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State of the Union

Interview With Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA); Interview With Rep. Summer Lee (D-PA); Interview With U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired May 21, 2023 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Deadlocked. Eleven days left on the clock, and debt ceiling negotiators are moving farther apart.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Much of what they have already proposed is, quite frankly, unacceptable.

TAPPER: Is the risk of default only growing? I will speak exclusively to Republican Senator Bill Cassidy in moments.

And show of unity. President Biden gives Ukraine's fighters a sky high-advantage.

BIDEN: We have Ukraine's back.

TAPPER: But after scrapping part of his world trip for debt ceiling talks, is the U.S. on shaky ground on the world stage? National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan joins me exclusively from Japan.

Plus: go time. President Trump readies himself for his biggest GOP challenger yet.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): It's easy to be a front-runner. It's harder to dig in.

TAPPER: As the Republican field expands, will any of them crack Trump's hold on the party?


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is careening toward the edge of an economic cliff.

With 11 days until the moment the U.S. government could run out of money to pay its bills, according to the secretary of the Treasury, President Biden just told reporters he cannot guarantee that the U.S. will not default.

That same message came from the top House Republican negotiator just hours before. It's the only thing the sides seem to agree on, in addition to blaming the other side for moving backwards in their talks. Biden says on -- Biden says, on his flight back to the U.S. this morning, he's going to tell House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in a phone call that the Republican Party needs to move off a negotiating position that Biden is calling extreme and unacceptable.


BIDEN: It's time for Republicans to accept that there is no bipartisan deal to be made solely, solely on their partisan terms. They have to move as well.


TAPPER: The president said he does believe he has the authority to bypass Congress altogether by using the 14th Amendment, but he's not sure he has the time to do so, given the legal challenges that would assuredly ensue.

The growing self-inflicted crisis forced President Biden to cut short his foreign trip after meeting with key allies at the G7 in Japan. That's where world leaders came together to confront China growing -- China's growing sway and to reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine.

This included a face-to-face meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and a reversal by Biden, who will now allow Ukrainians to be trained to use American-made F-16 fighter jets.


TAPPER: And joining me now from Japan is the president's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.

Jake, thanks so much for joining us.

NSC spokesman John Kirby said this trip was intended to show that the United States is -- quote -- "a reliable, stable, credible partner" in this part of the world.

But, as you know better than I, President Biden had to cancel the other leg of the trip, stops in Australia and Papua New Guinea, so that he could return home early to focus on the debt negotiations.

Doesn't the fact that he had to cut this trip short to deal with this potentially catastrophic default that's been months, if not years in the making, doesn't that undermine the very message that the United States is a reliable, stable partner?

JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Jake, I got to tell you, it really doesn't.

I'm here in Japan with the president. We are wrapping up the G7 summit, and we are producing a set of outcomes under American leadership, under President Biden's leadership, on China, on clean energy, on the war in Ukraine, on pushing back against economic coercion, on protecting our most sensitive technologies.

It's actually a quite historic set of outcomes, all because President Biden is in fact leading on the world stage. And, of course, in Asia. We're standing here in Japan with some of our closest Asian allies, including through the Quad summit last night. And he had the chance to sit down with the Australian prime minister yesterday as well.

So, when you look at the totality of the last three days, it's actually a reflection of and an exclamation point on the way in which President Biden has led on the world stage. People understand democracies, and they understand that there are moments in domestic politics when you have got to look at the home front.

But President Biden has been able to lead on the world stage and at the same time stay engaged to ensure that the United States does not default.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about some of the accomplishments there in Japan.

President Biden told the G7 leaders that the United States is going to support this joint effort to train Ukrainian pilots to fly F-16 fighter jets. As you know, just a few months ago, the president said there was no basis militarily for giving Ukraine jets and that Ukraine didn't need them at all.

What changed? And would these jets not have been more effective if Ukraine had been trained and had them in time for the upcoming counteroffensive?


SULLIVAN: Well, actually, Jake, when President Biden answered that question, he was talking about the preparations that the United States and our allies were making with Ukraine for the counteroffensive.

