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State of the Race with Kasie Hunt
Trump Disqualified From 2024 Primary Ballot In Colorado; Violent Crime Is Down, But Fear Of Crime Rising In U.S.; Trump Vows To Fight Crime, Falsely Claims That Violent Crime On The Rise In Major Cities. Aired 11a- 12p ET
Aired December 20, 2023 - 11:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN AVLON, CNN HOST, STATE OF THE RACE: A Colorado court declares Donald Trump disqualified from its ballot due to a constitutional prohibition on
insurrection. This bombshell ruling is reverberating through the campaign, setting up a collision with the Supreme Court. Also this hour is crime
remains a major concern to voters. We're going to talk with San Francisco DA about what she is doing to clean up the streets. And President Joe Biden
is heading to the swing state of Wisconsin to sell the benefits of Bidenomics, even as polls show voters aren't really given credit for the
Good day, everyone. I'm John Avlon, in for Kasie Hunt, to our viewers watching in the USA and around the world. It is 11 a.m. here in New York on
Wednesday, December 20. There are 26 days until the Iowa caucus, 320 days until the election. This is today's State of the Race.
The United States has never seen anything like this, an extraordinary court ruling that could upend the race for the White House. Colorado Supreme
Court has disqualified Republican frontrunner Donald Trump from the primary ballot in that state. It cited the Constitution's 14th Amendment, which
prevents anyone who engaged in insurrection from holding public office. But, this isn't the final word. Trump will certainly appeal to the U.S.
Supreme Court. And if it takes up the case, all 50 states could be affected. Now, Trump didn't mention the ruling on the campaign trail last
night, but some of his GOP rivals definitely did.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not believe Donald Trump should be prevented from being President of the United States
by any court. I think he should be prevented from being President of the United States by the voters of this country
VIVEK RAMASWAMY, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In elections, we can trust. Then we can believe it. That means, yes, unelected judges are
not going to decide willy-nilly across the state who ends up on a ballot and who doesn't.
NIKKI HALEY, U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But, I will beat him fair and square. We don't need to have judges making these decisions. We
need voters to have -- make these decisions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: All right. Let's dive into all of this with today's panel. CNN Economics and Political Commentator, Catherine Rampell; Michael LaRosa,
former Special Assistant to President Biden; former Republican Congressman Charlie Dent, and CNN Legal Analyst Carrie Cordero.
Carrie, I want to start with you because this is in your wheelhouse and we need some guidance. You're looking at an unprecedented situation. The
Supreme Court could very well play a pivotal role in this presidential campaign, not only with this case, but all the other cases that are on its
docket right now. Looking at the merits of this 14th Amendment Section 3 claim and the composition of the court, what do you expect?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, & FMR. U.S. DEPT. OF JUSTICE ATTORNEY: John, it is a big question mark how the U.S. Supreme Court is going to rule
on this case. I think we can absolutely say that it will end up with the Supreme Court. They will have to consider this. They will have to make a
decision quickly, which is not the way that they normally want to work in such a matter of constitutional gravity. As the Colorado Supreme Court
said, this case puts them into uncharted territory when it comes to constitutional analysis.
But, the Supreme Court is going to have to weigh in on whether or not the presidency is an officer under the Constitution. And it's going to for the
first time have to take up the issue of whether or not a former President can be disqualified, not get onto the ballot in Colorado, here in this
particular case, because he engaged in an insurrection. So, just a case of historic significance and consequence.
AVLON: And I think it's important to point out to folks that this post- Civil War amendment was designed to be prospective, not simply retrospective at the time. I've read through legal analysis and historic
documents on this. It also says, not only engaging in an insurrection or rebellion, but giving aid or comfort thereof, and also says the person who
previously taken an oath and violated it would be barred from any office, civil or military.
Given that context, Charlie, take us into the mind of Republicans, because right now they're circling the wagons. They see that this is going to be a
chance for Donald Trump to play victim. But, in private, a lot of the campaigns were saying, see, you can't nominate this guy. It's going to be
chaos from now to Election Day. What's your take?
CHARLIE DENT, FORMER U.S. HOUSE REPUBLICAN, & EXEC. DIRECTOR, ASPEN INSTITUTE CONGRESSIONAL PROGRAM: Well, my take is this. I think Chris
Christie and Nikki Haley had it right. The voters are going to need to decide this. There was an opportunity to remove Donald Trump in the ballot,
but it was through the impeachment process, and regrettably, the United States Senate acquitted Donald Trump back in 2021.
That was the way to do it. It would be nice if a court would actually convict Donald Trump of insurrection, then we might have a case here. But,
I do think, as has been stated by Carrie, that this is going to go to the Supreme Court. We'll see what they find. But, I think it is much better,
though, for the voters to take down Donald Trump than to have the courts do it. It certainly is going to -- Trump will monetize this. He will talk
about election interference. He will talk about rigged elections and all that. But, that's sadly the reality that we're faced with. So, I think
there -- it's going to ultimately come down to the voters, I suspect.
