'This Week' Transcript 3-5-23: Sen. Sherrod Brown, Sen. Dan Sullivan & Marianne Williamson

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

ByABC News
March 5, 2023, 10:00 AM

A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, March 5, 2023 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the "This Week" transcript archive.


ANNOUNCER: THIS WEEK with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you proud of that, sir?

STEPHANOPOULOS: A month after the Ohio train derailment, angry residents lash out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please get our people out of here.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Pressure builds on President Biden.

REP. BILL JOHNSON: Mr. President, it's past time for you to make the short trip to East Palestine.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senators unveil bipartisan rail safety legislation.

SEN. JD VANCE (R-OH): It's not the sort of thing that's going to cost a lot of money.

STEPHANOPOULOS: This morning, we cover the fallout with Ohio’s Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown and Republican Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska.

Long shot bid.

MARIANNE WILLIAMS (D), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I, as of today, am a candidate for the office of president of the United States.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Joe Biden's first Democratic challenger enters the race as Republicans showcase their party's divide.

NIKKI Haley (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you’re tired of losing, put your trust in a new generation.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: People are tired of rhinos and globalists. This is the final battle.

STEPHANOPOULOS: With the race for 2024 heating up, Jon Karl speaks with Marianne Williamson. Rick Klein breaks down the state of play. Plus, analysis from our powerhouse roundtable.

And --


REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY: Equality for all people. Certainly there should be nothing partisan about that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: A century after the Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced, Rachel Scott reports on the latest effort on enshrine gender equality in the Constitution.


ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it’s THIS WEEK. Here now, George Stephanopoulos.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning, and welcome to THIS WEEK.

As we come on the air this morning, Ohio is dealing with another train derailment. Twenty cars of a Norfolk Southern train derailed late yesterday afternoon in Springfield. President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg had been in touch with Ohio’s governor. A shelter in place order has now been lifted. And officials say no hazardous spillage occurred.

But it comes amid a flurry of recent transit scares, growing anger in East Palestine about the handling of the last one’s toxic derailment, and multiple serious close calls that have raised questions about aviation safety.

Ohio's Senator Sherrod Brown is standing by, there he is right there, but transportation correspondent Gio Benitez starts us off.

Good morning, Gio.

GIO BENITEZ, ABC NEWS TRANSPORTATION CORRESPONDENT: George, the second derailment only adds to the growing problems facing Norfolk Southern, who’s CEO is set to testify later this week. He’s going to face Congress one month after the disaster in East Palestine which still has many residents calling for answers and demanding to be evacuated.


BENITEZ (voice over): More than a month after that train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, residents still infuriated with the response.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do I have to wait until I have cancer, or my kids are sick, or my grandkids are sick before you guys are going to do anything?

BENITEZ: And the incident still sending shockwaves through national politics. Just this week, Ohio Governor Republican Mike DeWine calling on President Biden to visit.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): Look, he should come. There's no doubt about it. The president needs to come.

BENITEZ: Biden responding.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will be out there at some point.

BENITEZ: This comes after furious Republican criticism of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for not visiting soon enough. Florida Senator Marco Rubio tweeting, Buttigieg needs to be fired.

PETE BUTTIGIEG, TRANSPORTATION SECRETARY: What I tried to do was balance two things, my desire to be involved and engaged, allowing NTSB to really lead. I'll do some thinking about whether I got that balance right.

BENITEZ: Democrats firing back, blaming congressional Republicans for interfering with regulations, saying they've allowed the train industry to largely regulate itself. Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of six senators, introducing new rail safety legislation requiring rail companies to notify state emergency response officials if they're transporting hazardous materials, increase inspections, raise fines for breaking rules and mandate a two-person crew.

It would also require that the wheels on trains carrying hazmat must be scanned for heat every 10 miles. The NTSB says an overheated wheel barring likely caused the derailment in East Palestine.

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown saying in a statement, it shouldn't take a massive railroad disaster for elected officials to put partisanship aside and work together.

And after that heated town hall in East Palestine --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But, you know what, Norfolk is a goliath, and we are no match.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are sorry. We're very sorry.

BENITEZ: Norfolk Southern’s CEO set to testify before a Senate committee next week. This coming in the midst of other transportation concerns, a series of close calls nationwide, prompting the FAA to launch an air safety review. Last week, Biden's nominee for the FAA, at his confirmation hearing, saying safety is his top priority.

PHILLIP WASHINGTON, FAA ADMINISTRATOR NOMINEE: We cannot think about doing things the old way. And so I think that a fresh perspective is needed.


BENITEZ: And the FAA now says it will hold a special safety summit on March 15th in Virginia with leaders from the aviation industry to figure out what is broken and how to fix it.

Meanwhile, the EPA has ordered Norfolk Southern to start testing the area in East Palestine for toxic dioxins. The company has started removing about 2,000 feet of railroad tracks to get rid of contaminated soil underneath, George.


Let's get more on this now from Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown.

Senator Brown, thanks for joining us this morning. Appreciate you coming in.

