‘This Week’ Transcript 2-27-22: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Sen. Tom Cotton & Amb. Oksana Markarova

A rush transcript of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday, February 27, 2022 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form, may be updated and may contain minor transcription errors. For previous show transcripts, visit the “This Week” transcript archive.

ANNOUNCER: “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” starts right now.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC “THIS WEEK” ANCHOR: War in Ukraine. Capital Kyiv under siege from Russian forces.

IAN PANNELL, ABC NEWS SENIOR FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Air raid sirens are ringing out across the capital.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Citizen soldiers and Ukraine’s president defiant.

The U.S. and European allies hit Putin with sanctions, deploy forces to the region.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Putin chose this war. Now he and his country will bear the consequences.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The UK is announcing the largest and most severe package of economic sanctions that Russia has ever seen.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Fears of a wider war and humanitarian crisis. Thousands of refugees on the move.

Plus, historic pick.

BIDEN: I believe it’s time that we have a court that reflects the full talents and greatness of our nation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: President Biden nominates Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court.

JUDGE KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE NOMINEE: I am truly humbled by the extraordinary honor of this nomination.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The latest on the confirmation battle, ahead.

And —

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has been working to finalize details of his State of the Union.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Our brand new ABC News/”Washington Post” poll on the challenges President Biden faces ahead of his first State of the Union.

ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it’s “This Week.”

Here now, George Stephanopoulos.


STEPHANOPOULOS (on camera): Good morning and welcome to “This Week.”

As we come on the air this morning, Ukrainians are holding on to the capital city of Kyiv under intense new shelling from Russian forces.

Ukrainian and Russian forces are battling in the streets of the country’s second largest city, Kharkiv, and more than 200,000 refugees are on the move, as the U.S. and other Western nations clamped down on Russia with more sanctions and ramp up military support for the resistance in Ukraine.

Just moments ago, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators agreed to meet on the border of Belarus in Ukraine.

We’re live across the warzone this morning. We begin with senior foreign correspondent Ian Pannell in Kyiv.

Good morning, Ian.

PANNELL: Yeah, good morning, George. We’re in Maidan Square.

This country, this city is in a total war footing. We’ve been hearing the sounds of battle here, but attention is focused on the country’s second largest city where it appears an attempt by Russia to enter the city has been repelled.

But I think what we’re witnessing was isn’t just the Ukrainian crisis, but a global one.


PANNELL (voice-over): This was the week the world changed. The post-Cold War order shaken to its core and the full-scale conflict erupting in Europe 75 years after we swore never again. This morning, Russian tanks and troops, artillery and aircraft are pummeling the Ukrainian capital Kyiv as they lay siege to the city.

Once again, air raid sirens are ringing out across the capital, Kyiv. Although there’s been a lull in the fighting for the last couple hours, the fears are that the Russians have been resupplying and ready to mount a real attack inside the city.

Four days ago, President Zelensky was saying he didn’t think Russia was planning a large scale invasion. Today, the former actor and comedian has become commander in chief, leading his country in defense of the nation, saying: Our arms are our truth, our truth is that it’s our land, and we will defend all of this.

For months, Putin has kept the world guessing about his intentions, amassing 150,000 troops while making extraordinary demands. Guarantees Ukraine will never join NATO and that the alliance should pull back from Eastern Europe.

The KGB colonel who became prime minister and then president for life has long been a thorn in the West’s side, cunning, shrewd, always venerated as a master tactician, outwitting many U.S. presidents.

But this week, a different Vladimir Putin emerged — irrational, risky, paranoid. In an extraordinary hour-long speech, Putin lectured about 100-year-old history and questioning Ukraine’s legitimacy as a state, saying — Ukraine isn’t just a neighboring country, it’s an integral part of our history, culture, spiritual continuum — in the end recognizing the two Russian controlled separatist regions in Ukraine as independent.

The final pieces now in place for a false pretext Russia has been manufacturing for months, a barrage of false claims of genocide and Ukrainian attacks.

In the east, where this crisis was at its most acute, Russian forces have struggled to make advances. In Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, the Kremlin’s troops met what’s emerging as a defining feature of this conflict, stiff, unified, and resolute Ukrainian resistance.

Vladimir Putin may have thought all he had to do was pressure Zelensky and he’d fold. But the master tactician may have underestimated his enemy.

Despite overwhelming firepower in their favor, the first days of battle have not gone as well as the Russians expected, according to a senior Pentagon official.

Putin has plunged the world into a deep crisis, the West now moving to make Russia a pariah state. President Biden calling it a war of choice without a cause.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war. And now he and his country will bear the consequences.


PANNELL (voiceover): The administration along with Britain and Europe introducing a raft of sanctions targeting Russian banks, business elites, or oligarchs and their families, even President Putin and the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.


BIDEN: This is going to impose severe costs on the Russian economy, both immediately and over time.


PANNELL (voiceover): NATO activating its Rapid Response Force for the first time in a defensive role in Europe. Up to 40,000 troops to bolster allied countries close to Russia and Ukraine and 7,000 American troops ordered to Europe could soon make up part of this.


JENS STOLTENBERG, SECRETARY GENERAL OF NATO: There is no doubt about NATO’s readiness to protect and defend all allies.


