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State of the Union
Interview With Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC); Interview With Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley; Interview With U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired February 04, 2024 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DANA BASH, CNN HOST (voice-over): Counterattack, more strikes, as the U.S. hits Iranian-backed targets in the Middle East. But can America avoid a wider conflict?
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think we need a wider war in the Middle East.
BASH: National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is next.
And sweet Carolina. President Biden sweeps South Carolina and tries to shore up support with a key part of his base.
REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Joe knows us.
BASH: But can Biden convince voters to turn out this fall? South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn joins me.
Plus: home turf. Three weeks until Republicans in South Carolina vote, Donald Trump's team says it's over. But as Nikki Haley UPS the ante, what's her endgame?
NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am not going anywhere.
GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley is here exclusively.
BASH: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in Washington, where the state of our union is striking back.
As President Biden celebrates his first official primary win in South Carolina last night and warns of a -- quote -- "dangerous and extreme opposition" led by Donald Trump, Biden is also facing a growing crisis in the Middle East with enormous security and political implications.
The U.S. struck a Houthi missile in Yemen early Sunday morning, a third straight day of U.S. strikes against Iran-backed militias in the Middle East. Not clear yet whether Iran will retaliate for the U.S. attacks Friday on its proxies in Syria and Iraq, an escalation ordered by President Biden after the deadly attack that killed three U.S. service members in Jordan last week.
BASH: Here with me now is President Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.
Thank you so much for being with me this morning.
Let's start with the retaliatory strikes in Iraq and Syria.
Were any Iranian Revolutionary Guard leaders killed during those strikes?
JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, thanks for having me, Dana.
And, as you said, the president ordered strikes in Iraq in response to the tragic death of three brave service members. Those strikes were carried out Friday night, to good effect. And we are still assessing the battle damage. Our CENTCOM, Central Command, is looking at the capabilities we have reduced and the casualties that were incurred.
So I don't have anything to share with you today on precisely who was taken out in those strikes, but I would just say that the president was clear when he ordered them and when he conducted them that that was the beginning of our response and there will be more steps to come.
BASH: How do you define success then?
SULLIVAN: Well, we're going to continue as we have to take action when Americans are attacked. When we're attacked in Iraq and Syria, we will respond.
And, from our perspective, each action that we take is targeted at reducing the capabilities of the militias to be able to continue to conduct attacks against us and to send a clear message that the United States will respond when our forces are attacked, and we will respond with strength in a sustained way when American casualties are incurred.
BASH: OK, I hear what you're saying about the goals, but is there anything more you can tell the American people, who are looking to the administration to not just avenge the death of three soldiers, but also concerned about the region in general, about whether or not what happened was successful and how it was successful, who got hit, who got killed, what got taken out?
SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, Dana, the president has approached this with a straightforward principle, which is that the United States will step up and respond when our forces are attacked and the United States also is not looking for a wider war in the Middle East.
We are not looking to take the United States to war. So we are going to continue to pursue a policy that goes down both of those lines simultaneously, that responds with force and clarity, as we did on Friday night, but also that continues to hew to an approach that does not get the United States pulled into a war that we have seen too frequently in the Middle East.
Past presidents have had to deal with a significant number of American casualties and American deaths in the Middle East because of war. This president is looking to defend our interests and to defend our troops. That's what he's going to continue to do going forward.
BASH: You said it's just the beginning. And I just want to clarify. That means that there will be more strikes coming in the next few days?
SULLIVAN: What it means is that we will take further action. I'm not going to, obviously, describe the character of that action because I don't want to telegraph our punches.
But there will be further action.
BASH: Inside Iran? Would you rule that out at this point?
SULLIVAN: Look, sitting on a national TV program, I'm not going to rule in and rule out any activity anywhere.
What I am going to say is that the president will do what he thinks needs to be done and again reinforce the point that he's going to defend our forces and also that he is not looking to get into a war.
BASH: Well, he's not, but how worried are you that Iran, Iranian- backed forces may retaliate again against U.S. forces? And if that happens, what would the consequences be?
SULLIVAN: That's a risk. That's always a risk.
