Full transcript of “Face the Nation,” Jan. 21, 2024


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

  • 2024 Republican hopeful Nikki Haley, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. 
  • Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat
  • Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a Republican 
  • CBS News political correspondent Caitlin Huey-Burns and CBS News chief elections and campaign correspondent Robert Costa

Click here to browse full transcripts of “Face the Nation.”    

MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m Margaret Brennan in Washington.

And this week on Face the Nation, we will talk exclusively with one of the two candidates standing between Donald Trump and the Republican nomination, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

Plus, Democrats ramp up their efforts to motivate voters on the issue of reproductive rights.

With just hours to go before the polls open in the first-in-the-nation primary, former President Trump actually isn’t exaggerating.

(Begin VT)

DONALD TRUMP (Former President of the United States (R) and Current U.S. Presidential Candidate): This is a big deal. The whole world is watching now New Hampshire.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Nikki Haley agrees with him. The world is watching. But she says people are looking for a new generation and a different tone.

(Begin VT)

NIKKI HALEY (R-Presidential Candidate): I mean, I think they both sow chaos. Look at our country right now.

We want people at the top of their game. We – these are people making decisions on our national security.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: But that’s only one side of campaign 2024.

We traveled to another early primary state, Michigan, where we sat down with the governor and co-chair of the Biden campaign, Gretchen Whitmer. Her message is loud and clear.

(Begin VT)

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-Michigan): Abortion’s on the ballot in all 50 states.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: The challenge for Democrats, using that message to build enthusiasm about President Biden.

Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders will also join us to talk about the issues Republicans hope will motivate their voters.

It’s all just ahead on Face the Nation.

Good morning, and welcome to Face the Nation.

The New Hampshire primary is just two days away. Can anyone stop the Trump steamroll towards the Republican nomination?

We go now to former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who is hoping to be the one to stop him. She’s on the campaign trail in Derry, New Hampshire.

Good morning to you.

NIKKI HALEY: Good morning.

MARGARET BRENNAN: As you know, our CBS polling shows that you are the Republican candidate with the best chance at beating Joe Biden in a head- to-head race, and yet Donald Trump is the party’s front-runner.

Why do you think, Ambassador, that the Republican establishment isn’t doing more to help you?

NIKKI HALEY: Well, I mean, this is what primaries are all about. This is about the fact that people get to decide which way they want to go forward.

What I have said is, you can either pick more of the same, or you can go forward with a new, generational leader. More of the same is the fact that you’ve got 70 percent of Americans don’t want to see a Trump-Biden rematch. More of the same as the fact that both of these presidents put us trillions of dollars in debt, and our kids are never going to forgive us for it.

More of the same is the fact that we’re going to have two presidential candidates in their 80s. That’s not what our kids want. That’s not what we should want. You know, more of the same is the fact that we can’t be a country in disarray and have a world on fire and go through four more years of chaos. We won’t survive it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But 26 Republican senators at this point and all of the House Republican leadership have lined up behind Donald Trump. Why? Are they afraid of him?

NIKKI HALEY: Not surprised at all.

And I will tell you why. You’ll see a lot of the South Carolina legislature line up behind him too. And it’s because I have never really taken care of elected officials. I call out elected officials because I think they need to be accountable to the people.

I call out Republicans and Democrats when they don’t do the right thing. So it’s not surprising that that set is going towards Trump because he’s going to take care of them. I’m not going to do that. I’m going to take care of the taxpayers. I have always done that my entire career, and I will keep on doing it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Can you win in North Carolina?

NIKKI HALEY: I won twice as governor.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Former President Trump on Friday repeatedly and wrongly said that you were in charge of the January 6 security response at the Capitol, and he said your name four times. I want to play this for our viewers.

(Begin VT)

FORMER PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They never report the crowd on January 6.

You know, Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley, Nikki Haley, you know, they – do you know they destroyed all of the information, all of the evidence, everything deleted and destroyed all of it, all of it, because of lots of things? Like, Nikki Haley is in charge of security.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s unclear what he’s talking about as being deleted.

But you said yesterday, hearing this made you question Donald Trump’s mental fitness. Is that the first time you questioned his mental fitness?

NIKKI HALEY: If you look recently, there have been multiple things. I mean, he’s claimed that Joe Biden was going to get us into World War II. I’m assuming he met World War III. He said that he ran against President Obama. He never ran against President Obama.

He says that I’m the one that kept security from Jan – from the Capitol on January 6. I was nowhere near the Capitol on January 6.

