps heading back to Russia.
It looks like this army was not just beaten in the field, but undisciplined. This is something that may have been part of the war plan. There were leaders of some of the communities north of Kyiv, that were, it looks like, executed. And we have seen Russia targeting leaders, mayors in other communities as well in an attempt to destroy the elite here as they hope to take over the country and dominant it. The Ukrainian armed forces are stymying that right now. But it does look like these atrocities are a sign of something systemic.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Just brutal. Terry Moran, thanks very much.
The American public have generally approved of President Biden’s handling of the war but soaring gas prices and persistent inflation have created major problems from the president and his party as they head into he midterm.
We’re going to ask White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain about those challenges after this report from Chief Washington Correspondent Jon Karl.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: This is a moment of consequence and peril for the world and pain at the pump for American families.
JON KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voiceover): For President Biden, the outlook is pretty grim - war abroad, anxiety at home, and inflation at its highest level in 40 years. Biden's message to Americans struggling with rising prices for food, for gas, and just about everything else, he feels it too. He understands your pain.
BIDEN: Well, I grew up in a family like many of you where if the price of a gallon gasoline went up, it was a discussion at the kitchen table.
KARL (voiceover): Those words echo the message of the last Democratic president who faced the toxic mix of unrest abroad and high inflation, Jimmy Carter.
JIMMY CARTER, 39TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I promise to you a president who is not isolated from the people, who feels your pain and who shares your dreams.
KARL (voiceover): Now it's Biden feeling the malaise. His own crisis of confidence, tapping into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve as he did this week might help, but it won't make that much of a difference. He's pointing the finger at Vladimir Putin for high gas prices.
BIDEN: Our prices are rising because of Putin’s action. There isn't enough supply. And the bottom line is if we want lower gas prices we need to have more oil supply right now.
KARL (voiceover): Biden has called it a Putin price hike. But most Americans aren't buying it. And the fact is, gas prices were on the rise before Russia invaded Ukraine.
The national average is now $4.22 a gallon, that’s up 60 cents since the war began, but up $1.34 from a year ago. Presidents usually see a bump in approval ratings during a time of crisis, but Biden is now at new lows. His overall approval rating at 36 percent in a new Quinnipiac poll. Just one in three approve of how he is handling the economy.
There is good news out there. The economy added 431,000 jobs in March and the unemployment rate fell to 3.6 percent.
BIDEN: Even though we created a record number of jobs, we know -- I know that this job is not finished. We need to do more to get prices under control.
KARL (on camera): Biden got some other significant good news this week. He has the votes to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court and it will be a bipartisan vote, but by the narrowest of margins. Other than Susan Collins, no other Republican has come forward to say they'll vote yes.
KARL (voiceover): But voter anxiety is about more than rising prices or Russia’s war on Ukraine. Violent crime in American cities remains persistently high. And there is a growing problem at the border.
A record 1.7 million undocumented immigrants were apprehended last year. The numbers so far this year are dramatically higher. And this week, the CDC announced that the Trump era rule of expelling undocumented immigrants because of COVID concerns will end in May. A decision criticized by Arizona’s two Democratic senators, both now predicting a huge influx of undocumented immigrants as a result.
All that voter anxiety adds up to Democratic anxiety and fears of a brutal environment for the president's party going into the midterm elections this fall.
Jonathan Karl, ABC News, Washington.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks to Jon for that.
Let’s bring in the White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain.
Ron, thank you for joining us this morning. Let's pick up where Jon left off. How anxious are you?
RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: George, I think we've done a great job and progress on creating jobs. As Jon mentioned, the unemployment rate down to 3.6 percent, there’s only been three months in 50 years where it’s been that low. Record job creation. We’re bringing the deficit down.
We saw the highest economic growth in a single year in American history since 40 years ago in 2021. But we have work to do. And that's what the president’s been talking about this week, a new budget to bring the deficit down even further and to improve education and health care, which he introduced on Monday.
Steps to bring down the price of gas, which -- already bringing down the price of oil, we’ll see it at the pump in the weeks ahead. Steps to bring down the price of everyday goods like prescription drugs. We made progress on that in the House this week. And the steps to bring down other costs that people are facing every single day -- child care, elder care, the kind of everyday costs that people face.
So we have done a lot of work to bring the economy back from dead in the water when we got here, virtually no jobs being created, businesses closed, schools closed. Tremendous amount of progress on getting the economy going again in 14 months, but a lot of work left to be done.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And I want to ask more about that coming up. But let's go to Ukraine right now. What do you make of this Russian retreat from Kyiv? Is Russia losing this war?