And we have seen that in the past. We have seen that in this administration. We have seen that in the previous administration, where the U.S. has taken action and the militia groups have responded. So we are prepared for those contingencies.
And the president's basic principle, as I have said now a few times on this program, remains consistent, which is, if we see more attacks, you will see more responses.
BASH: On that, the criticism that we're hearing more and more from mostly Republicans is that this never should have gotten to this place in the first place, because there have been more than 150 attacks on U.S. troops since October.
And what they say is that the U.S., the Biden administration, should have retaliated sooner, before U.S. service members were killed. Do they have a point?
SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, Dana, as you know very well, we have responded multiple times before the tragic events of a few days ago. We have struck targets in both Iraq and Syria. We have gone against
IRGC and militia-linked facilities in both Iraq and Syria. We have taken out a militia leader in Iraq. So, the notion that we have not responded is just incorrect.
The second point I would make is that I didn't hear these same voices, which to me sound mostly like political voices, saying that when American service members were tragically killed by these same militias in the previous administration.
This is a challenging, difficult issue. It has been for every president over the past 20 years. And every president has sought to defend American forces. This president is doing so with the advice of his military commanders, and he has ordered multiple rounds of military action in response to attacks by these militia groups.
BASH: Jake, you have said now a couple of times on the show, and you have said it many times before, that the administration is trying to prevent this from spreading into a regional conflict.
But if we take a step back, just yesterday, the U.S. and U.K. responded to Houthi rebels in Yemen. They're engaging in routine attacks on shipping in the Red Sea. There are near-daily strikes between Israel and Hezbollah, and much of this is rooted in the war between Israel and Hamas.
My colleague Peter Bergen smartly pointed out that this conflict involves 10 countries, at least, four major terrorist groups. So isn't this already a regional conflict?
SULLIVAN: Well, Dana, what I would say is that these are distinct, but related challenges.
For example, what's happening in the Red Sea is obviously, to a certain extent, triggered by what's happening in Gaza, but it's not the same thing. The Houthis aren't just hitting ships related to Israel. They're hitting a lot of different ships from a lot of different countries, and so we are trying to deal with the challenge to freedom of navigation in the Red Sea. That is a distinct challenge.
The forces in -- the militia groups in Iraq and Syria are hitting our forces. We're responding. And then, of course, Israel is dealing both with the challenge of Hamas in Gaza and the threat from Hezbollah in the north. So we will continue to work to deal with the challenge of escalation and continue to work to ensure we're responding forcefully, but at the same time staying out of the prospect of the United States getting pulled into a broad war in the Middle East of the kind that we have seen in the past.
BASH: I just want to push back a little bit, because you just mentioned all of those conflicts as if they are independent. You know better than I they all lead to one road -- down one road, and that is the road to Iran.
[09:10:05] Iran is, by U.S. intelligence standards and what you all have said publicly, responsible for funding at least a lot of what is going on there.
SULLIVAN: That's absolutely the case.
In fact, I have sat on this program previously, I have stood at the podium and explained the relationship between Iran and the Houthis, Iran and the Shia militia groups, Iran and Hezbollah, Iran and Hamas. So we make no bones about that.
Iran has a significant and pernicious responsibility for much of the instability in the Middle East, and that has to be factored into how we approach everything that we're doing and how Israel has to approach everything it's doing.
BASH: OK, Jake Sullivan, thank you so much for joining me. I appreciate it.
SULLIVAN: Thank you.
BASH: My next guest is making her case against Donald Trump more and more clear.
GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley is here after a quick break.
BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.
We are three weeks from South Carolina's Republican primary, and, every day, my next guest is drawing a sharper contrast with Donald Trump.
BASH: Here with me now is GOP presidential candidate former South Carolina Governor, who's also the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley.
Thank you so much for being here.
Let's start with the U.S. retaliation for that deadly attack on U.S. service members in Jordan. As the former U.N. ambassador, looking at this retaliation, are you satisfied with the U.S. response so far?
HALEY: Well, I think the first thing is, I have to respond as the wife of a combat veteran and one whose husband is deployed right now.
