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State of the Union
Interview With Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI); Interview With Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD); Interview With Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH). Aired 9-10a ET
Aired February 12, 2023 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Up in the air. The U.S. military shoots down an unidentified object over Alaska Friday.
JOHN KIRBY, NSC COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: The president just wasn't willing to take that risk.
TAPPER: And then another over Canada Saturday. What is going on up there? And is shooting it all down the new normal?
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Mike Turner, is here live.
And blueprint. After her party pulls off a midterm sweep, Michigan's governor lays out her goals for the next two years. How much can Democrats actually get done? Governor Gretchen Whitmer joins me exclusively ahead.
Plus: blame game. President Biden finds a new attack line against Republicans.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If that's your dream, I'm your nightmare.
TAPPER: Setting off an intraparty battle. But is anyone looking for actual solutions?
I will speak to Republican Senator Mike Rounds up.
TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is knowing the truth is out there.
The U.S. military is trying to figure out what exactly they shot down over the frozen coast of Alaska on Friday afternoon and what else they shot down over Northern Canada on Saturday, the third time in eight days that a U.S. F-22 fighter jet has downed a flying object in North American airspace.
President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau authorized Saturday's operation, taking down an object that Canadians described as cylindrical and smaller than the suspected Chinese spy balloon and shut down February 4.
Unlike that balloon, the second and third objects were both flying much lower, about 40,000 feet, close enough to be a threat to civilian aircraft. Anecdotally, a source said some pilots said the second object interfered with their sensors.
And some pilots claimed not to have seen any identifiable propulsion, though U.S. officials could not confirm those details, but not much else is clear, as both the U.S. and Canadian government try to recover remnants and figure it all out. What we do know is that U.S. officials are on high alert for high-flying objects after the discovery of the spy balloon.
Last night, the FAA briefly shut down Montana airspace after the military detected a -- quote -- "radar anomaly," but pilots sent to investigate did not identify any object in the skies.
Joining us now, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Turner of Ohio.
Chairman Turner, thanks so much for joining us.
What can you tell us? What were the second and third objects that the military shot down, and where did they come from?
REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): Yes, well, I certainly don't know, as the administration is saying they don't know.
They do appear somewhat trigger-happy, although this is certainly preferable to the permissive environment that they showed when the Chinese spy balloon was coming over some of our most sensitive sites.
I think one thing that this shows is certainly the fallacy of the argument of the Biden administration saying that the height of the Chinese balloon caused them to have no concern, because certainly, as we know, whatever goes up can come down.
And just saying that this Chinese spy balloon was high and these are lower, and, therefore, they actually pose a hazard really isn't a...
TAPPER: Are you...
TURNER: ... anybody is comfortable with.
TAPPER: Are you glad that they were -- that they shot down these two objects? Because, obviously, you and other Republicans were critical for the Biden -- that the Biden team took as long as they did to shoot down the object that was clearly a Chinese spy balloon?
TURNER: Sure. As I was saying, I would prefer them to be trigger- happy than to be permissive. But we're going to have to see whether or not this is just the
administration trying to change headlines. But what I think this shows, which is probably more important to our policy discussion here, is that we really have to declare that we're going to defend our airspace.
And then we need to invest. What's become clear in the public discussion is that we don't really have adequate radar systems. We certainly don't have an integrated missile defense system. We're going to have to begin to look at the United States' airspace as one that we need to defend and that we need to have appropriate sensors to do so.
This shows some of the problems and gaps that we have. We need to fill those as soon as possible, because we certainly now ascertain there is a threat.
TAPPER: Do you think the second and third objects shut down Friday and Saturday were spying on America and Canada? Is it possible they were just weather balloons or something else that was -- that's benign?
TURNER: Yes, it was interesting.
When the Department of Defense gave in its first statement on this, if you notice, there was a word slipped in there that you certainly didn't hear when the Chinese spy balloon was over the United States. And that's the word corporate of origin.
so, even the Department of Defense is saying a very broad net as to what these things might be. But it shows a renewed interest and a renewed dedication to defending United States airspace. Certainly, the United States, this administration now needs to declare that it will defend its airspace, which, of course, is going to be difficult for an administration that has difficulty controlling the ground sovereignty to declare air sovereignty.
But we need to do so.