I want to start out, do you have any update on that derailment yesterday?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN, CHAIR, BANKING COMMITTEE & (D) OHIO: Yes. Last night I spoke to Congressman Kerry, Governor DeWine, the sheriff in Clark County. They're pretty satisfied with Norfolk Southern's response there. I'm not entirely satisfied because I want to know – there’s some -- there is – there are some sort of remnants of something that might have been in those cars. Those cars were mostly empty. But I want to know if there are any contaminants sort of left in those mostly empty cars that might have affected Clark County near the fairgrounds, all the way into Springfield. In this – this car -- this train was over 200 cars, which is 50 more cars that the East Palestine train. So, the railroad’s got a lot of questions they've got to answer and they really haven't done it very well yet, as you know.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about the situation in East Palestine.

We heard Gio say the EPA has now required Norfolk Southern to test for dioxins, but that was 27 days after the derailment. Are you satisfied with that timeline, and what’s the situation on the ground there now?

BROWN: Well, we -- people are still concerned. My couple trips in the last two weeks I've made to East Palestine. And the railroad's still not answering all the questions. They show me -- keep this in mind, this railroad -- this – the Norfolk Southern has done huge stock buy buybacks. Two years ago, $3 billion. This past year they were about to do another even bigger stock buyback. They backed off after the rail crash, after the derailment. But they’ve -- at the same time, a third of their workforce -- they've laid off a third of their workforce. So, it's clear that their greed and incompetence always takes precedent over making their workers safe, and making communities safe that they go through. And as the governor said, that these trains carrying hazardous material will come into Ohio and they don't have to notify the state that they're here. They don't have to notify local fire departments.

I’ve been to the fire station in East Palestine. They have one full-time chief and the rest are volunteers. They're not – volunteers, they’re not trained to deal with hazmat. So, the railroads continue to hold back information. The railroads continue to enrich their executives at the expense of public safety and public health and lay off workers and compromise on safety.

So, the fact -- Ohio's now had four derailments. As of yesterday, four derailments in the last five months. East Palestine was the most serious, but we still have questions or there -- about these other derailments too.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But how would the bipartisan legislation you introduced this week prevent disasters like this?

BROWN: Well, it does – it does a number of things. First of all, it requires notification you're coming into the state carrying hazardous material. You're going to notify the governor's office, who will then notify local communities. We know that wheel bearings have been the cause of most -- overheated wheel bearings. We’re not doing the inspections well. That will change. We want minimal crews. The railroads want to be able to drive 150, 200 cars through a community with one -- one engineer in that car, one person, one staff person, because they keep laying off people.

We want to increase the fines. The fines for safety have averaged about $10,000 over the last few years to Norfolk Southern, on CSX, in the other big railroads. That's just pennies on the dollar, a cost of doing business and it’s no incentive to make it safer. So, we will significantly up those – those fines.

And again, we want to see more inspections. These inspections, because they've laid off so many workers, they're really just cursory inspections on the rails, on the – on the coupling of the cars, on the locomotives. When you lay off a third of the workforce, you – you clearly are compromising the work that those workers do. And they simply can't keep up with the safety inspections. So, the bill I've introduced with Senator Vance, we have two other Republicans and two other Democrats. As you said in the outset of the show, that it shouldn't take a rail disaster to get us working together like that. And that's what we're going to be doing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the chair of the House committee that oversees transportation is signaling opposition and is calling it burdensome regulation.

Are you sure it's going to pass?

BROWN: I think our chances in the Senate are good. I make no predictions in the House. I can't believe -- I mean -- you know, keep in mind who has the influence in the House of Representatives.

The big railroads have weakened safety rules or resisted safety rules for years. I’m hopeful -- there are lobbyists who -- they've given a lot of money, I assume, to House Republicans that -- I don't know about that chairman in particular, but I am very concerned about the power of the railroads to beat back safety regulations.

But you’d think a disaster that happened in East Palestine would have gotten their attention. And I -- you know, East Palestine are Republican -- is mostly a Republican community, as the whole county is, but this shouldn't -- they -- they want this fixed. They don't care about partisan politics here.

They care that this corporation continues to weaken safety rules, continues to be immensely profitable while undermining public health, public safety for their workers and for the communities that they -- that they drive through with their 150, 200-railcar trains.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, Senator, you're bucking as a trend -- your trend as a Democrat holding statewide office in Ohio right now. You're up for re-election next year.

Are you concerned that President Biden in the state of Ohio might be a drag on you?

BROWN: I don't think a lot about that. I’ve spent much of the last three months before this train derailing doing roundtables in Findlay and Lima and Wilmington and Elyria and Ravenna, all over the state. Roundtables on the PACT Act, which is going to make a huge difference.

And one of the ways it's connected to this -- as you know, George, that the exposure to these football field-sized burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, tens and tens of thousands of Ohio veterans were exposed to these, and we actually -- we wrote a law that's taking effect where we list 23 illnesses and -- that could come about from this exposure.

So, if you’re a veteran and you’ve had exposure with those burn pits, you present with any of those 23 illnesses, you automatically get care at a VAC-backed (ph) or a big V.A. hospital.

I want to sort of pattern what we're doing in East Palestine. If people have developed, two, three, five years from now, bronchial illnesses or cancers, perhaps brought on by their breathing this air or drinking the water or exposure to the soil -- and we've got to keep testing -- but that Norfolk Southern is going to pay for that by taking care of their healthcare, whether it's two or five years or 10 years down the road, the way the government now that the V.A. is taking care of people with the PACT Act.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Brown, thanks very much for your time this morning.

BROWN: Sure, George. Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we're joined now by Republican Senator Dan Sullivan of Alaska.

Senator, thank you for coming on.

