'This Week' Transcript 6-25-23: Secretary Antony Blinken, Former Gov. Chris Christie and Former GOP Congressman Will Hurd

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

ByABC News
June 25, 2023, 9:07 AM

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


JONATHAN KARL, ABC "THIS WEEK" ANCHOR: Russia in crisis. A notorious Russian mercenary turns his forces around after marching toward Moscow.

REP. RUBEN GALLEGO (D-AZ): This clearly shows that Putin is weak.

REP. ELISSA SLOTKIN (D-MI): It was stunning to see violence on Russian soil.

KARL: An extraordinary power struggle and a pivotal moment for the war in Ukraine.

This morning, we're live on the Russian border with Ian Pannell, Martha Raddatz helps us break it all down, and we'll talk to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Crowded field.

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am going to be the alternative to Donald Trump.

WILL HURD (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Too many of these candidates are afraid of Donald Trump.

KARL: Another anti-Trump candidate jumps in the 2024 Republican primary. But can any of them knock out the front-runner? GOP contenders Chris Christie and Will Hurd join us live.

And abortion battle.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When women's rights are under attack.

CROWD: Stand up! Fight back!

KARL: One year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the fight for reproductive rights ramps up across America.

KAMALA HARRIS (D), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How dare they attack our fundamental rights.

MIKE PENCE (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The cause of life is the calling of our time.

KARL: All the fallout with our powerhouse roundtable.


ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it’s "This Week". Here now, Jonathan Karl.

KARL: Good morning and welcome to "This Week".

As we come on the air this morning, confusion and unease in Russia, and around the world, after a brazen challenge to Vladimir Putin and a betrayal from one of his closest and most ruthless allies. President Biden is at Camp David this morning with his national security adviser. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff has canceled a trip to the Middle East. And the secretary of state has had urgent consultations over the weekend with our allies in Europe and Asia.

It began Friday when mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin publicly revolted against Russia’s military leadership and ordered the Wagner group, his notorious private army that’s been fighting in Ukraine, to march on Moscow. Prigozhin appeared to quickly take control of at least one major city and an important military command center on the road to the Russian capital.

Putin accused Prigozhin of catering business magnate often called Putin chef of treason and he ordered the Russian military to crush the revolt, raising the specter of a civil war breaking out on the streets of Moscow.

Hours later, it all seemed to be over. Prigozhin ordered his troops to stand down. And after Putin called Prigozhin a traitor, the Kremlin said charges were dropped, and the mercenary leader would relocate to Belarus.

This morning, Vladimir Putin remains in control of Russia, and the rebel who challenged him remains a free man.

Whether that uneasy truce holds is unknown, but this much is certain, Putin’s iron grip on Russia is now in doubt.

What does it all mean for the war in Ukraine, for the Russian people, and for the world?

Martha Raddatz is standing by, and we'll get the latest from the secretary of state in a moment.

But we begin with ABC’s chief foreign correspondent Ian Pannell, near the Russian border in Ukraine.

Good morning, Ian.


What an extraordinary series of events, totally unthinkable just two days ago when Putin looked unassailable. But then Yevgeny Prigozhin, a longtime Putin ally, dispatched his armed mercenaries from the Wagner private military company around the world, fighting and securing business interests for Russia. Most recently, instrumental in some of the fighting in Ukraine. But Prigozhin’s relationship with Russia’s senior military leadership soured to the point when he suddenly declared an armed revolt late on Friday. He marched his troops back across the border into Russia, taking over Rostov-on-Don with apparent ease. His men securing defense and intelligence buildings, as well as an airport in the city.

Rostov-on-Don is a key military hub. And then after seizing control, he ordered his tanks and military vehicles north towards Moscow. A major oil depot exploding on the outskirts of Voronezh as Wagner troops advanced. Videos also showing military helicopters being fired on by Wagner forces as a long column of Chechen forces moved in to try and side with Vladimir Putin and clashed with Wagner.

An angry Vladimir Putin addressing the nation saying he’d been stabbed in the back, warning of civil war. And then, almost as suddenly as it began, Prigozhin announcing a halt, saying he wanted to avoid bloodshed and ordering his troops to withdrawal to base. With Wagner troops then being hugged and cheered by local residents as they finally pulled back. Extraordinary.


KARL: And what do we know about the deal that was made between Putin and Prigozhin. I mean is Vladimir Putin, after calling him a traitor, really going to let Prigozhin get away with his life?

PANNELL: Yes, I mean, it’s a very good question. There’s a telephone conversation you would have been – like to have been a part of. And we don't know the precise details other than Russian claims that the president of neighboring Belarus brokered a deal allowing Prigozhin to go to Minsk and, as you say, granting amnesty for him and his men. I mean it remains to be seen how much value can be placed on those guarantees given Russia’s and Putin's track record of eliminating critics and dissidents.

But I suspect we haven't heard the last of Prigozhin. I mean Putin certainly appears humiliated and weakened. And, frankly, after years of looking invincible, there are now serious questions about how long he can stay in power, indeed how much power he actually conditions to wield.