KLAIN: Well, I think Russia -- I think the Ukrainians are winning the war around Kyiv and in the northern part of the country. And that's tremendous credit to the fighting they've done and to the support that the United States and our NATO allies have provided them.
We send weapons into Ukraine almost every single day. The Ukrainian military, the Ukrainian volunteers, they're fighting this war, have shown their bravery, their tenacity, again, backed up by the generosity of the U.S. and our allies.
But I think we have to be very clear. I think there's a lot of evidence that Putin is simply taking his troops out of the northern part of the country to redeploy them to the eastern part of the country, to relaunch the battle there.
So, I think there have been victories for the Ukrainians so far, but this war, sadly, is far from over.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s right. And a lot of people look at this redeployment and say that the end game, the approaching end game appears to be something like a frozen conflict after a long war, much like what we saw in Korea division. Russia gets the east. Ukraine maintains control of the re -- of the rest.
Is that acceptable to the United States?
KLAIN: George, that’s -- that's not for -- really, the outcome here is for Ukraine to decide. What I would tell you is President Zelenskyy has said that's not acceptable to him, and we are going to support him with military aid, with economic aid, with humanitarian aid.
The political future of Ukraine is up for Ukraine to decide. But the military future of this attack has to be pushed back. And that's why we're doing so much to back President Zelenskyy and his military with the tools they need, with the weapons they need, with the other aid they need to oust the Russian invasion from their country.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's go back to the economy.
In the wake of that jobs report on Friday, Austan Goolsbee, your former colleague in the Obama administration, the economist from the University of Chicago, said we may be moving toward the idea that the COVID era of the U.S. economy is done.
Do you agree with that?
KLAIN: Well, I cautiously agree with that. I certainly we -- thanks to the success President Biden has had in vaccinating over 225 million Americans, boosting 100 million Americans -- America is back to work. I mean, again, as I said before, the unemployment rate is one of the lowest months in the past 50 years. We have fewer people requiring unemployment assistance today than we did anytime since 1970.
So, we've solved the jobs crisis. We got America back to work. America has protection from the existing forms of COVID.
We have to be always vigilant and on guard, George, for this virus mutating again for future waves. We have to be prepared to deal with that.
But, right now, as we stand here today, our schools are open. Our businesses are open. People are coming back to work. People are coming back into the labor force. We had a big jump in labor participation in March.
So, I think there are a lot of encouraging signs in terms of this economy coming back to being a robust jobs and business-creating economy.
STEPHANOPOULOS: A lot of signs of a powerful economy. As you know, inflation comes with that, and that’s what -- appears to be on people's minds right now. You saw that poll about the president's approval on the economy. We know gas prices are climbing higher and higher.
And we also are seeing that Republicans are poised to exploit that in the midterms. Here's a montage of some of their ads.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE GIBBONS (R), OHIO SENATE CANDIDATE: It’s worded (ph) into our lives, Biden's raging inflation. We're paying the high price. Politicians are completely to blame.
AD ANNOUNCER: Mark Kelly, you rubber-stamped Joe Biden's agenda, shutting down pipelines, spiking gas prices, causing rampant inflation.
DR. MEHMEH OZ (R), PENNSYLVANIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Washington got COVID wrong. They got the economy wrong, too. Biden's reckless spending caused inflation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: How should Democrats respond?
KLAIN: First of all, let's respond with some facts. The deficit rose every single year Donald Trump was president. His last year, he had the highest deficit in American history.
We brought down the deficit each of the two years Joe Biden's been in office. A trillion dollar cut in the deficit this year, the largest cut of any president in the history of this country. We're going to cut Trump's deficit in half in Biden’s first three years. So, let's start with the facts about spending and nonsense like that.
Gas prices are a problem -- absolutely, George. That's why the president took the actions he took this week to release a million barrels a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, to tell the oil companies they either need to pump oil on the 9,000 permits they have or give them back for others to do that, to increase production here. Those things we think are going to bring down the price of gasoline, relieve some of the pain at the pump.
And we also have an agenda to cut taxes for people, to bring down the cost of every day things.
Now, look, the Republicans have an agenda, too. Senator Scott says their agenda is to raise taxes on millions of Americans, to get rid of Social Security and to do other things that are going to devastate middle class people.
So, I think when people compare our agenda to the Republican agenda, that's going to be a clear choice for folks.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Border is also looming. It’s a big issue. We saw that CDC decision on Friday to lift Title 42, which allows -- allowed the government to expel migrants during the pandemic.
