Return to Transcripts main page

State of the Union

Interview With Former Vice President Mike Pence; Interview With Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC). Aired 9-10a ET

Aired January 07, 2024 - 09:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): Iowa countdown. With a week to go, GOP candidates barnstorm Iowa.

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's going to be a new day in America, without chaos.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm running for your issues.


TAPPER: Is this race more fluid than it seems?

And battle for democracy. Facing political headwinds, President Biden hits the campaign trail with an all-out focus on Donald Trump.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Democracy is on the ballot.

TAPPER: As Trump tries to flip the script.

TRUMP: Joe Biden is a threat to democracy.

TAPPER: Will Biden's strategy work? Three years after the January 6 attack, former Vice President Mike Pence will join me from Tel Aviv, Israel.

And then South Carolina Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn.

Plus: health scare. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin facing criticism for waiting days to tell the president and the public he's in the intensive care unit. How serious was his illness, and why was it kept secret?


TAPPER: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington, where the state of our union is once again just shaking our heads.

We're eight days from the Iowa caucuses, one day past the third anniversary of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, and Donald Trump is dominating the political conversation in the only way he can, with wild and outlandish comments, among them, claiming that the U.S. Civil War could have been avoided if it had been negotiated, mocking the war injuries that the late John McCain sustained as a Vietnam POW, imitating President Biden's stutter, all of this is Biden is trying to frame his own bid around protecting democracy.

Yesterday, as CNN obtained shocking new video of rioters directly off the House floor on January 6 shouting at Capitol Police and Republican lawmakers, Trump attempted to twist the facts about the attack on the Capitol by his supporters, claiming that President Biden was the actual threat to democracy.

While 1,265 of Trump's supporters have been charged for their criminal conduct that day, 718 have pleaded guilty, 171 have been found guilty at trial, including for such crimes as seditious conspiracy and using deadly weapons and attacking law enforcement officers, Trump is calling on Biden to release these criminals.


TRUMP: Some people call them prisoners. I call them hostages. Release the J6 hostages, Joe. Release them, Joe. You can do it real easy, Joe.


TAPPER: To be clear, these are not hostages. Hostages are the innocent people Hamas kidnapped from Israel and is now holding in Gaza, women and children and at least seven Americans.

These are prisoners, Americans accused and convicted in many cases of crimes related to the January 6 insurrection. Now, Trump's role leading up to that day is now a topic for the U.S. Supreme Court, which will decide whether the former president can be disqualified from state ballots in the wake of the Capitol attacks because of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution barring those who engage in insurrection from holding federal office.

Now, no one was closer to the events of that day than Trump's vice president at the time, who is in Israel right now to give support to that country in its war against Hamas.


TAPPER: And joining me now from Tel Aviv, Israel, is former Vice President Mike Pence.

Mr. Vice President, thanks for joining us.


TAPPER: So, today marks three months since those horrific Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel October 7.

You're in Israel. You recently met with families of hostages still being held in Gaza. More than 100 hostages are believed to still be alive, including six Americans.

A lot of the hostage families with whom I have spoken are pretty critical of the Netanyahu government. They say they don't think Netanyahu is doing enough to get their loved ones out, that he's prioritized military operations, instead of getting the hostages back safely.

Is that what they told you?

PENCE: Well, what I -- what I heard from not only families of hostages, but as we walked the streets of Kfar Aza kibbutz, it was literally decimated by the Hamas terrorist invasion on October 7, was a -- was deep grief, but also a determination to move their nation forward and to restore their security.


I mean, it was remarkable to see the resilience of the people and the families that had lost loved ones, the families of hostages. And one understands their impatience. And I have three kids of my own, two grandkids. I can't even imagine the level of grief that they're experiencing and the struggle.

But I must tell you that I have never spent three days on the road in any capacity, whether it was on as vice president or as a member of Congress, where I have felt a greater heartbreak and greater inspiration in combination.

When we went to the south and we visited the kibbutz where the Hamas terrorists literally slaughtered families in a merciless and horrific way, I just never thought I'd see the aftermath of war like that, and literally an unspeakable evil.