KARL: And what does it mean on the ground in Ukraine? I mean is your sense from – from the Ukrainian officials you're talking to that they can take advantage of this?

PANNELL: I mean they certainly thought so. I mean had this gone on longer, it certainly would have benefited the Ukrainians more. I spoke to President Zelenskyy’s senior adviser. This was before the climb down (ph), while the crisis was really at its peak, and what he told was that there were discussions within the inner circle inside Kyiv about how to press the ongoing counteroffensive even harder while there was this disarray and discord within the Russian military.

So, if the Russians were able to regroup, even without the help of those Wagner troops that had been so instrumental, then expect they’re going to still be very slow. But interestingly, the Ukrainians have been predicting that the war in Ukraine would spill over into Russia for some time. And in the words of the adviser, Mikhail Opelika (ph), this could well be the beginning of the end of the war.


KARL: Ian Pannell, in Ukraine, thank you.

Joining us now, Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here.

You’ve been briefed this morning. What can you tell us about the – the very latest on the situation on the ground in Russia?

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Jon, look, it – it’s still a moving picture and I doubt we’ve seen the last act. And I also don’t want to speculate because it is something that continues to move.

But I think we can say this much. First, we’ve seen some very serious cracks emerge. You have Prigozhin publicly questioning the very premise for this Russian aggression against Ukraine in the first place. The notion that somehow Ukraine or NATO presented a threat to – to Russia. You have someone challenging Putin's leadership very publicly and very open – and very openly.

And, of course, if you put this in context, 16 months ago Putin was on the doorstep of Kyiv in Ukraine looking to take the city in a matter of days, erase the country from the map. Now, he’s had to defend Moscow, Russia’s capital, against a mercenary of his own making.

So, I think this is clearly – we see cracks emerging. Where they go, if – if anywhere, when they get there, very hard to say. I don’t want to speculate on it. But I don’t think we’ve seen the final act.

KARL: So, it sounds like you’re saying this is not over. I mean it – it seems hard to believe that Putin, who is known for executing his critics, would – would allow Prigozhin to move away as a free man, amnesty. I mean what – what are you – is the rebellion really over?

BLINKEN: So much that is beneath the surface has – has now surfaced, again, in terms of questioning the very premises for the – for the war in terms of questioning the conduct of the war, in terms of questioning what good this has actually done for Russia. And, of course, it’s been exactly the opposite. This has been a devastating, strategic failure for Putin across virtually every front, economic, military, geopolitical standing. And, fundamentally, what it’s done or not done for the Russian people.

Having said that, Putin, of course, has put in place a state that’s designed around him with control of the media, control of the information space.

So, again, I don’t think it’s right for us to speculate on where this may go.

We’re intensely focused on Ukraine, which we’ve been all along, and that is making sure they have what they need to defend the country and to take back territory that’s been seized from them by Russia over the last 16 months. That’s where our focus is.

KARL: Have you spoken to your Russian counterpart? Have you spoken to Lavrov?

BLINKEN: I have not, but others in the administration have – have spoken to Russian counterparts, primarily because we want to make sure that Russia understands its obligation to look out for the well-being of American citizens and – and our personnel who are in Russia. They have obligations to do that. We wanted to make sure that those were front and center as this is all unfolding.

KARL: Has the president tried to reach out to Putin?

BLINKEN: He has not.

KARL: And what surprised you -- what surprised the administration more, the rebellion itself or how quickly it seemed to end?

BLINKEN: Look, on one level, I don’t think this is a surprise. I think everyone has seen the rising tensions over many months from Prigozhin, who has very publicly criticized, questioned, raised issues in ways that I think were -- were very striking. So, you could see this -- these -- this tension mounting, mounting, mounting.

And, again, Jon, I don’t want to speculate about where this -- where this may go. I -- there still may be other chapters. Our focus has to be and remains resolutely on Ukraine.

The president, yesterday, got immediately -- not only brought his national security cabinet together, but brought together the leaders of our key allies and partners. There is absolute unity, both of purpose and in action, in terms of supporting Ukraine, making sure they have what they need to defend themselves. And that’s where our focus is. That’s where the president’s focus has been.

KARL: And is this on balance? Does it look like a positive development for the world, for Ukraine because it shows chaos and weakness in Moscow? Are you concerned about the real dangers of instability in Russia?

BLINKEN: Well, it can be -- it can be both at once. To the extent that the Russians are distracted and divided, it may make their prosecution of the aggression against Ukraine more difficult. On the other hand, of course, when you have instability of any kind in a major country like Russia, a major power, that is -- that is cause for concern. So it’s something that we’re watching very, very carefully.

KARL: And Prigozhin’s forces were among the most brutally effective in Ukraine. What happens to them now? I mean, are they -- are they moving out with him? Are they being re-in -- kind of taken in by the Russian military? What happens?