PANNELL (voiceover): But the troops will not be going to Ukraine.





PANNELL (voiceover): The West’s response exposes the limitations of confronting the world’s second most powerful nuclear nation. Today the Ukrainian people may have the world’s support and more weapons, but they’re in this fight alone.

Now a U.S. official telling ABC News a $350 million package of lethal defensive aid will also include portal surface-to-air missiles. The last time American sent such weapons to help America’s enemies was during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Welcome to the new cold war.


PANNELL (on camera): Well, George, we’ve now got this news that the two sides are going to meet at the border between Belarus and Ukraine. Although it’s hard to see what common ground could exist while Russian troops are on the offensive inside Ukraine. We also have this deeply worrying statement from Vladimir Putin. He’s talking about aggressive NATO action and he’s putting his strategic defense forces on a state of heightened readiness. It certainly sounds like nuclear saber rattling. George?

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: Certainly does. Ian Pannell, thanks very much.

Let’s take that to Moscow right now. James Longman is there. And, James, what more do we know about this order from Vladimir Putin?

JAMES LONGMAN, ABC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Well, George, this does feel like it takes things to a whole new level. He is ordering a strategic deterrence force into what he’s called a special regime of combat duty. It’s, essentially, nuclear readiness. But it is, one hopes, intended only as a threat. You get the sense this invasion isn’t going as quickly as he’d hoped. And with all the support for Ukraine, Vladimir Putin is, perhaps, increasingly frustrated. George?

STEPHANOPOULOS: It certainly does sound ominous, though, to be putting your nuclear forces on heightened alert. And, James, you’ve also been noticing some more signs of dissent inside Russia.

LONGMAN: Yes. The government is continuing its pretense that they’re only taking limited military action. And Putin has been thanking Russian troops for doing their duty, only mentioning the Donbas rather than the full-scale invasion that is actually underway. The Kremlin is really going to find it harder and harder to keep the truth from its own people.

Moscow tends to hide the impact on its armed forces. So now the Ukrainians actually launched a website to help Russian families find their relatives killed in combat. That’s just one way the truth of this situation is slowly leaking into Russia, despite state media control.

The economic impact of sanctions is also alerting people here to the seriousness of this situation. Since the ruble sank, $7 billion has already been withdrawn from the banks. Things like electronics are rocketing in price. Car parts are harder to find. Travel is going to be very difficult. Businesses are also asking more and more for cash because they’re concerned about their bank accounts.

A former Russian central bank official has actually said that things will — might be a catastrophe on the Russian currency market on Monday, tomorrow, when trading opens. And this is as the crackdown on dissent here continues. One human rights monitor estimates that 3,000 people have now been arrested in protests here.

Today is, by the way, the seven-year anniversary of the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. He was gunned down right in front of the Kremlin here behind me. The big question, will more people, as so many have already done, risk their lives coming out into the streets in big numbers? We’ve seen more barricades going up around the Kremlin. The authorities here certainly feel they might. George?

STEPHANOPOULOS: James Longman, thanks very much.

Let’s go to Washington right now. Chief White House correspondent Cecilia Vega. And, Cecelia, President Biden and our allies are doing more now to crack down on Russia?

CECILIA VEGA, ABC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, George. We, in fact, could be looking at some of the strictest sanctions in modern history. What they’re doing right now has really been described as the financial nuclear weapon. So they’re cutting off Russia from the SWIFT Banking System. Essentially, it allows big banks, large banks to send international transactions.

They’re still working out the details. But, essentially, we could be talking about, ultimately, crushing Russia’s ability to do so much of its business beyond its own borders. Perhaps even bigger than though, George, is this targeting of Russia’s central bank. This is a really big deal because it’s targeting this some $600 billion that Russia has set aside to sort of sanction-proof its economy.

And on top of that now — listen to this — officials are talking about targeting some of the richest Russians, freezing their assets in the West. And they’re being really explicit about this. They’re saying they’re going after their yachts, their mansions, their mega luxury apartments, even their ability to send their children to fancy colleges in the West.

So, really, we’re seeing the West — this administration and its allies cast this really wide net, going after Putin himself, going after those close to him. But also as James was saying, really hitting the Russian economy so much that Putin could be facing some pretty serious political backlash there at home in Moscow.

And the point right now, George, they’re really trying to push Moscow to this point, almost looking at the Iran model, turning it into a huge pariah on the international stage.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC “THIS WEEK” ANCHOR: More military aid for the Ukrainians as well.

VEGA: Yeah. This is a really big deal. That new package Ian mentioned, $350 million in this new — this latest package, $1 billion total overall in this crisis. Ukrainian leaders have been pleading for more weapons, particularly those that would allow them to target planes and helicopters, Russians, in the sky.

The U.S. had been hesitating to send these surface-to-air missiles, partly out of fear of provoking Russia. Certainly, that changed.

The big question this morning, though, is how they’re going to get those weapons to Ukraine given the situation there right now on the ground.

And one other huge move to tell you about, Germany with a big reversal, reversing its policy to not send lethal aid to conflict zones. Right now, they are agreeing to help Ukraine with some big weapons.

So, that frontline there, they’re about to get a lot of fire power, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Cecilia Vega, thanks very much.

