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State of the Union

Interview With Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL); Interview With Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL); Interview With FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired October 02, 2022 - 09:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST (voice-over): In ruin. Dozens are dead and more than 800,000 still without power, as hundreds of thousands are now homeless.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just destroyed and it's ruined. And then you have to start all over again.

BASH: But, as hurricanes worsen, are there some areas where Americans shouldn't rebuild? I will speak to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and Florida Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio.

And upping the ante. Ukraine takes back a key city one day after Vladimir Putin illegally annexes four regions of Ukraine and again threatens to go nuclear.

LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: There are no checks on Mr. Putin.

BASH: Can the West keep the Russian leader under control?

Plus: the road to 218. With the Democrats' majority threatened in Congress, Virginia becomes a battleground for one of the most competitive House races in the country.

REP. ELAINE LURIA (D-VA): If you look across the spectrum in the country, this is number 218.

BASH: What issues are on voters' minds? I spent time in a district that could prove decisive.


BASH: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in Washington, where the state of our union is picking up the pieces after a devastating storm.

The numbers and images are staggering. At least 67 are dead in Florida, four in North Carolina, more than 850,000 still in the dark this morning, hundreds of thousands now essentially refugees days after Hurricane Ian swept ashore and swept away life as many know it. Already, more than 1,000 civilians have been rescued and evacuated,

according to the governor's office. And we're getting a clearer view of Ian's map-altering impact. Entire stretches of Florida's coastline are now gone. Once sprawling communities like Sanibel Island are completely shattered.

Homes and businesses, what they looked before on the left and what they look like now, piles of concrete rubble strewn on the beach on the right.

Tomorrow, President Biden and the first lady will travel to Puerto Rico, severely damaged by Hurricane Fiona, and then on to Florida on Wednesday, where estimates put the storm-related damage in the tens of billions.

I want to go straight to the person leading the national recovery effort, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell.

Administrator Criswell, thank you so much for joining me.

You took a tour on Friday of the devastation in Florida, entire communities, as we just showed, destroyed. How did what you saw on the ground compare to other storms that we have seen in recent years?


Yes, I spent the last two days in Florida. On Friday, I had the opportunity to travel with the governor to survey some of the impacts that we have been hearing about and that we have been seeing on the news. And the impacts are devastating, the coast of Florida, the Western coast of Florida, many homes completely destroyed, several that are damaged, communities that are going to have a long road to recovery.

But we also saw homes that are still underwater in the central part of water, as Ian caused intense flooding as it crossed the state. This is going to be an all-of-government response and recovery effort. And it's going to be an all-of-society, bringing together all of our partners to help these people, to help all these families get on their road to recovery.

BASH: Do you expect the death toll to continue to rise significantly? And how long do you expect it take -- to take for the power to be restored statewide?

CRISWELL: Unfortunately with hurricanes of this size and that have this much catastrophic damage, fatalities are always something that we think is going to be a possibility.

First, I'd say that we knew this, and so we have prepositioned a large amount, probably the biggest number of search-and-rescue assets, in the state prior to landfall to make sure that we could go in immediately to start those lifesaving efforts. And that's what they were able to do.

They were working directly for the counties, going in and conducting search-and-rescues, even as much as the day before yesterday in the central part of Florida, where the floodwaters were continuing to rise. Those teams are still there. They're now doing primary searches, which means that they're going house by house to make sure that we can account for everybody.


And while we certainly hope that we can continue to find more people alive and bring them out, we're going to support the state and their needs as we continue to go house by house and make sure that everybody is accounted for.

BASH: Incredibly harrowing work.

You said on this show previously that powerful storms like the one we're talking about are -- quote -- "going to be our new normal," calling climate change -- quote -- "the crisis of our generation."

Was Ian worse because of the climate crisis?

CRISWELL: We have seen and I have said that we're seeing an increase in the number of storms and in the intensity of the storms.

And we have also heard from the National Hurricane Center that these storms are going to bring more rain with them. And that's what we have seen in the last few storms. We're going to have a lot of time in the days to come to understand what contributed to the intensity of this storm.

What I'd say right now is, we are very focused on the impacts, right? Regardless of what caused it, we want to focus on those people that were in the storm's path. We want to make sure that we're giving them the help they need.

BASH: Well, part of getting them the help they need is the question of these people, many of whom are simply homeless, are going to live.

And rebuilding, as you said, could take years. It could cost tens of billions of dollars. The areas that we're seeing some of these devastating images are along a shore that was totally destroyed.

Have we reached the point where it might be safer and less costly to relocate people, rather than spending all of those billions of dollars to rebuild places that could get destroyed?

CRISWELL: I think the important thing, Dana, is that people need to understand what their potential risk can be, whether it's along the coast or whether it's inland and along a riverbed or even in Tornado Alley. People need to understand what their risk is.

