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State of the Union

Interview With FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell; Interview With Fmr. Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA); Interview With Sen. J.D. Vance (R- OH); Interview With Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). Aired 9-10a ET

Aired May 12, 2024 - 09:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST (voice-over): Split screen. President Biden hits the trail out West, while Donald Trump squeezes in a New Jersey rally amid his hush money trial.



BASH: Now, could Trump's one-time fixer turn the former president into a convicted felon? Potential vice presidential pick J.D. Vance joins me exclusively.

And shockwaves -- a stunning shift from Biden on U.S. support for Israel.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If they go into Rafah, I'm not supplying the weapons.

BASH: As Israel orders more evacuations in Rafah, will the president follow through? Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy is here exclusively.

Plus: on the ground, my trip with the first woman serving as FEMA administrator.

What's your biggest concern?

How she's getting more women on the front lines of disaster relief.

DEANNE CRISWELL, FEMA ADMINISTRATOR: If you need help, reach out.

BASH: FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell ahead.


BASH: Hello. I'm Dana Bash in Washington, where the state of our union is wishing all the moms out there a happy Mother's Day.

This coming week, we could see the final stages of Donald Trump's hush money trial. And, in neighboring New Jersey, Trump vented his anger late Saturday afternoon ahead of expected testimony from the star witness in the case, former Trump fixer Michael Cohen.

On the West Coast, President Joe Biden is looking to capitalize on his opponent's predicament, calling Trump -- quote -- "clearly unhinged" during a closed-door fund-raiser.

But Biden faces growing political problems of his own after his stark new ultimatum this week to Israel in an interview on CNN, vowing to block some U.S. military aid to Israel if it invades the Gazan city of Rafah. Israel seems undeterred, ordering 300,000 Gazans out of Rafah.

It all leaves Biden with strained support among Democrats and a middle ground that seems to have left no one happy, something Trump tried to seize on at his rally.


TRUMP: Crooked Joe's action is one of the worst betrayals of an American ally in the history of our country. I support Israel's right to win its war on terror. Is that OK?


TRUMP: I don't know. I don't know if that's good or bad politically. I don't care. You got to do what's right.


BASH: Here with me now is potential Trump vice presidential pick Republican Senator J.D. Vance of Ohio. He's going to be joining former President Trump at an event in Cincinnati this week on Wednesday.

Thank you so much for being here. It's nice to see you in person.

I want to start with the Mideast and President Biden announcing on Wednesday that he would block some shipments of U.S. weapons if Israel invades Rafah.

SEN. J.D. VANCE (R-OH): Sure.

BASH: He's frustrated after months of telling the Israeli prime minister to be more targeted. He doesn't think that Netanyahu is changing course. And the president believes that too many civilians have been killed with U.S. weapons. Is that a fair concern?

VANCE: Well, first of all, Dana, let me say, happy Mother's Day to you and all the moms watching.

BASH: Thank you.

VANCE: But, to answer your question, I think there are two big problems with what the Biden administration is doing.

First of all, it's a fundamentally incoherent policy. On the one hand, they're saying too many Palestinian civilians have been killed. With the other hand, they're depriving the Israelis of the precision-guided weapons that actually cut down on civilian casualties.

So, if you're worried about Palestinian casualties, the stated policy here actually doesn't make a ton of sense. And I think the bigger problem here if we zoom out is, look, and I hate to say this, but America is not good at micromanaging wars in the Middle East.

Joe Biden has been president for four years, but he's really presided over, as a senator and a vice president, many of the biggest disasters we have had in foreign policy in the Middle East over the last 40 years. And I think that our attitude vis-a-vis these Israelis should be, look, we're not good at micromanaging Middle Eastern wars.

The Israelis are our allies. Let them prosecute this war the way they see fit.

BASH: The argument that President Biden has made, we understand, in private, and he's done it in public, is that he is trying to get the Israeli prime minister to learn the lessons of wars in the U.S.


By the way, it was a Republican who was president, George W. Bush.

VANCE: Sure.

BASH: The way that the U.S. responded in Afghanistan, and, of course, the war in Iraq, to learn the lessons. And he doesn't believe that the prime minister is doing so.

