On this “Face the Nation” broadcast, moderated by Margaret Brennan:
- Vice President Kamala Harris
- Rep. French Hill, Republican of Arkansas
- Ed O’Keefe, CBS News senior White House and political correspondent
- Retired Gen. Frank McKenzie
- David Sanger, New York Times White House and national security correspondent, and Josh Rogin, Washington Post columnist
Clickto browse full transcripts of “Face the Nation.”
MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m Margaret Brennan in Washington.
And this week on Face the Nation: a network exclusive with Vice President Kamala Harris, as top administration officials travel the world to shore up alliances.
Fall kicks off with a week of in-person international diplomacy, as President Biden gathers with top foreign leaders in India. Secretary of State Blinken visits with President Zelenskyy in Ukraine, and Vice President Harris travels to Southeast Asia to confer with allies about the growing threat from China.
Looming large in all those discussions, three who weren’t there. We met up with the vice president in Jakarta, Indonesia, and talked about her efforts in the region, plus the issues she’s taking on as V.P., abortion rights, root causes of migration and why she thinks Republicans are honing in on her.
MARGARET BRENNAN: How do you respond to those attacks? That’s not a policy. That’s about you.
KAMALA HARRIS (Vice President of the United States): They feel the need to attack because they’re scared.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Plus, do Americans think there should be maximum age limits for politicians? Our new poll has some interesting findings.
Then, 22 years after 9/11 and two years following the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, we will talk with the former head of Central Command General Frank McKenzie McKenzie.
Arkansas Republican French Hill joins us to talk about national security and what’s on the congressional agenda, as House members head back to Washington for the fall session.
It’s all just ahead on Face the Nation.
Good morning, and welcome to Face the Nation.
The reports and the pictures coming in from Morocco, where an earthquake hit Friday, are stunning. More than 2,000 are dead. And that number is expected to climb, as rescuers desperately try to find survivors in the rubble. The quake is the strongest to hit a North African country in 120 years. And the U.S. Geological Survey put it at a 6.8 magnitude.
In other foreign news, President Biden met with leaders of the G20. Those are the 20 largest economies in the world. Notably missing, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping. We will have more on the president’s trip later in the broadcast.
Vice President Kamala Harris has also been conferring with allies. We met up with her in Indonesia late last week for the ASEAN Summit, a network of nations in Southeast Asia. While we were there, our polling unit surveyed Americans about the job the vice president is doing back home. Her approval rating tracks similarly to President Biden’s at 41 percent.
Republicans have been focusing a lot of their attacks on Harris, highlighting that she would be in line for the job of president should anything happen to President Biden. And it is Republicans who say they have heard a lot about her work, more so than Democrats.
Our conversation in Jakarta allowed us the opportunity to ask about her work and a lot more.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you’re 58 now. If you win a second term, as you and the president are running to do, he would be 86 at the end of it.
And we are seeing Republican candidates hone in on you, in particular, as being next up for that job. Nikki Haley says:
NIKKI HALEY (R-Presidential Candidate): A vote for Joe Biden is a vote for a President Kamala Harris.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Chris Christie.
FORMER GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-New Jersey) (Presidential Candidate): I want to be clear that I pray every night for Joe Biden’s good health, not only because he’s our president, but because of who our vice president is.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Ron DeSantis.
GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS (R-Florida) (Presidential Candidate): Harris is his impeachment insurance. People know, if she were president, Katy bar the door, as bad as Biden did, it would get worse.
MARGARET BRENNAN: How do you respond to all of that?
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: We’re delivering for the American people.
And the reality of it is that, unfortunately, very few of those who would challenge our administration actually have a plan for America. You look at what we have accomplished, Margaret. We have created over 800,000 new manufacturing jobs in America, 13 million new jobs, unemployment at record lows.
We have capped the cost of insulin for seniors at $35 a month, capped the cost of prescription drugs on an annual basis at $2,000.
MARGARET BRENNAN: They’re talking about…
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: … for seniors.
MARGARET BRENNAN: … what you would do as president as being a risk. They’re honing in on you.
Why do you think that is? How do you respond to those attacks? That’s not about policy. That’s about you.
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Listen, this is not new. There’s nothing new about that.
I mean, listen, I am — in my career, I was a career prosecutor. I was the first woman elected district attorney of San Francisco, a major city in this country, and reelected. I was the first woman attorney general of the second largest Department of Justice in the United States and reelected.
I was a United States senator. I represented one in eight Americans, and I’m now vice president of the United States. They feel the need to attack because they’re scared that we will win, based on the merit of the work that Joe Biden and I and our administration has done.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But even Democrats are worried about the president’s age.