And the critical systems for the counteroffensive are not planes. They're tanks and artillery systems and HIMARS and huge amounts of ammunition. And the United States has mobilized an exceptional effort to deliver on time and in full everything Ukraine needs to launch this counteroffensive.

Now that we have done that, we can look forward to the long-term capacity of Ukraine to be able to defend itself and deter Russian aggression. Fourth-generation fighter aircraft, Western fighter aircraft, F-16s are relevant to that fight. That's why the president told his G7 colleagues this weekend that he will, in fact, support the training of Ukrainian pilots.

But he is focused on the type of systems needed for the phase of the fight that is at hand. And for this counteroffensive, he has delivered, at speed and at scale, what the Ukrainians need.

TAPPER: Is President Biden going to allow European countries to give their F-16s to Ukraine. And will they -- these jets arrive in Ukraine before the end of 2023?

SULLIVAN: I'm not going to put a timetable on it. What the president has said is that he will sit with his European allies and with Ukrainians to work out who, when and how many jets get transferred. And we're in the process of doing that right now?

TAPPER: Would the U.S. give any F-16s?

SULLIVAN: I think, given the numbers that are currently available from the stocks of our European allies and the fact that, based on the money the Congress has given us, there's so many other priorities for systems to give Ukraine, it may be that we focus more on third-party transfer, but the president hasn't made a final decision.

TAPPER: Your critics say that this has been a familiar pattern, whether it's Patriot air defense systems or the advanced tanks and now F-16s, that President Biden at first resists sending some advanced equipment that Ukraine is asking for, only to later change his mind.

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas, told me -- quote -- "This administration only gives Ukraine enough to survive, not for victory. A long, protracted conflict only plays into Putin's hands" -- unquote.

Your response?

SULLIVAN: Well, let's take a step back, Jake. Over the course of just more than a year, the United States has mobilized a global coalition of more than 40 countries with American leadership, with President Biden's leadership to provide Ukraine with an absolutely breathtaking amount of military equipment, modern military equipment, to be able to defend itself and to take back territory.

Nobody in February of 2022 would have said that by, May of 2023, we would have supplied this much stuff from this many countries, coordinated, organized, and facilitated by the United States. So that's point one.

Point two is that we have taken this in the phases that are necessary for Ukraine to prevail in particular elements of the fight. In the first phase, it was about Stingers and Javelins, so that Russian tanks and Russian troop carriers could not take Kyiv.

In the second phase, it was artillery, so that Russian forces could not roll over Ukrainian brigades in the Donbass. Now it's about the tanks and the systems that are necessary for the counteroffensive. And then it is about building a future capability, so that, for years to come, Ukraine is in a position to be able to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

At every stage, the United States has played a critical role in making sure Ukraine gets what it needs when it needs it. And we will continue to do that.

TAPPER: Years to come? So you think this conflict is going to be going for years and years?

SULLIVAN: I didn't say that the conflict would be going for years and years. What I said was Ukraine's capacity to defend itself, to deter future aggression, to ensure that this is not replicated down the road, that is going to last for years.

And, in fact, the G7 agreed this weekend that the United States and our fellow democracies' commitment to Ukraine is not just about this current fight. It is about the long term. It is about the future, a future when this war is over, but the Russia threat has not entirely disappeared. And we have to plan for that part of the equation, as well as giving the Ukrainians what they need to prevail on the battlefield today.

TAPPER: Jake, the U.K. Recently gave long-range missiles to Ukraine. France is following suit.

Up until now, the U.S. has balked at giving Ukraine similar weapons. In February on this show, you would not say whether the U.S. would support Ukrainian efforts to recapture Crimea. That's one of the concerns that has been expressed about whether or not the Ukrainians are given the ability to hit Russian targets in Crimea.

Do you think that Crimea is part of Ukraine?

SULLIVAN: Of course.


TAPPER: So, what would be the objection of giving...

SULLIVAN: Crimea is Ukraine.

TAPPER: Right.

SULLIVAN: I mean, that's a very straightforward thing.

TAPPER: Well, yes you answered it directly. I mean, Russia doesn't think so, obviously.

But do you think that Ukraine should have weapons that can reach Russian targets in Crimea?

