'This Week' Transcript 9-10-23: Secretary Antony Blinken, Gov. Chris Sununu and Sen. Chris Coons

This is a rush transcript of "This Week" airing Sunday, September 10.

ByABC News
September 10, 2023, 9:04 AM

A rush transcript of "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" airing on Sunday, September 10, 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.





MIKE PENCE (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Republican Party did not begin on a golden escalator in 2015.

NIKKI HALEY (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is time for a new generational conservative leader.

KARL: Two weeks until the second Republican primary debate. Four months until the Iowa caucuses. The GOP frontrunner and rivals descend on Iowa.

CROWD: Trump. Trump. Trump. Trump.

VIVEK RAMASWAMY (R), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Iowa goes first for a reason.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to get the job done.

KARL: As President Biden confronts alarming new poll number.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I’ve been doing this longer than anybody. And, guess what, I'm going to continue to do it with your help.

KARL: The latest on the 2024 race with Democratic Senator Chris Coons, Republican Governor Chris Sununu. Plus, our powerhouse roundtable.

Pivotal summit.

JAKE SULLIVAN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The United States' commitment to the G-20 hasn't wavered.

KARL: President Biden rallies world leaders at the G-20 in India, taking on Russia and China as their leaders skip the gathering.

And, the latest on the powerful earthquake in Morocco, leaving over 2,000 dead. Secretary of State Antony Blinken joins us this morning.

Plus --

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're in our strongest position yet to fight Covid-19.

KARL: Covid cases rising again across the nation. Dr. Anthony Fauci with what you need to know.


ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it’s THIS WEEK. Here now, Jonathan Karl.

KARL: Good morning, and welcome to THIS WEEK.

Republican presidential candidates flock to the Iowa versus Iowa State football game this weekend as there are signs everywhere that the 2024 presidential campaign is already in full swing.

And on the Democratic side, this week President Biden's team launched a $25 million ad campaign. One spot touting the Biden economic record, another dramatically telling the story of the president's trip to Ukraine in February. An ad designed to push back on concerns about Biden’s age, showing a man on the move, swiftly making his way into a war zone.

But it all feels less like a sprint to Election Day than a campaign running around in circles, playing out a repeat in 2016 when Donald Trump took an early lead and never looked back. And a repeat of 2020. Trump versus Biden all over again.

Sure, there's been some movement on the Republican side. DeSantis down, Haley up, but at the moment, Trump's standing among Republicans is as dominant as ever.

For Democrats this week, a new CNN poll landed with a thud. President Biden’s approval rating slipping below 40 percent. And despite all that talk about Bidenomics, a majority saying Biden’s policies have made the economic conditions worse.

And then there's this. Two-thirds of Democratic-aligned voters say the party should nominate someone else, someone besides Biden, in 2024. This is just the latest indication that a majority of Democrats are looking for an alternative that just doesn't seem to be there.

Democratic leaders point to real signs that Biden’s policies are working. Inflation is down. Unemployment remains historically low. Economic growth is strong. But if the news is good, there's no indication that voters are feeling it.

We're going to speak with leaders in both parties about all of this starting with President Biden’s key ally in the Senate, Chris Coons of Delaware.

So, Senator Coons, you see the grim poll numbers, and it’s not just this latest CNN poll. What does the Biden team do? What does the president need to do to convince the American people that his policies are working and that he should be reelected?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D) DELAWARE: Well, the great news is that President Biden has a very strong record to run on, that what we’ve got accomplished in Congress and what he’s done here at home and abroad on the world stage has made us stronger, has built a strong and recovering economy, and has put us on a great path forward -- whether it’s signing into law bipartisan bills that strengthened infrastructure and manufacturing that have brought 13.5 million new high quality jobs to our economy. Or it’s signing into law and now implementing the first reduction in prescription drug prices in a generation. Whether it’s closing background check loopholes for guns to improve gun safety in this country or investing in community mental health, he’s got a great record to run on. And, Jon, I’ll just mention, we’re 14 months away from the election. At the same point in 2007, similar head-to-head polls would have predicted Mitt Romney as our next president, and in 2011, would have predicted Rudy Giuliani as our next president. I may have gotten that backwards.

But the larger point was that --

KARL: Yeah.

COONS: -- this far out, it doesn’t actually matter what a head-to-head poll says, what matters is what your record.

KARL: I’m not -- I would certainly concede that head-to-head polls this far don’t mean much. But there -- there is something that we’re seeing consistently and that is that Democratic voters saying that they want somebody else to run. In this latest CNN poll, it’s 67 percent of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters saying they want somebody else to be the Democratic nominee. Why?

COONS: Well, Jon, as you know, our President Joe Biden says all the time: Don’t compare me to the Almighty. Compare me to the alternative.

And in the Republican primary field, the alternative seems clearly to be Donald Trump. And if not Donald Trump, someone who will hold the same policies that he does, that are anti-choice, that are racing to embrace the extremism that cause January 6, and that are choosing things like the NRA over the safety of our children.

So, I think as this campaign comes into focus in the coming year, the very strong record President Biden has to run on will move those polls in a very positive direction.

There’s a lot of Americans who have seen that President Biden is a seasoned, capable leader on the world stage. He’s just left India where at the G-20, he demonstrated how he’s masterfully pulled together 47 countries in support of Ukraine and the defense of Ukraine. Those other countries have contributed as much as we have. They are sustaining Ukraine’s brave fight against Russian aggression.