But to see the resilience of the people of Israel, to be among the troops along the northern border with Lebanon left me deeply inspired, but more convinced than ever that the United States of America must in this moment stand clearly shoulder to shoulder with Israel until they hunt down and destroy the threat of Hamas once and for all.

TAPPER: So you have said that Israel has the right to respond to those horrific attacks of October 7 and the responsibility to destroy Hamas, as you just did.

But it does seem that the IDF strikes have killed more Palestinian civilians than they have members of Hamas. And there are Israelis who are worried about the high civilian death toll in Gaza, including for the reason that this high civilian death toll might actually ultimately make Israel less safe by inspiring more future terrorists.

Do you share any of those concerns?

PENCE: Well, first, Jake, look, I grieve the loss of any innocent civilian lives.

But one of the things I learned as we visited Sderot, where the terrorists literally took over the police station and murdered people in the streets, is that this was not simply a terrorist attack, but I believe it was a terrorist invasion.

I mean, what I learned in our briefings in the south was that that fence line separating Israel from Gaza was breached in more than 90 different places simultaneously, paving the way for some 3,000 terrorists, heavily armed, to move into Israel.

And, in fact, the briefings I received pointed out that, actually, the terrorists had sufficient armaments and supplies to literally march all the way here to Tel Aviv, all the way to Jerusalem. But, for the heroic efforts of police, IDF forces, and, frankly, courageous citizens, they were stopped from doing that.

So I really believe that what Israel is doing in Gaza today is absolutely essential. It is a response to an invasion that was launched with the intention of beginning the process of destroying the Jewish state of Israel. And I really do believe that this is a moment where America needs to speak with one voice that we will stand with Israel today and tomorrow and every day until they have won outright this fight and eliminated the threat of Hamas.

TAPPER: We learned late Friday night that the secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, spent multiple days this past week in the hospital, including time in the intensive care unit, for a medical issue that is still undisclosed.

He did this without the public, without Congress, without the National Security Council or even President Biden being informed for several days. The defense secretary temporarily assumed some of the -- the deputy defense secretary temporarily assumed some of the responsibilities while she was on vacation in Puerto Rico.

As a former vice president, you have unique insight as to what this actually means for a secretary of defense to be unavailable and to not be transparent with his boss about his health. What does it mean?

PENCE: Well, first, I wish the secretary of defense well, and I'm pleased he's making a full recovery.

But this -- the handling of this by the secretary of defense is totally unacceptable. And I believe the American people have a right to know about his medical condition, about the reasons for it. And he has a right to know who was informed of his incapacity.

And, I mean, but to think that, at a time when we have allies at war in Eastern Europe and here in Israel, that the leader of America's military at the Pentagon would be out of commission for a number of days, and the president of the United States didn't know about it, I think it -- I think it was a dereliction of duty.

And the secretary and the administration, frankly, need to step forward and give the American people the facts.


TAPPER: Yes, we still don't even know what he was hospitalized for. Yesterday marked the third anniversary of the January 6 attack on the

Capitol. A "Washington Post" poll this week found that a third of Republicans believed the falsehood that it's probably or definitely true that the FBI instigated the attack on the Capitol on January 6.

President Trump was spreading that lie just this weekend, falsely claiming the FBI was -- quote -- "leading the charge" on January 6. That's not true.

Obviously, your life, the lives of your family members were threatened that day. What do you say to those, including your former running mate, who are actively spreading this baseless lie or maybe even more importantly to those who believe it?

PENCE: Well, I would say to every American, as I did during my presidential campaign, that I know I did my duty that day to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.

I kept my oath. And they also simply need to look to the facts, that the Capitol Hill police endured great hardship and great harm. I think over 120 officers were injured. I saw many of them moving through the garage where I was spirited on the same day.

And the truth is that this was a riot that should never have happened, that, as I have said many times before, the former president's words that day were reckless. I believe history will judge his role in that.

But, at the end of the day, where I live every day and, frankly, the words of encouragement that I receive on a regular basis, as I know, by God's grace, we did our duty that day three years ago. But I will tell you, Jake, that I actually -- I understand why President Biden wants to focus his campaign on three years ago.