AVLON: Catherine, there is a thicket of cases, right, involving January 6, whether or not you can be prosecuted for obstructing an official event. And
now, this as well as the question of -- related to Jack Smith's cases, this is one more time, we had this in 2000, where it could be that the court
plays in a different context, a decisive role in the election. On the other side of the ledger is the Constitution says what it says. We're trying to
be as impartial as we can. Where do you come down on this one?
CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN ECONOMICS & POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, & OPINION COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON POST: Look, I am not an expert in the law. It does
seem pretty clear that if Donald Trump were not old enough to be President or not born in this country, all sorts of other things, he would be barred
from running for election. Whether this meets the threshold of aiding and abetting an insurrection, I don't know. Certainly, as a layperson, it seems
that way to me. I agree with the others on the panel, though, that the best possible outcome would be that he is rejected by the voters.
And if Republicans are saying behind closed doors that they think this is yet more evidence that he does not belong on the ballot, it would be really
nice if they said that more publicly, particularly the other candidates who are running against Donald Trump. We see them circling the wagons saying,
oh, he should be on the ballot. He should be on the ballot, maybe. I wish that they had that same strength of character and spine to say, look,
whether or not he meets the definition of violating this amendment, he should not be our President. And for some reason, they have been unwilling
to do that.
AVLON: To your point, David Frum has a new article up on The Atlantic that makes exactly this point, saying that this is the last exit for Republican
candidates to sort of grow a spine and say that Donald Trump should be disqualified simply on the basis of the amount of chaos and baggage he
Michael, I want to go to you. You recently left the White House, served there for a long time. What has been -- right now, the White House, we
should say, has been close lipped about this monumental news. They understand that they're being accused baselessly of having a thumb on the
scale. There is no -- absolutely no evidence to suggest in any way shape or form that the Biden White House is participating in the prosecution. In
fact, the DoJ has been criticized for not being more aggressive at the outset. That said, there has got to have been conversations inside the
administration about the possibility of the 14th Amendment Section 3.
MICHAEL LAROSA, FMR. SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO U.S. PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN, & FMR. PRESS SECY. & CHIEF SPOKESPERSON FOR U.S. FIRST LADY JILL BIDEN: I wouldn't
know, but I can't imagine that they are talking about this in a serious way inside the White House. It's all --
LAROSA: With my time with the Biden's and on the campaign or in the White House, Trump was sort of something that we just couldn't control. He is
more of an obsession with the media than he is inside the daily business of running the government or running a campaign where we were like behind five
other candidates. We didn't have time to worry about Trump and the impeachment process while it was going on. I know everybody was fixated on
a date (ph). There is just other things --
AVLON: But, hold on. I mean --
LAROSA: -- that the campaign and the White House were doing. And they just have no, no control over what the Supreme Court would do in this case.
AVLON: Well, that's true. That's true. But, I mean, the Constitution says what it says. And you worked on the campaign. I mean, President Biden said
that the reason he decided to get in the race in 2020 was because of Donald Trump.
LAROSA: However, I don't know -- now, like Catherine said, I'm not a legal analyst either --
LAROSA: -- or a lawyer. But, what I would say, I look at the politics. I don't know if there is upside for Democrats or the Biden campaign or White
House to be weighing in here, because I'm not certain who it helps --
AVLON: I agree.
LAROSA: -- or who it doesn't. From what I can tell, it looks like it would -- look, Democrats have made no secret that they want to run against Donald
Trump, and the trends in how voters are behaving over the last couple of cycles have shown that he really turns off independent voters.
So, I can see why we would want to run against Donald Trump. However, if he is not on the ballot, the worst thing in politics is an X factor.
AVLON: Well, there are probably worse things. But, I hear what you said. I'm still a little incredulous that the idea that this was never discussed,
but we'll leave that for now.
Carrie, I want to go back to you, because you are the legal scholar on the panel. I want to play you a clip from the conservative Judge Michael Luttig
who was on CNN this morning and said this. I will get your take.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
J. MICHAEL LUTTIG, FMR. U.S. COURT OF APPEALS JUDGE, FOURTH CIRCUIT: The 14th Amendment Section 3 is what we call self-executing, by that is meant
that neither a finding by the Congress of the United States, nor a conviction for the crime of insurrection or rebellion against the United
States. It is required. That's very, very clear. Those who would characterize this decision as political or politics from a liberal state
Supreme Court are misguided.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AVLON: The key quote there, I think, is self-executing, the idea that this is written in the Constitution that you can't take the Constitution ala
carte, and that if the facts fit it, then the -- if someone who is taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and engages in or gives aid or comfort to
an insurrection, then they're disqualified from holding federal office. Where do you agree or disagree with Michael Luttig on this?