SEN. DAN SULLIVAN (R-AK): George, it's good to be on the program. Thanks.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want -- I want to start over this railway safety legislation --


STEPHANOPOULOS: -- that Senator Brown was talking about.

Do you think it’s something you can support?

SULLIVAN: You know, we're going to have hearings this week. And on the rail safety issues, I’m actually glad that Senator Brown and Senator Vance have put forward some good bipartisan legislation.

You know, the key issue from my perspective, not just on trains but certainly on aviation is -- I agree with Senator Brown, it shouldn't take a disaster to have good oversight legislation to make sure that we have a safe rail system, but really importantly that I’ve focused on, George, is a safe aviation system.

You've probably seen there's been several near misses. We’ve had three hearings already in the Commerce Committee just in the last six weeks on aviation safety, but we need to be proactive, not reactive with regard to these kinds of public safety transportation issues.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What is going on here? We cover this every day on "Good Morning America." We have -- it seems like we have a close call two or three times a week.

You had President Biden's nominee to head the FAA up before the Senate this week. That position has been vacant for nearly a year.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that hampering aviation safety efforts?

SULLIVAN: Oh, I think it absolutely it is. And, you know, they needed to get a nominee up.

The hearing was a tough hearing for him. You know, he’s somebody who served in the Army, you know, honorably, but doesn't have a lot of experience with regard to aviation safety. So we'll see what happens, but we need a qualified head of the FAA.

And again, we need to be on this in terms of safety now. Americans take for granted that their aviation safety, flying in America, is the safest place to do it in the world.

But from my perspective, these are huge warning signs that you're talking about, what we’ve been talking about. I think it's been six near-misses in the last two months. That's why we’ve had hearings on this. But we need --

STEPHANOPOULOS: What did you learn from the hearings? So why is this happening?

SULLIVAN: Well, one of the big things is they need much more aggressive focus on updating their technology and infrastructure. That’s come out in the hearings. And I think that’s something that we need to make sure – again, proactively. What we don’t want to have happen is some kind of airplane disaster and then Congress is then righting legislation to deal with it after. You know, good governance is about proactively getting in front of these issues before they happen, not waiting, as Senator Brown said.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You heard Senator Brown lay out a pretty tough bill of particulars against Norfolk Southern.


STEPHANOPOULOS: The CEO is going to be appearing this week and testifying. What do you want to hear from him?

SULLIVAN: Well, I want to hear some of the issues that Senator Brown raised, and in particular some of the issues that related to the laying off of workers. But it's going to be overall -- it's not just going to be him. It's going to be government officials as well on what is happening. As he said, there's a number of train derailments that happened across the country. Several. And we need get to the bottom of why these are happening.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I also want to ask you about the situation in Ukraine right now. You’ve been pretty vocal saying you believe that you -- we should be sending F-16s.


STEPHANOPOULOS: President Biden says it's not necessary.


STEPHANOPOULOS: His administration is saying it's going to take too long for them to get there.


STEPHANOPOULOS: What's your response to that?

SULLIVAN: Well, look, this is part of an unfortunate pattern by this administration with regard to weapons systems for Ukraine. If you look at it, every time there is a new weapons system that's been proposed, they oppose it. Think about it, HIMARS, stingers, tanks, patriots. Congress, in a bipartisan way –

STEPHANOPOULOS: They have sent those though.

SULLIVAN: Well, they've sent them only after being pressured by Congress. It took patriots nine months.

You know, on the F-16s, I hosted several Ukrainian pilots last summer in Washington, D.C. We were pressing for F-16s. I sent a letter to the secretary of defense, to General Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. It looked like it was moving forward well within the bureaucracy of the Pentagon. The president gets off a helicopter a couple of months ago, says no. And then last week the national security adviser says, well, we're not going to do F-16s for now. Well, that's exactly the wrong approach, George. For now. They need these weapon systems now. And this has been a pattern -- an unfortunate pattern by this administration, delaying critical weapons systems until we pressure them. They finally get them there, but it oftentimes takes way too late.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I asked Senator Brown about 2024. I want to ask you about that as well. President Trump appears to be the front-runner on the Republican right now, but he's also facing some serious criminal investigations on at least three fronts, Georgia, New York -- New York City, and, of course, the special counsel as well.

Here's what Donald Trump said about that yesterday.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you take this moment to assure your donors and your supporters that you're in this race to stay no matter what happens with those investigations?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: They've weaponized justice in our country. It's a disgrace. And I think people are very angry about it. At least –

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you'll stay in the race?

TRUMP: Oh, absolutely. I won't even think about leaving.


STEPHANOPOULOS: What's it going to mean for the Republican Party if Donald Trump insists on running even if indicted?

SULLIVAN: Well, look, that's a hypothetical, right? I mean, we'll see if that plays out.

I think what's happening, though, within the Republican Party right now, in terms of presidential candidates, is healthy, right? We don't -- we not only have President Trump, but we have a number of other, I think, very qualified candidates who are throwing their hat in the ring. I think you're going to see some others throwing their hat in the ring very soon. And I think having a good, competitive primary with a new generation of Republicans, by the way, is healthy for our party, it’s healthy for the country, and I plan on supporting the nominee who wins the Republican nomination.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you'll support Donald Trump if he's the nominee, even if he's indicted?

