On this "Face the Nation" broadcast moderated by Margaret Brennan:
- Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner
- Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina
- Congressman James Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina
- Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova
- Victoria Nuland, undersecretary of state for political affairs
Clickto browse full transcripts of "Face the Nation."
MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm Margaret Brennan. And today on Face the Nation: a winter whiteout in parts of New England, as a blizzard with hurricane-force winds rocks the Northeast.
Plus, we will talk with former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb about the new Omicron variant. How concerned should you be?
Then: President Biden vows he will make good on his promise for an historic pick for the Supreme Court, as Justice Stephen Breyer announces his retirement. We will talk to two key players when it comes to the confirmation. South Carolinians Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Jim Clyburn will be with us.
Overseas, Ukraine's president insists the showdown with Russia just isn't as dire as the U.S. and Europeans warned. We will have a report from Eastern Ukraine and check in with Ukraine's ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, and one of the Biden administration's top diplomats, Ambassador Victoria Nuland. It's all just ahead on Face the Nation.
Good morning, and welcome to Face the Nation. There's a lot to get to today, but we begin with that massive winter storm that walloped the Northeast, bringing with it at least two feet of snow, hurricane-force winds and coastal flooding. Our Mola Lenghi reports from Boston -- Mola.
MOLA LENGHI: Well, good morning, Margaret. It was a relentless and historic single-day snowstorm here in Boston. There was more snow here yesterday than the city averages the entire month of January.
Throughout Massachusetts, plows faced whiteout conditions, as the rate of the blinding snowfall made it a challenge for those cleanup crews to keep up. Now, the storm also whipped up waves Saturday, battering the entire New England coastline. Images from space show the bomb cyclone bearing down on the Northeast, dumping more than two feet of snow. Winds gusted as high as 83 miles per hour on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. A couple hundred thousand homes and businesses lost power in the state, and tens of thousands are still without power today.
A majority of flights, thousands of them, were canceled at major airports in the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast. Now, this morning, the snow has finally let up, but we're not yet in the clear, with much of the region now digging out and concerned about a deep freeze.
The entire Eastern Seaboard was somehow, some way impacted by this storm system, as far south as Florida, which felt freezing temperatures. Now, plows are working on the roads again this morning. They continue to do that, trying to clear them, not only for the utility crews that have to restore power, but also getting them ready for the Monday morning work and school commutes -- Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mola Lenghi in Boston, thank you. We turn now to the COVID-19 pandemic, where, despite a decline in hospitalizations and new cases, deaths are still rising, and the virus is still highly transmissible. Community spread is in the high range across the country, and a new variant of Omicron has raised new concerns. Mark Strassmann reports.
MARK STRASSMANN (voice-over): Finally, a COVID update not steeped in dread.
JEFF ZIENTS (White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator): We continue to move toward a time when COVID won't disrupt our daily lives, a time when COVID is no longer a crisis.
MARK STRASSMANN: New COVID cases down sharply, hospitalizations down encouragingly, but Omicron's overall milder impact comes with a qualifier:
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY (CDC Director): Milder does not mean mild. And we cannot look past the strain on our health systems and substantial number of deaths.
MARK STRASSMANN: A wintry sorrow. We're now averaging 2,300 COVID deaths a day, many preventable.
WOMAN: We have been trying to scream at the top of our lungs to say how bad it is.
MARK STRASSMANN: Roughly 100 million eligible Americans have yet to get fully vaccinated.
GOVERNOR MIKE DEWINE (R-Ohio): We have done everything that we could. Ultimately, the decision does come back down to the individual, what choice they want to make.
MARK STRASSMANN: After two months of runaway infections, Omicron is generally relaxing its headlock on American life. Only nine states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, still require indoor masking, regardless of vaccination status. San Francisco will ease its mask mandate starting Tuesday. And, in Roanoke, Virginia:
MAN: It's time to stop refusing parents their right to parent.
MARK STRASSMANN: The school board agreed. Masking is optional starting next month. But day care centers remain worrisome, with kids too young for vaccines. The CDC's new guidance: Providers should get boosted and tested at least once a week.
MARK STRASSMANN: Something to keep an eye on, a new subvariant nicknamed Stealth Omicron.Detected in roughly half the states, preliminary findings show it's even more contagious. This truly is the virus that wouldn't leave -- Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mark Strassmann, thank you. We go now to former FDA commissioner and Pfizer board member Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who made it out of the snowstorm in Connecticut and down here to Washington, D.C. this morning. That is dedication, doctor. Thank you.
DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Thank you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: There is a new variant of concern BA2. The CDC says it's already here in the United States. How concerned do we need to be?
DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB: You know, the question is, does this change the decision space? I don't think it does. I don't think it really changes the narrative. It maybe, perhaps extends the tail on the decline that we're seeing across the country. There's some critical questions. Is it more contagious? It appears to be more contagious. Data out of Denmark from the Serum Institute suggests it's about 1.5 times more contagious than the strain of Omicron that has made it around the US–
MARGARET BRENNAN: which is already so transmissible.
DR. GOTTLIEB: Exactly. Does it evade our immune system? Does it evade the immunity that we've acquired from Omicron infection or the vaccines? Most of the evidence so far, it's preliminary, suggests it does. And in fact, there's data out of the U.K. that suggests that a fully boosted person may be more protected against this new variant than they were against the original strain of Omicron. And then the final question is, is it more virulent? Is it more dangerous? And so far, based on what we've seen out of Denmark and the U.K., which are collecting very good data on this, it doesn't appear to be a more virulent strain.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So if you had Omicron, can you be reinfected with this version?
DR. GOTTLIEB: You should be protected. So the mutations in this new version are not in the receptor binding domain on the spike protein. That's the portion of the spike protein that we develop our best antibodies against that neutralize the virus. Most of the mutations are in a separate part of the spike protein called the N-terminal domain. So if you had Omicron infection, you should have protection against subsequent infection from this new variant. That's why I don't think this is going to create a huge wave of infection. What's likely to happen is as we were coming down, and coming down quite sharply in parts of the Northeast, Florida, the mid-Atlantic, you might see as this new strain starts to pick up, you might see that we start to slow down in that decline, but the decline will happen nonetheless. Right now, it represents probably about five percent of infections in the US, and we have so much Omicron immunity that's probably going to be a backstop against this really taking off.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you know, we've talked about it there every time that there is an infection, these child care centers have to shut down. That creates practical problems for parents who want to go out and participate in the economy. They want to show up for work. I mean, this is a drag for the country. The CDC issued new guidance to child care centers. It recommended toddlers remain masked. It lowered the recommendation for isolation post-infection to about five days. Is this prudent? Is this good health policy along with economic policy?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Look, I think they're doing all they can do, but the guidance really focuses on trying to prevent spread within the daycare center. I think we need to focus a little bit more attention on trying to prevent introduction into those settings, because once you get an infection in that setting it's hard to control. You know, you've got kids who don't wear masks very well. I think it's hard to ask a two or three year old to wear a mask. Even if you keep them in social pods, they're going to play together, so it's hard to control transmission within that setting. I think we should be focusing more on trying to keep the infection out in the first place.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, but to that point, and you know, because I ask you almost every week because my own kids can't get vaccinated, that that's just going to continue to be a risk right until the youngest children, four and under can get a vaccine. So this portion of the puzzle, and if a vaccine is greenlit for the youngest Americans, does it unlock everything else? Does this start to move us back to normal?
DR. GOTTLIEB: I don't think it unlocks everything else for a couple of reasons. Number one, a lot of- we're seeing a lot of parents with young kids aren't getting their kids vaccinated. Only about 25 percent of kids five to 11 have been vaccinated. It's been very disappointing. About 18 percent have been fully vaccinated. So I suspect that there's going to be some hesitation with the youngest kids as well. We can't fully explain it. Also, while the vaccines prevent infection, so a fully boosted adult has probably a 50 percent lower chance of getting infected in the first place with that vaccine. They're not- They're not 90 percent protective and probably in the younger kids, they're going to be a little less protective against infection. So you're still going to see kids be able to get infected even if they're vaccinated. What the vaccine is going to do is protect them from bad outcomes. And we've seen a lot of bad outcomes with kids. There is some indication if you listen to federal health officials that they may be rethinking the vaccine in zero- in six months to four years old. And I'm hopeful that you could see some movement on trying to entertain that application earlier. Ultimately, the decision resides with FDA, but there is some indication that there may be an early reaction on that application.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Dr. Fauci said this week the best- that it would be a three dose regimen for the youngest. You said best case would be March. Are you sticking with that?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Well, look, if the- if federal health officials in the agency decide to authorize this on the basis of two doses, it could be out much sooner. And I think the decision matrix has changed around the vaccine for six months to four year olds. And so far as we know that the vaccine isn't as protective at preventing infection. Previously, we had data showing that the childhood vaccine for four- six months to four years wasn't as protective against infection as the adult vaccine. That's the reason why they pushed it out and asked for that third dose, but now, if the goal of the vaccine is to get baseline immunity in the kids to prevent really bad outcomes, and you're really not using the vaccine as a tool to prevent infection in the first place, two doses could do that. Getting two doses into a child can provide baseline immunity that protects them from severe disease from hospitalization. And I think that may be why federal health officials are rethinking this if in fact they decide to authorize this on the basis of two doses. It could be out much sooner, perhaps as early as early March.
