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State of the Union

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy Holds Press Conference; Interview With U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan; Interview With Fmr. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR); Interview With Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI); Interview With Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX). Aired 9-10a ET

Aired February 25, 2024 - 09:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST (voice-over): Landslide. Donald Trump delivers a big win in South Carolina and comes one step closer to the Republican nomination.


BASH: Can anything stop his march to the general election?

NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Forty percent is not some tiny group.

BASH: Trump supporter Texas Governor Greg Abbott joins me exclusively.

And in limbo. The world marks two years of Vladimir Putin's brutal war in Ukraine.

VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: The homeland will not become Putin's backyard.

BASH: But, as Ukraine struggles, can the U.S. House agree on sending desperately needed aid?

JAKE SULLIVAN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The cost of inaction getting higher.

BASH: National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan is next.

Plus: Great Lake stakes. The Biden campaign gears up for a swing state primary.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): Michigan voices matter.

BASH: Will frustration over the situation in Gaza hurt Biden's support among Michigan Democrats? Governor Gretchen Whitmer will be here exclusively.


BASH: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in Washington, where the state of our union is watching another primary election blowout.

Donald Trump is celebrating another victory today, a landslide win in South Carolina, the home state of his remaining GOP rival, former Governor Nikki Haley.



TRUMP: There's never been, ever -- there's never been a spirit like this.

And I just want to say that I have never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now.


TRUMP: Never been like this.

HALEY: Does anyone seriously think Joe Biden or Donald Trump will unite our country to solve our problems?



BASH: Haley vowed to continue her fight, at least through Super Tuesday, nine days from now. And coming up, I will speak to Governors Greg Abbott and Gretchen Whitmer about the presidential race.

But, first, Trump's win last night proves again his incredible grip on the GOP base. This past week, we saw his influence shaping U.S. policy on the world stage, as Ukraine marked two years since Russia's invasion. And it's unclear whether Trump's allies in Congress will allow a vote on desperately needed aid for that effort.

Here with me now is President Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan.

Jake, thank you so much for joining me.

Ukraine is marking two years of the war. They are running desperately low on weapons, on ammunition. American aid, as you well know, has dried up because of opposition from Republicans. And Russian forces are advancing up and down the front lines.

Just how dire is the situation there right now, and is the United States failing Ukraine?

SULLIVAN: Well, first, Dana, I think it's important to take a step back and remember that, two years ago, everyone was predicting that Ukraine was going to fall, that Kyiv, the capital, was going to fall, that Russia was going to dominate and subjugate its neighbor. And that has not happened.

Two years later, Kyiv stands, Ukraine stands. Ukraine, in fact, has taken back half the territory that Russia initially occupied. So, Russia has already failed in its fundamental objective to subjugate Ukraine. And now the question is, can Ukraine continue to stand fast against the Russian onslaught and push it back?

And, there, they do have to rely upon their own courage and bravery, which they have in spades, and on resources and capacity from the West, including the United States. And we are not able to give them what they need at this time because Congress has not acted to provide us with the necessary funding to do that.

And we're asking Congress, especially the House of Representatives, after a bipartisan vote in the Senate, to move fast so that we can once again supply Ukraine with the tools it needs to win this fight.

BASH: Well, on that note, a White House spokesperson said this week that -- quote -- "Speaker Johnson is siding with Putin over the well- being of the American people, Ukraine and NATO."

It's pretty strong language. Is that your view? Is the House speaker siding with Vladimir Putin?


SULLIVAN: Look, I'm not going to talk about motives. I'm just going to talk about reality.

BASH: Well, is that the reality?

SULLIVAN: And the reality is that there is a strong -- well, the reality is that Putin gains every day that Ukraine does not get the resources it needs and Ukraine suffers.

And there is a strong bipartisan majority in the House standing ready to pass this bill if it comes to the floor. And that decision rests on the shoulders of one person. And history is watching whether Speaker Johnson will put that bill on the floor. If he does, it will pass, we will get Ukraine what it needs for Ukraine to succeed.

