'This Week' Transcript 9-25-22: White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan & Sen. John Barrasso

This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, September 25.

ByABC News
September 25, 2022, 9:21 AM

A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, September 25, 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.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC HOST (voiceover): Desperate measures. Protests erupt. Thousands flee Russia after Putin orders a military draft.

JOHN KIRBY, FORMER SPOKESPERSON FOR THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE: It's definitely a sign that he's struggling.

STEPHANOPOULOS: As the fight in Ukraine takes center stage at the U.N., women take to the streets in Iran. What does it mean for America’s security? This morning, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso, and Martha Raddatz on the global unrest.

Closing in --

LETITIA JAMES, ATTORNEY GENERAL (D-NY): It's the art of the steal.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Donald Trump sued for fraud by New York’s attorney general.

UNKNOWN MALE: I think it's such a political thing. Whose mind is this going to change?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Makes false claims about classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you’re the President of the United States, you can declassify just by saying it's declassified, even by thinking about it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Jon Karl on the former president's legal battles, analysis from Dan Abrams and Sarah Isgur. And our Powerhouse Roundtable on the political fallout. Plus our brand new poll.

And --

UNKONWN FEMALE: We ain’t going to take no for an answer.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Behind the scenes with seven young reporters on the campaign trail.

STEPHANOPOULOS (on camera): There's nothing like being on the ground floor of a campaign.

STEPHANOPOULOS (voiceover): The first look at our new docuseries, "Power Trip."


ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's "This Week." Here now, George Stephanopoulos.

STEPHANOPOULOS (on camera): Good morning and welcome to "This Week."

We are coming on the air this morning with our brand new poll conducted with “The Washington Post.” It shows major challenges for President Biden and the Democrats as we approach the midterms.

Biden's job approval under 40 percent. More than half of Democrats want someone else to run in 2024. Democrats are even with the GOP in the midterm ballot but if history is any guide, that is not enough to avoid losses come November.

We'll get the Round Table's take on the new poll and the midterms later in the program. But we begin with the latest on the world scene. As Vladimir Putin scrambles to stave off defeating Ukraine and Iranian leaders are confronted with the most intense protests in more than a decade.

Chief Global Affairs Anchor Martha Raddatz starts us off.


MARTHA RADDATZ, CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANCHOR (voiceover): It was a week of protests and peril, from Iran where thousands have taken to the streets after the suspicious death of a young woman who had been in police custody, to Russia where violent protests erupted after President Vladimir Putin ordered a massive military call-up.

Russian men openly refusing to go. One man screaming I don't want to die for Putin. Mothers chanting, send Putin to the trenches. Russian citizens immediately flooding the airports, crowding the borders as thousands try to flee the country.

Putin saying the military call-up of 300,000 men is necessary and urgent. Blaming the U.S. for Ukraine’s significant gains in the war, dangling a veiled warning about the use of nuclear weapons. But the carnage Putin has already brought in Ukraine is startling. Mass graves, decimated cities, and a humanitarian crisis unfolding.

President Biden made clear this week at the U.N. that the world should stop Putin’s tyranny.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This war is about extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state.

RADDATZ: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made his appeal directly to the Russian people.


RADDATZ: Protest, fight back, run away he said.

Citizens have been fighting in Iran as well. A week of protests after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was arrested by the so-called morality police for wearing a head scarf improperly. She fell into a coma while in police custody, later dying in the hospital.

Iranian officials claiming it was a heart attack. Her father calling that a lie. Her death galvanizing women to take to the streets in Tehran, cutting their hair and burning hijabs, all at great risk. Dozens have been killed in the crashes. President Biden pledging support for the protesters.

BIDEN: We stand with the brave citizens and the brave women of Iran who right now are demonstrating to secure their basic rights.

RADDATZ: Ultraconservative Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said the incident was being investigated and safeguarding his citizens, he says, was a top priority.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Big protests in the streets of Iran. Protests in Russia as well. Martha Raddatz, Putin seeing kind of a backlash to this call for 300,000 troops. Will it make a difference?

RADDATZ: I think those 300,000 troops will not make much of a difference. First of all, it’s going to take months and months and months to get 300,000 troops into Ukraine. He’s got to train them in some way. They are not all military reservists.

So I think it really just shows how desperate Vladimir Putin is and you might also have people just defect. He's trying to get protesters in there. They'll walk into Ukraine and walk out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Martha Raddatz, thanks very much.

Let’s bring in the president’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, right now.

Jake, thank you for joining us this morning.

So, you just heard Martha Raddatz say desperate measures by Vladimir Putin. We saw that shakeup in the defense ministry overnight. These protests in the streets. There was a lot of confusion in the run-up to his national address.

Is his hold on power secure?

JAKE SULLIVAN, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, it’s difficult to tell in any totalitarian dictatorship where one man controls everything, just how tight a grip that person has on power. And as Earnest Hemingway said about bankruptcy, you can see governments crack up gradually and then suddenly. So, we can’t predict what happens inside of Russia with Vladimir Putin.