MARGARET BRENNAN: That could be a big development. We mentioned there, our Mark Strassmann was reporting on San Francisco being the first major city to roll back its indoor mask mandate. Here in D.C. that just extended it to the end of February, at least. Is there a clear benchmark yet for when health measures should be lifted?
DR. GOTTLIEB: Yeah, this is going to be a real challenge. So right now you look at a lot of federal health guidance, and it says that these measures should be lifted when there's low prevalence. The CDC defines low prevalence as 10 cases per 100,000 people per day. That was the old measure in the age of Omicron, with a much more contagious variant and with the fact that the population has a lot of immunity, so we're less susceptible overall, we may need to rethink that. We may need to decide that once we get to 20 cases per 100,000 per day, that may be the point at which we start to withdraw these things. I'm not so sure we're going to get to 10 anytime soon. Right now, Washington, D.C. is at 50, New York's at 75. With this new homegrown strain that's circulating, we may stall out around 20, and that may be the point where we have to consider withdrawing a lot of these measures.
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK, Dr. Gottlieb, thank you so much.
DR. GOTTLIEB: Thanks a lot. Good to see you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Good to see you in person. And FACE THE NATION will be back in one minute.
MARGARET BRENNAN: President Biden has promised to name a black woman to replace Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Contenders include Ketanji Brown Jackson of Washington, D.C., Leondra Kruger of California, and Michelle Childs of South Carolina. The only potential nominee that the White House has publicly acknowledged being under consideration is Childs.
South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham joins us from Clemson, South Carolina, this morning. Good morning to you, Senator.
SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM: Good morning.
MARGARET BRENNAN: As you know, coming up on this program, Congressman Jim Clyburn, he has said repeatedly in interviews that South Carolina Federal District Judge Michelle Childs, not only as someone he likes, but that both South Carolina Republican senators will support her. So he's talking about you. Did you tell him you're a yes vote on Childs?
SEN. GRAHAM: Here's what I'll tell him and the nation, I- I can't think of a better person for President Biden to consider for the Supreme Court than Michelle Childs. She has wide support in our state. She's considered to be a fair minded, highly gifted jurist. She's one of the most decent people I've ever met. It would be good for the court to have somebody who's not at Harvard or Yale. She's a graduate of the University of South Carolina, a public education background. She's been a workers comp judge. She's highly qualified. She's a good character. And we'll see how she does if she's nominated. But I cannot say anything bad about Michelle Childs. She is an awesome person.
MARGARET BRENNAN: That- that sounds like pretty close to yes. You're a yes vote?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, what I don't know if she's going to be nominated–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
SEN. GRAHAM: if she's nominated, she will not be treated like Judge Kavanaugh, I promise you, by Republicans. Let's see how she does at the hearing. But I think I've made it pretty clear that I'm a big admirer of–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes, you did–
SEN. GRAHAM: Judge Charles. And I'd like to see the court have- a have a lot more balance, some common sense on it. Everybody doesn't have to be from Harvard, Yale–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
SEN. GRAHAM: It's okay to go to a public university and get your law degree.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you have been glowing in your descriptions, but your colleague, Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, said picking a female black Supreme Court justice is affirmative racial discrimination. He questioned her- any potential impartiality from any of the candidates named. Nikki Haley of South Carolina also tweeted the president should not have a race or gender litmus test. President Reagan promised to nominate a woman, Sandra Day O'Connor. So why is this different?
SEN. GRAHAM: Well, it's not different to me. Put me in the camp of making sure the court and other institutions look like America. You know, we make a real effort as Republicans to recruit women and people of color to make the party look more like America. Affirmative action is picking somebody not as well qualified for past wrongs. Michelle qual- Childs is incredibly qualified. There's no affirmative action component if you pick her. She is highly qualified. And President Reagan said running for office that he wanted to put the first female on the court. Whether you like it or not, Joe Biden said, I'm going to pick an African-American woman to serve on the Supreme Court. I believe there are plenty of qualified African-American women, conservative and liberal, that could go onto the court. So I don't concede- I don't see Michelle Childs as an act of affirmative action. I do see putting a black woman on the court, making the court more like America. In the history of our country, we've only had five women serve and two African-American men, so let's make the court more like America. But qualifications have to be the- the- the biggest consideration. And as to Michelle Childs, I think she's qualified–
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right.