Getting a lot of push back on that. Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat, called it frightening. Kyrsten Sinema, another senator, Democrat, says it poses a threat to Arizona. Mitt Romney says it’s going to elect Republicans in November.
How worried are you about a possible surge at the border? Is there anything the president can do about it?
KLAIN: Sure, George. So, I think -- let’s be clear -- Title 42 isn't an immigration law, it's a public health law. It says you can exclude people who pose a public health risk. The Centers for Disease Control decide how to apply that. And they've decided that sometime in late May the pandemic will be a place where we can no longer exclude people on a public health rationale.
Look, we need to do more work at the border. The president sent an immigration plan to Congress on his first day in office. We've asked consistently for more resources. We put in place a new rule that will take effect next month to enable us to process asylum claims more clearly.
We also have to be honest about what's happening at the border. We have people showing up with asylum claims from places like Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Brazil. People fleeing regimes where they are feeling persecution, coming here to make asylum claims.
I think the goal for everyone should be to make sure those asylum claims, those claims of people fleeing persecution, are heard in a prompt way. Those who deserve protection from prosecution get that protection. Those who don't are promptly sent back to where they came from.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How did Democrats get on the wrong side of the crime issue that's coming up right now, especially in the wake overnight another killing in Sacramento, at least six dead in a mass shooting?
KLAIN: Well, George, I don't think Democrats are on the wrong side of the crime issue. The president has sent to Congress plans for robust funding of police. Congress passed one of them just last week, two weeks ago, in the omnibus bill and raised our funding for police. We want to make sure we have strong law enforcement to respond to crime. We also want to make sure we have in place police reform and community violent intervention to help reduce crime. We have a plan to fight crime. Congress is making progress on that.
I met yesterday with the new mayor of New York, Eric Adams, who's been a leader in this effort to control crime in New York. So we're working very hard to be at the forefront of efforts to both control crime and have balanced and sensible policing. We think we can do both. That's what we stand for. And that's the plans we put forward to the Congress.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you about the January 6th investigation and the possible prosecution of former President Trump. "The New York Times" is reporting today that as recently as late last year, this is a quote, Mr. Biden confided in his inner circle that he believed former President Donald J. Trump was a threat to democracy and should be prosecuted. He has said privately that he wanted Mr. Garland to act less like a ponderous judge and more like a prosecutor.
Is that true?
KLAIN: I've never heard the president say that -- advocate the prosecution of any person. Look, one reason why Joe Biden got elected was he promised that we'd take the decision over who got prosecuted and what away from the White House and put it in the Justice Department. Only Richard Nixon and Donald Trump, in the modern era, believed that prosecution decisions should be made in the Oval Office not at the Justice Department. We have returned the practice that every other president, Democratic and Republican has had since Watergate, other than Trump, to let those decisions be made at the Justice Department. The president has confidence in the attorney general to make those decisions, and that's where those decisions should be made.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We also know the Justice Department is intensifying its investigation into Hunter Biden, the president's son. I assume the president has had no contact with the Justice Department about that?
KLAIN: Neither the president or any of us at the White House have had any contact with the Justice Department about that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is the president confident Hunter Biden didn't break the law?
KLAIN: Of course the president's confident that his son didn't break the law. But, most importantly, as I said, that's a matter that's going to be decided by the Justice Department, by the legal process. It's something that no one at the White House has involvement in.
STEPHANOPOULOS: "The Washington Post" also reported this week on deals that Hunter Biden had with a Chinese energy company, paid $4.8 million to entities controlled by Hunter and the president's brother. Is the president confident his family didn't cross any ethical lines?
KLAIN: George, the president is confident that his family did the right thing. But, again, I want to just be really clear, these are actions by Hunter and his brother. They're private matters. They don't involve the president. And they certainly are something that no one at the White House is involved in.
STEPHANOPOULOS: In the wake of these text messages we saw this week from -- last week from Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, many are calling for an ethics code for Supreme Court justices, including Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut. If that passes the Congress, will the president sign that into law?
KLAIN: Well, George, I'm not familiar with the specific legislation you're talking about. I think you've got the January 6th committee doing its job. And I think we ought to let that committee do its -- do its work. Our position here has been that the -- the investigation of what happened on January 6th, this insurrection, this effort to turn back democracy, this effort to reverse the outcome of a democratic election, that should be explored by the January 6th committee, by the Justice Department, not by us at the White House.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Should Clarence Thomas recuse himself from on any issues, any cases having to do with January 6th?
KLAIN: Well, again, I don't think that's for me to say, but -- but I know -- but I know a lot of people have said that. Again, I don't think this is a place for us in the White House to be involved with -- with the rulings at the Supreme Court. I think that's for others to decide.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, I do know you're confident that Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is going to be confirmed as a Supreme Court justice. Do you -- do you expect any more Republican votes?
