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Full transcript of "Face the Nation," Jan. 14, 2024

Face The Nation: Manchin, Kirby, Sununu
Face The Nation: Manchin, Kirby, Sununu 27:31

On this "Face the Nation" broadcast, moderated by Margaret Brennan: 

  • CBS News director of elections and surveys Anthony Salvanto
  • Ed O'Keefe, Robert Costa, Major Garrett and Cook Political Report editor Amy Walter
  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican
  • Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, a Democrat
  • 2024 Republican presidential candidate former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson
  • National Security Council spokesman John Kirby 

Click here to browse full transcripts of "Face the Nation."    

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm Margaret Brennan in Washington.

And this week on Face the Nation: It's Iowa caucus eve, but the traditional presidential campaign kickoff this year is anything but. In 2024, the starting line on the road to the Republican nomination is an icy one.

(Begin VT)

GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS (R-Florida) (Presidential Candidate): Negative-20, negative-22, and brave it for a few hours and go and caucus for me, I will be in there in that White House for eight years fighting for you.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: With subzero windchill temperatures predicted for Monday.

(Begin VT)

DONALD TRUMP (Former President of the United States (R) and Current U.S. Presidential Candidate): We have the worst weather, I guess, in recorded history, but maybe that's good, because our people are more committed than anybody else.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: But with the once-robust GOP field shrinking, few candidates are still committed.

(Begin VT)

NIKKI HALEY (R-Presidential Candidate): I don't play for second. I have never played for second. I'm not going to start now.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: What is it about Trump among GOP primary voters that has him more than 50 points over any other candidates in our new national poll?

We will have some striking insights into voters' thoughts on Trump's talk and his policies.

We will talk to GOP presidential contender and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin will also join us. And we will talk to White House National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby about the escalation of tensions in the Mideast and the growing controversy over Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's secret hospitalization.

It's all just ahead on Face the Nation.

Good morning, and welcome to Face the Nation.

We begin today not with what you do know, that it's very cold outside for most of the country and that former President Trump is looking strong in Iowa, based on our reporting and state polls.

We want to instead look at the bigger picture, that all three top GOP contenders begin the year with a lead over President Biden in our CBS News poll. Former President Trump is up too 50 to 48 percent. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has a three-point margin, 51 to 48 percent. Those two are both within the margin of error.

But it's former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley who has the biggest lead, eight points, over President Biden at 53 to 45 percent.

We turn now to CBS News executive director of elections and surveys Anthony Salvanto to tell us more.

Anthony, good to have you here.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That's a pretty dramatic advantage for Haley over Biden.

Why is she outperforming him, instead of Trump or DeSantis?

ANTHONY SALVANTO: Republican voters think it's Trump who has the best chance for them to beat Biden. Maybe they haven't seen this poll yet.

But, look, Haley is, on qualities that people say they want in a president, better or about even with Biden, things like empathy, things like ability to compromise, and toughness, where she leads and does just as well as the other two, DeSantis and Trump, right?

The other part of this, Margaret, is, just on straight demographics. She does well with women. She does better with independents. She does better getting people to cross over from Biden 2020 to her. All of that reflects some of Biden's underperformance with his Democratic base.

And then, finally, this point. On the economy, we still see voters telling us, really by 2-1, that they feel like they might be worse off under Biden than better off financially. And that's important, because it reflects this ongoing sting of what's happened with him and his ratings after inflation.

Even though voters are starting to say, like, they think the economy is starting to stabilize, a little bit of improvement there, he's not getting the political benefit from that, partly because it's about the rate of change. Inflation is slowing, but prices are still high.


ANTHONY SALVANTO: And that doesn't look like it's – his argument is resonating that well right now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But voters may not see this hypothetical head-to-head matchup, because your poll found President Trump with his biggest lead among GOP primary voters nationwide thus far this cycle, 55 points.

What's driving it?


Well, look, some of this is, he just spans different parts of the party and has appeal. So, for Republicans who want a tax cut, he's their guy. For Republicans who are MAGA, who want a more combative approach, who want that culture war, he's their guy.

And part of it, just by the numbers, is, he's got more strong supporters than anybody else, people who say they're considering only him, who will not change their minds. And that throughout this campaign has put a floor under his support that's been really hard for any other candidate to shake.

And, look, that part, in some sense, is not news, but, contextually, as we go into this primary season, it's important to then reiterate that this is something and a phenomena with this showing loyalty to an individual that we really have not seen for people in polling in U.S. politics other than for Donald Trump and that MAGA base.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So what about the content of what he is saying and his platform? I mean, he constantly says, "I am your retribution," for example. What do voters think that means?

ANTHONY SALVANTO: Well, the important thing here is comparing people who call themselves MAGA to the rest of the party, because the MAGA base is much more likely to say they like that idea, the idea of punishing or going after his political opponents if he gets into office.

These are the kinds of things that get the other campaigns to talk about authoritarianism, things that are potential threats to democracy. But in the eyes of the MAGA base, they bought the narrative that the election was stolen. They want to see pardons for the January 6 rioters.

And all of that means to them that they have had something taken from them, and they're trying to push back against it, and Donald Trump is their vehicle for that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: He's channeling something there.