Today, he’s in Vietnam, taking another step in strengthening our alliances in the Indo-Pacific, where he’s already shown great leadership with Australia, with Japan, with South Korea, and he’s continuing in that direction.

Here at home, we have record low unemployment. Fifty years, we haven’t had this low of unemployment for this long. Inflation has come down, jobs are being created. Manufacturing is being brought back to the United States and I, frankly, Jon, think all of this point in a positive direction for our president’s reelection next year.

KARL: Let me ask you about the latest news out of the special counsel -- David Weiss investigating the president’s son, Hunter. We’ve learned that he plans to pursue an indictment on gun charges -- on the gun charges before the end of the month.

Here’s what President Biden had to say about all these four months ago.


INTERVIEWER: Sir, there is something personal that’s affecting you. Your son, while there’s no ties to you, could be charged by your Department of Justice. How will that impact your presidency?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, my son has done nothing wrong. I trust him. I have faith in him.


KARL: He said many times, his son did nothing wrong.

So, let me ask you, you’re close to the president, do you have sense -- he’s obviously not going to interfere. He says he’s not interfering with this investigation. But when he learns that his son is going to be now indicted on this gun charge, what’s his reaction?

COONS: Jon, there’s no news here. This is the same charge that U.S. Attorney Weiss was preparing to go to a resolution here in the court in Delaware. He was deep in addiction, Hunter was, when he misrepresented that on a background check form. That’s been publicly known for a long time. He was late on paying his taxes twice.

And in a “Reuters” poll last week, a majority of Americans, two-thirds of Americans, made it clear that they know the difference between Hunter Biden and his legal challenges and Donald Trump. Hunter Biden is not going to be on the election polls, is not standing for election next November. Donald Trump likely is, and the four different legal matters where Donald Trump has been charged with 83 counts stand in stark contrast.

As the reporter who asked that question you just played recognized, there’s no ties between President Biden and his conduct as president, and these regrettable matters with Hunter Biden. Hunter is looking forward to resolving this, to moving forward with his life and his recovery.

And I frankly admire the fact that President Biden stands by his son.

KARL: But does --

COONS: But it doesn’t implicate his leadership as president, and I don’t believe it will have an impact on his reelection.

KARL: But does the president believe his son is being unfairly prosecuted?

COONS: Well, I won’t speak for him on that matter, but he is committed to staying out of this, to allowing the Department of Justice to conduct what has now been a five-year investigation --

KARL: Yeah.

COONS: -- and to move forward with this matter as they should. And I think that stands in sharp contrast to his predecessor who interfered in lots of matters at the Department of Justice.

Joe Biden knows about the importance of the rule of law and of staying out of this particular matter and of having a hands-off approach to how the Department of Justice conducts its inquiries and its ongoing business.

KARL: All right.

COONS: So, I would expect that about President Biden.

KARL: All right. Senator Chris Coons, thank you for joining us.

Joining us now is the Republican governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu.

Governor Sununu, I want to ask you about the news this weekend. We saw former President Trump was just endorsed by South Dakota’s Republican governor, Kristi Noem. By my count he’s not up to, I think, four Republican endorsements.

You -- you anticipate more Republican governors getting online, getting onboard with -- with Trump? I mean, you know Republican governors. You spent -- you are one.

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU, (R) NEW HAMPSHIRE: Well, look -- yeah.

I do. I do. Look, my sense is, there’s a lot of governors kind of sitting -- sitting on the sidelines saying, how does this all play out, just like most of the Republican bases. Like, there’s a lot of time to go. We’ve only had one debate. We’re just starting to talk about the issues. The candidates are really on the ground.

The fact that former President Trump is a former president, the leader of the party, and he doesn’t even really have 50 percent of the Republican base support tells you there’s a real problem there. That’s actually an incredibly low number.

So, you have all these other candidates out there, eight -- seven -- seven, eight of them at this point. That field’s going to keep winnowing down I think as -- as we’ve talked about a lot. If it gets to one on one, Trump and another candidate, that other candidate is undoubtedly going to beat him by the time the convention rolls around. So, if the candidates have the discipline to get out of the field, they’ll get there.

As -- in terms of endorsements, look, again, if he’s a former sitting incumbent president and the leader of the party and he only has four Republican governors behind him, that tells you there’s a problem.

KARL: Well, and -- and my senses, talking to Republican governors, there’s a lot of them who have not endorsed anybody, have real qualms about Donald Trump. You aren’t afraid to express those. But is it time for Republican governors who do have concerns to get out there and to get behind somebody else? I mean, it’s going to be too late for you soon, isn’t it?

SUNUNU: No, I think it’s time for everyone -- no, it won’t be too late. I think it’s important that everyone has a voice. I mean, and people can modulate and decide what that voice is going to be. Every state’s a little bit different.

But everyone needs to be talking about where they stand, what issues their constituents are talking about. It’s inflation. It’s the border crisis. It’s a lack of financial controls. It’s all these things that were actually good ideas by the former president. He brought those ideas in, in ‘16, ‘17 and ‘18 and it didn’t get done. It didn’t get done.

So, we just need to find the conservative leader that can fulfill on the mission, that’s all. And there’s a lot of great opportunities in the field now.