SULLIVAN: Well, look, that's a huge hypothetical right now on the indictment issue. We'll see if that plays out. But right now my plan is to report -- is to support who becomes the nominee.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, thanks for coming in this morning.

SULLIVAN: Thanks, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The roundtable’s coming up.

Plus, political director Rick Klein breaks down the early jockeying for 2024.

And Jon Karl brings us an interview with President Biden's first primary challenger.

Stay with us.



FORMER GOV. NIKKI HALEY, (R) GEORGIA: Our cause is right, but we have failed to win the confidence of a majority of Americans. That ends now.

FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: We can't become the left, following celebri-leaders with their own brand of identity politics, those with fragile egos who refuse to acknowledge reality.

FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD J. TRUMP: We will cross the finish line.


We will dismantle the deep state.


We will demolish woke tyranny. And we will make America great again.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Some scenes from the Conservative Political Action Conference. CPAC traditionally kicks off the GOP primaries, but this year most of Trump's possible challengers have chosen to stay off his own turf.

Political director Rick Klein is here with the breakdown.

And, Rick, so far on the Republican side lots of jockeying, not a lot of engagement?

RICK KLEIN, ABC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yeah, George, it's striking when you think about what happened just four years ago. This exact date four years ago, in 2019, there were already 13 Democrats lining up to take on former President Trump. Notably, Joe Biden was not among them. He didn't announce for another four or five weeks after this.

But this time around, for the Republicans, it is different. They do think that Biden is very vulnerable. But you aren't seeing that many candidates get into the race. So far only two declared major candidates, in Donald Trump and Nikki Haley.

We just heard this morning from former governor Larry Hogan of Maryland. He is not running. Now all eyes are going to be on some of these other candidates, the potential candidates. Some of them may get in later this spring.

Ron DeSantis, of course, is one we're going to keep a very close eye on. He did not go to that CPAC gathering. This was a very MAGA-friendly, Trump-friendly gathering. He is, though, going to be at the Reagan Library later today and in Iowa later this week. A lot of people will be looking to see what he does in the coming legislative session and whether he gets in to challenge Trump.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Rick, on the Democratic side, President Biden has his first challenger, Marianne Williamson, but she's a lot more of a message candidate than a serious contender?

KLEIN: Yeah, look, George, there's no reason to think realistically that she's going to be the Democratic nominee, but there are reasons to think that things could get interesting or that she could mix things up.

This is our poll from last month. Only 31 percent of Democrats said they wanted President Biden, the incumbent president, to be the nominee next time around, 58 percent saying it's someone else would be their choice. Whether it's Williamson or not is a -- is another question.

But the calendar could be interesting for Williamson or any other Democrat to potentially exploit. These are the states that kicked things off four years ago. Of course it's a familiar list for us. Democrats, though, are doing something different this time. They're adding a few states into the primary process. They're putting South Carolina first. They're adding Georgia and Michigan, two big, diverse states that -- that delivered for Joe Biden last time around in the primaries.

But here is the big wrinkle. New Hampshire, George, has a state law that says they have to be first in the primary process. And if they jump the line, as the state law would suggest they would, it might mean that New Hampshire gets penalized. They may not get -- even get convention delegates. But it could get a lot of attention.

Marianne Williamson's team tells us she's going to have about a dozen events in New Hampshire this week alone. And, George, four years ago in the New Hampshire primaries, Joe Biden came in fifth place.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Rick Klein, thanks very much.

And just before she announced, Marianne Williamson sat down with our chief Washington correspondent Jon Karl to talk about her long-shot challenge.



MARIANNE WILLIAMSON, AUTHOR & (D) 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to be president because this country needs to make an economic U-turn. And the system that effectuates and perpetuates that kind of income and opportunity inequality is not changing itself. It tweaks itself every once in awhile. There's some incremental change. But the devastation, the ubiquitous economic despair and human devastation that is produced by this sociopathic economic system is not changing. And it's not going to change if we continue to elect the same-old, same-old.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: You -- you have been called -- I think it was “The Associated Press” said you are the longest of long shots.

Why do you think you can do this?

WILLIAMSON: I would bet that “The Associated Press” also said that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in. I'm sure that they would --

KARL: I don't know if --

WILLIAMSON: -- have said --

KARL: -- they would've used that language, actually.


WILLIAMSON: Maybe not. But that system, you know exactly what I'm saying.

So the system that is now saying that I'm unserious, and I'm not credible, or I'm a long shot is the very system that protects and maintains this idea that only those whose careers have been entrenched within the system that drove us into a ditch should possibly be considered qualified to lead us out of that ditch.

My qualification is not that I know how to perpetuate that system. My qualification is that I know how to disrupt it. And that is what we need --


KARL: Disrupt it how?

WILLIAMSON: Oh, well, the first thing you can do is you can cancel all college loan debt. You can make sure --

KARL: Now Biden just tried that and then the courts --


KARL: -- stopped him.

WILLIAMSON: He -- he tried, yes. And some people think if he had just canceled the entire thing that -- and he had done it immediately, that would not have given his opponents the opportunity to wage the kind of battle against that that it has.

KARL: But there are rules of how you -- how you could accomplish things. And you do have to work through Congress. I mean, we don't have a dictator in this country.

WILLIAMSON: There are many things that the president can do without working through Congress.

I don't see myself as running against Joe Biden. I see this campaign as challenging a system. But this administration has given more oil --

KARL: But you do have to beat Biden to -- I mean --

WILLIAMSON: Well, yes, I do.