Let’s bring in the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States right now, Oksana Markarova.

Ambassador Markarova, thank you for joining us this morning.

What are you hearing from the top levels of your government this morning about the situation inside Ukraine?

OKSANA MARKAROVA, UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Thank you very much for having us.

Well, it’s another difficult hard night and day that we have in Ukraine with Russia forces shelling at Ukrainian cities, Kyiv, Kharkiv. The initial offensive and blitzkrieg didn’t — was not successful.

So we have Russian troops now all over the place and they’re using missiles and heavy artillery and these troops around the country to essentially target the civilian infrastructure, hospitals. We now see the kindergartens — I mean, nothing is off limit to them.

So, what we see is a full-fledged war, with war crimes on the ground, and as you saw, Ukraine yesterday already filed a suit in The Hague, and we are collecting and gathering all of this.

But, again, Ukrainian spirit is growing every day. We all are united around our president and around our armed forces in defending our home.


MARKAROVA: We don’t have any other alternative.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is President Zelensky safe?

MARKAROVA: He is as safe as our country. And that’s the choice he made to stay in Kyiv, to stay in Ukraine and lead the nation in this very difficult moment.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What more can you tell us about this offer that now the president has accepted to send negotiators to the border of Belarus to meet with Russian negotiators?

MARKAROVA: Well, look, the devastation from the Russian actions and the war crimes is huge. And our president from the beginning, even before the war started, always focused — was focused on the diplomatic solution. And even after they started the war, he actually called for peace talks all the time.

But he always said, we’re ready for peace talks. We’re not ready to surrender.

So, of course, we’re ready for any peace talks that would stop the war and would get them out of our country. But it’s too early to talk now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it — is it fair to say that — is the president prepared to forsake any membership in NATO in return for peace?

MARKAROVA: I don’t think — you know, first of all, we have to understand here that neither NATO nor any other false pretexts or lies the Russian Federation government is spreading is the real reason why they attacked us. They attacked us because they always wanted to destroy us, because free, democratic and sovereign Ukraine is a threat to them.

We’re a peaceful country. We never attacked them. But they cannot allow us to be independent and just to lead our own lives.

That’s why they attacked us in 2014. That’s why for the past eight years, they’ve done everything to pressure us into — into this. And that’s why now, they started the war.

But again, in Ukraine, all Ukrainians, whether we speak Ukrainian or Russian, whatever nationalities we are, we are all united right now around one simple idea. We want to be independent. We want to be sovereign, we want to restore our territorial integrity, and we just want Russians to get out from our country and not kill us, I mean, the Russian Army. And they are demotivated.

I mean, you — again, you spoke earlier today about them surrendering and our minister of internal affairs put out public information about those who are in captivity now and we treat them well, unlike how Russians treat our citizens and civilians, killing children. We’ve lost already so many children. Just recently a whole family was shot in their car. But, you know — and also people who they lost, more than 4,000 Russians will never go back home because they were sent to kill us.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Overnight we’ve seen new sanctions from the West. We’ve seen new sanctions from the United States, more military aid coming from western nations. What more do the citizen soldiers and the forces in Ukraine need right now?

MARKAROVA: Well, we’re very grateful for all the support. We know it’s our job to defend our country. It’s our home and we will defend it. But we need more defensive weapons. We are grateful for everything that is there already and that is about to come. And we need more. Because we are defending our country against a very strong enemy.

We also need sanctions, more sanctions. And we need Russia to clearly see that — and feel that it’s not okay in the 21st century to attack another country, a sovereign country, without any reason. And I also would like to use this opportunity also to call on American business because, you know, this is a full-fledged, unjust war. And I think it’s time for many American businesses also to think — I know how hard it is and I know this is business interest, as the former minister of finance I understand. But I think it’s time to think about saving reputations and not cooperating with a regime that will end up in the Hague (ph) for everything they’ve done and they’re doing now to Ukraine.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Boycotting Russian vodka not enough?

MARKAROVA: Definitely not enough. Ukraine is a country that went through horrible, horrible times in the previous century. We had lost so many of our Jewish brothers and sisters in Holocaust on our territory. And one of the very famous survivors of Holocaust, Elie Wiesel, said that you always have to take sides because the silence or neutrality always helps the oppressor and never those that are oppressed.

So it’s time to take sides and it’s time to take Ukrainian’s side because we are defending our home. We were peaceful. We never planned any offensives. We didn’t attack anyone, and we were attacked.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Ambassador Makarova, thanks very much for your time this morning.

MARKAROVA: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s bring in White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, right now. Jen, thank you for joining us this morning.

I want to begin with that announcement we —


STEPHANOPOULOS: — just heard — good morning. We just heard out of Russia. Vladimir Putin putting his nuclear forces on a state for higher readiness. What will the U.S. response be?

PSAKI: Well, first of all, George, this is really a pattern that we’ve seen from President Putin through the course of this conflict, which is manufacturing threats that don’t exist in order to justify further aggression. And the global community and the American people should look at it through that prism. We’ve seen him do this time and time again.