So, I mean, voters really won’t decide until -- who they’re going to be voting for until maybe November, December timeframe. I mean, look, kids are getting back to school. We’ve all come off summer vacation.

You and I are in this mix almost every single day, but the average voter isn’t. They’ll -- they’ll really start getting engaged as the October, November timeframe comes. And I think if you can get down to about six candidates by Iowa, three or four by New Hampshire, there’s no doubt you’ll have a one-on-one race going into Super Tuesday. And that’s where the -- the former President Trump is really in trouble.

KARL: And you have real leverage in New Hampshire, it seems to me. Are you going to -- you going to be making an endorsement before the primary?

SUNUNU: I would think so, yes. Yes. I fully --


SUNUNU: Look, I'm not very good about being coy, you know.

KARL: So -- so, who’s on –


SUNUNU: -- who I'm voting for, I'll let everybody know.

KARL: So who’s on your short list? Who are you looking at?

SUNUNU: Well, I won’t say there’s a short list. I'm out there with all the candidates. I'm seeing kind of how they do the retail politics. I'm a big believer, good retail politics translate into good retail management. And that’s what the White House needs, someone that understands what’s happening in folks' everyday lives, as opposed to just watching the media all the time, right?

I mean I've got to tell you, when you’re at these events, if you’ve been able to go to any of them, Jon, they’re not asking about January 6th. People aren’t asking questions about the indictments, they’re asking about inflation, they’re asking about border security, they‘re asking about things and issues, mental health, the opioid crisis.

You know, I'm -- I'm blessed I'm in New Hampshire. We have the lowest poverty rate in the country. But people here are seeing the crisis in California. They’re saying, what are you going to do about the mental health crisis, the homelessness crisis that the left wing agenda has completely, you know, ignored in places like California, because they’re Americans, too?

So, we kind of look at the whole broad spectrum of what’s happening across the country. Those are the questions that are being asked. I know the media just talks about January 6th and indictments, but let me tell you, the average voter isn’t there right now. They’re really looking at the issues that will impact them and their families.

KARL: You see momentum with Nikki Haley? I mean, she seemed to get a boost after that first debate.

SUNUNU: Yes. Oh, without a doubt. I think -- look, I think Nikki Haley did very well. I think Vivek did what he needed to do. Everyone was talking about him the next day. I think Mike Pence looked incredibly strong.

I think Ron DeSantis did very well. I think he looked in the camera and looked presidential. He wasn’t being attacked, so he just was hitting the questions head on. I think there’s a lot of candidates there that have a lot of opportunity.

Doug Burgum, great governor of North Dakota, he’s spending a lot of money. He got in the race a little late, but, boy, he’s spending money. He’s hitting the ground. And he talks the right issues.

So, I think there’s still a lot of time and a lot of opportunities still to engage with the candidates.

KARL: You didn’t mention Chris Christie. Chris Christie?

SUNUNU: Yes, Chris is doing a great job. Look, God bless Chris, man, he – he kind of goes nuclear on the president and he’s got his own style. His poll numbers are surging through the roof, especially here in New Hampshire, where he’s putting – he’s putting time on the ground. He connects with folks. Again, he’s a governor, right? I tend to be pretty partial to governors. Because what the White House needs more than ever is true, executive leadership. Someone who kind of says, the buck stops here.

The —the biggest problem that a lot of us Republican governors – going back to your first question – has with the former president was Fauci, right? Fauci. Every day we were on those calls and every day Fauci was there. And a lot of us kept saying, Mr. President, when are you getting rid of Fauci? He never did. He just kept putting Fauci out there as the voice of American on this stuff. And he’s got to be held accountable to that, frankly.

KARL: OK, well –

SUNUNU: So, a lot of folks in the base will – aren’t forgetting those types of things.

KARL: We’re just about out of time, but – but you stand by what you told me in July when you said, quote, the Republican nominee is not going to be Donald Trump? You’re still confident of that?

SUNUNU: Nor will the Democrat nominee be Joe Biden.

KARL: Wow. OK. Double – double whammy.


KARL: OK. All right, Governor Chris Sununu, thank you for joining us. Coming up, President Biden is in Vietnam after the G-20 Summit in India, as the death toll after that powerful earthquake in Morocco climbs past 2,000. We're on the scene and Secretary of State Antony Blinken joins us next.


KARL: Some harrowing scenes there from Morocco as search and rescue operations continue following a powerful earthquake late Friday.

Let's get right to ABC foreign correspondent Tom Soufi Burridge, who is in Morocco with the very latest.

Good morning, Tom.


Yes, the death toll here quickly rising with more than 2,000 people confirmed killed by that devastating earthquake with a similar number injured.

But in reality, Jon, the true casualty toll is still not clear because the quake flattened hard-to-reach mountainous communities south of Marrakesh. A desperate search and rescue operation is underway there. The Moroccan military drafted in with Morocco's king promising to accelerate relief efforts and address the supply of drinking water and food in badly affected areas.

But mountainous roads towards the quake’s epicenter are littered are rocks. Many buildings in those towns and villages made from basic materials, which stood little chance against powerful tremors. It was the most deadly earthquake to hit Morocco in more than 60 years.

We found people sleeping on the streets here in Marrakesh for a second night, too afraid to return to their homes.