The record of this administration has weakened America at home and abroad. And I actually don't think the election is going to be decided on a tragic day three years ago. I think it's going to be decided on the failed policies of the Biden administration that have emboldened the enemies of freedom around the world, that launched the worst inflation, that created the worst crisis on our border in American history.

And it's one of the reasons why I continue to hope that, with the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire just around the corner, that all the good Republican voters in those states will give our party a fresh start and give us new leadership to lead our party forward in the election and beyond.

TAPPER: Is there somebody other than Donald Trump that you want the voters of Iowa to get behind? Is there somebody you prefer, whether it's Governor DeSantis or Ambassador Haley?

You are somebody whose endorsement could actually make a difference with any wavering Republicans who want a fresh start, as you note.

PENCE: Well, I have been speaking to several of my old competitors. I think very highly of Nikki Haley, of Ron DeSantis. And, frankly, Chris Christie has been a friend for many years. And I don't put a lot of stock in endorsements. I'm not sure whether I'm going to weigh in or if and when I will.

But I ran for president because I think different times call for different leadership, Jake. And I'm hoping that the good people of Iowa that I got to know so well in my campaign, the good people of New Hampshire and South Carolina will look at this moment and recognize that elections are about the future, and we need new leadership in the Republican Party.

We certainly need new leadership in the White House to move us forward. And if I see an opportunity to have an impact on achieving that, I will certainly do it and I will keep you posted.

TAPPER: It's not just President Biden who's focusing on January 6, of course. You have Donald Trump still talking about it.

Do you want to just, like, take this opportunity to clear up this lie that the FBI was leading the charge on January 6? It's obviously not true. I'm sure you know it's not true. Do you want to make that clear to the voters?

PENCE: I have seen the director of the FBI repeatedly assure the American people that the FBI were not the instigators of the riot that occurred on January 6.

And, frankly, I'm very grateful for the efforts of the FBI to bring nearly 1,000 people to justice who ransacked our Capitol and did violence against police officers that day.

But you're right. We have been assured again and again that it was not the case. And I just must tell you, having been there that day, I mean, to see people literally breaking windows, ransacking the Capitol, it just infuriated me.

I remember thinking, not this, not here, not at the United States Capitol. And I believe everyone that conducted that riot at the Capitol needs to be held to the fullest extent of the law. I'm pleased that many have.


But I have never been given any information. I have heard the many repeated assurances from the FBI that they were not involved, and I take them at their word.

TAPPER: There was late news on Friday evening the U.S. Supreme Court is going to hear and decide whether former President Trump can be disqualified from a presidential ballot under the 14th Amendment's ban on insurrectionists holding office.

Former Congresswoman Liz Cheney on Friday would not go so far as to say that she supports taking Trump off the ballot, but she did say -- quote -- "His actions clearly constituted an offense that is within the language of the 14th Amendment" -- unquote.

My guess, covering you for some time now, is that you don't support taking Trump off the ballot. You probably prefer that that be left up to the voters.

But, setting that aside, do you think Donald Trump engaged in insurrection?

PENCE: I have never called what happened on January 6 an insurrection.

And it is noteworthy that, even in the federal case in Washington, D.C., the president hasn't been charged with insurrection. It -- Jake, I was there. It was a riot, the way it broke out, and I have never seen it any other way.

And while I said that the president's words were reckless, and I believe that history and the American people will hold him ultimately to account for his role in that day, I think these efforts to take the decision away from the American people are really antithetical to the very democracy that the President Biden and many Democrats talk about wanting to defend.

I'm very confident that the American people will choose wisely. I'm confident that we will run our elections. But removing the former president or any other candidate from the choice of the American people, I don't believe is in the interest of the country.

And I have reason to be confident that the Supreme Court of the United States will see it just that way.

TAPPER: Two tough anniversaries this weekend, the three-year anniversary of the January 6 Capitol attack, the three -- yesterday, the three-month anniversary of the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack on Israel.

Vice President Mike Pence, in a unique position to talk about both of those issues on this Sunday, we thank you for your time.

PENCE: Thank you, Jake.


TAPPER: President Biden is headed to the key state of South Carolina tomorrow. Has he lost ground with the voters he needs to win reelection?

South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn will join me next.

