A rush transcript of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday, April 24, 2022 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the “This Week” transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” starts right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC HOST (voiceover): Decisive moment.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They’re going to set the stage for the next phase of this war.
RADDATZ (voiceover): The U.S. races to send more weapons to Ukraine as Russia shifts strategy.
JOHN KIRBY, UNITED STATES ASSISTANT TO THE SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: They’re going to focus their efforts on the Donbas and in the south.
RADDATZ (voiceover): This morning, James Longman from the front lines plus an outspoken member of Ukraine’s parliament, Yevheniia Kravchuk, and former ambassador to NATO, Doug Lute.
UNKNOWN MALE: Off with your masks.
RADDATZ (voiceover): Mixed messages.
ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We want to be guided by the CDC recommendation, not by the recommendations of an individual judge.
RADDATZ (voiceover): COVID confusion after a judge reverses the travel mask mandate and The White House appeals. Dr. Michael Osterholm is here with the latest guidance.
And caught on camera.
KEVIN MCCARTHY, MINORITY LEADER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: I’ve had it with this guy. What he did is unacceptable. Nobody can defend that, and nobody should defend it.
RADDATZ (voiceover): Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy does damage control after damning tapes in the aftermath of January 6th. Trump sticking by him. Is he still the kingmaker of the GOP? Rachel Scott reports from Ohio and our Powerhouse Roundtable covers all the fallout.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News it’s “This Week.” Here now, co-anchor Martha Raddatz.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ (on camera): Good morning and welcome to “This Week.”
As we come on the air this morning, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announces that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are expected to visit Kyiv at any moment in what would be the highest-level U.S. official visit to Ukraine’s capital city since the war broke out.
And with Russia bearing down on Eastern Ukraine, the show of solidarity comes as officials increasingly believe the next several weeks will be a critical period that could define Ukraine’s future and the world order for decades to come.
In response, Western Nations are speeding up military aid to Ukraine, President Biden announcing yet another $800 million package this week, seeking to bolster Ukraine’s defense forces with heavy artillery in the eastern Donbas region as Russia’s renewed assault there shows no sign of letting up this Orthodox Easter weekend.
Our foreign correspondent James Longman has just returned from the front lines of the conflict. He leads us off from Kyiv. Good morning, James.
JAMES LONGMAN, ABC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Martha.
An important day here in Kyiv. U.S. secretaries of state and defense here in the city, they’re here to discuss timings for that further U.S. military aid to the country. Trying to get as much help in as they can before Vladimir Putin makes his next move.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LONGMAN (voiceover): This week, Russia’s full ambition for this war made clearer as their assault ramps up, a senior commander now saying that Putin’s forces don’t just want the East, they want to take full control of Southern Ukraine. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk told me how important the Blinken and Austin visit to Kyiv is at this crucial point in the war.
IRYNA VERESHCHUK, UKRAINE DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: (Speaking in Foreign Language).
LONGMAN (voiceover): When you talk on the phone, the emotional part of the conversation cannot be conveyed and U.S. officials will be able to see just how the Ukrainians are fighting.
VERESHCHUK: Ukrainians never give up.
LONGMAN (voiceover): On Orthodox Easter, strikes hit the historic city of Odessa, several people were killed including a baby in this residential building.
As strikes on more eastern targets too, this another hospital under Russian attack as Ukraine says elite Russian units are now moving in and all eyes on the strategic city of Mariupol. Putin declared victory here, but the attacks continue on the steel plant where some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters are still dug in.
Concern too for at least a thousand civilians who are taking refuge here. The mayor of Mariupol telling us military equipment from the U.S. has been reaching fighters in the city and they have no intention of surrendering. It’s the second most powerful military on Earth, he tells me, and our city is holding them up.
If Mariupol were to fall, Moscow would seize a critical port and the linchpin to a strategic land bridge to Russian-occupied Crimea. That would pave the way for them to take full control of Southern Ukraine, pushing westwards to Odessa and perhaps over the border into what they consider pro-Russian areas of Moldova.
This eastern front stretching over 300 miles, bombs dropping into the backyards of the few residents left. Are you scared living here? Are you scared? You’re right here and the bombs are landing next to your house. “Sure, I’m afraid,” she says. “What should we do? This is our land. This is our home.” now, two months into the war and President Biden is sending another massive military aid package. Committing $800 million in new security assistance which includes 72 long-range howitzers, military support vehicles, 144,000 artillery rounds and 121 tactical drones. Biden clearly overcome on the impact this war has had on the Ukrainian people.
BIDEN: It’s an absolute outrage. The idea this is happening approaching the second quarter of the 21st Century is just — man.
LONGMAN (voiceover): New satellite images from outside the city show what may be evidence of hundreds of murdered civilians in mass graves, but some are getting out. After living underground for 25 days, 79-year-old Vitali (ph) fled with his granddaughter.
His bus was stopped repeatedly by Russian checkpoints, he says, soldiers intimidating and humiliating those on board.
LONGMAN (on camera): Russians are taking your fingerprints.