President Biden, this weekend, saying the U.S. ready to provide any necessary assistance. USAID saying a small team will travel here to help identify unmet humanitarian needs.


KARL: Horrific.

Tom, thank you.

Earlier I spoke with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. I began by asking him about the devastation in Morocco.


KARL: Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us. I want to begin with that devastating earthquake this weekend in Morocco. What is the United States doing to assist in the relief, recovery, search and rescue operation there?

ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Jon, you're right, it is devastating. And we reached out immediately to the Moroccan government, made very clear to them that we are prepared to assist in any way that we can. We have the U.S. Agency for International Development, which takes the lead in our efforts, mobilizing. And we're waiting to hear from the Moroccan government how we can be of most assistance. But we're tracking this very carefully. And our hearts go out to the people of Morocco who suffered this devastating earthquake. And we stand ready to help in any way that we can.

KARL: All right. I want to turn to your trip. You were obviously in Ukraine this week. You went from there to the G20 meeting of world leaders in India. I noticed that the joint statement coming out of that G20 meeting does not explicitly condemn Russia's actions in Ukraine.

Why is it that you couldn't get world leaders to agree on a statement calling out Russia's aggression, as they've done in the past?

BLINKEN: Well, the leaders here all stood up very clearly, including in the statement, for Ukraine's sovereignty, for its territorial integrity. I think the statement's a very strong one. And what I heard in the room as well makes very clear that virtually every member of the G20, perhaps minus one, is intent on making sure that there is a just and durable end to this -- to this Russian aggression.

And leader after leader in the room made clear that, for the rest of the world, too, the consequences of what Russia has done are having a terrible, terrible impact, food insecurity around the world. You know, Ukraine had been the breadbasket of the world for so many years. Russia blockaded its ports after the invasion. A deal was negotiated to allow grain to get out. Russia recently tore it up.

That was -- while that deal was enforced, 30 million tons of grain were getting out of Ukraine, and mostly to developing countries, including countries that are represented here at the G20, 18 billion loaves of bread. Now, because of Russia, that stopped. It was very clear in the room, going around the table, that countries are feeling the consequences and want the Russian aggression to stop. But I think the statement reflects the strong support that virtually every country in the G20 has for Ukraine and its territorial integrity and sovereignty.

KARL: I mean, it doesn't explicitly condemn Russia's action, which was done in the previous G20 statement, but -- but let me move on to your time in Ukraine. You spent quite a bit of time with President -- President Zelenskyy. What is your sense? How does he see this ending? Does he see himself coming to a negotiating table with the Russians at some point? How does this end?

BLINKEN: Well, first, I found both President Zelenskyy and every Ukrainian that I met, whether it was folks in the government or whether it was many other Ukrainians that we had a chance to -- to engage with over the course of two days, incredibly resilient, incredibly courageous, incredibly resolute. And ultimately, that's really what's at the heart of this and the reason I remain very confident in Ukraine's ultimate success, which is that they're fighting for their country, for their future, for their freedom. The Russians are not.

And keep in mind, Putin has already lost in what he was trying to achieve. He was trying to erase Ukraine from the map and its independence, subsume it into Russia. That has already been a failure. Now, where exactly this settles, where lines are drawn, that is going to be up to Ukrainians, but I've found a strong determination to continue to work to get their -- their territory back that's been seized by Russia.

And as to negotiations, Jon, it takes two to tango.

KARL: Sure.

BLINKEN: And thus far, we see no indication that Vladimir Putin has any interest in meaningful diplomacy. If he does, I think the Ukrainians will be the first to engage, and we'll be right behind them. Everyone wants this war to end. But it has to end on just terms and on durable terms that reflect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

KARL: OK, last question. We -- we understand that the United States is considering sending those long-range missiles that Ukraine has been asking for, for a long time. These are long-range missiles, 200 miles in range. Are you OK if those missiles allow Ukraine to attack deep into Russian territory?

BLINKEN: Jon, first, you -- we have had an ongoing conversation, engagement, almost daily with the Ukrainians from the very start of the Russian aggression, about what they need, when they need it. And all along, we've worked, bringing together dozens of countries, to make sure that they have in hand what they need to defend themselves.

And that's been a moving picture. It's been moving with the -- the conflict itself, from trying to make sure they were defending Kyiv, which they did so successfully early on, to now trying to take back more of their territory in the south and in the east.

And so, at any given time, we're looking -- and part of the reason that I was in Ukraine again was to hear directly from President Zelenskyy who had been to the front -- to the front lines, their perspective on how things were going, and what it is that they -- they needed to be successful, all of which I report back to my colleagues in Washington.

But I think it's a mistake to focus on any -- any given system because what's so important is for anything we do and other countries do in support of Ukraine. It’s not only the weapon system itself. It’s -- are Ukrainians train on it? Are they able to maintain it?

Can they use it effectively as part of their strategy? And we are working on that every single day.

In terms of their targeting decisions, it's their decision, not ours.

KARL: Did you bring --


BLINKEN: As a general matter, we haven’t encouraged -- I’m sorry. Say that again?

KARL: Did you bring up -- I mean, we've seen an increasing number of attacks on Russian territory by Ukrainian drones, some in Moscow, Rostov-on-Don just a couple of days ago. Did you bring that up? Are you -- are you okay with --


KARL: I mean, obviously, their -- it's their decision, but is this war now escalating into Russia?

