Full transcript of “Face the Nation,” Sept. 24, 2023

Full transcript of “Face the Nation,” Sept. 24, 2023


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

  • Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York
  • Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas
  • Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona
  • Robert O’Brien, former White House national security adviser
  • Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine

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

MARGARET BRENNAN: I’m Margaret Brennan in Washington.

And this week on Face the Nation: With days to go before a government shutdown, Congress is paralyzed by infighting.

(Begin VT)

REPRESENTATIVE GARRET GRAVES (R-Louisiana): The arsonists have lit their house on fire. They’re whining about their house burning.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Fiery words from top Republicans who worked through the weekend to find a way forward on funding the government before month’s end.

(Begin VT)

QUESTION: Will you work with Democrats?

REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-California): Look, I believe we have a majority here and we can work together to solve this.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: Can Republicans unify and strike a deal that also works for the Democratic-controlled Senate? We will have the latest on negotiations.


(Begin VT)

ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS (U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security): Our immigration system is absolutely broken, and Congress needs to fix it.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: America’s Southern border is under strain once again, with migrant crossings on track to hit record highs.

We will ask Texas Republican Tony Gonzales what he is seeing in his district and whether the issue could complicate spending negotiations on Capitol Hill.


(Begin VT)

STRIKER: No justice!

STRIKER: No Jeeps!

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: The labor protest targeting America’s Big Three automakers expands, as workers in 38 locations in 20 states go on strike.

We will hear this morning from Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez, who’s headed to Missouri later today to join a picket line.

Arizona Democratic Senator Mark Kelly just got back from a trip to Ukraine. We will ask him what he learned.

Former Trump National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien will also join us.

And, finally, a conversation with the first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska, about the horrors of war and the hard work of healing.

It’s all just ahead on Face the Nation.

Good morning, and welcome to Face the Nation.

It’s setting up to be another consequential week in Washington, with just a few days to go before a possible government shutdown unless Congress strikes an 11th-hour deal to fund it.

We’ll get to that in a moment.

But we begin with New York Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez on the expanding autoworkers strike.

Good morning to you.


MARGARET BRENNAN: This strike now in 20 states, I know you are headed to Missouri later to strike outside a GM facility.

The president goes to Michigan Tuesday. He only announced that after Donald Trump said he was going to UAW strike. Do you think injecting this high level of presidential politics complicates getting a settlement?

REPRESENTATIVE ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think, right now, we are in such a crisis in our economy, a crisis of inequality, that it is going to take a level of political and popular support unlike that that we’ve seen in a strike situation like this in recent and modern history in order for us to get a breakthrough.

What we’ve seen at the Big Three are CEOs giving themselves as much as a 40 percent wage and — and compensation increase, while workers have actually seen a real wage decrease over — over the last 10 to 15 years. And in order for us to break that norm, I think it’s going to take an unprecedented level of involvement to make sure that workers get what they deserve here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: UAW’s president, when he was with us last week said, when I asked him why the union hadn’t yet endorsed President Biden, he said that has to be earned.

That sounds like he’s disappointed that party leadership is not doing as much as they could. Do you agree with that?

REPRESENTATIVE ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think it always has to be earned.

And President Biden showing up to the picket line on Tuesday is a historic, historic event. We have never seen in modern history a president show up to a picket line like this. And I think it should be earned. It needs to be earned. And I believe that President Biden is — is working towards that, especially when he lands in Michigan on Tuesday to earn that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, one of the things that’s happening in the auto industry, as you know, is this market shift and transition to electric vehicles.

You were quoted back in July saying you look forward to buying a union-made electric vehicle. But you buy — but you currently have a non-union-made Tesla. UAW already makes some electric vehicles.


MARGARET BRENNAN: So, why wasn’t that — is it a problem with the quality? Is it a problem with the style? Is the market just not there?

REPRESENTATIVE ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: No, the — our car was purchased during the pandemic, when travel — before a vaccine had come out. So, travel between New York and Washington, the safest way that we had determined was an E.V.

But that was prior to some of the new models coming out on the market that had the range available. But we’re actually looking into trading in our car now. So, we’re looking into it. And, hopefully, we will soon.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Elon Musk, who has majority share in Tesla, has said a lot of things against the unions.

And a lot of these electric vehicle battery manufacturing plants as well are not unionized. So there’s tension here.