MARGARET BRENNAN: But what about rhetoric like his remarks that immigrants are poisoning the blood of our country?

ANTHONY SALVANTO: A majority of Republicans say they agree with his statements.

And we looked at it both ways. When we told them Donald Trump said it, even more agreed with it. So, he has that effect. But they agreed with it anyway, even when we didn't note that Donald Trump had said it.

And, look, that's important because it also speaks…

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's tremendous.


And I think it speaks not just to issues with the border, but also to larger issues of race in this campaign. And I will point it out this way. When we ask people what they think of diversity efforts in the U.S., the people who feel that diversity efforts in the U.S. have gone too far are overwhelmingly voting for Trump. The people who feel that they haven't gone far enough are overwhelmingly for Biden.

And that tells you what that role of race is in the campaign. And that's an important dynamic, but not just when we look at the strong Trump support, but what sets up one of the key narratives going forward in the '24 campaign.


Anthony Salvanto, thank you.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Our CBS Mornings anchor Tony Dokoupil is in Iowa and spoke yesterday to former Governor Nikki Haley.

(Begin VT)

TONY DOKOUPIL: Iowans sometimes make their decision very late.


TONY DOKOUPIL: This is still an open ball game.


TONY DOKOUPIL: What's your closing argument to them?

NIKKI HALEY: Yes, I mean, the closing argument is, let's get rid of the chaos. Let's leave the old names of the past and let's move forward with a new conservative leader that's going to get our country back on track.

We can't go through four more years of chaos. We can't go through Trump or Biden anymore. Every – 75 percent of America said they don't want a Trump- Biden rematch. So, I think we need to go forward and give them something else. And that's what we're trying to do, is give them a new option.

TONY DOKOUPIL: I have been talking to voters for the past two weekends, and a lot of voters like you very much.


TONY DOKOUPIL: But they say they're hoping you will be a V.P. this time around, a V.P. to you know who.

How do you feel about that?

NIKKI HALEY: I don't play for second. I have never played for second. I'm not going to start now. I'm not interested in being vice president. I'm running to be president, and I'm running to win. And we will.

TONY DOKOUPIL: What's your message to those voters in particular who like you enough to be V.P., but right now are still stuck on Donald Trump?

NIKKI HALEY: Well, I think, look, if you want four more years of chaos, that's what you're going to get.

But what's more concerning is, if you look at those head-to-head polls, Trump and Biden are pretty much even. It's going to be a nail-biter of an election. We're going to be holding our breath. I don't want a President Kamala Harris.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: To talk more about the state of the contest, we turn to our CBS News political team in Iowa, Ed O'Keefe, Robert Costa, and Major Garrett. They're at GOP headquarters in Des Moines. And Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report is here with me in studio.

Ed, I want to start with you.

What's driving the decision of these Republican voters in Iowa?

ED O'KEEFE: Well, Margaret, happy Sunday to you.

If you talk to Trump voters, they reflect back the anger, the resentment, the desire for payback that the former president continues to reflect on the trail, most especially concerned about issues like border security, the future of immigration policy in this country, and the cost of things, inflation, reflecting back to us that they're concerned about gas prices, even though they're starting to come down, but also being able to own a home or even affordably rent an apartment.

You talk to Ron DeSantis' supporters, they generally agree with those views, but, in the back of their minds, they know that Donald Trump can't necessarily win a general election, so they're looking for someone else who can do that. Whether or not there are enough of those people here in Iowa is the big question for the Florida governor.

And I have been most struck by Nikki Haley supporters, who reflect back what we're seeing in the polling this morning. They're not angry. They're concerned about the future of the world, concerned that the president is allowing things in Ukraine and the Middle East and Asia to spiral out of concern – out of control.

They're concerned that Washington is needlessly spending money. In a word, they're concerned about the chaos, which is the word she uses so frequently, as she did there in her conversation with Tony and one that appears to be resonating here in the last few hours.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Bob Costa, I know you were in court earlier in the week with Mr. Trump.

And our polling shows those legal issues are a net positive for him with voters. Is the Trump campaign banking on that?

ROBERT COSTA: Margaret, good to be with you.

Usually, in the closing stretch of the Iowa caucuses, there's an ideological debate inside the Republican Party, a standoff over the future of the GOP. But, instead, we're seeing this explosion of grievance among Trump supporters. And inside the high command of the Trump campaign, they're playing to that.

And when I spoke to former President Trump in recent days in Lower Manhattan, I said, how do you see the campaign versus the courtroom? And he said "Bob, the campaign is the courtroom."

He will keep making these appearances, playing to his supporters and saying that he is with them, he's standing against an establishment he perceives as the enemy. And that, he hopes and his officials hope, will fuel his campaign in the coming weeks and if he makes it to the general election.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Major Garrett, you have covered a number of campaigns, and the adage from pundits is always, oh, national security doesn't really matter to voters.

But I want you to listen to something Donald Trump was asked last night in Iowa.

(Begin VT)

MAN: The world is in chaos, what happened with Yemen and the missile strikes the last few days, Ukraine, Palestine. We don't even know where the secretary of defense is right now. Are we on the brink of World War III?