UNKNOWN MALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language).
LONGMAN (on camera): They’re grabbing me by my hands, by my neck.
LONGMAN (voiceover): President Zelenskyy has warned that this is only a preview of Putin’s ambitions.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine was intended only as a beginning, he said, then they want to capture other countries. For now Russia and the world focus on Mariupol, Odessa, and the rest of Southern Ukraine but Russian success there will impact any potential peace settlement and could end reshaping Europe’s borders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LONGMAN (on camera): Now Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister also told me that she hopes that U.S. delegation will put pressure on Europe to make them understand that Russia has every intention of cutting Ukraine off from the Black Sea.
RADDATZ: James Longman in Ukraine. Thanks so much.
And we are joined now by Yevheniia Kravchuk, a member of Ukraine’s parliament and close ally to President Zelenskyy. Good morning.
I want to ask you first, President Zelenskyy announced a visit of Defense Secretary Austin and Secretary Blinken, what do you want from that visit? How significant is it?
YEVHENIIA KRAVCHUK, MEMBER OF UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT: Thank you for having me and good morning.
I think that visit of Blinken and Austin is really, really symbolical. And probable (ph) signal to Russia that Ukraine will not be left alone with this war. America is clearly the leader of free world and, of course, we expect three main things with our close ally and close partner, which is the United States, is having — it’s heavy (ph) weapons, it’s sanctions on Russia, and, of course, financial aid.
This is three core issues that have to be dealt with right now. Why do we need to have the (ph) weapons? Because part of Ukraine is still occupied and it was occupied since February 24, when the full-scale invasions started. We need to liberate our people who are in the Southern and Eastern Ukraine. And that’s why we need these defensive weapons.
Also, why it is important that United States gives these offensive heavy weapons, artillery, and other assistance, because it’s sort of a green light to other countries in Europe, for example, to give these weapons as well.
RADDATZ: If you get all the weapons you need — and President Zelenskyy has seemed pretty satisfied of late saying we will be able to show the occupiers that the day when they will be forced to leave Ukraine is approaching. Are you confident the Russians won’t take the Donbas?
KRAVCHUK: You see, it’s a matter of time when we get these heavy (ph) weapons to the South and to Eastern Ukraine. And also what is crucial is the — we need more weapons that would burn (ph) everything. Because right now Russians are putting artillery, tanks, everything they have and also they bombed civilians to terrorize the whole country. I mean, they bombed Odessa which is a southern city on the Black Sea yesterday with missiles and the missile clearly targeted the house — the building where civilians were at, killing 3-months-old child.
So as — one, as we’re getting more than we burden (ph) everyday, we are capable of winning and we’re capable of kicking Russians out because that’s the way how to end this — to end this war.
RADDATZ: There are still reports of 120,000 civilians in Mariupol, is there any chance for humanitarian corridor at this point?
KRAVCHUK: Yesterday Russians did not let the humanitarian corridor to work, this green (ph) corridor. Hundreds of people were gathered at one point to go out of Mariupol and Russian soldiers just came and said no, we’re not allowing this to happen. And what they’re trying to do, they’re trying to make the forcible deportations to Russian territory from Mariupol.
They take people, they even take children that lost their parents, and they sent them to Vladivostok. Vladivostok is like thousands of miles from Mariupol. And we do not know how to bring them back to Ukraine.
They have pulled these people from Mariupol — they are put to filtration camps. Men taken — trying to be forcibly taken to Russian Army to find Ukrainian soldiers, you know, it’s sort of something that can’t be happening in the 21st Century.
And we really hope that maybe with help of other Western leaders, other leaders of civilized world, we will be able to take out these kids and women who are still in the basements of this factory Azovstal in Mariupol.
RADDATZ: We are all hoping for the same and we appreciate you joining us this morning. Please stay safe.
KRAVCHUK: Thank you for having me.
RADDATZ: Now let’s bring in ABC News contributor and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Doug Lute.
Good morning, Ambassador.
You were there with us in Ukraine. Just before the invasion, you’ve watched this conflict play out. We saw Russian failures in Kyiv but now they’re regrouping, trying to take the Donbas region. Can they do that?
LT GEN DOUG LUTE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO, U.S. ARMY (RET) & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, Martha, the problems that the Russian army demonstrated in phase one of this fight, in and around Kyiv, where they failed, Ukrainians outmatched them. Those same shortfalls by the Russian military, I think, will be on display again in the Donbas.
You can’t reform an army in a matter of a couple of weeks. This is the same Russian army, so I expect many of the same failures.
RADDATZ: And yet they have a shorter supply line, correct, because they’re closer to their own territory?
LUTE: That helps. There’s no question that one of the challenges they had in phase one in and around Kyiv were these long, exposed supply lines where the Russian resupply assets were largely road-bound and vulnerable.
So that’s an advantage in phase two for the Russians. But if they’re still fighting on Ukrainian territory, and I give the qualitative edge, the moral factors, the plus to the Ukrainians.