VANCE: Yes, so first of all, I completely concede, by the way, it was a Republican president in Iraq, though with Democratic buy-in from people like Joe Biden.

BASH: Sure.

VANCE: But I think, to learn the lessons...

BASH: And it's not just Iraq. It's Afghanistan.

VANCE: ... of multiple conflicts -- look, we have not been good at this, and that's been a bipartisan failure. By the way, it's one of the reasons why I think Donald Trump was a good foreign policy president. He departed from that wisdom.

But to answer your question, Dana, and, look, the fundamental problem here is, the Israelis have a goal in mind. Hamas started a war by murdering a large number of Israeli civilians, and now that they're 80 percent defeated, they're throwing up their hands and saying uncle.

Now, yes, Palestinian civilian casualties is a real issue, and our heart certainly goes out to them. We have to ask ourselves, why are Palestinian civilian casualties so high? It's because Hamas started the war, and now they hide behind Palestinian civilians.

So, if you want to learn the lessons, I think, of the last 40 years, the most important thing is, we have to defeat Hamas as a viable military organization. You're never going to defeat the ideology of Hamas, but you can root out those commanders, those final military- trained battalions, and I think we should empower the Israelis to do it.

But the final point here, Dana, I think this is very important, our goal in the Middle East should be to allow the Israelis to get to some good place with the Saudi Arabians and other Gulf Arab states. There is no way that we can do that unless the Israelis finish the job with Hamas.

If they can't even do that, the attitude in the Middle East will be, you can't trust these guys, they're not pursuing their own national security. So we have got to let them finish this job, and I think, hopefully, on the other end of it get to a new era in the Middle East.

BASH: I want to ask about something that Donald Trump said in -- on social media.

VANCE: Sure.

BASH: He said: "What Biden is doing with respect to Israel is disgraceful. If any Jewish person voted for Joe Biden, they should be ashamed of themselves. He's totally abandoned Israel."

You tweeted that Donald Trump was right about that.

So, I just want to be clear. You think that Jewish people who voted for Joe Biden should be ashamed of themselves?

VANCE: Well, what I think, Dana, is that people should look at the record here and recognize that Donald Trump has actually been really good for the state of Israel.

We had peace and prosperity in our country, and we had a very stalwart ally of the Israelis. Now Joe Biden is president. The Israelis have been attacked. You have got these terrible campus protests with a lot of antisemitic overtones all over our country, and you also have him trying to micromanage the Israeli response to them being attacked.

Do I think it's reasonable to look at this situation and say that, if you're a Jewish American who cares about the state of Israel, who cares about these antisemitic riots, and say you should be on the side of Republicans in 2024 because they govern effectively on some of the issues that you care about, I think it's a totally reasonable argument to make.

And I think that Donald Trump's going to keep on making it.

BASH: Historically, the notion of saying to Jews, you should put Israel first and what happens in Israel first, and not sort of consider them American citizens first, has been used as an antisemitic trope.

Do you recognize that there, and perhaps that language isn't exactly on point when you're talking about something that is very, very -- it's like a tinderbox right now? VANCE: We have to remember, Donald Trump is very direct here.

BASH: But you said he was right.

VANCE: And he hasn't singled out Jewish Americans. He singled out a lot of people for voting for Joe Biden, and suggesting they have got to wake up and elect him as president in 2024.

So I don't think there's any effort to single out Jewish Americans. And just on that particular question about tropes, I mean, look, we know that Jewish Americans and non-Jewish Americans care about our ally Israel. We know that Jewish Americans and non-Jewish Americans care a lot about these ridiculous protests.

I actually have a friend of mine whose brother was graduating from Columbia who had the graduation ceremony canceled, and that's a non- Jewish person who cares a lot about these antisemitic protests. So I think the fact that Donald Trump is talking about Jews in that particular context does not mean he doesn't think the same lessons apply to a whole host of American citizens.

BASH: Yes, because he did say that any Jewish person who voted for Joe Biden should be ashamed of themselves.

I want to move on.

VANCE: But he made similar comments about a lot of different groups of people, Dana. I don't think anybody could look at the presidency in the conduct of Donald Trump and say, this is a person who's somehow antisemitic.