CORDERO: Right. So, I think what Judge Luttig is trying to point out there is that there is not -- it's a reasonable way to read the Constitution and
this particular section of it to say that there is no requirement that an individual, for example, be charged and convicted of insurrection or
seditious conspiracy or something that is that more grave charge that would form the basis. In this particular case, in the Colorado case, what there
was there was a finding of fact by the district court judge, and the Supreme Court of Colorado actually showed that their standard of review of
that factual finding that the former President did in fact engage in insurrection, and that the events of January 6 were in fact an act of
The Colorado Supreme Court gives a lot of deference to the district court in making that factual finding. And so, then the issue of law, which I
think Judge Luttig has a very reasonable and conservative interpretation of the Constitution, is that the section of the Constitution doesn't require
that there actually be a trial. One of the issues that the Supreme Court of the United States might take up is the fact that the Justice Department did
apparently look at former President Trump's activities because they have charged him with certain issues related to January 6, but they did not
charge him with incitement to an insurrection. And they did not charge him with seditious conspiracy, which was one of the more serious charges that
some of the other individuals who engaged in the actual violence were charged with.
That might be one of the issues that the Supreme Court takes a look at. I think the bigger legal issue that they'll take a look at is actually the
officer issue, whether the office of the presidency is an officer under the Constitution.
AVLON: It says any office, but I take your point, and it will be fascinating to see how this all plays out, especially whether Jack Smith
ends up regretting his decision not to include that insurrection charge in there. Carrie Cordero, thank you so much for all your legal wisdom. The
rest of the panel, you're going to be back later in the show to talk politics. Thanks all.
All right. Former President Trump vowing to fight what he says are rising crime rates, but violent crime is actually down. But, it is a problem in a
lot of places on the level of perception. We're going to talk to San Francisco's District Attorney about crime in America, perception versus
reality, and deal with it.
AVLON: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is about to hold an end of the year news briefing. We're going to go to that when it starts. But
first, we're going to go to a conversation with San Francisco's District Attorney. Public safety is a fundamental civil right, and crime is a
perennial concern in elections. I mean, there is good news and bad news on this front right now. FBI data showing that most violent crime rates are
going down in the U.S. after a spike in 2020. But, 77 percent of Americans believe that crime is actually getting worse, according to a recent poll.
So, how do we explain that disconnect, and what's being done to make city streets feel safer for its citizens?
It's my pleasure to welcome San Francisco DA Brooke Jenkins. Brooke, it's good to see you. We first met on the set of Real Time with Bill Maher some
time ago before you were DA. I want to just run through some of these stats. As I mentioned, violent crime is down in the United States.
Perception of crime, though, still a major problem. Under your watch, since you were DA, crime is actually down eight percent in San Francisco. But, in
California writ large, crime has been on the rise. Tell us what you've been doing in your year in office, year and change in office to get a handle on
what many people feel is an out-of-control civics structure.
BROOKE JENKINS, SAN FRANCISCO DISTRICT ATTORNEY: We've had to come back to a place of enforcing our laws fully in San Francisco. We know we got away
with that under the previous DA. I have come in and said all crime is illegal in San Francisco again. We have to enforce every law. We have to
make sure we're figuring out who our chronic offenders are so that we can treat and handle them very differently. When you can disrupt those who have
-- who are repeat offenders and committing crime over and over again, it helps to bring that overall percentage number down.
AVLON: And that's such an important point because the vast majority of crime and civic disorder is caused by a relatively few number of folks.
When I talked to folks in San Francisco, carjacking seemed to be out of control in the region. And then also, shoplifting seems to have been, in
some stores, effectively decriminalized. How are you dealing with those two aspects of city life?
JENKINS: Yes. Most of the images that people have seen of San Francisco are viral videos of retail theft run rampant --
JENKINS: -- in our city. And so, again, we've tried to make sure that we're strategically placing police officers in front of businesses, in our
business corridors, within our retail stores. But then, when prolific retail thieves are caught, when these groups of individuals who are going
into these stores are caught, my office is going into court and saying, for some of them, they need to stay in custody while their cases are open.
Again, that causes a major disruption in what's happening.
AVLON: It definitely does. It gets to that point about enforcing the laws. There used to be a phrase called broken windows theory had fallen out of
favor, but it basically said that if you don't fix broken windows on a city street, it sends a signal that disorder and crime is acceptable. How do you
deal with issues like homelessness which create that perception in San Francisco, which is such a complex issue with mental illness disorder and
crime is acceptable.
How do you deal with issues like homelessness, which create that perception in San Francisco, which is such a complex issue with mental illness and
drug addiction? And how much -- or do you feel constrained by the state legislature and the courts in dealing with these difficult issues?
JENKINS: Yes. So, I subscribe to broken windows theory myself. When you see vacant storefronts, when you see encampments out on our street, it
certainly seems to attract some bad elements. But, it also makes people feel a sense of a lack of safety. And so, we have to be addressing all of
those issues at the same time. We have to be trying to get people off of our streets and into shelter and into housing. And that's something that I
often am a proponent of in other spaces with other agencies in our city. But, we certainly are up against some issues. The legislature has taken
away a number of tools from law enforcement. We have a court injunction right now that's preventing us from forcing encampments to be removed from
our streets in a lot of ways.