TAPPER: When do you expect to get briefed again, as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee?
TURNER: You know, this is particularly annoying about this administration.
The Biden administration needs to stop briefing Congress through our television sets and actually come and sit down and brief us. What we're seeing here is a number of announcements by the administration without any real information being given to Congress.
This could be because they don't have any information. From the press conference we saw, it does seem like they took this action without a real understanding for what they were going after, but having declared it a hazard. But we will see as the information comes to Congress. But I do think that there needs to be more engagement between the
administration and Congress. Probably, they're a little hesitant after the Chinese balloon fiasco, where they let it go across the country, to great criticism, bipartisan and bicameral criticism, from Congress.
TAPPER: Have objects like these always been moving in and out of U.S. airspace, and we're just now learning about them with new technology, and shooting them down, or do you think this is a new, recent development?
TURNER: I think it's certainly a new, recent development that you have China being so aggressive in entering other countries' airspace, and doing so for clear intentions to spy with very sophisticated equipment.
I mean, the very scale of this balloon and of the technology that was deployed by China in spying on the United States is unprecedented. No other nation has anything like it and no other nation has attempted it. But, certainly, there are things at times that come and go from our airspace that we track, that we try to determine if it's going to be a threat that don't rise to the level of the very large, sophisticated Chinese spy balloon.
TAPPER: A source briefed on the intelligence said that some of the pilots said the object interfered with their sensors on the plane.
I think this is the second object shot down over Alaska on Friday, interfered with their sensors. Not all of the pilots reported that, but some did. Some pilots also claimed to have seen no identifiable propulsion on the object and could not explain how it was even staying in the air.
What do you make of those reports?
TURNER: Well, at this point, they are just reports, so we will have to wait until we get the final information.
But because this thing was shot down, we have an ability to do the forensics, to do the exploitation of it when it's found. And that will answer a lot of our questions. And, also, getting the data from the various planes, their sensors, what they actually were seeing or not seeing, in addition to what the pilots saw, will be really important.
But there's going to be a number of questions to answer here. The big point is that this is time for the United States to take this as a turning point to invest. We need more sophisticated radar systems. We have them. We just don't have them deployed to protect high over the United States.
An integrated missile defense system -- we have helped invest in Israel having an integrated missile defense system. We don't have one ourselves. This is a turning point where we need to discuss, this is a threat, and how do we respond to it?
TAPPER: Let's turn to talk about the latest in the classified documents investigation. We just learned that, last month, former President Trump's team
apparently turned over more classified records from Mar-a-Lago, including a laptop and thumb drive with classified pages that had been uploaded by an aide from Trump's political action committee.
You're the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Is this acceptable to you? And are you worried that an outside aide from Trump's political action committee had possession of these documents?
TURNER: Yes, I just don't get this, Jake. I don't get it with Biden, Pence or Trump. All of them keep finding documents that are classified, stuffed places.
I just -- I have no understanding of it. I can tell you that members of Congress who, like me, deal with highly classified information in the Intelligence Committee, the Armed Services Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee, we're all just stumped. We don't understand how this could be happening. We don't understand how all three could have been so lackadaisical about this.
These are incredibly important documents. They are not to be taken lightly. And we're just amazed as people keep finding them stuffed in the strangest places like behind Biden's Corvette. This is -- this is clearly a failure of an understanding of how to handle the importance of these documents.
There's legislation now that have been dropped in Congress that will make it even more difficult and give different penalties to be able to enforce mishandling classified documents. It's all coming from just -- people are just shocked.
TAPPER: I want to ask you before you go. Russia just launched yet another major amount of missiles into Ukraine on Friday, its first major assault in weeks, as President Zelenskyy is still pleading with the U.S. for more help.
And yet, at the same time, almost a day as one of your fellow House Republicans issued -- introduced a resolution to halt any more military or financial help for Ukraine.
What do you say to those individuals in the House Republican Conference? And are you worried at all that this marks the beginning of the end of U.S. support for Ukraine?
TURNER: Yes, as you know, both on the left -- the left, the Democrat sent a letter, 20 people, saying that we should immediately negotiate a settlement and then withdrew it.