KLAIN: Well, I think she deserves more Republican votes, that's for sure, George. She's one of the most qualified nominees in modern history. She'll be only the second person ever to serve on the Supreme Court who was both a trial judge and appellate court judge before she came to the Supreme Court. She's got an outstanding academic record, outstanding record in private practice, on the sentencing commission, and all throughout her career. And she acquitted herself before the committee admirably in the face of some ridiculous, absurd and debasing questionings from some members of the committee.
So I hope that everyone looks at that, looks at her record of accomplishment, looks at her performance before that committee and -- and does the right thing, which is vote to confirm Judge Jackson to the Supreme Court. She deserves those votes.
What I know is she will get enough votes to get confirmed. In the end, I suppose, that's the only thing that matters. But I wish more Republicans would look at the case here, look at the record and vote to confirm Judge Jackson.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Ron Klain, we covered a lot of ground this morning. Thanks for your time.
KLAIN: Thanks for having me, George.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Roundtable's coming up. And Republican Senator Roy Blunt joins us, next. Stay with us.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) MINORITY LEADER & (R) KENTUCKY: Justice Clarence Thomas is a great American, an outstanding justice. I have total confidence in Justice Thomas's impartiality in every aspect of the work of the court.
HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA: Well, if your wife is an admitted and proud contributor to a coup of our country, maybe you should weigh that in your ethical standards.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressional leaders weighing in on Justice Thomas. Let's talk to Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri right now.
Senator Blunt, thanks for joining us this morning. Let's start with those issues that I -- where I finished with Ron Klain, starting with Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Have you made up your mind yet?
SEN. ROY BLUNT, REPUBLICAN POLICY COMMITTEE CHAIR & (R) MISSOURI: Well, I have, George. And good to be with you this morning.
You know, I've thought -- initially, my sense is that the president certainly had every good intention and every right in the campaign to talk about putting the first black woman on the court. I think it's time for that to happen. I was hoping that I could be part of that. I had a great conversation with her.
Really, there are two criterias, I said immediately. One is, is the person qualified for teh job? And two is, what's her judicial philosophy?
She's certainly qualified. I think she's got a great personality, I think will be a good colleague on the court. But the judicial philosophy seems to be not the philosophy of looking at what the law says and the Constitution says and applying that, but going through some method that allows you to try to look at the Constitution as a more flexible document, and even the law. And there are cases that show that that’s her view.
I think she’s certainly going to be confirmed. I think it will be a high point for the country to see her go on the Court and take her unique perspective to the Court but I don't think she's the kind of judge that will really do the kind of work that I think needs to be done by the Court.
And I won't be supporting her but I'll be joining others in understanding the importance of this moment.
STEPHANOPOULOS: If it's a high point for the country, why not support her?
BLUNT: Well, I think the lifetime appointments have a different criteria than other appointments. I've supported a significant number of President Biden’s nominees to offices that will end -- their time will end while he's still in office or when he leaves office. I think that's a different criteria than somebody -- putting somebody on the Court for life.
I don't think I’ve supported any district judges that he's appointed up til now -- the Court of Appeals level justice -- judges. And she just doesn’t meet the criteria that over and over again I’ve said that in the last decade that -- the advise and consent part of the Constitution gives the Senate more responsibility than just saying she's qualified, you appointed her, we’re going to approve her.
And that, clearly, has not been the role of the Senate for a couple of decades now. And it certainly wasn't the role that Democrats saw as their role in the last Congress when three qualified judges had the same kind of view that I think we have now, that you need to also agree with whether you think that judge is going to be a judge that thinks it's their job to rule on what they think the law and the Constitution should say or is it their job to rule on what the law and the Constitution does say? And I come down strongly on that side.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How about these calls for Justice Thomas to recuse himself from the January 6th investigation cases given the active involvement of his wife Ginni Thomas and the push for an ethics code for Supreme Court justices?
BLUNT: Well, the idea that you can't disagree with your wife on a public issue and still be able to function as a judge or as a government figure of any kind, I think is an idea that’s long outlived any idea that it might be reasonable. Judge --
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- know that he disagrees with her?
BLUNT: -- that. No -- Judge Thomas has to decide that, in his personal opinions, I think in his writings over the years in -- aren't part of his judicial philosophy. He's going to look at the law. He's going to look at what the law says and what the Constitution says and rule in that regard.