At no point has Russia been under threat from NATO, has Russia been under threat from Ukraine, this is all a pattern from President Putin. And we’re going to stand up for it. We have the ability to defend ourselves, but we also need to call out what we’re seeing here from President Putin.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You just heard Ambassador Makarova speak. She said they’re very grateful — the Ukrainians are very grateful for the assistance they’ve received so far from the United States, from the West. They’re grateful for the imposition of sanctions, but they need more sanctions and more military aid. Is that coming?

PSAKI: Certainly we are open to providing additional assistance, George. I know that earlier in the program you talked a bit about the security package that we approved and announced over the course of the last 24 hours. That provides a significant amount of additional security assistance to the Ukrainian people, to the Ukrainian leadership.

In addition, we’ll continue to provide a range of humanitarian assistance and economic assistance. I would note that the sanctions we announced yesterday are on par, put Russia on par with Iran, cutting them off from a banking system with the global community. We have now also sanctioned 80 percent of their banks and their financial sector. This makes it very difficult for President Putin and the Russian government not only to do business, but also to help fund a greater expansion of their military and innovation in their country. So we have taken severe steps already. But, of course, there’s more we can always consider doing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Tom Cotton is coming up on the program next. He says the United States should be doing more to crack down on the Russian energy sector.

Here’s what he had to say.


SEN. TOM COTTON,(R) ARKANSAS: How about we impose those sanctions, but we lift all those restrictions on the production of American oil and gas, so we can start drilling on federal lands again and putting out new leases, so we can re-open the Keystone Pipeline, which would bring more oil into America every day from Canada than we import every day from Russia.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Is the president open to those proposals?

PSAKI: Well, first, George, I think, on the energy sector, the way that the president — President Biden has approached sanctions is we want to take every step to maximize the impact and the consequences on President Putin, while minimizing the impact on the American people and the global community.

And so energy sanctions are certainly on the table. We have not taken those off. But we also want to do that and make sure we’re minimizing the impact on the global marketplace, and do it in a united way.

I would say that the congressman’s recommendations there, the Keystone Pipeline, was not processing oil through the system. That does not solve any problems. That’s a misdiagnosis, or maybe a — a misdiagnosis of what needs to happen.

I would also note that, on oil leases, what this actually justifies, in President Biden’s view, is the fact that we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, on oil in general, and need to — and we need to look at other ways of having energy in our country and others.

One of the interesting things, George, we’ve seen over the last week or so is that a number of European countries are recognizing they need to reduce their own reliance on Russian oil. So I’m not sure we agree with that assessment of what needs to happen. But energy sanctions remain on the table.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I know the president has spoken to President Zelensky. Is he confident he’s safe?

PSAKI: He has been in close touch. While not getting into his security, the security of President Zelensky, I’m just going to note, George, as the American people have seen and tuned into, he is standing up courageously against the invasion of President Putin and Russian leadership, leading his country and continuing to.

When President Biden spoke with him, the last conversation he had with him, President Zelensky asked for additional security assistance. That’s exactly what we delivered. And we will remain in close contact with him. But President Biden is maintaining, you know, a line of communication with him, as we all are.

STEPHANOPOULOS: There are more and more questions cropping up about the mental state of Vladimir Putin right now. We saw the former U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul say he’s not acting in a rational manner.

I want to show a tweet we got from Marco Rubio this week, saying, “I wish I could share more, but for now I can say it’s pretty obvious to many that something is off with Putin. He has always been a killer, but his problem now is different and significant. It would be a mistake to assume this Putin would react the same way he would have five years ago.”

Is it the belief of the United States government right now that Vladimir Putin is mentally unbalanced in some way?

PSAKI: Well, without getting into his mental imbalance or stability, what I will say, George, is anyone who watched the speech he gave last week, whether it’s Senator Rubio or all of us sitting in the White House, what we heard from President Putin at that time was somebody who was not only justifying the invasion of a sovereign country but clearly had ambitions beyond that.

And one of the mistakes we probably all make is looking at this through the prism of global norms and what the global community believe is behavior that people should operate through as leaders in the world. That is not how he sees the world. He’s obviously been quite isolated during COVID. You saw him have a back-and-forth with even his intel chief last week.

So I’m not going to make an assessment of his mental stability. But I will tell you, certainly the rhetoric, the actions, the justification that he is making for his actions are certainly deeply concerning to us.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, the president is approaching his State of the Union in a pretty difficult political position right now, 37 percent approval rating, Democrats trailing badly in the midterm polling. A majority in our recent poll out this morning even question the president’s mental capacity.

How is he going to turn that around on Tuesday night? And how much has his State of the Union been changed by this war in Ukraine?

PSAKI: Well, George, I think there’s no question that, in the State of the Union, the American people and anybody watching around the world will hear the president talk about the efforts he has led over the past several months to build a global coalition to fight — fight against the autocracy and the efforts of President Putin to invade a foreign country. That is certainly something that is present in all of our lives and certainly in the president’s life in this moment.

But what people will also hear from President Biden is his optimism and his belief in the resilience of the American people and the strength of the American people.

And you know, George, from covering State of the Unions for some time, that — that it is about delivering a message to the public at a moment in time. And if you look back when President Obama gave his first State of the Union, it was during the worst financial crisis in a generation. When President Bush gave his first State of the Union, it was shortly after 9/11.