And I'm up against judges in our criminal courthouse that sometimes don't take issues like drug dealing very seriously and won't keep repeat sellers
of fentanyl in jail while their cases are pending.
AVLON: That is deeply troubling (ph) and must be enormously frustrating. I want to get to that question of perception versus reality, and I don't want
to do that to denigrate in any way people's legitimate concerns about crime and civic decline. But nationally, at least, violent crime, most violent
crimes are going down, and yet, it -- most people, 77 percent, believe the problem is getting worse. How do you explain that? How do you deal with
JENKINS: One, I think we've had a wave of extremely progressive district attorneys across the country that have not vowed to really take seriously
their job to enforce the law. And I think we have to come back to a state of balance in our country where we understand that, yes, reform is needed.
But, we have to have a system of government that's willing to keep us safe and enforce laws and keep some order in our society.
The other thing is that we now have technology in our hands. Videos are coming into us on a 24/7 basis. Most of us are on Twitter or social media
all of the time, seeing videos of crimes happening. And so, that has an effect on us. It doesn't mean that these crimes are not reality. And that's
why I am here trying to clean up the situation here in San Francisco, because there is a reality of a problem. But, I think it's the flood of
information in these videos that we continue to see just in the palm of our hand that make that problem even worse in our minds.
AVLON: That amplifies. That's a really interesting point. Before you go, final point, because I like to focus on solutions. What are you doing in
San Francisco? What are you seeing some of your more effective colleagues do that you think should be adopted more broadly, nationwide?
JENKINS: Again, I think we have to come back to a place of understanding that law enforcement is necessary in a civilized society. We have to make
sure that law enforcement has the tools that it needs to enforce our laws, while at the same time we make sure that we're enacting responsible reforms
that keep our system moving in a direction of increased fairness. And so, I really do think that we have to make sure that the people that we elect and
have as those who are in charge of our governing structures understand that we have to have that balance, and it has to be struck in the right spot,
because we cannot sort of throw the baby out with the bathwater simply because we think reform is necessary, or now swinging the pendulum all the
way to the other side.
AVLON: I agree with you. San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins, thank you for joining us here on CNN. Appreciate you.
JENKINS: Thank you, John. Good to see you.
AVLON: You too. All right. Let's get our panel's take on this while we wait for a Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Mark (ph), I'll start with you because you've served in the Biden Administration. There is a feeling that Democrats aren't playing offense on
the issue of crime, fairly or not, and I know the DoJ has had several initiatives. How much of that is a CoP topic of conversation and strategic
planning inside the Biden White House?
LAROSA: Well, I think it's always been a wedge that Republicans have used against Democrats. And this was a large discussion or huge flashpoint
during the last midterm election, particularly in New York, in the New York suburbs. In the 1990s, President Biden was among the leaders in the Senate
to really try to coopt this issue from Republicans nationwide. But, I think in terms of talking about this as a perception versus reality issue, it's
very similar to the economy, right? Voters have to sort of feel the difference in crime coming down. And where do most voters turn to for news
consumption? Most voters trust local news, and what is the winning formula for local news.
As you probably know, and Donna Hanover helped elevate at WSVN, if it bleeds, it leads. So, it's the perception problem really.
AVLON: OK. OK. OK. I take that point, and I appreciate the Donna Hanover reference. She was Rudy Giuliani's first wife, First Lady of New York City,
when crime came down.
But, actually to that point, Catherine, and while you are sitting by a lovely Christmas tree in Arizona, you're also a New Yorker. You also write
for The Washington Post. You know that -- I mean, in a very short period of time, Rudy Giuliani, when he was mayor, and Bill Bratton, were able to
bring crime down a dramatic amount in a very short period of time, in part by focusing on these quality of life issues that are committed -- the vast
majority of crimes committed by a small number of folks. So, sometimes, when Democrats say it's solely a perception issue, and I take the
amplification point on social media, putting that aside, it seems like they're not dealing with the discomfort people feel. How do you see it?
RAMPELL: I think there were a number of things going on. And actually, I would view the Giuliani years somewhat differently than I think you do,
RAMPELL: -- that I don't think it was only about the policy measures. It was also the effect of the economy improving. And we saw crime dropping not
just in New York City, but in cities around the country, as the economy strengthened. And those two things don't always go together, but they tend
to correlate. So, I think just as you will see Americans shift their attitudes towards the economy, they also may shift their attitudes towards
crime in the year ahead, for much the same reasons, the same underlying forces, that as there are greater job opportunities, as there is sort of
more opportunity cost for committing crimes, you may continue to see that go down, and that may be felt increasingly by regular voters.
The other thing that I would point out about local news, my own pet theory about this is that as local news stations, newspapers, TV stations, etc.,
have been hollowed out, it's not only a matter of like deliberate strategy to end up playing out more crime, but it's basically the easiest thing for
them to cover, to just write up the police blotter. Essentially, that requires many fewer resources than having a lot of full-time investigative
reporters, for example, on staff going out and pursuing other kinds of stories.