RADDATZ: And you’re fighting for your own cities and towns. That’s a motivator.
LUTE: Absolutely. There’s nothing, there’s nothing that surmounts that. The Ukrainians are fighting for their live, they’re fighting for their own country and the Russians can’t match that.
RADDATZ: And you saw, of course, this week the $800 million package with more heavy artillery, those tactical drones. Can that make a real difference? That really does help.
LUTE: That can make a real difference because this begins to close the quantitative gap between the Ukrainians and the Russians. In fact, some estimates are now that the Ukrainians have as many tanks on the battlefield as the Russians.
RADDATZ: If not more, right?
LUTE: If not more.
Now, the reality here is that many of the tanks the Ukrainians now have are the ones deserted or abandoned by the Russians. So this imbalance in quantitative factors like tanks and artillery and so forth is beginning to get righted in the favor of the Ukrainians.
RADDATZ: I know you’re optimistic that the Ukrainians can hold this territory. If they don’t, if — if they don’t hold the Donbas, what about that land bridge? That is a hugely significant area.
LUTE: Well, the Russians largely have a land bridge now between mainland Russia and the Crimea peninsula, which is important because after the Russians seized Crimea in 2014, Crimea was largely isolated, very difficult to resupply and so forth. In fact, the Russians had to build a bridge to Crimea just to resupply it. Now they have a land bridge. So they have the roads, they have the railroads and so forth.
But seizing that territory in the south is not the same as holding it. And the Russians now face the remnants of the — the Ukrainian military in that area, but also the Ukrainian population. They’re still in for a fight in the south.
RADDATZ: What do you think Russia’s ultimate goal is here? Have they given up on Kyiv?
LUTE: And so I think Kyiv is beyond their means. They simply can’t — they can’t seize Kyiv, they can’t replace the Zelenskyy government.
I think they’re still looking for opportunities to figure out what their goals are. They’re sort of making it up as they go along.
Putin is trying to — trying to access what might be possible. He’s looking for opportunities. And he’ll grab the first good one available. Right now there don’t seem to be many good opportunities for Vladimir Putin.
RADDATZ: President Zelenskyy recently said the Russian invasion of Ukraine was intended only as a beginning. They want to capture other countries. Do you agree with that? And is it possible?
LUTE: Well, I — I think he would like to do that. President Putin would like to do that. He would like to expand the power of Russia in his neighborhood. He would like to recreate something like the old Russian empire. But it’s not within his means. There’s a big gap here between his — his aims and his means.
RADDATZ: Does it surprise you how little we seem to know about how bad the Russian army was. I mean we — our intelligence was good about they’re going in, they’re going to try to do this, they’re going to try and do that. But — but we seem flat-footed on knowing how bad they were (ph).
LUTE: Well, we’re quite good at — at counting and accessing those things which are quantifiable, those things that we can see. So, numbers of tanks or numbers of troops amassed on the Ukrainian border pre-invasion. So we’re quite good at that. And we got the call right with regard to the Russian intent to invade.
Where we’re less good and — and, frankly, it’s much harder to — to qualify the — the intangibles. So, the morale of the Russian forces, the morale of the Ukrainian forces, leadership, unit cohesion, discipline, trainings. And we — here is where we have a gap in our intelligence, I think. It’s very difficult to judge those factors.
RADDATZ: And — and you’re a former NATO ambassador. Do you think NATO has done enough and were they quick enough and will it hold together?
LUTE: So, the key thing that NATO has achieved is solidarity. So, NATO today stands as 30 — all 30 members shoulder by shoulder. And that’s enormously important.
The heavy equipment that you mentioned earlier, it is beginning to flow. And that’s coming largely from NATO — NATO member states. That’s hugely important.
The key going forward though, especially as we look towards the late June summit, NATO summit in Madrid, is that President Biden, Secretary-General Stoltenberg, keeps this alliance glued together at 30 so that they speak as one.
RADDATZ: And — and just very quickly if you could, Ambassador, does diplomacy have a chance between Ukraine and Russia?
LUTE: Not yet. I don’t think that the situation on the battlefield yet lends itself to some sort of diplomatic, compromise solution. Both sides still imagine that they can win this.
RADDATZ: OK, thanks for joining us this morning. Always good to see you.
LUTE: You’re welcome.
RADDATZ: Coming up, after a judge struck down the CDC’s transportation mask mandate, what do the new rules mean for your health. We’ll ask top epidemiologist Michael Osterholm.
And, later, the powerhouse roundtable discusses the bombshell tape showing House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy wanted Donald Trump to resign after the January 6th riot.
We’re back in just 60 seconds.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It is perfectly logical for the CDC to say, wait a minute, we were planning on ending this mandate on a certain date. Let’s wait a period of time, until May 3rd. So, for a court to come in and interfere in that is really unfortunate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: Dr. Anthony Fauci criticizing the ruling from a federal judge in Florida that struck down the CDC’s travel mask mandate. The Biden administration is now appealing the decision.
Let’s discuss with Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease, Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Good morning, Doctor.