If he doesn't, then we will not be able to give Ukraine the tools required for it to stand up to Russia, and Putin will be the major beneficiary of that.

BASH: I want to ask about what is going on inside Russia right now. After delays and threats from Russian officials, Alexei Navalny's body has finally been turned over to his mother.

We have seen security forces, though, crack down on mourners, protesters in the wake of Navalny's death. His mother says officials tried to threaten her into holding a private funeral. Does the Russian government need to allow a public funeral? And what is President Biden's message to Russians mourning both Navalny and the state of their country right now? SULLIVAN: Well, what President Biden has been struck by, what I have

been struck by is the commentary in the United States that the death of Alexei Navalny has some great show of strength by Vladimir Putin, when, in fact, the very idea that he had to lock this guy up to try to muzzle and silence him, and now he's trying to suppress and silence anyone who wants to come out and mourn him, that's a sign of weakness, not a sign of strength.

And so, from our perspective, what we would like to see is a situation in which the Russian people and individual Russian dissidents like Alexei Navalny are not subjected to the kind of brutal repression and the conditions that led to Alexei Navalny's death.

That's what we would like to see. That's why the president came out and imposed a sweeping set of sanctions this past week to send a clear message about where the United States stands on this issue.

BASH: And, quickly, if his mother wants a public funeral, does the U.S. believe she should get that?

SULLIVAN: I think the president believes that any mother deserves the funeral for their child that they would like. That should be a basic human thing, not a question of policy.

BASH: I want to turn to the Middle East.

There are reports that negotiators in Paris have agreed to the outline of a new deal between Israel and Hamas to free hostages in Gaza in exchange for a multiweek cease-fire. Can you confirm whether that outline has been agreed to? And, if so, what does it look like?

SULLIVAN: Well, it is true that the representatives of Israel, the United States, Egypt, and Qatar met in Paris and came to an understanding among the four of them about what the basic contours of a hostage deal for a temporary cease-fire would look like.

I'm not going to go into the specifics of that because it is still under negotiation in terms of hammering out the details of it. There will have to be indirect discussions by Qatar and Egypt with Hamas, because, ultimately, they will have to agree to release the hostages. That work is under way.

And we hope that, in the coming days, we can drive to a point where there is actually a firm and final agreement on this issue, but we will have to wait and see.

BASH: You used the word hope. Are you hopeful that, this time, there will be a deal?

SULLIVAN: There's been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, so I'm not going to make predictions.

BASH: Understood.

SULLIVAN: And I'm not going to kind of put percentage chances on it. What I am going to say, though, is that the United States' position in

this is clear. We would like to see this deal get done. We would like to see the hostages returned, including American hostages. And we would like to see that temporary cease-fire which will alleviate the suffering of the people in the Gaza Strip, innocent civilians, women and children.

So, we are telling everyone, including the Israeli government, that it is our firm position that every effort be exercised to get to this agreement, and then we can move forward from there.

BASH: Jake, before I let you go, I have to ask about what happened this past week with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

He outlined a vision for postwar Gaza. It would keep indefinite Israeli military control over the West Bank and Gaza, maintain a buffer zone along the border with Israel and Egypt, give Israel complete control over entry and exit into the Gaza Strip.

Now, an Israeli official told CNN that the plan was aligned with the U.S. Is that true? Does the White House see this as a realistic proposal?

SULLIVAN: Well, frankly, Dana, I haven't had any Israeli official send that plan to me, so I'm not going to speak to that plan.


Our position is very clear about what we expect with respect to the future of Gaza and our overall vision for the future of the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. We have laid out in detail both publicly and privately where we are on that. And I look forward to hearing more directly from the Israeli government what their intentions are.

And from what I have seen in the reporting, I have some concerns.

BASH: Jake Sullivan, definitely want to get back to you when you do see the actual plan.

Appreciate you being on this morning.

SULLIVAN: Thank you.

BASH: And another big win for Donald Trump. Texas Governor Greg Abbott will join me next.

Then: Does President Biden have a Michigan problem? I will ask Governor Gretchen Whitmer about the protest vote in Michigan.