BLINKEN: The short answer is, we don’t know, which is why, again, speculating on what comes next is probably not the smartest thing to do. There are lots of unanswered questions, including the questions of what happens to Prigozhin’s forces. Do they remain in Ukraine? I mean, we saw the extraordinary image of these forces coming out of Ukraine and going into Russia just yesterday.

KARL: Yes.

BLINKEN: So we simply don’t know.

But, again, that doesn’t change our focus and our focus remains on Ukraine and making sure that it can defend itself effectively against this ongoing Russian aggression. That’s where the focus is.

KARL: And will Ukraine be able to take advantage of that -- of that instability, of that uncertainty?

BLINKEN: Well --

KARL: I mean, this is the -- the offensive is -- the counteroffensive is underway --

BLINKEN: The counteroffensive --

KARL: And it’s been going slowly by -- according to some --

BLINKEN: Well, these are early -- these are early days for the counteroffensive.

KARL: Yeah.

BLINKEN: And there’s been a lot of focus on making sure that the Ukrainians have what they need to be as successful as possible on the ground. And we’ll see how that unfolds over the coming -- over the coming weeks and even coming months.

But, again, to the extent this presents a distraction, a loss of focus for the Russians, that may help the Ukrainians on the battlefield. We have to remain, and we are. And this is not just the United States. This is dozens of countries around the world who have been supporting Ukraine.

The president brought together again just yesterday, make sure that we maintain the unity that we’ve had that’s been extremely successful in supporting the Ukrainians.

KARL: Do you have any sense of what Prigozhin was offered to, to turn around? I mean, he was, by some accounts, about 125 miles from Moscow. What did he get in return for this besides amnesty?

BLINKEN: I don’t know. And I'm not sure, we’ll -- we’ll fully know. Or it may be something that unfolds in the coming -- in the coming days and weeks. We simply don’t have a clear picture of that.

And this really is fundamentally an internal matter for the Russians. We’re seeing it -- we’re seeing it unfold. Again, we saw the rising tensions over a couple -- over several months that led to this. But exactly where this goes, we don’t know.

But what we do know is that we’ve seen real cracks emerge -- again, a direct challenge to Putin's authority, surfacing very publicly. The notion that this war, this aggression by Russia, was being pursued under false pretenses. The notion that Ukraine or NATO somehow presented a threat to Russia that it had to deal with militarily, that’s now much more out in the open than it’s -- than it’s been. What that leads to, again, we just don’t know at this point.

KARL: Yeah, how do you explain that? Prigozhin was the one that was pushing aggressively for a harder-line in Ukraine to take -- you know, he wanted more resources. He was responsible, again, for some of the -- the few victories the Russians have had there. And now he sounds like an anti-war -- he’s a critic of the war itself, like you said, questioning the very basis for the war.

BLINKEN: Look, I can’t put myself in Prigozhin’s head, which is probably a good thing.

KARL: Yes, probably.

BLINKEN: I mean, keep in mind, just like Putin, he’s been responsible for horrible brutality in Ukraine against innocent Ukrainian civilians. In country after country in Africa, where Wagner is present, and wherever its present, death and destruction and exploitation follows. So, I can’t put myself in – in his head. And he is, in many ways, a creation of Putin, and a creation of Putin that was useful to Putin in Ukraine because Wagner was throwing more and more people into a meat grinder, that Putin made himself, and that was useful because the regular Russian forces weren’t able to do the same thing.

So, again, where this – what has actually caused this apparent split and where it goes from here, we can’t speculate. Our focus is and will remain on Ukraine itself and making sure we’re helping the Ukrainians.

BLINKEN: And finally, Mr. Secretary, what – what does it say about Putin's hold on power. Do you – I mean he seemed to have an iron grip over Russia just a week ago. What – what – what do you think now?

BLINKEN: It raises lots of questions that we don’t have answers to. As I said before, I think you see – you see cracks of different kinds that have emerged.

These are, in a sense, different in that it’s in – it’s internal. When you’re being challenged from within, as Putin has been over the last few days, that also raises profound questions. But we’ve seen, I think lots of different cracks that have emerged in the conduct of this – of this aggression because everything Putin has tried to accomplish, the opposite has happened. Russia is weaker economically. Its weaker military. Its standing in the world has plummeted. It's managed to strengthen and unite NATO. It’s managed to alienate and unite Ukrainians. It’s managed to get Europe off of dependence on Russian energy. In – in – in piece after piece, issue after issue, what Putin has tried to prevent he’s managed to precipitate. And Russia’s standing is vastly diminished as a result.

Now, add it – add to that internal dissention. Again, we can’t speculate on – on where this goes. We – we have to remain, and we are focused on Ukraine, but it certainly raises new questions that he’s going to have to address.

KARL: Secretary Blinken, thank you very much for your time this morning.

BLINKEN: Thanks, Jon.

KARL: There's nobody better to talk to about all of this than our own Martha Raddatz.

So, Martha, you heard the secretary of state say that he doesn’t think we've seen the final act in this drama. What are you hearing from your sources? Is it really over?