What we can do is continue to support Ukraine and its right to defend itself, its sovereignty, its territorial integrity. And President Biden has authorized even further security assistance to provide Ukraine with the weapons that it needs to defend its land, to retake territory that was occupied by Ukraine, and to ensure that Ukraine is in the best possible position on the battlefield.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Another extraordinary address by President Zelenskyy last night, speaking directly to the Russian people, urging them to resist.

Will President Biden echo that call?

SULLIVAN: What President Biden is going to focus on, as I just said, is how to put the Ukrainians in the best position possible. The future of Russia is for the Russian people to decide. For the United States, we have a clear mission, and it’s a mission that we have been laser focused on for several months, and that’s to make sure that the weapons and the intelligence and the information that Ukraine needs to be able to successfully defend its own country, that they get that.

We’ve been in close touch with the Ukrainians throughout this conflict. We have also been providing them financial and humanitarian assistance to alleviate the suffering of their people. And what you see inside Russia right now, this call-up of troops, the sham referenda that they’re trying to run in the occupied territories, these are definitely not signs of strength or confidence. Quite the opposite. They’re signs that Russia and Putin are struggling badly. And it will be the Russian people ultimately who make the determination about how Russia proceeds and the extent to which that there is resistance and pushback to what Vladimir Putin has tried to do, calling up these hundreds of thousands of young men.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you want them to rise up and replace Putin?

SULLIVAN: Look, again, at the end of the day, the future of Russian politics is going to be dictated, not by Washington, not by anyone in Europe, but by the people inside Russia. And what you are seeing in the streets right now is a deep unhappiness with what Putin is doing because he has been lying to his people all along. He tried to call this some kind of special military operation, when, in fact, it’s a war of conquest. As war, as you heard President Biden say, to extinguish Ukraine’s right to exist as a people.

I don’t think that’s very popular in Russia. And that’s why young Russian men are not eager to go join the fight. And many of them, in large numbers, are fleeing to the borders, fleeing to the airports, or just outright resisting. That’s not a surprise to us. But at the end of it all, we have to keep our focus where we can make the biggest difference. And the biggest difference we can make is to help Ukraine, tangibly, sustainably and effectively. That’s what we’ve been doing. That’s what we’ll continue to do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How serious was the nuclear threat that Putin made this week, and how will President Biden respond if he makes good on it?

SULLIVAN: We’re taking it seriously. It’s not the first time President Putin has made a nuclear threat in this conflict. He started way back in February when Russian takes first rolled across the border brandishing that nuclear card. And that has not deterred us from providing more than $15 billion in weapons to Ukraine, helping them be able to defend their country. And it will not deter us now.

And we have communicated directly, privately to the Russians, at very high levels, that there will be catastrophic consequences for Russia if they use nuclear weapons in Ukraine. We have been clear with them and emphatic with them that the United States will respond decisively, alongside our allies and partners, and we have protected those communications, which we have done privately to the Russians, but they well understand what they would face if they went down that dark road.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So that means taking the fight directly to Russia?

SULLIVAN: We have communicated to the Russians what the consequences would be, but we’ve been careful in how we talk about this publicly because, from our perspective, we want to lay down the principle that there would be catastrophic consequences, but not engage in a game of rhetorical tit for tat.

So, the Russians understand where we are. We understand where we are. We are planning for every contingency. And we will do what is necessary to deter Russia from taking this step. And if they do, we will respond decisively.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me also ask you about these protests in Iran. Are they a threat to the regime, to the survival of the regime?

SULLIVAN: Well, it’s -- it’s like the question you asked about Putin's Russia right now, where he’s seeing protests. You know, the United States hasn’t necessarily, over many decades, had a great track record in perfectly predicting when protests turn into political change. And I can’t perfectly predict that sitting here today.

What I can say is they do reflect a deep-seeded and widespread belief among the population of Iran, the citizens of Iran, the women of Iran, that they deserve their dignity and their rights.

And the United States is being absolutely clear and firm, publicly, from the well of the United Nations, as you heard President Biden speaking out on behalf of the universal human rights of all of the citizens and all of the women of Iran. And we’re taking tangible steps too, to help facilitate the access of Iranian citizens to the means to communicate with one another and to connect with the Internet so that they can have their voices heard inside Iran and outside Iran. And we will continue to do that because we believe that it is our duty to stand with people who are trying to stand up for themselves.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Some Republicans in Congress have said the crackdown on the protests are reason enough to walk away from the Iran nuclear talks. Is it time to walk away?

SULLIVAN: Well, first, George, let me just say that the fact that we are in nuclear talks is in no way slowing us down from speaking out and acting on behalf of the people of Iran. We’re not going to slow down one inch in our defense and advocacy for the rights of the women and citizens of Iran.

But at the same time, at the height of the Cold War, at the very moment that Ronald Reagan was calling the Soviet Union an evil empire, he was also engaged in arms control talks, because he knew that, on the one had, we had to push back vigorously against the repression and violations of human rights of the Soviet Union, and at the same time, we had to protect and defend the security of ourselves, our allies and our partners.