Stay with us.


BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION. Donald Trump swept Republican contests in the Northeast, the West, the

Midwest, and now last night the South, where he notched another landslide victory against his remaining rival, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. But Haley says she's not dropping out.


Here with me now is a top Trump supporter whose border policies have done a lot to shape this year's political debate. Texas Governor Greg Abbott joins me now.

Thank you for joining me, sir.

Let's start with last night's results in South Carolina. Nikki Haley said that 40 percent is not some tiny group. There are huge numbers of voters in our -- in Republican primaries who are saying they want to know an alternative. That is her quote.

Is she right? Is her level of support a warning sign for Donald Trump?

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): Listen, in politics, a 20-point victory is huge.

And it's the type of victory that President Trump has been achieving across the country. But last night was even more meaningful, because it was a victory by 20 percentage points in a state where Nikki Haley was the governor. So, she is beloved more in South Carolina than perhaps any other state in America.

And you can see the trajectory that President Trump is on. And after defeating Nikki Haley so badly in South Carolina, he's on a pathway to win these other states, win Super Tuesday, and be able to have the nomination clinched by the middle part of March.

And so I would say the wind is strongly at the back of President Trump. And as he pointed out in his remarks last night, not even making reference to Nikki Haley, he said that the party truly is unifying. And you can see it in comparison to, say, his past primaries.

Now, listen, the party is far more unified behind President Trump at this particular time than it has been in any other race that he's had.

BASH: Governor, I want to ask you about what happened in Alabama. The Supreme Court there ruled that frozen embryos should be considered human beings. That, of course, as you know, prompted three IVF fertility clinics in the state to abruptly pause care in order to avoid potential liability for wrongful deaths if the embryos were to be destroyed.

Do you agree with the Alabama Supreme Court that embryos are human beings?

ABBOTT: Well, listen, obviously, there's some uncertainty lingering from this, but, candidly, let's go back to President Trump, because President Trump put out a statement on this that I think a lot of people agree with.

And that is a goal that we all kind of want to achieve. And that is, we want to make it easier for people to be able to have babies, not make it harder. And the IVF process is a way of giving life to even more babies. And so what I think the goal is, is to make sure that we can find a pathway to ensure that parents who otherwise may not have the opportunity to have a child will be able to have access to the IVF process and become parents and give life to babies.

And because this is a relatively new issue, we're just going to have to find ways to navigate laws and fact situations that are very complicated.

BASH: Well, let me ask you about your state. Texas has one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country. Are you saying that families in Texas who are using IVF, have extra embryos that are frozen do not need to worry?

ABBOTT: Well, so you raise fact questions that are complex that I simply don't know the answer to.

Let me give you a couple of examples. And that is, I have no idea mathematically the number of frozen embryos. Is it one, 10, 100, 1,000? Things like that matter. What I don't know is, families who may have frozen embryos, what happens if they were done so that a mother could have a pregnancy, but after those embryos were frozen, the mother passes away?

What happens then? What happens if, after the embryos are frozen, the mother and the husband, they get a divorce? Here's my point in telling you that, Dana. And that is, these are very complex issues, where I'm not sure everybody has really thought about what all the potential problems are.

And, as a result, no one really knows what the potential answers are.

BASH: Yes.

ABBOTT: And I think you're going to see states across the entire country coming together and grappling with these issues and coming up with solutions.

BASH: Yes, it is incredibly complicated. You said states across the country. Your state is a pretty important one.

Will you be urging the legislature to come up with laws that deal with this question and keep IVF legal?

ABBOTT: So, for one, I have no doubt that Texas will be among the states that will be addressing this issue when we can bring together all the different fact scenarios about what could happen, but also knowing -- knowing Texas.

Listen, as you know, Texas is a pro-life state. And we want to do everything possible that we can to maintain Texas being a pro-life state. But, at the very same time, I think Texans agree with what President Trump said. And that is, we as a state want to ensure that we promote life, we bring more life into the world, and we empower parents to be able to have more children.


BASH: Yes. Yes, it is very, very complicated.