Let’s go straight to that issue. If that is not overturned, what does that do to the CDC’s authority going forward in any other health crisis?
DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIR., CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH & POLICY: Well, I think it is a real challenge because this is not going to be the last of the need for public health measures to be taken for any crisis. I mean what it — what could be the next crisis of tomorrow?
So, on precedence, this case is very, very important. I think the confusion around the mask mandate itself and how effective it is, is a secondary issue, but one that is still important, too.
RADDATZ: And let’s go to that. The overall mask mandate is totally confusing, especially this week. Mandates lifted. Mandates returned, reinstated, lifted again.
You told “The New York Times” this week — public health advice has been way off the mark all along about mask protection.
So, what do you see as the best guidance?
OSTERHOLM: Well, it is off. First of all, let me be really clear, I am very, very strongly in support of respiratory protection. Someone can do a great deal to protect themselves and protect others if they’re using an N95 respirator.
But this virus is transferred by what we call aerosols, these very fine particles that float into the air. It’s like smoke. It’s like perfume. And you have to have a high-quality respiratory protection device to protect yourself.
What happens in airplanes today is really more just check a box. It is not effective. Why? Because, first of all, you have most people not wearing an N95. They’re wearing a face cloth covering or even a surgical mask, which is not effective in reducing transmission.
And then when you got on board, if you’re eating or drinking, you don’t have to have something on your face.
And then, finally, about a quarter of all people wear it underneath their nose, which is likely closing only three of the five screen doors on your submarine. And so, that from that perspective, it really isn’t all that effective.
And so, I think that what we want to do is stop talking about masking and talking about effective respirator protection.
RADDATZ: And — and how do you that? You talked about flying. I flew across the country this week. About a fifth of the people maybe had a mask on. The others seemed jubilant that they didn’t have to wear a mask.
So, how do you really return to that, or advise people whether — they seem done with it.
OSTERHOLM: Well, first of all, the U.S. public is done with the pandemic, even though the virus is not done with us. And we have to recognize that in public health. You know, you can’t swim against a tide of this magnitude.
So, what is it that we can do? Well, we have to have credibility. And again, what has happened is this has become really a philosophical and political issue, not a science issue.
So, I — and the media, at the very outset, is one of the problems. They keep talking about masks. That’s like talking about the difference between a condom that’s intact and a condom that has a hundred holes in it, but it’s a condom.
No, there’s very different effectiveness using these different approaches.
And so, from my perspective, I would say, particularly if you’re an immune-compromised individual, someone who’s at serious risked of illness and serious illness, you need to wear that N95 respirator. If everybody could do that, they would keep it on through the duration of the flight, not wear it underneath their nose, then that would be a very effective way to have a mandate.
But what we’re doing is now is we are literally just basically addressing a political issue, not a science issue.
RADDATZ: And let’s talk about the big picture, about the state of the pandemic right now. Here’s what health experts wrote in “The Washington Post” this week: “The United States has experienced a concerning rise in cases in recent weeks because of the spread of new omicron subvariants. Failing to take this seriously could put vulnerable Americans at risk. We fear that Americans don’t have a good sense of the true state of the pandemic.”
So — so, what is the true state of the pandemic right now? I know people who are vaccinated, boosted who got seriously ill. But are most people who get this, just common cold symptoms?
OSTERHOLM: Well, you know, Martha, every day is a brand new day with this pandemic, relative to the variants.
You know, three weeks ago, we would not be talking about the variants. We’re now talking about it. And any one of them has the ability to evade immune protection, meaning the previous vaccine protection or previous protection you got from having had COVID may be in jeopardy.
We know that we have strains that are much more infectious, so that, you know, you can’t come up with an answer today to say this is where we’re at because tomorrow, it could change.
Having said that, we are in a very difficult place in terms of interpreting for the public the fact that we’re at all-time lows for hospitalizations in this country. We’re at all time lows for the number of people in ICU beds. That’s all good news.
But, yes, the case numbers are increasing. But they’re increasing also at levels of, you know, basically doubling 10 to 20 is very different than doubling 20,000 to 40,000. And so, the numbers are still relatively low.
But I want to emphasize that could all change tomorrow, and that’s what the public is not willing to hear. They want this to be over.
And we have to just say with humility and honesty. “I don’t know what this next 210-mile-an-hour curveball is going to be thrown at us by these variants.”
RADDATZ: Thank you for explaining that so carefully and efficiently. Thanks for joining us this morning.
The roundtable is coming up. Plus, with the Ohio Senate primary approaching, will Donald Trump’s endorsement shake up the GOP race? Rachel Scott reports on the heated campaign, next.
RADDATZ: Our special leak at battleground Ohio’s senate races next. We’ll be right back.
RADDATZ: I have to do what i have to do. We have to pick somebody that can win and this guy is tough, he’s smart. He’s air former marine. He is a yale educated lawyer so if you want to deliver a historic victory for America first here in Ohio and also a historic defeat for the people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have to do what I have to do. We have to pick somebody that can win and this guy is — he’s tough, he’s smart. He’s a former marine. He’s a Yale-educated lawyer.