The same thing is true with respect to making sure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon that they can threaten the world with. And to do that we believe diplomacy is the best option.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Jake Sullivan, thanks very much.

SULLIVAN: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, we're joined by the chair of the Senate Republican Conference, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Barrasso.

Senator, thank you for joining us again this morning.

Let me pick -- let's pick up where we just left off with Jake. Did you find his argument convincing for staying in the Iran nuclear talks?

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R-WY): No deal with Iran, George, is a good deal. Iran is a straight -- is a state sponsor of terrorism. They continue to claim “death to America”.

We cannot allow them to have a nuclear weapon. I’ve always felt this administration was too eager for a nuclear deal or any deal with Iran. I think we should not go forward with one. If they do, it needs to come to the Senate for ratification.

This administration wants to send tens of billions of dollars to Iran for a deal that I think is going to be a bad deal for America.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about Ukraine.

Are Republicans prepared to keep giving Ukraine the resources they need to fight this war?

Some of your Senate candidates like J.D. Vance from Ohio has said we've given Ukraine enough. And Democratic Senator Chris Murphy warned this week that the -- that the GOP will hold up additional aid if you win control of Congress.

Is he right?

BARRASSO: No. There continues to be bipartisan support in the House and in the Senate for weapons to Ukraine. I thought President Biden actually was right at the United Nations when he told other world leaders they had a responsibility to do more in terms of weapons to Ukraine and condemning Russia because Putin will not stop, George, until he is stopped.

There's been bipartisan criticism of the administration for being too slow with weapons to Ukraine. We need more advanced weapons, including these advanced drones and missile systems. Vladimir Putin continues to use energy as a weapon, both to fund his military and to punish Europe for not standing with him.

That's been a criticism I’ve had of this administration and its energy policies. We ought to be producing more American energy to help our European allies, also to help get prices down at home -- which is why I think the president's numbers in your ABC News poll that just came out are so terrible on the economy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask you the question I asked Jake Sullivan at the outset. Do you believe that Putin's hold on power is secure?

BARRASSO: I'm not sure. He is in a deep hole right now and he’s dug this hole. And I thought his statement to the country there really was desperate. It didn't show really confidence or strength. And desperate people do desperate things. And that's why I think we've seen this nuclear threat. I think we have to continue to supply Ukraine with the weapons that they need and not be intimidated by this threat. The Foreign Relations Committee is going to have a hearing this Wednesday on what additional things we can do in terms of sanctions. And also we have a secure briefing on Thursday in the Senate to take a look right at what's happening on the ground in Ukraine. But I will tell you, George, China is watching closely. And what we do will have an impact on what China decides to do with regard to Taiwan.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we have seen them pushing back a bit against Putin as well.

I want to ask you about the investigation into Donald Trump's handling of classified information. Even though his lawyers have provided no evidence that he declassified the documents, Trump said this week that as president he could declassify documents by thinking about it.

Do you agree with that?

BARRASSO: I've not heard that one before, George. Look, I’ll tell you, in terms of national security documents, we have to always use extreme caution. I'm on the Foreign Relations Committee. We deal with classified information all of the time and are always very careful. I don't know what – what -- anything about the rules for when a president declassifies documents and information. What I do know is, and what I’d like to see from a Senate standpoint, is, I’d like to see the Department of Justice come to us and show us, in a classified setting, what the information is, what they’ve done. I thought this -- the raid at the former president's home, never seen anything like that before, clearly, and it's become political.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, Senator --

BARRASSO: So, I want to get a briefing so that we can then be informed to see what actually happened here.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That – that was a rhetorical question. You know that a president can't declassify documents by thinking about it. Why can't you say so?

BARRASSO: I don't think a president can declassify documents by saying so, by thinking about it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Barrasso, thanks for joining us this morning.

BARRASSO: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Roundtable’s coming up.

Plus, more legal setbacks for Donald Trump this week. Jon Karl, Dan Abrams and Sara Isgur analyze the fallout, next.



LETITIA JAMES (D), NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: This investigation revealed that Donald Trump engaged in years of illegal conduct to inflate his net worth. Claiming you have money that you do not have does not amount to the art of the deal. It’s the art of the steal. And there cannot be different rules for different people in this country or in this state.


STEPHANOPOULOS: New York Attorney General Tish James announcing a sweeping fraud lawsuit against Donald Trump and his children, just days before an appeals court backed the Justice Department's bid to keep investigating the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago.

It was a perilous week for the former president on the legal front. At least six different cases are closing in. Chief Washington correspondent Jon Karl is tracking them all.

JON KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: In politics and in business, Donald Trump has faced countless investigations and lawsuits over the years and survived. But even for Trump, the legal jeopardy he now faces is unprecedented. He faces at least six major investigations and a sense the walls may be closing in.

New York's attorney general hit the Trump Organization this week with a lawsuit alleging Trump, his company and his children, Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric, routinely overvalued their assets. Trump responded the way he always does when accused of wrongdoing.


FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP: This was just a continuation of a witch hunt that began when I came down the escalator at Trump Tower.

KARL (voice over): The lawsuit aims to make it impossible for Trump to continue doing business in New York. It also included a criminal referral to federal prosecutors.

This week also brought legal setbacks for Trump in the government documents case. A three-judge panel, two of the judges appointed by Trump, ruled the Justice Department can review the 100-plus documents marked "classified" that federal agents seized from Mar-a-Lago.

TRUMP: If you're the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying "It's declassified," even by thinking about it.

KARL: And in Georgia prosecutors are moving quickly in their investigation into Trump's efforts to pressure Georgia's secretary of state to overturn the state's 2020 election results.

TRUMP: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have. Because we won the state.

KARL: And of course, there are multiple investigations and lawsuits related to the president's actions on January 6th. There's the ongoing DOJ investigation, one of the largest ever, as the January 6th Committee is set to hold another public hearing on Wednesday. Committee sources say a subpoena for President Trump is possible.

(on camera): It's not just Donald Trump facing legal jeopardy. Alan Weisselberg, the chief financial officer for the Trump Organization, pleaded guilty to 15 felonies, including admitting to a scheme to avoid taxes. And, all told, well over a dozen people from Trump's inner circle have either been arrested, indicted or imprisoned. And several others, George, have now hired criminal defense attorneys.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Jon Karl, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our chief legal analyst Dan Abrams and Sara Isgur, who served in the Trump Justice Department.

So you look at these six cases, Dan. Let me begin with you. Which is the most serious legal threat to Donald Trump right now?

DAN ABRAMS, ABC NEWS CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, look, let's separate it, Donald Trump personally versus those close to Donald Trump, right? If you were going to say those close to Donald Trump, I'd say the fake elector scheme that the feds have been investigating.

STEPHANOPOULOS: As part of the January 6th investigation?

ABRAMS: Correct. I think that, for many people close to Donald Trump, that could be potentially the most perilous.

For Donald Trump personally, I think that you've got the document case now. I think -- and something happened this week that I think, kind of, changed the tenor of this. When you have the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, with two Trump appointees coming forward and not just rejecting Donald Trump's argument but completely rebuking it, almost mocking the argument and mocking the lower court, it's not just not helpful; I think it sets a tone that's potentially dangerous for him, in terms of what the Department of Justice may do now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Sarah Isgur, on that point, you also have this special master who was chosen by Donald Trump's lawyers, really pushed back on them as well?

ISGUR: Absolutely, fascinating that Donald Trump's team picked a judge who had served on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, had dealt so much with classified material, now really taking this case, picking it up from where Judge Cannon had left off and telling the Trump lawyers they need to say in court, in a court filing that could be sanctionable, whether the president ever declassified anything, whether they actually believe and have evidence that anything was planted at Mar-a-Lago. All the things that Trump has said publicly, this judge is saying "Put up or shut up."

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, so, Dan, let's follow up on that right there. So we haven't heard it from his lawyers so far. What happens to them if they then make a filing in the court saying, "No, he did declassify the documents," or "There was planted evidence?"

ABRAMS: Well, they're going to have to show evidence, right? They can't -- that's the difference, is Donald Trump can go out publicly and say, "This is what happened," OK? The difference is, when you file it in a legal document, you actually have to provide some evidence, some facts behind it.

I mean, Donald Trump keeps speculating very strongly that evidence was planted. And that's why Judge Dearie saying, "Well, please itemize for us exactly what evidence you think might have been planted," they're not going to do that.

It’s the same thing with declassification. It’s you’re telling us that it’s declassified, which documents? Identify it specifically. And then provide evidence as to how or when that happened. None of that has occurred. So you really do have to separate out what Donald Trump says for the court of public opinion and what his lawyers will or won't say in legal documents.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sarah, Dan mentioned the threat to Donald Trump personally, the threat to those close to him. How about the threat to the Trump Organization? We saw the lawsuit from the New York attorney general this week. Can she succeed?

SARAH ISGUR, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think this is a uphill climb in parts of her lawsuit. Bill Barr, the former attorney general who has pulled no punches about Donald Trump after leaving office, saying, for instance, that the special master probe in Mar-a-Lago is terrible, what Donald Trump did with classified material.

He has said that this New York case appears to be a political stunt, that there is no factual basis to say that, for instance, Donald Trump's children would have had knowledge of his personal financial disclosure, which is what this is about. So certainly, she seems to have some facts for the case, but overall that seems to help Donald Trump. It's a civil case, not criminal. It sort of creates this pile on effect that by and large will allow the Trump team to pivot more to that case and not pay attention to the classified documents that the elector --

STEPHANOPOULOS: And it could be delayed for some time. But it’s more that -- but if it shuts down the Trump Organization in New York, that's a lifeline.

ABRAMS: I think that's unlikely. I think this is still likely they’d settle it. Remember, people keep forgetting that apparently they were in settlement discussions as of a week ago on this case. If they were in settlement discussions, it means that something was kind of close.