We make a promise to our military men and women that we will keep them safe. We make a promise to the military families. We make a promise to them themselves. The fact that nothing was done after the first strike, the fact that nothing was done after the second strike, it took 165 strikes, three soldiers to die, two Navy SEALs, and now Biden wants to do something?
The biggest issue is, this didn't have to happen. Why did it take so long? So let's go back to what started it. What started it was, first of all, he never should have fallen all over himself to get back into the Iran deal. By doing that, he lifted the sanctions. All the money flowed to all of the terrorist proxies around the region.
And now we're paying the price of that. And so you look at what's happened now, first of all, I think he should have done something sooner. But first, Dana, first and foremost, put the sanctions back on. You have got to put the sanctions back on.
Now, I appreciate that he did do something. I appreciate that he's gone after the targets of where the missiles and drones are coming from in terms of Iraq and Syria. I appreciate that -- what he's doing in Yemen. But if you really want to make a difference and you really want to put an end to this, which is what we all want to do, first, you put the sanctions.
Then you go after one or two of the IRGC military leaders that are making these decisions. None of this would happen without Iran.
BASH: So, should that happen inside Iran?
HALEY: You can go and hit their -- you can take out their -- so, what you need to do is, if those military leaders are inside Iran, yes, you do it surgically, or if they leave Iran, you take them when they're there.
The bottom line is, you can take out some of their fighters. They will just get more fighters. You can take out their drones and missiles. They will just get more drones and missiles. What Iran responds to is if you hit their money or if you hit their leadership. That's what we need to be focused on, is making sure we go after that to give them the punch that they need.
BASH: Your competitor, the former President of the United States Donald Trump, often says how tough he was during his four years in office on Iran.
What would you do differently than Donald Trump would do?
HALEY: Well, I worked closely with him to get out of the Iran deal. I mean, I actually went to the International Atomic Energy Agency to study whether the Iran deal was working.
And when I asked them the questions, I said how many of the research areas do you inspect? Because we knew a lot of the nuclear production was happening in the research areas. And they said, we don't inspect those. And I said, well, how many of the military installations do you inspect? Because we knew that that's where the production was happening. They said, well, we're not allowed to inspect the military installations. And I said, OK, then what do you inspect? And they said, well, if we
get a tip, we give them 45 days and then we go and inspect. And that's when I came back and told Donald Trump, not only do you have to get out of the Iran deal. It's the responsible thing to do.
So they don't keep their promises. They have always said "Death to America." So Trump was right to get out of the Iran deal. We were right to have the sanctions in place. The problem was, the sanctions never should have been lifted. That's what gave them all of the power.
BASH: What do you do differently than him now?
HALEY: I don't -- I think I would do exactly the same thing, put the sanctions back on, and I would go after the Iranian military leadership. That's what we need to do to stop what's happening in Lebanon. That's what we need to do to stop what's happening in Yemen and the Red Sea. That's what we need to stop what's happening in Iraq and Syria.
This will escalate. That's the problem, is, this is going to escalate. And none of this had to happen. They wouldn't have happened if they wouldn't have had the money to do it.
BASH: Let's turn to the crisis at the U.S. southern border.
Bipartisan negotiators in the U.S. Senate, they're set to release the text of a deal on border security. Soon, Donald Trump, as you know, is pushing Republican senators to oppose the deal, in part because he wants to run on the issue in 2024 in this election year. You called that a mistake.
Are you saying that the former president is playing politics with the border?
HALEY: Well, I think nobody should be playing politics with the border.
First of all, he shouldn't be getting involved telling Republicans that wait until the election because we don't want this to help Biden win. We can't wait one more day. You have millions of people who have come to that border. They are not being vetted. America is acting like it's September 10. We better remember what September 12 felt like, because it only takes one.
This is not a time to play politics.
BASH: Is he?
HALEY: What I do think is, they need to get something out. Of course he is. He's absolutely playing politics by telling them not to do anything.
But what I do think they need to do is they have got to put a tough immigration law in place. I mean, right now, I don't know what the text is, but, from what I understand, it doesn't include remain-in- Mexico. We need to have remain-in-Mexico. That's actually very important to make sure that they never step foot on U.S. soil.