But, Margaret, you – don’t be surprised if you have someone that’s 80 in office, their mental stability is going to continue to decline. That’s just human nature. We know that. What I’m

saying is, first of all, you’re talking about somebody who’s only going to be in office four years.

Secondly, you’re talking about someone who continues to – I mean, look, I don’t know if he was confused. I don’t know what happened. But it should be enough to send us a warning sign that if you, look, Joe Biden, he’s very different than he was two years ago.

Are we really going to go into a situation where we have wars around the world, and we’re trying to prevent war, and we’re going to have someone who we can or can’t be sure that they’re going to get confused?

It’s a real issue. That’s not being disrespectful. It’s just a fact.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why do you think Trump’s voters care about that? And when you worked in his Cabinet, did you ever question his mental fitness?

NIKKI HALEY: When I worked in his Cabinet, I called him out if he was doing something wrong, I mean, I would show up. I would pick up the phone and say: You can’t do this. Instead, you could do X, Y, or Z.

You know, so I always told him what I thought was in the best interest of the country when I was in his Cabinet. But this is different. I mean, we’re seeing he’s just not at the same level he was at 2016. I think we’re seeing some of that decline.

But, more than that, what I will say is, focus on the fact that, no matter what it is, chaos follows him. Rightly or wrongly, chaos follows him.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Does he cause it?

NIKKI HALEY: And America’s tired.

In some cases, he causes it. In some cases, he doesn’t. But, regardless, he’s like a magnet to it. And so what happens is, that puts the rest of America in chaos, and people are tired, and they’re worried.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about an ad that you have released that includes video and testimony from the mother of Otto Warmbier, who was an American student from the University of Virginia, who was taken prisoner in North Korea and died, as you know, after the Trump administration did bring him home.

Pundits say national security does not matter to voters. Why do you think this story is one you need to tell?

NIKKI HALEY: I think this really does show the contrast.

So I worked with Cindy and Fred Warmbier. They’re amazing people. And I will tell you, as a parent, no parent wants to see their child returned to them the way they saw Otto returned. I mean, this was a happy, smart kid. He went to North Korea. And I mean, the thugs in North Korea tortured him and returned him back in a state that – that is unconscionable.

And the difference is, I told Fred and Cindy, speak up. Get loud. Make sure. I will help you. Let’s partner. We’re going to call North Korea out. I passed the largest set of sanctions against them in a generation by pushing China and Russia to do it.

But what did Trump do? Instead, he talked about love letters going back and forth to Kim Jong-un. Cindy would contact me. She was so upset. And he went and said: Oh, but Kim said that he wasn’t aware of any torture that happened to Otto.

All you had to do was look at Otto when he was returned back to his parents. But this goes back to a pattern. I mean, we saw this over and over again. It’s not just that. He congratulated China’s President Xi a dozen times after China gave us COVID. He congratulated the Chinese Communist Party on their 70th anniversary.

We don’t congratulate the Communist Chinese Party. I remember at the United Nations, I had to sit him down and tell him to stop this bromance with Putin. I mean, you can’t have someone who’s trying to buddy up with dictators that want to kill us. Instead, you have to let them know what we expect of them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about clarifying your position here, because you’ve spoken about the complexity of the abortion – abortion issue personally for you.

And you’ve said there’s no national consensus, so there won’t be a federal law. But you’ve also said, if there were one passed, if it were six weeks, it was 15 weeks, or it was restrictions after 20 weeks, which you signed when you were governor, that you’d be OK with that.

When we spoke yesterday to Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, she said that you would sign a national abortion ban. Would you?

NIKKI HALEY: You know, it’s so interesting, because this is a – you can’t say that to the American people, because all you’re doing is putting fear and judgment in them.

Yes, I’m unapologetically pro-life, but I don’t judge anyone for being pro- choice. I have said I’m fine with a federal law. But the thing is, in order to get a federal law, you have to have a majority of the House…


NIKKI HALEY: … 60 senators and a signature of the president.

Margaret, we haven’t had 60 Republican senators in over 100 years. So no Republican president can ban abortions, any more than a Democrat president can ban any state law. What we can do is, let’s find consensus. I think we can find consensus to ban late-term abortions. I think we can find consensus to encourage adoptions and good-quality adoptions.

I think we can find consensus that doctors and nurses who don’t believe in abortion shouldn’t have to perform them. I think we can find consensus that contraception should be accessible. And I think we should find consensus that any woman who has an abortion, no state law should say she’s going to jail or getting the death penalty.


NIKKI HALEY: I will not demonize this issue. It’s too personal. We have to start doing that.