ABRAMS: -- at least something to talk about. About a possible settlement. So I would expect that that case is going to settle for much less than what she's asking for. Key there I think is distinguishing objective facts, meaning the difference between him saying that an apartment was 30,000 feet --


ABRAMS: -- as opposed to 11,000 feet, versus the differences in valuations, right, where people might be able to differ on that issue. So I do think -- and I think that Sarah makes a good point, which is parts of the lawsuit. And maybe that's where it would have been stronger, is if she had more narrowed the case and really focused on the best argument she had as opposed to number. More than 200. Well, why not focus on the best 40 maybe instead of going for the big number that obviously gets picked up more by the public at large?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, we only have a few seconds left. Fulton County, Georgia, some would argue that’s the most serious case facing the president.

ISGUR: I think there's a great argument that that's the most serious case. It's a state case. They have state law. They're not bound by the Department of Justice’s protocols at this point, around elections, for instance. That's the subpoenas of Lindsey Graham and a lot of these other folks about sending that fake slate of electors and the call to the secretary of state asking him to find votes.

ABRAMS: There's an argument though that in that case -- because I do think that it’s possible he'll be indicted there -- that that case could end up getting thrown out by a federal court too. We’ll have to see --


STEPHANOPOULOS: -- could be years down the road.

ABRAMS: Right. What the power is that a state prosecutor has to bring charges against the former president for his role in terms of when he was president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks to you both very much.

Round Table is next. We'll be right back.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And we are back now with the round table joined by Chris Christie.

We'll be right back.



REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Democrats have no plan for the problem they created. We can secure our border. We can become energy independent, so your price of gas is lower. We can build an education system that has a parents’ Bill of Rights.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy went to Pennsylvania and unveiled what he calls a Commitment to America. We didn't hear him mention the right to choose. We didn't hear him mention Medicare. We didn’t hear him mention Social Security.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Kevin McCarthy, Joe Biden, out there this week, as we’re heading into the midterms. We also have our brand new ABC News poll. We’re going to talk about all that here on our roundtable.

We’re joined by Chris Christie, Donna Brazile, Julie Pace, the executive editor of the AP, and Rachel Scott, our congressional correspondent.

Welcome to all of you.

Chris, let’s start with the poll. We see an even divide among Democrats and Republicans in the generic, but that’s not saying much for Democrats as we head into the midterms.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: No, it's not. Look, the key numbers that I looked at, George, was the president at 36 on his approval rating, 21 points under water. That 74 percent of the people in the poll said the economy is bad. That’s – they characterize it. And that the top -- it's the top issue to 84 percent of the people. That's all bad news for the Democrats in that poll.

And I will tell you, I was talking to a family farmer this week. Just to put a -- what we have to look forward to. He said, since Biden got in office, his diesel fuel costs are up 222 percent on his farm and his nitrogen costs are up 262 percent. That’s not only bad for them and their ability to make money, but, worse, it’s going to hit us in supermarkets all over this country. This is hardly over. And that’s what these numbers are telling. People are feeling that and they're going to vote that way and that's not good for the Democrats.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is there any argument the Democrats can make that will make inflation not the top issue on voters' mind as they go to the polls?

DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER DNC CHAIR, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I mean, look, I think Democrats understand that the stakes are high. This is a consequential midterm and we know we have to defy history.

That being said, look at the alternative. What are the Republicans planning to do to harm you, to harm the economy? Joe Biden has really done a fabulous job, I think, in making sure that every day Americans can feel the things that he's doing, whether it's lowering gas prices, making sure that our supply chain is now moving forward. He just stopped a rail strike, which really would have crippled our economy.

So, look, we know we have a big job to do in motivating people to get out to vote. But, most importantly, Joe Biden is playing the long game. That's why I'm still with Joe Biden. I'm ridin' with Biden, baby. Ridin’ with Biden.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Julie Pace, we just saw – we just saw Donna frame it – set the frame for the election really -- Republicans want this to be a referendum on the economy and Joe Biden. Democrats want it to be a choice between two agendas.

JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: And that’s why I think we are in a little bit of uncertain territory when it comes to these midterms. And, look, history tells us, obviously, that the president's party does poorly in the midterms, especially when the economy is in a state like it's in right now. There is so much uncertainty about the economy. Even people like Fed Chair Jerome Powell says we don't really know what's happening. The economy is just, frankly, acting weirdly. The one thing that is keeping Democrats motivated right now is, to Donna’s point, they feel like they can present a credible, alternative choice. They feel like abortion has changed the game here. They feel like it is motivating voters. But I think we are – we are really in for a turbulent and uncertain stretch between now and the midterms.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Abortion works for the Democrats. Donald Trump, to some extent, works for the Democrats as well. And in – they had us up against – and it shows in our poll as well -- immigration, inflation and crime for the Republicans.