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS HOST: I think it's impossible that it is over, that it is completely over. The United States was prepared and saw that Prigozhin was making a move towards Russia, something with his military, but it remains a complete mystery, and you heard Tony Blinken say the same thing, about why he turned around, what comes next.

I was told by a U.S. official that Prigozhin was very emotional about this. They don't really know why he turned around. There's some kind of deal. They don't know exactly what is in that deal or whether he even believes it, but they think possibly he turned around because he thought he might destroy Russia. It's catching the car, that if he went into Moscow, then what happens, or he was concerned about his own fate.

KARL: And this was an intense 24 hours. I mean he took over Rostov-on-Don, marches north, gets within like 125 miles or so of Moscow, an intense period for U.S. officials watching this.

RADDATZ: Very intense, Jon. The White House was very tense. They were watching every move. They did not know what would happen next, which is clear from what Tony Blinken also said. But they were also concerned about whether Russia would go on a higher alert for its nuclear weapons. That's something they were watching very closely and determined very quickly that was not a problem.

KARL: And what does it mean for Putin?

RADDATZ: Look, Putin never forgets. This – this isn't some opposition leader. These aren't protesters in the streets. This is someone who his – who was his ally, who was his friend for decades, and now he turned against him. Putin will not forget. Prigozhin better look out.

KARL: All right, Martha, thank you very much.

RADDATZ: You bet.

KARL: The roundtable’s coming up.

Also, Chris Christie taking the fight to Donald Trump like no other Republican candidate. And he's getting booed along the way. He joins us next.



CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & (R) FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: That is not leadership, everybody. That is a failure of leadership. And I...


You can boo all you want. But here's the thing.


Our faith teaches us that people have to take responsibility for what they do. People have to stand up...


... and take accountability for what they do.


KARL: That's Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie bluntly criticizing Donald Trump before a skeptical crowd of social conservatives at the Faith and Freedom Conference in Washington. The former New Jersey governor and former ABC News contributor joins us now.

Governor Christie, I want to get to that in a minute. But first, you heard Secretary Blinken talking about the situation in Moscow. There's a lot that the United States just doesn't know about what is going down. How would a President Christie be handling this situation?

CHRISTIE: Well, here's what we do know, Jon. What we do know is that America's support, along with our allies in NATO, of Ukraine, has done a great deal to cause what we're seeing right now in Russia, Putin's misadventure. And all of the missteps that happened by the Biden administration, the Trump administration and the Obama administration on this issue have led to this moment.

And I think you have to watch this very carefully, but we have to continue to support Ukraine. We have to give them the weapons they need to fight their battle against the Russians and to repel them. And I think that what this may do, Jon, is move us closer to a resolution of this battle because of Putin's weakness that's obvious now inside his own country, I think in large part because of the way he has prosecuted this war.

KARL: As you know, there are increasingly loud voices within the Republican Party calling for the United States to stop aiding Ukraine. What's your message -- including some of your opponents. What's your message to them in light of all of this?

CHRISTIE: That America has never been a great country and the leader of the world by filling in the moat and pulling up the drawbridge. You know, we need to make sure that we're engaged. Because, believe me, this is the first fight in the proxy war with China. China is funding this war for Russia by buying Russian oil. And they are saying very clearly that there is no limit to the partnership between Russia and China.

We need to make sure that we continue to engage in this way. We do not want a world that is dominated by Communist China. And so this is a fight that America needs to have. It always involves sacrifice. But in the end, at the end of this sacrifice, I am absolutely a believer in the fact that America will be bigger, stronger, richer and more influential in the world because we stood by our principles and stood by our friends.

KARL: All right, we heard the reaction to your speech at the Faith and Freedom Conference. I assume you well knew you were going to get booed when you started slamming Donald Trump's leadership. I did hear some applause in the crowd as well. But the boos were loud.

What's your sense? Is the anti-Trump message -- is there any evidence that it's resonating?

CHRISTIE: Absolutely evidence it's resonating, Jonathan. I’ve been in the race for less than three weeks and have already in third place in New Hampshire, only four points behind Ron DeSantis, who’s been in the race for a longer time and is supposed to be the co-front-runner.

Look, people understand that folks need to take responsibility for what they do. And my message to the folks at Faith and Freedom, which did get some good reaction, too, but, of course, I expected the boos. That is predominantly a Trump crowd.

But they need to hear the truth, too, that, you know, character is the single most important element of a president of the United States, because you can't know every -- every issue that's going to come across the president's desk. It's not a litmus test with check boxes in them. What you need to know is, what is the character of that person?

And, frankly, when I listened to Donald Trump's speech last night -- I mean, he had the audacity to say that he got indicted for us. Now, I don't know how it benefited the American people for him to take highly sensitive intelligence and secret documents out of the White House, to stonewall the government on returning them, for over a year and a half, to subject himself to a raid by the FBI, even though they asked him voluntarily to return this stuff, and to then be subject to an indictment which is obviously going to be one of great trouble for the country because no one wants to see this happen.