And with a week to go, is a surprise brewing in Iowa? We will try to read the tea leaves.

That's coming up.



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

The Republican caucuses and primary process begins next week, but with President Biden facing political headwinds, he is trying to skip ahead and go right to the general election. He's trying to paint a stark contrast with his predecessor, Donald Trump, over democracy and political violence.

Tomorrow, more on that from President Biden. He will speak at Mother Emanuel AME Church from Charleston, South Carolina, where a white supremacist murdered nine innocent black worshipers in 2015.

Joining us now, South Carolina Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn.

Congressman Clyburn, thanks for joining us.

So let's start with President Biden's trip tomorrow to historic Mother Emanuel AME Church. What are you hoping to hear from President Biden? And is it fair to tie in any way what happened at the Emanuel AME Church to Donald Trump? Donald Trump had barely launched his campaign when that attack happened.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Well, thank you very much for having me, Jake.

I think it is very clear that Donald Trump's utterances way back before Charlottesville or at the time of Charlottesville ties him to what happened at Mother Emanuel. The fact of the matter is, that young man went into that church's basement, joined with those worshipers in Bible study, and murdered them.

And he said at the time that he was attempting to create a race war. But the people of Charleston, South Carolina, the families of the affected victims all came together to get beyond hate and reach out to help continue this pursuit of a more perfect union.

Donald Trump looked at those people in Charlottesville and said that there were good people on both sides. And those people were uttering things like, "Jews will not replace us." That is a religion.

The AME Church Emanuel, that is religion. And Donald Trump has said things in support of those activities that ties him closely to what happened at Mother Emanuel.

TAPPER: "The Washington Post" reports that former President Obama met for a private lunch with President Biden recently to express concern about how Biden is managing his reelection bid.

This comes as President Biden is struggling to solidify support among black voters, including on that trip to South Carolina. Obviously, you were instrumental in Biden getting the Democratic nomination. Obviously, black voters were instrumental in President Biden getting -- then-Senator Biden or then-Vice President Biden getting the nomination in 2020.

How worried are you about black voters showing up for President Biden in November?

CLYBURN: Well, I'm not worried. I'm very concerned.

And I have sat down with President Biden. I don't know -- I saw those reports. I have also seen at least one report indicating that I have sat down with President Biden. And I did with him. And I have told him what my concerns are. I have no problem with the Biden administration and what it has done.

My problem is that we have not been able to break through that MAGA wall in order to get to people exactly what this president has done. If you took the little simple thing as student loan debt relief, he promised to relieve student loan debt, and he has done that.


But one part of his promise he was not able to keep because six Republican attorneys general and the United States Supreme Court, in a 6-3 vote, stopped him from doing so.

But he sought another way, and he has forgiven $132 billion to 3.4 million people in student loan debt. But nobody writes about that. Nobody talks about that. I'm still hearing from people as recent as yesterday that he did not keep his promise on student loan debt relief. And he has.

Eighty percent of what he said he would do, he has done, and is continuing to do it, and people don't focus on that. They only focus on that 20 percent affected by that court decision, rather than what he did to get beyond the court decision.

He's done the same thing when it comes to the judiciary. He stood right across from Emanuel Church and said, if given the opportunity, he would put an African-American woman on the Supreme Court. He has done that. But he went even further and put a South Carolinian African-American woman on the second highest court of the land, a South Carolinian African-American woman on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

He has appointed more African-American women to the courts of appeal than all previous presidents combined, and that is a fact. If you go through each one of his pieces of legislation, look at the Inflation Reduction Act. He has reduced the cost of medical care, capped insulin at $35 a month.

I know what insulin was costing a month. My late wife died from diabetes; $800 a month she was paying for insulin. So this president is keeping his promises, but keep -- people keep focusing on the one or two things he did not get accomplished.


CLYBURN: No, we didn't do what we wanted to do with the Voter -- with the John Lewis Voter Education and Advancement Act.

But we are going to keep working until we get it done. TAPPER: It sounds like the Biden administration needs to fly you

around the country to speak on his behalf, sir.

Let me ask you, because we just learned Friday night that the secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, has been in the hospital since last Monday, including in the intensive care unit. This wasn't disclosed to the public until four days later in a Friday night news dump. President Biden wasn't even informed about this until Thursday, a source tells CNN.