So if you want to deliver a historic victory for America First here in Ohio and also a historic defeat for the people that are destroying our country, JD Vance is your guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: Donald Trump at a rally last night with JD Vance who Trump has endorsed in the contentious GOP Senate primary just over a week away. It’s a key seat Republicans are defending in the 2022 midterm elections and the first major test of Trump’s post-presidency power.
Our congressional correspondent Rachel Scott traveled to the Buckeye State as the primary race enters the homestretch.
RACHEL SCOTT, ABC NEWS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a sudden endorsement that upended one of the most contentious and expensive Republican primaries in the nation.
TRUMP: We’re going to send JD Vance to the United States Senate.
SCOTT: Former President Donald Trump giving JD Vance his stamp of approval for Ohio Senate primary on May 3rd, backing the candidate who once called him reprehensible and an idiot.
TRUMP: He’s a guy that said some bad (EXPLETIVE DELETED) about me. In fact, if I went by that standard I don’t think I would have never endorsed anybody in the country, you want to know. They all said bad, but they all came back.
SCOTT: It will be the first major test of Trump’s influence in the midterm elections and while some supporters are following his lead —
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Trump supports him, we will too.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If Trump said JD Vance, that’s where I’m going.
SCOTT: Seals the deal for you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
SCOTT: Others are less forgiving.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don’t like JD Vance.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I’m sorry. Can’t do it. I’ve got to think for myself on this.
SCOTT: Vance is a venture capitalist best known for his book “Hillbilly Elegy”, now betting on Trump’s support to push him over the edge.
Is this your race to lose and how much momentum do you think Trump’s endorsement will give your campaign?
JD VANCE (R), OHIO SENATE CANDIDATE: The endorsement has already given us a ton of momentum, and I think, yeah, it’s my race to lose. I think if the election were held tomorrow, we would win.
SCOTT: The announcement throwing the crowded GOP field a curveball.
How much of a blow is that endorsement to your campaign?
JOSH MANDEL (R), OHIO SENATE CANDIDATE: I’m confident we’re going to win on May 3rd. I look forward to working with President Trump in November to beat the Democrats.
SCOTT: For months, nearly every Republican candidate has been on a mission to out-Trump one another. At time the race turning nasty.
Without the backing of Trump, the field is clamoring for the support of his allies. Former Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel has held a slight edge in the race, calling in Trump’s embattled former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Only one of the GOP candidates has not embraced Trump’s false claims about a stolen election, State Senator Matt Dolan.
MATT DOLAN (R), OHIO SENATE CANDIDATE: We have six people looking backwards, and we have one person like me looking forward.
SCOTT: As we crisscross the state, some Republican voters told us Trump’s America First policies outweigh any endorsement.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His personal views are not as important to me as a lot of his policies that were good and should go back into place.
SCOTT: Trump won more than 3.1 million votes in Ohio, more than any other presidential candidate in the state’s history. While he lost the 2020 election, his impact on the party state politics is lasting and undeniable.
SCOTT (on camera): While Trump’s endorsement has caused chaos for Republicans, the battle over redistricting in this state has caused confusion for voters. Some told us they don’t know who they are voting for or for when. May 3rd will be a partial primary in Ohio for statewide and congressional race, the state’s legislative races on the ballot in a second primary but no date has been set, Martha.
RADDATZ: Thanks so much, Rachel.
Coming up, the roundtable weighs in on Ohio, the midterms and the fallout for House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you spoken with President Trump recently? Did you speak with him last night?
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): No, I spoke to him twice today. I just spoke to him an hour ago.
I never asked President Trump to resign. We both talked about that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You spoke with him about resigning?
MCCARTHY: No. Let me be very clear. You missed — I have never asked the president to resign. So, what the book said was not true. I never asked the president to resign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy responding to those audio recordings of him saying he would ask President Trump to resign after the January 6th riots.
Here to discuss that and much more, former DNC chair Donna Brazile, chief White House correspondent Cecilia Vega, “New York Times” White House and national security correspondent David Sanger and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Welcome to all of you.
And, Chris, I’m going to start with you.
CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR & ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: OK.
RADDATZ: That was clearly the big story of the week. “The New York Times,” the leaked audio. McCarthy talking about the prospects Donald Trump would be impeached after January 6th.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): We know it will pass the House. I think there’s a chance it will pass the Senate even though he’s gone (ph). Now, the only discussion I would have with him is that I think this will pass and it would be my recommendation you should resign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: Of course McCarthy adamantly denied he said anything like that. And now is kind of parsing words.
What’s — what’s your reaction to it?
CHRISTIE: Well, listen, I’m — you know, I can’t ever get out of being the former prosecutor. So, I listened to the tape, instead of listening to the coverage, and it seemed to me that what happened was, he gets on, he gets asked about the 25th Amendment. He starts going through and he gives his prognostication that, you know, if the Senate is going to convict him, then I would tell him to resign.