I want to turn to the border, Governor. You have successfully made blue states pay attention to the migrant crisis by sending tens of thousands of migrants to cities like New York and Chicago. President Biden is considering an executive action to restrict migrants' ability to seek asylum after they illegally cross the border.

Would you support that?

ABBOTT: So, no, because what that would -- if he were to grant asylum after migrants cross the border illegally, that would be authorizing illegal immigration, and that would cause chaos.

But, listen, Dana, one thing you mentioned, you said he's considering executive action. Know this, and that is what the president said a couple of weeks ago, that he needed Congress to pass the law for him to be able to take action. That was completely false.

The fact of the matter is, there are laws on the books passed by Congress of the United States right now that authorize the executive branch to deny illegal entry, if people get here illegally, to detain them, as well as to require the president and the presidential administration to build border barriers.

The president is not using his executive authority to do any of those things that Congress has already authorized. The president does not need new laws.

BASH: Well...

ABBOTT: The president needs a backbone to make sure that he enforces the immigration laws that are already on the books.

BASH: Governor, let me just jump in, and I'm sorry to interrupt.

But our understanding of what the president is considering is restricting migrants' ability to seek asylum. Why not support that?

ABBOTT: Because -- well, let me tell you what I heard you say. And that is, I heard you say that people who enter the country illegally would be able to go through an accelerated asylum process.

Understand this. In the state of Texas, we have 28 ports of entry, and it is illegal in the United States of America for these illegal immigrants to cross between those ports of entry.

BASH: Right.

ABBOTT: What the president has to do first is to establish clearly anybody who crosses the border between a port of entry illegally must be treated in illegal way, subject to arrest.

So the first thing the president of the United States has to do is say no more crossing the border between the port of entry and saying that, if you cross the border between the port of entry, you lose your ability to seek asylum in the United States.

BASH: Before I let you go, do you have any interest in being Donald Trump's running mate?

ABBOTT: So, Dana, listen, my focus is solely on Texas. And my interest is, first of all, supporting the president, President Trump, getting elected.

And that means helping him find the right vice presidential candidate who will help President Trump get elected, and then help him be successful when he does get elected. And I think there's so many people other than myself who are best situated for that.

I can best help President Trump by being the leader of Texas, helping him achieve what he needs to achieve in the great state of Texas.

BASH: Governor Greg Abbott, thanks for joining me this morning.

ABBOTT: Sure. Thank you, Dana.

BASH: And some Democrats are planning to cast a protest vote against President Biden in Michigan's Democratic primary on Tuesday. I will ask Governor Gretchen Whitmer if she's worried next.



BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

Michigan's primary is this Tuesday, and it's a key test for President Biden, with some Democrats there warning that they won't back him in order to mark their opposition to his support for Israel.

It comes as Michigan's governor and other national Democrats are seizing on a ruling out of Alabama they hope will remind Democrats about the choice they face this fall.

Joining me now is Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan and the national co-chair of the Biden/Harris reelection campaign.

Thank you so much for joining me, Governor.

Let's start with the question of IVF. Republicans are moving really quickly to distance themselves from that controversial Alabama Supreme Court IVF ruling. Alabama's attorney general says he has no intention of prosecuting families or IVF providers.

Republicans across the country, now including former President Trump, have come out in support of protecting IVF treatments. Does that undercut the arguments by Democrats that Republicans are going after in vitro fertilization?

WHITMER: Hell, no, it does not.

I mean, we have always known that, with the appointments that Donald Trump made to the United States Supreme Court, that IVF, that a woman's ability to make her own decisions about her body and all the panoply of things that come from that were in jeopardy. And so this Alabama Supreme Court ruling is a natural extension of that.

And that's exactly why, even in a state like Michigan, where we have made huge strides in protecting the right to reproductive freedom, is still very much at risk with a prospect of a second Trump term.

BASH: Governor, part of the issue, and it is -- IVF is incredibly complicated on a lot of levels.

Part of the issue that Republicans are having is that they're kind of trying to twist themselves in knots over the central question here that Alabama's Supreme Court was trying to answer and did of whether embryos should be considered human beings.