We're obviously currently in the middle of several major military challenges. Is this acceptable to you? Vice President Pence called it a dereliction of duty.

CLYBURN: I don't think it was a dereliction of duty. No, I don't think that at all.

I do wish that it had been disclosed, and maybe it was, maybe just not made public. So I don't know all the particulars here. I do know Lloyd Austin. He is a stand-up guy. He's a great defense secretary. He has been a tremendous military man in this country, and I'm told he is now in charge of things as he was before the illness.

Now, we have some laws in this country, the HIPAA laws, keep us out of people's medical businesses. And I do believe this man has as much right to be protected by those laws and be subjected to those laws as everybody else.

He does have a duty to keep the public informed. And I don't know whether it was him or somebody inside of the military establishment that decided to do it this way. But I'm sure he will do a little better going forward, as he said he would.

TAPPER: I just want to circle back on something you said about your sitting down with President Biden to express your concerns.

You said among them are the fact that there has been some difficulty breaking through what you call the MAGA wall to get information to voters. Obviously, you talked at some length about some of the information you want people to know about when it comes to student loan -- student debt forgiveness and the judiciary and on and on.

But what are some of the other concerns you have about the Biden campaign? Because, obviously, look, throughout the 2020 campaign, there was never a major American poll that had Trump beating Biden, but, right now, that's not the case. There have been several major American polls in battleground states and nationally showing President Trump beating Biden.

What's the problem, beyond what you have already talked about?


CLYBURN: Well, the first thing is the time frame in which these polls were taken. At this particular time last round, President Biden had just lost

three primaries, had just finished fifth in New Hampshire at this particular time. But, beyond the primary, after Super Tuesday, is when we knew who the nominee was going to be, and he did well going forward.

So, when you have someone running in the primaries -- we have got two or three people running in the primaries. We have got people running third-party tickets. At this particular juncture, these polls are not a true reflection of where voters are.

I have seen polls that said, when you looked at people who say they will vote, Joe Biden beats Trump. Now, I don't pay attention to those things until we get a contest going forward and the primaries are behind us.

But, having said that, when I talk with the president, I talk with him about my Rainey-Smalls project. Joseph Rainey was the first African- American to serve in Congress -- or to be elected to Congress here in the country. Robert Smalls -- everybody remembers Robert Smalls.

For several years, I have had something I call my Rainey-Smalls project. I shared with President Biden what I did with that project. That project was the reason we were able to be as successful as we were several years ago with the primary and his contest here, when he won in South Carolina by 29 points.

I want to see that nationalized. That's the kind of effort that I would like to see nationalized, which I think will turn the vote out for Joe Biden this November.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Jim Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it, sir.

CLYBURN: Well, thank you very much for having me.

TAPPER: All the latest from Iowa when my panel joins me next.

Stay with us.




TRUMP: Nikki Haley and Ron aren't working for your interests. They're working for the interests of other nations and themselves. And so are those two.

Nikki would sell you out, just like she sold me out.

DESANTIS: If you watched his speeches a little bit yesterday, and then compared that to the Trump of '16, this is not the same candidate, by any stretch of the imagination.

HALEY: For those that want me to hit Trump more, I just am not going to do it.



That is what the last 24 hours have sounded like on the campaign trail in Iowa, with just eight days until the caucuses.

My panel is here to discuss.

Amanda, let's start with Nikki Haley there. And, understandable, I suppose, that she doesn't want to alienate Trump voters while trying to convince them to join her, but do you think that's a mistake, the way she's approaching this?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think the entire campaign by Trump's challengers has been a mistake, because they have been reluctant to talk about his biggest vulnerabilities, like his alleged criminality, January 6.

So, once you take those big issues off the table that made the -- most voters uncomfortable. Even Mike Pence, when you asked him early in the hour about January 6, obviously, he doesn't like it, but everyone is afraid to talk about it.

And the most revealing quote from Haley, she said a few days ago: "If Donald Trump is going to lie about me, I'm going to start telling the truth about him."

Nikki, what have you been waiting for all this time?