SULLIVAN: Yes. We have not placed limitations on Ukraine being able to strike on its territory within its internationally recognized borders.

What we have said is that we will not enable Ukraine with U.S. systems, Western systems, to attack Russia. And we believe Crimea is Ukraine.


The -- you were talking about aid to Ukraine a minute ago. There was this very bizarre admission from the Pentagon this week of an accounting error that suggested that the U.S. has at least $3 billion that it didn't know it had that it can use for Ukraine aid. That's a hell of an accounting error, and it provides a lot of fodder to critics of U.S. aid to Ukraine and critics who say there's not enough oversight going on.

Are you concerned about this accounting error?

SULLIVAN: Well, one thing I just want to make clear, that is not money that went out the door and disappeared. That is not a waste of that $3 billion.

It is simply a tally of how much military equipment we have given them. And the way that the Pentagon was counting it was, what's the replacement cost for the equipment we provide, rather than just the actual cost of that equipment?

Once you make that adjustment, it turns out we have an additional $3 billion that we can spend to provide even more weapons to Ukraine. And, at the end of the day, not one penny of U.S. dollars will have gone missing or had been misallocated. It will all be provided in the form of equipment to Ukraine on the battlefield.

But, of course, it would be better to get right, in terms of the accounting, up front. In the end, though, the Pentagon discovered the error, the Pentagon corrected the error, and Ukraine will get what it needs, and the American taxpayer will be able to be confident that this money is being spent effectively and appropriately.

TAPPER: Another correction coming from the Pentagon, the U.S. is walking back claims that a drone strike in Syria earlier this month killed a senior leader of the terrorist group al Qaeda.

The family of the man killed told CNN he was just a 56-year-old shepherd with 10 kids, zero connections to terrorism. Is that right that the strike did not kill the senior al Qaeda leader, it killed a civilian? And if it is true that it was a civilian killed, is anyone going to be held accountable?

SULLIVAN: Well, in fact, Jake, it was President Biden who stood up with Secretary Austin guidelines for this administration to ensure that there would be accountability and oversight of any potential civilian casualties from counterterrorism strikes.

In this particular instance, the Pentagon is conducting a full and thorough investigation. They will report the results of that investigation to the president, and we will proceed from there.

So far, we do not have evidence to validate the claims being made in Syria. But I am going to withhold any judgment on what exactly happened here until the Pentagon's investigation is complete.

TAPPER: You have been getting a lot of mail -- not you, but President Biden and Vice President Harris -- I'm sure they then put them on your desk -- most recently from Senator Padilla and Congressman Mike Levin from California, raising the case of Ridge Alkonis.

He's a Navy lieutenant who was sentenced to three years in prison in Japan, where you are right now, after a horrible tragedy, a car crash that killed two Japanese citizens. He said he had mountain sickness. Everyone agrees he wasn't under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The letter calls on President Biden to raise the case of Lieutenant

Alkonis' three years in prison -- the family feels very strongly that he's -- he wasn't treated fairly -- to raise that case with the prime minister of Japan and to officially request that he be transferred to the U.S. justice system.

Has President Biden raised that case with the prime minister?

SULLIVAN: Well, first, Jake, I have personally met with Brittany Alkonis. And I personally take these cases of wrongfully detained or detained Americans, detained for any particular reason -- and you noted the circumstances of this case -- extremely seriously. President Biden is a president who has done more to get Americans home than any of his predecessors.

In the particular case of Lieutenant Alkonis, there are certain times when saying less in public and more in private is the best way to resolve these cases. This is one of those instances. So, I cannot share with you the nature of the conversations that we are having at every level with our Japanese counterparts.


I will just say that we are working this case extremely hard.

TAPPER: I do want to ask you before we go about this incident that must have been frightening last month, when a man was able to enter your home and that of your family in the middle of the night, completely undetected by your round-the-clock Secret Service protection.

You actually confronted him yourself and made him leave. What was that experience like? And do you still have faith in the Secret Service's ability to protect you and your family?

SULLIVAN: I absolutely have faith in the Secret Service. They are consummate professionals. They have done a phenomenal job since I came into this position a couple of years ago.