BLINKEN: Jon, we -- we haven't encouraged them. We haven't enabled any use of weapons outside of Ukraine’s territory.

Having said that, let's take a step back for a second. Virtually, every single day, the Russians are attacking indiscriminately throughout the entire country of Ukraine. Just during the 48 hours that I was there going in, more missiles were launched include (ph) -- at civilian targets, including in Kyiv, while I was there, a horrific attack on a marketplace, people just going to buy food. Civilians had nothing to do with this war, killed 17 people.

This is the daily life for Ukrainians. This is what they face every single day. So they have to make the basic decisions about how they're going to defend their territory and how they're working to take back what's been seized from them.

Our role, the role of dozens of other countries around the world that is supporting them is to help them do that. And ultimately, what we all want is an end to this Russian aggression and an end to the aggression that again is just and is durable. That's what Ukrainians want more than anyone else. That's what we're working toward.

KARL: All right, Mr. Secretary. Thank you for your time. Safe travels.

BLINKEN: Thanks, Jon. Good to be with you.

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



CHRIS MEGERIAN, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Question was the President's age often go hand in hand with questions about hiring stuff in the role, you know, if necessary. You feel prepared for that possibility as serving as Vice President prepared you for that job?


MEGERIAN: And well, how would you, you know, describe that process?

HARRIS: Which is by (INAUDIBLE)?

MEGERIAN: (INAUDIBLE) being ready for that?

HARRIS: Well, first of all, let's answering your hypothetical, but Joe Biden's going to be fine. So that is not going to come to fruition.


KARL: There's Vice President Kamala Harris brushing off age concerns about President Biden.

We're joined now by former DNC chair, Donna Brazile, former New York Republican Congressman, John Katko, our political director, Rick Klein, and Politico Playbook co-author Rachael Bade.

So, Donna, I know you're not the nervous type. But how concerned are Democrats? These are -- this is not just the CNN poll. I mean, there's a series of pretty devastating --


KARL: -- poll numbers for Biden.

BRAZILE: You know, look, it's going to be X factor, so we need to get used to it. I like the fact that Joe Biden is still willing and able to serve as president of the United States. It gave me high hopes for that moment when I turned 80. But the truth is --

KARL: Long time from now.

BRAZILE: Hell yes. Let me tell you something. I'm going to join every step along the way. If I can, I don't get up every morning exercise. Joe Biden gets up and exercise. I don't have to work 12, 15-hour days, Joe Biden is working 12, 15-hour days. Joe Biden has shown that he's up for the job, willing to do the job. But isn't an X factor? Yes. Should people be concerned? Of course. We should be concerned every day about our health and our vitality.

But Democrats also understand that Joe Biden has the experience to lead and he has the commitment to serve the American people. So why might be an X factor, there are other factors that will also come into consideration when we go to the polls some 420 days from now.

KARL: What -- but it's -- I mean the number that I keep seeing is that Democrats want somebody else.

BRAZILE: Of course. We always want another flavor ice cream because the one we’ve been digging on is melting. But that's not the point here. The point here is, look, don’t you –

KARL: I don’t know if that’s on message, melt.

BRAZILE: Well, I mean, because I'm – I'm a – I like every ice cream, you know, in – you know, in – in the freezer.

The point I’m making is, is that you can also look at those polls and when Democrats say, yes, we're looking for someone new, someone different, but at the same time they know Joe Biden. They know his commitment. They know his record. They know what he's done to help this country rebound after the pandemic. And the president who still has vision will have gas in his tank win next year.

KARL: But – but, Rick, they had a $25 million ad campaign dropped by the Biden campaign. We're 14 months away from the general election and they’re already – I mean clearly there’s concern.

RICK KLEIN, ABC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: That buys a lot of ice cream, Jon.

And here’s – here’s the thing, you don't spend that money if you’re not worried. And, look, the Biden team has said – well, our economic policies are popular. This is basically where previous first-term presidents were polling wise. All of that is true. But you have inflation, which is still – these prices are a lot higher. And you have the x-factor that Donna talks about of a much older president. And that Ukraine ad that you showed earlier in the program, that was all about vitality. That was all about showing him out there. And the fact that they're spending this kind of money, $20 million, $30 million, this far away says that they're a lot more concerned privately, or at least trying to address these issues than they will -- than they'll ever say publicly.

And you hear that from Vice President Harris. You hear it from Democrats across the country. They're worried about this. They need to portray him in a different light.

KARL: And, John, really what you hear from Democrats privately, some publicly, but -- is ultimately -- it's, you know, he has to beat Trump, they believe, you know, despite what John (sic) Sununu told us predicting that he wasn’t going to be the nominee, that, you know, that Biden’s beaten Trump before. He'll beat him again.

JOHN KATKO, FORMER REPUBLICAN CONGRESSMAN & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, and I think if you look at the poll, the one thing that poll really shows, I mean the CNN (ph) poll is, Biden’s negatives are baked in.

KARL: Oh, Chris Sununu, not John. I apologize to the former governor.

KATKO: Right. But Biden's numbers are baked in, and they're not good. And despite how bad they are, some would say catastrophic –

KARL: Yes.

KATKO: Trump is not beating him. Trump’s even with him. And so that should send off alarm bells in my opinion in the Republican Party. And if you look at it, you have a group of people that they put Biden against and the only one that’s got a significant lead would be Nikki Haley. And that just tells you something. Nikki Haley’s almost three decades younger than Biden. And that's something that you want to think about. And I think the American people are looking at that.