KARL: -- if you're going do this, you have to --

WILLIAMSON: Yes, I do. And I plan on pointing out, not with any kind of negativity on a personal level. I have -- I have no interest in taking potshots on any person, let alone to this president. He's a nice man.

KARL: Well -- well, let me ask you this, because you endorsed Bernie Sanders when you got out of the race.

WILLIAMSON: I sure did.

KARL: You called Elizabeth Warren -- I think you said she was a legend. I mean, you --

WILLIAMSON: She is. She -- I love those people.

KARL: Both of them have said that Biden deserves re-election.

WILLIAMSON: Well, that's their opinion. And this is the thing --

KARL: Are they wrong? So they're wrong?

WILLIAMSON: No, it's not about -- no. No, no, no. This is a democracy. This is not about what I think is wrong.

Obviously, I believe the American people should be offered an agenda for genuine, fundamental economic reform. And it should be the voters who decide. It should not be the DNC that decides. It should be the voters who decide. That is what a democracy is.

KARL: Do you expect that Biden will debate you?

WILLIAMSON: He certainly should debate me. It's called democracy. And I'm running as well.

KARL: And what about this notion of taking New Hampshire out of its -- out of its position as first? You're going to New Hampshire.

WILLIAMSON: I can tell you that New Hampshirites are not happy about that. The fact that the --

KARL: So will you be competing in the New Hampshire Primary?

WILLIAMSON: Absolutely, I will.

KARL: Even though the DNC has said --

WILLIAMSON: This is a democracy. This is the thing.

KARL: Yeah.

WILLIAMSON: The DNC should not be rigging this system. They don't even pretend anymore. They're not even covert about their -- their swaying the primary season. They're very overt about it. They're going to get --


KARL: So that's what's going on, is they're rigging the system for Biden.

WILLIAMSON: They even admit that, Jonathan.

KARL: Do you think Biden is too old to run for re-election?

WILLIAMSON: No. I -- I'm -- I'm not going there. I don't think ageism has any place in our -- in our thinking.

KARL: Will you endorse him if he wins the nomination?

WILLIAMSON: I will certainly endorse the candidate who I feel can beat the Republicans, absolutely.

KARL: So, but -- but if he's the Democratic nominee, will you endorse him?

WILLIAMSON: I -- I will -- I will do whatever I feel I can do as an American to make sure that the neo-fascist threat that is represented by some aspects of the Republican Party does not win in 2024.

KARL: In a blog post talking about possibly running for president recently --

WILLIAMSON: Yes, yeah.

KARL: -- you said: Change is inevitable in this country. We are either going to have a peaceful revolution or a violent one.

What do you mean by that?

WILLIAMSON: Excuse me, did you not cover January 6h?

KARL: Yes, oh, I did.

WILLIAMSON: What is happening in this country is that people who -- who are experienced vast amounts of economic fear, anxiety, when you have this much economic anxiety, and millions and millions of people experiencing that kind of desperation --

KARL: Do you think January 6th was about economic anxiety?

WILLIAMSON: No, I did not say that. But I do think that the election of President Trump the first time in many ways was, just as I feel that the support of Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump both said to the American people: I understand your rage. I understand you're upset with an obviously economically rigged system.

And that is what the Democrats need to offer in 2024. A president who isn't just saying, “Oh, it's going well,” to millions of people for whom nothing like that is true, but rather we understand that you are living at the effect of an unjust economic system. And we are going to change that.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks to Jon Karl for that.

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


STEPHANOPOULOS: Roundtable is ready to go.

We'll be right back.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we did nothing, nothing but implement what we’ve already passed, and let the people know who did it for them, we win, but we’re way beyond that. It’s not just about winning.

As much as we've done, we have a lot of unfinished business as well. To finish the job, it needs to be done.


STEPHANOPOULOS: President Biden making his case before House Democrats this week. We're going to talk about that on our roundtable.

We’re joined by Chris Christie, Donna Brazile, “New York Times” senior political correspondent Maggie Haberman, and “Washington Post” congressional reporter Marianna Sotomayor.

And, Marianna, let me begin with you. You covered that retreat. How did Biden do? Is he calming the concerns of Democrats, at least in the House? You have so many in the public who don't want him to run.

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR, WASHINGTON POST CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, in some ways he is. You are now hearing a lot of congressional Democrats actually want to support Biden. I think there was a little bit of hesitation. Definitely before the midterms, there were thoughts that if the midterms went really badly for Democrats, there would be much more emphasis to try and see if there were other options.

But right now when you talk to those congressional Democrats they say, who else could it be? And, you know, the interesting thing that Biden said in that clip is, you know, we, as Democrats, need to talk about selling this, these messages, the things that we were able to do. And if they know that we did it, then, you know, that could be a better victory for 2024.

And it's interesting, only because, you know, Biden's not getting a lot of credit for the legislative things that have passed and things that have become law. And I think Biden is trying to make sure that Democrats are there, and also because they're talking to the constituents all the time saying, oh, yes, Biden did this. It wasn't just us Democrats in Congress. Biden did this as well. He signed this into law.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He’s forestalled a major challenger so far, Donna Brazile. You’ve got Marianne Williamson out there. But you've still got these big concerns in the public about Joe Biden and his age.

DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER DNC CHAIR & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I think the president has tried to address that in many ways, by basically being present.

I just want to say something, and I – I was struck by this notion that the White House is now going out and recruit people -- high-profile Democrats to go out there and try to help the president and vice president deliver the message. I hope that works. But the best messenger is the president himself. He has to go out there. He has to show that he’s ready to finish the job. And if he's able to do that, this -- the president will be re-elected.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I – look, and I welcome it, because he won't be able to do it.

You know, I love this idea that, you know, he's talking to people about, you have to sell it. The White House sells it. President sells his accomplishments. And then the members of Congress follow along. They all read out of the same hymnal, but the hymnal has to be written by the president.

And I want to remind everybody, George, remember the 2020 campaign, it was not a campaign. Joe Biden did not go and do five, six stops a day on Air Force One, traveling all over the country. I --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Turned out to be a smart strategy, didn't it?

CHRISTIE: Well, of course it – and it – and it was one that was necessary. But my point to you is, four years later, he's not going to be able to do that. You know, thank god we won't have Covid to stop people from doing normal, hand to hand campaigning. And if he can't do that, or if he does try to do it, I think the results are going to be very, very problematic for Democrats up and down the ballot.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, NEW YORK TIMES SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It may or may not, but you are absolutely correct, and this is the White – and this is the concern from Democrats is that, including those congressional Democrats that he was reaching out to, which is that this has to come from the top down. That it is very unusual – it’s not unusual to recruit people to spread your message. It is unusual to say this is your responsibility is to credit me for all of this work that we do together.

This is going to be a challenge. And I do think that the governor is correct, that they benefitted enormously, and I think it gets lost in hindsight, from the way that they were able to campaign in 2020. It’s not an option that’s on the table. And they were at minimum phasing Donald Trump, who, while his not doing very much, let's say he's the nominee, he still is more active than Biden historically, or they're facing a much younger nominee, and that is something that Democrats are very worried about.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But so far it’s deja vu all over again, Donna Brazile. Joe Biden and Donald Trump.

BRAZILE: Well, so far that's – that’s the story.

But let me just say something in defense of the president and his traveling. I mean, leading up to Covid, Joe Biden was out there. He was out there connecting with voters. He was out there in all of the early states. And he was out there with a very vigorous campaign. And Rick pointed out, we had – he had numerous competitors.

Today, for example, he's down in Selma, Alabama, to observe the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday. So, I don't think this is an issue of Joe Biden being in the house or outside the house or campaigning across the country. It's really an issue of, can he connect with those voters and the coalition that he pulled together in 2020 in order to win over 306 electoral votes?

HABERMAN: And there – there’s a piece we didn’t mention, though, which is, that there is concern. He is clearly running for re-election just based on the policy moves he’s making. And anybody who is doubting that at this point, I don't know what they're looking at.

He is facing some backlash from progressives in his own party. And it is not just on messaging. It's on policy. It's on immigration policy. It's on this issue with the DC crime focus. He is being praised for immigration by Jim Jordan and on the DC matter by Tom Cotton, neither of whom are moderate Republicans. That's not helpful to him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The DC crime bill came up this week, Marianna, and the president was pretty clear that he wasn't going to -- that he wasn't going to buck that legislation, that he was -- that he was more concerned about crime than DC statehood.

SOTOMAYOR: Yeah, and to your point about reading out of the same hymnal, that is very hard. And that is a key example. I mean, on Wednesday, again, Biden trying to tell House Democrats, "We can do this together," only to go in the next day and tell senators, "Oh, I'm actually going to go and allow this vote to happen; I'm not going to veto it."

And he did not say that to House Democrats. And that has caused a lot of anxiety, a lot of mistrust to the White House and Biden himself. Because, at the time of that vote, he said, "You know what, D.C. should be able to make their own decisions; I'm not getting involved in this" -- only to go back and now say, you know, kind of, really try and counter those Republicans attacks on Democrats that are soft on crime.


CHRISTIE: Let me bring -- let me bring some reality into this, by the way...

BRAZILE: All right.


CHRISTIE: ... off what my friend Brazile said.


COVID started in early March of 2020. We shut down on March 12th of 2020. I don't know what vigorous campaign you were looking at, but by that time, he had come in fifth in New Hampshire. He had come in fourth or fifth in Iowa. And then he had come back and won South Carolina and was engaging in Super Tuesday. And then campaigning stopped. There was no vigorous campaign from March of '20 forward. He was in his basement in Wilmington, and doing a couple of rallies in front of people in their cars blowing horns.

I mean, give me a break. We know what that campaign was. I'm not saying he could have done anything differently. He couldn't have. And he chose not to, also, strategically. And it turned out, as you said, George, to be smart. But it's four years later. Let's not just even say the 2020 Joe Biden. The 2024 Joe Biden, at 82 years old -- is he going to make five or six stops a day?

Is going to do the kind of campaigning you know happens at the end, where you start on the East Coast and you go -- and you just chase the sun all the way to the West Coast? And at every one of those stops, how articulate is he going to be? How forceful is he going to be? How strong is he going to be?

BRAZILE: Well, I mean, don't -- don't...

CHRISTIE: Those are all -- those are all valid questions for any person who's 82 years old, let alone somebody who's had Joe Biden's history of gaffes.

BRAZILE: Look, don't underestimate Joe Biden. That's all I'm going to say. And when it comes to Joe Biden putting together his operation, his team and his strategy to win, I have -- I have every confidence that the president will do it.