SEN. GRAHAM: by every measure.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Senator, I want to move on to Ukraine. Senator Menendez, Democrat, on another program this morning, said they're nearing bipartisan agreement on a package of sanctions, some of which would put sanctions on Russia now, some later. I know you're part of the talks. I know you want sanctions now. So what exactly are you pushing for? What needs to be hit?
SEN. GRAHAM: More. More against Russia, more for Ukraine. There's bipartisan support to sanction Russia now. They're dismembering the Ukraine by the invasion- the threat of invasion. It's 2022, for God's sake. You can't get your way by threatening to invade a country. So, punish Putin now more, weapons to the Ukraine now so they can defend themselves, more economic aid to the Ukrainian economy so they can- they can deal with the threat of invasion and more troops to NATO. As Putin tries to dismantle NATO and divide NATO, I support President Biden's decision to send more troops in to reinforce NATO. He's trying to destroy a neighboring democracy. He hates democracy- Putin. And I will just say this to President Putin. If you invade the Ukraine, you will destroy the ability of future presidents to treat you and Russia as normal. You'll long for the good old days of the Cold War because every president in the future will pound you and every Congress in the future will pound you if you dismantle this democracy. So be careful what you wish for, my friend.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, strong words there. We know President Biden is already looking at sanctions after an invasion. He's looking at sovereign debt sales, hitting oligarchs close to Vladimir Putin, the banks that handle critical industries and- on top of export import restrictions. Is this enough or are you saying you're pushing President Biden further?
SEN. GRAHAM: The bipartisan working group will submit sanctions now. Look what Putin has done. He's dismantled–
MARGARET BRENNAN: On what specifically, though?
SEN. GRAHAM: he's hurting the- Oh, an array of pre-invasion sanctions, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is a cash cow for Putin, that'll probably be after the invasion, knocking them out of financial systems that they will need to conduct business normally, the Swift program. All of this is on the table, but the–
MARGARET BRENNAN: European allies don't support that.
SEN. GRAHAM: It is 20. Well, the Congress has a different view here. I want sanctions on Putin's behavior now. What is Putin doing? He's threatening- he's warning to get his way by threatening it to invade a country. This is 2022, for God's sake. That's not the way to resolve disputes. So, I think there'll be bipartisan support for sanctions now. There'd be a bipartisan support for more- more lethal aid now to the Ukraine, more economic assistance for the government now.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
SEN. GRAHAM: And I think there's bipartisan support to reinforce NATO.
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK, well, in your version of a bill, what would trigger invasion? Right? Because there's an array of options Vladimir Putin's looking at. Does a cyberattack trigger sanctions?
SEN. GRAHAM: A cyber attack against the United States would be an act of war, and we shall respond in kind. I am tired of Putin, China and North Korea attacking us. If they blew up a pipeline that would be an act of war. Well, if you shut it down through a cyber attack, it's the same outcome.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But a cyberattack in Ukraine?
SEN. GRAHAM: My Russian friends- Yeah. Well, any- any attack on the sovereignty of a nation, any attack on their critical infrastructure, any attack on their ability to do business. But he needs to be sanctioned now. What is he done? He's using the threat of force of arms to get his way. That should be outlawed in 2022. Listen, I want to support President Biden to the- to the full extent possible, but the Congress is ready to sanction Putin now. But there will be more sanctions come if he invades. And I will end with this point: If you invade the Ukraine, if Russia invades the Ukraine, no future president, no future Congress–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.
SEN. GRAHAM: will give you a pass. It will change the relationship forever.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator, more than 730 people have been charged by the Justice Department for their role in the attack on the Capitol on January 6th to stop–
SEN. GRAHAM: Right.
MARGARET BRENNAN: the certification of our election. Last night, President Trump, at a rally, said this.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If I run and if I win, we will treat those people from January 6th fairly. And if it requires pardons, we will give them pardons because they are being treated so unfairly.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Pardons? Do you agree?
SEN. GRAHAM: No, I don't want to send any signal that it was OK to defile the Capitol. There are other groups with causes that may want to go down to the violent path that these people get pardoned.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But isn't that a dangerous thing to say?