“The Wall Street Journal” had a poll showing two-thirds of Democrats say Joe Biden is too old to run again. Are you prepared to be commander in chief?
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Yes I am, if necessary. But Joe Biden is going to be fine.
And let me tell you something. I work with Joe Biden every day. Under Joe Biden’s leadership, we have transformed and are in the process of transforming America’s infrastructure with a historic investment in, not only roads and bridges, but high-speed Internet, what we are doing around issues like lead pipes. And I could go on and on.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you taking the threat of a second Trump presidency seriously enough?
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: I don’t understand the question.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You were dismissive of some of the Republican criticism of you and the president.
When you look at current polling, the front-runner for the Republican nomination is the former president, the 45th president.
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: We will win reelection.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you feel — you will win?
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: We will win. We will win reelection. There is too much at stake, and the American people know it.
MARGARET BRENNAN: In terms of delivering on promises, you in your portfolio have tackled the issue of the root cause of migration.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol saw a record number of migrant families cross the border in the month of August, this despite that record level of heat. Why is that happening now? You’ve rolled out new policies.
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Around the globe, we are seeing an increase in irregular migration. And there are a number of factors at play, an increase in authoritarian regimes, what we’re seeing in terms of extreme weather occurrences, what we’re seeing in terms of, in many places around the globe, increasing food insecurity.
So there are many reasons for why this is happening. And — and America is — is not immune to that. The point has to be, then, to understand what we must do to deal with, one, ensuring that we have a secure, humane and orderly policy about the border, but also what we must do in the long term to address the root causes of migration.
The work that I have been doing in that regard has been to build public- private partnerships, to the extent that we have now raised over $4 billion to invest in the countries in that region.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But that migration data, according to CBP, is showing migrants from Guatemala are up, Honduras, Ecuador, Peru.
So, when the border crossings went down earlier in the summer, the administration said it was due to your policies working. Now they’re going back up as they did in the month of August. Does that show the strategy is no longer working?
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Absolutely not.
What it means is that we have to stay focused on a number of issues related to the irregular migration that, again, we’re seeing around the world. And America is not immune. You know, my philos…
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you think the strategy is working, despite the numbers being up?
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Overall, we are seeing progress, but there is — we’re not going to have a constant — there are going to be fluctuations.
That is normal, just like the weather fluctuates and — and circumstances fluctuate, such as elections in those regions and what that might mean. It doesn’t mean that we keep our foot off the gas. We have to stay focused and understand there has to be a long-term strategy, as well as a short-term strategy.
And here’s — here’s the bottom…
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, was it too early to say that the strategy was working when the numbers went down for two months?
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: My point is that focusing on root causes…
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-hmm.
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: … and doing the work that we have been doing to bring U.S. investment into those countries in a way that is supportive of their economies and supportive of fighting corruption actually works.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You have been very active on the issue of abortion and rallying behind the idea of this federal law to restore what was upheld in Roe v. Wade.
But, to do that, Democrats need 60 votes in the Senate, they need a majority in the House they don’t have, they need the presidency. The math doesn’t add up. So don’t you need to level with the American people and say this is not a realistic promise to make for 2024?
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Congress has the ability to put back in place the rights that the Supreme Court took from the women of America.
MARGARET BRENNAN: In theory. It doesn’t have the votes to do that.
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: But that’s why we have elections. And that’s why we are seeing around this country that, when this issue is on the ballot, from Kansas to California, people vote in favor of upholding basic freedoms.
The vast majority of Americans agree that the government should not be making this decision for the women of America.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What is it that you believe? I mean, what week of pregnancy should abortion access be cut off?
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: We need to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Which was…
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: We’re not trying to do something new.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, that was nebulous, because it was about viability, which could be anywhere between 20 to 24 weeks. And…
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: But it — so, no, no, no, no, no.
Let’s — let me be very clear…
MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s — that was in the Women’s Health Protection Act that the White House also endorsed.
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Let me be — let me be very clear.
From day one, the president has been clear. I have been clear. We need to put back the protections that are in Roe v. Wade into law. Since the Supreme Court took it, Congress has the power and ability to pass legislation to put those protections back in law, and Joe Biden will sign that bill. So, that is what we want.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But does it need to be specific in terms of defining where that guarantee goes up to and where it does not, at which week of pregnancy?