And, as far as the incident itself, you know, I have refrained from speaking about it publicly, and I will continue to refrain from speaking about it. I will just say that, as far as the men and women of the Secret Service are concerned, they have my utmost respect.

TAPPER: Well, Jake, we're glad that you and your family are OK. And there was -- it -- that's scary stuff.

Thank you so much for joining us from Japan. We appreciate it.

SULLIVAN: Thanks for having me.


TAPPER: Talks to avoid an economic catastrophe are currently deadlocked. Is there a Plan B? A Republican known for trying to make bipartisan deals joins me live next. Plus, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis finally expected to jump into the

Republican presidential primary this week. How is he positioning himself to take on Trump?

That's coming up.



TAPPER: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. I'm Jake Tapper.

The chances of a U.S. debt default appear to be growing, according to both Democrats and Republicans, as negotiators split over stubborn issues and lawmakers on both sides worry, if there is a deal, they won't like what their leaders gave up to get it.

Meanwhile, my next guest says any deal would ignore a costly, growing problem.

Joining us now to discuss, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

So, a potential default could now just -- Now, just be 11 days away, theoretically. President Biden said today that he's done his part. Now it's time for Republicans to move. How worried are you that a catastrophic default could actually happen? And do you think Republicans who are negotiating need to be willing to move more?

SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): Well, a couple of things.

First, I think the president needs to show leadership. He took about 100 days to engage -- to kick in. And now he's finally negotiating, and I'm pleased that he's doing so.

But I also want to point out that Secretary Yellen's comment about when default occurs potentially as early as the 1st of June, but it could be later. Well, let's have a little leadership. The financial markets are all nervous about this. Is it the 1st or is it the 14th?

A quarterly payment of taxes comes to the federal government beginning on the 15th, at which point the risk of default is averted. So, the president just needs to step up and calm down the markets by being specific. And,lastly, the president has been jacking up spending his first two years of the presidency.

Now he wants Republicans to accept that as a new baseline. I think Republicans and the American people are reasonable to say, Mr. President, just because you have artificially inflated spending for the first two years of your presidency, by the way, given us all kinds of inflation, to boot, does that become the new baseline?

We don't think it necessarily has to. And I think Republicans are reasonable to ask that it be reset back down. TAPPER: Yes, you're referring to the fact that the White House,

according to reports, offered to -- as part of this negotiation, offered to freeze spending, I think, at 2022 levels, whereas, obviously, McCarthy and the Republicans negotiating want it to be frozen at earlier levels.

The House Freedom Caucus, a group of very conservative Republicans in the House Republican Caucus, they're saying that they're going to oppose basically any compromises to the original legislation that they passed. A majority of the House Republican Party, we should note, voted to not count electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania, based on election lies, the lies that you have stood up against.

Do you think the House Republican Caucus can be counted on to arrive at a reasonable compromise in these debt negotiations, given that fact, that ugly fact, that sometimes they take pretty extreme positions?

CASSIDY: Well, I think that the 20 -- I have strong feelings about the last election and how that transpired, but, nonetheless, I think that's a totally separate issue.

And let's give a tip of the hat to Kevin McCarthy. The package that he sent to the president, he had Republicans voting for a debt ceiling increase who had never previously voted for a debt ceiling increase. And I don't think we can allow anxiety, existential anxiety, about the future to kind of dictate what is done today.

Once, Kevin said in a private meeting: "Never ask me to do something because you think I can't. Let me first go out there and see if I can."

I think the president needs a step forward, make an earnest effort to meet Republicans and the American people on the issue of lowering our indebtedness. And, if they do so, let's see what McCarthy can do. And I'd like to have more faith in Kevin.

TAPPER: President Biden also said this morning that he thinks that he has the authority to lift the debt limit on his own using the 14th Amendment, though he said it's unclear if he has time to use it, given the -- all the legal challenges that would ensue.

The amendment says -- quote -- "The validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned" -- unquote.

I know you don't think he should do this, but do you think he's right that he has the ability to use the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling on his own without Congress?

CASSIDY: I'm not an attorney. It does sound like he's kind of squivelling (ph) around a little bit. His left wing wants him to invoke it.