What do you think? Is this accurate in the way that some people are describing embryos? Should embryos be considered people?

WHITMER: I think the government should get out of people's individual personal health care decisions.

I think the government has no business or expertise inserting themselves in the middle of a woman and her right to make the choice that is right for her or a family that desperately wants to have a child. We have had the law of the land for 50 years. And now, because of Donald Trump's appointments to the Supreme Court and this Dobbs decision, it has created a mess for people.

And I think a lot about embryonic stem cell research that is yielding cures for juvenile diabetes or Alzheimer's. That too now is very much at risk because of this extension that we have seen in Alabama in terms of their interpretation.

And so the prospect of another four years of Donald Trump or a Biden administration that's going to do everything they can to protect women's rights and science, I think, is a very stark difference that is very real for people now, seeing what happened in Alabama.

BASH: President Biden didn't issue a statement on this ruling until several days after it was released. He hasn't been anywhere near as vocal as people like you and other Democrats have.

Does he need to get out there and talk more aggressively about this issue?

WHITMER: I will just say, I know that this president is the one who has been on the front line doing everything in his power to protect a woman's right to make her own decisions about her body and this medical care that women need all across the country, from the policies that they have done through executive action, to hosting the vice president here with us this week on a reproductive rights roundtable conversation.

They are on the right side of this issue, always have been and will continue to be. And that's why abortion isn't just on the ballot in a handful of states this year. It is on the ballot for every person in this country this year. And that's why we have got elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to a second term.

BASH: But you know far better than I do that being on, to use your words, the right side of an issue and communicating about it are two different questions.

And on that note, you mentioned that you had a meeting with Vice President Harris this past week. ]My colleague Isaac Dovere reported that you expressed some frustration in that meeting with how the president and the Biden campaign have been talking about abortion rights.

What specific frustrations do you have? And was the vice president receptive to your suggestions or even constructive criticism?

WHITMER: You know, I wouldn't say frustration. I would say urgency.

This is about a critical moment in American history for American women and girls and our families and our economy, frankly. There are repercussions from what the Trump nominees to the Supreme Court have done with regard to eviscerating women's ability to make our own decisions about our bodies and what is at stake in this upcoming election.

So, it's really a sense of urgency that I'm hearing as I get across my state, this important state of Michigan in a presidential election, and a sense of urgency that I am conveying to all people who want to protect this right, using the language, listening to people, trusting women, and fighting for this and making it front and center, and very clear for people.

BASH: Governor, let's talk about the primary in your state on Tuesday.

You have been campaigning across Michigan, trying to get out the votes, rallying Democrats behind President Biden. It is hard to see Joe Biden winning in November without winning your state. Polls consistently show it's, at best, a toss-up right now between him and Donald Trump, assuming that he is the Republican nominee.

If the election were held today, would Joe Biden or Donald Trump win Michigan?

WHITMER: Well, we have got a primary on Tuesday, and I'm reminding people, because this is a new thing for Michigan, to have our primary this early.

And we want -- we have done extraordinary work to make it easier for people to participate. You can vote in person nine days before an election now. Having this primary, I think, is one important piece, but we have got nine months until the general election.

And I would just share with, I think polls are important pieces of data, but at this point during my reelect, you would have thought I was a goner. Everyone was writing my political obituary, and I ended up winning by almost 11 points.

So there's a lot of important work that needs to be done here in Michigan. I don't take any of it for granted, and I know that President Biden doesn't either. They have got a real organization here. They're going to work to earn every vote.


But Michigan voices are important and I think need to be taken seriously. And I know that President Biden, Vice President Harris are taking us very seriously.

BASH: One of the tests of what is going to happen in November could come in this primary on Tuesday.

And the question is, how deep Democratic divisions are over a lot of issues, the biggest of which I think in your state is the war in Gaza. Some of the leaders, very vocal, respected leaders inside your state, Rashida Tlaib is one of them, they're pushing Democrats to vote uncommitted on Tuesday, instead of voting for President Biden, in order to send a message and to protest what the president is doing.