And it’s something that I have been speaking with President Fain about, because one thing that we’re all on the same page about is that we do not want the transition from a fossil fuel economy to an electric economy to — to represent an erosion in the unionization and rights of workers.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You were quoted in “The New York Times” in August as saying: “Immigration is arguably this administration’s weakest issue.”

What did you mean?

REPRESENTATIVE ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think the politics around immigration in the United States is, to no surprise to many people, one of the most contentious issues.

We saw this dramatically inflamed under President Trump, but it remains to be a very controversial and contentious issue. And that makes — I believe that makes enacting — enacting some of the policy changes necessary much more complicated and difficult.

Now, this week, after perhaps almost a year of pushing from both the Hispanic — the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to the New York delegation in Congress, we pushed to make sure that the Biden administration extended Temporary Protective Status, otherwise known as TPS, for Venezuelans, which will allow and open the pathway for Venezuelan migrants to actually begin working and supporting themselves, which will reduce the strain on our public systems, particularly New York’s shelter system, and more.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s 500,000 Venezuelans, but only if they came here before July.


MARGARET BRENNAN: So does Congress need to do something, like the HIRE Act that one of our guests, Tony Gonzales, has put forward or others to — to put that into law, so it’s not just a one-off?

REPRESENTATIVE ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I definitely think that we need to have comprehensive immigration reform, so that we aren’t constantly doing this patchwork of policy extensions.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That hasn’t happened for decades.

REPRESENTATIVE ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: That has not happened for decades.

But, additionally, I think we also need to examine the root of this problem, because if we are constantly engaging in foreign policy that drives people to our Southern border, in this specific instance, U.S. sanctions that were originally authored by Marco Rubio began and precipitated, certainly took a large part in the driving of populations to our Southern border.

Shortly after those sanctions, those broad-based sanctions…

MARGARET BRENNAN: You’re talking about in Venezuela?


Shortly after those broad-based sanctions were enacted, we started seeing dramatic increases in these populations that were coming to our Southern border. And so we have to address the root of these population movements and the migration crisis. And we have to also have to address the domestic U.S. policy issues when it comes to immigration reform.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you know the Maduro government has also been responsible for large parts of that.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you saying that you want to — you want the Biden administration to pull back pressure on him?

REPRESENTATIVE ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: I think we need to reexamine the nature of these sanctions.

There are sanctions that are very specific, for example, the Magnitsky Act sanctions, that do actually focus on the decision makers and people who may be violating norms, practices, civil rights, but broad-based sanctions that punish the overall economy and harm everyday working people that are driving them into the economic and political destitution, that force millions of people, both not just to the United States, but even to our regional partners.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, as you know, has just been indicted on bribery charges.

Should he resign? And what do you think of his statement that it has to do with him being a Latino?

REPRESENTATIVE ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: Well, I think it’s — the situation is quite unfortunate, but I do believe that it is in the best interest for Senator Menendez to resign in this moment.

As you mentioned, consistency matters. It shouldn’t matter whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat. The details in this indictment are extremely serious. They involve the nature of — of not just his, but all of our seats in Congress.

And while, you know, as a Latina, there are absolutely ways in which there is systemic bias, but I think what is here in this indictment is quite clear. And — and I believe is in the best interest to maintain the integrity of the seat.

I want to emphasize that all people are — they must be extended the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Some Republican members like Matt Gaetz have threatened to try to oust Speaker McCarthy.

If he threw a motion to vacate, would you vote with him as a Democrat to get to 218 to oust Speaker McCarthy?

REPRESENTATIVE ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: I mean, I think that — we would have to cross that bridge when we get to it.

Speaker McCarthy has been very weak. I think that he has also engaged in just absolutely terrible decision-making for the American people, from continuing to try to cement denying the right to an abortion among women, to the denial of — to policy that denies the reality of climate change…


REPRESENTATIVE ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: … to basic fiscal irresponsibility and recklessness.


REPRESENTATIVE ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ: We are at the brink of a shutdown right now.

And so, absolutely, I think there is grounds. However, we are also in the midst of an extremely chaotic Republican Party. And we do not want chaos to reign in Washington either.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congresswoman, thank you for your time.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to Texas Republican Congressman Tony Gonzales, who joins us from San Antonio this morning.

Congressman, a lot to get to with you, but I want to start on that question of what we should brace for in the coming days in regard to a shutdown.

You had said you opposed a short-term deal, a continuing resolution, to keep the government funded in the near-term. Speaker McCarthy’s floated a 45-day short-term deal with border provisions added into it. Are you still a hard no?