RACHAEL BADE, POLITICO PLAYBOOK CO-AUTHOR & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, Donna might be cool as a cucumber over there, but this whole bedwetting that we're seeing right now amongst Democrats is really happening.

KATKO: Yes, it is.

BADE: And they make that joke themselves in terms of bedwetting. I mean the age issue, the economy. There was some polling this week that we also saw that showed a lot of voters, a significant amount of voters, think that, you know, Biden might have been part of or knew about what was going on with Hunter Biden making all this money from foreign companies when he was vice president. So, that doesn't bode well for him either.

KARL: Yes, the CNN poll I think was 61 percent –

BADE: Right.

KARL: Of what voters think that – that – that Joe Biden had some involvement. Again, no evidence that –

BADE: Sure. No, not at – but – but, you know, clearly, you know, this is showing where voters are right now. And so that’s why you do see some Democrats right now say that Biden needs to make more of a contrast with Trump. He needs to talk more about, you know, all the legal challenges, the January 6th stuff. The White House is still really not touching that.

KARL: They don’t touch it all because –

BADE: No, not at all. And, clearly, they’re afraid of blowback and that it will make the whole process look more political. But there are people who are feeling like they need to do something else, that – that this isn’t working, what they’re doing right now.

BRAZILE: But, John, I want to say something.

Look, I'm one of these -- I'm an activist more than a party official or a party leader. I'm not sleeping at night thinking all is well, OK? I have nieces and nephews who say, well, why should I vote for this guy, he's a little old. I say your papa was old too, and look what he did to help you.

So, I – I – I think the Democrats have to continue to make the case. Democrats should be concerned. We should run as if we're ten points behind, not even so that the enthusiasm can be lifted up. But the bottom line is, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have a record. A record of accomplishment. And it's not a grocery list. It's not like going to the grocery store and kicking (ph) off all my favorite items. It's about showing that they've invested in the American people. They're growing the economy. And more people today are buying things that are made in America than ever before. Why? Because Joe Biden – Joe Biden invested in that.

So, I think that's what the Biden team should do. And I’m glad they're spending some money because what -- what – what good is money in the bank?

KARL: Right.

BRAZILE: When -- when your base is not happy?

KARL: And – and the bottom line, Risk, is there’s absolutely no sign of any Democratic challenge. I mean you’ve got – you know, RFK Jr. is doing his campaign, Maryanne Williamson, those don’t – don’t appear to be anything close to a significant threat to the Democratic nomination. And all those, you know, Democratic governors, I mean, there’s no sign of anybody jumping into this race, obviously.

KLEIN: You can't beat someone with nothing.


KLEIN: And there is nothing right now that – that’s -- that is getting -- no one has gotten in that's of enough substance.

Yes, Bobby Kennedy Jr. said just this weekend he might run third party if the rules don’t’ fit –

KARL: Now, that's a threat.

KLEIN: That -- that's right. I mean, more concern about Cornell West, about -- about No Labels, about Bobby Kennedy, Jr. running outside the party. That, to me, is a bigger issue.

But you're right, like, the fundamentals of this, you'd look at this, and where the president's polling is, and say, "This is ripe for a challenge. How is the party just standing by and watching this?"

But you've seen governor after governor, people like Gavin Newsom, people like J.B. Pritzker, say "We're not going to do this. We're not going to get -- we're not going to get in their way. We wouldn't even get in the way of Kamala Harris if she ends up being the nominee."

KARL: Right.

KLEIN: They're -- they're all falling in line around this. But, yeah, I think the bigger concern is what happens if there is now a third party candidate, if some of this angst manifests itself in a different kind of candidate outside of the party system.

KARL: Now, Donna, you know Bobby Kennedy. We can put that aside. But you also know Cornell West.

BRAZILE: I know Marianne Williamson. I know all of the above. And I still believe that Joe Biden will be able to defeat them soundly in the Democratic primary and also in the general election.

Look, Democrats have learned their lesson from Ralph Nader in 2000 and Jill Stein in 2016. We cannot take any part of the Democratic base for granted, the far left, the moderates, the conservative. We've got to bring everybody back to the table.

KATKO: Now -- now, if I could just add one thing, and that is, that's all true, and all the things you mentioned about Biden's accomplishments already are true, and they're well known. And yet he still has unbelievably bad numbers.

So those numbers, if you look at the polling over the last several months, are getting worse. They're not getting better. So despite all his so-called achievements, he's in real trouble. And again, you go back to how is it the Republican Party doesn't look at this poll and realize there's a real opportunity if it's not Trump? And that's something I think they've got to wrestle with over the next few months.

KARL: And part of the thing, Rachael, I want to ask you about is this talk of the 14th amendment, speaking of Trump, this idea that Trump could be declared ineligible to be president again because he took a part of an insurrection rebellion against the United States, prohibited by the third clause of the 14th amendment.

Is that -- is that a real movement out there? I mean, could -- because this would be each state, I guess, decision.

BADE: Yeah, I mean, clearly a lot of people are talking about it right now. I think there's an expectation that this will go, at some point, all the way up to the Supreme Court. And we'll see how they rule. But I think it's -- it's interesting to note that, right after January 6th, there was actually a lot of private discussion amongst Democrats on the Hill about the 14th amendment and whether they could, you know, bar Trump from office that way without a full impeachment.