And now I hear some Republicans saying, oh, but we don't need a law at all because Biden could do this already. Well, there's some truth to that, and then some of that is false. Yes, Biden could go back to some of the laws that put it in place. But three million illegal immigrants came under Trump.
And that's because the asylum laws are not strong enough. So we need to strengthen the asylum laws, so that we don't have people coming in here for loose reasons. And that's the only way we're going to get this under control. We have got to start. We have got to defund sanctuary cities. We have got to put 25,000 Border Patrol and ICE agents on the ground.
We need to go back to remain-in-Mexico. And we need to -- instead of catch-and-deport, we need to -- instead of catch-and-release, we need to do catch-and-deport. We have got to put an end to this, and we have got to do it now.
BASH: On a related topic, this week, you told radio host Charlamagne tha God that you believe states have the right to secede from the union. Now, I know you have said that is unlikely, but this is a pretty important issue that I want you to clarify as somebody who wants to be president.
Do you really think individual states have the right to leave the USA?
HALEY: Well, he was talking about a conversation from a dozen, 13 years ago during the time when I was a Tea Party candidate. States were very upset about government control. They were very upset about government spending.
They were very upset about the fact that they weren't listening to the people. And there had been a movement that Texas had wanted to secede from the union. And what I said is, when government stops listening, let's remember states' rights matter. You have to be as close to the people as possible.
No one is talking about seceding. That's not an issue at all. What we are talking about the fact is, here you have Governor Abbott and the people of Texas, who just want to be kept safe. They're putting up barbed wire to keep people coming in. And the idea that the federal government is wanting to sue them and cut that barbed wire, when we're trying to make sure that we keep people out, that's a huge mistake.
Because, one, we want the deterrent so that they know not to make the trek to America in the first place. But, two, we also want to make sure that Texans are kept safe. So that's what the conversation was about.
BASH: I didn't realize this, but the current Texas Republican Party platform that was added in 2022 does call for a statewide voter referendum on whether Texas should -- quote -- "reassert its status as an independent nation." So I just, again, want to -- because this is such a foundational issue, I want to clarify for voters. You want to be president of the United States. Do you think that any state has a right to secede?
HALEY: No. According to the Constitution, they can't.
What I do think they have the right to do is have the power to protect themselves and do all that. Texas has talked about -- talks about seceding for a long time. The Constitution doesn't allow for that. But what I will say is, what's the -- where's that coming from? That's coming from the fact that people don't think that government is listening to them.
And I have been 400 miles on that border, Dana. You see what those ranchers are going through. You see what those people in Eagle Pass are going through. And now you see what's happening in New York and cities across the country, because now every city is Eagle Pass.
We have got to start getting this under control. Texans are frustrated, and rightfully so. Governor Abbott's frustrated, and rightfully so. When have you ever seen a president not support a governor when they're trying to keep their people safe? It's a real problem.
BASH: I want to ask you about one of the issues, the trials that Donald Trump is facing, and that is related to the January 6 insurrection.
The judge in that postponed the date of that trial, as everybody waits to see whether or not the former president is going to get what he's asked for, which is total immunity from prosecution.
Beyond that, though, do you believe that the American people should know whether Trump is going to be found guilty of criminal charges before he is potentially formally nominated at your party's convention this summer?
HALEY: It's a real issue, Dana.
I mean, we saw that he had -- look, he's got multiple court cases. I haven't necessarily kept up with them. I'm not a lawyer. I'm an accountant, so I don't know the legal ramifications.
But what I do know is,one just came down. He had a big verdict. More than that, we just saw that he -- in his disclosures, his campaign disclosures, he just paid 47 different law firms $50 million of campaign donations that came into his campaign.
If you see that -- and he hasn't even gotten started on all these cases. For the next year, he's going to be sitting in a courtroom. I didn't say that. He said that he's going to be spending more time in a courtroom than he is going to be campaigning. That's a problem.
BASH: So, is it your hope that there are verdicts before the convention?
HALEY: Well, it's my hope that I think that the American people deserve to know which of these cases are legitimate and which ones aren't.