This is a real serious campaign by people like Rashida Tlaib and others. How many uncommitted votes do you think we're going to see on Tuesday? How worried are you?

WHITMER: Well, I'm not sure what we're going to see on Tuesday, to tell you the truth.

I can tell you this, that Michigan has been so fortunate to be the home of a robust Arab, Muslim, Palestinian community and a robust Jewish community. We have lived in harmony as neighbors for decades. And there's a lot of pain all across all of these communities because of what's happening halfway around the world.

I know that we have got this primary, and we will see differences of opinion. I just want to make the case, though, that it's important not to lose sight of the fact that any vote that's not cast for Joe Biden supports a second Trump term. A second Trump term would be devastating, not just on fundamental rights, not just on our democracy here at home, but also when it comes to foreign policy.

This was a man who promoted a Muslim ban. This is, I think, a very high-stakes moment. I am encouraging people to cast an affirmative vote for President Biden. I understand the pain that people are feeling. And I will continue to work to build bridges with folks in all of these communities, because they're all important to me, they're all important to Michigan, and I know they're all important to President Biden as well. BASH: Sounds like you're preparing for a sizable portion of the vote

being uncommitted and sending that protest message to President Biden.

WHITMER: Dana, I'm just not sure what to expect.

I think this is our first time going this early in the process. There are a lot of pressures. And you never know with the weather -- there are a lot of different things that can impact what happens on Tuesday. I do know that we have got about nine months until the general election, and we are taking Michigan very seriously, as they should. Michigan's always a state where the election is close.

BASH: Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, thank you so much for being here today. I appreciate it.

WHITMER: Thank you, Dana.

BASH: With Trump's big win last night, is the Republican primary over? Why is Nikki Haley sticking around?

I will ask her former opponent Asa Hutchinson, who is going to join our panel, after a quick break.




TRUMP: I have never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now.


HALEY: I said earlier this week that, no matter what happens in South Carolina, I would continue to run for president.


HALEY: Huge numbers of voters in our Republican primaries who are saying they want an alternative.


BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

Donald Trump delivered a decisive win in Nikki Haley's home state of South Carolina.

My panel joins me now to discuss.

Governor Hutchinson, thank you so much for being here.

You were running against both of them and many more candidates who were still in the field then. What did you make of her argument and what we're hearing from her campaign over and over, which is, if she gets close to 40 percent, then that means that there is a very big part of the Republican Party that still doesn't want him?

Does that kind of comport with what we're actually seeing?

FMR. GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): Well, I think it's true.

And I think she reflected it last night, even though she didn't win. She was 20 points behind. It was a big night for Donald Trump. He won in South Carolina, where Nikki Haley was governor. But she got 40 percent of the vote, right at it. And she's clear that she's going to go on into Super Tuesday and in Michigan.

She lays out she's going to be campaigning in Massachusetts, will be in Michigan, and will be continuing to campaign.

BASH: So you think she should stay in?

HUTCHINSON: I think she should stay in.

And she's clear that she's staying in through Super Tuesday, and then she's going to evaluate it. So she's being very realistic about it. Super Tuesday is just 10 days away. The challenge is that she did everything she could in South Carolina. She went on the attack against Trump. She spent 10 times the money on TV as Donald Trump.

And she did all the rallies and campaigning, and she got 40 percent of the vote. So she wants to continue through Super Tuesday, but it's got to accelerate, because you run into the delegate wall. And the delegate wall is March 5.

BASH: Yes.

HUTCHINSON: So she's got to prove herself.

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think there's very low likelihood that Nikki Haley winds up becoming the Republican nominee, I know, bold, bold prediction.


SOLTIS ANDERSON: But I do think her continued presence in this race is allowing that segment of the Republican Party who is still in the party, but really wants to turn the page, to make their voice heard.

By putting up a number like 40 percent, you are not winning. There's no way to spin that as a win. But it suggests that statements like, if you're not with the MAGA movement, get out, if you donate to Nikki Haley, you're kicked out of our party, those sorts of things are unproductive.