Putin still hears it, even though it's withdrawn. And then you have the far right saying the same thing. But, luckily, they -- they do not add up to the majority of Congress. The majority of Congress understands that this is crucial. We are fighting on the front lines of democracy. The fact that Zelenskyy has been -- as president, they -- will rally his country to fight against Russia, and we have been able to arm them, it is really unprecedented that a nation like that could stand to a superpower like Russia. But they're doing so with the commitment to keep the sovereignty of their nation.
And Russia's atrocities are just appalling. Anyone who sees what Russia is doing in killing innocent civilians, destroying the infrastructure there has to be moved to want to support the Ukrainians. I'm very disappointed in those who don't see the importance of this.
TAPPER: All right, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio, thanks for joining us this morning, sir.
TURNER: Thank you.
TAPPER: Her party won unified control of Michigan last fall for the first time in decades, so what's she going to do with it?
Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer joins me.
Plus, President Biden seems to have found his new attack line against Republicans. A Republican senator will respond coming up.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
Michigan's Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer and her party shocked the nation with an unexpectedly strong showing last fall. And now, with a razor-thin majority in the Statehouse, Whitmer is unveiling a progressive checklist for her state, including expanding civil rights, repealing an abortion ban, and passing new gun safety measures.
And joining us now, Michigan Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Governor Whitmer, good to see you in person.
GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): I know, 3-D.
TAPPER: We have -- I have interviewed you a bunch of times, but always by satellite, I guess because of -- mainly because COVID earlier.
WHITMER: Well, it's nice to be in your house. Usually, I'm in my house when we do this.
TAPPER: Thank you. I appreciate it.
So, Democrats have unified control of Michigan's government for the first time in nearly four decades, which might be almost older than you. You have laid out a laundry list of issues you want to tackle, abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, gun safety, school funding, tax relief.
That's a lot. What's your top priority, if I may make you choose among your children? What's number one?
WHITMER: Well, I will just say this.
In the first month, I signed a billion-dollar supplemental to do everything from affordable housing, to meeting our kids' needs, to expanding work force opportunities. So, check that off the list. We got that done in January. It's as fast as a governor has moved since 1947.
So we are taking this new majority, and we're moving fast, and we're -- we're going to deliver for the people. We told what we were going to do. Now we're going to do it.
TAPPER: It is, generally speaking, a battleground state. You have had Republican governors recently. Are you worried about going too fast, alienating the people in the middle who maybe voted for you because the Republicans on the ticket last November were rather extreme, but they're not necessarily down for like super progressive super agenda?
WHITMER: The majority of what we're doing is exactly what we said we were going to do in the campaign. This is what people voted for.
They want tax relief. I'm trying to get -- increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, so that working families can have a little -- a little breathing room in their budgets with inflation, give retirees -- repeal the retirement tax that my predecessor enacted.
These are things people told us they wanted us to get done. So we're going to live our values. We're going to stay focused on the fundamentals. That's what people voted for. And I think that's where we can find the most common ground.
TAPPER: On the national stage, President Biden has been feuding with Republicans about Social Security and Medicare.
You have seen this back-and-forth. Lost in all of the back-and-forth, I have to say, is the fact that both Medicare and Social Security risk insolvency in the next decade if there are not fixes to those programs. More than two million people in Michigan are on Social Security or Medicare.
Now, it was an interesting dynamic in the room during the State of the Union. President Biden got Republicans to agree, hands off Social Security and Medicare. But, ultimately, don't hands need to be on them to make sure that they're there for future generations? Isn't it kind of irresponsible?
WHITMER: I think it's very important that Congress listens to the people that they are supposed to be serving, and that they shore it up.
People expect that. We look at the full faith and credit of the United States very much at risk right now. Congress has a constitutional obligation not to -- to make sure that we don't default. I think these are really crucial as we think about going forward.
I know that the president's focused on that. I would love to see Congress partner with them, because these are things that benefit people all across the country. Republicans and Democrats and people who are agnostic are relying on them to get the job done.
TAPPER: President Biden is expected to launch his reelection campaign in the coming weeks. He wouldn't be 86 years old by the end of his second term.
Polls consistently show that, even though Democrats approve of him and they love him, they don't want him to run for reelection. And, often, age is cited as a factor. You have said President Biden will have your enthusiastic support.
Does it worry you at all that Democrats do not share your enthusiasm?