Democrats use fear, and Republicans use judgment. This is too personal of an issue to use fear or judgment. And I won’t be a part of any of that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK, but you’re not taking a ban off the table, which allows for Democrats to say that, that you would be on board. Can you say…

NIKKI HALEY: You are not…

MARGARET BRENNAN: … you will not?

NIKKI HALEY: Sixty senators – 60 senators would never approve a ban on abortion. That’s a fact. That’s a fact.

So why put out something that’s implying something’s going to happen to the American people that is a lie? That’s never going to happen. You’re not going to get 60 senators to agree to a ban.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you know Democrats are using this as a way to motivate voters.

Democrats are using this as a way to motivate voters…

NIKKI HALEY: Democrats…

MARGARET BRENNAN: … so that they do get the math to add up one day.

So, if the math does add up…


MARGARET BRENNAN: … one day, would you sign a ban?

NIKKI HALEY: This is the problem with Democrats. Democrats put fear in the American people. The American people don’t need fear. They need confidence.

They need security. They need to know that everything’s going to be OK. When it comes to the abortion issue, I will never put fear in the American people. I will tell them the hard truth. The hard truth is, 60 senators will never agree to a full ban on abortion. That’s a fact, Republicans or Democrats; 60 senators are not going to agree to that.

I don’t know what 60 senators are going to agree to. Right now, they don’t even agree to 15 weeks. So we’ve got a long way to go. Our goal should be, how do we save as many babies as we can and support as many moms as we can?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor, we have to leave it there. Thank you for your time.

Face the Nation will be back in one minute with Michigan Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to abortion rights.

We sat down yesterday with Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and talked about why Democrats want to draw attention to this issue.

(Begin VT)

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: Abortion is on the ballot in all 50 states. Abortion is on the ballot for every one of us, because if we…


MARGARET BRENNAN: Theoretically speaking, you’re saying?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: Well, if we elect a Donald Trump, or a Nikki Haley, or a Ron DeSantis, they all have pledged to sign a national abortion ban. And so in a state like…

MARGARET BRENNAN: They haven’t signed – no, Donald Trump hasn’t said what he’s going to do. He just said six weeks is too much for him.

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: He’s also the one out there taking credit for the Supreme Court ripping this right away with the Dobbs decision that overruled Roe v. Wade.

So it is very clear that abortion is on this ballot for all of us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: To pass a federal law, you would need to restore what was in Roe vs. Wade, Democrats would need 60 Senate votes. They’d need to be able to get through the House and they’d need the presidency.

That math isn’t there. So, that claim that Democrats could secure the right, isn’t that giving people false hope?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: I don’t think so, because, right now, one in three women in this country live in a state where they have no access to reproductive freedom, to make their own decision.

If they have a partial miscarriage at home or sepsis, or they’re at – their reproductive health is at risk, they have no ability to get that – that service. And so this is why I think, if a Donald Trump is president or any of the people on the Republican side right now, unfortunately, is, they are going to promote an abortion ban for all of us.

Right now, this president has said he is absolutely going to fight for reproductive freedom. Even if he doesn’t have a Congress that will send that bill to his desk, him being in the White House keeps a national ban from happening.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You’re saying if, somehow, Republicans were to sweep the Senate and sweep the House, Joe Biden would veto that bill?



MARGARET BRENNAN: You actually think that that’s a legitimate promise to make to voters? Because Joe Biden doesn’t talk about abortion much, and, in fact, he has said he’s not big on it because of his faith. Does he need to talk about it more?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: I think it would be good if he did.

I know that one tenet of his belief system is that women, and only women at – with their families and – and health care professionals are the ones who know what decision is right for them, and that he is fighting and going to continue to fight to make sure that that is squarely the ability of – of an American woman to make that decision.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You think he needs to be the messenger on that more?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: I don’t think it would hurt. I think people want to know that this is a president that is fighting. And I think he has said that. To use maybe more – more, you know, blunt language, maybe that would be helpful.

But he’s – that’s his position.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So here, in Michigan, it is now protected under law, access to abortion.

Viability is decided by a health care professional who determines the likelihood of the fetus’ survival outside the uterus. Practically speaking, science is going to improve. Viability is going to move closer and closer to conception. This is one of those challenges.

Is this an issue that just gets litigated again and again and again?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: I think I have come to the conclusion that a right that was there for almost my whole life – I’m 52 – is now very much in jeopardy, and that I’m going to have to continue to fight to protect this right.

The Roe standard was a question about viability, did have, I think, real – made a lot of sense. And – and I think that’s why you see people coming out in states all across America and saying, we’re demanding this right. And that should be the standard.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, Roe had viability, the presumption being that was roughly around 24 weeks. That is moving closer and closer to conception. So, you’re saying even though you had this win in Michigan, it’s not a closed matter, it – it’s a continued fight?