I'm certainly totally supportive of the Justice Department effort to find out who did what on January 6th, if they were part of any illegal activity, either executing that or planning that. I think they should be prosecuted and I’m very supportive of that and have been publicly.
In fact, the committee that Senator Klobuchar and I run, we did an early investigation. We’ve made a number of changes about how to secure the Capitol and 85 recommendations on how we can prevent that from happening again. But it was totally unacceptable what happened on January 6th. I think the Justice Department is pursuing that exactly as they should.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Including the possible prosecution of President Trump? We saw that federal judge say it's likely the president broke the law.
BLUNT: Well, federal judges say a lot of things. And we'll see how that comes through the process. I think what I said is what I believe. I think the Justice Department has a job to do. They should do it. And people who were involved in planning or execution of illegal activities on January 6th should be prosecuted.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You heard Ron Klain taking on critics of the president's budget, like you, who said it's reckless spending, pointing out that the deficit has come down from the high level of the deficit under President Trump.
BLUNT: Well, I think the most reckless thing the president did in spending is the March decision on a totally partisan way for the first time in anything dealing with COVID, to try to come back and put $2 trillion into an economy that was already well on the way to recovery.
Larry Summers said that was a problem. Others have said not only is that a part, but further massive spending on new programs is a problem. The biggest political issue in the country today is clearly inflation.
People are seeing not only gas prices at astronomical levels, and they were, by the way, at that unacceptable levels long before Putin did anything regarding Ukraine. They went up almost every day beginning not just the day after the president was inaugurated, but the day after he was elected as people are seeing what was going to happen with his energy policies. And commodity prices are high in some cases as 20 percent.
All you have to do is go to the gas station or the grocery store or pay your winter heating bill to know that something unacceptable has happened. I think that's the excessive level of spending that Democrats all on their own put $1.9 trillion into the economy in March, and it will take us a long time to recover from that and even longer to pay it back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, let me end with you where I began with Ron Klain. Do you believe that Russia is losing this war in Ukraine? And what more can the United States be doing right now to support the Ukrainian resistance?
BLUNT: Well, I think we should be doing everything we can. We should give them what they need as quickly as they needed. I think, frankly, what the president has done has generally been the right thing, but about two or three weeks slower than it should have been. I’ve been saying that since we had the sanctions discussion before the invasion.
What would be interesting I think would be to know whether Putin was more surprised by the incredible resistance of the Ukrainians, the rallying around of NATO to the original and unified purpose of NATO, particularly the German change in attitude, or how poorly his own military has performed. I’m sure he's surprised by all three of those, and frankly, I think we’ve been surprised by all three of those.
Our intelligence did a great job of knowing what the Russians were doing, the false flag operations -- all those things incredibly helpful. But I don't think anybody could have anticipated those three big events or those three big items or, frankly, the leadership of President Zelenskyy. I hope he continues to be safe and brave and his country is rallying behind that willingness to be there and be in the fight.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Blunt, thanks for your time this morning.
Roundtable is coming up.
Plus, Nate Silver's take on the Georgia governor's race where former President Trump is trying to take out the Republican incumbent.
STEPHANOPOULOS: FiveThiryEight's Nate Silver is next. We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver is next.
We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID PERDUE (R), GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Where's Brian? He's not here. You know why? Because he kicked sand in the face of the president over the last two years and said no every time the president asked him for anything. So I have President Trump's endorsement because he knows I fought with him.
GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R), GEORGIA: Republicans are rallying to me now because they realize I am indeed the person to win the race, not the guy that was scared to debate Jon Ossoff and lost to -- lost to him in the U.S. senate race.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: Georgia's Republican Governor Brian Kemp locked in a close primary race for re-election against former Senator David Perdue. Donald Trump is backing Purdue after Kemp refused to overturn Joe Biden's Georgia victory in 2020. The race is an early test of Trump's say in the 2022 midterms.
FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver has a closer look at the race.
NATE SILVER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: My basic rule for forecasting election sis, trust the polls unless you have a really good reason not to. And those polls show Governor Kemp with a modest but meaningful lead against former Senator David Perdue. A Fox News poll last month, for example, found Kemp ahead by 11 points, 50 to 39.
The primary is not until May 24th, so there's still a fairly long wait to go. But, frankly, I don't see any reason to go against the polls. If anything, the other indicators look solid for Kemp too. One is a strong track record of incumbent governors facing primary challenges. Historically, 87 percent of elected incumbent governors win renomination even when they face a contested primary.
The other factor, David Perdue may just not be that strong a candidate. He's only been elected once in his life for the U.S. Senate in 2014. And that was by a single-digit 7.5 point margin in a very good cycle for Republicans at a time when Georgia was a lot redder than it is now.