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: We need to put back in place the protections of Roe v. Wade.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You know why I’m asking you this question though, because …
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: But we’re not trying to — but we’re not trying to do anything that did not exist before June of last year. We are saying…
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, it wasn’t crafted into law. And that’s why I’m asking you for the specifics there…
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: But it…
MARGARET BRENNAN: … because Republicans say the lack of a precise date in cutting it off — you know this — is, they say that allows Democrats to perform abortions up until birth.
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Which is ridiculous, which is…
MARGARET BRENNAN: Which is statistically not accurate.
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: And it’s ridiculous.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I understand that…
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: And it’s a mischaracterization of the point.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So…
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: No, the point is…
MARGARET BRENNAN: But — but do you need to be more precise?
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: The president is, we have to — I am being precise.
We need to put into law the protections of Roe v. Wade. And that is about going back to where we were before the Dobbs decision.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But if — if there is the possibility through legislation to provide any kind of guarantee at the federal level, any kind of protection, like the Republican proposal, 15 weeks protection…
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: The Republicans are also…
MARGARET BRENNAN: … is it worth doing something?
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: But the Republicans — member — members of the Republican Party are also proposing a national ban.
The thing that…
MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m talking about the Lindsey Graham bill, as you know…
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: The…
MARGARET BRENNAN: … and — and those proposals of giving some access, though that’s 15 weeks. Why do you think it shouldn’t be specific?
You know, out in — out in New Mexico, for example, the governor there says it shouldn’t be nailed down to a week, because it should be a private matter between a woman and her doctor. There shouldn’t be a precise number put on that.
Is that what you believe as well?
VICE PRESIDENT VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: I believe that we should put the protections of Roe v. Wade into law, and the way that will happen is if we have a United States Congress who, regardless of their personal view for themselves or their family, would agree that the women of America should be trusted to make decisions about their life and their body, based on what they know to be in their best interest.
It’s that simple.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We will have more of our interview with the vice president in our next half-hour.
We will be back in one minute. Stay with us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Arkansas Republican Congressman French Hill, who joins us from Little Rock.
Good morning to you, Congressman.
REPRESENTATIVE FRENCH HILL (R-Arkansas): Good morning, Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Lawmakers are coming back here to Washington this week.
And they have just 11 working days left to fund the government before September 30. Speaker McCarthy has already said it looks like we’re headed towards a short-term patch, versus actually passing all these appropriation bills. Are you confident we can avoid a shutdown?
REPRESENTATIVE FRENCH HILL: I’m hopeful we can avoid a shutdown.
And the number one thing that I think House Republicans need to do — and I have certainly urged all my colleagues on this point — Margaret, is get the other 11 bills that we have not passed during the summer across the House floor. We’ve only passed one, and the Senate’s passed 12.
So, that gives them a distinct advantage over the House in the negotiation for 2024 spending details. And if we want to merit that and have the right kind of negotiation that House conservatives want, then we need to come together and pass those 11 bills as soon as possible, including using a brief continuing resolution, if necessary, in order to get that work done.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, the right flank of your party opposes that short- term, that continuing resolution that you just mentioned there.
Are we going to be looking here at another scenario where, despite having a majority, Republicans will need Democrats to get this over the finish line?
REPRESENTATIVE FRENCH HILL: But, you know, this is what’s — I think it is — it is frustrating.
We don’t control the Senate. We don’t control the White House. But what we do control is our own appropriations process. And Chairman Kay Granger has written more conservative bills and more conservative funding levels than the Senate, more conservative than the debt ceiling deal that President Biden and Speaker McCarthy agreed to. So that’s good.
But to have that negotiating clout, we need to get all those bills passed across the House floor.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
REPRESENTATIVE FRENCH HILL: A government shutdown is not going to improve that situation. And a long-term continuing resolution only institutionalizes last year’s Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden priorities.
I don’t think House conservatives want that to happen.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you talking about short term just taking us to December or so?
REPRESENTATIVE FRENCH HILL: No, short term — to me, short term is shorter than that.
I think I would certainly support something in the October time frame to give the House the time it needs to complete — complete these other 11 bills. They’ve come through committee.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes.
REPRESENTATIVE FRENCH HILL: People have their amendments ready. We just need floor time to debate them and pass them.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, that’s a lot of work to get done in a short window. And it’s not clear that Republican leadership has control of all parts of your party, as I mentioned.
Marjorie Taylor Greene said she will not vote to fund the government unless “We have passed an impeachment inquiry on Joe Biden.”
Is that a tactic leadership is considering?
REPRESENTATIVE FRENCH HILL: I don’t have insight on that. I would doubt that, because I don’t think Jamie Comer, the chairman of the Oversight Committee, or Jim Jordan, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, think that’s a good idea.