It's one more example of the president taking the constitutionally delegated authority of spending from the House of Representatives and trying to kind of aggregate it into the White House. [09:25:00]

I think the president needs to show leadership. OK, House Republicans, American people, you're concerned about spending, I will meet you there, as opposed to finding a dodge that tries to work its way around. And that's a dodge. Meet the -- meet the American people and Republicans where they are. I think we can get to where we need to be.

TAPPER: I think we can all agree that a debt default would be a disaster. It would affect the economy. It would affect a lot of people out there who are watching right now.

You are part of a group of bipartisan senators who have in the past worked out other compromises on infrastructure, on guns, on other issues. Is there a Plan B here if we get right up to the moment that a default could actually happen? Is there any sort of emergency legislation to raise the debt ceiling for two more months or anything like that, just to make sure that the country does not plunge into this catastrophe?

CASSIDY: Well, first, I think, as I said earlier, I think Plan B might first, when is June -- when is the 1st of June? When is the drop-dead date?

If it's June 15, is there really an issue? That would calm down financial markets if the president and Secretary Yellen came forward with that?

In terms of the Republican Senate coming up with something, this is between the president and the House Republicans. And that's why it's been so frustrating to see the president on the sidelines. If the Senate comes up with something, the House has to accept it, and the White House does. So why not just put them together?

I think Plan B is to get the president engaged.

TAPPER: So let's talk about Social Security, because, if a default happens, one of the first things to fail will be Social Security checks to seniors who rely upon them.

But, as you have been sounding the alarm about, Social Security also faces another threat in just nine years, estimated, insolvency. And the top two Republican candidates for a presidency, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, are now both saying they wouldn't change anything about Social Security.

Is that disqualifying?

CASSIDY: I think, if you have a leading presidential candidate, be it Joe Biden, who clearly is saying that, or Donald Trump pretending to the American people that there's no problem with Social Security, then they lack the leadership to become the president of the United States.

By the way, you can fix Social Security, and you don't raise taxes on seniors, you don't cut their benefits. And there's a way to do it that actually improves the program. But there's no leadership like that from Trump or Biden. In my mind, that lack of leadership on an issue so critically to so many Americans is disqualifying.

TAPPER: So you have a plan to create a $1.5 trillion fund that would use investment returns to fund Social Security. Again, we're talking we're about nine years out from insolvency, estimated.

Given how D.C. works, or doesn't work, given how we're waiting into the last minute with the debt limit, we're going to go through this again in the fall with government funding, is there any willingness among your colleagues, Democrats and Republicans, in the Senate and the House to act now to try to fix this problem?

CASSIDY: Yes, first, to put this in context, insolvency -- when insolvency comes in nine years, people who are currently receiving social benefits will get a 24 percent cut. That's the reason you want to act now.

And if you wait until the deadline, then the cuts are bigger and the tax -- and/or the tax increases are greater. And so, if you want to solve it now without that, you need to solve it now.

And we actually had bipartisan senators and bipartisan group of representatives that were willing to commit to this big idea, again, $1.5 trillion in an investment fund separate from Social Security, and the risk falls upon the fund. If the market goes down, people still get their benefits, no 24 percent cut.

When Joe Biden came out in the State of the Union speech and began to speak about Republicans trying to take away your Social Security, it all fell apart. The president clearly plans to run for reelection, as does Joe Biden -- as does Donald Trump, making Social Security an issue, attacking anyone who comes against them.

They are ignoring a problem which is important for our seniors, important for our nation's indebtedness. I wish both of them would show real leadership.

TAPPER: Let me ask you before you go.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is anticipated to announce that he's running for president. South Carolina Senator Tim Scott has filed paperwork to do the same, former Vice President Mike Pence likely right behind them.

Here's something Governor DeSantis reportedly told donors on a phone call this week -- quote -- "You have basically three people at this point that are credible in this whole thing, Biden, Trump, and me. And I think, of those three, two have a chance to get elected, Biden and me" -- unquote.

Do you agree with him that Trump cannot win a general election?