So, I think it's not only that deliberate strategic change that we saw happen a couple of decades ago, and how news organizations covered this
issue. I think it's a matter of survival for them that it's just much easier to write up -- again, whatever is in the local police blotter and to
cover a lot of other things. And so, it becomes more salient for the public.
AVLON: Charlie, before we go, you are old school centrist Republican dying breed. But, you remember Ed Rendell in your state. He was a Democrat who
was tough on crime in a time when you had Democrats and Republicans working together to pass the crime bill. Do you think that kind of thing is
possible now, and should Biden be donning that approach as he did in the 1990s more now?
DENT: Well, I do think Democrats writ at large need to take crime issue much more seriously, particularly at the local level. You mentioned Ed
Rendell and one of his successors, Michael Nutter, both very effective mayors, had very effective law enforcement strategies. But, what's
happened? And by the way, the DA from San Francisco, she is a breath of fresh air compared to her predecessor, who was recalled for dereliction of
DENT: But, in the city like Philadelphia, we have a district attorney, Larry Krasner, who really doesn't enforce the law as he should. And there
is a sense of lawlessness there. I mean, retail theft is out of control. Carjackings are still a problem everywhere. The perception is bad because
the reality is not good. I have children who live in the city of Philadelphia, who live -- one lives there now, one previously. A year ago
this time, my son had all the wheels stripped off his car. My daughter was assaulted --
AVLON: May I have to cut you up there -- I have to you cut you up there not because I don't think you're making a good point, but because we've got the
Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Here is his press conference
ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: -- by reinvesting in America's greatest sources of strength. And since day one, that's exactly what we've
done. We've done it here at home by making historic investments in our competitiveness, in our Military, in our infrastructure, in our technology,
in our manufacturing base. We've also done it around the world, revitalizing and re-energizing our unmatched network of alliances and
In 2023, we continue to show that this strategy is working. In a year of profound tests, the world looked to the United States to lead and that's
just what we did. It was also a year when our friends and partners took significant, at times even unprecedented steps to share with us the
responsibility of leadership.
As we head into 2024, we will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who share our vision for a free, open, prosperous and secure world,
because that's what delivering for the American people demands.
First, we will continue to rally countries around the world to support Ukraine's freedom and independence, and to ensure that Russia's aggression
remains a strategic failure. Putin has already failed to achieve his principal objective in Ukraine, erasing it from the map, subsuming it into
Russia. It's been a hard year on the battlefield. But, once again, Ukrainians have done what no one thought was possible. They stood toe to
toe with one of the world's biggest militaries. They conceded no territory despite multiple Russian offenses, and they pushed Russia's Navy back in
the Black Sea, and opened a corridor to allow them to export their grain and other products to the world.
Russia is weaker militarily, economically, diplomatically. NATO is bigger and stronger and more united than at any point in its nearly 75-year
history. This year, we added our 31st member of NATO. Finland and Sweden will join soon, bringing even greater potency and capability to our
International support has been critical to Ukraine's success. Europe has contributed more than $110 billion to Ukraine, compared to about $70
billion from the United States. So, we have with Ukraine and in Ukraine maybe the best example of burden sharing that I've seen in the time that
I've been engaged in these issues. Just last week, the European Union also agreed to start accession talks with Ukraine. Japan, Korea, Australia,
others in the Indo-Pacific, they've stepped up too from helping rebuild Ukraine's energy grid to providing major military and humanitarian
assistance. Like us, they know that supporting Ukraine is vital to showing would-be aggressors everywhere that we will stand up to those who seek to
redraw borders by force.
Our support hasn't just helped Ukrainians. 90 percent of the security assistance that we provided to Ukraine has been spent here in the United
States, benefiting American businesses, workers, communities, strengthening our nation's defense industrial base. President Putin has boasted in recent
weeks that -- and I quote, "Ukraine has no future." He thinks his strategy of wading us out while sending wave after wave of young Russians into a
meat grinder of his own making will pay off.
On one and only one point, I agree with Putin. America's ongoing support is critical to enabling Ukraine's brave soldiers and citizens to keep up their
fight, to ensure that Russia's war remains a strategic failure, and to continue helping Ukraine move toward standing strongly on its own two feet,
militarily, economically, and democratically. Putin is betting that our divisions will prevent us from coming through for Ukraine. We have proven
him wrong before. We will prove him wrong again.
Second, we will continue to engage with China from a position of strength. Our partnerships in the Indo-Pacific have never been stronger. In 2023, the
President held his historic summit at Camp David with Japan, the Republic of Korea, cementing a new era of trilateral cooperation. We're working with
the United Kingdom and Australia to produce nuclear-powered submarines. We launched new comprehensive strategic partnerships with Vietnam and
Indonesia, a new defense cooperation agreement with the Philippines, new trilateral initiatives with the Philippines and Japan, new embassies in
Solomon Islands and Tonga. We've deepened our partnership with India. We've elevated cooperation through the Quad with India, Japan, and Australia.