Politics is about addition, not subtraction. There is a not- insignificant part of the party that is very worried about Donald Trump. It's not a majority. He's going to be the nominee, almost certainly. But that segment of the party does need to be taken seriously and not alienated. ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I this morning was

thinking, what if this was on the Democratic side and it was a female candidate running for president? What would I want her to do?

And we kind of had that in 2016 with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. And I would have told her to stay in the race, if she could. If she had the money, if you had the infrastructure, run. Like, we live in a democracy. That is what democracy is about, that people who want to run for office can run for office until they can't anymore, and the voters get to decide.

I do think 40 percent is a significant amount to say for basically an incumbent president like Donald Trump to be able to get. Now, it is a little bit of pie in your face because it is her home state. But we knew this would be a challenge. And so, if she has the money, go ahead, stay in, have the debate. I think it's an important debate.

We know what MAGA extremism could look like for our country. I'm glad she's starting to take him to task. I think it's a little too late, though.

BASH: Adrienne?

ADRIENNE ELROD, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, look, I think Nikki Haley should stay in.

And I think Donald Trump had a really bad night last night in South Carolina. Obviously, this is Nikki Haley's home state, but he only got 60 percent of the vote. And that is a -- basically, Republicans are saying, at least in South Carolina, 40 percent of them are saying, I don't want Donald Trump to be my nominee.

We have also seen polling that suggests that over half, well over half of Republicans who are supporting Nikki Haley would not support Donald Trump in a general election. So, not only does she have every motivation, in my view, to at least stay in through Super Tuesday, as the governor suggests, but also she is clearly trying to make a mark for herself going into 2028.

She's taking a gamble that Trump is not going to be the president. And I completely agree with her. I don't think he's going to win this election. I think Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are going to get reelected. And she wants to take on the mantle of the GOP going into 2028. She can do that by staying in this race and continuing to make sure that he underperforms where an incumbent should in a GOP primary.

BASH: And the question is, Republicans like you -- obviously, we have seen, based on the way that the primary process is going, that there aren't enough of Republicans like you who just do not want Donald Trump in any way, shape, or form.

Would you vote for Joe Biden? I mean, would that be something that you or people of your ilk would do?


BASH: Because that's the question about that 40 percent.



BASH: Yes.


HUTCHINSON: The answer is no. I believe we have to have an alternative to Joe Biden. And I think that raises the question as to, where do you go?

We want to go and fight in the convention. And this is something that has to worry Donald Trump, that he didn't succeed last night in closing the deal. Now he's got to face Super Tuesday. And you're going to see delegates that's going to move to Nikki Haley. And you're going to -- you're not going to know what's going to happen beyond that.

But there's going to be a bulk of delegates right now that's going to go to the convention supporting Nikki Haley, that's going to be expressing, we want to go a different direction. And the question is, do they bolt? Do they go to a third party? Do they stay in there? Do they unify behind Donald Trump?

And that's on Donald Trump to try to bring the party together.

BASH: And it's on Joe Biden and the Democrats to try to somehow find a way to pull some of those voters in.

They're obviously trying, I mean, much more in the past week than we have seen. And I'm sure it's just going to be stepped up even more so in the coming weeks.

ALLISON: Yes, so this is the interesting thing about building the coalition, because if you are a never-Trumper, a Republican, or an independent, if you want to persuade them over, you can do that, but not at the cost of losing your base and conceding on issues.

So the Biden campaign is going to have to put -- dance a real delicate dance to figure out how to keep those -- persuade some of those folks who do not want Donald Trump to come over, as we did in 2020, but also make sure your base shows up.

BASH: Yes.

He is trying -- he, Donald Trump, is trying to persuade black voters, particularly black men, to come to his -- I heard that big sigh.


BASH: Listen to what he said to black conservatives at a speech in South Carolina on Friday night.


TRUMP: The black people like, because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against.


TRUMP: And they actually viewed me as I'm being discriminated against. We have all seen the mug shot. And you know who embraced it more than anybody else? The black population.

These lights are so bright in my eyes, that I can't see too many people out there. But I can only see the black ones. I can't see any white ones.