He's going to have another one, I think, in March. I think he's going to have more in April and May. I think the American people deserve to know what the situation's going to be. But the court system's going to play out the way it is. He has the right to defend himself.
But at the same time, I think it speaks for himself that he's saying he's going to be spending more time in a courtroom than he's going to be spending on the campaign trail. We have got a country in disarray and a world on fire. We need a president that's going to give us eight years of focus and discipline, not one that's going to be sitting there ranting about how he's a victim and how this isn't right and how this isn't just.
He hasn't once talked about the American people, and that's the problem I have with all of this.
BASH: You alluded to one of the cases, and this is a civil trial dealing with E. Jean Carroll.
And the attorney who represented her, Roberta Kaplan, she said this week that Donald Trump was so angry during a deposition that his team was providing her lunch, that he threw papers across the table and stormed off. He also made a veiled reference to the C-word.
You're now his competitor, but you have worked very closely with him, as you have talked about even in this interview. Do you think he has a problem with women who challenge him?
HALEY: Well, I challenged him a lot, and he actually handled it very well and was very respectful.
If I saw him doing something wrong, I showed up or I called him, and I would say, you cannot do this, but instead do it this way, this way, or this way. And so he knew that I knew what I was talking about and that I was looking out for the best interests of America, and so he didn't challenge me.
I think that there are issues. Obviously, you see the things that he says. He is not a perfect person. He is flawed. But, more than that, let's look at this not from the context of him personally. Let's look at this as a leader and a president.
You have 70 percent of Americans who have said they don't want Joe Biden or Donald Trump. Why are we doing this? Why are we allowing ourselves to have two 80-year-olds who can't serve eight years, who both are diminished, whether it's in their character or in their mental capacity? Why are we doing this?
We deserve better. America deserves better. I voted for Donald Trump twice. I was proud to serve America in his administration, but he is not the right person to lead us going forward. That's a fact. And I think you look at these court cases, you see how he's acting.
All you had to do was see how he acted after I got 43 percent of the vote in New Hampshire. He was upset because he thought I was going to be down 25 percent. He threw a temper tantrum. Why? Because he wasn't controlling the situation.
But he never talked about the American people. He never talked about the out-of-control spending and inflation. He never talked about how we were going to get kids reading again. He never talked about the border and the lawlessness. He never talked about the wars that were happening. He just talked about himself.
That's the problem. This isn't about Donald Trump. This is about where we go in America. And I say this to Republicans everywhere, is that, look, we know for a fact, if he goes up in a general election, we will have a female president of the United States. It will either be me or it will be Kamala Harris.
But if Donald Trump is named the nominee, Joe Biden will win and Kamala Harris will become president. That is a fact. Every one of those polls, your poll, CNN, shows that Donald Trump barely is within the margin of error. I defeat Biden by 13 points. You look at the two polls that came out before, Quinnipiac and another one.
Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden by seven points.
HALEY: There's a reason Democrats want to run against Donald Trump.
BASH: OK. Nikki Haley, the Republican presidential candidate, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.
HALEY: Go to NikkiHaley.com and join us.
BASH: What did last night's South Carolina Democratic primary tell us about President Biden's reelection bid?
The man whose endorsement propelled Joe Biden to the White House, Congressman James Clyburn, is next.
BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.
President Biden picked up his first official primary win last night in South Carolina. What did we learn about his strength with a key part of his base?
Here with me is Democratic Congressman Jim Clyburn of South Carolina.
Thank you so much for being here. The Biden campaign, with your help, went into South Carolina last
night hoping for a show of force in a state where there is, of course, a large black vote. There had been some concern about whether he has maintained his standing with black voters.
Based on what you saw last night, what's the answer?
CLYBURN: Well, thank you very much for having me.
I think the answer is an emphatic yes. And the best illustration of that, he got 96 percent of the vote in this primary, but his largest percentage, over 97 percent, was in the town of Orangeburg, where there are two HBCUs and a community college, and he got the largest percentage of the whole state.
So, that demonstrates to me what I have been saying all the time, that Joe Biden has not lost any support among African-Americans. Now, you can go out and talk to 10 people, publish the comments of one, and maybe give off a different thought.