The United States is more closely aligned, more closely aligned than ever, with the G7, with the EU, with other allies and partners on the challenges
presented by Beijing. And we're working together to address them by deepening cooperation and coordination between NATO and our Indo-Pacific
allies. These efforts have allowed us to engage more effectively when tackling areas of concern like China's course of trade and economic
practices, peace and stability in the Taiwan Straits, and eastern South China Seas and human rights.
At the same time, our efforts to restore high-level diplomacy, starting with my trip to Beijing in July, have allowed us to take practical steps to
reduce the risk that competition veers into conflict as well as to make progress on issues that matter in the lives of our fellow citizens.
Now, that was on full display when President Biden met with President Xi last month, and made tangible progress on issues that matter, that mattered
to Americans as well as to people around the world. We secured China's cooperation on reducing the flow of precursor chemicals that are fueling
the synthetic drug crisis. We're restoring military-to-military communications at all levels to reduce the possibility of miscalculation
and conflict. And we've agreed to discuss risks and safety around artificial intelligence. I look forward to continuing these discussions in
the year ahead.
Third, we will keep shaping and leading coalitions to solve the problems that demand working together with others, for the good of our people and
for people around the world. That's exactly what we did in 2023, rallying coalitions of governments, businesses, civil society, regional and
multilateral institutions, to tackle food insecurity, to promote secure, safe, trustworthy AI systems, to fight the synthetic drug crisis, to stop
the scourge of governments that arbitrarily detained foreign nationals for leverage, to mobilize hundreds of billions of dollars to build physical,
digital, clean energy and health infrastructure across developing countries, including some of the most fragile ones.
At the same time, we championed reforms to make the international system more inclusive, more effective, more responsive to advancing these issues,
from the World Bank to the G-20, which will now have the African Union as a permanent member. On every one of these priorities, and on many others,
delivering for the American people means improving the lives of people around the world. The reverse is also true. Leading on these global
challenges is good for Americans. When we help reduce the flow of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs, we're not only tackling the number one killer of
Americans aged 18 to 49, we're addressing a scores of families around the world and rooting out the criminal organizations that profit from their
When we rally Democratic partners and allies to build clean energy infrastructure in countries that can't afford to build it on their own,
we're preserving our shared planet and creating new opportunities for American workers, American businesses, American investors. When we team up
with other countries to hold accountable and deter governments that arbitrarily detained foreign nationals as political pawns, we can apply
more effective pressure to bring our fellow citizens home, and we make people in all nations less vulnerable.
Fourth, in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, we will continue to focus intensely on our core priorities, helping Israel ensure that what happened
on October 7 can never happen again, bringing the conflict to an end as quickly as possible, while minimizing the loss of life and the suffering of
civilians, getting the remaining hostages back home to their families, preventing the conflict from spreading, and once and for all, breaking the
devastating cycle of violence and moving toward durable lasting peace.
We continue to believe that Israel does not have to choose between removing the threat of Hamas and minimizing the toll on civilians in Gaza. It has an
obligation to do both, and it has a strategic interest to do both. We're more determined than ever to ensure that out of this horrific tragedy comes
a moment of possibility for Israelis, for Palestinians, for the region, to live in lasting peace and lasting security. That out of this darkness comes
light. Realizing that possibility will require all parties to make tough choices about the steps that they're willing to take, including the United
States. We will test this proposition with the urgency and the creativity that it deserves, and that America's interest demand.
This is the spirit that has long animated President Biden in the face of seemingly intractable conflicts. As Vice President, he helped oversee the
end to the Iraq war. As President, he ended the longest war in American history in Afghanistan. He helped secure and later extend a truce in the
Yemen conflict. He is bringing that same focus to bear right now. Across every one of our priorities, America has been more effective because of the
steps we've taken to build a stronger, a more agile, a more diverse State Department. There are two. We continue the effort in 2023 in partnership
with Congress, and I note this department participated in 106 hearings this year, which by our count is a record.
We secured new authorities to rapidly fill critical staffing gaps in crises. We established a new bureau to elevate and integrate work on global
health security across our diplomacy. We added hundreds of positions to the department's training float. We created dozens of new courses and
professional development opportunities. We established a global pay baseline for locally employed staff. We boosted access to student loan
repayment programs, expanded positions for eligible family members. Among many other steps we've taken to invest in the department's greatest
resorts, is people.
So, you've heard the President say. We are at an inflection point for our country and for the world. What we do, what we failed to do in this moment
will have profound consequences for decades to come. The stakes could not be clearer. If we want to deliver on the issues that affect the lives of
the American people, we have to keep investing in ourselves, in our network of allies and partners, in our ability to solve global challenges. And to
do that, we need Congress to pass the President's additional national security funding request.
Here is the benefits if Congress passes the supplemental, our fellow citizens, our businesses, our workers, our allies and partners, people
around the world, who are looking to the United States to lead. Here is who cheers if we fail, Moscow, Tehran, Beijing. If we come up short, it won't
be our adversaries and competitors who stopped us. It will be ourselves.