Leaders lead during crises. That’s exactly what President Biden is doing. He’ll speak to that, but he’s also going to speak about his optimism about what’s ahead and what we all have to look forward to.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Jen Psaki, thanks very much for your time this morning.

PSAKI: Thank you, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The roundtable is coming up and Republican Senator Tom Cotton joins us live, next.


STEPHANOPOULOS: There’s a live look at Kyiv right now. As we just heard, it’s under shelling this morning, although we’re not seeing it right there. But it is — some intense shelling overnight in the city of Kyiv.

We’re joined now by Republican Senator Tom Cotton.

Senator Cotton, thank you for joining us this morning.

Let’s begin with what we heard from the Ukrainian ambassador — said she was grateful from what she’s gotten from the United States and the West so far. But more sanctions, more military, it is essential.

What should the United States be giving right now?

SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): George, the Ukrainian ambassador, there’s a lot — there’s a lot more we can do.

I first want to join all Arkansans in expressing my prayers and our support for the brave Ukrainians who are repulsing Vladimir Putin’s naked, unprovoked war of aggression. You’ve seen Ukrainian army elements, overmatched with armor and air power, repulsing these attacks on Kyiv and Kharkiv and other cities. We’ve seen moms with their kids making Molotov cocktails, George. Grandmas and grandpas are reporting for AK — to get AKs, so they can fight as well.

But we can do more than prayers and hashtags and lighting up buildings, George. It’s time for the president and some of our European partners to quit pussy-footing around. The financial sanctions announced last night are riddled with loopholes.

I know that they say they sanctioned 80 percent of the banks in Russia — well, Vladimir Putin controls 100 percent of the banks in Russia. He can use the other 20 percent to continue to finance his war machine.

It’s time to remove all Russian financial institutions from the international payment system. It’s time to impose sanctions on his oil and gas exports, which he uses as his primary means of financial support.

We need to rush those weapons that were announced for delivery yesterday to the front, anti-tank, anti-aircraft missiles, sniper rifles, ammunition, fuel supplies. It should have been done weeks ago. So, better late than never, but the Ukrainians have no time. They have no time, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How about this call —

COTTON: They’re not in it to lose and we need to stand with them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How about this call from the Ukrainian ambassador for American businesses, the American people to do more? COTTON: American businesses can do more, George. We don’t have nearly the same kind of financial ties to Russia as European businesses do, but I would encourage every American company to scrub all of their operations to provide no support whatsoever to Vladimir Putin’s regime as he’s conducting this unprovoked war of aggression.

There’s more that we can all do. It starts this week in Washington where we can provide more immediate assistance in terms of weapons and financial support to the Ukrainian regime and imposing truly severe sanctions on Vladimir Putin, not the half measures that we continue to see.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We saw this announcement from Vladimir Putin this morning, that he’s put his nuclear forces on a state of heightened alert right now. You saw my exchange with Jen Psaki right there.

Is Vladimir Putin acting in a rational manner? Is he mentally there? Or as, your colleague Senator Rubio said, something is off right now?

COTTON: George, I’m not going to play psychologist from 7,000 miles away.

I will say this — what Vladimir Putin said on Monday night was not a surprise. He published the exact same arguments about Ukraine in an essay last summer. That’s why I’ve been urging the administration to take the threat that Putin posed to Ukraine and international peace and stability seriously, to start imposing these sanctions weeks and months ago, to start sending these missiles and weapons and ammunition to Ukraine weeks ago.

Ms. Psaki said that we all made the mistake of viewing Vladimir Putin as someone who sees the world through global norms. George, I never made that mistake. I’ve always seen Vladimir Putin as a ruthless dictator, who wants to reassemble the greater Russian empire.

And he took the imperial ambitions he’s always had and what he perceived as hesitancy and indecision on the part of the West, and went for the jugular earlier this week.

Thankfully, the brave Ukrainian people are fighting back, and every day, every day, they hold out, George, they continue to stiffen the spines of leaders in the West. So, we need to urge them on and we need to continue providing them the weapons they need to fight back.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve never made that mistake, it is true. You’ve been stalwarting your opposition of Vladimir Putin.

The same cannot be said for the leader of your party, Donald Trump. Last night, he finally condemned the invasion, but he also repeated his phrase of Putin, calling him smart.

Earlier in the week, he called him pretty smart. He called him savvy. He says NATO and the U.S. are dumb.

Are you prepared to condemn that kind of rhetoric from the leader of your party?

COTTON: George, you heard what I had to say about Vladimir Putin. That he is a ruthless dictator who’s launched a naked, unprovoked war of aggression. Thankfully, the Ukrainian army has anti-tank missiles that President Obama would not supply, that we did supply last time Republicans were in charge in Washington.

That’s why it’s so urgent that we continue to supply those weapons to Ukraine.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why can’t you condemn Donald Trump for those comments?

COTTON: George, if you want to know what Donald Trump thinks about Vladimir Putin or any other topic, I’d encourage you to invite him on your show. I don’t speak on behalf of other politicians. They can speak for themselves.

I speak on behalf of Arkansans, who I talked to this week and who are appalled at what they saw in Ukraine and they want me right now to fight in Washington to support those brave Ukrainians.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You’re a senior member of the Republican Party. Donald Trump is the leader of the Republican Party. He said last night again, suggested that he’d be running for president. When Fox News asked him if he had a message for Vladimir Putin, he said he has no message.