But he has not lost support among African-Americans.
BASH: As you said, Joe Biden won 96 percent. That ain't bad.
I do want to ask about turnout. You said beforehand that you were hoping it would be between 150,000 to 200,000. It looks like the final turnout is going to fall short of that, just north of 130,000. Does that tell you anything about enthusiasm voters have for the president's reelection?
CLYBURN: No, not at all.
What it tells me is that, when you have a primary with 23 candidates all running very active campaigns -- you remember, we had Joe Biden on the ticket. We had Bernie Sanders. We had Elizabeth Warren. We had Pete Buttigieg, all of these people very seriously running for president.
And they were spending time in the state. They had volunteers on the ground. So you're going to turn out a bigger vote. And so what I said at the time is that I had no thoughts of coming anywhere close to that. And my hope was, I have said anything from 100,000 one time to 150,000.
Now, I think I may have said one time from 150,000 to 200,000. But I knew one thing. It will be somewhere between 20 and 35 percent of what it was the last time.
BASH: So, I know what you said about where the vote was in South Carolina, and that's critically important.
But I do want to press you on the notion of the president's support among black voters in other states that will be very competitive, like Michigan. The -- there was a voter who did talk to my colleague Jeff Zeleny, and he talked about his concerns with the president and the fact that he doesn't necessarily feel that the president can relate.
Let's take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. CHARLES WILLIAMS, HISTORIC KING SOLOMON BAPTIST CHURCH: He speaks to an entirely different generation. He speaks to the Greatest Generation. He speaks very well to the Baby Boomers.
But he does not speak to a generation that had a president that listened to Jay-Z on his playlist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: So that's a pastor in Michigan.
You're not worried at all that the president isn't connecting with young black voters on issues they care about?
CLYBURN: Well, I have heard from people in Michigan asking me to come there, and I plan to go there.
I have heard from pastors in Michigan, by the way, and some in Pennsylvania as well. And I plan to spend some time in those states, because, as they have said to me, they want someone who has had the experiences of working with Joe Biden, who knows the record and who can relate to young people.
I do talk to young people all the time. I have young children. I have grandchildren. And I talk to them and I listen to them. And I do know that they tell me that their only issue is with style. It's not about substance. And what I need to do and all of us need to do is get people to see the difference.
Joe Biden is going to go around, is not going to go around calling their names, and Joe Biden may not be quoting the songs that a lot of them listen to, but he will make their educational opportunities better. He will make their medical situations better. And that's what he addresses.
Joe Biden is not the kind of person who will repeat rap songs and be in a -- kind of a TV personality. Joe Biden is all about substance. And to me, there is no substitute for substance. All the style that people get caught up on may be good for the moment, but it's not a thing -- it won't do a thing for your futures.
BASH: Before I let you go, sir, I want to ask about something that's happening here in Washington.
House Speaker Johnson announced yesterday that he's going to hold a vote this week in the House on a stand-alone $17.6 billion bill to support Israel, which means he's going to leave behind money for Ukraine and more aid and changes in the laws on immigration. Would you support that?
CLYBURN: Well, I support the concept. I have to see what the bill is all about. I would want to see a bill dealing with Israel and Ukraine and the border altogether, as the Senate seem to be doing.
Well, it would seem to me that, if this comes up and it meets the test and if my leader, Hakeem Jeffries, who's sitting in the room doing the negotiations, say it's a good thing to go forward with, I will vote for it, then hope that the Senate will do what is necessary to cobble together a comprehensive effort for Congress to respond to Ukraine, to Israel, to the border in one fell swoop.
BASH: So you think it's a good first step? Because the White House said it could be a ploy?
CLYBURN: It could be a ploy. That's why I would want the people who are sitting in the room to interact with them and find out exactly what their thoughts are.
So I will not give you an opinion on what a piece of legislation will look like when I have not had any discussions with anybody and have only heard this since I have been home from Washington.
Thank you so much. Appreciate you joining me this morning, sir.
CLYBURN: Well, thank you very much for having me.
BASH: And up next: the brewing fight inside the Republican Party, part of what we were just talking about.