DONALD TRUMP (Former U.S. President, 2024 Presidential Candidate): I think we're the closest that we have ever been. And, you know, Joe, this won't be a regular war. This is not going to be, as I say, army tanks running back and forth shooting each other. These are weapons of mass destruction, the likes of which nobody's ever seen.

I have seen. I have seen them. And this is obliteration. This is not a world war like we are used to. World War I, World War II were terrible, horrible. This is so much bigger than that. This is, like, annihilation.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: "I have seen them."

Major Garrett, it sounds like Trump is saying, "I alone can fix it."

MAJOR GARRETT: So, I have been covering Donald Trump since 2015. And my conversations way back then, Margaret, reminded me of something that he's always possessed, a fear and a fascination about nuclear weapons and nuclear war, a constant obsession with his, how to avoid it.

So that's one part of that answer. It's a legitimate one. Most American presidents in the nuclear age have felt that as well. But Trump is acutely fascinated by it and fearful of it. That's one of the reasons he began those negotiations, though unsuccessful, with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

But this is also an answer about a larger context in American political life. If you're not a Trump supporter, are you anxious about the future? Do you believe a reelected President Biden would be strong enough, fit enough, courageous enough to handle an unstable world?

Trump is answering that: No, he won't. I will be. You may not like me, but I will be strong and I will be vigorous.

That's one of the messages he's trying to convey with that annihilation answer.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I mean, it's just chilling, Amy, to hear some of the language that we are talking about being normalized on the campaign trail.

You said earlier this week it's kind of hard to get excited about Iowa and a contest where the front-runner is ahead by just so much. Is this just a glide path to Donald Trump securing the nomination of the party?

AMY WALTER (Editor in Chief, The Cook Political Report): Well, given the numbers that you all put out today, it sure looks that way, and every poll that we have seen out of Iowa suggests that as well, with the one road bump in the way being New Hampshire, in part because the New Hampshire electorate looks so different from Iowa's and then from the next state that has a significant primary, which is South Carolina.

There, you have, in those two states, more evangelical, more conservative Republican, New Hampshire more independent voters. That's the Nikki Haley voter right there in New Hampshire. So you can see her do well in a state like New Hampshire, but that's not going to give her the sort of momentum to go into a place like South Carolina that is going to look much more like what we're seeing in Iowa.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Despite it being her home state.

AMY WALTER: Despite it being her home state, it is still where Donald Trump has a great, deep well of support.

And I think the fascinating thing, when you look back, thinking about where we were in – at this point in 2020, and the debate on the Democratic side was all about who could beat Donald Trump.


AMY WALTER: And that's how, even though he lost those first couple of contests, Joe Biden was able to come back and win, because he was seen as the most electable.

It is very clear who the most electable candidate is in every poll, not just the CBS poll. And that's Nikki Haley, and that has done her no good, in part because Republican base believes that Trump is going to win anyway, that he won the last time around.


AMY WALTER: And when it's that close, which it was in 2020, it's just going to take a few thousand more votes to put it in Trump's direction.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Ed O'Keefe, you cover the Biden White House. Does the Biden campaign believe they have a problem?

ED O'KEEFE: Not yet necessarily, Margaret.

They, like our polling, like just about everyone else that's monitoring this closely, believe that, when all is said and done, former President Trump will be the Republican nominee. And they look at these numbers that continue to suggest that Nikki Haley is more electable and ask the question, at least some of them do, well, OK, let's say she's the nominee. Where's Donald Trump at that point?

What is he doing to help her or potentially hurt her by raising concerns? He would splinter the party, they believe. Ultimately, however, they are of the beliefs that most Americans, despite those that loyally watch us here on Face the Nation, aren't necessarily paying attention to this yet, don't believe that Donald Trump will ultimately prevail.

It looks like he might. And once that binary choice is before the American people again, the White House believes they will be able to win it. But they caution, it's not about today. The polling today doesn't matter. It's the polling next fall and on Election Day they are only going to be concerned about going forward.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Major Garrett, what would a second Trump presidency look like?

MAJOR GARRETT: Well, I guess the underlying part of your question, Margaret, is, would it be a threat to democracy? That's certainly something the president's – that is to say, President Biden's campaign has leaned very much into in the last week.

The bigger question for the country is, do we have a common definition of the future of democracy? And our polling, and everyone else's polling, but particularly our polling, suggests Republicans are now defining democracy and its orientation to Trump quite differently than the rest of the country.

We have talked about this rallying effect, this idea that prosecutors are somehow being too vigorous with former President Trump, whatever his underlying conduct was. Republicans have been rallying and moving in that direction consistently since January 6. They're hardening around support of Trump, seeing his grievances as their grievances.

And when Trump talks about retribution and doing something on behalf of himself, and not the American democratic experiment, Republicans are rallying to that. So, in that context, Margaret, democracy, constitutional republic, all our traditions and all our institutions seem to me and feel more threatened if there is a Trump reelection.