There are also signs of minimal enthusiasm for Purdue. As of January, he had just $1.1 million in cash on hand as compared to $12.7 million for Kemp. And although Perdue has President Trump's endorsement based on his willingness to indulge Trump's false claims about election fraud, something may be lost in translation. A Trump-led rally in Commerce, Georgia, last week drew only about 5,000 attendees, well down from the tens of thousands that turned out to see Trump in Georgia in 2020.
My conclusion, I wouldn't write Perdue off entirely just yet, but I definitely buy that Kemp is the favorite.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks to Nate for that.
We'll be right back with the roundtable.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) JANUARY 6 COMMITTEE & (D) CALIFORNIA: The Department of Justice has a duty to act on this referral and others we have sent. Without enforcement of congressional subpoenas, there is no oversight.
REP. ELAINE LURIA, (D) JANUARY 6 COMMITTEE & (D) VIRGINIA: Attorney General Garland, do your job so that we can do ours.
ATTORNEY GENERAL MERRICK GARLAND: The only pressure I feel and the only pressure that our line of prosecutors feel is to do the right thing. That means we follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Merrick Garland may have the second or third hardest job in Washington right now. Of course he's the attorney general, facing all kinds of -- of questions about cases involving Donald Trump, Hunter Biden, and charges of contempt for members of the Trump administration.
Let's bring on our roundtable, Chris Christie, Donna Brazile, Washington Post editorial page editor Ruth Marcus, and New York Times national political reporter Astead Herndon.
And, Ruth, let me begin with you. You've covered the Justice Department for a long time. This constellation of issues facing Merrick Garland, extraordinary?
MARCUS: Yeah, you really don't want to be Merrick Garland right now if you're not used to making or ready to make hard decisions, because he's got a lot of hard decisions to make.
And this week, I think, ramped up the pressure on him. He says he doesn't feel it. I take him at his word. But I would if I were him. The decision by a federal judge in California that said the president, more likely than not -- I mean the former president, more likely than not committed a crime; the -- the revelation of this long gap in the phone records; and the revelation of something that Merrick Garland knew but we didn't, which is that they are looking beyond the immediate perpetrators of the insurrection, which I think is good news, to those who planned the rally and may have planned the insurrection.
All -- of all of those, I think that the most important and most significant may be this gap. Because if that gap turns out to be the result of steps that the president knowingly took, President Trump knowingly took, to avoid creating a record, that's evidence of -- that could be evidence of intent.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We don't -- we don't know that yet.
MARCUS: Yeah, if -- I said "if."
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah. Astead, I was struck by Ron Klain's non-denial denial of the New York Times story this morning that President Biden has expressed to others that he believes that former President Trump should be prosecuted.
HERNDON: Yeah, you heard that he says he didn't hear...
... the president say that. But I think that reporting has been very important. It says that President Biden has been looking advisers, hasn’t (ph) been saying that he wishes that the attorney general would act more aggressively in private.
Now, we know this is generally the feeling of a lot of elected Democrats right now. They are looking and that kind of political pressure is ramping up on the attorney general to act. But we also know that Republicans are insulating him as well.
You had Senator Mitch McConnell last week say that he -- say that he thinks that that’s -- that that type of talk isn’t appropriate. And so we have -- we’re going to have a kind of convergence of issues here, having Democrats kind of ramp up the political pressure to try to see some actions on this front, both on this and the text messages that came out from the Supreme Court -- Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas' wife.
You have the political pressure ramping up there, but you also have Republicans trying to dig in their heels and provide a defense on that front also.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris Christie, the case against President Trump could be kind of tough because you have to go to state of mind. And all he really needs is one lawyer who was telling him, no (ph), this is legal.
CHRISTIE: Yes, no, look, the problem with what the judge said is a couple-fold. What he said may have been completely accurate, the standard there is a civil standard, which is a preponderance of the evidence.
The standard for criminal prosecution, as we know, is beyond a reasonable doubt. And the gap between preponderancy evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt, having done this for seven years of my life, is about as big a gap as you can find.
And so, add to it that if you're Merrick Garland you’re sitting there saying, I’m not going to prosecute the former President of the United States unless it's a head shot. I mean, you're just not going to do that.
So, you know, I don't think -- I disagree. But I don't think it's a particularly tough job at the moment. Merrick Garland has done this stuff in his life. If he does it the right way, if he resists political pressure from Democrats, the same way that Bill Barr should’ve resisted Republican political pressure, he'll be fine. You make the decisions, you make the calls. If you can't do that, you shouldn't have taken the job in the first place.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Also facing, Donna Brazile, a big decision about Hunter Biden.