I don’t believe they’ve even remotely completed their work on the kind of detailed investigations and quality work that Speaker McCarthy is expecting both those committees to produce before someone goes to an impeachment activity.
We don’t want to repeat the mistakes we think that Nancy Pelosi made by prematurely moving to impeachment during the Trump administration.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, would — OK.
Well, the other part of the right wing of your caucus that’s raising concerns is specific to the portion of aid that President Biden is requesting to help Ukraine, a supplemental request, $44 billion, 24 for Ukraine, $16 billion for natural disasters, $4 billion to fight the flow of fentanyl.
Are you going to swallow those numbers? How significant are you going to trim them?
REPRESENTATIVE FRENCH HILL: Well, look, I think a majority of House Republicans would prefer that those core spending items, not so much the FEMA emergency numbers, but the other numbers, be handled through the existing budget and appropriations process. And that’s going to cause concern for a lot of House Republicans, not just conservatives, in the House conference.
We’d like to see that incorporated in the budgets that we’re already negotiating now. I personally support ejecting Putin from Ukraine. I support funding for Ukraine. I just introduced this week the Ukraine Reconstruction Act, which converts Russian assets to pay for the war and pay for reconstruction of Ukraine.
So, this is something, a battle that we need to win. And we’re going to work out how best to do that in the next few weeks.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, another battlefield where Russia has been active is in Syria.
I know you just paid a visit there, the first time a lawmaker visited since 2017, when John McCain went. I’m wondering why you did and what it is you’re asking U.S. allies to do.
REPRESENTATIVE FRENCH HILL: Well, I wanted to see for myself the death and destruction caused by 12 years of Assad’s brutality against his own people.
He said: Keep me in office, or I will destroy the country.
And he’s certainly done that. Just last week, Russian aircraft flew 41 sorties, killing some 40 people in Syria, including 15 children. So, I went across the border with my colleagues Ben Cline from Virginia and Scott Fitzgerald from Wisconsin, and we met with orphans that had been orphaned at the Wisdom House orphanage, which is supported by wonderful, generous donors here in Little Rock, Arkansas, to see pictures of their kid — their parents killed by Assad.
What we need is for the whole world to have a political solution to Syria. And let’s recognize that this is the first battleground that Vladimir Putin began killing innocent civilians several years before he went into Ukraine.
These are — this is a failure of the national and global leadership. And we need to continue to take action to find a political solution and cut off Assad’s funding, cut off his ability to have a drug trade throughout the world and get help to the people in Northwest Syria that — that are victims of the February earthquakes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman, there is a lot to unpack on Syria with you, and I hope to do that again another time.
Thank you for your time today.
REPRESENTATIVE FRENCH HILL: You bet.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’ll be right back.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We also surveyed Americans about another big issue in politics these days, age and the ability to serve effectively over the age of 75.
More than three-quarters of Americans, no matter what their political affiliation is, favor maximum age limits for elected officials. Just over half say the job of president or senator is too demanding for someone over the age of 75, although more than a third of those surveyed said it depends.
Although 68 percent of Americans say age brings experience, that is outweighed by the approximately eight in 10 Americans who are concerned that elected officials might be out of touch or unable to do the job past the age of 75.
There’s a lot more about our poll on our Web site at CBSNews.com.
We will be back in a moment.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to Face the Nation.
We want to turn now to senior White House and political correspondent Ed O’Keefe, who is traveling with the president in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Ed, this is a quick trip, just 24 hours. But it’s part of President Biden’s strategy to counter a rising China.
ED O’KEEFE: That’s right, Margaret.
The president met this evening with the top leaders of Vietnam, who are seeking what they call a comprehensive strategic partnership now with the United States, a relationship that would put the U.S. on par with China and Russia, and that White House officials hope means, eventually, Vietnam will end up buying even more U.S. military equipment, as the Biden administration seeks to counter China in this region.
The stop here in Hanoi comes after the president made a visit to the G20 summit in India on Saturday. There was a lot of conversation about topics of concern for the president, climate change, economic development, and infrastructure spending.
There was also a joint statement from the leaders of the G20 that expressed general concern about the suffering of the people of Ukraine, but no stronger denunciation of the war there. That’s in part because, of course, Russia and China are members of the G20, and India is officially neutral on the war.
Still, the White House is pleased that there was any mention at all of the situation in Ukraine. And the visit comes amid new CBS News polling that shows tough criticism for the president when it comes to foreign policy. Fifty percent of Americans believe he is making the United States weaker around the world, 57 percent believe he’s being too easy on China, and seven in 10 Americans have a pessimistic view on the prospects for world peace.