I – really, I mean, we made great strides here. But no one should feel complacent that this work is done. A national ban would upend everything that we’ve accomplished here, everything they accomplished in Ohio or…

MARGARET BRENNAN: When you say national ban, what do you mean?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: I – you look at the speaker of the House right now has – has absolutely vowed that he supports a national ban, sending something to the president’s desk that bans, whether it’s after six weeks

MARGARET BRENNAN: He’s also said the votes aren’t there for it. He admits the math…



GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: At this moment. But that can change. And that’s why codifying this right, having someone in the White House who would veto it if we see legislation like that passed through the Congress is going to be really important.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you actually think there is a national consensus on abortion now?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: I think that the majority of people expect to have the right to make their own decisions about their body.

The most important, profound economic decision a woman and her family will make over the course of their lifetime is whether and when to bear a child.

MARGARET BRENNAN: There are a lot of economic issues that go alongside raising children.

Do you think the Biden administration needs to campaign more on the issue of expanding access to – to more affordable childcare?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: We want to make sure that Americans have the ability to raise children when they decide that they want to have a child, that it’s easier for them to find childcare that is affordable, that is high-quality.

We want to make sure that when they enroll their children in schools, that they’re getting the kinds of supports they need to be successful.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So how do you make up for the challenge that we’re seeing – and we’re seeing it in our polling – because women think access to reproductive care is getting harder, not easier?

And more than half of those polled by CBS say it’s becoming more dangerous. How do you make up for those health care deserts in parts of the country?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: Well, the worst thing you can do is cut off access to – to medical ability, to – whether it’s around abortion or obtain contraception, cut off access to women being able to get health care on – through telehealth, for instance.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you satisfied with the Biden administration’s messaging on these specific matters related to women?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: You know, I know that this administration is doing the work.

And they roll up their sleeves, and I appreciate that. They’ve been phenomenal partners to us here. I think all Democrats and all people who are – are on the right side of this issue need to use their voices, need to be very clear to the American public.

There’s so much noise out there, there’s so many stressors that people are confronting, that it’s hard to – to cut through sometimes, and it’s no fault of anyone. We’ve got to be very clear about how high the stakes are and what our priorities are.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because our polling is showing that the president is underperforming with the Democratic base. This is black voters. This is Hispanic voters.

Is the issue of abortion access enough of a halo effect to make up for that lack of enthusiasm and the frustration?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: I’m not dismissing polls. I think that they are an important piece of data that should inform additional outreach.

But I’m also not – I’m not getting – I’m not freaking out. What I hear from people is a sense of urgency, a sense of how serious this moment is in this country. And I – I respect that and know that’s why we’ve got to continue to show up and continue to talk about these fundamental issues that Americans and American families need solved.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you concerned here in Michigan about this state staying blue?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: I – I think everyone should always focus on Michigan. It’s always going to be close in this state.

You cannot make any assumptions about what the next election is going to bring, based on the last one in a state like this. You got to show up, you got to do the work and show people that you really care about them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s still a purple state?


MARGARET BRENNAN: And Michigan is still up for play.

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: Absolutely. Oh, I think it always will be.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to talk a little bit about the economy.

Our polling, by a 49-to-21 margin, voters believe former President Trump will be better for their finances than President Biden. So why do you think this perception exists? How do you fix it?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: We’re seeing unemployment at historic lows. We’re seeing take-home pay going up. I think that we have seen a lot of progress happen, inflation coming down.

These are important factors that take time for people to really see the benefit from.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The cost of living is still high.

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: The cost of living is still high.

And for a young person to buy a home, that is out of reach for more people than – than it has been in a long time. And so I think that all the work around affordable housing, the story that this president is going to be able to tell as people start to tune in closer, as we get closer to the election, is going to be powerful.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, this state in particular, it’s Michigan, it’s an auto state.

The future of the industry and electric vehicles, in particular, which President Biden has placed a very big bet on, is very dependent on the outcome of this next election and the federal subsidies to make that transition to electric vehicles.

Are you disappointed that the Auto Workers Union, the UAW, has not endorsed President Biden yet?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: No, I think that they will endorse the president.

But I also think it’s a good thing that it’s not just a foregone conclusion that that happens. You get to earn the support of people, whether it’s voters or a union, or, you know, a business executive.

You’ve got to earn individual support. And I think that their process will make sense. And I’m confident the president will be – will be the person that they end up supporting.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This could be, as you said, another close election.