REPRESENTATIVE TONY GONZALES (R-Texas): I think — yes, good morning, Margaret. Thank you for having me.

Continuing resolutions don’t solve the problem. They just kick the can down the road. And so we have to lock ourselves in the room and solve the problem. And the way you do that is by passing House conservative appropriation bills and working with the Senate.

This is — I called it a month ago and I said we’re on a path to a shutdown, because Speaker McCarthy wants that and President Biden wants that. Everyone feels as if this is a political problem, that they can just blame one another.

Who’s going to get hurt the most is American — the American public. So we have to come together, and we have to pass appropriations bills. That’s where I’m at.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But in order to pass those 11 bills — only one’s — one of the 12 has been passed — you need time.

And then you got to send it to the Senate. Then they have to reconcile it. Then you got to send it to the president. You don’t have that kind of time, most likely. So, without signing on to a short-term patch, are you basically saying you want to see a shutdown?

REPRESENTATIVE TONY GONZALES: I don’t want to see a shutdown, but, in my experience, if you give Congress more time, they’re just going to take that time.

It doesn’t — time does not equal solutions, and the exact opposite. If there is a hard cliff, then they are forced to come together. And that’s what I think we need. We need to have a hard line that forces everyone to get in the room and pass these bills.

I don’t want to see a shutdown, but there is no doubt in my mind that the country is headed for a shutdown, and everyone should prepare as such.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you have confidence in Speaker McCarthy’s ability to lead?

REPRESENTATIVE TONY GONZALES: You know, I wouldn’t bet on Kevin McCarthy, but I also wouldn’t bet against him.

I’m in a district where I’m just trying to keep my head above water. You know, this border crisis is very real. It’s — it’s — Margaret, it’s very similar to when a school shooting hits your town. And, sadly, too many Americans know what that’s like, or a hurricane.

And this border crisis as — is as if a Category 4 hurricane has hit. So I don’t have the time to — to pontificate on political futures for other — other people. We’re just trying to keep our head above water here in Texas.


Well, if there is a shutdown, are the Border Patrol agents in your district prepared to show up to work at a time of migrant spike and not get paid?

REPRESENTATIVE TONY GONZALES: You know, that’s the — that’s the ugly part of a shutdown is, you’re going to have — you’re going to have real people get hurt.

But, right now, Border Patrol agents are showing up to operate in processing centers. They’re not out in the field, so they’re not really doing their jobs. And they haven’t been doing their jobs.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you mean?

REPRESENTATIVE TONY GONZALES: And many — many agents have told me: You know what, Tony?

Right now — I mean, I will give you an example. In El Paso, the facility, 200 Border Patrol agents are in that soft-sided facility taking care of migrants, meaning they’re not out in the field protecting America from bad actors. So, in many cases, they might as well already be shut down.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Who is preventing that?

REPRESENTATIVE TONY GONZALES: It’s — it’s the failed Biden administration.

You know, when we talk about the border crisis, we know what the problem is. The problem is — is Joe Biden’s failed immigration policies. We see the images. We hear the stories, but we never hear solutions. Let’s — let’s talk some solutions.

One, I think the House should immediately take up the Homeland appropriations bill. Republicans can’t just be the party of rhetoric. We have to be the party of solutions. And there are some solutions in this bill. One of those is, I have been pushing very hard and many of my colleagues to end catch-and-release.

I have an amendment in that Homeland bill that ends catch-and-release. Another one is, once again, the Border Patrol agents, they’re — they’re out of the game. The — the folks that are doing the real work are the sheriffs and the deputies. And — and there’s a program called Stone — Stonegarden, and there’s a $10 million upgrade for that.

This helps with manpower and equipment to help fight the border crisis. But the — the third piece, which I would argue is most important…


REPRESENTATIVE TONY GONZALES: … is repatriation flights.

And when I met with Secretary Mayorkas earlier this week, that’s what I asked him for, repatriation flights, meaning, if somebody does not qualify for asylum, you don’t bus them to New York, you don’t send them to L.A., you don’t let them go other places. You send them back to their country of origin.

If we do that, that is how the crisis ends short term. And then, long term, there needs to be some movement on immigration reform, and in Congress.


But you can’t do that with Venezuelans, part of the problem here. Secretary Mayorkas took the president of Honduras to the border yesterday. They have sent military members to work in offices. They’ve granted half-a-million Venezuelans these work permits, potentially. Do you support any of that?