That's a conjecture, but it is not a conjecture in the dark. It's a conjecture that aligns perfectly with our polling and everyone else's.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, Bob, if this isn't a traditional campaign, what do we need to expect from the candidates in terms of what they're actually going to be able to do to secure the nomination?

ROBERT COSTA: Look for Trump to try to assert himself as someone who's comfortable with power and wants a revival.

Back in 2016, many of his allies told me he stumbled into the presidency. Now, years later, they say he's ready to use executive power in a sweeping way, mass deportations, shake up U.S. foreign policy. This election is shaping up to be a reckoning on American democracy and what a Trump return to the White House would say about the United States.

But so many of Trump – Trump's rivals at this point are just not ready to wade into those waters. They're trying to stick to their talking points, and we will see if that's enough for them to catch up.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Gentlemen, thank you for joining us from Iowa. Amy Walter, thank you for being here with us, helping us make sense of it all.

Face the Nation will be back in a minute. Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We're joined by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin.

Senator, good to have you here…

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN (D-West Virginia): Good to be with you, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: … in person.


MARGARET BRENNAN: You've known Joe Biden for a very long time. You've known Donald Trump. What does Biden need to do to reverse this trend?

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: Well, I think, basically, speaking to the American people on what has been accomplished, what they want to accomplish, the mistakes they've made, and how they're going to correct them.

People just want to know the truth. You know, if you made a mistake, say, hey, we made a mistake, we tried something, and it didn't work out. I think they have moved too far to the left. They need to come back to the center or center-left. That's where America is.

America is between the center, center-left, center-right. That's where most of the voters are. And that's where the decisions on who's going to be elected, that's what's going to happen. It's not going to happen from the extremes. But we're playing off of the extremes. That's what people are just worn out. Enough is enough.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, and you've said enough for you. You are leaving Congress, but…

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: Right. I have tried everything I could. I'm going on my 14th year, and I have done everything. And I can tell you, we cannot fix it…

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you haven't tried everything. You know that question.

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: Well, we cannot fix it in Washington. It won't be fixed, because the business model.

And that's what my daughter Heather and I have put together, Americans Together.


SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: And the reason for that is trying to give people hope in the middle that they have a voice and a place to go.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you said you're trying to travel the country and suss out this moderate group.

Where – where do you direct them? What do you – do you have…


MARGARET BRENNAN: … nomination, an endorsement?

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: Well, right now, this is – this is not – this is not a short game. This is a long game, right?

If you're going to get – it's – it's the character of the person you send to Washington, who you're voting for and within your state or your district, and if that person has the character to where they put – they put their country before their party… MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: … they put their service before themself, all these types of things.

And people can detect that. But they have – get that person in the game. And, right now, with the gerrymandering, the way it's controlled, you get 383, 390 districts already cooked. You've got the whole thing as far as the primaries and how you could change those to more of a majority primary, an open primary, if you will.

It gets a person who doesn't have the political backing maybe or the fund - - financing, but has the best character and the best ideas, gives them a chance. There's many ways it can be done. But it has to be really pushed from the outside.

The business model in Washington is too darn good for the Democrat and Republican parties. They're doing too good. They're getting rewarded for bad behavior. And too much money's coming in.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're trying to push President Biden towards the middle.


MARGARET BRENNAN: You – you've said: "He's been pulled so far to the left, to the extreme left, as far as liberal, makes no sense at all. It's not the person we thought was going to bring the country together."

That's pretty harshly critical of…


SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: Well, I'm – I mean…

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you going to vote for him?

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: … it's constructive criticism.

Let me – let me make very clear. I love my country too much to vote for Donald Trump. I love my country too much. And I think it would be very detrimental to my country. I want to make sure that people have a choice, but also understanding the person with the character in this and that.

So, we have to see what happens on Super Tuesday. I think, by then, you're going to know who's in the game, where we stand.

MARGARET BRENNAN: By March. And you expect…


MARGARET BRENNAN: … to enter the race?

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: I think – I think. No.

I think that we'll find out. You just have to find out what's going on. If there's a movement, if there's a movement for third party, I think is what you're asking about…


SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: … can that movement make a difference?

I'm not going to be a spoiler, never have been and never will be. But people want options, or they want change.


SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: So we got to see what comes. And by then, I think things will hopefully sort itself out.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you're not closing the door on running yourself?


MARGARET BRENNAN: You get asked this question all the time.

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: I'm going to do everything I can to save my country.


SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: And I will do whatever it takes. And I will help whoever. And I will support whoever that I think can best help this country come back to this commonsense, sensible middle, which is center-left, center-right, working together with a majority.


SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: You can't govern from extremes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said the president could fix mistakes. What's the mistake you think he's making?

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: Well, I think the border. The border has to be fixed. And you know what? If Congress…

MARGARET BRENNAN: There are talks in the Senate to do just that.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you on board with what the White House is proposing?

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: I – Margaret, I agree with you.

We were told before Christmas, we're going to stay here and get this done. Then, all of a sudden, OK, you can go home now, because we're getting some language done now, but we're writing, putting – putting pen to it. We're going to come back, and, as soon as we come back – that was last week – we'll have something.