Before turning to you for some questions, let me just say this. I want to take a moment to thank each and every one of you, to thank our press corps,
those present in the room and those outside who may be listening in. This has been an extraordinarily dangerous year for press around the world, many
killed, many more wounded, hundreds detained, attacked, threatened, injured, simply for doing their jobs. And yet, you've persisted. You stayed
at it. And I am immensely grateful for that. To all the reporters here today with whom I've clocked a few miles this past year, your relentless
efforts to ask tough questions, often multipart, and get accurate, timely information to people around the globe is a true public service.
It's vital that we continue, you continue to do that, because it's so important to everything that all of us care about, informed engaged
citizens, truth, accountability, democracy. And you do it in a way that humanizes people in an ever more dehumanized world. So, I'm profoundly
grateful to you for the work that you do, even if I don't always show it. With that, I'm happy to take some questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Happy holidays.
BLINKEN: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know that this is intended to be a kind of 30,000 foot view year-end interview, but I have to ask you about two issues of the day,
pressing issues of the day. One, what can you tell us about that deal to -- that's been struck with Venezuela to release detained Americans?
And two, at the UN Security Council, maybe right now, if there hasn't been another delay, but were soon, there will be a vote on this Gaza -- Israel-
Gaza resolution. What will it take, or what does the United States need to see in such a resolution for it not to veto it? And if that can't be done
and you end up vetoing it, are you not concerned that the number three priority that you mentioned in your opening, the coalition building, will
be damaged, very badly damaged? The U.S. is already isolated internationally on this issue, and another veto, are you not concerned that
another veto will further isolate you? Thanks.
BLINKEN: Thanks, Matt (ph). So, On Venezuela, let me say first this and you've heard me say this before, we have no higher priority than doing
everything we possibly can to bring our fellow citizens out of harm's way, to make sure that they're safe and secure of they get into trouble in one
way or another overseas, including if they're arbitrarily detained. And as you know, we have secured the release over the past a couple of years of
nearly three dozen Americans who were arbitrarily detained.
That is work that continues every single day in any place around the world where Americans are being wrongfully imprisoned or detained. So, this has
been a priority for us, broadly. It's also been a priority when it comes to Venezuela. And we want to make sure that our fellow Americans are released.
We are also focused on political prisoners in Venezuela, and trying to ensure their release. So, what I can say in this moment is this. We have a
lot of work going on, on both of those fronts right now. And we hope to have some good news to share probably later today. But, for now, that's
what I can share with you.
On the UN Security Council vote, you're right. This is going on, as we gather here. We continue to engage extensively and constructively with a
number of countries to try to resolve some of the outstanding issues in this -- in the Security Council resolution. The purpose of the resolution,
as stated by the countries that put it forward, it is to facilitate and help expand humanitarian assistance that's getting into Gaza. And we fully
support that. In fact, the United States from day one has, I would argue, done more than any other country to make sure that that could happen.
My first trip to Israel into the region, after October 7, we focused on getting an agreement to start getting humanitarian assistance into Gaza.
And a few days later, that started with the opening of Rafah. That was necessary, but very much insufficient. We've been working ever since to
expand that. Just in the last couple of days, you've seen, again, as a result of work that many of us have done over the last several weeks, Kerem
Shalom opening so that not only your goods inspected at Kerem Shalom, which increases the capacity of the ability of -- to get goods into the Gaza, but
goods are going directly from and through Kerem Shalom into Gaza. In addition, we have commercial products going in, not just humanitarian
We made sure that we have a sustained delivery of fuel at levels that the humanitarian community tells us are necessary to make sure that
desalination plants, sewage systems, telecoms, trucks, hospitals, can be powered and functioned. And of course, we continue to work on this every
day, for example, making sure that once assistance gets into Gaza, it can actually move around and be distributed safely and securely with
predictable routes, times, access. So, we've been at the forefront of all of these efforts. And we want to make sure that the resolution in -- in
what it calls for and requires, actually advances that effort and doesn't do anything that could actually hurt the delivery of humanitarian
assistance make it more complicated. That's what we're focused on.
We're engaged, as I said, in very good faith with other countries. We've been working this intensely. I've been on the phones about this for the
last the last couple of days. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, of course in New York, has been leading our efforts. So, I hope we can get to a good place.
To the last part of your question, let me say this. What I have seen from day one is that countries throughout the region as well as countries around
the world want to work with us, and are looking for American leadership in this crisis, even countries that may disagree with us on certain issues
that have come to the fore. That's been a common refrain. I've been not only in the region multiple times and travelled to not just Israel, but to
virtually all of our Arab partners, and others, including Turkey. We've been on the phones constantly, including this week with all of our
partners, and the common refrain is they are looking for American leadership. And we're working to provide that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michelle Kelemen, I will let you back.
MICHELLE KELEMAN, NPR CORRESPONDENT: I am ready to back.
BLINKEN: Hi Michelle.