CARPENTER: You are losing by 10, 20, 30, 40 points to him. Tell the truth, for God's sake.


BRAD TODD, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, 60 percent of the Republican primary voters would entertain voting for someone else. And Donald Trump's negatives are baked in. His challengers don't have to raise them.

What they have to do is prove that they can eclipse him. Republican voters are looking for someone who has a lot of other attributes Donald Trump has, and that's what his challengers are trying -- their job is.

Now, I would also say, you have Donald Trump attacking Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis attacking Nikki Haley. Guess who has momentum in this race?


TODD: It's Nikki Haley.


And, meanwhile, one of the reasons I have heard it theorized that Donald Trump has been doing well in polls is because he's basically been quiet, some people even calling it a basement campaign.

TODD: Disciplined.

TAPPER: Yes, he's -- anyway...



TAPPER: Right. Well, not on TRUTH Social and not on some media outlets, but he's out there now and he's speaking.

And here's an example of some of what we heard the last day or so.


TRUMP: The Civil War was so fascinating, so horrible. See, there was something I think could have been negotiated, to be honest with you. I think you could have negotiated that.

Abraham Lincoln, of course, if you negotiated it, you probably wouldn't even know who Abraham Lincoln was. Obamacare is a catastrophe. Nobody talks about it. Without John McCain, we would have had it done. But John McCain for some reason couldn't get his arm up that day, remember?


TAPPER: Now, just for those who are not aware, Senator John McCain, who was a key vote against getting rid of Obamacare, the reason that President Trump is talking that way is because John McCain can't lift, couldn't -- he's passed away -- couldn't lift his arms above his head because of the torture he suffered at the hands of the North Vietnamese when he was a POW in a war that he enlisted in, as opposed to some other individuals from that era who claimed to have injuries that they didn't really have, so as to avoid service.

This doesn't even shock people anymore, I don't think.


Look, this is a man who is running a revenge campaign that's built on grievances, still going after a patriot who died several years ago, right? And then he's rambling on about the Civil War and about what could be negotiated and what -- I mean, this is -- this is someone who is not up to the job of being president.

And I think that, to what Amanda was saying, his Republican opponents need to dive in there, right? They need to prosecute that case against him, because, if they don't do it, no one else will.

And I think the fitness for office which Joe Biden talked about in his speech at Valley Forge is one of his biggest liabilities...

TAPPER: Trump's liabilities.

THORNELL: ... one of Trump's biggest liabilities.

I think his biggest liability is his character, which is where Nikki Haley and some of the remaining Republicans should be going right after. I think that's where Biden is focusing on, because that's a huge weakness for the -- for the former president.


TAPPER: How does one negotiate the Civil War, I suppose, to prevent, like -- would you, like, allow slavery in a couple states?


TAPPER: Like, what's the...

ALLISON: Keep some slaves and let some free. Perhaps, that's the negotiation he's talking about.

I mean, well, one of the other candidates won't even acknowledge what the Civil War was actually about.

TAPPER: Well, she did amend her answer.

ALLISON: Yes, and clarified that she had black friends as well to qualify her answer.


ALLISON: But Donald Trump, like you said, it would be a disaster for this country.

He allowed for January 6 to happen. He was an instigator of January 6. If Nikki Haley won't prosecute him on the case, if Ron DeSantis won't, I mean, luckily, Chris Christie is, but he's so far down in the polls, it's highly unlikely he will be the Republican nominee. But Joe Biden is willing to do that.

And that's what the Biden campaign did just on the 5th of January when talking about what is actually at stake. It will be -- there will be other issues on the ballot as well. But the Republicans are starting to say, like, of course, Joe Biden is only going to talk about January 6 because they want to look in reverse.

That's not looking in reverse. We're actually looking to the future, because we have people in the Republican field who won't even acknowledge that the election results are real...


ALLISON: ... that won't say what happened on January 6 was an insurrection, and are actually saying they would pardon the people that were a part of it. TAPPER: So, Amanda, you said earlier that the Republican candidates

challenging Trump aren't really going after Trump. I assume you exempt Chris Christie from that, because he's been doing nothing but and, frankly, has been suffering in the polls.

