Full transcript of “Face the Nation,” May 21, 2023

FAN Editor

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

  • Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, Republican of Pennsylvania, and Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey
  • New York City Mayor Eric Adams
  • Miami Mayor Francis Suarez
  • Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates 
  • Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb

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: The clock is ticking. The first ever default on America’s debt may be days away, and President Biden rushes home to make a deal.

The president’s trip overseas was meant to reinforce America’s role as a global leader, but, back in Washington, political dysfunction threatens to trigger a possible economic crisis. Mr. Biden accused some Republicans of scheming to deliberately damage the economy in an effort to deny him a second term.

(Begin VT)

JOE BIDEN (President of the United States): Because I am president, and a president is responsible for everything, Biden would take the blame.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy blamed the White House for moving backwards in budget talks.

(Begin VT)

REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-California): They actually want to spend more money than we spend this year. We can’t do that.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: With those talks seemingly at an impasse, we will turn to two congressmen trying to work across the aisle to defuse the crisis, New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer and Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick.

Plus, the impact of the migration crisis on America’s cities. New York’s Democratic Mayor Eric Adams says he’s not getting any help from Washington.

(Begin VT)

ERIC ADAMS (D-Mayor of New York): The national government has turned its back on New York City.

(End VT)

MARGARET BRENNAN: We will hear from him this morning, plus Miami’s mayor, Republican Francis Suarez, who is weighing a 2024 presidential bid.

Then: Prescription drug shortages approach record levels in the U.S., causing delays of necessary medical treatments. We will talk solutions with former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.

And, finally, a conversation with former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on American power and the cost of domestic dysfunction.

It’s all just a head on Face the Nation.

Good morning, and welcome to Face the Nation.

Over the weekend, frustrations boiled over, as talks broke down between the White House and Republicans who are trying to hammer out a deal to raise the federal government’s borrowing limit before a looming June 1 deadline. President Biden said this morning he will speak personally with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy on his flight home from the G7 Summit in Japan in an effort to break the impasse.

The window for action is narrowing. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen predicts the country may only have enough cash to pay another week-and-a- half worth of bills. And if the U.S. misses a payment, they will have to make hard choices. A default would threaten the global economy.

The last time negotiations were down to the wire like this was more than a decade ago. In 2011, then-President Obama and Vice President Biden struck a deal with Senate Republicans just two days before a default. This time, the politics are far trickier.

Joining us now are two congressmen trying to find some common ground, Pennsylvania Republican Brian Fitzpatrick and New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer. They are the co-chairmen of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, which represents the moderates within each party.

And, gentlemen, I know a lot of people hope you can solve these problems.

I want to start with you, Congressman Fitzpatrick.

This was supposed to be the weekend when a deal was struck, so you could vote in the coming days? Are we at the point where we need to talk about buying time with just a short-term lift of the debt ceiling, so we avoid default?

REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN FITZPATRICK (R-Pennsylvania): Hi, Margaret. Thanks for having us.

The president and the speaker going to speak shortly, probably in about within the next hour or two, when the president is returning from Japan. I think it’s really important that they sit down in person. It’s really hard when you have emissaries acting on your behalf with the president not here to actually fix this.

So, we weren’t incredibly surprised that they hit an impasse. This is going to take time. We knew it was going to take time. But you have heard both the speaker and the president still remain optimistic that they’re going to figure this out.

I do believe that they will, Margaret. We passed a bill in the House.


REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN FITZPATRICK: Obviously, it’s not something that the Senate has been willing to take up. But the Senate should take up something, because they need to indicate to us what they can rally 60 senators around to get across the finish line, because the only way we get across the finish line, the president cannot take unilateral action here.

The House and the Senate both have to pass their individual bills. We have to go to a conference and send that conference report to the president.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the president talked about that unilateral action. And even he said that would have legal consequences he’s not confident in.

But on the question of the short-term, it sounds like you think there is still time for a broader deal on the budget and the debt ceiling.



REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN FITZPATRICK: The June 1 date was probably, according to Secretary Yellen, the earliest possible date.