WHITMER: Listen, six months ago, there were people who were writing political obituaries for a lot of Democratic governors. We won overwhelmingly. We had a great midterm.
I thank the White House for that. I think President Biden was a large part of that. He has delivered for the American people, the IRA, the CHIPS Act. We are onshoring production in advanced manufacturing. He's got a record of delivering for people. At this point, the polls are just, do you like him or you don't like him?
It's not a matchup. When we see a matchup, I think people are going to see this president has delivered, and that's why you see so many of my colleagues and me getting ready to help him win reelection.
TAPPER: Last month, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers banned TikTok from government devices, saying that -- quote -- "Defending our state's technology and cybersecurity infrastructure and protecting digital privacy was a top priority. More than half of the states have taken similar steps."
You're active on TikTok. And I get it. It's fun. But I deleted my app from my phone because so many people kept coming on my show saying, delete it, delete it, delete it.
TAPPER: The Chinese government has access to your data.
Is it appropriate for you to be on TikTok, when FBI says it's a national security concern?
WHITMER: Let me say this.
We use TikTok on one device that has nothing else on it. It is a communication tool. We don't do it because it's fun, although some people think what I put out there can be fun on occasion. My kids disagree. TAPPER: I don't buy that -- I don't buy that you don't have fun.
TAPPER: I don't buy that you don't have fun doing TikToks.
WHITMER: But the point is, we have it on one device that has no access to anything else, because so many people get their information that way.
Whether we like it or not, that is a tool for disseminating important information. And that's how we use it. But we're always evaluating because we want to make sure that we are protecting data in Michigan. And that's why we're always evaluating. But, at this point, the way we use it is secure.
TAPPER: Do you think it's safe for kids to be on TikTok? Because, I mean, one of the concerns -- there was a great "60 Minutes" report showing that the diversion of TikTok that the Chinese have, there's a -- there's a time limit. It's educational.
And the version that we have in this country, there are a lot of concerns that it reaffirms eating disorders and other harmful messages.
WHITMER: Yes, I'm concerned about a lot of ways that social media is curated and drags people down rabbit holes in this country.
We need to have some congressional measures taken to ensure that there is some integrity in it. But, also, we got to teach our kids that this is not a real robust offering of information, for you to distill and make your own decisions. This is biased, and it can be incredibly taxing.
TAPPER: So you have ruled out running for president in 2024. I have heard your name floated a few times, if President Biden chooses not to run, because of the very strong election that you and Democrats in Michigan had, under your leadership, to be frank.
So you have ruled it out in 2024. And you said you don't foresee ever running for president, which isn't a Shermanesque denial that you will ever do it. But you don't foresee it.
Is there any chance? I mean, your term ends in 2027. Is there any chance that you would run in 2028?
WHITMER: You know, Jake, I just got re-upped for four more years in the job that I have always wanted. I enjoy it.
Even on the hardest days, I feel really lucky to be the governor of the great state of Michigan. That is 100 percent my focus. I'm not making plans for 2028 or any -- anything beyond what I'm going to do in this next four years.
TAPPER: OK, so you're not ruling it out, but you're not ruling it in. That's how I'm going to interpret that.
TAPPER: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, your gubernatorial colleague, is widely expected to run for president in 2024.
Like you, he won reelection last year by double digits in a state that in the past has been very competitive. He's increasingly leaning into some hot-button cultural issues, education, racial issues.
Do you think he poses a real threat to Democrats if he ends up being the Republican nominee?
WHITMER: I don't really know Ron DeSantis, so it's hard for me to say anything real substantive, other than I will say this.
When I took my oath of office, I took an oath to be the governor for all the people of Michigan. I don't wage culture wars. I fight culture wars, because I'm focused on solving problems. I think it's incredibly destructive when people just try to pit others against one another, stoke fear.
I think that's a really destructive way to lead. And so that -- we will watch and see what happens. I -- as I said, I don't -- I don't know -- I don't know him, but I'm...
TAPPER: You just described him, in your view.
WHITMER: But I think that there are people who are out there that stoke fear and anger and misinformation to help themselves politically.
And I'm not saying who I think falls into that category. I'm just saying that's not how I operate. And every governor takes an oath to serve all the people that -- in their state, whether they voted for them or not. And that's what should drive every decision, whether it's the budget you write, to the bills that you sign into law, to the rhetoric that you use, the people you share stages with.