Well, I think that’s pretty smart advice. If the Senate was going to have the votes to convict him, he should resign rather than be convicted by the United States Senate. It’s the same advice Barry Goldwater gave to Richard Nixon, and he left.
So — but I think it’s clear the call was never made. McCarthy says he never made the call to tell him to resign. Trump, in an — in an interview I read in “The Wall Street Journal” this weekend, said that he never got any such call from McCarthy. So I think, as often happens with these things, things got conflated and we need to separate them out.
There’s no doubt that McCarthy was angry. There’s no doubt that McCarthy, as he said in the tape, was through with Trump on this conduct on January 6th. But I don’t think he told him to resign. I think he said, if the Senate is going to convict him, then he should resign. And that was probably the advice he should have given him if they got the votes in the Senate.
RADDATZ: OK. But take off your prosecutor hat and put on your political hat. This reverberated through Washington this week. Does it hurt him?
CHRISTIE: No. No. I don’t think it hurts him. And the reason I don’t think it hurts him is because, first off, voters don’t care. And I don’t think any voters are going to care about this in terms of the way they’re going to vote in their individual House races.
And in the end, all Kevin McCarthy cares about is getting to 218 or above after the elections in November. And then he’ll worry about how he handles getting the votes he needs to become the speaker. And we’re sitting here now in April — believe me, I don’t think this is what we’re going to be talking about in late November when they’re going to have a vote on the speakership.
RADDATZ: Donna, do you think it matters?
DONNA BRAZILE, FORMER DNC CHAIR: Absolutely. I think he’s terrified of Trump. I think he’s terrified of telling the truth in terms of what he did in those five to seven days following the mob attack that everyone knows that President Trump, former President Trump, inspired when he assembled that group at the — at the Ellipse and said, “I’ll meet you down there. Go down there.”
Look, Kevin — Kevin McCarthy is afraid of Trump. He needs Trump in order to become speaker of the House. And he’s afraid of turning off his base.
I think the real part of that conversation that came out this week that we should all be talking about is what he said about his members. He said, “They should be taken off social media.”
Now, I don’t know what the prosecutor will say about that, but I can tell you what the partisan political person will say about that. Tell me that, you know, Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert and others are not upset that Kevin McCarthy insinuated that they should be, you know, taken off Twitter and Facebook. That’s the real story.
CHRISTIE: But, Donna, he wasn’t getting their votes anyway, OK? Those three people that you just mentioned aren’t voting for Kevin McCarthy for speaker unless he’s the only candidate on the ballot, and even then they might not vote for him.
BRAZILE: And, Chris, you and I both know…
CHRISTIE: He’s not — he’s not worried about them, and he can’t be worried about them.
CHRISTIE: He’s worried about the main part of his caucus. He’s going to continue to try to do things that keeps them from fighting with each other…
BRAZILE: Which they’re doing.
CHRISTIE: … and keeps them fighting with Democrats.
BRAZILE: All right.
Cecilia, you covered Donald Trump for four years. When you look at this, what do you think Trump’s reaction is?
I mean, we’ve heard him say he didn’t like the tape, but, hey, he changed his mind when he got all the facts, says Donald Trump. What do you see?
CICILLIA VEGA, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, apparently they’ve made nice. There was reportedly a phone call between McCarthy and Trump and the president, in the end, interpreted this as being a good thing for him because he says it shows that he is still very much in control of the party because you’ve got — look, the headline here, to me, is you have a man, Kevin McCarthy, who could potentially, very well may be, the next speaker of the House, if his party wins.
And he twisted himself into a frenzy over this. At the risk of being labeled a hypocrite, at the risk of potentially being labeled a liar, he was willing to go there in order to prove his loyalty to Donald Trump. That still shows that Donald Trump still very much certainly has a grip over Kevin McCarthy but over the party as well.
RADDATZ: And, David, New York Times, a big question, of course, everyone, “Who leaked that tape? Who leaked it?”
Liz Cheney, who was on the call, denies that she had anything to do with it, but a lot of people could be going after Kevin McCarthy.
DAVID SANGER, “THE NEW YORK TIMES” WHITE HOUSE AND NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kevin McCarthy’s got a lot of enemies. And he’s built more by the fact that he did this public flip — forget what’s on the tape — from saying, “This was awful; the president bears responsibility,” to going down to Mar-a-Lago and then basically getting his — getting back into Trump’s good graces.
And I think the reason the tape was so powerful is that it reminded everybody of what a 180 Kevin McCarthy has done, at a moment that that’s a particularly embarrassing thing to be reminded of in the party.
It was also, Martha — it was such a Washington thing, OK? So the report comes out…
RADDATZ: Indeed, indeed.
SANGER: Right, right.
And the first thing he does is he says, “Oh, it’s all made up. Those reporters, liberals, New York Times, you know, the whole bit. And then it turns out the tape is out there. And it’s a reminder for people that, if there are more than two people in a room in a political environment in Washington, there’s probably some form of audio running.