SEN. GRAHAM: Kamala Harris- Yeah. Well, I think it's inappropriate. I- I don't want to reinforce that defiling the Capitol was OK. I don't want to do anything that would make this more likely in the future. And just let me finish my thought here. When Kamala Harris and her associates and the people that work for her, her staffers, raised money to bail out the rioters who hit cops in the head and burned down stores. I didn't like that either. So I don't want to do anything from raising bail to pardoning people who take the law into their own hands because it will make more violence more likely. I want to deter people who did what–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
SEN. GRAHAM: on January the 6th. And those who did it, I hope they go to jail and get the book thrown at them because they deserve it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: That was clear, Senator, before I let you go, I want to ask you. The District Attorney in Georgia has- in Fulton County has gotten clearance to set up a grand jury to investigate President Trump. She says she wants to talk to you about that phone call you made to Georgia's secretary of state ten days after the election, are you going to cooperate?
SEN. GRAHAM: Yeah give me a call. Yeah, I talked- I asked about how the system worked when it came to mail in voting- balloting. The January 6 committee was not the 911 committee. After 911, we came together, we formed a bipartisan committee after the next election--
MARGARET BRENNAN: I was talking about Georgia though.
SEN. GRAHAM: So what's going on Georgia and the January 6th- Yeah. I know, but there's an effort here to use the law, I think inappropriately. So I don't know what they're going to do in Fulton County. I don't know what the Jan. 6 committee is going to do. I expect those who defile the Capitol to be prosecuted. But there's a political movement using the law to try to knock Trump out of running. And I, particularly, don't like it or appreciate it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK, Senator, thank you for joining us today. We'll be right back with Congressman James Clyburn.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Democratic Whip Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina. Good morning to you Congressmen. You've been vocal in your endorsement of Federal District Judge Michelle Childs the White House acknowledged she's being looked at. Senator Graham just gave her a glowing recommendation. Have you spoken to President Biden about her?
HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP JIM CLYBURN: Yes, I did it several months ago. I have not spoken to him recently about her, sent him or sent the White House a letter 13 months ago.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay.
REP. CLYBURN: And he and I have been talking about it for several months.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You and I are going to talk about her and the whole process more in just a moment. But I have to hit this quick commercial break and we'll have an extended conversation on the other side of it. So stay with us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to Face the Nation. We continue our conversation with Democratic Whip, Congressman James Clyburn of South Carolina. Good morning. Thank you for sticking with us through that break.
HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP JIM CLYBURN: Thank you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You had just shared that you'd spoken to President Biden months ago with Michelle Childs, a candidate we know for this potential spot on the Supreme Court. More broadly, you were the man who really exacted this promise during the campaign from President Biden. What do you think putting this kind of diversity on the court the first black woman does for the country?
REP. CLYBURN: Well, it says to every little child up there growing up under moderate circumstances, needing the entire community help raise it, getting scholarships to go up to school because she couldn't afford to go otherwise, going to public schools because you didn't get an offer from one of the big private schools. It says to them, you've got just as much of a chance to benefit from the greatness of this country as everybody else. As you probably know, I have made it the motto of my service; making America's greatness accessible and affordable for all Americans. And that's what this will do. That's the kind of conversation I had with candidate Biden way back when he was running for president. In fact, we had those conversations when he was serving as vice president that he came up under modest circumstances- Scranton, Pennsylvania, then in Delaware. And look, he should have as much opportunity as everybody else.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
REP. CLYBURN: That's one of the things that drawed me to him.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we know the president has said he will make his pick public by the end of February. That fits right nicely with that March 1st State of the Union address. As Whip, what else are you going to be able to deliver to the president to- to sort of announce that date? Can you revive any portion of build back better, which is completely stalled at the moment.
REP. CLYBURN: I hope we can. It's possible the opponents of the big package have talked about things that they can support. For instance, child tax credit. Joe Manchin has made it very clear that if we were to meet- make it means tested that he could agree to it. So that's the means test it. He's already said that he agrees with us closing the so-called coverage gap, so that those people who are eligible for Medicaid or in states that cannot- did not expand the Medicaid, that they will have health care. So if we can do those things, let's do them. I'm not-
MARGARET BRENNAN: By March 1st?
REP. CLYBURN: I'm sorry?
MARGARET BRENNAN: By March 1st?
REP. CLYBURN: Yes, we can do that by March 1st. You can do it next week. We go back all this week. We go back on Tuesday. What I'm talking about could be done in several days, if not several hours.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We will be watching for that. I want to ask you about something
REP. CLYBURN:I didn't say I was going to be done. (LAUGHTER) It can be done.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we will watch you to see if it actually will be done, sir. You've repeatedly said that black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party. And you've talked about this Supreme Court nomination as the kind of things that Democrats may need. You know, the failure to get voting rights legislation passed, the failure to agree on a police reform bill. Do you feel that Democrats need this nomination and that it will make a difference going into the midterms, given these other promises were not delivered on?