Now, this is the second week. This is the greatest crisis we're facing right now is the border, and it's dangerous. And if Congress cannot do its job, because the perfect is the enemy of the good, it's just not perfect enough for the Democrats or Republicans, or it's gone too far or not far enough, the president has to step forward and declare an emergency.

I don't believe there should be any more paroles at the border until we can get a handle on what's going on. And it is – it's just extremely bad right now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We have to take a break.


MARGARET BRENNAN: But I want to follow up on what you just said, because I think you just said the president needs to take executive action.


MARGARET BRENNAN: So, let's let you finish that thought on the other side of this commercial break.




MARGARET BRENNAN: CBS News will have coverage of the Iowa caucuses all day tomorrow starting on CBS Mornings and continuing on our streaming network.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back with a lot more Face the Nanch – Nation.

I almost said…



We want to pick up where we left off with Senator Manchin.

Senator, before the break you were saying you think the president needs to do more on the border. The president did say this weekend he wants to make major changes. He has negotiations going on. Are you saying put aside that deal and just take an executive action?

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: I'm saying put a deadline. If it doesn't happen this week, this is such a crisis. And it's a dangerous crisis at the border. The president might have to take executive action, declaring a crisis – national crisis, a national crisis at the border, and do what needs to be done to shut that border down and secure it until we can get a handle, or until legislature - the legislature can come to an agreement. But leaving it open, thinking that we're all going to be kumbaya and it's all going to come together, is not the prudent course to take, I believe.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you think he needs to get more directly involved? Because this is what Republicans say has to get done to unlock Ukraine and Israel and Taiwan aid.

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: I'm just saying my – the crisis at the border is the greatest crisis we face in America.


SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: The dangerous crisis that we're facing now. And I believe very strongly that border needs to be secured. And to secure it, close it down. If you can't get a pathway that legislature agrees on.


SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: I think this week would be a deadline because were we told before Christmas it would be done.


SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: We were told, come back it would be done. Now the second week of coming back and still not done. And who knows.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You are on the Armed Services Committee.


MARGARET BRENNAN: As of this morning, the secretary of defense is still in the hospital.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We learned he – this week he's receiving treatment for prostate cancer. He's been in the hospital since January 1st. The president didn't find out about the cancer diagnosis until we were told January 9th.


MARGARET BRENNAN: A Democratic congressman, Seth Moulton, former Marine, says this is a breakdown in the chain of command. Austin should be fired. Do you agree?

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: Well, there's - there's - there's definitely been a breakdown. We need to find out more on the facts. And we will this week. We're supposed to be briefed on that this week to find exactly what happened.

But let me just say, my – my prayers are with Lloyd Austin and his family for his speedy recovery and full recovery. Here's a man that's dedicated his entire life to the defense of our country. If a mistake was made, we can fix that. Was there a breakdown, and basically it was - we were left rudderless, I don't believe so, but we'll find out. Decisions can be made later. But you don't change right now and you don't throw a person out that has dedicated his entire life and done a good job of giving everything he has to it. He said he's – he made a mistake. He shouldn't have done it. OK.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. President Biden said it was a lapse in judgment.

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: Most certainly.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But in terms of national security, the fact that there seems to be this confusion, or lack of communication with the White House by the Pentagon, does that trouble you?

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: Well, let me just say this, we saw the attacks on the Houthis back. OK, that's been a coalition being put together. That took coordination. Somebody's still operating, OK, even in this lapse that we see.

But before I'm going to draw fire on that or make a decision, I want to see the rest of the facts. And it's corrections being made. And has it been there for some time and it just happened to come up - come up at this time when a person, who's very private, made a mistake, thought he had a very simple procedure, or it wasn't as serious as it turned out to be. So, we can fix all that.

But here, again, his health and well-being is what I'm most concerned about. And his dedication to our country. I think we owe something to make sure we have the facts before we put politics. Politics is always going to ask – go for someone's head. Always does. And this toxic atmosphere is what people don't like anymore.


SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: So, just have some civility to how we handle - handle ourself and our concerns we have for people.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We are definitely for civility. Senator, you're welcome back anytime.

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: Thank you, Margaret.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Today marks 100 days since Hamas led a brutal attack on Israel. Our Charlie D'Agata reports on the growing conflict in the Middle East.


CHARLIE D'AGATA (voice over): Just days after the massive U.S.-led Red Sea assault, involving American F-18 fighter jets and British typhoons taking off from Cypress, Houthi militants carried out drills in Yemen yesterday, less a serious military flex than a show of defiance. Former Major General Amos Yadlin was the head of Israel's military intelligence and a former fighter pilot who flew several missions behind enemy lines.

FORMER MAJOR GENERAL AMOS YADLIN, FORMER HEAD OF ISRAEL'S MILITARY INTELLIGENCE: I have a suspicion that it's not enough. That it's not enough to destroy the capabilities. It may affect the intentions.

CHARLIE D'AGATA (voice over): The very escalation the U.S. had sought to avoid, a direct military confrontation with Iran-backed adversaries.

CHARLIE D'AGATA: Four months into this conflict that started over the tiny strip of land that is Gaza has now expanded to a more global arena, including here on the Red Sea.