RADDATZ: That is probably right, David Sanger.
Chris, let’s go back to Rachel’s report out of Ohio. J.D. Vance is one of over 100 people that Trump has endorsed.
Do those endorsements matter?
CHRISTIE: Well, we’re going to find out. But I will tell you, let’s look at the governor’s races first. He’s gone after four incumbent Republican governors, Kemp in Georgia, Little in Ohio, DeWine in Ohio, Ivey in Alabama. I think all four of them are going to win their primaries over the course of the next six to eight weeks.
I don’t know that the J.D. Vance one is anywhere near a layup. You’ve got Republicans killing Republicans there, with the Club for Growth, who’s been carrying Trump’s water in Georgia, is now working against him with the J.D. Vance endorsement.
So, he’s kind of all over the lot. And the idea – look, I’ve known him for a long time, the idea he makes these decisions based upon political analysis is sophistry. This is all emotional decisions and who speaks to him last, and you saw that in the j.d. Vance — I think you saw it with the endorsement of Dr. Oz, so these are going to land all over the place. I do think, though, when we get to June, we’re going to look back and say that most of the big endorsements he made, not the ones in deep red house districts but in the big endorsements he made are going to turn out to, you know, not have been right.
Well, I’ll refer to them, Martha, as celebrities. Look, he also endorsed Herschel walker in the Georgia senate race who didn’t show up at the debate by the way and the republicans are really gone after a lot of his endorsements, look, Donald Trump is hand-picking his own candidates across the country. May is a crucial month. Not only will we find out in Pennsylvania and Ohio but will see just how much disarray and chaos that is going to occur in the wake of Donald Trump interfering in these elections.
The biggest one is Georgia and let’s not kid ourselves. Brian kemp has been made public enemy number one by Donald Trump. The first time I’ve ever seen Donald Trump spend some of his own money. He spent $500,000 to the Pac supporting David perdue and says he’ll send more. I’ve heard his budget there is $3 million of his own money to go after kemp. Donald Trump throws around money like manhole cover, okay, so let me just say, he’s serious. He knows how important that one is. That’s the one everybody needs to watch May 24th.
Okay, I’m also watching as many of us are, Florida. Florida governor DeSantis this week signed a bill punishing our parent company Disney for the so-called don’t say gay bill and forced a congressional map that eliminates two Black majority districts. I remember Florida was a swing state. Is it still?
It sure doesn’t look like one much anymore. It was, you know, plus three or so for Trump. More and more it’s looking like a red state. I know more democrats who are worried about whether or not they’re going to go, you know, get it back. That’s a big problem for the democrats as they think forward to the next presidential election. And if Florida, in fact, has really gone red, it means that there’s going to have to be a radically different strategy for the democrats about how they do the map for the whole country.
And to that point, Cecilia, President Biden responded to the culture war clash in Florida by saying I don’t think this is where the vast majority of the American people are. But the white house really has to be worried about this.
They’re very much worried about November and the midterms and I think any democrat you talk to in this town is becoming increasingly candid about their prospects for November. They’re not hiding from that anymore. What was telling the fact you even saw the president jump in head on this one. He really unloaded on Friday and went after DeSantis and said that this was an example of the far right taking over the republican party. This is a white house; this is a president that picking their battles so the fact he jumped head-on into this is pretty telling. What you’re not — you see people in the white house, when you talk to them, they are very concerned about the effects of this so-called don’t say gay law on light and families and schools, but they’ll jump on into this culture war fight. They want the republicans and DeSantis in Florida to fight this out because they want to play that contrast out that shows them talking about inflation, these kitchen table issues so it’s a contrast and a fight I think you’ll see them increasingly jump into.
Chris, the go, is in their way to a path to power taking on these issues?
Well first off let me just respond to this Florida swing state anymore. For the first time now there are more registered republicans in Florida than registered democrats for the first time so there is no doubt there has been a shift and a move and a lot has to do with who is moving into Florida. From states like mine, from states like New York and Connecticut, Illinois. A lot of those folks are moving and they’re wealthier folks moving out of those states to avoid the taxes in those states and go to Florida. I think that’s the biggest part that’s changing it and, look, I think we need to keep ourselves a party focused on the important things that matter. Inflation at 8.5%, gas prices at $5, those are the things that are affecting people moment to moment and the parental involvement education issue is a very powerful issue, Martha. We saw it in Virginia.
It was the most important issue in the glen youkan race, and I think the democrats will make a mistake if they decide that the place they want to execute this culture war issue is on those issues, but I think in the end what you’ll hear once we get to September when people start to get engaged is inflation, gas prices and those issues.
BRAZILE: And where do Republicans are on those issues, Martha? Where are they on lowering the gas prices, on helping to increase the supply line?
They are nowhere because these culture war issues that we see, whether it’s in Florida, whether it’s in Texas, on the border, whether it’s in Oklahoma on abortion, I mean, this is all — this is the old Republican playbook.
You know, it’s insulting. I have family in Florida. I have family that work for Disney. I’m not the only Disney employee.