REPRESENTATIVE TONY GONZALES: In my eyes, that’s going the wrong way.

Eight hundred — 800 troops to the border solves nothing. They might as well be human cones if you don’t allow them to interact with migrants. You need to send immigration judges to the border and get these cases heard in days and not years, and, if they do — do not qualify, once again, send them back.

You know, the — the granting work visas to — to the Venezuelans, 500,000, by the way, it only makes immigration reform more difficult in Congress, because, essentially, what you’ve done is, you — you’ve encouraged those that have come over illegally. And these people have come over illegally into our country, and you’re giving them the access to work.

It undermines everything that we’re doing in Congress to try to come together. The real solution is finding Venezuela, working with Venezuela and other countries to take back some of their people. I would love to see Secretary Blinken — I’m going to meet with him next week.

I would love to see Secretary Blinken spend more time in the hemisphere solving these difficult issues with some of our foreign — foreign allies and partners.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Speaker McCarthy has said there are going to be some border-related provisions in this potential continuing resolution.

You just laid out a whole bunch of things you want. If those are put on the table, would you change your mind on a short-term deal?

REPRESENTATIVE TONY GONZALES: You know, Margaret, there’s — there’s a difference between fantasy and reality.

And I live in reality. My district is hit with the realities of this border crisis. So I’m not looking for a messaging bill that says all the right things and accomplishes nothing. It’s once again why I sat down with Secretary Mayorkas this week and said…


REPRESENTATIVE TONY GONZALES: … what are some real, tangible things that we can accomplish today?

So, in my eyes, a continuing resolution that just has fake things doesn’t get us any closer. What we need to do is draw a hard line in the sand and pass appropriation bills and move that over to the Senate and work with the Senate to get this ultimately signed by the president.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Congressman, thank you very much.

And the time clock is ticking on that.

Face the Nation will be back in one minute, so stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Arizona Democratic Senator Mark Kelly. He is in Austin, Texas, this morning.

Senator, it is great to have you back on the program.

SENATOR MARK KELLY (D-Arizona): Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You just — you just came back from Ukraine, and you met as well with President Zelenskyy this week here in Washington.

Can Ukraine count on that $20 billion that President Biden is asking Congress for?

SENATOR MARK KELLY: Well, Margaret, thank you for having me on.

This was my second trip to Ukraine. I went in April. I had the chance to meet with commanders, U.S. military commanders, Ukrainian, Polish. The aid that we are giving them is critical. If this was the stop, they would lose, and Putin would win.

So, I am motivated to get this done in the United States Senate — there’s bipartisan support for this — in a C.R., providing funding for Ukraine. And so we’ve got to get this across the finish line, or this would be a disaster.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Bipartisan support in a short-term deal, you said.

Would you vote for a short-term deal if it didn’t have Ukraine aid in it? You know I’m asking you this because, the House, there’s a problem getting this through.

SENATOR MARK KELLY: Hey, for — for years, when we’ve done C.R.s, they’ve been bipartisan.

Senator McConnell feels like we should continue to support Ukraine, Senator Schumer as well. Working across the aisle in the Senate, you know, we can get this done. The dysfunction in the House is unprecedented. You know who really cares about whether or not we fund Ukraine or not and continue to provide the support? It’s the Chinese president.

This has implications across the globe. You know, I cannot — I — I’m — I spent some private time with President Zelenskyy, you know, just this last week, and tried to reassure him that this is coming.

And if we do — if we fail at this moment, there’s a chance that we — a year from now, two years from now, we wind up in a situation where we could be in direct conflict with the Russians. We do not want that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: CBS has confirmed that President Biden, in his meeting with President Zelenskyy, said he would provide Ukraine with ATACMS. These are these longer-range surface-to-surface missile systems that would allow them to hit behind Russian lines.

The Ukrainians have been asking for months for these systems. Whether it was the F-16s or the ATACMS now, are you frustrated at how long it takes for approval to happen for these systems?

SENATOR MARK KELLY: Yes, I mean, this conflict’s been going on for a year- and-a-half now.

And, in the beginning, we provided artillery, ammunition, eventually HIMARS. F-16s are not like other weapons systems. They’re complicated. You have to train pilots. You have to train maintainers. I worked with the administration on that. We’ve gotten them cluster weapons now. ATACMS is an additional capability. There were some issues we had to work through.