And I think, whether you're Jewish or not, you should be looking at the record of Joe Biden and saying...

BASH: He had dinner with Nick Fuentes, who is an avowed antisemitic.

VANCE: Dana -- Dana, you should look at the record of Joe Biden and recognize that, whether you're Jewish or not, his presidency has been a disaster for the American people.

BASH: I want to ask about what we saw this past week, and it's going to continue this week, the trial in New York.

Adult film actress Stormy Daniels testified about her allegation of a sexual encounter with Donald Trump. Now, after the "Access Hollywood" tape in 2016, you tweeted -- quote -- "Fellow Christians, everyone is watching us. When we apologize for this man, lord help us."


Now, you have since deleted that tweet. Do you still feel that way about Donald Trump's sexual indiscretions?

VANCE: Well, first of all, Donald Trump is not on trial for sexual indiscretions. This is a sham trial where they're saying his misdeed is that he violated the law, that he committed a crime. You can't throw somebody in prison in the middle of a presidential

election because you think that he did something bad 10 years ago. So I think we have to separate these arguments from the actual criminal trial that's attempting to, in my view, Dana, interfere in a presidential election.

But, look, my view on Donald Trump, I have been very clear on this, is, look, I was wrong about him. I didn't think he was going to be a good president, Dana, and I was very, very proud to be proven wrong. It's one of the reasons why I'm working so hard to get him elected.

And I think the contrast here is really from Joe Biden, who delivered chaos on the world stage, rising cost of living here at home, to Donald Trump, who delivered peace and prosperity to the American people and to the world. That's a very, very simple contrast to make.

And I think Republicans just have to hammer that message home, because we have got the winning horse here and we have got the winning message.

BASH: And I just want to be clear. The notion of -- you're right that he's not on trial for alleged sexual indiscretions. It's something else.

But do you think that he should be treated differently because he was a former president, because he is running for president? And if he's convicted, do you still support him?

VANCE: Well, I don't think he should be treated differently at all, Dana, but I certainly think he is being treated differently.

The only thing that Alvin Bragg, the New York prosecutor's team thinks Donald Trump did wrong is that he ran for president in 2024 and he looks to be on the cusp of victory. That is the only thing that this is ultimately about.

If you look at the underlying argument of the case, they can't even identify what it is that Donald Trump did. They said he committed a paperwork violation in the service of a crime, but they won't even specify the crime that he allegedly committed.

And I think that when you look at all of these attacks on Donald Trump, you have to be honest with yourself and say, this is not about law and this is not about justice. This is about the fact that President Joe Biden has a failed record as commander in chief and leader of this country, and the Democrats can't talk about that.

So what they're doing is putting these trials out there and saying, focus on this, not on the fact that the world is on fire and the fact that you have gotten poorer under the presidency of Joe Biden.

BASH: Yes, a lot of things to unpack there. We're almost out of time.

VANCE: Sure.

BASH: I just want to look forward. 2024, this election year that we're in, will you commit to accepting

the results of this year's election?

VANCE: Look, Dana, I totally plan to accept the results of 2024.

I think that Donald Trump will be -- the victory. And if it's a free and fair election, Dana, I think every Republican will enthusiastically accept the results. And, again, I think those results will show that Donald Trump has been elected president, been reelected president.

I think that this question, though, it's interesting, Dana, because we have to be willing, as Democrats did in 2000, as Democrats have done in the past, and certainly as Republicans did in 2020, is, if you think there were problems, you have to be willing to pursue those problems and try to prosecute your case.

BASH: And...

VANCE: And, certainly, if we have a free and fair election, I will accept the results.

BASH: Even if Joe Biden wins?

VANCE: Sure. If it's a free and fair election, I will accept the results, Dana, whoever wins.

BASH: OK. Senator, thank you so much.

VANCE: Thanks, Dana.

BASH: Appreciate you coming in.

VANCE: Great.

BASH: Coming up: Did President Biden's very public shift on Israel in an interview with our own Erin Burnett make the issue even harder for him politically? Senator Chris Murphy is here live.

Plus: a headache in the 2024 campaign, how RFK Jr. is causing one, not just for Joe Biden, but, it seems, Donald Trump. Our panel will weigh in.



BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

President Biden spent months trying to navigate the push and the pull from fellow Democrats when it comes to Israel. But, this week, he put conditions on U.S. aid to Israel for the first time. Is he isolating himself from both sides of the Middle East debate?

Here with me now to discuss that is Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and a critic of the way Israel has been carrying out its war in Gaza.

Thank you so much for being here.


BASH: Do you support what President Biden told Erin Burnett, that he is blocking some military aid to Israel and won't support them, will block more if in fact Israel goes into Rafah more aggressively?

MURPHY: I do support President Biden's decision. And let me tell you why.

President Biden is learning the mistakes of U.S. military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. What we learned in both of those efforts was that you cannot defeat a terrorist ideology, you cannot defeat a terrorist movement with military force alone.

In Afghanistan, we spent 20 years there. And, ultimately, we were so cavalier about civilian casualties that we made the Taliban stronger. And we ultimately lost that engagement to the Taliban.

And so, in Israel, what Joe Biden is telling the Israelis is, we will be partners with you, but you have to understand that the pace of civilian casualties, the amount of humanitarian disaster there is in the long run going to make Hamas stronger, is going to make it more likely that Israel will be attacked again, and is going to make other terrorist organizations that have designs to attack the United States stronger.

So we will be partners in this fight, but in the situation of Rafah, we cannot have a military invasion of Rafah that ends up in tens of thousands of additional civilians dying. That would be bad for Israel from a moral and a strategic standpoint.


BASH: So, the counterargument that is not just coming from Republicans, but also some Democrats, your fellow Democrat from Pennsylvania, John Fetterman, and he actually said withholding military -- quote -- "demonstrates to Hamas that they're winning the P.R. war and they're exploiting America's compassion."

So does he have a point there that what the president said is actually kind of doing the opposite of what you just warned of and that actually is helping Hamas?

MURPHY: So, we have no obligation to write a blank check of military support to any of our allies. We have a right, as a sovereign nation with our own independent security concerns, to make sure that, when we are partnering with an ally, that we are partnering with a winning strategy.

Our own national security experts tell us that this is a generation, -- this moment will have a generational impact on the growth of terrorism around the globe. I want Hamas gone. I don't want them to ever have the ability to hit Israel again. I worry that the number of civilians that are dying are ultimately going to provide permanent recruiting material to Hamas and Hamas will remain a threat for years to come to Israel.

BASH: The reality, though, is that Hamas is still not just a military sort of wing in Gaza. They are the governing body in Gaza.

And I guess my question is, on that, if you were president or if you were completely directing the war, even in Israel, how would you eliminate Hamas in a way that's different and more effective than what you're describing?

Because the understatement of the year is, it ain't easy.

MURPHY: Well, let's just make sure that we understand there is a limit to American influence on Israeli politics.

BASH: But what do you think Israel should be doing?

MURPHY: So I think Israel should be open to bringing in the Palestinian Authority to be a transition governance structure inside Gaza.

BASH: But how does that eliminate Hamas?

MURPHY: That is something that -- well, listen, I think every intelligence expert has already come to the conclusion you are not going to be able to eliminate Hamas, right?

You are -- there is going to continue to be a resistance movement to the state of Israel. And the question is, it going to be weaker or stronger after 13,000 to 15,000 kids are killed inside Gaza? My argument is that, right now, the prospects are that it is going to be stronger.

And so, if Israel makes a more concrete commitment to a future Palestinian state, I think right now or within the next several months, I think that is one of the most important things it can do to try to dry up the recruitment material that right now is very live for Hamas or follow-on organizations to Hamas.

And that's one of the things that worries me is that we do not see that commitment being made, which I think is essential for the survival of a Jewish state in the Middle East, something that I, Democrats and Republicans are deeply desirous of.

BASH: The State Department released a report late on Friday that said -- quote -- it was -- quote -- "reasonable to assess" that U.S. weapons have been used by Israeli forces in ways -- quote -- "inconsistent with international law."

But the report stopped short of reaching an actual conclusion on whether Israel has violated humanitarian law. I know you have been pushing for this report for months. Are you satisfied?

MURPHY: Listen, I think the report could have gone further. But it does, I think, accurately explain the complexity of this war.