And my brother-in-law went to Florida at a time when Black engineers and Black computer technicians could not find real reliable jobs, and you know who hired them? Disney.
This is — this is a company that has done good on cultural issues, on inclusivity. And now, my brother-in-law and my sister are going to have to pay more taxes because they live in Orange County because Disney is going to — Disney is not going to be there to take up the freight on all of these expenses, police and firefighters. $163 million in taxes that the people of Orange County and Osceola will have to pay because DeSantis wants to pick a fight with a mouse.
RADDATZ: This is going to be an issue that hangs around for a long time. I want to move on if we can to where we begin the program and that is Ukraine.
David, you’ve written some excellent pieces this week saying this is a critical, critical few weeks and also a piece you wrote on Vladimir Putin and what the U.S. intelligence community thinks is going on in his head.
SANGER: Well, in the first part of that, Martha, I think the first four weeks are really critical. The Biden administration realizes that as you discussed with Doug Lute, they overestimated the Russian capability and now, the question is, as the war moves to a territory that would seem to play more to Russia’s favor, closer to the Russian border as you pointed out, a war that in an area that looks more like Kansas than it does like an inner city.
This is going to be basically an artillery war out here and that means getting big artillery to the Ukrainians so they can take out the Russian artillery.
RADDATZ: And on Putin?
SANGER: And on Putin, U.S. intelligence has basically concluded that Putin thinks he is winning. Now, he may think he’s winning —
RADDATZ: He’s not just saying that to his people.
SANGER: He is saying it to his people —
RADDATZ: He is saying to his people but it’s not —
SANGER: They also think he believes it. That may be a reflection of his isolation. That may be a reflection of the fact that he’s saying I just wanted to take Kyiv anyway. I just want to get my land bridge and get the south and get the east. Whatever it is, he thinks he’s winning.
And here’s why that worries me. If, in fact, he suffers a second big setback, that’s the moment when I think he will be most tempted to reach for weapons of mass destruction, whether it is chemical or whether it is nuclear. Because I think the sense that he must have is that two big setbacks in a row would be more than he could take.
RADDATZ: And, Cecilia, I want you to pick up on that and we have about 40 seconds, how concerned is the White House about the use of chemical weapons and tactical nuclear weapons?
VEGA: It’s the tactical nuclear weapons I think that’s the most concerning in this immediate moment. As David reported, Bill Burns, former Russia ambassador publicly said, look, Putin has suffered so many defeats he could result to this. Now when we say tactical, they’re lesser but still deadly, still very dangerous but the headline, today anyway, is that officials don’t believe they’ve seen any intelligence, any military movements to show that this is happening right now.
RADDATZ: But clearly, Vladimir Putin likes us to think that with all his messages during this week.
Thanks to all of you. Great to see you on this Sunday.
When we come back, French voters are headed to the polls to elect their next president today and we’re on the scene in Paris with the very latest.
RADDATZ: French President Emmanuel Macron and far right challenger Marine Le Pen campaigning this week as voters head to the polls today to elect France’s next leader. Le Pen’s close ties to Vladimir Putin have been a focal point of the campaign, raising concerns for European and NATO unity if she wins.
Our senior White House correspondent Mary Bruce is in Paris with the latest.
Good morning, Mary.
MARY BRUCE, ABC NEWS SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Martha.
Well, the polls are open here and French voters are now choosing between two drastically different visions for the future of this country, deciding whether to re-elect the embattled centrist, President Emmanuel Macron, or to pivot to the far right and elect nationalist Marine Le Pen. She’s been really appealing to voters here with that populist policies, that agenda of hers that includes anti-immigrant agendas, anti-Islam, anti-NATO. She also has ties to Russia, though, and has been sympathetic to Vladimir Putin in the past. And that really has world leaders concerned about what a Le Pen victory could mean for the future of the war in Ukraine.
Now, Macron has spent much of this campaign really focused on his diplomatic efforts to stop this war. He does, though, head into today with momentum. He’s up about ten points in the latest polling. But a surprise Le Pen victory is still possible.
And, Martha, the voters that we have talked to here don’t seem really enthusiastic about either of the candidates. One voter telling me, it feels like choosing between cholera and the plague, and that has sparked a lot of fears that many voters today here may simply decide to sit this one out entirely.
RADDATZ: And they may. But, Mary, the bottom line, the outcome could have enormous significance for the war in Ukraine.
BRUCE: Absolutely, Martha, there are very real concerns about what a Le Pen victory could mean for the united western response to this war. Now, Le Pen has been softening her tone a bit. She says that Putin crossed a red line by invading Ukraine, but she has also said she would halt French arms to Ukraine and thinks that France and Russia should try to reconcile at some point in the future.
We have seen President Biden leading this united coalition with European allies to try and stop this war. The fear is that a Le Pen victory would disrupt that coalition and make it much harder to save Ukraine.
RADDATZ: It certainly would.
Thanks so much, Mary.
That’s all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Check out “WORLD NEWS TONIGHT” and have a great day.
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