They’ve been, you know, stressing the need for this over — over a period of time now. And we’re at the point that we’re going to provide them this capability. And I think it’s going to be helpful.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What restrictions should there be? Why the apprehension for so long?

SENATOR MARK KELLY: Well, an artillery shell goes about 18 miles. An ATACM missile goes about 190 miles. So, there was concern, where — where and against what targets would they use them?

We don’t want this to escalate. But we’re at the spot right now where they need an additional capability to maintain some more progress. The progress on this counteroffensive, it’s been good. You know, I talked to Ukrainian commanders.


SENATOR MARK KELLY: There are things that are, you know, starting to provide some, you know, problems, but we’re making progress there.


Very quickly, should Senator Bob Menendez resign from his position?

SENATOR MARK KELLY: Well, these are serious and shocking charges, bribery, corruption.

I have never seen anything like this. He stepped down from being chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. That’s a serious step. I think Senator Menendez is going to have to think long and hard about the cloud that’s going to hang over his service in the United States Senate.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, he is up for reelection. It sounds like you are drawing attention to some questions about that.

I have to take a quick…

SENATOR MARK KELLY: Well, I mean, he’s — he’s going to be in…

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sorry. Go ahead.

SENATOR MARK KELLY: I was going to say, he’s going to be in court next week.


SENATOR MARK KELLY: And he’s — he’s got to figure out whether he can adequately serve the people of New Jersey.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I have to take a quick break and continue this conversation with you on the other side of it. Senator, stay with us.

We will be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: If you miss an episode of Face the Nation or want to see an extended interview, you can find it all on YouTube and our Web site. Or, if you prefer to listen, you can subscribe to our podcast. Just search Face the Nation.

We will be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We will be back with Senator Mark Kelly, former National Security Adviser to Donald Trump Robert O’Brien, and our conversation with the first lady of Ukraine, Olena Zelenska.

Stay with us.



We continue our conversation now with Arizona Senator Mark Kelly.

Senator, the governor of your state said Friday the state’s overwhelmed. She was talking about migrants. We are on pace for a record number of border crossings.

The vice president told me recently that the administration’s policies are making progress. Do you buy that or does the administration need to change their approach here?

SENATOR MARK KELLY: Margaret, here’s the thing. I mean the border in my state and others has been in a crisis for – I mean it’s generations, decades now.


SENATOR MARK KELLY: And we’ve spent billions of dollars on border security, and it, you know, it’s still a problem. I’m on the phone with mayors and sheriffs and the border patrol agents frequently. I spoke to Secretary Mayorkas about this just three times last week. They’re making changes. Border security is national security. I’m really concerned about next week and the government shutting down. If there’s a government shutdown, border patrol agents are not going to get paid. This is going to – I mean if we think it’s bad today, just think about what that looks like.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, what is the real-world impact of that? Tony Gonzales, from Texas, was saying, you know, border patrol agents, he claims, are being prevented from doing their jobs in the first place right now and so it wouldn’t make that much of a difference. But why do you think practically it really would?

SENATOR MARK KELLY: Well, border patrol agents are on the front line of this crisis. I mean so are – so are sheriffs. He mentioned sheriffs. But we’ve got thousands and thousands of border patrol agents on the border enforcing our laws and also processing, you know, asylum seekers. If they stay home, I mean this crisis will be compounded by an order of magnitude.

You know, it’s unconscionable to think that Republicans in the House are going to allow the government to shut down under the circumstances we’re under today. I mean there’s always been bipartisan support for stop-gap spending bills. Having a government shutdown, I mean, it takes off — you know, the growth of our economy is affected. It’s going to affect our air traffic control system. If you’re – if you’re going to travel over the holidays and there’s a government shutdown, I mean that’s going to impact you. Kids don’t get meals when there’s government shutdown. The military doesn’t get paid. So, these things — these things are connected. We’ve got a crisis at the border and what the speaker is allowing to happen in the House of Representatives could make this worse.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Senator Kelly, thank you very much for joining us today.

And we turn now to Robert O’Brien. He served as national security adviser under former President Trump, and he joins us this morning from Park City, Utah.

Ambassador, it’s good to have you here with us.

AMB. ROBERT O’BRIEN (Former White House National Security Adviser): Nice to be with you, Margaret. Thank you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about a number of national security matters, but I want to start on this idea of a potential government shutdown. National security wise, what do you think the message is to the world when basic matters of governance seem politically insurmountable, and the government shuts down?