Here's his latest ad.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Most of the other candidates in this race are all trying to look into people's eyes and figure out what they want to hear.

I'm looking into people's eyes and knowing that the truth is ultimately what they need to hear and what they deserve to hear, even at times when you get booed for doing that.


TAPPER: I have never heard a candidate go on TV and brag about being booed.

TODD: Well...

TAPPER: Although I don't want to dismiss -- he does get booed for telling the truth, or at least for being critical of Donald Trump. But...

TODD: He's tried everything else. So he has to try this now.

I think -- I watched Joe Biden's speech, and I saw an old man telling ghost stories, trying to scare the kids. And the fact of the matter is, Biden doesn't want to talk about where the state of the country is. So he wants to campaign on Donald Trump.

And it's a trap for both candidates. Trump and Biden are the likely nominees on both sides. And the trap is that both of them want to run a campaign in the rearview mirror. I thought there was nothing in that speech that talked about the future. There was nothing in that speech to talk about how Biden's vision for policy is different than Trump's.

And I think it was a mistake.

CARPENTER: I will push back on that just a little bit.


TAPPER: You know what? Let me -- let me...


TAPPER: I'm going to come right back to you. We're going to squeeze into quick break, and then we're going to talk about Biden, instead of Trump, in the next block. Stick around.

Former President Obama reportedly voicing concerns to Joe Biden about his reelection campaign -- that next.

Amanda, hold on.


TAPPER: Just going to take a quick break, and then I'm going right to you.




BIDEN: This is the first national election since January 6 insurrection placed a dagger at the throat of American democracy. Since that moment.

We all know who Donald Trump is. The question we have to answer is, who are we?

TRUMP: Biden's record is an unbroken streak of weakness, incompetence, corruption, and failure. He's a threat to democracy.

I'm going to tell you, they have weaponized government. He's saying I'm a threat to democracy.



A split screen from the 2024 presidential election front-runners. That's probably -- I hope you liked what you just heard, because you're probably going to hear about 11 months of that.

My panel is back with me.

Amanda, before the break, brad was saying that Joe Biden in that speech in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, after visiting Valley Forge, was an old man telling ghost stories.

CARPENTER: Yes, this is a split screen I have a really hard time with, when there are Republican -- as you mentioned, you said Biden was telling ghost stories, as if Donald Trump isn't making us relive this national nightmare now and will be doing for rest of the 2024 campaign.

TAPPER: What's the nightmare, specifically?

CARPENTER: The living nightmare is that he is the one keeping January 6 alive with his campaign promises to provide pardons to the January 6 rioters, with his continued language that somehow these January 6 rioters who have been rightly prosecuted and jailed are political hostages.

You see members of Republican leadership also echoing that language that they are political hostages. That is so very hard for me to hear, especially when you interview someone like Mike Pence, who is in Israel now, who is looking at the reality of what a hostage actually is.


CARPENTER: Those things do not match up. It is wrong to allow that kind of rhetoric to continue, and to have it come from the person who's going to be the Republican nominee for candidacy.

TAPPER: Although you did hear some hope from Mike Pence. I mean, I have never heard -- he basically was saying, I hope the Iowa caucus Republicans don't vote for Donald Trump. He said he wanted fresh leadership.

And yet there is real concern from Obama and from Clyburn and from other Democrats that Biden is not getting the job done. "The Washington Post" has reported that Biden invited Obama to the White House to discuss the election. According to "The Post," Obama became animated about Trump's potential return to power, Biden's current campaign structure.

Quote: "Obama has been even more explicit with people close to Biden, suggesting the campaign needs to move aggressively, as Trump appears poised to quickly wrap up the Republican nomination."

And we should note that Trump continues to beat Biden in head-to-head matchup polls, not just nationally, but in key battleground states.

ALLISON: Yes, I just want to say, to your point quickly, Brad, is that they're not ghost stories, because that's -- referring that they're in the past, when every day the nominee is talking about it. So it's very much a threat in the present.

And I think that's what President Obama was getting at to Joe Biden. It's like, we cannot take this for granted. We cannot let 2016 happen again, where it's like, oh, no one will vote for Trump, when you just quoted in the segment with Mike Pence, what, 47 percent of Americans actually think that the FBI instigated January 6?