My panel is back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: I'm feeling good about where we are. I really am.
You know, folks are starting to focus in. This is not just a campaign. This is more of a mission. We cannot, we cannot, we cannot lose this campaign, for the good of the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.
President Biden setting the stakes for the 2024 election right there, saying he feels good about where things stand.
My panel joins me now.
Let's start with the Democrats here.
Ashley, I will begin with you. Just pick up where I left off with James Clyburn and on what we saw last night with the results for the Democratic primary in South Carolina, and whether you agree with him that it shows the concern that the black voters will not be with him in the numbers that they were before are wrong.
ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think the numbers are wrong.
I think that South Carolina was a good indicator that the Biden campaign can run an effective program in a state, which they're going to need to run in all of their battleground states. I also think we say often black people are not a monolith, and South Carolina is not the same as Michigan, and Michigan is not the same as California.
So we need to be approaching black voters in different economic classes and different age groups and talking to them about the issues that concern them most. So, I think South Carolina was a good showing for President Biden.
I also want to say, though, is that there's been a lot of attention black voters. And, historically, black voters do what we need to do when democracy is on the line. I'm also concerned about liberal -- or independents, white voters who are union members who are voting against their self-interests.
Like, I'm confident that if this matchup is Donald Trump and Joe Biden, black folks will do what they need to do. It's the other folks in the coalition that we also need to start paying attention to.
BASH: As -- I was joking as we were coming out of the break that this could be a bit of a trigger warning for you, since you ran Bernie Sanders' campaign, and it didn't go that well for you guys in 2020 in South Carolina. It really turned things around for Biden.
But you have played in that sandbox and others. What is your read on the numbers?
FAIZ SHAKIR, FORMER BERNIE SANDERS 2020 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, no surprise there for why Biden did well in South Carolina.
I think now, as he heads into the State of the Union, he's starting thinking about making the choice for voters about Trump. Trump is benefiting from the fact that you don't hear him talking about the economy.
So, for most people who are concerned and afflicted with like, high prices in the economy, things are getting more difficult, Biden has not posited the choice for people about a direction where on -- 350,000 jobs created, 4.5 percent wage growth in the last few months.
What's Donald Trump going to do for you? The other issue is Gaza, of course, right? That's another thing that's still -- if you look at all the issues affecting the president, that's the one that he has the lowest approval on. And I think he's sinking with Netanyahu on this one.
He's obviously working very hard to try to bring hostages out, work on a cease-fire we think is on the table. But I think he's got to show some friction with Netanyahu. The management of that prime minister in his own country is not even well-liked. And we have not seen Biden kind of indicate where he's willing to take him on. I think it would do him a lot of benefit.
BASH: But let's look at the big picture as we move forward here. There's a new NBC poll out this morning showing that national head-to- head numbers Donald Trump at 47 percent, Joe Biden at 42 percent.
It's not that different from what CNN's poll showed at the end of last week, although, in this, the margin of error is 3.1 percent, which means that Trump is just outside of the margin of error.
What do you make of this?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, inside of it was fascinating. Trump was crushing among independents. He was leading among Hispanics.
To Ashley's point, there's other voter groups here that need to be discussed.
JENNINGS: If Donald Trump wins Hispanic voters in this election against Joe Biden, it'd be very difficult to see how he would lose the presidency.
The only question in the poll that actually was good for Joe Biden was, if Donald Trump is convicted of a felony, then it flipped and Biden actually led him on the ballot by a couple of points. So it just goes to show you, what happens in that courtroom, if it ever happens, might be the most important thing that happens in this election.
BASH: Which is the opposite of what we have been seeing so far, because he's been running in the primary electorate, which is far different from a general election electorate.
And these court cases have been benefiting him in the short term.
DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They have.
And I think what's been interesting about all the polling, we have seen two things. One, Donald Trump -- or not Donald Trump -- Joe Biden often says, Democrats, Ashley Allison just said, democracy is on the ballot.
When you look at the polling, that number splits for Republicans and Democrats, Trump versus Biden. Republicans are as concerned about democracy for different reasons than Trump voters are. And the other is the economy.