Donald Trump says that's for us. I mean, it's absurd. The same way he has absurdly claimed in the last week that he still won the 2020 election, and he said that's how he's going to persuade suburban female voters to vote for him in 2024 that didn't vote for him in '20.

Look, this guy lost in '18. He lost the Senate and the White House in '20. The House in '18. He lost two more governorships and the Senate race in 2022.

He is a three-time loser. We do not need our party to go to a fourth loss because Joe Biden, in my opinion, Jon, is an awful president. And we can't afford to have him from age 82 to 86 in the White House or even worse have Kamala Harris assume the presidency.

That's the stakes here. It's not about whether you think Donald Trump has been treated fairly or not by the media or by elements of the Justice Department. It is about whether he is a man of character who can lead this party to victory, and I don't believe he can.

KARL: I think we know where you stand. Let me ask you before you go, the question of abortion. Yesterday, of course, was the one-year anniversary of the repeal of Roe. DeSantis, of course, signed into law a six-month abortion ban. Your position, as I understand it, the states should decide.

Do you think that six-month [week] abortion ban makes DeSantis unelectable in a general election?

CHRISTIE: I think it's a six-week abortion ban, Jon.

KARL: I’m sorry, six-week -- six weeks, excuse me, yes. The six-week abortion ban, yes.

CHRISTIE: Six-week abortion ban.

KARL: Yes, yes.

CHRISTIE: Look, Jon, conservatives, like me, for the last 50 years, have been arguing this is not a federal issue. It's a state issue, and it's something the states should decide. The Dobbs case one year ago gave us the opportunity to let each state make this decision. And what I hope to see is that with each of the 50 states, but more importantly, the people of each of the 50 states, deciding this issue.

We then could see a national consensus develop. If the national consensus develops, I have no problem with the federal government then stepping in and confirming that national consensus. But I think we should allow the states and the people of the states to be heard on this issue. It's an incredibly important issue.

Jon, I’m pro-life. I’ve always been pro-life with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, and I remain pro-life and was a pro-life governor of a very blue state and was elected twice. But these are the kind of issues we need to -- we need to be discussing on the debate stage on August 23rd.

As you know, the RNC said you need 40,000 donors to get on that stage. So, anybody who is listening this morning, go to chrischristie.com, donate a dollar.

KARL: All right.

CHRISTIE: Make sure we have these debates, and the debate like I had at Faith and Freedom. We need to do that, Jon.

KARL: All right. Governor Christie, thank you. Good to have you on “This Week”. Take care.

Up next, the powerhouse --

CHRISTIE: Thank you, Jon.

KARL: Thank you.

Up next, the powerhouse roundtable with Donna Brazile and Reince Priebus breaks down all the week's politics. We’ll be right back.


KARL: The Roundtable is here and ready to go.

We'll be right back.



DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: Thanks to the Supreme Court decision of exactly one year ago, we gave those who have long been fighting for a pro-life cause negotiating power for the first time ever. You have tremendous negotiating power. Now, with Roe v. Wade you had none.

KAMALA HARRIS (D), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How dare they attack our fundamental rights.

The United States Congress must pass legislation to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade.


KARL: One year after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the debate over abortion is as hot as it has ever been.

Let's talk about it all and this week’s politics with our roundtable, former DNC chair Donna Brazile, former RNC chair and Trump White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, “Washington Post” congressional reporter Mariana Sotomayor, and NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid.

So, Reince, let me start with you.


KARL: And what we heard from Christie. I mean a blunt takedown of Donald Trump. Is Trump ever going to actually get on a debate stage with that guy?

PRIEBUS: Well, I will tell you, those are the kinds of interviews that will entice President Trump to get on the debate stage.

KARL: Really?

PRIEBUS: And Governor Christie knows it. And that's what he wants. And I think it'll happen. And I think, you know, we’ve – we’re in the world of, you know, middle finger politics in America, the world of Wrestlemania politics, the world where, you know, attention is what everyone is seeking in order to get support, in order to get those 40,000 donors, in order to get votes in these states.

But I'll tell you what the campaigns are talking to me about. There are two things. One, qualifying for the debate stage, which is what everyone’s trying to do. Governor Christie’s found a lane and he’s doing well in that lane of qualifying for the debate stage. But then, there’s the second thing, which is, how do I understand how delegates are awarded in this party, because delegates choose the nominees. And if you look at understanding the delegate rules, which is what all these candidates are doing, that's why they're focusing on Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. But then there is a national play here because then comes 17 states, on a winner take all. And that's why, when you look at the polling today, Trump is still ahead by 30 national, at least 20 in those early states. Those state rules and those candidates are watching that very closely today.

KARL: Donna.

DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER DNC CHAIR & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: First of all, the twice impeached, twice indicted former president of the United States do not need a debate stage. Let's clear the air out of the balloon (ph).

Donald Trump --

KARL: I mean usually when you're 40 points up or 30 points up you don't debate.