CHARLIE D'AGATA (voice over): Retaliation for weeks of Houthi attacks on commercia ships, in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

One hundred days into that war, the fight rages on. Almost 24,000 people have been killed according to Hamas health officials, many children among them.

Winter now piling misery on the hundreds of thousands of displaced residents, hungry and, aid agencies say, some facing starvation.

Amid growing international condemnation that the toll is too high, Israeli officials say the world needs reminding Hamas started this fight. This morning, thousands gathered in Tel Aviv for 100 seconds of silence, including the families of those still held hostage, not knowing whether their loved ones are even still alive.


D'AGATA (on camera): Amid increasing pressure for even a temporary ceasefire, Margaret, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the nation last night, saying we will continue this war until the end. We're on a path to victory and we won't stop until we achieve victory.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Charlie D'Agata in Israel.

We're joined now by Admiral John Kirby of the White House National Security Council.

It's good to have you here.

ADM. JOHN KIRBY (White House National Security Council): Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We received that report about two Navy SEALs missing off the coast of Somalia. They were attempting to board a small ship believed to be carrying weapons from Iran to Yemen. What is the status?

JOHN KIRBY: As far as we know, that - that search is still ongoing for those - for those two sailors that are in the water. And we hope to get some updated information today. But we're obviously watching this very closely.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is directly related to what is going on?

JOHN KIRBY: This was not related to the strikes in Yemen. This was normal interdiction operations that we've been conducting for some time to try to disrupt that flow of weapon supplies to Yemen. So, it's not - not related to the strikes that we took against the Houthis.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But still, in this region. The Houthis, as you just mentioned there, say the motivation here is they're trying to get back at Israel's allies. That's the justification they're using for attacking some of these ships. Does the U.S. access that these coalition strikes will deter the Houthis, or are you bracing for retaliation in an open-ended conflict?

JOHN KIRBY: I think it would be pollyannish for us to think that there couldn't or may not be some sort of retaliatory strike by the Houthis. We're watching this very, very closely. We've taken the requisite, necessary precautions in the region to make sure we're ready for that, if that should occur.

These strikes were meant to disrupt and degrade their ability to conduct these strikes. And so we think that we had good effect on that. We're still assessing the - the battle damage assessment of those strikes, but we think we had good effect. We'll see what happens.

The - the Houthis have a choice to make here now, Margaret. And the right choice is to stop these reckless attacks. And no matter what they say, this is not about punishing Israel. I mean one of the ships they took a shot at yesterday was Panama flag that it was taking Russia oil. It had nothing to do with Israel.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, it may be an open-ended conflict? We don't know if deterrence has been established.

JOHN KIRBY: Nobody wants a conflict with the Houthis. We're not looking for a conflict with Yemen here. We're trying to get these attacks to stop.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you used to work very closely with the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin.


MARGARET BRENNAN: And as we were just talking about, everyone is hoping he pulls through with this battle with cancer healthy and strong. But why is he still in the hospital? If he's able to work, why does he still need to be at Walter Reed?

JOHN KIRBY: Well, again, I'm not - I'm not his physician, so I want to be careful. But my understanding is that his - his – he's following his doctor's orders and in consultation with their views in terms of what kind of additional care he needs. And we'll - we'll see, you know, when he can get released. But, obviously, they still feel like he - he may need some additional care. I understand that part of that is just physical therapy.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, OK. Does the president talk to him on a daily basis, because I think one of the things that surprised a lot of people, knowing what a tinder box the Middle East is, Europe is, and the concern about China, was how infrequently there was direct contact between the White House and the defense secretary for that entire period of time at the end of December through January.

JOHN KIRBY: There's routine regular communications between the president and the secretary of defense, as well - as well with the secretary of state.

MARGARET BRENNAN: How do you not know that he - (INAUDIBLE).

JOHN KIRBY: And - and normally - like, for instance, the – some of the strikes we took on Christmas Day – Christmas night and then a few days later were preapproved. Secretary Austin was part of that discussion. He was part of the discussion from his hospital room when we took these sites against these Houthis sites just a couple of nights ago. I mean he's actively involved and engaged. And I think it's important for people to remember that the cabinet officials don't have to sit and talk every single day to make every decision. A lot of the work that gets done in national security is done at the staff level.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. But there is a chain of command here.

JOHN KIRBY: Of course there is.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the commander in chief didn't know that his defense secretary was this ill.

JOHN KIRBY: And that's a problem. And the president has spoken to that. That that is not the way it's supposed to be. It's certainly something we need to get more answers to. And the Pentagon is investigating this and - and we'll see what comes out of that. But that - that is not the way the process is supposed to work, that is right.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, as we acknowledge here, it's been 100 days since that Hamas attack on Israel that sparked where we are now.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Does the U.S. need to press Israel harder to move into the low intensity conflict they say they intend to move toward?

JOHN KIRBY: I can tell you - and Secretary Blinken just came from the region – that we have been talking to them intensely about a transition to low intensity operations. We believe it's the right time for that transition, and we're talking about doing that.