TAPPER: Governor Gretchen Whitmer, thanks so much for being here. Appreciate it.
WHITMER: Thanks, Jake.
TAPPER: This week, most of the fighting on Capitol Hill was between members of the same party. What does this all mean for 2024?
A Republican senator weighs in. That's next.
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.
President Biden took his State of the Union message on the road this week, trying out his new attack line, accusing some Republicans of wanting to sunset the federal programs Social Security and Medicare.
It set off a bitter, bitter fight among Republican leaders, even as there is a bipartisan push in the Senate to try to make those entitlement programs solvent.
And Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota joins us now.
Sir, thank you so much for joining us.
President Biden out there, obviously, on the campaign trail, as it were, not officially, hitting Republicans all week on Medicare, Social Security. And he's pointing specifically to the plan that your colleague Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, released when he was leading the Senate GOP's campaign arm, which says -- just to quote -- "All federal legislation, sunsets in five years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again" -- unquote.
Do you support that plan?
SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R-SD): I kind of look at security the way I would at the Department of Defense and our defense spending. We're never going to not fund defense.
But, at the same time, we -- every single year, we look at how we can make it better. And I think it's about time that we start talking about Social Security and making it better. We have got 11 years before we actually see cuts start to happen to people that are on Social Security.
And I think it'd be very responsible for us to do everything we can to make those funding programs now and the plans right now, so that we don't run out of money in Social Security and that it continues to provide all the benefits that it does today.
Simply looking away from it and pretending like there's no problems with Social Security is not an appropriate or responsible thing to do. So, I guess my preference would be, let's start managing it.
And I will just give you an example. Later on today, you're going to have folks that are very successful that are going to be around your table. Why don't you ask them whether or not the funding for their retirement comes strictly from government bonds or from the government itself? And don't they look at other resources that help to make their retirement plans better?
And I think we can do that if we start now on a bipartisan basis to make plans so that we have got the resources necessary. If not, in basically about 11 years -- and that's a heads-up for a lot of people that are 50, 51, 52 years old, the reductions that are built in are about 24 percent.
ROUNDS: A group of us are saying, look, we have got to do something about that. Let's talk about it. And there's a group of us that have been.
And so this is not something that we should be talking trying to scare people. This is something that we should be saying, let's plan now, so that Social Security has a long run ahead of it, more than 75 years. And why don't we start talking about the long-term plans, instead of trying to scare one another?
TAPPER: So, I hear you on the long-term plans. And I want to -- I want to talk about that in a second.
But, just to be clear about what you were just talking about, are you talking about a partial privatization of Social Security, so that there is investments in the market, in addition to government bonds? Is that what I should understand from what you just said?
ROUNDS: More along the lines of allowing us to continue to guarantee the benefits that are there, but allow us to use other resources to make sure that they are there, so that the individual doesn't take the risk, but, rather, that the federal government does.
So rather than simply saying that -- and we have got proven track record in other areas of the federal government of doing this right now. But there's a group of us that have been working. I'm not the leader of the group, so I really don't want to get into a lot of the detail on it. But I really think there's a golden opportunity, and in a bipartisan way, to put Social Security on a long-term plan that would make it better in the future than what it is today and to assure its longevity.
But you do that by managing it. You do that by actually talking about it and not doing -- doing dog calls every time somebody says, let's try to address managing it.
And, look, what we have got right now out of a $5.9 trillion federal budget, the legislative part of this whole thing, the Congress, actually only votes at about $1.6 trillion to $1.7 trillion of that amount that's being spent. Wouldn't it be better if we actually tried to manage the rest of it as well...
ROUNDS: ... and to actually be able to provide that management tool that right now does not exist?
TAPPER: So I hear what you're saying. And you're calling out President Biden for you called dog calls, trying to scare people.
But I guess the question is, didn't Senator Rick Scott give an opening when you talk about sunsetting every program? You know how it -- how tough it is to pass anything through the House and Senate, much less a major government spending program every five years.
Take a listen to what your leader, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, had to say about Rick Scott's plan on Kentucky radio just a couple days ago.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): There were no plans to raise taxes on half the American people or to sunset Medicare or Social Security.