BRAZILE: I mean you – why would you debate – and, look, I'm now taking a position that Donald Trump has taken, which is, why would I give these other cats, I'm not calling them dogs because, of course, I have a dog and I know none of my -- my dog would not want to be compared to them – but why would you give these cats an opportunities to take you down or to hit you when you're that high in the polls? I see no reason why Donald Trump should agree to debate because he has the lane to himself. This is his nomination to lose. And the only thing he will do by debating is to elevate the people who are now in the, quote/unquote, in the hole.

PRIEBUS: Right, but you're assuming – you know, you're – you’re – you’re talking as a political strategist. I understand that. But from Donald Trump's viewpoint, number one, he looks back at 2016 and he says, number one, I won all those debates, number one.

KARL: Yes.

PRIEBUS: And, number two, I'm going to continue winning and I'm going to take these guys down. I mean that's how he sees it.

KARL: I mean – I mean on the – I mean on one hand, of course, he loves the spotlight, but he also does hold back when the fight is right to him. He's much better attacking people from afar –

BRAZILE: That's right.

KARL: Than taking the fight directly to somebody.

What’s the – I mean you heard Christie make the case that he has gained traction with this Marianna. Do you – do you think – do you think he really can?


KARL: Right.

SOTOMAYOR: That's just one state of many –

KARL: Right.

BRAZILE: That’s right.

SOTOMAYOR: Especially when you're pointing out just all of those states that come after those early states.

KARL: Yes. Yes.

SOTOMAYOR: I mean are there people -- he made the argument for character. And there definitely are voters, especially that we heard around the midterm saying, listen, I – I am a Republican. At the end of the day, if it comes to voting for Trump, OK. But the biggest thing that I always point out is character, that he’s unreliable. You just don’t know what he’s going to say or do next. If they could change something about Trump, that would be it. But we just -- we know, and we've seen that that's just not necessarily something that's going to completely tank his chances.

ASMA KHALID, NPR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I also think that the more crowded this field becomes it really does advantage Donald Trump. We saw during the 2016 election -- and this seems like almost exactly the same playbook now. You've got, what, a dozen Republicans who are in the field. That just chips away. I mean, if they each get a percent or two, maybe, right? I mean, that benefits Donald Trump.

But I think we're going to talk more about this, I'm sure, abortion. But over the weekend, there was the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference. Donald Trump was welcomed like the hero for having given the court...

BRAZILE: "We want Trump. We want Trump."

KHALID: Right?

And so you have this large constituency...


KHALID: ... a key constituency of the Republican Party that is more loyal today to Donald Trump than it was, I would think, even four years ago.

KARL: And the other candidates are tied up in knots with how to deal with him. I want to play a bit of sound. This is what -- this is what Ron DeSantis said when he was asked if he would commit to supporting Trump if Trump were the nominee.


QUESTION: Regardless of his attacks, will you 100 percent pledge to support Trump as the GOP nominee?

GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA & (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So what I would say is this. When you are saying that Cuomo did better on COVID than Florida did, you are revealing yourself to just be full of it.


KARL: I mean -- I mean, that's wild because not only did he not say yes that he would support the nominee if it were Trump, regardless, is he goes on to -- and it went on and on and on, to attack Donald Trump. I mean, is that going to work?

It's not as blunt or as, maybe, effective as Chris Christie, but, you know -- and ultimately, he says of course he's going to support whoever can beat Biden.

SOTOMAYOR: Right. I mean, it's this -- all of these candidates are trying to find a way where they can attack Trump without naming him...

KHALID: Um-hmm.

SOTOMAYOR: That's something that we saw over the weekend. And it's a very difficult line for them to play. Because, again, they know that this is Trump's base, that Trump does animate him, that his policies are something that a lot of these voters rely on. So going after him could be pretty difficult for all of these candidates.

KARL: Yeah. And the policies -- because you hear this line often, "I support Trump's policies from Republicans, but I just don't like the drama," those that are critical. But I want to play this from -- from Bret Baier's interview with Donald Trump on -- on the question of criminal justice reform.


BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: But she'd be killed under your plan.


BAIER: As a drug dealer.

TRUMP: No, no, no. Under my -- oh, under that? It would depend on the severity. It would depend on the...

BAIER: She's technically a former drug dealer. She -- she had a multi-million-dollar cocaine ring...

TRUMP: Any drug dealer -- look.

BAIER: So even Alice Johnson in that ad?

TRUMP: No, Bret, starting now, yeah. But she wouldn't have done it if it was death penalty.


KARL: I mean -- I mean, so he's talking about Alice Johnson, who he pardoned and bragged about in a Super Bowl ad. And now, well, maybe she'd be -- I mean, is there really a coherent Trump policy?

KHALID: I don't know that it matters whether there's a coherent Trump policy. Because I -- I would say there's a constituency within the Republican Party that doesn't like the drama, but there's a constituency, and I've met them -- I'm sure we all have gone out and talked to voters like this -- who really like the bravado, who like the style and the character.

And so when you've got a dozen Republicans running, I would say enough will likely like the style. And I don't know how much the policies really matter.