ROBERT O’BRIEN: Well, what we used to say in the NSC in President Trump’s administration was, economic security is national security. And we’ve got too big of a debt and we’ve got to get the debt under control. I think Speaker McCarthy’s done a great job and negotiated a good deal and I think that it would be great if the Republicans got behind Speaker McCarthy. But I understand why there’s concern over the size of the debt and I understand the — the frustration of some of the – the GOP members. I mean it’s understandable.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yes, but, I mean, Republicans have objected to even passing defense spending at this point. Aren’t we in a sort of dangerous moment?

ROBERT O’BRIEN: Well, I came out in favor of passing an NDAA and I think a lot of other conservatives, like Mike Gallagher and Mike Waltz and others did. So, I think we need to get that defense bill passed immediately.


You were the hostage envoy under President Trump before you became his national security adviser. And you did help bring three citizens home from Iran. This week we saw a number of Americans return in a very happy reunion. Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi, Morad Tahbaz. Why wasn’t the last administration able to get them out? Why is it so hard to bring home Americans from Iran?

ROBERT O’BRIEN: Well, we had unprecedented success in the Trump administration. As you know, Margaret, we brought home over 58 hostages from countries all over the world, North Korea, Iran, Russia. And — but we had a ground rule we wouldn’t pay ransom. And look, I was so pleased to see Siamak and Morad and the others come home. I felt like I failed them by not getting them home. But we weren’t going to pay $6 billion, we weren’t going to pay a billion plus per hostage because that creates a market for hostages. It makes your blue passport worth a billion dollars.

And so I am — I’m concerned that Americans traveling abroad are going to be targeted by countries like Russia and China and Iran, but also terrorist organizations who know that they can get a big ransom if – if we – if we pay these sorts of fees. And we just weren’t prepared to do it. But we had unprecedented success bringing Americans home from all over the world.

The other – the other – the other issue, Margaret, is, what is Iran going to do with that money? We saw this with the JCPOA. They took that money and they spent it on terrorism and on ballistic missiles and on nuclear programs. I’m afraid they’re going to build more drones that kill Ukrainians with the money we just gave them. So, I’m thrilled to see Siamak and Morad and the others home, but I’m – I’m very concerned about the – the look of the deal internationally.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, as you know, the current administration would argue that those funds are being held in a restricted account in Qatar, just like they were held in a restricted account in South Korea under the Trump administration, where Iran did have access, though they had difficulty getting to that money. Why is that not a sufficient level of protection?

ROBERT O’BRIEN: Well, the president from Iran came to UNGA last week and said he’ll use the money any way he pleases. It’s the government money of the people of Iran and he’ll use it however he wants. And – and we have to understand, Margaret, money is fungible.


ROBERT O’BRIEN: So, the money that they’re spending now on children’s hospitals and on food, they’ll use that for the military and for terrorism and take this money and replace it with the other programs.

So, money’s fungible. This money is going to the Iran regime. It’s a terrorist regime. It’s the largest state sponsor of terrorism. And it’s going to kill a lot of people, unfortunately.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Should travel be banned to Iran?

ROBERT O’BRIEN: I – I believe so. Absolutely. The problem is, is this happened after the JCPOA when we paid hundreds of millions for hostage. The price went up under the – for – the price went up from Obama to Biden. But as soon as they let a couple hostages go, Jason Rezaian and others, they just restocked the pool of hostages.


ROBERT O’BRIEN: They went and took a few more dual citizens who were visiting family in Iran and took them hostage.


ROBERT O’BRIEN: So, we’ve got to stop Americans going to Iran. But we’ve got to start thinking about Americans going to China and Russia as well, where they’re taking hostages and using this against us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about national security as it relates to the upcoming U.S. election as well.

You have been very clear that Joe Biden won the 2020 election. You helped the transition of power between administrations. CNN reported you considered resigning after January the 6th. Is that report true?

ROBERT O’BRIEN: That — that’s an inaccurate report. I never considered resigning. My – my feeling as national security advisors is that, you took the job for the good days and the bad days. And the Abraham Accords —

MARGARET BRENNAN: That was a pretty bad day.

ROBERT O’BRIEN: That was a bad day, but, you know, we had – what had the Abraham Accords, we had Serbia Kosovo. We got NATO to spend money defending themselves, which is now helping Ukraine. So, President Trump had a really – really a successful foreign policy run.