And we need to make sure that, as we rebuild, we're at least rebuilding with the current building codes that are going to protect and reduce the impacts of these storms. We could see some new construction that withheld very well in some parts of the state, but certainly parts that were destroyed.

BASH: Right.

CRISWELL: And so it takes a combination of things. And people need to make informed decisions about what their risk is and, if they choose to rebuild there, making sure that they do it in a way that's going to reduce their threat.

BASH: And part of understanding risk is understanding whether or not you need flood insurance.

Only about 18 percent of people living in the counties under evacuation have that insurance. And those decisions are often based on FEMA's flood zone maps. According to the nonprofit First Street Foundation, more than 186,000 properties at risk of flooding in those counties aren't included in your maps.

I understand -- we have talked about this -- that you said that you're updating the maps. It takes time. But the storm leaves countless Floridians in financial ruin. So what's the holdup?

CRISWELL: Yes, so our flood maps address a very specific type of flooding.

But what I would say Dana is that people need to understand that, while, in certain areas, we require flood insurance, everybody has the ability to purchase flood insurance. And if you live near water or where it rains, it can certainly flood.

And we have seen that multiple storms this year. And so, again, going back to people understanding what their potential risk is, and it -- just because you're not required to buy flood insurance doesn't mean that you don't have the option to buy it. It is certainly your best defense to help protect your property in the aftermath of any of these storms.

BASH: So, you're saying, regardless of what your map say, if you live near water, you should buy -- anywhere near water, you should buy flood insurance?

CRISWELL: I think anybody who lives near water should certainly purchase flood insurance, because it's your number one tool to help protect your family and your home after the storm.

BASH: FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it. And good luck over the next days and weeks to come.

CRISWELL: Dana, thank you very much.

BASH: And Florida's Republican Senators Rick Scott and Marco Rubio are urging Congress for more money to rebuild their state. What will it take and when will they get it? They're going to both join me ahead.

Plus, Hurricane Ian pushes Governor Ron DeSantis away from the political and towards the practical. How is the potential 2024 contender navigating what may be his biggest test yet? Stay with us.



BASH: Like a horror movie, the scariest thing in their lives.

People trapped in Ian's path describe an ordeal like no other.


RICKEY ANDERSON, SANIBEL ISLAND, FLORIDA, RESIDENT: Can we get some help down here? Would that be too much to ask?

I mean, you look around here, there's nothing. We have no power, no phone service, nothing. So, we'd just like a little help. I'd like a little help to get my home back in shape, because I have nowhere to go.


BASH: Joining me now from the emergency operations center in Naples, Republican Senator from Florida Rick Scott, who is also the state's governor.

Senator, thank you so much for joining me.

You have led Florida through storms like this for years, both as governor and as senator. Is this the worst you have ever seen?

SEN. RICK SCOTT (R-FL): I have seen -- this is really bad.

Probably, Mexico Beach, with Michael, was horrible because they had nine feet of storm surge. This was actually even higher in Sanibel, Pine Island, places like that, Fort Myers Beach.

Then I watched what happens with storm surge down the Keys with Irma. I mean, it just pulls everything out. And you just heard about the individual. That's how people feel. They -- one, they're alive, which is -- that's the positive. Unfortunately, we have lost a lot of people in this storm, and your heart goes out to them.

But people that have gone through this, they have nothing. I mean, their home is gone. Their power is not on. They don't have water. They just -- they need help. And so I know everybody is working hard. I have been touring the areas, I have been talking to sheriffs -- with sheriffs, first responders.

I know FEMA is here. The state is here. Everyone is helping. But there's a lot of need right now. And there's a lot of need especially in places like Lee, which is the Fort Myers. But I was up in Kissimmee yesterday, and there's areas that you never think would flood that have flooded.

[09:15:05] So, we feel sorry for people.

BASH: Yes, no question.

And you mentioned Lee County. Almost half of the deaths reported so far in Florida occurred in Lee County, where the hurricane made landfall Wednesday afternoon.

Lee County didn't issue evacuation orders until Tuesday afternoon. That was less than 24 hours before landfall. And "The New York Times" is reporting that there were delays in issuing that order. And that's an apparent violation of their own policies for when to issue evacuation orders.

Did Lee County fail to follow their own guidelines for when to evacuate, and did that delay cost lives?

SCOTT: Well, first off, every life is important. When I was governor, my goal was, nobody die. We can rebuild anything. I don't want anybody to die.

I think, once we get through this and we do an assessment -- what I always tried to do as governor is say, OK, what did we learn in each of these? Because I had four hurricanes. We had flooding at different hurricanes and tornadoes. And what do you learn from each one of them?

I think, as we go through this, we will find out, is there things that we could do better to make sure we don't lose people's lives?

BASH: Well, what we're -- sure.

What we're learning -- in fact, my colleagues have reviewed Lee County's own emergency plan. And what it calls for is an initial evacuation if there's even a 10 percent chance of a storming surge six feet or higher. And, again, "The Times" is reporting that those criteria were met as early as Sunday, based on the National Hurricane Center models.