REP. CLYBURN: As- I certainly do believe that. I believed that two years ago, it is why I advised then Candidate Biden to put that into his campaign. And you recall the first time he ever said that was at the South Carolina debate the 25th of February-
MARGARET BRENNAN: I remember I was there.
REP. CLYBURN - 0f 2020. OK. Well, I advised that. Now a lot of people told him not to do it. But his guts told him as he told me, when you grow up with the kind of experience the two of us have had, then your guts telling you some things, and sometimes people did not have those experiences they would not feel. So he did it, and it made all the difference in the world and it's still making a big difference.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, talking about those midterms and the need for a win here, I want to ask you about Jamie Harrison, the head of the Democratic Party, right now. I know he worked for you for years on Capitol Hill. You're close to him. You're a mentor. He's reportedly considering leaving that job ahead of the midterm races because of disagreements with the White House. Do you think the DNC needs new leadership?
REP. CLYBURN: I do not. I think he is exactly what we need for this party at this particular juncture. I also know he like all of us in this business. He has his detractors. I have mine. It doesn't mean that he is wrong or they are wrong. It means that people have different approaches to doing things. And so Jamie Harrison is there. He will never run. He believes in fighting rather than switching.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You are being very diplomatic in your answer there. Back in November, you told the AP, "Jaime Harrison knows how to do the job. I fear he may not be allowed to do the job. He's being hamstrung by people who never ran for anything." Who are those people whose standing in his way?
REP. CLYBURN: I'm not going to name those people, I think it's not-
MARGARET BRENNAN:Is it the White House?
REP. CLYBURN: No, I'm not saying who it is, I am saying that all of us, I had the same problem every time I run for election, talking to my grandson just yesterday, telling me what he thought I ought to do now. I said now, when is the last time you've been out asking anybody for their vote? So we do not necessarily believe in all of the consultants and the people who run things. Jamie Harrison ran a very bruising race with the gentleman you just had on here. He knows what it is to run. He knows what it is to lose. And I'm the same way I lost three times before I got elected. So I know what it is to lose an election and I know what is to come back from the election. So Jamie Harrison is just what we need.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, congressman, thank you for your time today.
REP. CLYBURN Thank you very much for having me.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back in a moment.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Turning now to the tensions in Ukraine. The diplomatic back and forth continues, and NATO allies are considering sending more troops to the region. This as Moscow continues to ship weapons and equipment. Holly Williams is near Donbas (Sp?), close to the front lines.
HOLLY WILLIAMS: Good morning. Here in eastern Ukraine, people do not seem to be panicking, and perhaps that's because they've been living with Russian aggression for years. But they are making preparations for a possible Russian invasion.
HOLLY WILLIAMS (voice over): More Russian fighter jets arrived in Belarus this week on Ukraine's northern border. Moscow says for military exercises next month. That's when President Biden believes there's a distinct possibility Russia could invade. The secretary of defense warned of unconventional tactics, like staged incidents that Russia could use as a pretext to move in.
LLOYD AUSTIN, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: This is straight out of the Russian playbook. And they're not fooling us.
HOLLY WILLIAMS: With tensions reaching a crescendo, Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, laid a wreath for the fallen during the Second World War. Russia still maintains it has no plans to invade its neighbor, but that doesn't explain the roughly 100,000 Russian troops amassed on Ukraine's border, while Russia military drills on land and at sea have set off alarm bells. Experts say they've previously been a prelude to an incursion.
LLOYD AUSTIN: And Mr. Putin can do the right thing as well. There's no reason that this situation has to devolve into conflict. He can choose to de-escalate.
HOLLY WILLIAMS: There are 8,500 American troops on heightened alert. NATO says it's sending more fighter jets and ships to reinforce eastern Europe. And plane loads of military equipment have been arriving in in Kyiv, including Javelin anti-tank missiles.
HOLLY WILLIAMS: Ukraine's government is not ruling out an escalation, but continues to urge calm. The country's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, accused other world leaders of sowing panic late last week and putting Ukraine's economy at risk. Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Holly Williams, thank you. We're now joined by Oksana Markarova, Ukraine's ambassador to the United States. Good morning to you, Ambassador. Thank you for being here.
AMBASSADOR OKSANA MARKAROVA: Good morning. Good morning.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, says he hasn't seen a military buildup like this since the Cold War: Artillery, ballistic missiles, ground air forces. He said the impact would be horrific if Russia uses these. But President Zelensky stood up and said Russia may simply be applying psychological pressure. Why is your president downplaying the risk?