They decided they didn't want to touch that with a 10-foot pole. There was a fear that there would be, you know, blow-back, that people would say it would be overly aggressive, and that it would strengthen Trump in the long run.

And so I do think that even people who don't like Trump, don't want to see him as president anymore, are fearful of this strategy because they think it could end up, you know, helping him get another term in the White House.

KARL: Right, it's not...

BADE: People like Mike Pence, who are against it, and other Trump critics.

KARL: Brad Raffensperger, the -- the secretary of state in Georgia.

KATKO: The 14th amendment would be different if he gets convicted of something, like Georgia, or one of the others. But right now, the 14th amendment was designed for people like Robert E. Lee, known insurrectionists.

KARL: It was the Confederates, yeah.

KATKO: So that's a little different. I mean, it hasn't been tested.

KARL: So I want to turn, in the time we have, to the situation in Congress. House back, Speaker McCarthy under enormous pressure, Rick, to go forward with impeachment. Impeach him for what? Unclear, at this point, at least to me. But -- and also, you know, whether -- you've got talk of a government shutdown.

What -- how real is the threat to McCarthy, and what's he going to try to do to save his speakership?

KLEIN: Yeah, Jon, this is the clash I think we've been waiting for since he took all those, what, 15 or something ballots early in the year, when you knew that he had to cobble together this very uneasy coalition. Now they're coming to all these different angles. There's people saying shut down the government. There's people saying that -- let's impeach Joe Biden, an impeachment inquiry, which is something they used to mock when it was the Democrats doing the same. And there's people saying it doesn't matter, even if you do all those things, they still might careen toward a government shutdown.

This is a very difficult moment for Kevin McCarthy. And he is in the driver's seat to an extent, but he's only got as much power as his members are going to let him have. And it doesn't take that many to disrupt it. And he's going to have to navigate something. He's going to be in the uneasy position of driving an agenda, not knowing where his own members are going to let him go.

KARL: And -- and, Rachael, remind us how this work. This -- the term is "a motion to vacate."

BADE: Yes. Get to know that one pretty well.


KARL: So a single member of the House can stand up and -- and file a motion to vacate, and then he needs to get 218 votes all over again to defeat it?

BADE: Yeah, then we go 15 more ballots again as he tries to keep the gavel.

I mean, the problem McCarthy has is that a lot of these conservatives who very reluctantly backed him as speaker, and a lot of times because, you know, Donald Trump was the one breathing down their necks to do so, they are souring on him. And they're asking him for things he cannot give them.

On two issues -- impeachment, he doesn't have the votes. There are moderate Republicans who don't want to support impeachment right now. There are Senate Republicans who are saying, "Do not do this. We don't want to deal with this. It's going to help Joe Biden." Newt Gingrich, who impeached Bill Clinton, saying, "Make sure you have the evidence," and cautioning them from doing this.

And then on government's funding, they want to cut spending but, you know, it has got to be bipartisan. Conservatives are wanting to go to these very low spending levels and McCarthy is sort of trying to cater to them. But funding the government has to be bipartisan. You have a Democratic senate and a Democratic White House, it's not going to fly. And so, how is he going to navigate this? And even if he can't give them what he wants, despite the circumstances and the fact that it's not up to him, conservatives are going to make him pay potentially and that' good for him.

KARL: John, you have seen this play out.


KATKO: Yeah, many times. I got to tell you, I really miss Congress.


BADE: Really?

KATKO: Not really. But I saw it play out before and it's the same old song. It seems like -- and they have these mercenaries within their (ph) party, who will attempt to hold up the process. They don't know what they're for; they just know how to disrupt. And I feel Kevin is going to be facing this the whole time. He has done a good job of navigating the waters. These are tough waters to navigate again, and that sooner or later, the far-right will be compelled to try and use a motion to vacate the chair. They don't know what else to do except disrupt and that's the ultimate disruption. So…

KARL: They want disruption. They -- I mean…


KARL: …supposedly wanting a shutdown even.

KATKO: Absolutely. They try.

KARL: Shutdown.

KATKO: Tell me the last time the government shutdown worked for the people who brought it.

KARL: Right. KATKO: Go ask Ted Cruz. Go ask anybody. It doesn't work. And so, if they think that's going to be the ultimate thing, I think they're sadly mistaken.

BADE: A government shutdown will not only hurt our economy, but it will also hurt the men and women who serve in our military. It will hurt our federal employees, including those who protect our borders and our other securities. So, I think it's playing with matches and fire. But unfortunately, this is the situation that Speaker McCarthy finds himself. He has given them too much power. When you give a chaotic caucus that much power, then they are going to basically be disruptive.

KARL: And shutdown, Rick, bottom line?

KLEIN: Well -- and I want to watch Donald Trump in this too.

KATKO: Yeah.

BADE: Yeah.

KLEIN: I mean, he's not going to stay silent the whole time. He has a lot of friends and loyalists on the Hill, and is he urging this along from the sidelines…

BADE: Of course.

KLEIN: …and is he forcing the issue? I think there's a real good chance that he is going to play an active role…


KARL: Complicated relationship, that Trump-Kevin McCarthy relationship.