Why can’t you condemn that?

I feel quite confident that if Donald — that if a Barack Obama or Joe Biden said something like that, you’d be first in line to criticize him.

COTTON: Again, George, if you want to talk to the former president about his views or his message, you can have him on your show.

My message to Vladimir Putin is quite clear. He needs to leave Ukraine unless he wants to face moms and teenagers with Molotov cocktails and grandmothers and grandfathers with AK-47s for years to come. I’m speaking on behalf of all Arkansas who want me to send that message to him.

STEPHANOPOULOS: If Donald Trump runs again, can you support him?

COTTON: George, I’m not worried about this fall’s elections right now, much less an election two years from now. I’m focused on the naked war of aggression that Vladimir Putin has launched in Ukraine right now. There’s not a moment to lose. We can worry about electoral politics down the road.

STEPHANOPOULOS: President Trump, former President Trump was out there talking about it last night. I simply don’t understand why you can’t condemn his praise of Vladimir Putin.

COTTON: George, again, I don’t speak on behalf of other politicians. They can all speak for themselves.

I’m delivering my message to you, which I said has been clear, whether Barack Obama is president, whether Donald Trump was president, and now whether Joe Biden was president, that Vladimir Putin has been a ruthless dictator for years. Too many people have not taken the threat seriously. And that’s why you see the images we see in Ukraine now.

And where we need to focus is on stopping that aggression, supporting the Ukrainians as best we can.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Cotton, thanks for your time this morning.

The roundtable is up next. We’ll be right back.


STEPHANOPLOUS: Round table’s here and ready to go. We’ll be right back.






BIDEN: This is Joe Biden. How are you?

JACKSON: I am wonderful. How are you, Mr. President?

BIDEN: Well, you’re going to be more wonderful. I would like you to the go to the Supreme Court. How about that?

JACKSON: I would be so honored.

BIDEN: Well, I’m honored to nominate you.

JACKSON: I am just so, so overwhelmed. Thank you —

BIDEN: Well, you deserve it. You deserve it.

JACKSON: And we are so, so grateful. Thank you, Mr. President.


STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s something. I don’t think we’ve ever seen a phone call like that before. Let’s talk about it on our round table. Joined by Donna Brazile; Sarah Isgur, veteran of the Trump Justice Department, now an ABC News analyst; our chief Washington correspondent, Jon Karl; our chief congressional correspondent, Rachel Scott — and Donna Brazile, let me begin with you. That appointment by President Biden a promise kept, history made.

DONNA BRAZILE, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: George, I’m overjoyed just hearing it. I saw the picture of the two of them in the Oval Office and I sent that around yesterday because I — I’m like when are we going to see this again in our lifetime?

BRAZILE: I never expected it. But here’s what I know. She’s very qualified, confirmed by the United States Senate three times with bipartisan support, a proud graduate of Miami Palmetto High School, the daughter of two public school teachers. She has worked very hard — nine years of experience on federal courts, clerking for Justice Breyer, two lower court judges. She is — I think she is going to perform very well once she’s able to do her rounds. She’s a unifying force.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Rachel Scott, now the confirmation battle ahead. You cover up on Congress. The rounds begin this week.

SCOTT: It begins this week. Judge Jackson will start meeting with senators on Capitol Hill.

And, listen, I was talking to sources over at the White House. I think that they would like some bipartisan support on this, but they are certainly not counting on it. The president, though, is quietly courting Republican senators.

I’m actually told by a source he called Senator Susan Collins before this announcement went public, informing her of his pick. And of course she’s one of — one of three Republicans that actually supported Judge Jackson’s confirmation to the D.C. Circuit. That also included Senator Lindsey Graham. And he has come out, sort of, blasting her record.

But the reality here is that Republicans really don’t have very much leverage here to fight this. They changed the rules back in 2017 lowering the threshold. This pick can be confirmed by a simple majority, 51 votes. So Democrats can push this through on their own, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s right. And, Jon Karl, even though Kyrsten Sinema, Joe Manchin have not been on board for the president’s Build Back Better plan, they’re not going to block this?

KARL: No, he has the votes to get her confirmed, barring some — something unforeseen.

But, George, think about this. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is somebody who clerked for the justice she is going to replace, assuming she is confirmed. She clerked for Stephen Breyer. All signs are she would be a justice in the model of Stephen Breyer.

Stephen Breyer was confirmed 87-9, overwhelmingly gaining the support of Republicans in the Senate. This time around, she’ll be lucky to get any Republican votes, possibly a handful.

We did hear from Mitt Romney, who did not vote for her last year for the Circuit Court, saying that she is a qualified jurist, an experienced jurist, and acknowledging that her nomination will inspire many Americans.

So the question here, George, is how hard do Republicans fight and how ugly will it get?

We heard from Mitch McConnell, saying that this will be respectful. He says they won’t do, in his words, “what Democrats did to Kavanaugh.” We’ll see if other Republicans will go along with that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Sarah Isgur, you’re a veteran of these fights. What’s your sense of where the party is going to go on this?