But the evacuation order wasn't issued on Tuesday. So, this is something we're learning now. Was that a mistake, especially given the death toll in Lee County?

SCOTT: I think the way you have to look at it is, every loss of life, you have to say to yourself, what could you do differently next time so it never happens again?

BASH: Should that have been done differently?

SCOTT: Unfortunately, we can't bring anybody back.

We're going to look and find out. I want to know, because an issue I had as governor is trying to say, what did I learn to try to make sure that we don't lose a life? And so I think that everybody in every one of these emergency operations centers has to say to themselves...

BASH: Yes. SCOTT: ... OK, so, what do we do to make sure we don't lose a life and also loss of -- what can we do to mitigation, all these things. So, I think it's something we have to look at.

BASH: Just one other -- one other question on this.

The Lee County commissioner said on CNN that it was because -- quote -- "People got complacent" and that, as far as he was concerned, they had plenty of time to evacuate.

Is that the leadership you're looking for? It sounds like he's passing the buck on to the people who were the victims.

SCOTT: Well, I tell everybody, you're always responsible for your own safety.

But what I tried to do as governor is tried to tell people what their risks were and really get people to think about. This is not just your life. It's your family's life. It's don't put first responders in harm's way, potentially try to get people.

BASH: But they didn't get an evacuation order.

SCOTT: I know.

We're -- I think it's something we have to look at to see why did it happen, because what you have to look at is how fast -- even if you do it, how fast can you get people out of some of these places, because just the road structure and things like that?

And so it's something I thought about quite a bit when I was governor is, actually, how fast can you get people once you do the evacuation notice? Assuming everybody is going to do it, how fast can you get them out? So, you have to think that way as you do it.

You got to backtrack, do it that way.

BASH: It's certainly a lot harder when they only have a few hours, as opposed to doing the evacuation order earlier, as is the Lee County protocol.

I want to ask you about how your successor, Governor DeSantis, is doing. You have talked a lot already in this interview about managing hurricane responses. It's historically been a key test for governors. You yourself faced four major hurricanes while you were governor.

What do you make of the job that Governor DeSantis is doing so far?

SCOTT: Well, I have been in -- I have been in Collier, Lee, Sarasota, Charlotte, and Osceola counties.

And here's what I'm seeing. What I'm seeing is, our sheriff's departments are working their butts off for fire and rescue. Red Cross is there. Emergency management teams are there. FEMA has come in.

So, every -- I know everybody's working really hard. So -- and so everything I'm seeing is, people are working their butts off. I'm scared to death people haven't been rescued yet, because there's still -- as of this morning, there's still people to go.

So, we will -- so, what I'm seeing is, everybody's working their tail off.

BASH: Is that because of Governor DeSantis his leadership?

SCOTT: Well, I mean, it takes everybody. It takes federal, state and local leadership to get this done. So, I'm appreciative that everybody cares about all these people. And I appreciate that everybody's working hard.

BASH: Senator, I know you're understandably very focused on what is happening in your state of Florida. But I have to ask you about what appears to be a threat by former President Trump against your colleague Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.


Trump said -- quote -- he "has a death wish" for supporting Democratic sponsored bills. He also mocked McConnell's wife and his own former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao as -- quote -- "China-loving" and "Coco Chow."

You're a member of the Senate GOP leadership. Are you OK with this?

SCOTT: Well, look, I can never talk about and respond to why anybody else says what they said.

But here's what it is -- the way I looked at it is, I think what the president is saying is, we have -- there's been a lot of money spent over the last two years. We have got to make sure we don't keep caving to Democrats. This causes unbelievable inflation and causing more and more debt.

As you know, the president likes to give people nicknames. So you can ask him how he came up with a nickname. I'm sure he has a nickname for me.

But here's what I know. We got to watch how we spend our money. We got to stop this inflation. And I don't condone violence. And I hope any -- no one else condones violence.

BASH: Nicknames are one thing, but this -- this is -- this appears racist. Is that OK?

SCOTT: It's never, ever OK to be a racist.

It's -- look, I think you always have to be careful if you're in the public eye how you -- how you say things. You want to make sure you're inclusive. You want to make sure -- like yesterday, in the neighborhood I was in, we had people probably from 10 countries that live there. And so that's what's great about this country.

And what I -- I know what I try to do is try to make sure everybody, everybody, especially all their kids, believe they have hope and they can dream -- live the dream of this country. So I hope no one is racist. I hope no one says anything that's inappropriate.

So I'm going to do everything I can.

BASH: Senator, thank you.

Again, that was so beyond the pale that I really -- as a member of the leadership, I had to ask you about it. But you are, again, understandably focused on the devastation in your home state. And good luck over the next days and weeks to come.

SCOTT: Yes, pray for our state.

BASH: Thank you.

And nowhere to run. Russia is forced to retreat from a strategic city, as Vladimir Putin escalates nuclear threats. Are they credible?