And let's just also be clear about that. Yes, I believe that there have been some very disastrous decisions on proportionality made by the Israeli military. If there's one Hamas fighter in an apartment building, it is not worth it to kill 50 innocent civilians.

But it is also true, as my friend Senator Vance said, that Hamas is hiding itself inside...

BASH: That was going to be my next question.

MURPHY: Yes, inside civilian populations. They are hiding themselves in hospitals, inside schools. There's no doubt that this war could end tomorrow if Hamas surrendered.

If Hamas really cares about the people of Gaza, they could decide to end this war right now. There's a cease-fire proposal on the table that they could accept. So, I am certainly willing to call out Israel when I think that they have made strategic and moral mistakes in this war.

But a lot of the focus here tends to be on Israel, when we should be calling out Hamas for the attacks that began this war, the way in which they have violated the rules of engagement, and the fact that the quickest route to end this war is for Hamas to surrender and protect the people of Gaza.

BASH: Just on the raw politics of this, do you think that, when the president said what he said to Erin Burnett this week, that what ended up happening is, he tried to kind of -- I don't want to take away from what he tried to do on policy, but just on the politics, that it ended up kind of pleasing no one? Is that a potential problem?


Or do you think that is what he said and did is helpful for his detractors on the left?

MURPHY: Listen, I think the president makes decisions when it comes to the security of this country based upon what he thinks is going to protect the country.

BASH: But the reality is, it's been hurting him on the left. Would this help?

MURPHY: Yes, but I don't mind the fact that the president isn't paying attention to the politics.

And I think, frankly, when you're being a good leader, you are often upsetting people on the right and the left. And so President Biden advertised himself when he ran for office as someone who would often play it down the middle, who would not pay attention to the extremes of the debate and would just do what he thought was right for the country and what the broad middle of the country wants.

And I actually think that's where the broad middle of the country is. I think the broad middle of the country wants to support Israel's ability to destroy Hamas, but is very concerned about the fact that there are so many kids dying, that, for the last week, there's been no humanitarian assistance getting into the country.

I think the president really is squarely where the middle of this country is on this conflict.

BASH: And I guess part of the problem -- we're out of time -- is that the humanitarian assistance, some of it that got in, was taken by Hamas away from its own people.

MURPHY: That's right. That's right.

BASH: Senator, thank you.

MURPHY: Thank you.

BASH: I appreciate you being here.

Up next: Both campaigns are shifting their strategies on Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Why?

My panel, including a man RFK wanted to be his V.P., is next.




TRUMP: RFK Jr. is a Democrat plant, a radical left liberal who's been put in place in order to help crooked Joe Biden, the worst president in the history of the United States, get reelected.

So, Republicans, get it out of your mind that you're going to vote for this guy because he's conservative. He's not.


BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

That was former President Donald Trump going after independent presidential candidate Robert -- Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

My panel is here now.

I mean, Scott Jennings, the idea that he didn't just send out a -- something written, he sat in front of a camera and said to camera what he just said, I mean, it's not even a tell. It's like a megaphone saying he's concerned.


Well, and he mentioned he's not a conservative. And I think that the Trump people are thinking it's going to be easy to recover some of those folks who currently tell pollsters there with RFK because he has been a fringe liberal lunatic for most of his life.

And there's an audience in American politics, maybe small, but there's an audience who believes there's a conspiracy for everything. I mean, there are people out there who believe that the stop sign in their neighborhood was put there by the Rothschilds, the Gettys and Colonel Sanders. I mean, that's the group.

And he needs to recover those people. And they're easy to get, when you consider what RFK has said during the course of his career. This is an easy thing for them to do to close that door.

BASH: Welcome, former Senator Scott Brown.

Tell me about -- you're friends with RFK Jr. Tell me about his entreaty to you to be his running mate.

FMR. SEN. SCOTT BROWN (R-MA): Well, he asked me to be his vice president. Certainly, it's something I considered.

I think -- respectfully, Scott, I think he's smart, intelligent, obviously has -- he's very passionate. You may not agree with him, but he believes...


BASH: Why'd you say no?

BROWN: It's not -- it's not -- we have so many differences, and I'm a Republican. But I wished him well, certainly.