Now, they have done some precursory steps to try to kind of get to that point. They were pulling some troops out. They're relying a little less on air strikes. But we believe that - look, any military campaign you go through phases. And the next logical phase here, as they have put pressure on Hamas leadership, is to get to lower intensity operations, more targeted, more precise raids, less air strikes. We believe it's time to make that transition, and we have had that conversation with them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Time to make that transition because it's now a detriment to U.S. national security to be giving them cover for this long?

JOHN KIRBY: Because it's the right thing to do in this military campaign against Hamas. They have put pressure on leadership. They have gone after that leadership. They have been able to go after some of the resourcing and infrastructure that Hamas uses to conduct these attacks.

We're not saying, let your foot up off the gas completely and don't keep going after Hamas. It's still a viable threat. They have every right and responsibility to go after that. It's just that we believe the time is coming here very, very soon for a transition to this lower intensity phase.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. Because you know even Democratic senators like Chris Van Hollen have said, the quote in "Axios" is, "at every juncture the Netanyahu government has given Biden the finger." That the White House is just being told, we don't care.

JOHN KIRBY: We have had intense conversations with the Israelis. We know that those conversations have had effects, Margaret. I mean they went into north Gaza with a much smaller force than they originally planned to because we gave them advice about, well, our experiences were in places like Mosul and Fallujah. We – we've seen them now establish humanitarian corridors, we've seen them drop leaflets telling people where to go, where not to go. I mean that's basically telegraphing your punches. And not a lot of modern militaries would do that.

I'm not saying it's perfect. And we're certainly not walking away from the need to reduce civilian casualties and get more humanitarian aid in. It's getting in a couple hundred trucks a day, not enough.


JOHN KIRBY: And we're going to keep that - we're going to keep having those conversations with them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you so much for coming and joining us in studio.

JOHN KIRBY: Yes, ma'am.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be back in a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We go back now to the Republican presidential primary contest and candidate Asa Hutchinson, who is joining us from Des Moines.

You were, sir, a two-term governor. You helped found Homeland Security. You ran the DEA. You were a member of Congress. But Donald Trump has remade your party. How do you define who your supporters are?

ASA HUTCHINSON (2024 GOP Presidential Candidate): Well, first of all, you're correct, he has redefined the Republican Party, and not in a good way. And whenever you look at what I'm trying to do is draw attention to the fact that Donald Trump is a weak candidate for us going into the general election. I think the CBS poll that you cited today reflected that. The one person that ought to enjoy that poll is Joe Biden, with Trump having that kind of a lead in the primary.

My responsibility, and other candidates, is to take on the frontrunner if you don't agree that he's the right one. We've been doing that. And there might be a short-term price for that. But long-term, fear, fear-mongering and grievances only take you so far. And so that is the sign of a weak candidate as you go further into this election year.

So, the voice is critically important to alert people that we can't mislead our voters and say January 6th was somehow a patriotic act. It was an attack on our Capitol, the rule of law and Congress. And we cannot buy into that misleading by Donald Trump.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, sir, our CBS polling shows 81 percent of Republican primary voters say they agree with the statement that immigrants are poisoning the blood of country. What do you think of that statement? And - and why is that resonating with self-identified Republican voters?

ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, because there's incredible concern about the border. As you talk to voters here in Iowa, they're number one concern is the economy. Equal to that is border security.

And so, I don't like his inflammatory language. I would never use that. Immigrants are important to our country. But we have to have the legal process and people are upset with the Biden administration and the porous border. That's why I can make the case effectively that I'm the only one running for president who's actually had that responsibility of securing the border. That resonates as well. And I would rather talk about it in terms of what we need to do versus the pajority (ph) of rhetoric that really misleads people and hurts people.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Fentanyl is driving one of the deadliest drug crisis in this country's history. And most of that, I think you know, comes in through those legal ports of entry into the United States. But most of your competitors are squarely blaming China, squarely blaming Mexico. They do have roles here, as you know. But how would you deal with the overall crisis in America?

ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, you have to do it by partnering with Mexico to go after the cartels, who are responsible for bringing the fentanyl in. They should be declared foreign terrorist organizations.

But your point is very well taken. They're smuggling there through the port of entry. And I saw Senator Manchin talking about, we need to close down the border. What's he talking about? Is he talking about the ports of entry or between the ports of entry? And surely you don't want to shut down all of our commerce. It would hurt America if we did that. And so we've got to use better technologies and you've got to partner with Mexico and use economic pressure to accomplish that.

And then we have – we cannot neglect the importance of educating our young people about the risk of buying a Percocet pill on the street and how that could be laced with fentanyl.


ASA HUTCHINSON: And we've got to increase our drug treatment resources. All of that's a part of my plan based up on my experience as head of the DEA.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When you say economic pressure on Mexico, are you talking about shutting down temporarily transit between the two, as President Biden had to do in December, or are you talking about putting tariffs on Mexico, like Donald Trump says he wants to do?

ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, neither. We're going to be returning manufacturing back from China. And the president can help lead and say, some of that's going to wind up in Mexico and our economic partnership's important. But as president, I will discourage that return of manufacturing to Mexico if they don't support the rule of law and partner with us. So, there's a different – different level of economic pressure.