Florida Senator and top Republican Intel member Marco Rubio will join me.



BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

Dramatic images out of Ukraine, where Ukrainian troops raised the flag over the strategic city of Lyman after driving Russian troops to retreat.

That victory comes just one day after Putin issued his latest round of nuclear threats. Now Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is speaking out about those threats in a new interview with Fareed Zakaria that will air in full next hour.


AUSTIN: There are no checks on Mr. Putin.

Just as he made the irresponsible decision to invade Ukraine, he could make another decision. But I don't see anything right now that would lead me to believe that he has made such a decision.


BASH: Here with me now, the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

We have a lot to get to, Senator.

But, of course, I want to start with the destruction in your home state after Hurricane Ian. President Biden said this week that the federal government has given

the governor everything he needs and everything he's asked for in terms of emergency response. Is that what you're seeing, or is there more that Florida needs from the federal government?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): Well, there will be more.

Good morning. Thank you for covering this.

There will be more that's needed. But, as usual and always, FEMA has been a great partner. The Biden administration has responded, as they have said, and so there's no complaints there. These are professionals. And I think, in times like this, people realize that it's not about politics. It shouldn't be.

And so that's the way it's always been, and as was our expectation. So, the answer is yes. We will know what those full needs are in the long term as well. There will be a lot of people who have no homes to return to now or in the near future. They will be eligible for individual assistance.

We're still in the search-and-rescue process, although I think it now starts becoming more about search and recovery. And then, of course, begins the process of rebuilding, to the extent possible, which will take years. Some of these, Fort Myers Beach Sanibel, I mean, they will never look the same again. These are -- these communities have basically been wiped out.

And so now it'll be about the long term.

BASH: The long term, in that some of these communities may never fully recover?

RUBIO: Well, they will recover. They just won't be the same, right?

I mean, for -- if you talk about for example, Fort Myers Beach, this is a like a slice of old Florida. It was still a place where a lot of families would go and created memories, my own family included, on places like Sanibel, years ago, when my -- I think it's the first beach my daughter, who's now 22, ever went to with us.

And a lot of families are out in Florida who made memories on those places. And, obviously, they're going to be rebuilt, but they won't look the same, because you can't rebuild old Florida.

BASH: Sure.

RUBIO: Some of those places that had been there for so long are just gone.

BASH: And Ian isn't the only recent hurricane causing major problems for American citizens. It's been two weeks since Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico.

Almost 150,000 people there still don't have power.


BASH: Tens of thousands don't even have clean drinking water.

How will you make sure Puerto Rico isn't left behind again? And, ultimately, do you think that Puerto Rico should become a state, so that it can be more resilient in having infrastructure for disasters like this?


RUBIO: Well, let me answer your second question first.

I have long believed the people in Puerto Rico should be given the opportunity to vote for statehood. Many -- it's a 50/50 issue there, some say. I think, actually, the statehood support has grown. And they certainly have a right to make that -- to have that vote. These are American citizens.

I think, on a per capita basis, Puerto Ricans serve in the armed forces at a higher rate than just about any community in the country. Part of the challenge with Puerto Rico is that, unlike a contiguous state, the mutual aid is difficult, because you have got to send it there.

I thought they did a -- it's such tremendous devastation. And, as you have pointed out, close to 200,000 people still have no power. They seem to be in better position to respond this time around, because there were prepositioned assets because part of the grid had been rebuilt since the last storm and proved more resilient.

And I have personal friends that live in Puerto Rico who last night were -- I mean, in some parts of the island gone about their lives. It's moved on.

But there are still close to 200,000 people with no power and, as you said, probably 170,000 that have no access to clean drinking water. So, they won't -- I don't expect they will be left behind. I think the president will be traveling there early next week as well.

And we will do everything we can -- we always have -- to support Puerto Rico now in the recovery after this -- yet another devastating storm.

BASH: Senator, you wrote a letter Friday to the Senate Appropriations Committee asking for disaster relief dollars for desperately needed resources to rebuild Florida communities.

After Hurricane Sandy hit Northeastern states in 2012, you voted no on a $50 billion relief package. I know you supported a smaller version, but why should other senators vote for relief for your state when you didn't vote for a package to help theirs?

RUBIO: Oh, I have always voted for hurricane and disaster relief. I have even voted for it without pay-fors.

What I didn't vote for in Sandy is because they had included things like a roof for museum in Washington, D.C., for fisheries in Alaska. It had been loaded up with a bunch of things that had nothing to do with disaster relief. And I wouldn't support disaster relief efforts -- I would never put out there that we should go use a disaster relief package for Florida as a way to pay for all kinds of other things people want around the country.

So I think that's the key in moments like this. And, in Sandy, unfortunately, they loaded it up, they really did, with a bunch of things that had nothing to do with Sandy.

BASH: Well...

RUBIO: But I voted for every disaster relief package, especially that's clean.