So, it's clearly the Rick Scott plan. It is not the Republican plan. It just is a bad idea. I think it will be a challenge for him to deal with this in his own reelection in Florida, a state with more elderly people than any other state in America.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TAPPER: You have known Senator McConnell a long time. He doesn't criticize fellow Republicans very often, let alone a comment like that about Rick Scott's reelection.
Are you worried that Rick Scott hurt the party with this plan and is hurting the conversation that you want to have?
ROUNDS: You know, we do want to continue the conversation in terms of how we make Medicare, Medicaid better and long-term successful.
I think Senator Scott had an idea that he proposed. I think the vast majority of us would say that we prefer to look at it in a different direction, one of managing it, as opposed to a discussion about having everything start over again.
And I think that's misleading in terms of what he really intended to do. But, look, the bottom line is, is, Republicans want to see Social Security be successful and be improved. And the best way to do that is to take a look at other successful pension programs that the vast majority of us, including a lot of the folks that you're going to be talking to, would include in their portfolios.
But we can do that as long as the federal government continues to make the assurances to the individuals who are looking forward to Social Security long term. But, once again, in the next 11 years, we have to have a better plan in place than what we do today, or we're going to see, under existing circumstances, some reductions of as much as 24 percent in some sort of a benefit.
So let's start talking now, because it's easier to fix it now than it would be five years or six years from now.
ROUNDS: And that's the message we're trying to get at is, isn't it responsible for Congress to actually say, we're going to start managing this...
ROUNDS: ... we're going to try to do our best to make it better?
TAPPER: So, do you think -- do you think that everything needs to be on the table in terms of managing it, in terms of means-testing, in terms of raising the retirement age, in terms of reducing benefits for people who maybe financially are not as dependent upon them, and on and on?
Everything needs to be talked about?
ROUNDS: I think the first thing that you do is, you assure people that are currently on Social Security or that are within 15, 20 years of getting it that they're not going to see changes in the existing benefits or programs.
I think that's really important, so that they can continue on the plans that they have got for retirement. But, second of all, you have to do a little bit of looking at what longevity looks like and whether or not people, if they're living longer, do we have to plan to make sure that we have got the resources to be able to pay for those benefits long-term?
There are some natural things that we have done in the past. We have looked at moving up by a couple of months the time period in which full benefits start. That's possibly something that we could look at in the future. There may be some possibilities of changing the amount of income which is subject to Social Security taxes.
I think those are reasonable discussions to talk about, because, right now, we have some increases there built into the existing program. But let's not talk about significant stuff until we actually look at what the other alternatives are.
We think that there are possibilities out there of long-term success without scaring people and without tearing apart the system and without reducing benefits. But it requires management. And it requires actually looking at and making things better.
Look, in South Dakota, we have got the South Dakota retirement plan. It's one of the best plans in the entire nation. But, every single year, we try to make it better. We try to do the internal mechanics of it, so that we actually make it better than it was the year before.
ROUNDS: And I will bet you that you can't find anybody in South Dakota that has that plan that isn't satisfied with the direction that we have done to make it better each year.
TAPPER: An important conversation.
Senator Mike Rounds, we really appreciate your time today.
ROUNDS: Thank you.
TAPPER: Poll after poll shows Americans do not want President Biden to run for president again, including Democrats.
So, why aren't any other Democrats stepping up to challenge him? Our panel joins us next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: We've been sent here to finish the job, in my view.
Let's finish the job. Let's finish the job. Finish the job. Finish the job. Finish the job.
QUESTION: What's stopping you from making that decision?
BIDEN: I'm just not ready to make it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.
My panel joins me now.
Paul Begala, let me just start. Do you think he really hasn't made the decision to run for reelection? I mean, his campaign -- I mean, his State of the Union message was finish the job, finish the job.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he also changed the rules of my Democratic Party primary...
BEGALA: ... to advantage Joe Biden. I think it's good. I think it's great, because it advantages African-American voters.
TAPPER: My friends in New Hampshire are not happy.
BEGALA: Yes, they will get over it, because African-Americans are the most loyal voters in the Democratic Party.