AMB. MARKAROVA: We are not downplaying the risk. We actually see the situation the same way and we see the build up and we also know what Russia is capable of because they have attacked us already. Since 2014, for eight years, we are at war and we are defending our country. At the same time, in order to defend our country, we cannot afford to panic. We have to get ready. All of us, not only our military, our very capable military and veterans, but also all civilians. So we know and we see what's going on. This is the reality with which we live for eight years. This is the reality of this recent escalation since April. So we monitor it. We assess it. We share the information with our friends and allies. We're very grateful for the United States, for very strong relations, strong relations and strong response this time.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But your president said Ukraine's grateful for support, but I can't be like other politicians who are grateful to the United States just for being the United States. What does he mean by that? Because it sounds a lot like there's some friction here.
AMB. MARKAROVA: There is no friction. I mean, look, we can have some discussions and we can have difference of opinions. But United States is our strategic partner, and I would even say strategic friend, number one. Our relations, especially during the last year, has been at the highest level ever, I would say in 30 years.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But the White House says- they issued a statement: "At the same time, President Zelensky is downplaying the risk of invasion, he's asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons to defend against one. "We think it's important to be open and candid about that threat."
AMB. MARKAROVA: We are open and candid and we are discussing it with our partners here. Again, we just cannot afford to panic. So we're preparing for any options. And again, as I said, we know what Russians are capable of, But let's be very clear here, we know who aggressor is and everyone knows who aggressor is. It's Russia. With the United States, especially and with other partners and allies, we may have difference of opinions on when to introduce sanctions, we may have difference of opinions on some issues, but those are friendly, open and candid discussions–
MARGARET BRENNAN: You do–
AMB. MARKAROVA: and we really value this.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to understand what you need now. What are you asking the White House for?
AMB. MARKAROVA: It's the same we have been asking for eight years, but especially this year, you know, strong three levels of deterrence: political, economic and military defensive. So strong political messages. And we're very glad that this year U.S. is actually taking active role in negotiations.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But you're in terms of what you're asking U.S. taxpayers for. The chairman of your parliament wrote a letter to eight senators, including one of them on this program, asking for air defense, anti-ship, anti-armor capabilities, flexible loans, financing mechanisms. Is this a formal request from your government? Is what the White House giving you not sufficient?
AMB. MARKAROVA: Well, if you look at the statement by our presidents when they met in the White House, you will see a number of these issues in the joint statement. You will also see it in the framework agreement that we signed. So we are merely discussing what we already agreed with the United States, and we are discussing how to implement it
MARGARET BRENNAN: To be very clear, you are asking Congress and you were asking the White House to put sanctions on Russia right now not to wait for an invasion. Is that right?
MARKAROVA: We ask both. Russia is there. Russia illegally occupied Crimea. Russia illegally occupies together with their controlled people, parts of Donetsk and Luhansk territories, and they didn't change their behavior during the eight years. So yes, we believe the basis for sanctions is there.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You told me before you think a cyber attack will proceed any military action? What exactly are you preparing for? Because the US is warning this could have global impact.
AMB. MARKAROVA: Well, in addition to military attacks, we experience it since 2014 and especially now, Russia engages in cyber attacks or kind of hybrid war, cyber disinformation, all kinds of information campaigns. Recently, couple of weeks ago, a number of Ukrainian ministers have been attacked and defaced. The attack has been wider than that, and our security sources, together with our partners from the U.S., are looking at that particular attack. But it's one of many. We are under constant attack, especially in the cyberspace. And we're trying everything possible and doing everything possible to strengthen our capabilities there as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You're saying the war has already started.
AMB. MARKAROVA: In 2014, when Crimea has been attacked and when Crimea has been illegally occupied or annexed, as Russia says, that has been the start of the war.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So if Vladimir Putin does launch a further attack on Ukraine, do you believe he will stop there?
AMB. MARKAROVA: Well, the reason why Putin attacked us is not because he wants Ukraine, or only Ukraine. The reason he attacked us is because we have chosen to be a democracy and we have the Euro-Atlantic and European aspirations. So it's an attack on democracy, and I believe nobody is safe if Ukraine will be attacked. We do not want to be part of the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire or the Russian Federation. We want to be sovereign, we are sovereign and we are fighting for our independence. And if Ukraine will be further attacked by Russia, of course they will not stop in Ukraine- after Ukraine. So that's why it's in the interest of Europe and all democratic world to help us to defend ourselves, but also to show that the international rule of law still works.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right. Ambassador, thank you very much for your time today.
AMB. MARKAROVA: Thank you and thank you to all your viewers and all American people for support.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be back in a moment.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Victoria Nuland, the State Department undersecretary for political affairs. Good morning to you, ambassador.