CASSIDY: Well, a couple of things. I don't think Trump can win a general election, but that's a nice way for him to dis people like Tim Scott, who's a pretty formidable candidate. So, you just have to take this as a competitor trying to dis others. On the other hand, during the last election cycle, we saw that, in all

the swing states, almost all, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Arizona, that Trump's -- that the candidates for Senate that Trump endorsed all lost. If you had taken the votes that went to other Republicans and put them together, those Republicans would have won.


So, I think the president's kind of high-profile endorsement of those candidates actually hurt those candidates, at least in the general election. So, if past his prologue, that means President Trump is going to have a hard time in those swing states, which means that he cannot win a general election.

TAPPER: All right, Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, good to have you back, sir. Thank you so much.

CASSIDY: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: The optimist, Trump without the baggage, the debate assassin.

The Republican field for 2024 is about to grow, and we will break it all down next.




BIDEN: I'm looking at the 14th Amendment as to whether or not we have the authority.

I think we have the authority. The question is, could it be done and invoked in time that it could not -- would not be appealed and, as a consequence, past the date in question and still default on the debt? That's a question that I think is unresolved.



President Biden right there, before he departed Japan for the United States, weighing on the potential of using a clause in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to bypass Congress to raise the debt ceiling on his own, a move that many progressive Democrats support.

One of those House lawmakers, Congresswoman Summer Lee from the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is here with me and my panel.

Congresswoman, one of the -- this is -- I want to get to this because this is really interesting. Your Republican colleagues in negotiations, one of the things that they're pushing for is pushing work requirements for SNAP benefits, what people more commonly know as food stamps, help with nutrition for families.

And when you were growing up, your family relied on that assistance. So, I -- what are your thoughts on this push?

REP. SUMMER LEE (D-PA): I think it's cruelty, right? There are so many other things that we could be talking about.

I think this is a smokescreen. I think that it's clear that what we're trying to do is, we're pushing people further into poverty. We're talking about issues that are nonissues. Folks want to work. These folks are already working. These folks are hungry. These folks are sick. And we're putting up bureaucratic red tape that we don't need to.

So, instead of giving these folks the food they need or helping them to get healthy, we're instead going to put precious resources into putting up more barriers for those same people that I relied on. I'm here today because of it.

TAPPER: Doug, your former boss, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor from the Commonwealth of Virginia, he dealt with debt ceiling negotiations back in 2011 with Obama and Biden.

We're nearing the deadline.


TAPPER: Do you think they're going to find a compromise?

HEYE: Well, I hope so.

And one of the people -- one of the persons -- people -- excuse me -- that he dealt with directly was this vice president who was named Joe Biden.

TAPPER: Right.

HEYE: So history repeats itself.

But what we see in Washington so often when we deal with situations like this is, the answer is no, no, no. Hey, there's progress. No. Now we have a framework. No. And then we get to yes. And, ultimately, what we see are two things. One, nothing is agreed to until everything's agreed to.

And, as John McCain famously said, it's darkest before it gets totally black. But there's also, as we have gotten somewhat less pessimistic, which is not to say more optimistic, that there's a sense that this isn't going to happen because it's never happened before. And if the last five years, 10 years have taught us anything, it's don't think something's not going to happen because it's inevitable. The -- or it's unprecedented.

The unprecedented happens in Washington a lot now.

TAPPER: So the Biden people are engaging. I mean, there was a time a few weeks ago when their posture was, no, we're not doing this. Now they're negotiating. They're actually -- does that disappoint you? What do you think?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the president labored under the misapprehension that the speaker would do his job. It's a constitutional obligation, OK?

That's his job is to pay the bills. By the way, these are bills run up by Donald Trump and the Republican Congress. They added $7 trillion to the debt. And the two key numbers here for me are five and 18. Kevin McCarthy, the House speaker, has a margin of five seats. He has 18 members who represent districts that Donald -- that Joe Biden carried.

TAPPER: But they have stuck with him.

BEGALA: Yes, he's made them walk the plank, and for nothing. He -- they have now voted -- they haven't voted to cut spending. They have voted to cut teachers, to cut food for hungry kids, to cut law enforcement.