Why were they in the third seat back or fourth, right? So I think that's -- but it's also very good for Joe, for President Biden. Of course he's running. Now, maybe he hasn't completely made the final decision. But you don't -- you don't do that, you don't change the rules, you don't give a speech like that, which Democrats love -- and then he has a secret weapon, the Republicans, because they allowed him to dispel all of this nonsense, oh, he's too old, he can't -- because they started heckling him.
And he parried so artfully, he drew them right into his trap on Social Security and Medicare, and then sprung it. So I think that was much help from the Republicans. But he's -- I think he's running, and I think he's going to win.
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think he had the benefit of low expectations too. BEGALA: Yes.
FARAH GRIFFIN: We all -- were just, if he could get through the speech, that was a win, so that it was a little more than that. And he went off-script and had a moment. We were like, oh, wow, get him ready for 2024.
Listen, the Republican primary is starting in reality this week. Nikki Haley's likely to announce. It's the first time I'm getting a little optimistic. Like, I think we're going to have a real race for the GOP ticket. And Biden is banking on this being Trump vs. Biden again.
And I'm not certain that it's going to be. So he needs to start thinking, how do you take on somebody whether it's a DeSantis, a Chris Sununu, a Nikki Haley, who it's not as easy in some ways as a Trump? I don't know that they're completely ready for that.
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Joe Biden is like Pepe Le Pew. And Americans and most Democrats are like the cat that he's constantly hugging and kissing on that's trying to get away from him, and that Pepe Le Pew doesn't know it. He thinks the cat loves him.
His problem was not with me or other Republicans. His problem is with his own party; 60 percent of his own party doesn't want him to run again. This wasn't State of the Union. This was begging and pleading, please, Democrats get behind me. I want to run again.
Finish the job was a message to his own party. So this had nothing to do with the State of the Union, which he sort of at the end of the speech just kind of threw in, oh, yes, by the way, the State of the Union is fine.
So, I -- if it's going so great, why doesn't his own party want him again?
TAPPER: So, Ashley, setting aside Scott comparing the president to a sexually predatory scum...
TAPPER: There is the question he asked, which is, poll-wise, Democrats, not official Democrats, but Democrat rank-and-file, are not enthusiastic about him running for reelection.
ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think that we are finding ourselves in a moment in our country where we you have to make a choice, and it's a generational thing.
You can't hide from his age. Playing politics, Joe Biden has done everything he needs to do to deserve to run again. The question is, if he runs, I think Democrats will show up for him regardless. But if the Republicans do get rid of Trump, which I still have not -- I'm not sure they will -- and he has to run against a younger candidate, that's going to be the fight.
It will be, I'm the new generation that -- like, get rid of the older generation. But if Joe Biden, like he did this week, can ensure that Republicans have to talk about policy, I think he can get across the finish line again, because we know that the average American supports his policies. He just needs to get out and explain it better.
TAPPER: I want to ask you a question, Alyssa, and then Scott, because the primary is definitely on, the Republican primary.
And Donald Trump re-TRUTHed on his social media Web site a real smear against Governor DeSantis. I'm not even going to repeat it. But it was a -- it was a real smear. And I'm wondering if you think that the DeSantises and the Nikki Haleys of the world are ready for the Trump attack machine, which is like nothing we have ever seen.
I mean, he will -- there is no depth to which he will not sink. He went after Ted Cruz. He went after Marco Rubio, I mean, and not just him, his allies, all sorts of hideous allegations, attacks on their spouses.
Are they ready?
FARAH GRIFFIN: Probably not. I mean, it's February 2023. We're way out from even the primary, and he's already leaped straight to, you're a groomer, Ron DeSantis.
Like, that's -- I mean, that's as low as you can go this early. They need to be ready for it. And it's why I always advise Republicans, you have to take Trump on directly. This notion that you could just give a policy-driven stump speech and pretend he doesn't exist and somehow soar to nomination is absurd.
So the earlier you have that battle out, show what decency looks like vs. Donald Trump, I think there's a thirst for that. People want to see it. That's why I'm looking for a happy warrior type, not someone to outrage Donald Trump, because I think he always is going to cannibalize the rage factor.
TAPPER: So, you and McConnell are close. McConnell doesn't do that. Now, he's not running for the presidency, but he kind of just tries to ignore, even when Donald Trump launches racist attacks against his wife.
TAPPER: How -- what's the best way to respond?