And, sure, I think that we have to take strong measures to get their attention to help us. But I think you can do that without hurting American businesses that rely upon that cross border commerce.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Asa Hutchinson, thank you for joining us today.

And we turn now to governor, and Nikki Haley supporter, Chris Sununu, who joins us from New Fields, New Hampshire.

Good to have you back with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: So, Governor, Donald Trump won New Hampshire's primary in 2016. It legitimized his campaign. It helped launch him to the presidency. He's leading again in the New Hampshire polls. So, is this really just about Nikki Haley potentially coming in second place?

CHRIS SUNUNU: No. No, not at all. Look, I mean, I – the media has been – has told the world that Donald Trump was going to win every state and run away with this. It wasn't even going to be a race. It, obviously, is a race. Nikki Haley's the only candidate surging in Iowa and in New Hampshire.

You know, the fact that if Nikki can post a strong second here, that would - that's great, and we're going to do that. But now there's even a chance of kind of shattering the presumptions that Donald Trump's going to run away with this. And that happens right here in New Hampshire. She can challenge him to beat - to win this state, go into her home state with a – nearly a month of campaigning there.

She knows how to win there. And that, again, just breaks down this assumption by the whole county that it's - it's - that it's Trumps to be had.


CHRIS SUNUNU: So, by doing that, you kind of hit a re-set, if you will, on the entire campaign narrative and put Nikki right at the top of the heap.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you said recently that if your candidate doesn't win the nomination, you would still support the party nominee. But back in June when you said you personally decided not to run for president, you said, "if Trump wins, Republicans will lose again. He didn't deliver on his promises to drain the swamp, secure the border, instill fiscal responsibility. He has numerous investigations. He's peddling conspiracy theories."

So, why do you no longer have such a strong conviction?

CHRIS SUNUNU: I absolutely do. Look, al that stands today -

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you would support him if he's the nominee?

CHRIS SUNUNU: I would support him, but - yes, I never said I wouldn't support him. I - and we never said we wouldn't support the Republican nominee. But, understand, he's the weakest candidate to go up against Donald Trump.

MARGARET BRENNAN: No, but you said he would be harmful.

CHRIS SUNUNU: Yes, but I'm – but I didn't say I wasn't going to support him. Republicans are going to support him. This would be a nail-biter race come November. With Nikki Haley at the top, she wins by ten - 10 points. It's a fundamentally different argument because you get the Senate, you get the House seats, you get the governorships, you get all the way down the ticket, the Republicans win. Donald Trump is simply the weakest candidate. And so, again, that's the opportunity that Nikki brings to table.

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. I'm sorry, you're saying you would still support the weakest candidate, even though it would hurt your party in down ballot races just to be consistent?

CHRIS SUNUNU: No, it - Margaret, we're talking about the general election here.


CHRIS SUNUNU: Trump versus Biden, right? Do you think I'm going to video for Joe Biden with what he's done to this country, with what he's done with - with inflation and crush middle – middle American families? I think Trump's the weakest nominee and would have a - a tough time beating Biden for sure. But we're going to support the Republican nominee. But at the end of the day, that's why Nikki Haley's surging. That's why so many people are getting behind. That's why, again, you can sit – I tell the folks in Iowa and New Hampshire, you can sit on the couch and wait to see what happens, or you can go caucus for Nikki Haley in Iowa. You can make sure you vote in New Hampshire. The higher the voter turnout, the better chance there is of defeating Donald Trump. And that happens.

Don't wait for a court case. Don't wait for external factors that aren't going to happen. That's going to happen at the - at the ballot box. And that's the opportunity over the next ten days to turn this entire narrative around that Trump's just going to run away with this thing. Nikki's the opportunity for the Republican Party.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, 2022 was the most dangerous year for overdoses in New Hampshire since 2017, which was the same year Donald Trump called your state a drug infested den. What do you think - on the serious matter of addiction in this country, what is happening in your state that has had addiction specifically, now with fentanyl, only continued to be a problem through these administrations?

CHRIS SUNUNU: Well, yes, again, you're looking at small data. Since 2017, fentanyl-driven deaths in this country had have exceeded 60 percent increase. We've gone down. We've actually gone down. And - and our numbers will be lower than '22 even again this year.

So, our model is actually breaking the national trends. Our model is one where we provide rural access to care. We're not just pumping more money into old systems. We've rebuilt our entire system around it. We used to be one of the number one, number two in terms of drug and fentanyl driven deaths in the country. We're now around 23, 24.

So, again, we have a lot of work to do. The entire country does. But understand, the entire country has skyrocketed where we've actually gone down and broken that mold. I think we have a terrific model here. It's working. It's going to take time. You then implement that around mental health services as well. You implement that around all the other services.

The majority of services in this country are focused on the inner cities. It's wrong. It's not the best way to do it. You have to have that rural access to care, especially around fentanyl and overdoes and, yes, xylazine (ph), all these other new drugs that are kind of coming onto the mark.


CHRIS SUNUNU: We've been on the forefront of that stuff.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor, we wish you luck with that. Thank you for your time this morning.

We'll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That's it for us today. Thank you for watching. For FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.


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