There’s something called a nontechnical default. That basically means — I’m sorry. A technical default would mean that we don’t have enough cash flow to pay the interest on our debt. We do have enough cash flow to do that. We’re going to start to see the state tax revenues come in about the second week of June.

So I think we are OK on that. We will have time. And I really do think that we should allow leeway and flexibility for the speaker and the president, who both understand the gravity of this situation, to work this out. I think they will.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sounds like you think there is more negotiating room here than what the Treasury secretary says.

Congressman Gottheimer, question for you. When you hear that, what do you believe here? Is June 1 not really a hard deadline? Or do you actually think we need to have a short-term lift of the debt ceiling to avoid default?

REPRESENTATIVE JOSH GOTTHEIMER (D-New Jersey): I mean, I think we have to presume June 1 is the date, if that’s what the Treasury secretary is saying.

Also, regardless, if we have a few more days, the bottom line is, we can’t continue to play chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States of America, right?


REPRESENTATIVE JOSH GOTTHEIMER: The risks are just too significant, as we all know, both to — to paying our debts and what that would mean with our reputation in the world. And, obviously, the government of China would love us to default, and then, of course, people’s savings, their 401(k)s and the risk, which is clearly real, of sending us into a recession, if we default.

That — that has to not even be an option. But, as Brian said, it’s going to take all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to get this done.


REPRESENTATIVE JOSH GOTTHEIMER: And that’s the only way I think it’s going to actually ever pass, is if Democrats and Republicans — because you’re going to lose people on the far left and far right. It’s going to take people like me and Brian and others like us who are willing to get this done.

And so I’m very glad the president and the speaker are obviously connecting and — momentarily. We have to do this, keep talking every single day, every single hour until we get this across the finish line.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, borrowing costs are already going up. Wall Street is already making contingency plans.


MARGARET BRENNAN: So, even short of default, there is risk. I think you both have to acknowledge that.

Congressman Fitzpatrick, why do you think that there’s time to play with here that?

REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN FITZPATRICK: Well, I want to say, I do agree with Josh. We should assume the date is June the 1st.

But I think the math tells us that there is a little bit of wiggle room. That being said, Margaret, to your point, it’s not just the X-date we got to worry about. If you go back to 2011, about nine days before the X-date was when our credit rating got downgraded.


REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN FITZPATRICK: And that caused the markets to spiral.


REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN FITZPATRICK: So, it’s not just the X-date. It’s the risk of the downgrade that we got to worry about, which is why it’s incredibly time-sensitive. There’s no question about it.

The conversations can’t come soon enough. I do think it’s very, very important, though, Margaret, because I do believe that the president and the speaker legitimately respect each other. I believe they legitimately do want to come to a conclusion here. And I think it’s important that they physically be in the same room together to make that happen.

And I’m glad the president’s coming back home.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressman Gottheimer, President Biden said he cannot guarantee that some extreme Republicans won’t force a default by doing something outrageous.

There’s — it’s not clear what he was talking about there. But there was some reporting in Politico that there were Democrats on the Problem Solvers Caucus who were privately discussing ways to help protect Speaker McCarthy from being ousted from power by other Republicans.

Is that true? And, if so, how far along are those talks?

REPRESENTATIVE JOSH GOTTHEIMER: I haven’t been directly part of any of those.

And so — but I will say this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, if they’re happening.

REPRESENTATIVE JOSH GOTTHEIMER: … what we focus on now — and I think. I don’t know if those are happening.


REPRESENTATIVE JOSH GOTTHEIMER: But I will — and I will — I think, if we get a deal done, we will be able to get enough Democrats and Republicans to get this done.

And I will obviously talk to — and defer to Brian on his Republican Caucus politics. But I will — but what’s most important for right now is making sure we get a deal that’s reasonable enough that you can get Democrats and Republicans a big enough swathe to agree in the House and, of course, as Brian pointed out, in the Senate.