BRAZILE: He sounded like a human pretzel because he couldn't get his words right; he couldn't put it together in his "big mind" of his, the genius that we never saw. But he didn't know what he was talking about. But let me tell you something. If I was Trump's lawyer or counsel, I would have said, "Baby, you don't need to do those shows."

KARL: I mean, they've been saying that for a long time.

BRAZILE: Well, they're not -- he's not listening.

KARL: So I want to get -- we had the one-year anniversary of Dobbs, and we've seen a dramatic impact in the United States when it comes to abortion policy. Take a look at the -- the map of the U.S. We now have effectively illegal abortion in -- in 14 states. We have -- you know, and Florida's not even on there in this regard, in terms of states that will have a six-week abortion ban because Florida's ban is not in effect yet. But this is a dramatic change in abortion policy in this country, just a year after this decision.

BRAZILE: Three hundred -- can you imagine? It's been a total mess, I think, in giving this issue to the state. First of all, we should trust women, and women of faith, to make this decision with their family. But to lose access, especially women in several of those states that you just put up, they are afraid to go to the emergency room even when they are sick because they are afraid that they will be turned away. And they have been turned away. And women in certain states have to drive several days just to get to the next available clinic.

This is a decision that should be made between women and their doctors and their families. And the politics that I've been hearing, especially after watching the Faith and Freedom Conference, I say I need -- I need an exorcism now because I heard so many lies -- so many lies about women and how women make this decision. This is why President Biden has recommitted himself to fighting for women's access to have the full range of reproductive health care. This is why the vice president, who's a great vice president, Kamala Harris, has said, you know, that she will also fight for women's access, including access to contraception.

KARL: But, Asma, on the politics of this, the country's divided on abortion. But the extreme positions on either side, including where we see the Republicans going, is not a majority position...

KHALID: That's right.

KARL: ... in the country.


KARL: So how worried are Republicans about how this will play out? It hurt them in 2022. It seemed to.

KHALID: Yeah. I mean, I think there seems to be some disagreement amongst Republicans about how popular of a position this is, right? We saw Mike Pence over the weekend calling for a nationwide abortion ban and encouraging his fellow Republican 2024 contenders to join him in having a 15-week abortion ban.

Look, I think the politics have just fundamentally shifted. When Roe was the law of the land, it was far easier for Republicans to point at that and say, "We don't want that." And then Democrats had to be on the defensive. Now that equation has entirely flipped and, you know, Democrats are very eager. This White House thinks this is a very politically popular position for them to be in heading into 2024 because they don't have to articulate what they're for. They can just point at the Republicans.

KARL: Reince?

PRIEBUS: There's a 70 percent place on this issue, and that's that Americans support a 15-week first trimester abortion ban. Part of the problem is, in a lot of these battleground states...

KARL: Ban on abortion after the first trimester.

PRIEBUS: After the first trimester. A lot of these battleground states, they have...

KARL: I mean, that's not where a lot of these states are. I mean, that's not where Florida -- Florida...

PRIEBUS: That's my point. They don't have -- a lot of these states like Wisconsin, they don't have a law on the books. When Scott Walker was governor of Wisconsin, with a Republican legislature, they passed a 20-week ban, which would have resolved the problem in Wisconsin.

Here's the other part. You're talking about the politics. The Democrats have gotten very, very good in these battleground states, where you only have 2 percent of the voters that are deciding all of these elections in all of these states, they are micro-targeting in places like Madison. They're paying, you know, $400. "Here's 10 people, go get them to the polls, and you get 10 people, and you get 10 people," and it's all about abortion.

And without having an answer on the other side of stumbling and bumbling your way through the campaign trail, you are going to get beat unless there's a clear answer on this issue from Republicans across the country.

KARL: And -- and Democrats think this will be a winning issue for them?

SOTOMAYOR: Oh, absolutely. I mean, they've already seen so many different elections on the local level, state level and obviously during the midterms, where we have seen just a lot of enthusiasm from the Democratic base. I do want to say, one thing we won't be seeing any time soon on Capitol Hill is a federal ban.

KARL: A national ban. Yeah, there's not the votes for it.

SOTOMAYOR: It's just not going to happen.

KARL: That's the bottom line.

All right, thank you very much. That's all for the roundtable. But coming up, we have another anti-Trump candidate who has just jumped into the Republican presidential primary. Joining us live, former Texas congressman Will Hurd, a Sunday exclusive.



WILL HURD, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The soul of our country is under attack. Our enemies plot, create chaos and threaten the American dream. I'll put our American security and prosperity first. And I'll give us the common-sense leadership America so desperately needs.

I'm Will Hurd. I'm running for president.


KARL: There you see the newest entrance to the 2024 Republican primary. Former Texas Congressman Will Hurd who joins us now.

Great to have you in person here on the show.

You are a veteran of the of the CIA, you know Russia really well. So, I want to start there. What is your sense of what is happening on the ground and what you heard from Secretary Blinken?