BASH: Right.

RUBIO: And I will continue to do so. When it comes to Florida, I will do that again. And we will make sure that that package is clean and doesn't have stuff for other people on there.

BASH: I read the Congressional Research Service report last night. It sounds like that roof actually was damaged by the hurricane. And what happened in Alaska was the result of another disaster.

But, in any event, my question is about the future. Are you telling me that if Hurricane Ian relief contains anything that smells like pork, you will vote no?

RUBIO: Sure. I will fight against it having pork in it. That's the key. We shouldn't have that in there, because it undermines the ability to come back and do this in the future.

Here's what happens. And people need to understand it. We can do it, it's possible to do it without loading it with these other things, because, otherwise, you will have people in the Senate, in the House that are going to vote against disaster relief because they view these disaster relief bills as ways for other people to get their pork and their pet projects done.

BASH: Yes.

RUBIO: And it undermines the ability to go back to do it in the future.

But I have consistently voted for disaster relief for all parts of this country. And I have never even insisted on it being paid for, like some people do, which they want -- cut somewhere else in the budget. I think disaster relief is something we shouldn't play with. We are capable in this country, in the Congress of voting for disaster relief for key -- after key events like this without using it as a vehicle or a mechanism to -- for people to loaded up with stuff that's unrelated to the storm.

BASH: Senator, I want to turn to some topics under your purview as the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee and, of course, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, big, big developments with Russia.

Ukrainian President Zelenskyy said overnight that the key city of Lyman has been completely liberated after Russia was forced to withdraw its troops. Do you think Ukraine is on a viable path to regain the territory that it's lost and ultimately win the war?

RUBIO: Well, I think they're on a key path to regain a lot of territory.

I can't tell you exactly, from a tactical perspective, how much of it they will regain. I think that the bigger issue here is that there really is no way for Russia and Putin to win this war or any of their objectives. Putin is down to two choices here. Number one, they can design defensive lines and say, here's where we're going to draw some lines and this is the territory we're going to try to hold on to and concentrate his forces in that regard, and take a couple of years to retrofit their forces, or, B, they can retreat and continue to lose territory.

They certainly don't have offensive capability right now. The worry becomes the unpredictability of what Putin does in a situation like that.

If he decides that -- for example, that the NATO arming of -- and the European arming and the U.S. arming of Ukraine is causing not just him to lose his war and, therefore, undermine his grip on power, but, in fact, perhaps threatening his own forces with inside -- or inside of Russia, I think it's quite possible that he could end up striking some of these distribution places where these supplies are coming through, including inside Poland.


A lot of talk about nuclear, but I think the thing I worry most about is a Russian attack inside NATO territory, for example, aiming at the airport in Poland or some other distribution point, which at that point would trigger...

BASH: Would NATO have to respond?

RUBIO: Well, I think it would depend on the nature of the strike and how the other allies within NATO would respond to it.

There certainly would be an attack on one. And so, therefore, it certainly NATO will have to respond to it. How it will respond, I think a lot of it will depend on the nature of the attack and the scale and scope of it.

But I think that's really the biggest fear right now that I have, is that he would conduct an attack against a NATO supply center inside of a place like Poland. That would certainly raise the specter of a direct Russian attack against a NATO ally.

BASH: You mentioned that you're more worried about that than him potentially using any nuclear weapons. Several Biden administration officials, including the secretary of defense, the national security adviser, said that they haven't seen evidence that Putin will imminently use a nuclear weapon.

As the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, is that what you're seeing as well?

RUBIO: Well, I wouldn't comment on what they're seeing or not seeing.

I would say that -- I'm not saying the risk of him detonating a nuclear device as a demonstration is zero. I think, certainly, the risk is probably higher today than it was a month ago. I just think, if you walk down that escalation path, before he gets to that point, which is a pretty severe escalation, there is probably something he would do intermittent -- or intermediate, which would probably be, for example, what -- what's the purpose of a tactical nuclear weapon detonated for demonstration purposes?

It's to send a message. But I think, if he believes that this arming of Ukraine is what's causing him to lose this war and potentially his position of power, he may strike one of these logistical points. And that logistical point may not be inside of Ukraine.

To me, that is the area that I focus on the most, because it has a tactical aspect to it. And I think he probably views it as less escalatory. NATO may not.

BASH: Absolutely.

Talk about -- talking about escalatory tactics, the stunning new leaks in the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Europe to Russia, Western intelligence officials say they were likely caused by underwater explosions. President Biden called it a deliberate attack of sabotage.

Does the U.S. have evidence that Russia is responsible?

RUBIO: Well, I'm not going to comment on whatever intelligence products they have produced or had.

I think logic and common sense will tell you that these things don't blow up on their own, especially in strategic and key points. Someone has to know where the vulnerabilities are. And someone has to have the capability to go down there and do it.