KELEMAN: What -- just real quickly on Gaza, how would you characterize the talks on a new hostage deal for a pause? Is that imminent? Are you making
progress on that? And then, more broadly, we end this year with much of the world blaming the U.S. and Israel for -- are seeing it as America's war
also. It's hurting America's image in the world. There is a stalemate in Ukraine, and no new aid package. The fighting goes on in Sudan. I wonder if
there is anywhere that you're rethinking strategy or have some ideas on how to change the dynamics on any of those conflicts.
BLINKEN: Thanks, Michelle. On the question of hostages and a pause, this is something we'd very much like to see happen. As you know, we were
instrumental in getting the first humanitarian pause that facilitated the release of 110 hostages. Israel has been very clear, including as recently
as today that it would welcome returning to a pause and the further release of hostages. The problem was and has been remains is Hamas. They reneged on
commitments that they made during the first pause for hostage releases. And the question is, whether they are in fact willing to resume this effort.
But, certainly, it's something that we would welcome. I know that Israel would welcome. And I think the world would welcome.
So, we'll see what they choose to do. We remain very actively engaged in seeing if we can get a pause back on and hostages moving out again of Gaza.
That's something we're on every single day. More broadly, I think what's important to always remember is that virtually none of the challenges we're
dealing with are like flipping a light switch. And you suddenly get total success in the course of a day, a week, a month, even a year. It's almost
always a process and a constant effort to get to a better place.
We were talking about Ukraine a short while ago. Very important to put this in context. As I said at the outset, if you look at where we were in
February of 2022 and where we are now, well, February 2022, when the Russians went in, most people were predicting that they'd make very quick
work of Ukraine, and Putin would succeed in his goal of erasing it from the map, and subsuming it into Russia. That has failed. And it's failed, first
and foremost, because of the courage of the Ukrainian people. But also, because of the leadership we provided in making sure with dozens of
countries around the world that Ukraine had what it needed to succeed in repelling the Russian aggression.
And now, we're engaged in an effort to help Ukraine stand on its own two feet democratically, militarily, economically, not only dealing with the
current challenge that Russia continues to pose, but setting it up for the long term. And a lot of very important and good work has been done and
continues to be done on that. Militarily, we have 30 countries around the world now that are helping, including the United States, that are helping
Ukraine build a future force where they can deter aggression and defend against it if it comes in the future. We're extensively engaged on trying
to bring much more private sector investment and activity into Ukraine, so that it can thrive economically. And we're having some real success there.
And that creates a virtuous cycle.
AVLON: You've been listening to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken giving his end of the year press conference. You're watching State of the
I wanted to bring in, before we go, historian Joanne Freeman. She is author of the great book "Field of Blood", which examines violence in Congress
leading up to the Civil War. She joins me now. Joanne, good to see you. Look, politics is without perspective these days. And that's why I wanted
to have a conversation with you. Things seem so amped up, unprecedented. Give us a little bit of perspective on our times, vis-a-vis what you've
learned about the 1850s?
JOANNE FREEMAN, PROFESSOR OF AMERICAN HISTORY, YALE UNIVERSITY, & AUTHOR, "THE FIELD OF BLOOD": Sure. Well, on the one hand, I'll say that the United
States has a long history of infusing violence in its politics. So, it's not as though what's happening now on a certain level is new. But also,
speaking more broadly, there are moments in American history where it's very clear that there is something fundamental about the United States
that's up for debate, in a way. And when those kinds of moments are particularly clear, it amps up, as you put it, it gets people more violent.
It amps up the nature of the rhetoric. It creates extremism.
And by comparison, I would say think about, as you just mentioned, the 1850s, there is a moment when it was very clear that the fate of slavery
was up for debate, and because that major issue was up for debate, it created a moment in American politics that was very violent, very extreme.
You saw that in Congress, among government figures and within the nation at large. Another such moment, you could look at the 1960s, when people knew
that civil rights were up for debate. Again, another such moment where there is extremism. There is violence. People at that point were able to
watch it on TV.
Right now, we're in a moment where people realize on a certain level that democracy is up for debate. And I realize, I say that as a historian, and
think about the fact that people are hearing that more and more, and I fear that they might be tuning that out. And as a historian, I guess I would
encourage people to think about the fact that it's tempting as Americans to think that, well, we've always been OK. And so, everything will always be
OK. But, historians, more than perhaps anyone else, realize everything is contingent. Nothing is guaranteed.
AVLON: We need to take responsibility.
FREEMAN: Absolutely. And realize we don't know what's coming.
AVLON: Well -- and yet, we need to use history to the best we can to apply those lessons. One of the things you detail in your book, by the way, is
that like there are over 70 acts of violence on the floor of Congress before -- I'm being told, unfortunately, that we need to cut our
conversation short, and I'm sorry. There is a lot I want to hear from you, especially about the application of the 14th Amendment Section 3. We're
going to have to do that another time.
AVLON: Joanne Freeman, historian extraordinaire, thanks for joining us here on State of the Race. All right. I'm John Avlon. That's it for us for State
of the Race today. One World is up next.