Look, we had a great jobs report on Friday, as good numbers as we could get for the current month and for revisions, but we haven't seen Joe Biden out there. If I'm working in this White House, I'm putting him out there as much as I can, which is a question of how much can you, but he's got to sell it.
You can't just expect that voters understand this through osmosis. You have to be out there all day, every day, whether that's the Super Bowl next week, or giving speeches in a warmup to the State of the Union. You have got to make sure that voters hear from you on this.
SHAKIR: But also that those jobs numbers, those wage numbers are not on autopilot.
I think it gives a sense to a lot of voters, oh, they must be happening absent Joe Biden. No, in fact, it was his policy choices and solutions.
ALLISON: That's right.
SHAKIR: And the question is, which policy direction do you want? What is Donald Trump's solution right now?
I assume he's going to campaign on tax cuts for the rich. I assume he's going to say, I want to repeal a lot of the direction that Joe Biden has offered through the Inflation Reduction Act and federal investments. But I don't know, no, because he talks about court cases most of the time.
And I also think that it's Joe Biden has to get out there. But they are -- they just had record numbers of student loan debts canceled for -- where are those individuals to be telling, my life has changed significantly?
I have friends whose student loans have been canceled, and it has shifted the trajectory of their life to be able to go and purchase a home, because their debt-to-income ratio is different. That is a Joe Biden surrogate in their community. And these are black voters. These are young voters.
These are people who are millennials. And everybody -- I mean, we're 40 at this point, millennials. So we're not -- we're trying to go into a new phase in our life. And there is a real population out there that could be saying, I got a job because of Joe Biden's policies. And that's what the campaign needs to be doing.
JENNINGS: I hope the Supreme Court covered their ears while you were talking, because I was stunned by this tweet this week that Joe Biden put out.
"The Supreme Court blocked me, but I found..."
ALLISON: I saw your reply.
JENNINGS: "But I found another way." I mean, if Donald Trump had said or tweeted something like that, you all would be hanging off the chandeliers.
HEYE: Or a Texas governor.
JENNINGS: I mean, I mean, it was kind of stunning to me that they decided to go down the road.
This democracy question, though, that you brought up, it splits pretty even in the NBC poll. Joe Biden's got a 37 percent approval rating, worse going into his election than the last four presidents by a huge number. But he often says, Donald Trump is a danger to democracy.
If he really believed that, would he be running for reelection? Because right now, he looks like he's the one Democrat that might lose to Donald Trump. And so if you're an average voter and you hear this comment about, well, he's a danger to democracy, then why are you pursuing this reelection campaign that seems like right now it's on the brink of losing to the person that you say is going to destroy democracy?
ALLISON: Because he's the only person who has beat him at this point. And so...
HEYE: And Nikki -- but Nikki Harris is right. Voters are not enthusiastic about this campaign or either nominee.
This is the resistible force running against the movable object.
HEYE: And it's not good news for the American voters. They're not pleased.
SHAKIR: We live this through the 2022 midterm elections.
Everyone, Scott, I'm sure, felt very confident about the Republicans' posture. We're going in. People don't like Joe Biden. They're going to show up for Republicans.
Guess what happened? All the MAGA candidates go down, right? We win in Arizona, win in Georgia, win in Pennsylvania, win in Michigan, win in Wisconsin, win in Minnesota, places that they thought, oh, we're going to get the governorship, we're going to get state legislatures.
We're here again. You're going to -- I think, when voters come back, they're going to have a choice. And that's the thing. And when Democratic choice is put up under Joe Biden,and the direction of this economy, and the direction of this country, and the direction of democracy, against Trump and the MAGA movement, they do pretty well.
BASH: Great discussion. Thanks, everybody.
HEYE: Thank you.
BASH: Happy Sunday. We will be right back.
BASH: Can whales be our biggest ally in fighting climate change?
Bill Weir goes to Antarctica to find out, and it looks absolutely incredible. Tune in tonight at 8:00 for a new "THE WHOLE STORY WITH ANDERSON COOPER."
Thank you so much for spending your Sunday morning with us.
Fareed Zakaria picks it up next.