The visit here in Vietnam will end Monday with a stop at the memorial to the site where former Senator John McCain was shot down over the skies of Vietnam. And on his way home to Washington on 9/11, he will commemorate the terrorist attacks with a stop and a visit with troops in Alaska — Margaret.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Ed O’Keefe with the president in Hanoi, Vietnam.
We will be right back.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Although it was not surprising that Vladimir Putin would skip the G-20 Summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s absence was noted, both there and at the ASEAN Summit. President Biden told reporters today in Hanoi that he was concerned China was, quote, changing the rules of the game, and that he met with Chinese Premier Li Qiang, who did attend both meetings.
Here’s more of our conversation with the vice president.
MARGARET BRENNAN: China’s rewriting the global order. Your national security strategy says they are the only power in the world with the intent and the ability to do that.
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: There’s no question that we are very concerned about the Chinese government’s actions on the South China Sea and how that is impacting the security and the future prosperity of the nations that are affected.
For example, I was recently in the Philippines. And I’ve been spending a lot of time with President Marcos. The — what is happening in terms of unprovoked actions against the Philippine interests in the South China Sea is significant. And we have been very clear that we stand with the Philippines.
MARGARET BRENNAN: They’re a treaty alley.
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: They are. Absolutely. Yes, they are.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The U.S. will have to militarily defend them.
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Not only is there a treaty relationship, but the very basic issue that the American people will experience and feel if we’re not – if we’re not on top of it is what that will mean in terms of commerce flowing freely through those waters.
MARGARET BRENNAN: How concerned are the leaders you spoke with here about the potential for a military clash?
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: I think the issue that is most present here among the southeast Asian leaders is that there be a respect for and enforcement of international rules and norms. But they hope that there will be an avoidance of conflict. And that there is a great symmetry between that and our policy toward China. We do not invite conflict, but we absolutely are prepared to and engaged in what is necessary to compete.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So when President Biden said the other day that China was a ticking time bomb, he was talking about their current economic problems that they are experiencing. He said, that’s not good because when bad folks have problems they do bad things.
What is the scenario that you are thinking about and worried about the most?
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: We, as the United States, and our policy is not about decoupling, it is about de-risking. It is about understanding.
MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s not about pulling out U.S. military.
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: It’s not about pulling out, but it is about ensure that we are protecting American interests and that we are a leader in terms of the rules of the road, as opposed to following others’ rules.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But President Biden was talk — I think he was talking about the economic problems within China right now. He seemed to be suggesting that Xi Jinping might take some kind of action.
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: It’s no secret that China is experiencing economic problems. And – and what you will find is — certainly in my conversations with American business leaders is that they are looking at the future in terms of their capital investments and taking into account which countries are engaged in practices that are about abiding by the rule of law and international rules and norms in a way that they can be guaranteed that there will be some stability so they can make long-term investments. There is increasingly an understanding that China may not be the best bet when you are looking for stability, when you are looking for an investment in a place where there is an adherence to and respect for international rules and norms.
MARGARET BRENNAN: This November the United States will host a big summit of leaders in San Francisco.
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Yes. Yes. Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: China said a few days ago, their state security service, the U.S. needs to show sufficient sincerity before Xi Jinping agrees to visit.
How important is it for Xi Jinping to come to America in November?
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Well, it is important to the order of things, if you will, the stability of things, that we keep open lines of communication.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You were in the same room with China’s number two today.
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Yes, I have – and I have actually met with President Xi as well.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Did you talk to him? Did you talk to him today?
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Well, we exchanged pleasantries, yes. Yes.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But it’s still a little tense?
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: I don’t think it’s as simple, if you will, as whether there is tension. Yes, there’s tension when you are in a competition of any sort, but that does not mean that a we are seeking conflict.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: And I think it’s important to not conflate the two.
Do we have disagreements, for example, very serious disagreements about what’s happening in the South China Sea? Yes. And we’re very clear about that. So, one could argue that there’s tension there.
But you look, for example, at trade. Ninety-nine percent of our trade is not influenced by what we are doing in terms of the restrictions on exports.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, you want Xi Jinping to come in November?
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: I think he is absolutely an important player in this region of the world. And if he comes, then that will be, I’m sure, something that could be productive.
MARGARET BRENNAN: North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, as you know, is expected, according to U.S. intelligence, to go meet with Vladimir Putin in Russia, in exchange for some military support potentially here.
How destabilizing would that be for Asia?