That being said, there's a reason why Trump and Biden are going after him, Biden behind the scenes trying to challenge the ballot access. He's going to have ballot access. It's the first question I asked him. Are you going to have ballot access? He says, absolutely.

He's on Michigan, California. Michigan in the last election was 11,000 votes, OK, that was separated them. He's going to get way more than 11,000 votes.

BASH: You're a Republican. Do you think he's going to play spoiler?

BROWN: You know, I think he's -- it's hard. That's the question du jour. It depends on the state.

I think, in Michigan, it hurts Biden, quite honestly, and I think it helps Trump. In other states, it may be a little bit different. But he's going to get more than 11,000 votes, so he's going to play. He's polling at 12 percent, and he's probably going to be on the debate stage.


BASH: Can I just say, as you come in, that I was talking to somebody who's working on the Democratic side to try to stop RFK Jr.

KAREN FINNEY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. BASH: And the question I had was, if Trump is worried, why are you so worried? And the answer was, we just want -- we don't know how this is going to play out.


BASH: And we just want to define him and we want to try to pull votes away, no matter where they're coming.

FINNEY: Sure, 100 percent.

So, earlier this week, I mean, the story about the brain worm was very disconcerting, not just because of what he said about what -- how it impacted his cognitive abilities, which, as someone who has had brain surgery, that is a very serious question that Americans should get answers to if they're going to make him -- think they're going to vote for him for president.

But the fact that his answers shifted three or four times throughout the week kind of showed that they're not ready for prime time. It is not unreasonable to ask that question. And then, secondarily, he admitted in interviews this week that -- he said, yes, Joe Biden can't win if I'm in the race.

So his motivations are quite clear. And he is pandering to that part of the base that he thinks he's getting or the Trump base that he thinks he's getting. He also said this week he'd consider pardoning January 6 rioters.


So, again, he's -- this is craven politics, trying to play for both sides. And I think the Trump campaign is realizing what we realized quite some time ago. It's unclear. He's probably going to pull from both.

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He doesn't also have a strategy to actually get to 270. So he may get more than 11,000 votes in Michigan, but just winning Michigan is not enough to actually win the presidency.

You have to have ballot access on enough -- in enough states to actually get to 270. And so the question is, if you're a candidate and you're running and you can't get to 270, then what are you? You are a spoiler alert, because you literally can't win the presidency.

The other reason why both sides are paying attention to him is because he's inconsistent on his issues. So, one day, he's feeling this way about abortion. Then, the next day, he's feeling that way. And so in a media cycle where sometimes it's hard for voters to track all the issues, if you hear one ad about him when -- on one day, you may say, this is my guy.

But, actually, when -- if he got into office, he would do something totally different on the other side.


BROWN: Yes, but, Dana, may I...

BASH: Sure.

BROWN: First of all, he's going to get on more than just one state. And, obviously, it'll go to a House of Representatives if neither -- any of the candidates get to the 270.

But people don't like Trump or Biden. And they're looking for an alternative. And he comes across as authentic, as vibrant, and you may not agree with him, but he's an alternative to the two...


JENNINGS: I mean, is that how you run a campaign? You don't agree with anything I say, but you have to vote for me?

BROWN: It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter.


BROWN: It doesn't matter. He's going to get a substantial amount of votes.

JENNINGS: I'm not disputing that.


JENNINGS: But the question is about the Trump campaign strategy. Here.

He is -- Trump can easily knock this down. I'm less certain that Biden can knock it down. One of the things RFK did this week was go out and take an extremist position on abortion. And I'm not sure Biden can go out and refute that.

I mean, but Trump can go out and refute some of the things RFK is doing. And so I think it's just simply easy for Trump to get his people back, easier than it will be for Biden.


FINNEY: Can I...

BASH: Go ahead.

FINNEY: Just quickly on abortion, Biden can absolutely refute extremist positions on abortion.

JENNINGS: He's going to take a moderate position on abortion?

FINNEY: No, I said he can easily refute an extremist position on abortion.

JENNINGS: Do you think what RFK said was extremist or -- OK. FINNEY: Well, you said -- I'm using your words. You said extremist.