That’s the only way this happens. So it’s got — whatever we come up with has to be reasonable. And let me say this, just from a big picture perspective, right? The — whether or not we default or not should not be a partisan issue, right?


REPRESENTATIVE JOSH GOTTHEIMER: It should not be a Democrat/Republican issue. Not defaulting is a win for the country. So that’s not a give from anybody, right?

That should just be table stakes of what we all agree upon to protect our country and protect the full faith and credit of the United States of America.


REPRESENTATIVE JOSH GOTTHEIMER: There are longer-term fiscal issues we have to deal with.

And I’d say we should be dealing with those as well, which is what Brian and I have proposed.


Congressman, I want to ask you, though, on that.

One of the things the president said he was willing to do last week was some tightening on work requirements for government aid, and that angered some progressives within your part of the — within your party. Can you support that, as a moderate Democrat?

REPRESENTATIVE JOSH GOTTHEIMER: Well, I think there are work requirements already.


REPRESENTATIVE JOSH GOTTHEIMER: I think draconian work requirements and some of the stuff that’s been proposed on Medicaid, like taking away health care of hard-pressed families, is not something that I believe could ever get enough Democratic votes to be able to get this across the finish line.

And that’s what we’re talking about here, right? What can we put together, enough Democrat and Republican votes, because it’s going to take both in a divided government, to get this across the finish line? So I think whatever we come up with has to be practical and reasonable.

And the give can’t be from Republicans or Democrats, oh, we’re not going to do — we’re going to let you not default…


REPRESENTATIVE JOSH GOTTHEIMER: … on our debts and pay our bills, right?

So that’s kind of the challenge.


REPRESENTATIVE JOSH GOTTHEIMER: I think there are reasonable things we can do. And those are the kinds of conversations that we’re all having.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, a little bit of give potentially on work requirements.

But on — Congressman Fitzpatrick, the president repeatedly said this morning he doesn’t just want cuts. He wants to look at tax revenues. What tax increases, Congressman Fitzpatrick, would Republicans consider? What has been put on the table?

REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN FITZPATRICK: Well, we have to bifurcate between the discretionary and the nondiscretionary.

So, the revenue piece pertains much more to the nondiscretionary, the mandatory spending. That’s 75 percent of our budget. And that’s where the financial solvency needs to be addressed by both revenue and expenses.

Now, the matter before the speaker and the president now only deals with discretionary spending, to some extent, nondefense discretionary spending. That’s not where the revenues are being discussed. And that’s, quite frankly, not where they’re needed. They’re needed on the mandatory side.

Medicare will run out of money in 2028. Social Security will run out of money in 2034. So we have to — and what — one of the things that Josh and I and our Problem Solvers have proposed, one of the things we hope are injected into these negotiations is a bipartisan independent commission, much like Simpson-Bowles…


REPRESENTATIVE BRIAN FITZPATRICK: … that requires us — and we can write this into the law — forces us to vote up or down on their findings within a year, because until we tackle the mandatory spending, and get a control, get — get a handle on our long-term sustainability of our debt and deficit, we’re just playing around the margins.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Congressmen, we will stay tuned to the work you can get it done in the coming days.

Thank you both for your time.



MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to New York City and its mayor, Eric Adams, a Democrat.

Mr. Mayor, good morning to you.

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS: Good morning to you as well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said that the president and the White House have failed New York City, and that you don’t have access to federal dollars to deal with the migrant crisis.

But the administration reportedly has pledged $30 million to deal with those arrivals. Why the discrepancy?

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS: I don’t think that’s a discrepancy. We’ve spent over a billion dollars. We’re projected to spend close to $4.3 billion, if not more.

This estimate was based on a number of migrants coming to the city, and those numbers have clearly increased. We are getting — we’ve received several days last week alone over 900 migrants on days, a week — over two weeks ago, approximately 4,200 in one week.

When you look at the price tag, $30 million comes nowhere near what the city is paying for a national problem.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you are getting federal help; it’s just not sufficient to the needs you have?

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS: Well, we’ve been extremely transparent what the needs are.