BRAZILE: Absolutely. Look, we'll see what happens in Delaware because that case is originating there. And based on what I read in “The Washington Post” and some of the other examination with Hunter's laptop, there's a lot of information that we're learning, new information, in fact, about what may have occurred because he left his laptop at a repair shop and now they have the hard drive.
But look, I want to just say something about the January 6th Committee, what the judge did in California and all of the other legal challenges that the former president -- this is a cloud (ph), George. It's a drip, drip, drip. At some point it's going to flood the conversation because the president is -- the former president is facing so many legal hurdles.
January 6th Committee is really drilling down on what happened that morning, not only who organized it, but what was happening in the morning hours all the way into the afternoon. At some point we're going to find more and more documents, the documents that will be released as a result of what Judge Carter just ordered that will show that the president really -- the former president believed that he had legal grounds to overturn the election. There's so much more that we’re going to learn over the next couple of weeks.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Ruth Marcus, “The Washington Post” reported this week, as I mentioned with Ron Klain, more on Hunter Biden’s dealings with China, which a lot on the right -- many on the right have said it's too little too late for “The Washington Post” to come forward now after dismissing these claims all through the election.
MARCUS: I think this is the point where I’m supposed to say that I represent the opinion side of “The Washington Post” and not the newsroom.
I think there are a lot of -- I think that all news organizations, not just “The Washington Post,” faced a very big dilemma and -- as they tried to figure out how to deal with the reporting about that laptop in real-time. We knew there had been efforts -- we, the news media, knew there had been efforts at Russian disinformation. You don't want to jump at that and report something that's wrong.
On the other hand, you don't want to be putting a finger on the scale. I don't -- as a journalist, I’m for one side or the other. So I’m not going to second guess the decisions that were made though I think there's a lot of interesting reporting to be done and I'm really glad that we are looking at this now.
Hunter Biden is not the first political relative to take advantage and make money off of his father's access and power, but it's not a very attractive story. Not an attractive --
STEPHANOPOULOS: -- “The New York Times”?
HERNDON: I don't think so. I think that there is no fear about reporting facts and following where those go. I want to defer to my colleagues in Washington who have been really doing that type of work. And I know that there is full support in the newsroom to follow the facts wherever they go.
On the election side -- on the politics side where we focus, this hasn't really dripped into the real public consciousness yet. But we know this is going to be an effort for Republicans to try to drive that narrative, to try to make the electorate more motivated on this front.
We haven’t seen that yet, but they’re going to try.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Merrick Garland is going to have to resist the pressure from Republicans on this issue.
CHRISTIE: Well, yeah -- and that's your job when you're attorney general.
But, look, the idea that somehow when making the Hunter Biden decision in the midst of an election campaign, we’re saying, oh, we’ve got to be careful about Russian disinformation. But all through 2016 and 2017, we now know that it was the Hillary Clinton campaign that was creating that dossier, paying for it, and that became the basis of a “New York Times’” Pulitzer Prize.
And it’s sort of --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, there’s a separate FBI investigation based on completely different evidence that generate --
CHRISTIE: But, George, no, no, George, look, Operation Crossfire Hurricane was all about the potential infiltration of the Trump campaign by the Russians. The basis of that was the dossier. And instead --
MARCUS: And most news organizations, Chris, didn't publish the dossier.
CHRISTIE: Oh, they didn’t publish the dossier, Ruth, but what they did was aggressively pursued that and called it as if it was fact.
And with the Hunter Biden case, Twitter took "The New York Post" Twitter account down because they reported on the Hunter Biden laptop which now turns out to be completely true. So, let’s just call what -- let’s call what it was.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris, nobody reported on the dossier during the campaign.
CHRISTIE: “The New York Post” had it right - but, George, “The New York Post” had it right, and "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" had it wrong.
Now, you can decide -- everyone will decide what the motivation for that was, whether it was simple error, whether it was not sufficient reporting, whether it was bias, everyone is going to have their opinions on that.
But the facts that we know now are, “The New York Post” had it right during the campaign last year, and the other media outlets had it wrong.
MARCUS: Is "The Washington Post" supposed to report on a hard drive that they didn't have at the time that was given to Rudy Giuliani? I mean, it’s not an easy call if you’re an editor.
CHRISTIE: They reported on a lot of stuff regarding Russian infiltration on the Trump campaign that turned out to be flat wrong, dead wrong.