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: I think it would be a huge mistake. I think it would be a huge mistake. First of all, when you look at Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine, and the idea that they would supply ammunition to Russia, well, it’s predictable where that ends up.
I also believe very strongly that for both Russia and North Korea, this will further isolate them in —
MARGARET BRENNAN: Some of the most sanctioned countries in the world at this point.
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: But at some point it’s just a step too far.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What is that step too far? I mean, what is it that Kim Jong-un is seeking? Is it nuclear submarines, as our allies in Seoul have said they’re concerned about? Is it satellites? What does that do here in Asia?
VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: Our allies are telling you — us about their concern about what’s happening in terms of North Korea. We are all absolutely clear and unequivocal about our goal of the complete denuclearization of North Korea. But when we think about the — Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, we’re — many, most, are very clear also. It’s an absolute violation of one of the most important agreements that we have around the world in terms of international rules and norms, which is the importance of sovereignty and territorial integrity. And, Margaret, I — on that matter, I — it is very clear that Russia has — clearly they’re very desperate. They have already experienced a strategic failure. So, clearly this is an act of desperation on the part of Russia. But it would be a huge mistake for Korea to do this – for North Korea to do this.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Our full interview with the vice president is on our website and YouTube channel.
We’ll be right back.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to retired Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie, who was the head of U.S. Central Command from 2019 to 2022.
Welcome back to FACE THE NATION, sir.
GEN. FRANK MCKENZIE (RET), (Former Commander of U.S. Central Command): Margaret, good to be with you this morning.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Tomorrow is the 22-year mark after the attacks of 9/11. And this Friday a senior U.S. intelligence official told reporters that al Qaeda is at a historic low point and revival is unlikely in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
I wonder if you think we’re at the point where the U.S. can declare victory?
FRANK MCKENZIE: Well, it’s good news about al Qaeda. I think ISIS is actually the more enduring threat right now. Al Qaeda is torn with internal theocratic debates. ISIS is not. And I do believe that ISIS, particularly in Afghanistan, is taking advantage of the vast ungoverned spaces that are there. And I believe they are, in fact, gathering strength. I would not dispute the judgment on al Qaeda.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, your successor, the current CENTCOM commander, said ISIS could do an external operation against the U.S. in under six months.
How should Americans understand that threat from Afghanistan?
FRANK MCKENZIE: Well, I believe ISIS has always wanted to attack us here in our homeland as a core tenant, a core belief of theirs. And one of the reasons that we were in Afghanistan was to prevent the use of that country as a base from which to gather strength and either to direct or inspire attacks on our homelands or the homelands of our allies. As a result of our withdraw from Afghanistan, it is now far more difficult for us to pursue those objectives.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, you’ve made no secret of the fact that now as a private citizen you opposed both President Biden and President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan. In June, Biden was asked about some of the documented failures of that withdraw. And here’s what he said.
JOE BIDEN (President Of The United States): Because remember what I said about Afghanistan. I said al Qaeda would not be there. I said it wouldn’t be there. I said we’d get help from the Taliban. I was right.
MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you make of the president’s characterization of the U.S. working with the Taliban?
FRANK MCKENZIE: Of course, I don’t see that intelligence reporting anymore, but everything up until April 2022, which is when I stopped reading it, led me to believe that Taliban would act only in the light of their very best interest. And while they might – they might – they might make some temporary accommodation, as they did when we withdrew from Afghanistan, they weren’t to be trusted and they actually have a long-term familial and customary relationship with al Qaeda. And it’s very difficult to think that would change. I think that relationship is far stronger than any potential relationship they choose with the United States.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You oversaw that evacuation. And you’ve testified to Congress previously that the U.S. did not have any opportunity to take out that suicide bomber who took the lives of the 13 Americans who died August two years ago.
But in recent months, a Marine sniper has testified to Congress that he had the bomber in his sights, and he was not authorized to take the shot. Do you stand by your initial statement?
FRANK MCKENZIE: Yes, I do, Margaret. And the point I would make is this. As the days wound up to the 26th of August, which was the day of the strike, we were looking at four significant threats. We were looking at a vehicle born IED attack, a car with a bomb in it, that we thought was very real, in fact was being prepared. We were looking at a suicide vest attack of the – of the type that actually occurred on the 26th. We were looking at indirect fire, rockets or mortars, directed against the airfield, and then we were looking at the possibility of an insider attack, somebody who got past our checkpoints with a bomb and was able to set it off either in the crowded terminal area or on an airplane.