ISGUR: Well, she’s unquestionably qualified, and luckily also for her, in some ways, this is one of the most inconsequential Supreme Court nomination of my lifetime.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s not going to change the balance on the court.

ISGUR: Not going to change the balance of the court. She’s well within, sort of, the Breyer to Sotomayor range there. And Republicans have the wind at their backs when it comes to 2022. The last thing they want is to get stuck in the mire of a Supreme Court nomination. They want this to be a referendum on Joe Biden.

Now, the problem is, that may be the interest of the overall party. Individual senators on the Senate Judiciary have their own incentives to try to, you know, spruce up their name ID that they’re fighters.

You know, I think the number one question she’ll face from Republicans is actually not that much about her. It’s “You are one of the most qualified judges in the country to be on the Supreme Court, but a lot of people who are qualified weren’t even considered for this position because of their race. Do you think that that’s right?”


STEPHANOPOULOS: Does she get Republican votes?


STEPHANOPOULOS: Donna, let’s talk about the State of the Union. You saw the question I asked Jen Psaki earlier. The president is coming into the State of the Union in a pretty tough position, 37 percent approval. The Democrats are facing real headwinds heading into the midterms.

What does he need to do Tuesday night?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, George, I call it 20/80/80, 20 percent looking back, 40 percent talking about the president. I mean, he is going to come before the nation at a time when there are dark clouds of war in Ukraine, the breadbasket of Europe. So he’s going to have to talk about the present crisis, not just in Ukraine, but also inflation, also what’s happening at the gas pump.

He also needs to do 40 percent in terms of the future. Where do we go from here?

I mean, he’s passed several important pieces of legislation. Where do we go on the pandemic? Where do we go in terms of, you know, competitiveness with China. There’s a lot on his plate. But the first thing he should do is not talk to the men and women in Congress. I love them. You know, I used to be a Hill staffer. Talk to the American people because they want to hear from their president. And project strength.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That is the biggest opportunity for every president every single year. It’s the day — it’s a huge audience. How does the president capture it?

ISGUR: I think the worst thing the president can do is stand up there and tell the American people something that is not their reality. If he stands up there and says “The state of our union is strong,” people are going to roll their eyes. And at a time where his approval numbers are not only low, but they’re getting lower, he needs to stand up there and level with the American people and let them recognize that he understands reality.

The state of our Union is challenged. It’s not great. Inflation, gas prices, Ukraine — recognize that reality and bring the American people with him about how tough this is and the mistakes that he’s made maybe in Afghanistan and other places.

I think that’s actually this reset moment that he could have. But I just don’t believe the White House will do it.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC “THIS WEEK” ANCHOR: Jon, it’s always tricky for presidents in challenging times to get that balance right between optimism and recognizing the reality that most Americans are facing.

JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Let’s face it, George, State of the Union Address is the biggest audience that he will face. But State of the Union Addresses rarely move the needle much.

And Joe Biden needs to change the trajectory here. His approval ratings are at the lowest point of his presidency, truly grim. If you look at this approval rating, it is virtually in this — indistinguishable from where Donald Trump was at the various low points of his presidency.

And more concerning for Joe Biden and for Democrats generally, is if you look at our latest poll out today, the percentage of voters saying that they will vote for Republicans in the midterm elections is at the highest level that we have seen since 2010. And you know what happened in 2010. 2010 is when Republicans won 63 seats and swept control of the House in the Tea Party wave.

So, Biden needs to change the trajectory. He needs to acknowledge the challenges and present some kind of a vision that shows he has a plausible plan for dealing with the challenges facing this country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Rachel, when the president enters the chamber on Tuesday night, he’ll be facing a Democratic Party which is feeling a bit besieged. Right now, you’re seeing more than 30 retirements in the House, who are saying they’re not going to run again. Republicans, as Sarah said, do feel they have the winds at their back.

RACHEL SCOTT, ABC NEWS CONGRESIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, definitely, George. A 30-year high when it comes to Democratic retirements, especially in the House. The number right now is at 41.

And so, Democrats here, they’re looking at the challenges. They’re hearing from voters in their district, especially some of these vulnerable Democrats, Abigail Spanberger in Virginia.

Hearing about concerns about inflation. Just look at our latest poll. Six out of ten Americans saying they’re feeling a hardship from inflation.

This is also a party right now that is trying to figure out the messaging. They’re looking at some of the domestic agenda that has been stalled. There has been a lot of private conversations happening behind the scenes with Democrats focusing on what they can — have gotten done rather than what they have not, and trying to change the gears ahead of this critical midterm elections when they’re trying to keep the House and the Senate.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It does appear, Donna, that Build Back Better is pretty dead.

DONNA BRAZILE, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I don’t think it’s dead, George. Look, anything can be revived especially in politics. And I just want to say, Scripture tells us that, you know, whipping endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

Sarah, I know that there’s a great challenge not to appear joyful, but you know what? Compared to where we were a year ago, two years ago, four years, I think we’re in better shape.

ISGUR: That’s not true for a lot of Americans, though.

BRAZILE: No, no, hold on — look, I can’t speak for every American. I can only speak for myself.

But the fact is more companies are onshoring their jobs. Intel is going to start making chips in Texas and Ohio.