And for what? To protect tax cuts for the rich and subsidies for big oil and big pharma. And, by the way, that's not going to become law. So he has made those poor moderates walk the plank and endanger their careers, I think end their careers, for something's that never going to happen anyway. It's not going to pass.

It is malpractice, in terms of congressional leadership.


S.E. CUPP, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: If I were a progressive, I'd be pretty pissed at Biden, because they ended up exactly where he promised they wouldn't, as you said, negotiating.

So, I understand the frustration among progressives. On the other side, I'm thrilled that Republicans have rediscovered the debt and wanting to cut spending...


CUPP: ... after four years of jettisoning those principal policy concerns for conservatives, because Trump didn't care.

So, I think the talking, the arguments, the discussions are good ones to have about how we're going to pay for stuff and what stuff should be cut and what should not. But this is so political on both sides and such gamesmanship. And it's just very -- it's very disheartening to watch, because I think we will end up getting there, but we have to go through this crap first.

LEE: Let me just say, though, because we like to use the phrase both sides, but the reality is that there's one side, particularly Washington insider, Beltway folks, who are talking about this in terms of dollars, in terms of politics.


And then there's the other side of people who are impacted. There is a human impact here.

CUPP: Yes, right.

LEE: I'm a politician, and I'm an impacted person.

CUPP: Yes.

LEE: I know that there are going to be people who are going to suffer. We're here to fight for them.

CUPP: That's right.

LEE: It's not about politics. It's about lives. It's about my own family will suffer if this happens.

CUPP: It shouldn't be about politics.

LEE: And it shouldn't be about politics.

CUPP: Of course, it is, though, on both sides.

TAPPER: Just before we go -- before Doug weighs in, can you more specifically -- because I think one of the things that we in the media struggle to do is to explain the relevance of this fight to the people watching at home.

Obviously, if you work for the government or you work for a government contractor, the government's not going to pay -- be able to pay its bills. They're not going to -- if you take a Social Security check, you're not going to get that check. How else is it going to affect your constituents?

LEE: If you're a student and you rely on a Pell Grant, this is a student who may now not be able to go to college. Folks who are trying to lift themselves out of poverty, lift themselves into the middle class will now have their access cut off.

If you are somebody who relies on SNAP benefits, TANF, Medicare, if you're a veteran, we're talking about Veterans Affairs. All of these earned benefits that people rely on, this isn't a shameful thing to rely on. These are folks who are every day trying to make it. And these are their basic needs...


LEE: ... that we're saying, we're going to cut your basic needs. We're going to make sure that you're -- we're going to ensure that your child can't eat.

And this should be a nonstarter. It should be a nonstarter for Democrats, Republicans and independents.

TAPPER: But, Doug, I'm dying to hear what you think. We're going to switch to the 2024 race, because it's on.

I'm dying to hear what you think about this ad that is playing nonstop on CNN and other places...


TAPPER: ... from a pro-Trump super PAC taking shots at Governor DeSantis.

Now, just to give you the backstory in this, when he was a member of the House, DeSantis voted for and co-sponsored legislation that would have replaced income tax and other taxes with a national 23 percent sales tax. Here's the ad.


SINGERS (singing): Ron De Sales Tax had a plan to make you pay more. A sales tax here and a sales tax there, here a tax, there a tax, everywhere a sales tax.

NARRATOR: We can't afford Ron De Sales Tax. Fortunately, we have a better choice. President Trump passed massive tax cuts.


TAPPER: So, again, it kind of leaves out the fact that the sales tax was replacing all other taxes.

But what do you make of it all?

HEYE: I think you see this ad and you see the Camp Lejeune water ads, and that's basically what we see cable news these days.


HEYE: For me, it -- look, it's a good ad. It's clever. It's well done.

But it also should highlight for every Republican candidate, announced or not announced, what your road map is. And you're not going to get to the Republican nomination by going around Donald Trump. You have to confront him head on, and we don't know who -- for folks like myself who didn't vote for Donald Trump, we don't know who our Luke Skywalker is going to be, or maybe Lando Calrissian, but somebody has to take on Darth Vader.

CUPP: What -- what are those words?



TAPPER: Lando Calrissian was played by Billy Dee Williams. I think that was a Tim Scott reference.