So, the point I would make is, look, there were a lot of threats being worked all the time.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But there was nothing that you saw indicating that there was a decision made not to take a shot? Nothing that would substantiate what this individual said under sworn testimony?
FRANK MCKENZIE: No. What I can tell you is that tactical units on the ground went in with rules of engagement, what we call ROE in our business, that were robust enough to allow them to defend themselves. And we actually exercised that right on several occasions in defense of the airfield where we engaged targets that appeared to be threatening. So, the rules of engagement were in place.
As to what actually happened on the ground at the tactical level down inside a rifle squad or a platoon, well, Margaret, I — I don’t know the answer to that. So I can’t – I can’t help you with that particular one.
But I do know we had good rules of engagement. They were the standing rules of engagement that we’ve had. People were well trained in those rules of engagement and knew how to apply them.
MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to also ask you, as former CENTCOM commander, about Iran. We have seen a buildup by the administration of Marines, warships in the region. At the same time, a bit of a thaw with Iran with this potential prisoner exchange happening and the release of $6 billion in unfrozen Iranian oil reserve money.
How should Americans at home think about Iran now given what’s happening?
FRANK MCKENZIE: Iran remains the most significant threat to peace in the region and they continue to pursue ultimately a policy of ejecting the United States and other western nations from the region. That hasn’t changed. That – that’s a – and a return to hegemonic power in the region. All those remain core goals of Iran.
Now, they will do a lot tactically to gain sanctions relief. And that’s, in my judgement, that’s what they’re doing now. The core problem of Iran has not gone away. In fact it’s worsened because over the last ten years Iran has significantly increased the capabilities and capacity of their ballistic missiles, they have thousands of those, of land attack cruise missiles, low flying missiles, and also drones. And those give them the capability to gain what we would call overmatch against the neighbors.
That’s a significant – that’s a significant rise in Iranian capabilities. We tend to overlook that sometimes because we look hard at the nuclear issue. And the nuclear issue is important. But the issues that’s – that poses a threat this afternoon is the Iranian capability with their missiles.
MARGARET BRENNAN: General, thank you for your assessment and your time today.
We’ll be back in a moment.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re back for some analysis with David Sanger of “The New York Times” and “Washington Post” columnist Josh Rogin.
Good morning to you both. Good to have you here.
DAVID SANGER, (White House and National Security Correspondent, “The New York Times”): Good morning, Margaret.
JOSH ROGIN, (Foreign Policy and National Security Columnist, “Washington Post”): Good to be here.
You know, David, I want to start with you. I know you’ve been looking a lot at great power competition. In the last Cold War, southeast Asia, Asia was an epicenter of this shutdown. And once again we are looking at Asia becoming a real focus here for great power competition, this time directly with China.
I wonder how you think the Biden administration is doing so far in countering the balance?
DAVID SANGER: Well, so far a lot better, I think, than most of their predecessors. And in that I would – I would include both President Trump and President Obama. They have got a strategy to try to win back the allegiance of countries throughout the Pacific. And so you’ve seen agreements that have ranged down through the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, places that people really hadn’t thought about in the United States very much, up through the Philippines, as you were discussing with Vice President Harris, and with Vietnam.
I remember being on the first trip an American president took to Vietnam, it was Bill Clinton, and it was pretty much all about reconciliation with the war. What I thought was interesting about the president’s press conference, which ran just as you began the show here, is, there was almost no reference to the Vietnam War. It was really all about China itself and its influences, Russia and its influences. And what the president didn’t say, as my “Times” colleagues have reported, is that Vietnam has just signed an arms deal secretly with Russia.
MARGARET BRENNAN: OK.
DAVID SANGER: And did so just before the president arrived. So, you’re seeing a lot of countries hedging and trying to keep one foot in both camps.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And, Josh, you were with me on that very long transit to Indonesia and you spoke with Vice President Harris as well. One of the things she — she didn’t lay out there, but the broader strategy seems to be building this constellation of countries that don’t really like Beijing, but aren’t ready to necessarily claim allegiance. They just want a little bit more relationship management here.
What is it that you think was accomplished?
JOSH ROGIN: Right. Well, I think, you know, we talk a lot about the U.S.- China relationship for obvious reasons. But the fact is that the Indo- Pacific strategy is a lot bigger than China. And where the real action is, is with all of these other countries. And we see the geopolitical shifts in the region, Japan and Korea, coming to Camp David for the first time. We see the Japanese and the Philippines working together more than they ever have before. This is not caused because of a us but there is an opportunity for the United States to take advantage of these demand signals coming from allies, and I think that’s what Vice President Harris was there to do.