So, there's only a handful of countries that do. I doubt very seriously that the Chinese are involved in it. Although I'm not a fan of the Chinese Communist Party, I wouldn't go as far as to accuse them of doing that. I think it's pretty clear someone did this. And the only people in that region who have both the motive and the capability to have done it are Russian or Russian forces.

So I think, for me, it's not an intelligence matter at this point. It's a commonsense matter.

BASH: Senator, we're pretty much out of time, but I have to ask you very quickly about Venezuela. Seven Americans wrongly detained there are coming home in a prisoner swap.

The U.S. release to Venezuelans in exchange for those seven. You're not happy with this decision. The White House admits it was tough.

RUBIO: Well, the two Venezuelans that were released are the nephews of Maduro who happen to be convicted drug dealers. They were put in jail after being convicted after a fair trial in the United States. Evidence was produced and it was overwhelming.

The seven Americans were hostages. And here's my problem with it. That has now put a price tag on Americans. Every time you do one of these deals -- and I wanted those people released as much as anybody. But every time you do this, now others know, I can take Americans, I can hold them until I need something as a bargaining chip.

So what that has done is now sent a message to tyrants and dictators all over the world to go ahead and trump up some charges and arrest Americans, because, when the time comes, we will be able to exchange them.

So I think seven innocent American hostages in exchange for two convicted drug dealers who happen to be the nephews of Maduro is a huge win for Maduro and, unfortunately, puts Americans all over the world now in danger.

BASH: Senator Marco Rubio, thank you so much.

RUBIO: Thank you.

BASH: Former President Obama is raising the stakes on November's election in brand-new comments. Why he says it's not a normal election.

Our panel is here. We're going to talk about that and much more ahead.




GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): When people are fighting for their lives, when their whole livelihood is at stake, when they have lost everything, if you can't put politics aside for that, then you're just not going to be able to.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Times like these, Americans come together. They put aside politics. They put aside division. We come together to help each other.


BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

Those are very, very nice things to hear from two leaders who need to come together to deal with a major crisis. They say it's not political.

But let's talk to our panel, because, when it comes down to it, particularly when you're looking at a governor of a state whose leadership is under the microscope, who's thinking about running for president in 2024, it's all political, right? We know that.

I want to ask about Ron DeSantis. I will start with you.

Welcome to the panel, Brendan.

How do you think he's doing with regard to the very obvious 2024 aspirations he has?

BRENDAN BUCK, FORMER ADVISER TO PAUL RYAN: Yes, clearly, he wants this to be his commander in chief moment. He's standing there at the command center. He's letting people know that he's in charge of things.


Ron DeSantis has defined himself through the culture wars, but his pitch for 2024 is going to be, I can give you all you -- everything you like about Donald Trump, but still a competent government.

So, I think that's what he is trying to prove here. I am -- I will fight your culture war, but I'm not a clown. I can get things done. And he's projecting, I think, a level of competence that Republicans can have comfort with if Donald Trump is not ultimately the nominee.


I, again, want to put politics aside. I think, if you saw those images this week, it will continue. Your heart breaks. How do you start over along the whole coastline?

But I also think it matters what you did before the storm hit and what you will do after the storm and recovery has really come. And I think that people -- this moment will be remembered, but I don't think it will be enough to take them to the point where it is his commander in chief moment, because he has done some pretty nasty things to people in his -- for -- in his state.

And that will spill over the state lines when he needs to actually win the American popular vote.

BASH: One of the things that we notice is that he's very, very on it when it comes to the details and the data and the sort of the mechanics.

We haven't seen him -- we haven't been able to find any footage of him out with the people, which is just a different approach.

XOCHITL HINOJOSA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: That's right. You haven't seen sort of this empathetic governor going out and hugging people, et cetera. I think that's what you will see from President Biden. He won't be in

Puerto Rico throwing paper towels. He's going to be out there talking to families about how he can help them. I think what's interesting about Governor DeSantis, it will be interesting to see President Biden and Governor DeSantis together in Florida, and then they will put their political differences aside.

But in your earlier interview, it'll also be interesting to see if other Republicans praise Governor DeSantis, knowing that he wants to run in 2024. So, I think that is something that people should watch.

And it's interesting, because you're right. Governor DeSantis is someone who's very tactical. He wants to get funding in and he will talk about what he's doing. But he's not going to be out there really trying to embrace people and trying to tell them, listen, I'm here to fix this.

BUCK: He's not a charismatic leader. Having spent some time with him around the Hill, he is a lot of things, but he's not someone who is going to put your arm around you and make you feel better. He doesn't have that sort of emotional connection.

But that doesn't mean that you can't be a different type of leader. I think that's what you're seeing.

BASH: Right.

Speaking of leaders, Scott Jennings, I'm going to ask you this. Again, this is a question that I posed to Rick Scott as a member of the Republican leadership, along with Mitch McConnell, something that Donald Trump said on his social media network about Mitch McConnell.