BRAZILE: Well, they also failed to report on the Russian infiltration of the Democratic National Committee and the damage that was done as a result of Mr. Putin trying to basically interfere in our elections.
Look, George, I understand that the Hunter Biden situation -- look, we know a lot -- Hunter is selling art work that is valued at a lot of money. Hunter is also -- we had nude photos.
I mean, I don't know what's right and what's wrong, but I’m going to tell you one thing, Hunter is not going to be a conversation piece this midterm. Hunter is going to be a conversation piece for those of us who like salacious gossip.
What's going to be a conversation piece is, of course, the economy, how the American people are feeling about their own lives and what's in their pocketbooks and wallets, and also the outcome of the war in Ukraine which will not just impact us at the gas pump, but pretty soon at the grocery store when we go and buy bread and other -- wheat and barley, because this war is going to take a tool on the American economy.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And it does look -- it does look like it's going to go on for sometime, Chris Christie. But there's all this evidence out there that Russia is retreating in the face of such strong resistance, that this was a war they thought they could win easily, it's not happening.
CHRISTIE: Well, we know now that those people who called Putin a genius and very savvy for how he’s done this look like they really have egg all over their face because he's made obviously significant strategic mistakes. And worse yet, when confronted with those strategic mistakes, it seems now from reporting that we’re seeing this morning that they committed war crimes in the face of that, on top of it. As they're retreating from Kyiv, we're now seeing what they did while they were there.
And so, there's going to be a lot that goes on here, George. But the real problem still is the same that we talked about a couple weeks ago, which is when confronted with this now, is he’s pulling back, is he going to amp up or is he going to try to get this to a peace position where they try to make some kind of negotiated settlement?
I don't know which one it's going to be, but I’ll tell you the guy who is watching it the most closely besides President Zelenskyy is President Xi in China, because if they ramp this up, Xi is going to be held responsible by the rest of the world for supporting Putin.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It could also face tough choices for President Biden, Ruth Marcus, because if you approach an end game where Russia consolidates control in the east in the wake of these war crimes, can President Biden still lift the sanctions in the face of all that evidence?
MARCUS: I think this is a not good situation for President Biden because if things go badly, he gets blamed. If things go well, he is not going to probably get credit because people are going to be looking at inflation and all sorts of other things. I thought what Ron Klain said was interesting to you, that -- that it's going to be up to the Ukrainians to decide what limits to accept.
But this is a -- no matter what we do and no matter what Ukraine decides, the risk here is rewarding Putin for war crimes, rewarding Putin for war crimes, rewarding Putin for a war of aggression that has no basis for going forward. And yet the alternative, as Chris was suggesting, is that will push him in the situation where he has to, as the Russian's say, escalate to deescalate. This is just a horrible conundrum most of all for Ukraine.
HERNDON: But I think she this on the key quagmire for President Biden here, which is that there's no real upside here politically. I hate to talk about this in such callus terms, but, you know, the president will be blamed for that situation if it does go poorly. But we're not seeing that bump, even though people do approve of how he has handled that situation largely in Poland, the domestic issues like inflation and the economy, fears of crime and other are to -- are a higher priority for folks right now. And so the White House has a governing problem on its hands, but the reward politically hasn't really shown up either.
BRAZILE: But, you know, who wants to get a reward for saving lives --
HERNDON: I was going to say (INAUDIBLE). The (INAUDIBLE) effect (ph).
BRAZILE: For making sure that -- that a country's not bombed off the -- the planet earth the way that Putin has now gone after the people of Ukraine? Shooting people in the back of the heads. You know, striking hospitals and schools. At some point, Mr. Putin needs to account for his war crimes. And maybe that's where the president can show more leadership in terms of making sure that we document these war crimes. This is horrific to see what's happening in Ukraine each and every day carried out by a man who still wants to come and sit at the table. I would work my you know what to boot him out of G-7.
CHRISTIE: Listen, we -- we -- we've got to be careful about how we do it. I think you're right, but we've got to be careful about how we escalate or not escalate with this. And I think you're right, Ruth, the president has a lot of very difficult decisions -- decisions to make here on this. And, you know, to show how skilled she is across the table on your -- the last question that you had, you know, Donna talked about all the different issues that are going to affect the midterms. And she's right. But the American people are going to look at, do they think the president has acted in a way that is strong and projects American strength almost more than any particular issue. And how he handles this is going to determine that.
BRAZILE: And he will succeed at that, my friend.
CHRISTIE: Oh, I'm sure you think so.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And that is the last word for today. Thank you all very much.
We'll be right back.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out "WORLD NEWS TONIGHT" and I'll see you tomorrow on "GMA."