That's not a ghost story. Those are real Americans who are being fed lies by the Republican nominee. And so we can't risk running a Biden campaign that is not full force right now. And so what -- the speech that he just gave is important. They're staffing up.

And I will just say, from the folks that I have talked to at the Biden campaign all the way at the top, they are not taking this for granted either. They are staffing up, going into battleground states, going into primary states, not -- like getting the vice president out there.

They understand the threat that is pending. They are going to talk about Joe Biden's record. And they realize they have to meet where they are from the diversity of coalitions, because many folks have different issues that are a priority. TAPPER: Brad and then Doug.

TODD: Let me defend myself...


TODD: ... Jake.

So, my point is that Joe Biden had a choice this weekend. He could either give a speech on January the 6th anniversary or on 10/7 anniversary.

And if he were to give a speech on the 10/7 anniversary...

TAPPER: That's the -- just for people at home, the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel.

TODD: And tell his base to get in line and stand behind Israel.

Independents, who Joe Biden's struggling with right now, would look at him and go, oh, maybe he is the centrist he promised he would be. That's the choice they had this weekend. They made the wrong one.

THORNELL: Well, hold on one sec.

He gave a very forceful speech in defense of Israel right after 10/7. So I think -- and he's been one of the most strongest advocates for Israel out there. So I think -- I don't think we should go there.

I think it's actually good that we have President Obama engaged, excited about this race. If he's voicing some suggestions to the president, great. I want him out there. I want him excited. I want him campaigning. He's raising a lot of money for the current president. That's a good thing.

They are running a -- I think campaigns evolve as they naturally do, especially reelect, where you have, the third year, they're focused on closing out the third year, making sure that they can segue into the fourth year, where it's going to be all about the campaign. They have got a really good campaign that they're building in Wilmington. They have still got a really strong structure in the White House.

They have spent a lot building up state parties. I'm not super worried about their infrastructure or their planning that they're doing. I think that's all moving in the right direction. And I also think, once it's 100 percent clear that it is Donald Trump who is the nominee and as -- Clyburn mentioned this.


THORNELL: He's the nominee, and then Biden's the nominee, I think these polls are going to start look differently.

TAPPER: So, Amanda, it's not just folks like Brad who don't think that the message from Biden is a good one. It is Republicans who are probably more like Carpenter Republicans, Mitt Romney an example. He said -- quote -- "As a Biden campaign theme, I think the threat to

democracy pitch is a bust. January 6 will be four years old by the election. People have processed it one way or another. Biden needs fresh material, a new attack, rather than kicking a dead political horse."

That's from "The New York Times." Again, that is an Amanda Carpenter Republican there, right? And...


CARPENTER: Well, I think I'm more of a Liz Cheney Republican right now than a Mitt Romney Republican.


CARPENTER: We have to pick among our vast universe of Republicans.

TAPPER: Yes, but you take my point.

CARPENTER: I do take your point.

TAPPER: An anti-Trump Republican.

CARPENTER: And it is important. It is significant that someone like Mitt Romney is saying that.

I also thought it was significant that George Will earlier in "The Washington Post" this week somehow equated Joe Biden to an authoritarian because he engaged in an improper process to install a nominee. There's a lot of people trying to, like, put these hard, tough issues away that sometimes -- usually come from a place of good faith.

I just think they're making the wrong call. Campaigns usually have traditional issues, economy, president's age, immigration. So many people desperately want to go back to that world because it is safe and comfortable that they just are afraid to keep talking about the issues that matter, like democracy, which makes this 2024 election completely unprecedented, even in a way different than 2016 and 2020.

TAPPER: All right, thanks, one and all, for being here. Really appreciate it.

Going head to head in Iowa.

We will be right back.



TAPPER: On Wednesday, join us for the last debate before the Iowa caucuses, a head-to-head matchup between Governor Ron DeSantis and Ambassador Nikki Haley.

I'm hosting alongside my co-host of STATE OF THE UNION and friend and colleague, Dana Bash, 9:00 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday only here on CNN.

Thanks for spending your Sunday morning with us.

"FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" starts next.

I will see you tomorrow on "THE LEAD."