JENNINGS: I'm asking you what you think. You're a Democrat. What do you think?

FINNEY: I think it is inconsistent, and that concerns me deeply, because this is an issue for women in this country right now, where either you understand that a woman needs to be able to make that decision or you think government should. And there's no waffling on that.


JENNINGS: Well, he said -- that's what he said. That's what he said.

FINNEY: No, he said both things.

ALLISON: Both things.

FINNEY: He said both things.

ALLISON: I think what Joe Biden is able to do is actually take the position that the majority of Americans, both Democrats and Republicans, believe on the issue of abortion. And in the last two election cycles, '22 and '23, we have seen that to be true.

And they have been aligned with the Democrats on that.

BROWN: Listen, we -- in New Hampshire, we did it right. We -- they all work together. It's something that I think should be left to the states. And in New Hampshire, we have it right.

BASH: Before we go...


BASH: ... we're going to make a hard turn, but an important turn.


BASH: I know you wanted to talk about something that is coming up that is near and dear to your heart and something we cover on the show a lot.


So, Brittney Griner's book, "Coming Home," was -- is out this week. And she details beautifully, horribly the conditions under which she was held in Russia, gives a real viewpoint into what Russia under Putin, the dehumanization that she endured, the lack of what it is to live in a dictatorship, quite frankly, and just how she maintained her own humanity.

But I think it's a real -- it's important. I give her so much credit for being willing to dive back into that pain, so that we can remember, when we're talking about Russia and Putin and what he wants to do with Ukraine and when he's on the march, read that book and understand what life under him would be like.

BASH: Thank you for sharing. Thank you so much for being here.

ALLISON: Happy Mother's Day.


BASH: Thank you. Thank you.

And you, to Gail, and to your wife, to everybody.

Up next: She blazed a trail to become the first woman to lead FEMA, and it wasn't always easy.


CRISWELL: So, it was always a balance between demonstrating your confidence and your competence with being called the B-word, right?

BASH: Were you called that?

CRISWELL: Many times.




BASH: Welcome back to STATE OF THE UNION.

After a wave of deadly tornadoes, we traveled to Oklahoma with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to see the devastation firsthand. It's the latest in my series "Badass Women of Washington."


CRISWELL: Your home is OK? Your family?

This is just incredible to see that.


BASH (voice-over): Total destruction along the path of devastating tornadoes that ripped through these rural Oklahoma communities.

CRISWELL: Well, I'm so sorry that you're going through this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It's the only grocery store in our county, the only grocery store in our city.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we want to built back. It's 20 percent of our income.

BASH: We traveled with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell to survey the damage from multiple tornadoes in Marietta and Sulphur, Oklahoma, talking to local officials...

CRISWELL: Nice to see you.

BASH: ... to help assess their needs.

CRISWELL: Do you have any questions for me?




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sure I will later.



CRISWELL: I get it. It's a lot right now.

BASH: Before Criswell, only men ran FEMA.

(on camera): You are the 12th FEMA administrator.


BASH: First woman in the role.

How does that impact the way that you do your job?

CRISWELL: You know, when I first was asked to come in and do this job, I didn't really think about it.

But I like to go back and reflect on the first week that I was here. And one of my younger female employees had come up to me after a meeting. And she said: "A year ago, there were zero women in my chain of command between me and the president of the United States."

BASH (voice-over): Now there are more women in emergency management at all levels.

CRISWELL: So, just quickly, like, what's your biggest concern?

BASH: In Oklahoma, at Criswell's first meeting with state leaders about the tornadoes, women were in charge.

CRISWELL: Will they be able to go to school or so much impact that they're not going to be able to go to school?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're likely not to be able to go to school.

CRISWELL: So that means that those children won't have food.


CRISWELL: I know, as I was coming up in my career, it was always a balance between demonstrating your confidence and your competence with being called the B-word, right?

BASH (on camera): Were you called that?

CRISWELL: Many times.

BASH: To your face?


BASH: And what'd you say?

CRISWELL: I just pushed forward with, this is why I'm doing this. This is why I need to be here.

I go back a lot to even how I got started.

BASH (voice-over): She got started as a firefighter.

CRISWELL: I had actually had somebody talk me into joining the military and joining the Air National Guard, because I wanted to go back to college, and I didn't really have a means.