ELROD: I don't even know what to say. I mean, if he's trying to get more black voters on his side, I don't think that moment last night is doing the job.

I mean, look, there is no question that, over the last few cycles, not just the presidential, but in some of the midterms, our coalition has shifted. We have lost some diverse voters. But I believe, at the end of the day, when you look at all these issues, especially the choice issue, the economy is doing a lot better than sometimes people get with credit for it, thanks to Joe Biden, we're going to be able to keep more of our coalition together from 2020 than it may outwardly appear at this point.


BASH: Stand by for one second.

Let me just get Kristen in on this.

SOLTIS ANDERSON: Yes, he's correct that he's doing better among black men.

I -- to be as diplomatic as possible, he has misdiagnosed what has driven that, that, in fact, it is for a lot of voters feeling like Joe Biden hasn't delivered on promises around the economy, et cetera, that have opened their possibility of, hey, maybe I will give Donald Trump a second view.

I think he is very incorrect about the why.

ALLISON: Donald Trump is the epitome of privilege.

And when black voters hear him speak to us that way, it's disrespectful and it's condescending. He also sees black voters, though, through the lens and what she is talking about.

From the beginning of the Exonerated 5, when he called for their execution in Central Park, even though they have actually been proven to be innocent, to this moment, he looks at black people through a lens of criminality, through a lens of poverty, and not through a lens as someone who he wants to be partners with, as some -- he rather looks at them as someone he can just play in their face and think that they will show up. Yes, some black men are starting to go to the Republican Party, but I

will also say I saw some black men in 2020 who were on the fence about Joe Biden and Donald Trump. And after he said that in South Carolina, they were like, you would be a fool to vote for Donald Trump.

BASH: Final word, real quick.

HUTCHINSON: Well, we have a great opportunity to reach out to African-American voters. Donald Trump is not the right messenger to do that.

And so we have got to be careful. You have got to expand the base. Donald Trump showed last night in South Carolina he's not winning in in -- with independents or bringing in the African-American votes.

BASH: OK, great discussion. Thanks for being here, one and all.

We're going to take a quick break. We will be right back.



BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

We are waiting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to speak at any minute. He is expected to have a press conference as that country marks two years since Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine.

As we wait for President Zelenskyy, I want to go to Nick Paton Walsh, who is CNN chief international security correspondent.

Hi, Nick.

As we wait for the president, I know you have been on the phone with your sources. You have been reporting from Ukraine for the last two years, but especially the last few days.

What can we expect to hear from him?


Look, we have seen over the last hours all of his officials, prime minister, defense minister, essentially laying out Ukraine's case here, the problems it's facing, the needs it has for extra Western aid, complaints about commitments of aid not equaling deliveries, how about half of the stuff they have been promised turns up late, complaints...

BASH: Nick, forgive me for interrupting. Nick, I'm going to interrupt you.

WALSH: Here we go.

BASH: We are going to go to President Zelenskyy in Ukraine now.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Perfect. Yes. Thank you.

ZELENSKYY (through translator): And maybe part of your life, you dedicated to Ukraine.

For us, this is one of our big informational defense from Russian fakes, from -- from the pessimism, I would say, of some countries in the world, on all continents of the world. And it's very important to us that you are with us.

I'm very grateful for your support, that you are talking truth and you totally condemn the bloody Russian war against Ukraine. And even in such difficult moments that we had at the end of last year, we -- some bits were totally lacking attention. I'm totally convinced that you brought it all back, and I want to thank you.

I want to thank -- I want to thank our warriors, because they're bringing Ukraine back where Ukraine was before and it will be forever. Whenever they are, at the minute, your support is very important, your work is very important, and this is a fact. Without you, you -- there's no Ukraine.

That's why, on our part, we will do everything in order to be victorious, no matter how difficult it will be. Everyone is in a better position than our warriors. That's why I'm so grateful to them, and I want to say thank you to all their families, thank you, of those warriors, not only those who lost their near and dear during this war.


I want to thank you that you brought up heroes, those real Ukrainians.