So, I have to ask you, since there are roughly, what, 300,000 people in this state who identify as Arab American, you have a large Muslim American population. There is a lot of pain and frustration with the president’s support of Israel and its military campaign.


MARGARET BRENNAN: How will he be received by this community when he comes to visit this month?

GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER: Well, no community is monolithic. I will start with that.

I will say that one of the great things about the state is, this is where people came to from around the world for a good-paying job and a high quality of life. It’s true today, but it’s why we have such a robust and beautiful Arab community in Michigan and a robust Jewish community in Michigan.

These two communities have lived as neighbors in harmony for decades. And what’s happening in Israel and Gaza has certainly, I think, caused pain for everyone.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We spoke to one of your constituents last night, who said he went door to door for Joe Biden in 2020, but he’s lost his vote in 2024. And he said he plans to protest against him.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Is President Biden going to face protesters when he comes here because of this one issue?


A lot of voters are going to vote for things like individual freedoms, like the basis of our democracy, climate change. So, there are a lot of things that are going to come into play as we get closer and closer to the election.

But, certainly, these are legitimate and raw feelings that – that people have, and they’re entitled to their opinions.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Our full conversation with Governor Whitmer is on our YouTube channel.

We will be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Join us Tuesday for our live coverage of the New Hampshire primary results starting at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on our free CBS News app.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We will be right back with a lot more Face the Nation.

Stay with us.



We go now to the Republican governor of the state of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Good morning, Governor.

GOV. SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS (R-AR): Good morning, Margaret. It’s great to be with you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s good to talk to you.

You are one of the youngest, if not the youngest governors in the state, the first female governor of Arkansas. I want to ask you about a number of things, including the current Arkansas law – we’ve been talking a lot about reproductive health. The law bans abortions except to save the mother’s life in a medical emergency. No exceptions for rape or incest. Your attorney general has twice recently rejected ballot measures that would repeal the ban and give a limited right to abortion up until 18 weeks of conception. As governor, are you open to any ballot initiative?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I’m proud of the fact that Arkansas is one of the most pro-life states in the country. I’m unapologetically pro-life. I believe that we are a culture that protects life, that values life. I think that’s who we are as a country and I’ll continue to support those measures.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But I know those are your personal convictions, but would you seek the opinion of your constituents on this? I mean some of the attorney general’s objection – one of the things he objected to was replacing the word “conception” with “fertilization.” In another one it was narrowing a medical emergency to threat to physical health and defining it just as that. I mean they seem to be tweaks.

On the premise, though, would you be open to seeking the opinion of your constituents in a ballot initiative?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Arkansas is overwhelmingly pro-life state. I’m proud of that fact. I’m proud of where we are and will continue to push for things that I think protect all innocent human life. It’s why we haven’t just focused on pro-life legislation, but we’ve also done things in the foster and adoption care space. It’s why I’ve spent so much time focusing on education, empowering every single Arkansan to have a great quality of life. We are looking at every aspect in making sure that we’re doing what we can to protect and value life at every stage here in the state of Arkansas.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So it sounds like a no, you wouldn’t want to put it on a ballot?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I’m not going to put a blanket on anything that could come forward. But as it stands right now, I haven’t seen anything that I would be supportive of.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So your state – you’re talking about the sanctity of life. Your state had one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country according to the CDC, up until about 2021. Arkansas is one of the few states that hasn’t extended postpartum care for mothers. Why don’t you want those moms to get care for a full 12 months, as is being offered, instead of just 60 days?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Well, I’m going to have to disagree with the premise of your question, saying that I don’t want that. I certainly want us to do everything that we can to help during pregnancy and well after a child is born, which is why we have done things like focus on the foster and adoption care. We’ve put significant funding into our pregnancy crisis centers. We’re focusing on things that help our mothers, including bring your kids to work at state government. We’ve expanded maternity leave for state employees. We included that in our education package. We have taken a number of steps that are very positive in this front, and we’re going to continue to do that as long as I’m governor.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the states of Mississippi, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, they did extend for 12 months, rather than the 60 days. So, I’m just wondering, specifically on that option, why you opted out?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: We’re going to continue to look at options that we feel like best help people here in the state of Arkansas. We’ve done that in a number of ways, and we’re going to continue to do that over the course of hopefully the next seven years while I’m governor of Arkansas.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, I want to ask you as well about what is happening with the kids in your state? I was interested to see that you are not among the 15 Republican governors who rejected a new federal program to give food assistance to 8 million children during the summer months. You opted into that. A number of Republican governors –


MARGARET BRENNAN: Say on premise that this – this violates conservative principles. So, why are they wrong and why are you OK with this federal program?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Well, I want to focus on why I think it helps our state. Arkansas, in the past, has ranked at the bottom when it comes to food insecurity for children. I don’t think any child should ever go hungry. If we have options available to us to help improve that, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. That’s why we’ve opted into this program.