He said, Donald Trump said: "He has a death wish. Must immediately seek help and advise from" -- I think he thinking meant advice -- "advice from his China-loving wife, Coco Chow."

This is a former president saying such things about a Republican leader and his wife.

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, it's hard to know where to start, with the assassination instructions or the blatant racism.

I mean, if you read that whole thing out loud, if you were on the street, and you heard someone muttering that on a street corner, you wouldn't say, let's hand this person the presidency or the Republican nomination for president. You would say, call 911 because it sounds like an unhinged, deranged person has gotten loose and is out on the street and may be a danger to themselves and others.

This is outrageous. It's beyond the pale. Every Republican ought to be able to say so. This is not good for the party. It's not good for him. It may -- on the right, right now, it is really in vogue to pass around clips of Joe Biden looking like he's confused and sort of out of whatever. You tell me that doesn't sound like deranged, unhinged, confused,

whatever. It's the same. So, if you're -- if you want to say these things about Joe Biden, look at Donald Trump's words right now and tell me this guy sounds like he's got it together.

BASH: Are you satisfied with what Rick Scott said?

JENNINGS: No, of course not. And I don't know whether he was unprepared for it or he hadn't seen it.

But there's something very easy about this. And what's easy is to say, this is not good. It's not helpful. It's not good politically. It's not good personally. This is bad for the party, bad for the country. And it's not becoming of a former president and somebody who wants to have the job again.

ALLISON: I do wonder, though, what happens when he starts doing campaigning again in this midterm cycle? Will -- what does that say then about the candidates that want him to still come and stump for him to win?

What does that say about the party? I think it -- you have to either be consistent and say this is not who I want to align with, but then not the next day say like, but I want your help to get me votes.

Just say, no, we want you out of our party.

BASH: He was with Tudor Dixon, the Republican candidate for governor in Michigan last night.

BUCK: Who is struggling, and I think she's trying to just do whatever she can to turn out the base.

I mean, I think Rick Scott's answer there speaks volumes. He couldn't figure out how to condemn a very obvious racist and, frankly, a death threat to his colleague.

BASH: You think it was a death threat?

BUCK: Even if it wasn't, the crazy people who stormed the Capitol, for example, see it as...


JENNINGS: It was in all caps. Read it. He put the word death wish in all caps.



BASH: It is in all caps, death wish.

BUCK: We should know by now that people take what he says literally.

But it speaks so much volume that Rick Scott can't condemn that, because he knows that people still love Donald Trump. Voters love him. And until that changes, you're going to see Republicans unwilling to fully step away from him.

HINOJOSA: Well, this has been the -- ever since Trump has -- was -- has been president of the United States, the Republican Party will not speak out against him.

And this is a constant trend. And I think that, even though he's left office and a citizen, he goes out and says stuff, and the Republican Party can't stand up. And this is -- this is who the nominee will be in 2024 likely, and the leader of the Republican Party. You can't even find a few people to speak out against him.

BASH: I mean, should Republicans follow your playbook, Scott, who are on the ballot?

JENNINGS: They should not -- well, look, October of an election year, I mean, I don't know. Everybody's got to run their own race.

For 2024, look, he's lost the national popular vote twice. He's never gotten more votes than a Democrat in his entire life. It is unlikely that he would get more votes in 2024. Do we want to plunge the party and the country into chaos again with this kind of rhetoric and this kind of -- I mean, that's what's great about DeSantis here, actually just to pivot back to where we started.

This is a guy who's doing the things that Republicans, as Brendan said, like, but, at the same time, exhibiting what it might look like to have a competent government operator at the same time. You're not going to get that out of somebody with that kind of deranged rhetoric.

BASH: Before we get to 2024, we do have midterm elections in just about a month from now.

I mentioned this before. The former president, Democratic president, Barack Obama, he was speaking at a fund-raiser. Our colleague Dan Merica got this reporting, where he talked about the fact that there's a lot of mischief that can be done with a House Republican majority, that this is not a normal election.

As somebody who worked in a House Republican majority, very different times, until the end, what do you make of that? Is he right?

BUCK: I think he wants to create a choice. I mean, that's what Democrats have been trying to do.

It's Republicans vs. Democrats, when, usually, a midterm election is a referendum on who's in charge. And that's what Republicans want. They want three things. They want to talk about who's in charge. If you're angry, make sure you know who's in charge. They want to talk about the economy, and they want to talk about crime.

There's all kinds of cultural issues that are going on, but Republicans who are -- who are going to be successful are focusing on those three issues. And Democrats have put all of their eggs in the abortion basket. That is the only issue that they want -- that they are running on right now. And so they want to create a choice. Is this election about abortion or is it about the economy?

BASH: Ten seconds.


ALLISON: We also want to save our democracy. And two-thirds of the folks who have won Republican primaries are election deniers. And I think that's actually what my former boss was referring to as well.

BASH: That was impressive.

ALLISON: Thank you.


BASH: Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it. Great discussion, important discussion.