CUPP: I don't know any of these references.

LEE: Wow.


HEYE: It wasn't.

TAPPER: It wasn't.


TAPPER: OK. In any case, we're "Star Wars" geeking it out here.


HEYE: You have to confront Donald Trump head on. You can't go around him.


HEYE: And Donald Trump's going to go after you. So you better be able to return the fire at some point.

TAPPER: Or a Han Solo or a Princess Leia, we should note.

LEE: One of them.

TAPPER: Do you agree?

BEGALA: Or a Jar Jar Binks, says me.



BEGALA: When Ron DeSantis won that landslide reelection, he zoomed to first place in the national polls in Republican primaries. He went to 56.

Since then, he's been running -- essentially running hard for president. He's gone from 56 to 21.

TAPPER: But he doesn't go after Trump at all.

BEGALA: He's lost seven points a month with that strategy. At the current trajectory, when we get to Iowa, he will be at negative-35.

The dude needs to toughen up and get in a race.

TAPPER: Is it possible the Republicans will offer a candidate that you would vote for?

CUPP: I could vote for Tim Scott. I know a lot of Republicans who could.

After the -- remember, in 2020, the RNC, Republican National Convention, had this, like, virtual convention, right? And Tim Scott was one of the keynote speakers.

TAPPER: Yes. CUPP: I got more calls, text, e-mails from Republicans than I can

count after that speech, saying, if only that guy were our nominee. What would this look like if he were our nominee?

So, there is a sense in the party that he is probably the best standard-bearer, both for the party and of conservatism. But can he go through Trump, is the question.

Now, I think Chris Christie is a really interesting thing, because he can't win. However, he might just be like an enforcer. He won't win the game. He might not even get a goal, but he's there to, like, stir some stuff up and might maybe take some swings.

We will see if that's effective.

TAPPER: All right.

From the golf course to the pitcher's mound, we're taking a closer look at how presidents use sports to score political wins.



TAPPER: Watching some NBA postseason games, I was reminded of the report from backstage at the 2004 Democratic Convention by Chicago journalist David Mendell when he quoted then-state Senator Barack Obama confidently telling him: "I'm LeBron, baby. I can play on this level. I got some game."

Now, whether you're a fan of Obama or not, he, like LeBron James, did, indeed, prove to be a once-in-a-generation talent, much to Democrats' current dismay, perhaps.

Politics and sports share a lot in common. And now a new book by our former CNN colleague Chris Cillizza takes a deeper look at that relationship on what sports can tell us about presidents. For instance, did you know that Dwight Eisenhower spent 1,000 days, 1,000 days of his presidency on the golf course, using golf to foster closer relationships with world leaders?

He was also an avid card player, fitting, perhaps, for the man whose strategic thinking as a general helped the right side win World War II. Ronald Reagan, of course, played unremarkable college football for the Eureka Red Devils, but his real sports claim to fame was as George Gipp, the Gipper.



RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Someday, when the team's up against it, the breaks are beating the boys, ask them to go in there with all they have got, win just one for the Gipper.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Perhaps it's not surprising that the man who understood sports' ability to move people emotionally is the one who formalized the tradition of inviting championship teams to celebrate at the White House, even letting the 1987 Super Bowl champion New York Giants dump popcorn on his head, certainly a presidential first.

John F. Kennedy, of course, understood the need for show as well, using images of touch football games to portray himself as vibrant, all-American, while hiding his serious chronic health issues.

Donald Trump's love of pro wrestling really says all that needs to be said.

And, of course, there's maybe the most iconic presidential sports moment of all, President George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch, a perfect strike, at the 2001 World Series in New York, signaling that the United States of America was still here, still standing after 9/11.

The book by Chris Cillizza, "Power Players: Sports, Politics, and the American Presidency," it is a fun read, perfect for the political and sports junkie in your life.

We will be right back.



TAPPER: Tonight, follow a team of adventurers around the globe as they journey into the wild, testing their physical strength and mental fortitude.

The four-part documentary series "EDGE OF THE EARTH" starts tonight at 10:00 Eastern on CNN.

Thanks for spending your Sunday morning with us.

"FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" starts next.