RACHEL SCOTT, ABC NEWS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and I think you have these two different scenarios sort of playing out here. Yes, is abortion energizing Democratic voters? We've seen that. Obviously the special election right here in New York, Pat Ryan won his special election in a critical swing district when he was down in the polls by campaigning and making abortion a central issue.

Kansas, a conservative state, votes to protect abortion rights. But when you ask registered voters, what issue is at the top of that list, and you see inflation and the economy, and you see 74 percent of Americans say that the economy is in a bad state right now. And now only that, you have independents thinking that Republicans would do a better job of handling the economy, that all points to an extraordinary set of challenges for Democrats trying to keep the House and the Senate.

CHRISTIE: And, George, let's – let’s talk about the abortion issue because 84 percent of the voters say the economy is their top issue. Only 62 percent say abortion. And when you go deeper into the poll and look at some of the cross tabs on this, what our poll is showing is that the pro-life people are more motivated by the abortion issue to vote in these midterms than the pro-choice people are.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That hasn't been the case this summer so far.

CHRISTIE: Well, it hasn't, but – but this is the snapshot we’re taking right now in September. I think the further you get away from the Dobbs decision and closer to the midterms, the less of a motivating factor abortion is. And, obviously, from these numbers the more of a motivating factor the economy is. And I understand history is this way, as Julie said, and we’d better pay heed to history. It’s going to happen again. When you have a bad economy, that is what people vote on. They don't vote on anything else because that’s what affects them and their families every day.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Julie, the counter –

BRAZILE: Over 9 million jobs being created. So let's not doom the economy when people are going back to work, when people are trying to find the right job, the right fit. The economy is not in the tank. We know the market. We know all of this.

CHRISTIE: I'm watching you argue against 84 percent of the people in the country. Great (INAUDIBLE).

BRAZILE: Well, I'm – I'm not arguing against 84 percent –

PACE: And this is what a –

BRAZILE: I'm just saying, the reality is, is that Joe Biden has presided over an economy that has come back from the brink.

Look, we had a pandemic that took over a million lives in this country and we had people who stopped working. So, things are improving. Are they where we want them to be? No. But we're not where we started.

PACE: This is what frustrates Democrats, though. It's very similar to what Barack Obama faced in his...


PACE: ... first midterm as well.

BRAZILE: I remember.

PACE: The trend lines were moving in one direction, and yet people didn't feel it. Democrats sometimes chalk that up to a communications problem. But I think Democrats have to ask themselves why are the numbers showing that and people do not feel that way?

What is -- what is -- what is the thing that they can do to try to connect the dots...

BRAZILE: The American people fear another shoe is going to drop. It's unsettling. I mean, I know it because I talk to my own family. I talk to my friends. I know what happens when you go to the grocery store. Because when I go to the grocery store, I better bring a coupon because I know the prices are a little high.

CHRISTIE: I went food shopping the other day...

BRAZILE: You did?

CHRISTIE: ... for our family, and I picked up a bag of Tostitos...


CHRISTIE: ... was $6.59. Like, I'm sorry, that's nut.

BRAZILE: I mean, that was a big bag.


CHRISTIE: It wasn't that big. Let me tell you, man, it wasn't that big.


And George knows this. He was involved in this. This always happens to incumbent presidents, that they don't get credit for the economy. It lags. It happened to Bush 41 in 1992. The economy was coming back, but people...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Bill Clinton in '94.



CHRISTIE: They didn't believe it. And so the problem is in making the argument that Donna is making, is you -- you are swimming upstream on that argument. And you better come up with something else. Because 84 percent of the people in this poll don't buy it, and that's not a winning strategy.

SCOTT: But not only that, but also the approval ratings. And when we look at history, when we have presidents that have approval ratings as low as this president, not only less than 50 percent, less than 40 percent, they lose seats -- 37 seats, on average, their party loses in a midterm election year.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The counter-argument that Nancy Pelosi made to that when I spoke with her this week, Donna, is that there's not a lot of low-hanging fruit out there for Republicans, that you didn't have the traditional Democratic bump in the House back in the 2020 election.

BRAZILE: That's right. Look -- and, by the way, I trust her -- I trust her gut on this. And the other thing is that you've got to think about what Democrats are faced with. We're faced with election deniers. We're faced with people who are acting like Donald Trump, that they are somehow or another going to change what happened in the last election. So I think we also need to look at it state by state, race by race. It is -- it's hard pickings, but I do think that the Democrats have done a fabulous job when selecting good candidates. And they know exactly what to talk about...


STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris, it's been fascinating to watch out in the Senate candidates we saw with Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, one of the candidates who's hard on election denialism going into the primaries, now trying to pivot away from it. Can you do that, is the question?

CHRISTIE: Probably not, effectively, especially in a state like New Hampshire, where people pay attention. And they're plugged into their elections; they're not detached folks. I think they're going to look at Don Bolduc and be skeptical that somebody like him could be saying, "I will not change horses in midstream; the election was stolen," and then the day after the primary to go on a national news show and say, "You know, I've been researching this and I don't see any evidence for it."