We’re going to continue to look for ways to help and protect kids in our state. And I was proud to

be part of that program and will continue to look for options to help move Arkansas out of the bottom when it comes to food insecurity and into the top.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You are, as we said at the get-go there, the youngest governor in the country. And I wonder, when you look at your party right now, what does it say about the party and about our politics that not only is the president of the United States at such an advanced stage, but the Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, 77 years old here, are these much older individuals really the new generation that you’ve been calling for?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think this election right now is very simple. It’s a very clear contrast. You have two individuals who have a four-year record to run on. One has a record of success, coming from a posture and a position of strength in Donald Trump, and one who comes from a position of weakness. Every single thing that voters actually care about, every single thing that drive voters to show up and cast their ballot, Donald Trump is winning on, whether it’s the economy, whether it’s securing the border, whether it’s national security, whether it’s taking a hardline against China, every single one of those major issues that really drive voters, Donald Trump is dominating Joe Biden on. And they both have clear records in which to run from. And I have no doubt that the match-up in November will declare Donald Trump a clear victor because of that contrast.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, he’s only four years younger than the president whose age you’ve criticized. But your predecessor as governor, Asa Hutchinson, just recently ended his presidential bid and he endorsed Nikki Haley. He said, “anyone who believes Donald Trump will unite this country has been asleep over the last eight years. Trump intentionally tries to divide America.”

Do you honestly, Sarah – sorry, Governor Sanders, I’m used to calling you Sarah from – from the front row at the White House there, do you honestly believe Trump is going to unite the country this time when in the first term, that you were part of, the country was very divided?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: You know, one of the things that I think is so often left out of Donald Trump’s story is the patriotism and the love of country that he brought back. We haven’t seen that in this president.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you mean by that?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: In fact, we’ve seen the total opposite. We see people who believe in America again, who see the strength of our country. We brought back American manufacturing. We secured our border. We had a strong economy. Our enemies abroad actually feared us and our allies actually respected us. Instead of the people now are across the – the other side of the world are laughing at us and taking advantage of the weakness of this president.

Donald Trump, you know, you joked a minute ago, you called me Sarah instead of governor. You know, your colleagues called me a lot of other things. I’ll take Sarah all day over some of the things that the media and the left called me. But when those things were happening, the

person who was defending me, empowering me to do my job was Donald Trump.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I know that he can deliver again because he’s done it before.

MARGARET BRENNAN: No, and, Governor, I think we’ve always had a respectful exchange, you and I, so I don’t think we’re part of the media group you’re talking about.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I didn’t say you, I was –

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. But – but on the substance of the question, in terms of uniting the country, I mean some of the policy things you just rattled off, as you know, immigration has been broken for decades, and those border problems were border problems under President Trump.

The Middle East policies he had didn’t solve issues. I mean, in fact, we are seeing the conflict in Israel really flare up. In a way, he didn’t broker the peace deal he promised. He didn’t get Russia out of Ukraine. He didn’t improve relations with China. So, how can you point to that as a – as a high point without recognizing that even he says the work was not finished?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Well, that’s why we need him to come back for four years because he didn’t get to finish, but he certainly made significant progress. Our border was far more secure under President Trump than under President Biden.

I had the chance to go to the border myself. And while I was there met with those who are standing on the front lines, including members of the Arkansas National Guard that we deployed because the federal government is not doing their job. States are having to step up. And in meeting with those individuals, they told us that more people had come across in just that month, just that month, on the terrorist watch list than in the entire four years of Donald Trump’s presidency. Donald Trump was actually taking steps to secure our border to strengthen our country. It’s hard to argue that having a good economy –


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Having safe and secure borders, taking a hardline against China, those are empowering and unifying things for our country and only –

MARGARET BRENNAN: Would you be his VP if asked

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Hold on, I want to just finish this one point. And only one of two people in the race has actually delivered on each of those things, and it’s Donald Trump, not Joe Biden.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you’d be open to vetting to be his vice president potentially?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I absolutely love the job I have.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think it’s one of the best jobs I could ever ask for. And I am honored to serve as governor. And I hope I get to do it for the next seven years.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Next seven years. All right. That sounds like two terms, maybe a no.

Governor Sanders, thank you.