All right. That's all the time we have. Coming up, COVID cases and hospitalizations are on the rise across the country. We'll speak with Dr. Anthony Fauci next.



JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Let me explain to the press, I've been tested again today, I'm clear across the board. But they keep telling me because it has to be 10 days or something. I got to keep wearing it. But don't tell them I didn't have an (INAUDIBLE).


KARL: That was President Biden joking about not wearing a mask after First Lady Jill Biden tested positive for COVID last Monday. It's been a long time since we talked about the Coronavirus pandemic on this program, but will fall just around the corner in cases rising and a new booster shot expected this week. We expect -- we wanted to check in with Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is now a distinguished university professor at Georgetown University.

Dr. Fauci, it's great to have you back on the program.

I want to start with that moment with President Biden joking about, you know, not wearing a mask. As I understand it, under current CDC guidelines, he should be wearing a mask indoors, because obviously close contact with the first lady. Is it time for those guidelines to be revamped? Are they out of date?

ANTHONY FAUCI, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR: You know, the CDC continually Jon really looks at the kinds of guidelines they put out. So, I don't want to get ahead of them and say that they should, you know, change them. But certainly, they reevaluate them intermittently to make sure that they're up to date with the current scientific knowledge.

KARL: And I want to ask you about this current uptick. I mean, anecdotally, I think all of us either have had COVID again, or know somebody who has had COVID again. How concerned are you? What's your level of alarm about the current situation?

FAUCI: You know, John, I wouldn't say that I'm alarmed, but I'm certainly keeping an eye on it. There's no doubt, as you know, and reported just a moment ago, we're having an uptick in cases, which is being reflected by an uptick about 17 or more percent in hospitalizations. There's no doubt that that is going on. And since we're now at the end of the summer, it is likely that that will increase as we get into the fall, and the winter, so we need to be prepared for it.

I don't think at all, though, again, you'll always have to keep yourself with an open mind with this virus. It's fooled us before. But given the level of immunity that we all have that you just mentioned, in other words, people who've been vaccinated, boosted, people who've been infected like you and I, where we have hybrid immunity. The chances of this being an overwhelming rush of cases and hospitalizations, is probably low.

So, I think none of us in the public health field are predicting that this is going to be a tsunami of hospitalizations, and deaths the way we saw a year or more ago, that's the first part.

The second part is that, as you mentioned, we're going to have boosters available shortly within a week or two, hopefully before the end of September, that's an XBB.1 booster, which is going to be pretty well matched to the kinds of viruses that are now circulating. If you look at the antibody responses, it should do well, against the EG5 which is the major circulating and then the FL1.5.1. And then there's another virus that is not very prevalent at all, it's only in about nine or 10 states the BA2.86 which the vaccine should do pretty well against that also.

KARL: So – so what you said – so, obviously, those that are in high-risk categories, but who – who should be taking that booster?

FAUCI: You know, Jon, I don't want to get ahead of the ACIP and their recommendation. My own personal feeling is that I believe certainly those who are vulnerable, the elderly and those with underlying conditions. But I believe we should give the choice to people who are not in the high-risk groups to have the vaccine available for them because, again, we have experience with this type of vaccine in billions of people. It's a safe vaccine. Of course, with the mRNA there's a very, very, very low risk, and particularly in young men of getting the myocarditis.

But if you look at the risk of myocarditis from COVID itself is greater than the risk of the vaccine.

KARL: OK, and --

FAUCI: And so, from my own personal standpoint, yes, I would say that make it available for everyone but certainly recommended for the high-risk people.

KARL: And we're almost out of time, but I want to ask you, there's a new study out that suggested masks were actually not effective, at least in a global sense, in containing the pandemic. What is your sense looking back at all of this? Did masks prove to be less effective than you anticipated?

FAUCI: You know, Jon, some of the studies are confusing. The study that has been now quoted a lot and causing a lot of confusion is this Cochrane Study, which even the people who run the Cochrane Study say that that study can be misleading because people have commented on that study saying, absolutely, masks don't work, which is absolutely not the case because there are a number of studies that show that masks actually do work.

And there's a lot of confusion when you take a broad series of studies, and you look at them in a meta-analysis. Only a couple of those studies were specifically looking at COVID, so I think we better be careful that that study that people keep talking about can be very, very misleading. There's a lot of data that masks work.

KARL: Well, you've also said we're not going to go back to the time of federal mask mandates. That's a thing of the past.

FAUCI: You know, I don't see that in the future at all. I mean, I can see that if we get a significant uptick in cases that you may see the recommendation that masks be used under certain circumstances and indoor crowded settings, but I don't see there be -- certainly not federal mandates. I would be extremely surprised if we would see that. There may be local organizations that may require masks, but what we're going to see mostly are, if the cases go up, that there might be recommendations, not mandates. There's a big difference there.

KARL: All right. Dr. Anthony Fauci, thank you for joining us.

FAUCI: Thank you. Good to be with you.

KARL: All right. We will be right back.


KARL: That's all for us today. Just a note before we go. Today is Chuck Todd's final time moderating "Meet The Press" after a decade in the chair. He has been a guy and a worthy competitor, seeking truth in complex times. Congratulations to Chuck and a very warm welcome to another good friend, Kristen Welker, as she starts on Sunday mornings. Thank you for sharing parts of your Sunday with us. Check out "World News Tonight." Have a great day.