Look, the simple fact is that we've been saying all along, some of us, and I've been saying it on this show, that this is moving away from Donald Trump. And it is a slow move, but it is a move. And we also talked a few weeks ago right here about how DOJ would do in the special master litigation. I told you I thought they'd win, and they did. And now these classified documents are being reviewed again. This stuff is happening because the law matters and common sense does matter, ultimately.

PACE: I do think that one thing that we have to watch, though, in this election is -- I do think you're right that this is happening in some of those top-tier races, secretary of states races, state legislative races. This is where, heading into 2024, depending on the outcome of those races, yes, the messaging might change at the top level of some of -- some parts of the Republican Party, but what's happening in the races that could actually make a difference in terms of integrity of elections, the ability to protect democracy. This is going to be hugely consequential at those down-ballot races.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, Donna, Chris Christie says this is slowly moving away from Donald Trump. And I think I actually agree with him. But the polling right now is not really showing that. It's showing among Republican voters he's holding firm. Our poll shows him defeating Joe Biden in 2024.

BRAZILE: Look, Donald Trump is -- his house of cards is really crumbling down. He's under investigation just about everywhere. Too bad he's not in Louisiana. We'll put him under investigation just for showing up.


But, look, the truth is, is that Donald Trump is, at this point, the major player in the Republican Party. But at the same time these candidates are going to have to own their own messages. He was in North Carolina. But he's going to have to own his message.

Mr. Oz is going to have to own his own message, and his -- and Mr. Vance. Donald Trump has gotten these -- these candidates into the dance. Now they're going to have to figure out if they know the groove. And I think that's where Democrats will have an advantage, especially because we have better quality candidates across the country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He will be center stage in -- in the House as well this week. The January 6th Committee is coming back.

SCOTT: Yeah, and the January 6th Committee is coming back, the last hearing before the midterms. They're trying to wrap this up, put a fine point on this. But it's still very much a work in progress. Because they're getting new information almost every single week here.

But the hold that we're talking about, that Trump has on this, especially when you look at the legislation that came forward in the House, reform to the electoral count act, the very thing that Trump tried to exploit on January 6th.

When you have a scenario where you only have nine Republicans in the House voting for that, 203 voting against reform for that, and all of those Republicans that voted for it aren't even returning to Congress next year.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Chris, you brought up the Court of Appeals and the special master this week, when you look at what is happening now in that documents case, do you agree with what we saw -- what we heard from Dan Abrams, the chances that he could be indicted are probably increasing there?

CHRISTIE: Look, I think these are all self-inflicted wounds by Donald Trump. You know, one of the things that I always say to clients are, you know, don't out loud fight with the Department of Justice. Like, you know, we'll fight in court and do the things we need to do.

He's doing the exact opposite. His lawyers aren't fighting any of this in court. They’re really not. They’re not putting forward any of these arguments. He’s putting forward all these arguments on television. There comes a point where prosecutors are human too. And you want to keep daring them, they may just actually do it.

I still don't think he's going to be charged. But I will say this much about what Dan said, the more you absolutely antagonize with nonsense arguments on television that your lawyers won't make in court because they’re afraid they’ll be sanctioned if they do because they have no evidence, you're pushing yourself closer to a self-inflicted indictment. And I don't want to see that happen just because I don't think it's good for our country, but he's pushing himself in that direction.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we don't see him making any moves to get off the campaign trail, despite what a lot of Republican leaders might want.

PACE: We absolutely do not. In fact, he's using his campaign trail appearances to make the exact arguments that we’re talking about here.

I mean, I think one of the things that will be really fascinating as these legal cases move forward is do we start to hear from other Republicans, particularly potential 2024 contenders who say we just don't need this as a country. We don't need somebody running for office, even a former president, even in investigations we may not agree with, who is under so much legal scrutiny. This is not good for the country.

We haven't heard that quite yet at a large scale, but I would be watching for that from DeSantis, Pence, and others.

DONNA BRAZILE, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Look, I think Republican leaders are co-dependent with Donald Trump. so to the extent that Donald Trump is out there every weekend in all of these major battle ground states, he's trying to motivate the Republican base, but you know what? He's energizing Democrats and he’s basically helping us with Independents.

So as far as I’m concerned, if I can contribute a dollar and some coins to his gas budget because he's basically running around the country begging for money, then let him go. Let him continue to campaign across the country because it's helping us prove the case that this is not a referendum on Biden, it's a choice between having someone who incited a mob, incited an insurrection, and someone who is trying to save this country and keep our people happy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Rachel, one of the things you saw this weekend, I think (ph) most top Republicans will defend Donald Trump if asked about it, but they won’t bring him up on their own. Kevin McCarthy this week.

SCOTT: Not a single mention of Donald Trump in Kevin McCarthy’s speech unveiling the Republican agenda this past week. Obviously they know that America first policies, right, are popular with Republican voters but a lot of Republican voters don't want the drama that comes around with all of these investigations and having the former president in the spotlight. I thought that was very notable there, that he did not mention his name once and also didn't talk about these false claims about the 2020 election either, right, that we see a lot of candidates across the country actually campaigning on.