Tell the good news so that the American people know we’re fighting to make their lives better. That’s what I mean by whipping may endure for a night, because joy can come in the morning if we believe that America’s greatest days are ahead of us.

That’s what the State of the Union is. It’s not just projecting the pain, but the passion of what makes us Americans.

I’m thinking about the people in Ukraine. The grandmothers with the AK-40s.

George, I don’t even know what that look like, okay? If you put that on the candy store, I’m like, I don’t know any of those. But the fact that they’re fighting, they’re defiant, that is what this moment is about. And I think the president can project that on Tuesday.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, Jon, there’s no question the president’s speech is going to be transformed by Ukraine, by the fact that, you know, the war is going on as he’s speaking.

KARL: Absolutely, an extraordinary moment, George. We see the aggression that — by Russia. We see a threat to the world order like we have not seen since World War II.

This will have in a sense the feeling of a war time speech and in face of this aggression, this would be a moment of unity, you would expect a moment of unity. And yet you see the previous president coming out, Donald Trump, and as you mentioned in your interview with Tom Cotton, essentially praising Vladimir Putin, condemning the president of the United States.

This is not normal. It’s not right. It’s not what you would expect to see in a time of national crisis. So, he’s going to be facing a chamber that will have — where he’s looking at a Republican Party that is deeply divided on this question, and has an opportunity here to channel some of President Zelensky, channel some of the notion of standing up in face of the type of aggression that we haven’t seen in more than a half century.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC “THIS WEEK” ANCHOR: Sarah Isgur, this does seem to be a moment of crisis for the Republican Party. It’s why you got President Trump out there calling Vladimir Putin smart, saying he has no message for him. You got Tucker Carlson, probably the leader of the media in the Republican Party, who did an about face this week after praising Putin, and refusing to condemn what seemed to be happening in Ukraine.

I want to ask you what I asked you off camera. I honestly — and this is an honest question. I don’t understand why someone like Tom Cotton, Senator Tom Cotton, who has been stalwart against President Putin for years, is unwilling to condemn that kind of rhetoric from Donald Trump.

SARAH ISGUR, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Because it doesn’t end, right? We saw this in 2015. If you end up responding to Donald Trump, then you respond to Donald Trump the entirety of your candidacy or whatever you’re doing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s the most important issue out there.

ISGUR: And Tom Cotton certainly was showing differences that he had with President Trump in terms of policy. But, look, you have Vice President Pence, Mitch McConnell, lots of people breaking from President Trump, but sort of that higher level. And what they have in common is that they don’t need to raise money right now. Twenty-two cents of every dollar being raised on the Republican side is going into Donald Trump’s PACs. It has such a far-ranging effect that we’re not even thinking about, that f you want to raise small dollar online donations, the vast of majority of where these candidates are getting their money, it’s either going to Donald Trump or you have to rent those lists, emails, et cetera from Trump lists.

And so, you got to have a Trump friendly message if you want to raise that money. It’s a huge problem for the Republican Party, because those high level people can break with him all they want, but if the candidates have to stay close to Donald Trump in order to be competitive, it affects who can run and it certainly affects who can win.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The rest of the world does seem to be uniting behind Ukraine right now.

DONNA BRAZILE, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: And also, all the former presidents have come out and condemned Mr. Putin’s aggression.

George, look, I can’t speak for the Republican Party and whether they’re going to break from the former president. But I can tell you, the American people are united and standing behind the Ukrainian people and our NATO alliances. I think that is what matters in this moment.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hey, Rachel Scott, what more can we expect from Congress? There seems to be bipartisan support now for tougher sanctions, even as the president seems to be getting ahead of that over the weekend.

RACHEL SCOTT, ABC NEWS CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and this is something that both Democrats and Republicans actually wanted to get done before they left on recess. But there were sharp disagreements on how far to go, how soon to impose sanctions.

And so, it just didn’t happen. All that amounted to was a strongly-worded resolution essentially just condemning Russian aggression. So, I think now that senators are back on Capitol Hill this week, we can start to hear more of these calls for imposing harsher sanctions, trying to get Democrats and Republicans on the same page. But, again, they’ve struggled to remain united on this front when it comes to responding to what is happening in Ukraine, what’s happening with Russian aggression.

But definitely expect to hear more pressure even from Democrats. We started hearing it from Senator Blumenthal and other Democrats who said the president just should have acted sooner. He should have imposed those harsher sanctions earlier.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Jon, what does this mean for the Republican Party going forward?

KARL: Well, the Republican Party is divided on foreign policy in a way that it hasn’t been since World War II. I mean, you do have strong voices in the Republican Party that channel Ronald Reagan, that are stridently anti-Russian aggression, anti-Putin.

But you also have prominent voices in the party that are frankly cheering him on. You know, as you pointed out, it’s not just members of Congress. It’s obviously the former president and some of the loudest voices in — on the conservative side. I mean, I don’t know if it’s conservatively, but on the Republican side, actually not just saying that it doesn’t matter, but praising Vladimir Putin. It’s incredible.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you all very much.

We’ll be right back.


STEPHANOPOULOS: That is all for us today. Thanks for sharing part of your Sunday with us. Tune in Tuesday night at 9:00 p.m. for President Biden’s State of the Union Address. And I’ll see you tomorrow on “GMA.”







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