Up next, our visit to the Tidewater region of Virginia, one of the most competitive districts in the country. What issues are shaping how people vote in a race that could decide control of Congress? Our deep dive next.



BASH: What matters most voters just 37 days away from the midterms?

We went to Virginia's Second Congressional District to find out. It's one of the swingiest swing districts in the country, where the outcome may decide if Democrats keep control of the House after November.


LURIA: Hi. Elaine.

BASH (voice-over): Early voting is under way in Virginia. And incumbent Democrat Elaine Luria is out pressing the flesh.

LURIA: Great. Thank you.

BASH: Her race here in Virginia's Tidewater region is one of the most closely watched in the country.

LURIA: If you look across the spectrum in the country, this is number 218.

BASH (on camera): Two eighteen, meaning, if you win or lose, it could determine whether or not Democrats have control of the House. That's a lot of pressure.


LURIA: I spent 20 years in the Navy. I'm used to operating in a high- pressure environment. BASH (voice-over): Luria is a retired Naval commander who served on

six warships as a nuclear-trained surface warfare officer. She's also a veteran of two intense political campaigns.

Her first win in 2018 helped deliver Democrats their House majority. This year, her Republican challenger is also a Navy veteran, a pilot, nurse and now state senator. She mostly communicates publicly with voters through paid ads.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Driving inflation down, so groceries cost less.

BASH: That message is resonating with voters like Jason Piketty (ph).

(on camera): What's driving your vote is this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This. This was $127, and, a year-and-a-half ago, it would have been $75, $80.

BASH (voice-over): He feels let down by Democrats in Washington.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a staunch independent, but it's been going to one direction lately, because they're just not -- they don't care about me.

RYAN FARMER, VIRGINIA VOTER: Gas prices are absurd.

BASH: But Ryan Farmer says Democrats are not to blame for the struggling economy. He's supporting Luria.

FARMER: I don't care whose president. The gas prices are going to be expensive. That's just the way it is right now.

BASH: Kiggans' team declined in interview or to share information about where she would be campaigning. They offered us Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares instead.

JASON MIYARES (R), VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: A lot of people, candidly, are concerned about what they're coming out of Washington -- they don't think they're focused on the right priorities. And they think they're spending too much money and it's impacting their wallet.

BASH (on camera): Why is inflation Elaine Luria's fault?

MIYARES: Well, she's voted with Nancy Pelosi over 98 percent of the time.

NARRATOR: She only sees Pelosi and Biden.

BASH (voice-over): Kiggans' ads link Luria to Democrats running Washington.

LURIA: Thank God we elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, and they have done so many good things.

BASH: Voters we met in Virginia Beach are watching. JOSEPH SAN CLEMENTE, VIRGINIA VOTER: One commercial that I saw, she stood up there and said, what a great job -- I don't -- regardless of your party, where we are now is not comfortable for anyone.

BASH: This is one of the few true swing districts left in a largely gerrymandered House. It's gone back and forth between parties four times since 2000. The Democratic incumbent walks the finest of lines.

LURIA: I think this administration has accomplished a lot. We have gotten shots in arm. We have gotten kids back to school. We have helped the economy come out of a pandemic.

And as far as the president's agenda, like, I don't support everything. I honestly think that he's not doing enough for defense.

BASH: Luria is a member of the committee investigating the January 6 insurrection.

LURIA: President Trump has never publicly acknowledged...

BASH: Which she thought could be a negative in her tight race, but now thinks is a political plus.

LURIA: The number one thing people say to me when they see me is, "Thank you for your work on the committee," because people really, I think, do understand, like, what a threat this is to our democracy.

MIYARES: I think, for a lot of voters, they appreciate her service on that. They appreciate her service in general. But they also want to see her being focused on what's impacting their pocketbook every day. That's inflation.

The January 6 Committee's not impacting their daily pocketbook.

BASH: Like other Democrats across the country, Luria is banking on another issue driving her voters to the polls, abortion.

NARRATOR: When Roe v. Wade was overturned, Jen Kiggans applauded the court decision.

BASH: Kiggans responded with a video on social media.

JEN KIGGANS (R), VIRGINIA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I have always been an advocate for women to choose life, but for allowing for exceptions in cases of rape, incest and life of the mother.

LURIA: I couldn't tell you what the hell she believes.

BASH (on camera): You don't believe her?

LURIA: You know, I don't believe anything this woman says. She, in my mind, has no spine. She really just says whatever she thinks she needs to say to get elected. And that changes every other week.

BASH (voice-over): Luria's well-funded campaign paints her GOP opponent as an extremist, again prompting a tightly scripted Kiggans rebuttal

KIGGANS: Extremist? That's a new one

BASH: Extremist is still a dirty word in this purple Virginia district, which will likely again help determine which party controls Congress.


BASH: Thanks so much for spending your Sunday morning with us.

"FAREED ZAKARIA" starts now with a brand-new exclusive interview with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.