FiveThirtyEight has analysis that shows 60 percent of Americans will have an election denier on the ballot this November. The stakes are incredibly high. But, yes, you see Republicans trying to split the difference here and try to create some distance between themselves and the former president. And unless you press on it like you did with Mr. Barrasso, you can't get a firm answer.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all we have time for today. Thank you all very much.

Coming up, a first look at our new political show streaming on Hulu. It’s called "Power Trip."


STEPHANOPOULOS: My brand new show “Power Trip" launches on Hulu today. It’s going to take you behind the scenes of this year’s midterms with the seven twenty-something reporters we’ve sent across the country the cover the campaigns. They’re watching trying to figure out what driving voters this year and how to hold the candidates accountable.

Here's a first look.


STEPHANOPOULOS: This DeSantis move of busing the migrants up to Massachusetts, where else are we deployed this week and what are we picking up so far? I mean, I know it’s early.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're sending Miles Cohen to Wisconsin, an event with Ron DeSantis.

I think for our guys, the challenge is to go out there and do the best they can to cover people who don't necessarily want to be covered.

MILES COHEN, ABC NEWS: Hey, Governor, Miles Cohen from ABC News.

How would you respond to the sheriff in Texas who’s saying that these migrants were lured under false pretenses to boarding those planes?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you. Thank you.

COHEN: Can you just explain the process of how the migrants were recruited to get on those planes?

ABBY CRUZ, ABC NEWS: One of the embeds is based in Florida. His name is Miles Cohen. And he asked Governor DeSantis, what's your response to Sheriff Salazar saying that, you know, these migrants were lured under false pretenses? And DeSantis responded to him and said it was false.

JAVIER SALAZAR, BEXAR COUNTY SHERIFF: I think the governor’s got his opinions on it. I’ve got my opinions on it. It occurred in my country. So, I’m going to act appropriately according to the law.

LIBBY CATHEY, ABC NEWS: Kari, I want to ask about immigration. We saw this week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis fly migrants to Martha's Vineyard.

Is that something you would do as governor? And what's your reaction to that?

KARI LAKE (R), ARIZONA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I have stated these many times I’ve been asked this question. I like that we're seeing these sanctuary states get a little taste of what we're dealing with. That being said, I’m not a fan of busing people around the country, making them go further inland where we then can't track them down.

Thank you very much. We've got to go. Thank you. I appreciate it.

REPORTER: OK. What more do you need to know about --

CATHEY: I think it went really well. She said I’ve been asked this before. I know she's been asked it before, but I haven't gotten the chance to ask it to her. It's to be seen what the number one issue that’s going to bring all these voters out. And we'll be out here chasing it all.

Hi, Kari.


STEPHANOPOULOS: And three of embeds join us right now -- Libby Cathey covering Arizona, Abby Cruz covering Texas, Miles Cohen covering Florida.

Abby, let me begin with you. This is your first full-time -- first time you covered politics full time as a reporter. What's been the biggest challenge?

CRUZ: You know what, George, I think uniqueness holds value. And I also think because I come from a grassroots background it's actually helping me on this trail. Because I can speak to voters, I'm boots on the ground in the neighborhoods in the community, it hasn't really been a challenge at all. I think I'm getting information straight from the sources, which ultimately will affect the midterms in November casting the ballot. And I think the best reporters can cover any beat. So.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I like to hear that confidence right there.

Miles Cohen, you're covering Ron DeSantis. It's really two campaigns in one covering DeSantis.

MILES COHEN, ABC NEWS: Right. Good morning, George.

So, DeSantis is unique in that he has not just chosen to campaign in his home state here in Florida. He’s been all across the country. And for me as an embed reporter in his campaign, that means I'm right there with him. I'm hopping on last-minute flights to Hobbs, New Mexico. Just last weekend to Wisconsin. And so that are some logistical hurdles. But there’s also a reporting challenge, George, which is to find out just how DeSantis’ message is resonating with Republican crowds outside of Florida. And I can tell you, from my conversations with them, they like DeSantis, they like what he's doing in Florida and they're open to seeing him on the ballot in 2024.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Libby, you were there in Arizona this week when the judge basically reinstituted almost a total ban on abortion in the state of Arizona. That could really shake-up the race.

CATHEY: That's right, George. I mean, it could be a complete game changer out here. That's what one Republican consultant told me yesterday, that all the polling we’ve seen in Arizona so far can go out the window. And while Republican candidates and voters here are very eager to talk to me about inflation and immigration, this ruling puts abortion right at the forefront of the conversation, right before ballots go out in Arizona. And that's exactly where the Democrats candidates want the conversation to be.

So, we are rolling with the punches out here.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you all are doing a terrific job. It's been fun to work with you. It’s been fun to watch you, and your colleagues. And we look forward to doing it more over the next eight weeks on “Power Trip.”

Thanks a lot for joining us this morning.

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."