JENNINGS: Well, DeSantis had a little interesting moment. Trump was attacking him over COVID and said some very dishonest things about what DeSantis had done as governor on COVID policy.
And then DeSantis kind of response to it doesn't mention Trump by name, but he said, I did what I did, and other people did what they did, and you can look at the electoral results of that. It was sort of perfect. And I think the reason he got that right is
because don't discount the fact that DeSantis, since he's become governor, has been attacked by the media and Democrats and you name it every single day since he's been office. So he has been trained to some degree here to engage in this pugilism, not with Trump yet, but there is some muscle memory for that. And he has great instincts.
And so, already, I think he's handled Trump fine. And the desperation of that smear that you talked about, I actually think it helped DeSantis, because it shows just how the weak position that I think Trump knows he's in right now.
TAPPER: What's the way to take on -- I mean, I know you don't want to help Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, but what is the best way to take on that kind of just unbelievably, unbelievably gutter smears?
BEGALA: Change parties or change the rules. I mean it.
I just talked about Biden changed his rules. Republicans ought to move away from this winner-take-all system, because Biden -- I mean, Mr. Trump has always been a plurality politician. He's never once commanded a majority. In his own party, when he won the nomination, he didn't get 50 percent until the 33rd state.
He can always win a winner-take-all with 30, 35 percent. He will never go below that 35 percent. There -- it's impenetrable. So, their problem is with their -- not just with -- it's Mr. Trump and his really loyal followers.
And I think DeSantis has no idea what's coming. I think Trump's going to get on him like a leopard on a wildebeest and just shred him.
BEGALA: I think DeSantis is so overrated. Trump is going to walk away with the Republican nomination if they don't have a different set of rules, the way the Democrats changed the rule.
ALLISON: I mean, I think you have to take a bully on. And that's what Joe Biden was like. We stand up to bullies.
And the thing that is interesting about this is that the Republican Party is now having an opportunity to really test out their bench. And I think, on the Democratic side, everyone thinks we don't have a bench -- a strong bench to like, who's -- if Joe Biden doesn't run, the question is, well, who runs?
Well, we have a vice president that could run, and I think we should give her the credit that she deserves. She's -- I think they have dragged her around the coals. I think it's sexist. I think there is -- there are undertones of prejudice because she's a black woman.
But we also have strong senators. We have a lot of strong governors. Our bench is strong. And I think that, if Joe Biden doesn't run, I think we could go toe to toe with any Republican that -- against Donald Trump. JENNINGS: This is amazing, because...
FARAH GRIFFIN: We would love you guys to run the vice president.
JENNINGS: These Democrats you talk about, I agree with you. You do have some interesting people.
And they're all going to be bottled up one more time by a guy who will be 86 years old at the end of his next term. And that's a shame for your party.
BEGALA: And a guy who...
ALLISON: And your party might -- that might happen to your party too with Donald Trump.
JENNINGS: Who -- we have a better chance of getting rid of our old guy than you do.
ALLISON: Well, let's see.
BEGALA: I disagree.
First off, the Democrats do love Joe Biden.
BEGALA: When he was nominated, he won 44 out of 53 contests. Barack Obama never did that. Bill Clinton never did that.
He's the most dominant Democrat of this era. He never gets any credit. He is, as Bush would say, misunderestimated.
TAPPER: All right, great panel. Thank you so much for all -- all of you for being here. Really appreciate it.
Whether you're watching for the game or for the halftime show or for the commercials, you're going to be treated to some historymakers tonight.
TAPPER: Welcome back.
Tonight, I will join millions of you, millions, in watching Super Bowl LVII to see if my beloved Philadelphia Eagles can bring it all home.
But we will all also be watching some amazing history. For the first time ever, two black quarterbacks will start in the same Super Bowl. The Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes and the Eagles' Jalen Hurts spoke about how much this means to them, saying they hope to inspire the next generation of black football players.
The NFL, frankly, has a shameful history when it comes to giving black quarterbacks the chance they deserve. This milestone is important, but also way too late.
The other historymakers will be in the sky. For the first time ever, the flyover will be conducted by an all-female crew. The U.S. Navy says the historic flight commemorates 50 years of women flying in the Navy.
So, no matter who wins, no matter who you're rooting for, there will be reason to celebrate tonight.
"FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" starts next.