But – but there are bad days too and that was a bad day, but I was going to stick around for the president and for the American people. And I – fortunately, I have a lot of senators and congressman who reached out and said, please stay, we’ve got foreign adversaries, China and Russia –


ROBERT O’BRIEN: Who will want to take advantage of the chaos. And so Mike Pompeo and John Ratcliffe and myself, the national security team, Chris Miller over at defense, we stuck around and we sent a strong message to the Chinese, we sent a strong message to – message to the Russians, that the American people are united. That we’re — we remain fundamentally strong. And we’re not going to let them take advantage of any domestic political discord in – in the United States. And I think that served the president well and I think it served the American people well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well — well, given Donald Trump’s role in the events leading to that day, I wonder if you would serve in a second Trump administration?

ROBERT O’BRIEN: Look, I – I – I had great run as national security adviser and as a hostage envoy and I – I served the country well, I – I think, and — but – but you always have to wait and see what the president of the United States asks you to do and what your family wants you to do. But I grew up in a household with a dad who was a Marine and a mom who was a big patriot. And, by the way, it’s her 80th birthday today, so happy birthday, mom.

And my – my feeling is, is the president asks you to serve, and I’ve got kids who are serving in the military, you salute and say, yes. But that’s up to President Trump if he wins, which I – I — right now, according to “The Washington Post,” he’s up by 10 points. So, it looks good for him. But that’s up to him and my family.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You don’t have any doubts?

ROBERT O’BRIEN: Well, I think there’s going to be a great team. And I think we need a return. America looks weak now. We’re not weak. We’re fundamentally strong. But America looks very weak right now and we have to return to a posture of peace through strength or we’re going to have real problems with – with China, with Russia, with Iran in the future. And so I think anyone who believes in peace through strength and is asked to serve and has experience to do so should – should do so and defend America, absolutely.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And I know you cannot talk about the details of the two investigations brought by the special counsel Jack Smith because you were subpoenaed. So, we have to leave that part of the conversation there.

Robert O’Brien, thank you very much for joining us on FACE THE NATION.

We’ll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Ukrainian President Zelenskyy and his wife, Olena, visited Washington last week to press the case for more U.S. assistance in Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion. We spoke with the first lady during their visit with the aid of a Ukrainian government interpreter. We began by asking her about what life is like for Ukrainian children.


OLENA ZELENSKA (First Lady Of Ukraine) (through translator): Unfortunately, only one third of Ukrainian children can now attend school because our schools have to be safe, to be located in safe areas, and we need schools with bomb shelters. And my foundation continues fundraising resources to ensure that we have comfortable bomb shelters in all Ukrainian schools.

Well, the rest of Ukrainian children, two-thirds continue going to school online because they live in – in the front-line areas. Many children left Ukraine to live abroad. When children were leaving Ukraine, sometimes they could only take their documents with them and left everything behind. That is why those children and teachers require laptops, require iPad to continue education. And we just have a lot of support, including from our American partners.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You spoke at the United Nations. And you said to a gathering of leaders there, the horrific sexual violence being conducted by the Russian military, including against children, a four-year-old child. What was it like in that room when you shared that?

OLENA ZELENSKA (through translator): We say that there are sexual crimes committed by Russian occupiers. And this is a war crime. Leadership of the Russian army allows Russian soldiers to do this. This is something they commit consciously. They try to threaten population in Ukraine to demonstrate that they are in charge.

When we address people from many countries and share this terrible numbers with them, indeed you see pain in the eyes of those people. You feel horror. But this is not enough. We have to unite our efforts to insure that those who committed those crimes face justice. Sometimes people are concerned this is a taboo in many cases to say that — and acknowledge that you’ve been a victim of sexual crime. You need to be truly courageous to let others know that you’ve been — become a victim yourself. And people will only start talking about it when they will see that those who committed those crimes have been taken to justice.

We know from witnesses, from people who saw those crimes being committed, from neighbors, that in some villages all women were raped. But not all those crimes have been documented. Because they are people who do not want to officially provide evidence about those crimes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s a powerful statement. You need to be courageous to admit you’ve been a victim.

OLENA ZELENSKA: (Speaking in Foreign Language).

MARGARET BRENNAN: You know, your — your husband, President Zelenskyy, said that genocide is underway in Ukraine. He said Russians had elected their own Hitler. These are powerful statements. And I wonder, given the stakes of what you’re talking about, how you think about, in a capital like this, debate over whether to help continue Ukraine or not?