HURD: Well, first and foremost, one of the things that's most disappointing to me is that the only thing we've been hearing out of the Biden administration in the Biden White House is that we're actively monitoring. There's another word for that, that's wringing your hands and doing nothing. And when there is --


HURD: When there's uncertainty and chaos, that's actually an opportunity, that's actually an opportunity for us to double down on our friends. You know, that we had intelligence reports that suggests that this was going forward, we should have been planning with our allies, we should have been planning with the Ukrainians on how to take advantage of this opportunity. We should be supporting the Ukrainians more. I think that even goes as far as doing a, a no-fly zone and helping them enforce that a no-fly zone.

And what we've also learned and the thing that I get frustrated this old fashion concept of escalation. You know, the Biden administration is always talking about we can't do something or we can't help our allies, because we're going to escalate. What did Vladimir Putin do when he had somebody barreling down the highway to come to Moscow? He didn't escalate.

KARL: He backed down.

HURD: He capitulated.

KARL: Yes.

HURD: And so, we should, we should, we should learn from that. And look, it's not just Joe Biden, it's unfortunate, the two leading Republican nominees for President Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis policy on Ukraine is wrong. They wish -- I wish they would stop fighting with American companies like Disney and be more interested in supporting our allies against attacks, against democracy. And this is important. And one of the things that I was concerned that I'm Secretary Blinken said, he said help the Ukrainians take back land that they lost in the last 16 months? How about we take back land that they lost since 2014? We should be making sure that we're supporting Ukraine and pushing the Russians out of Crimea, out of the Donbass. And I hope that was just him, misspeaking. And that the official policy is not just going back to the way things were when the Russians most recently invaded 16 months ago.

KARL: But typically, you don't -- you're not saying that we should have anyway aided the effort to, you know, Prigozhin in this effort, I mean, he's, you know, many ways worse than Putin, right?

HURD: But look, Prigozhin is a thug.

KARL: Yes.

HURD: He was upset that Vladimir Putin is not being nasty enough --

KARL: Right.

HURD: -- in Ukraine. So, it's not supporting him. It's supporting the Ukrainians in there (INAUDIBLE) --

KARL: Take advantage of the chaos.

HURD: Making sure our allies, our NATO allies are helping with advanced weaponry that are going and moving into Ukraine in order for them to push the Russians out of all of Ukraine, not just the last 16 months.

KARL: OK, so let me ask you about your campaign. I mean, you are a real long shot, and you know that better than anybody.

HURD: Sure.

KARL: But what's the theory of the case here?

HURD: Well, the theory of the case, yes, I'm a dark horse candidate. I recognize that. But we've seen over the last couple of days that we need people that have a real experience when it comes to national security. And look, Donald Trump has some good ideas, but he lacks an understanding of the second and third and fourth order effects of those ideas. He lacked an ability to leverage the government in order to execute on those things.

People like Ron DeSantis don't have that experience when it comes to foreign policy. And it's at a time when the Chinese government is expanding its footprint in a place like Cuba. Hypersonic missiles in Havana would be able to get to Miami in 3.5 minutes, they'd be able to get to Washington D.C. in 14 minutes. Right?

And why is this been allowed is because the last two administrations, President Biden, and President Trump has failed in the western hemisphere to build our allies. And why should every American care about this? Every American should care, because the Chinese government is trying to surpass us as a global superpower. And if they do that, that is going to affect our 401(k)'s, it's going to affect our ability of kids to get good paying jobs.

And so, we need to be building our posse. Right? We need to be having these strong alliances in order to do this. And guess what people are asking these questions and concerned about this 65 percent of Americans are concerned that robots are going to take their job, right. I've had -- expect -- I --

KARL: May be a legitimate conservative [concern].

HURD: It's a legitimate concern. But I held the first hearing on AI when I was in Congress, I wrote the first national strategy on AI. These are the issues that people are talking about. So, we need a candidate who's not afraid of Donald Trump, but also has a vision for the future.

KARL: Can I -- you have talked a lot about, you know, overcoming division, and you sound a little bit like some of the people talking about a third party run the note so-called No Labels Movement. If you don't win the Republican nomination, could you see yourself supporting a third-party candidate or being part of a third party run?

HURD: Look, my goal and my focus is winning the Republican nominee, right? I'm in this to win it. I know how to do this. Nobody thought a black Republican could win and a 72 percent Latino district, and nobody thought I can win re-election. I know how to do that. And the way to do it is simple. Engage and go to places where people don't expect you to go.

It's hard. Don't get me wrong. The problem with most politicians is they're lazy, and they want to do the easiest path forward. And when only 23 percent of Americans are voted --


KARL: Unfortunately, we're out of time. Will Hurd, thank you for joining us here on "This Week".

HURD: Of course.

KARL: We'll be right back.


KARL: That's all for us today. Thank you for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Tune in to ABC News live starting at 11:00 a.m. Eastern today for "PRIDE ACROSS AMERICA with live coverage of the nation's biggest Pride marches.

Have a great day.