AMBASSADOR VICTORIA NULAND: Good morning, Margaret. Good to be with you.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We heard from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs this week that Russia has given itself the capability if it wanted for a full invasion, not just an incursion. What is the US assessment at this point? Has Vladimir Putin made a decision on what to do next?
AMB. NULAND: Margaret, we don't believe he's yet made a decision, but as he has done in the past, he's given himself every option, including, as the chairman said, a massive potential invasion of all of Ukraine, including cyber attacks, including incursion from Belarus, where he is moving up to thirty thousand troops there as well. So we have to be prepared for all options.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So there is no sign yet of any kind of de-escalation.
AMB. NULAND: On the contrary, he's moved more forces since we've been encouraging him to de-escalate. That said, Margaret, as you know, we did send our diplomatic proposal to Russia, as did NATO this week. We've heard some signs that the Russians are interested in engaging on that proposal, including the fact that Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov will likely speak this week. So again, here's, here's where we are. We want to settle these issues through diplomacy, through arms control. Putin's given himself that option, but he's also given himself the option of a major invasion. So we have to be ready for that, too.
MARGARET BRENNAN: How significant is the risk that Russia may deploy tactical nuclear weapons to to the border? Is there any indication of that type of buildup?
AMB. NULAND: We have not seen nuclear weapons move. There have been some loose talk from folks in Russia. But as you know, Russia already has tactical tactical nuclear weapons in Kaliningrad and elsewhere that can range Europe.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, exactly. I think that's an important point to make to show the potential of this kind of conflict. Can you sort of put in perspective what the strategy is here? Because President Biden has said he's not sending combat troops to Ukraine. He's talking about moving potentially a small number of troops into allied countries in the region. Is this about containing the threat from becoming a regional war?
AMB. NULAND: Well, first of all, Margaret, with regard to the diplomatic proposal, you know, Putin put forward and publicly all of the things that he's interested in. Our response and NATO's response agrees to engage him on many of these things that you've talked about. We have said, let's talk about the medium and short range missiles, the threat you feel from us, the threat we feel from you. Let's talk about how we can de-escalate, with regard to exercises, with regard to military deployments, let's have that conversation on a reciprocal basis. But we also have to prepare, as I said. So what we've been doing is first, given Ukraine the kinds of defensive lethal equipment that they need in order to be able to make this if Russia makes that big mistake and moves in a very bloody fight and slow Moscow's role. So defensive lethal equipment like anti-tank, like anti-air, all of these kinds of things. We have also worked with our European allies on a massive package of economic sanctions so that if he does move on Ukraine, he will feel it acutely, as will the Russian people in terms of their economy. It will have a crushing blow on them, and we are also preparing within NATO's territory because obviously we have a sacred and sovereign responsibility to protect our NATO allies and with the kind of forces that he's moving. They are coming also closer to the borders of our Baltic allies Poland, Romania, Hungary, so we have to be ready.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Understood. Ukraine's President Zelensky said Friday that his country is aware of these risks, but they don't want panic. Do you feel that is what the White House is doing here? Have you resolved this kind of friction with the Ukrainians? You don't want to have divide with an ally here.
AMB. NULAND: Panic is not a policy, as one of my bosses once said, what we need to do is prudent planning, and that's what we are doing. That's what our NATO allies are doing. That's what we are encouraging Ukraine to do as well. So, you know, given that Putin has made these moves before, even as we encourage diplomacy, we have to be ready for the worst.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, it appears that the Senate is also nearing a bipartisan agreement on a package of sanctions, some of which would hit Russia. Now some post administrate... post-invasion. The administration has wanted to wait and hold on to sanctions as leverage. Will the president veto this bill? I mean, what would the impact be?
AMB. NULAND: We are working intensively with the Congress on this piece of legislation that we expect will be very well aligned with what we are also building with our NATO allies and partners. I would say that one of the strengths of U.S. policy vis-a-vis Ukraine going back some 30 years, but particularly in this instance, has been that we've had a really strong bipartisan approach to supporting Ukraine. We've had members of Congress out there regularly over the last couple of weeks. But with regard to this package of sanctions, you know, deterrence is best when there's a little bit of strategic ambiguity around exactly what we are going to do. So we've said financial measures, we've said export controls, we've said new sanctions on Russian elites. But if we put them on the table now, then Russia will be able to start mitigating and that doesn't make any sense to us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Ambassador Nuland, thank you for your time today. We'll be right back.
MARGARET BRENNAN: That's it for us today. Thank you for watching. Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I'm Margaret Brennan.
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