I want to say something about home rule -- huge mistake, huge mistake by the president...


BRAZILE: Absolutely. And let me tell you why. I sat down -- because Chris Christie told me about this a couple of months ago. The D.C. code is old. It was written in 1901. There -- in some areas, there are no penalties for sexual assault. There's only three months when you beat up a police officer. So while I understand that some Republicans want to show they're tough on crime by beating up on the District of Columbia, we deserve statehood. We deserve to -- to get it right.

And this was a process that took 16 years. It was evaluated by criminal justice experts. It was evaluated by the D.C. Council and the D.C. residents. And all of a sudden, Marjorie Taylor Greene and a few others have decided that this is the issue where they want to pick on the District of Columbia. There's a reason why he didn't open his mouth and say something in that House Caucus. And that is because my congresswoman -- and, yes, she's a little bit in her 80s, too, she would have stood up and said, "Hell, no." This is about state rule. This is about the D.C. Council. The mayor vetoed it. Let the mayor and the council work this out. The president should not be engaged in D.C. affairs.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But could he afford to have the crime issue front and center, all through the 2024 campaign?

BRAZILE: It should be front and center. Because, you know what, we have a crime wave. And it's not just in blue states; it's in red states, red cities, blue cities. It's a wave that we should stop.

When I read the -- the CDC report the other day about one-third of teenage girls have considered suicide, we need to have a conversation about mental health, about crime, and look at the holistic approach, not just pick on one city.

CHRISTIE: I agree with that, by the way. And the -- and the crime issue is going to be front and center in this campaign. Because, if you travel around the country, if anyone saw the interview with the FBI director this week, but he said that crime is through the roof across the country, and that he's dealing with state and local law enforcement officials who are throwing their hands up at how bad things are right now in every section of this country.

So this is not something that's going to be able to be handled just by passing the D.C. crime bill, like, do I think he should -- he should do what he's doing? I do. But the point is it's not going to take the issue off the table. I understand what you're saying that it would make it even worse...

HABERMAN: It doesn't make it worse. That's the point.

CHRISTIE: But it doesn't get rid of the issue for him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that -- I think that's totally fair. We've talked a lot about Joe Biden. Let's talk about the man you've covered for the last several decades...


HABERMAN: How old do you think I am?


STEPHANOPOULOS: Older than you...

HABERMAN: I feel older than I was.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, again, you hinted at this in your first answer. And I can't figure this out. He's clearly the front-runner, clearly popular at CPAC. That's his home turf, as I said earlier. But is he running a real campaign?

HABERMAN: He has serious people running this campaign. There is a difference in terms of how it is put together from 2016 to now. But you are correct that we have seen somebody who got attention in 2015 because he was doing all of these rallies and he seemed very in-your-face and everywhere. And some of that, George, was because of how omnipresent he was in media. But he's -- and he's not now. He's not on Fox very much, although they did carry his speech live yesterday.

But yesterday was only his fourth real event. And that is a huge contrast. I suspect part of it, why we're not seeing big rallies, is, A, his age. I mean, we talk a lot about Biden's age. Donald Trump is not young, number one.

Number two, I don't think they have the money that they once had on that campaign. Those rallies are incredibly expensive. And so I think they are trying to chase news cycles. They've done that somewhat effectively.

I want to hit on something from yesterday, to your point on real campaign. Yesterday he said that he would not -- and you played this earlier in the show -- he would not drop out if he is indicted, which is a very real possibility in two different states and by the federal officials. That gets us into very uncharted territory -- not normally. We've seen people who are under investigation before, but not this scenario, and not with the backdrop of the January 6th riot.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How many times does that word "normal" come up when you're talking about...


... Donald Trump?

HABERMAN: But I think that this was -- I think you combine him saying that with some of what he talked about in his speech yesterday, and I think people really need to watch for how he is going to potentially incorporate an indictment in...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, and, Chris, he seems to think, at least he says and his people say, that he'll be able to use an indictment as a sign that he's being persecuted. Is that realistic?

CHRISTIE: Well, what the hell else is he going to say?


I mean, you know, George, like, if you get indicted, you know, you've got to -- you've got to say that, or else it's a death knell, right?


So that's what he's going to say. But, look, you saw the scenes at CPAC. That room was half-full.


CHRISTIE: OK? Let's not pretend that CPAC is CPAC anymore. It's TPAC. OK? It's Trump PAC. It's not CPAC any longer. And only the most desperate people showed up at CPAC to even speak, other than Trump or people within Trump's orbit.

The -- the fact of what's going on here is the reason I think the rallies are not going on, Maggie, is not just because of the money, although I think that's a factor. I don't think the rallies would be nearly as big as they were before.

HABERMAN: That -- that is absolutely true. And it was true last year. That's true.

CHRISTIE: What got him upset on January 6th?

HABERMAN: The crowd size.

CHRISTIE: The crowd size.


What got him upset on January 20, 2017? The crowd size. He measures that as an example of his own power and his own authority, and I don't think he has it anymore.

Look, he is the front-runner, there's no doubt. He's essentially an incumbent president running for renomination, not re-election, but renomination. And so of course he's the front-runner right now and ahead in the polls, but there are lots of indicator here that he's not what he used to be in most respects you're talking about. And so we're going to see how that plays out.