We’ll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to our panel. Political correspondent Caitlin Huey-Burns is up in Manchester, New Hampshire, and chief election and campaign correspondent Robert Costa is here with us in studio. His flight to the granite state is later today.

Caitlin, let’s start with you.

As we spoke earlier to Nikki Haley, the former governor finished third in Iowa. She is – she was 30 percentage points behind there. She’s behind Trump in New Hampshire. What are the voters telling you?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: Yes, New Hampshire has always been kind of the hope for losers in Iowa because the electorate here is very different. Forty percent or so are registered as undeclared or independent. So, that provides some favorable terrain.

But I will say, Republican sources that I’ve been talking to here on the ground still acknowledge that this is going to be an uphill climb for Haley. Yes, she’s able to compete with independent voters with this message of trying to turn the page from both Biden and Trump, but it’s still a tall order because Trump has such a hold on the Republican base of support here.

So, she will have to over perform with independent voters and that also is no sure bet because if you remember in 2016 Donald Trump won with independent voters. So, it’s a nuanced group and she’s going to have to get every last one to show up in a Republican primary.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, in his many criticisms, Donald Trump has said that Nikki Haley supporters are Democrats. What’s the reality of the crossover vote?

CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: Yes, and to be clear, Democrats cannot vote in the Republican primary here. They will – would have had to switch their party registration back in October. That was the deadline. And we did see about 4,000 Democrats, according to the secretary of state, did switch their party registration to Republican or undeclared, but that’s still about a half percentage point of the general electorate here.

I will say, talking to supporters of Nikki Haley, I’ve talked to a lot of them who are undeclared or independent voters, and overwhelmingly they have told me that they believe that they see their vote as a vote against Trump, not necessarily a vote for Haley. So, the enthusiasm question – the enthusiasm question, are enough of them going to show up in a Republican primary?

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you’ll be bringing us the results.

Caitlin, thanks for that.

Bob, you’re here in studio. As we talk about being able to motivate and coalesce around a candidate, as I asked Governor Haley, it looks like the establishment is lining up behind Donald Trump, 26 senators, all of the House Republican leadership. Why?

ROBERT COSTA: To build off Caitlin’s excellent reporting, to go back to that question you asked Ambassador Haley, where is the Republican establishment. The Republican establishment, my sources on Capitol Hill, in both the House and the Senate, they say privately, and sometimes even publicly, they no longer run the Republican Party. The voters run the Republican Party, and many of those voters are inclined toward former President Donald Trump. So, inside the House you have the speaker behind the former president, and in the Senate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for example, he has said repeatedly publicly that he does not want to get involved in the Republican primary race.

And so many donors who are sources of mine say they’re waiting to see if Haley can come within single digits of Trump in New Hampshire and maybe they will start to pour millions more into her campaign. But at this point they’re moving towards acceptance of Trump being the nominee.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And, of course, Leader McConnell had a very troubled relationship with the president – the former president when he was in office. What about Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida? Can he last? We’re talking about this as a Haley-Trump matchup. Where’s DeSantis?

ROBERT COSTA: Many Republicans are watching how he’s changing his schedule seemly by the hour. He’s trying to focus right now on South Carolina, but our reporting shows there is a debate among his allies about whether he has a path ahead and whether he should stay in the race?

MARGARET BRENNAN: What will decide that?

ROBERT COSTA: It’s ultimately going to come down to his conversations with his wife, Casey, and his inner circle. And it’s also going to come down to money. Is there enough money to fund him going into Super Tuesday?

MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ve been talking to Governor Whitmer about her very key state of Michigan. What are you hearing from your sources about just the level of concern among Democrats about whether they can keep it in 2024?

ROBERT COSTA: Democrats and Republicans, everybody’s watching Michigan. It’s so important. You were on the ground there talking to Whitmer, who’s on the front lines for President Biden. But also Republicans are wondering, can they start to win over suburban voters in Michigan on issues like the economy. Can they win over working voters who may not buy the Biden administration’s position on industrial policy. This is the swing state. And there is concern that younger voters in Michigan especially, because of the issue with Palestine, are getting alarmed about their support for Biden.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And we heard some of that as well.

Bob, thank you.

We’ll be back in a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: During our trip to Michigan, we sat down with a group that included Michigan State students and community activists. Four of them identified as Democrats. We talked about a range of topics, including the challenges Mr. Biden faces in a state that supported him in 2020.


ANNE (Democrat): While I’m not pleased with everything he’s done, I still just think he’s the better choice, he’s the safer choice, he’s the more stable choice.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because you think Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee?

ANNE: I do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thasin, you did change your mind?

THASIN (Democrat): Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: On the president. Why?