And I don’t know about your opinion, Margret, but my opinion is that she did it — represented the United States admirably and skillfully and showed that she had a command of the issues and a good rapport with several of these Asian leaders, whom she has met with on many trips many times. And did she solve all of the world’s problems in 36 hours? No. And can she solve the fact that our Indo-Pacific strategy lacks a robust economic and investment component, no. But she did the hard work of meeting with these people and hearing them out. And but what they said to her and to you and to me is very clear, is that they’re stuck there in that region with China, whether they like it or not.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
JOSH ROGIN: They want America in the region. They don’t know if they can count on our long-term commitment. They would like to see more money on the table. But this was a small step, I think, in the right direction.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The one part that some of those countries can count on are those countries where there is an actual treaty, right? And I think it is worth reminding people that five of our seven treaty allies are in Asia. So, the U.S. could get drawn into a conflict. So these skirmishes in the Philippines or things that are happening in these far-flung places actually could pull in U.S. military action and require it, David.
DAVID SANGER: This is our biggest risk right now, which is something accidental.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
DAVID SANGER: You’ll remember that the Bush administration, George W. Bush, began with its first big foreign policy crisis was an American plane that collided with a Chinese plane, both intelligence plane and a fighter, and (INAUDIBLE) took days to get the crew back.
Right now there is so much activity from the South China Sea down through the Philippines that that’s a big risk. And you mentioned North Korea, where they’re in, obviously, you know, the diplomacy that you saw President Trump engage in, ultimately fail. The North Korean nuclear arsenal is larger than it has ever been. They’ve just brought out a submarine that may or may not be able to carry nuclear weapons. And the cooperation that we once had from China and Russia to solve this problem is gone.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Right.
DAVID SANGER: Why? Because the Russians need arms from the North Koreans and looks like in the next few days we may see Kim Jong-un show up to meet Vladimir Putin.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Exactly. And that’s worth pointing out because when we hear about international rules based order, that’s based on the U.N. And two of those actors you just talked about have veto power there. So, we’re really seeing this new territory foreign policy wise.
Josh, you know, one of the things that strikes me is how carefully the administration parses and picks its words when it refers to anything having to do with China. Then U.S. Ambassador Rahm Emanuel tweeted, and he went there, “President Xi’s cabinet lineup is resembling Agatha Christie’s novel, ‘And Then There Were None’.” He’s talking about the foreign minister going missing, the rocket force commanders going missing. The defense minister hasn’t been seen in two weeks. He said, “who’s going to win this unemployment race? China’s youth or Xi’s cabinet?”
Fairly provocative but pointing to some real internal issues potentially within China’s top leadership.
JOSH ROGIN: Right. I mean we all know Rahm Emanuel in Japan I’ve been to Tokyo recently. They call him the Rahm-bassador. They call him like a – you know, the – the — the junkyard dog that you chain up near – near the – the Chinese that can bark at them. And that’s not exactly perfectly coordinated inside the administration, to be honest, but it’s not as if they’re stopping him either. And you saw in your interview with Vice President Harris and President Biden’s press conference, they’re very careful when talking about China.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Very careful.
JOSH ROGIN: And then there’s Rahm. And he’s not — but what he’s saying is true, that the level of secrecy inside Xi Jinping’s regime is unprecedented. And that – in more than anything else is what’s causing a lot of the uncertainty and risk of miscalculation that could lead to the conflict that nobody wants. So, if it has to be Rahm Emanuel that says the obvious, when is that when the foreign minister disappears off the face of earth, no explanation, that’s weird, OK. And when they are expanding militarily and say, oh, we want to have good military communication, but we won’t establish the military-to-military hotline, then they’re not telling the truth, OK. And these are just facts about our relationship with China that are unfortunate but need to be spoken so that people understand that, in the end, if the Chinese government doesn’t want to engage, like it says it does, there’s not a lot we can do except to rally our allies to defend ourselves, which I think is what they’re doing.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And we’ll see if Xi Jinping ends up coming to America in November potentially to meet with Joe Biden.
DAVID SANGER: We’re — we’re taking bets.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes. Unclear. I don’t know what bet you would take on that one. But I will – I will defer. We’re going to have to leave the conversation there though, and we’ll be right back.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Before we go today, we want to congratulate Coco Gauff, the first American to win the U.S. Open as a teen since 1999 when Serena Williams won at the age of just 17. This is her first major tournament victory. President Biden called her.
That’s it for us today. Thank you all for watching.
Until next week, for FACE THE NATION, I’m Margaret Brennan.