Now, Donna's gonna get up and try to, you know, resuscitate him right now...



CHRISTIE: Because her lifelong dream is she knows the only Republican Joe Biden can beat is Donald Trump, so go ahead.

BRAZILE: Well...

CHRISTIE: Go ahead. I'll stop now.


STEPHANOPOULOS: You have 30 seconds to -- you have 30 seconds to...


STEPHANOPOULOS: ... it down.

BRAZILE: This was classic Trump, one hour and 45 minutes. And the best line was, "In 2016, I said I was your voice. I am your warrior." This was classic Trump.

HABERMAN: "I'm your retribution." That was the second half of that sentence.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, I mean, come on. All he wants to do is hurt the people who he thinks screwed him in 2020. I don't think that's a forward-looking message about truth for the American people.

BRAZILE: Well, for now he's going after RINOs, and that's OK with me.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that is the last word for right now.

Up ahead, ahead of National Women's Day, Rachel Scott reports on a new effort to revive the Equal Rights Amendment. Stay with us.



GLORIA STEINEM, FEMINIST ACTIVIST: We are on the birth of a new period of humanism, and together, we just might make it.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): Congress should do all that it can to ensure that the ERA is finally made part of the Constitution. I think it's long overdue.


STEPHANOPOULOS: It has been 100 years since the Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced, 50 years since Congress passed it, but not enough states ratified it before the deadline.

Senior congressional correspondent Rachel Scott reports on the new effort to put gender equality in the Constitution.


RACHEL SCOTT, ABC NEWS SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A century since the Equal Rights Amendment was first introduced, women are still demanding to be equal under the law.


SCOTT: Fifty years ago, it passed in Congress after a bipartisan push from leading female legislators like Shirley Chisholm.

SHIRLEY CHISHOLM (D), FORMER NEW YORK CONGRESSWOMAN: If the woman's movement is to be successful, you must recognize the broad variety of women they are, and the depth and range of their interests and their concerns.

SCOTT: But it was never ratified. Determined resistance from conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly stopped the movement in its tracks, just three states short of the 38 needed to become official.

PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY, CONSERVATIVE ACTIVIST: I have every confidence that we will continue to defeat ERA because the majority of women simply don't want it.

SCOTT: The ERA remained frozen for years. Brought back to life amid the #metoo movement, a record number of women running and winning seats in Congress and fears after the Supreme Court's landmark decision to overturn Roe versus Wade.


SCOTT: In 2020, Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA, following Nevada and Illinois.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For the women of Virginia and the women of America, the resolution has finally passed.


SCOTT: Now a new push is under way to secure equal protection for women under the law.

REP. CORI BUSH (D-MO): Each week that goes by without the ERA is a week where we allow, we, Congress, we allow injustice and inequity to thrive.

SCOTT: Are you surprised that we are still having this conversation in 2023?

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY (D-MA): States have met the threshold of ratification. The only thing standing in our way is the arbitrary deadline set by Congress in 1972.

SCOTT: The Senate this week holding the first major hearing on the ERA in decades.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Here we are, a century after its first introduction, 2023. It's time to get the job done. In fact, it's long overdue.

SCOTT: The language of the proposed amendment is simple, stating: equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Supporters say the consequences would be far-reaching.

ZAKIYA THOMAS, PRESIDENT & CEO, ERA COALITION: The Equal Rights Amendment in and of itself is a principle and a promise of equality. It means a stronger economy. It means more of us have protection against discrimination.

SCOTT: It’s a fight being closely watched by paramedic Jadonna Sanders, who is filing a federal lawsuit against Washington, D.C., EMS, alleging gender discrimination and demanding equal pay.

JADONNA SANDERS, DC FEMS SERGEANT PARAMEDIC: This is the same story everywhere you go, especially with women who are in a profession such as firefighting, police, you know, where men dominate.

SCOTT: The wage gap, a long held rallying cry for women’s rights.

STEINEM: We come here as women who earn 58 cents for every dollar earned by men.

SCOTT: And just one of several areas advocates says the ERA would shore up.

THOMAS: Imagine a world in which men and women could be paid the same for the same work.

SCOTT: The battle still break down along usual party lines.

SEN CINDY HYDE-SMITH, (R) MISSISSIPPI: Congress has no power to go pack in time and resurrect an expired constitutional amendment like the era.

SEN LINDSEY GRAHAM, RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: People who are pushing politically to pass this are hanging their hat on, if it became law, every pro-life measure in this country would fall.

SCOTT: Senator Lisa Murkowski is one of the only Republicans on board, hoping this latest push builds momentum.

SEN LISA MURKOWSKI, (R) ALASKA: What has happened in this state should not die here in the Senate.

We still have a long ways to go when it comes to achieving equality for women.

SCOTT: Should this be a partisan issue?

REP AYANNA PRESSLEY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: Equality for all people? Certainly there should not be nothing partisan about that.

SCOTT: In the House, where Republicans refuse to take up the bill, Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley hopes to keep the fight alive.

PRESSLEY: You know, I'm dismayed that in 2023 that we still have to – to fight to be seen as full citizens given the contributions of women as defenders of our democracy and all the contributions that we make to civic life, to culture, to our economy. And so it's – it’s long past time.

SCOTT: For THIS WEE, Rachel Scott, ABC News, Washington.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Thanks to Rachel for that.

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."