THASIN: I was a champion for Joe Biden until October 7th. I feel he’s disowned us, disenfranchised us with his stance on Gaza.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you mean by that?

THASIN: He’s not listening to us. We are asking for a cease-fire this time. It’s a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. Too many lives are being lost at this time. I was never a single-issue voter. In fact, I used to argue with people not to be single-issue voters. But, for me, this is a deal breaker. Way too many lives have been lost.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When you say us, you’re Muslim, is that is what you mean?

THASIN: Yes. Uh-huh.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You think the Muslim community here feels as you to?

THASIN: Yes. I think a vast majority of Muslims, Arab Americans, are – even progressives who – I define (ph) myself as a progressive. And many people that I talk to in my circles do not – are not going to be voting for Joe Biden.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Kathy, how do you feel about this issue?

KATHY (Democrat): Well, I feel like it’s really a difficult issue, but I’m glad we have someone like Biden with his wisdom and experience trying to decide how to handle this. I believe that he – I like when he says things like, Israel has the right to defend itself and to do what it needs to do to protect its citizens from Hamas. I think he stresses that Israel’s got to be really careful not to commit war crimes. I think he’s been really clear on that. I just don’t know what else he can do. I think people think he has more power over Netanyahu than he does.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, abortion is legal and protected in the state of Michigan. Your state voting for that. But do all of you have any vision for what should happen at the national level? If you see Donald Trump elected, Sean, do you think that there will be federal limits on abortion access?

SEAN (Republican): No, I don’t believe so because I think the court has been quite clear. And this was through their opinion in the Dobbs case, allowing states to tailor their own methods for regulating abortion. And then in the several concurrences by the justices who wrote that opinion, that it wasn’t going to be federally regulated. The only way you can do that is if you change the Constitution. So, I can see –

MARGARET BRENNAN: Or write a new law?

SEAN: Well, they could write a new law, but unless they – unless they added in to the – to an amendment, then I could see the court swiftly striking it down, like the court does with many

things it – in either presidency for Trump or Biden. And so I’m not exactly worried about that issue. I would like to see instead what I just said where Congress does make an amendment protecting the life of everyone, including people in the womb.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Some of the Republican candidates have different visions on what you just laid out there. You are shaking your head vehemently.

KATHY: Yes, I – I have to – yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, I have to note, you feel strongly. Please tell me. Yes, how much of reproductive rights are a factor in your presidential campaign vote?

KATHY: Oh, huge. The president chooses our Supreme Court justices. I wish I had confidence that you say in – in our Supreme Court justices. I – I think there’s probably – it’s one of the most important things that the president does and that we have had justices put in under President Trump that are, you know, really changing precedent in major ways that I find very disconcerting. And I’m very concerned about reproductive freedom in this country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you are as well?

ANNE: Same. I mean I think it was, you know, looking bigger picture just the last few Supreme Court nominees, the process was totally up ended and totally disregarded. And I think it starts with that. And then freedoms were rolled back, such as – such as reproductive freedoms. So, I’m fortunate that we have protected them in the state of Michigan. I think just again the American people are for some type of abortion protect. Certainly there’s a sliding scale. But for the federal government to just disregard that and go the other way I think is appalling.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Saba, you said reproductive rights are a huge factor for you, but that you probably won’t vote for President Biden.

SABA (Democrat): I think it would be hypocritical of me to use reproductive rights as a way to justify voting for Biden when Biden is aiding and sending military aid to Israel, which is air striking Gaza and blocking humanitarian aids leading to women there who are pregnant either getting c- sections without anesthesia, not being able to be provided with prenatal care.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s interesting that, just to button this up, Anne, you are not very excited about the Democratic candidate, but I saw the both of you – you are excited – but I saw the both of you jump when we talked about reproductive access.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That is something that’s going to make you show up to vote, even though you’re kind of eh on the candidate?

ANNE: Yes, I – I think so. I mean, I’m certainly a frustrated Democrat at the moment, I would say. I think Joe Biden’s made a lot of missteps. I think he’s not – he’s not a perfect man. He’s not a perfect candidate. But nobody is. And I think he’s done the best, but I think it’s – it’s been alarming to see the things that have gone on, particularly in the Supreme Court, around things like reproductive rights. It’s been alarming and I just think it’s a huge wake-up call to women, to young women.


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


MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s it for us today. But before we go, Speaker Johnson’s office tells us that he has not called for an absolute ban on abortion, but what he has said is that there is no national consensus on the issue. And until there is one, there won’t be a bill on the House floor.

Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I’m Margaret Brennan.




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