I was about to become a single mother. At the time, they said that they had bomb loading and firefighting. And so I went and I interviewed with both, and the bomb loaders looked really bored. The firefighters were having a lot of fun. And I said, I will give that a shot.

BASH: She was only the sixth woman firefighter in Aurora, Colorado.

(on camera): How old were your kids?

CRISWELL: So, I was 25 when I joined. And so my kids were -- they were 3 and 5.

BASH: So that must have been hard, just like it is for a single mom doing lots of different jobs.

CRISWELL: Mm-hmm. Yes. It's a balance, right?

BASH (voice-over): After 9/11, Criswell deployed with the Colorado Air National Guard to Kuwait and Qatar.

CRISWELL: We do have this first case of coronavirus.

BASH: She later managed New York City's emergency response there during the darkest days of the COVID pandemic.

GOV. KEVIN STITT (R-OK): Administrator.

CRISWELL: Nice to see you in person.


CRISWELL: Sorry it's under these circumstances.

STITT: Well, we appreciate you coming.

BASH: Her work then and now transcends politics and party.

STITT: When there's a disaster and there's people in need, we're all Americans. And that's, I think, the administrator's attitude. These are federal agencies that we have to work with regardless of who's in the White House.

CRISWELL: This kind of a partnership, this is absolutely critical to make sure we bring the right people into these communities to help with their specific needs.

Look at that. This is -- this is the building where they had the one loss of life.

BASH (on camera): Actually looking at this, hard to imagine that anybody survived. It's a miracle.


BASH (voice-over): She talks to locals trying to clean up and cope.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I'm screaming: "There's a tornado, everyone inside." I was screaming, "Jackson, please come in."

And I blinked and he was gone.

CRISWELL: I'm so sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) The hardest thing I have ever had to do was shut that door.

BASH (on camera): And what, as FEMA director, do you learn when you come to a place like this that, that you can't learn on a Zoom, on a phone call with your deputies who are here on the ground?

CRISWELL: You can't feel that emotion. You can't feel the heartache.

BASH: Why is that so important?

CRISWELL: Because it helps me get rid of the red tape. It helps me break down bureaucracy in order to ensure that it's more than numbers. It's people.

BASH (voice-over): Eliminating red tape at FEMA has been a top goal for Criswell.

Earlier this year, she succeeded in pushing through the biggest overhaul of the agency's relief programs in two decades, streamlining the process to get help to disaster victims and more money to survivors faster.

CRISWELL: I wanted us to really understand what it meant to put people first.

BASH: This job keeps her constantly on the road, but her other job, a grandmother and mother of two sons, keeps her centered.

CRISWELL: I deployed right after the 9/11 attacks. My orders said "for an undetermined amount of time."

I always wondered how much that was going to impact them. I remember that I brought them with me to my confirmation hearing. When they were with me that day, and you could see how proud they were and how successful they have both become, it really just gave me a really warm feeling as a mother.



BASH: Our thanks to Administrator Criswell.

And happy Mother's Day to her, as well as all the mothers here at STATE OF THE UNION, our excellent executive producer, Rachel Streitfeld, producers Cassie McNamara, Christie Johnson, Melissa Giaimo, plus Ruby Williams and Angelica Flores (ph), to my own mother, Francie -- I love you so much, mom -- and, of course, to all the mothers out there watching at home.

Up next, remembering a Washington giant, but, more importantly, a good man.



BASH: The world lost a very special man this week.

Jack Quinn, former White House counsel, passed away at the age of 74. I had the privilege of knowing him as more than just a D.C. lawyer. I knew him as a friend, a husband, who loved my dear friend Susanna, his wife of 17 years, with all his heart, and a father who adored his eight children and 12 grandchildren.

In recent years, he used his skills and experience as a Washington powerhouse to represent families of those killed on September 11. The organization 9/11 Families United released a statement mourning Jack and crediting him with helping pass the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act in 2016 -- quote -- "Jack had the courage to speak truth to power and fight for what is right. Rest peacefully, hero. You will be missed."

May his memory be a blessing.

Thank you for spending your Sunday morning with us.

"FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" starts next.