OLENA ZELENSKA (through translator): Well clearly it is a natural reaction of any individual who lives in a country which became a victim of genocide. You become deeply concerned that some people cannot understand what’s going on. But we hope that all Americans understand what’s going on. And we do not believe that this assistance that we now receive from Americans will stop.

Of course there are political debates and there are discussions, there are different opinions. Some people agree, they disagree. This is a democracy. But nevertheless, truth has to win because it is clear that truth is on Ukraine’s side.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Part of genocide is destroying a culture. And you’ve been working to get Ukrainian books out publicly. I saw you at the Metropolitan Museum of Art getting things translated.

OLENA ZELENSKA: (Speaking in foreign language).

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that your way of fighting back?

OLENA ZELENSKA (through translator): That’s one of the ways for us to demonstrate who we really are. Culture is also the area of the battlefield. We see that the occupiers want to destroy our culture. We see hundreds of libraries which have been burned by the occupiers. Thousands of museums and cultural institutions have been destroyed. By destroying our identities, they just want to destroy our nation. And that is why we have to inform about our culture. And this is an important sector of our work.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The president also said Ukraine knows the names of tens of thousands of children and has evidence hundreds of thousands of other kids have been kidnapped by Russia. Do those children get to know their culture? What happens to them when Russia takes them? And – and how do you get them back?

OLENA ZELENSKA (through translator): We know about 19,500 children who were officially deported. These are the children who current on the occupied territory and we know that cases have been documented, they have been taken to Russia.

We manage to return back approximately 680 children. We have the least of children who are being looked for by their parents. There were a lot of children who started in orphanages and boarding schools, and those boarding schools were taken to Russia as an institution.

This is a true problem because these are kids. Sometimes they do not fully understand what’s going on. It is easy to manipulate them. Manipulate the emotions. Almost all children who we manage to return to Ukraine told us that in Russia they were told that no one cares about them in Ukraine, that no one is looking for them. They have been preparing them for adoption under directive (ph) of the Russian Federation.

So, they try to make them leave their roots, so to say. Made them forget that they’re Ukrainians. Of course, children who are almost reached their adulthood, they have great understanding of what’s going on, but small children can be much more susceptible to the Russian disinformation. And that is why when we spoke at the United Nations, we proposed to develop a new system of joint efforts that would make Russia return Ukrainian children to their country. We are responsible for these children. We cannot play with those children’s destinies. It is not human.

MARGARET BRENNAN: There’s a warrant out for Vladimir Putin’s arrest because of this program.

OLENA ZELENSKA (through translator): Well, this was a very powerful political statement, and we very much hope that one day this statement will be fully implemented.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I do want to ask you, you were a comedy writer before the war.

OLENA ZELENSKA (Speaking in English): Former. Former.


OLENA ZELENSKA (Speaking in English): Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And now you have this extraordinarily life and circumstance and you’ve sacrificed a lot with your family. Do you get to spend time with your children, your husband, together as a family?

OLENA ZELENSKA (through translator): No, I have no complaints because when you see what’s happening to people close to him, the problems of our family cannot be compared to those things which have currently faced by other Ukrainian families. Children dying. Children are being killed.

The president lives at work. Sometimes we see each other once a week. Sometimes we see each other several times a week. But my children next to me, and I’m confident that we will overcome because we know what is the goal, what is the final goal. We have to see our victory. We have to see happy faces around us.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When people in America think of Ukraine, they think of President Zelenskyy and your family. How would you feel about him running again in 2024 if elections are held?

OLENA ZELENSKA (through translator): Well, you know, this is a very difficult question for me. You know, even when he ran for the first time I didn’t fully endorse it. But if he runs again when he — if he runs for the second time, if he decides that it is necessary, well, we have some experience. We’ve been there. It is not as scary as – as it was in the first time.

I don’t know whether he has made this decision or not. It will depend on the situation in our country and the situation and the possibility of organizing free and fair elections. It will also depend on whether our society would need him as a president. If he will feel that Ukrainian society will no longer wish him to be the president, he will probably not run. But I will support him, whatever decision he takes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Whatever decision.

Madam First Lady, thank you, Madam Zelenska, for your time.

OLENA ZELENSKA (Speaking in English): Thank you. Thank you for your time.


MARGARET BRENNAN: You can watch our extended conversation on facethenation.com.

We’ll be back in a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s it for us today. Thank you for watching.

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



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