When a city that just cycled out of the financial crisis of COVID is now hit with an additional over a billion dollars in our budget, and potentially 4-point — over $4 billion in the out years, that is not the price tag that is attached to what it cost to handle this national problem.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You have started to bus migrants Upstate within New York, and that has kicked off some legal disputes, I understand, with some of those counties.

You just talked about decompression. Have you asked the governor, who is a fellow Democrat, to — to help you find housing for these migrants elsewhere in the state?

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS: Yes. She has been a real partner, as well as Senator Schumer, Congressman Jeffries and the New York delegation.

They have been extremely helpful in trying to, number one, get the dollars coming out of Washington, D.C., but also the governor here, in coordinating our efforts. We believe the entire state should participate in a decompression strategy, and it’s unfortunate that there have been some lawmakers and counties that are not carrying on their role of ensuring that this is a decompression strategy throughout the state.

And, sometimes, we have witnessed in some municipalities where they lied and stated that veterans were being forced out of hotels, which was untrue and found out to be fabricated. So, these types of tactics are just anti- American and anti-New York City.

MARGARET BRENNAN: On the question of decompression, would it be more helpful if it was the federal government directing where migrants are moved to throughout the United States, instead of you, as New York City’s mayor, trying to figure out where you can send them within your state?

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS: Yes, it would.

We have 108,000 cities, villages, towns. If everyone takes a small portion of that, and if it’s coordinated at the border to ensure that those who are coming here to this country in a lawful manner is actually moved throughout the entire country, it is not a burden on one city.

And the numbers need to be clear. We received over 70,000 migrant asylum seekers in our city; 42,000 are still in our care.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS: If this is properly handled at the border level, this issue can be resolved, while we finally get Congress, particularly the Republican Party, to deal with a comprehensive immigration policy.


There has been a lot of national attention about that tragic event on the New York City subway. Jordan Neely, who was homeless and struggled with mental health issues, was forcibly restrained and then choked by a subway rider named Daniel Penny. He lost his life.

Why do you think that the system you have in place to deal with homelessness and to deal with mental health failed Jordan Neely?

MAYOR ERIC ADAMS: When you do an examination, just as I have talked about public safety issues and how we’re to get guns that were clearly saturating our cities, so too, in October and prior to that, I have talked about how we must look at involuntary removal of those who are — cannot take care of their basic needs and are a danger to themselves.

You know, it breaks my heart how Jordan lost his life, who happens to have the same name as my son. And our focus should be on how he died. And we need to look at how he lived and ensure that the other Jordans out there receive the care they deserve.

I spend many days in the subway system talking to those who are in that condition. And if we don’t get help from the state government to ensure that we can use involuntary removals with those who are in danger to themselves and can’t take care of basic needs, we may be facing a potential problem like this again. And that’s what we need to do. We need to make sure that we go after those other Jordan Neelys that are there looking for care.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. Mayor, thank you for your time this morning.

Face the Nation will be back in one minute. Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to Miami and its mayor, Republican Francis Suarez.

Welcome back to the program.

I want to ask you about what is happening with the migrant crisis in this country. Is your city receiving enough support from both the state and the federal government?

FRANCIS SUAREZ (R-Mayor of Miami, Florida): Well, we haven’t received any support as of yet from the federal government that we are aware of.

We checked to see if we had gotten any help from FEMA. It turns out we have not. It is a migrant crisis in our city as well. Just in the last two months, the Coast Guard has processed 408 migrants in our — on our coast. We have — just last year in our public school system, we had over 14,000 new children, 10,000 of which came from four countries of Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Haiti.

And that’s the equivalent of five new 2,000-student schools.


MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ: And that’s a tremendous burden on our system.

And I’m — I’m actually quite proud of Mayor Adams from New York for standing up and talking about how this is impacting the city of New York. I mean, he has to focus on crime reduction. And, instead, you see images of police officers helping people in the classic Roosevelt Hotel…


MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ: … find housing.

And so these officers should be and you would want them to be focused on reducing crime, and instead have to deal with this migrant crisis, which, as you have said, should be a federal issue.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about what’s happening at the state level, because Florida did just pass and your governor, Ron DeSantis, signed into law a new policy as of February that will make it a felony to knowingly and willfully transport an undocumented person, even if it’s a family member.

I know the Miami-Dade Police Department said they are not planning on pulling over drivers. What are you going to instruct Miami Police Department to do?

MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ: Well we — we — we don’t get involved in federal issues like that.

You know, we pull over people for…

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, this is a state law.

MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ: Yes, we pull over people for — for — for state — for traffic infractions and things of that nature. We don’t usually get involved in the federal immigration enforcement system.


MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ: We never have as a city.

And I don’t — I don’t believe that we plan to in the future. So, that — that — that doesn’t really apply to the city of Miami. It’s — it never has. And I think they’re going to use, from what I understand, the Florida Highway Patrol, which is the — the state-controlled police department, to enforce that law.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It’s also going to require businesses to verify that employees can legally work in the U.S. It’s going to require hospitals to include citizenship questions on intake forms.

Is there going to be an impact on your city? There’s concerns about labor shortages, for example.

MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ: Well, first of all, I think it is already illegal to hire an undocumented worker in the United States of America. So I’m not sure if that changes much the current law or the current state of the law.

In terms of how it impacts the city of Miami, you know, we have a 1.8 percent unemployment rate, which is fantastic. When you want to open up a new business, definitely, we need workers. And I think this entire debate and discussion screams for a national solution. And I think that’s what we should be focused on as a country…


MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ: .. solving this problem in a way that, A, right- sizes legal immigration, so that we can have Americans that want to work and that are working legally.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Am I hearing you say that some of these state laws are just theater? Because you’re saying a lot of these things don’t actually practically apply.

MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ: Yes, I think — I think some of them are headline- grabbers, without a doubt.

And some of them…

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that what your governor — governor is doing intentionally?

MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ: I think — I think — I think you could argue that, for sure.

I think — I think some of them are substantive. For example, he’s sending 1,000 law enforcement officers to the border, at the request of the governor of Texas. I think that that’s something that could have a positive impact and interdicting and helping with people who are on the terrorist watch list, and they have catched (sic) people who are smugglers and coyotes. So that — that can be helped.

And you have to be careful with that as well, because we are on the eve of hurricane season. So, you have to — you have to make sure that the resources that are being used are resources…


MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ: .. that we can deploy here in the state of Florida if we need them as well.


I want to continue our conversation on the other side of a commercial break here, because I know you are considering and you have said you might run for president. So, I have a lot more questions for you.

So we will be right back with a lot more Face the Nation. Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: If you miss an episode of Face the Nation, you can listen to our podcast. Find us on Amazon Music or wherever you get your podcasts.

We will be right back with a lot more Face the Nation, so stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We will be right back with a lot more Face the Nation, including more from Miami Mayor Francis Suarez on his plans for 2024, plus former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on American leadership overseas, and former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb on nationwide drug shortages.

Stay with us.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Welcome back to FACE THE NATION. We continue our conversation now with Miami’s mayor, Francis Suarez.

So, sir, when will you announce you’re running for president?

FRANCIS SUAREZ (R-Miami Mayor): Well, it — it’s got to be soon because the first debate is August 20th. I’m someone who needs to be better known by this country. And so I think the Republican Party has said there’s going to be a debate a month from August all the way through January 8th, which is the Iowa caucus. So you have to take every opportunity to share your story, to share your vision and to try to inspire the American people to choose what you’re trying to – to offer them.

So, I think it would have to be soon in order to make the debate stage. There’s a couple of criteria that you have to follow. One of them is – is you have to be at least 1 percent in the polls, which I think shouldn’t be a problem. And, secondly, you have to have 40,000 unique individual contributions, and that takes a little bit of time. So, the – the clock is ticking. It’s a soul-searching process with my family. And every single day we talk about it, my wife and I, and we’re getting much, much closer to making a final decision.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That sounds like the only word you’re not saying is yes, but you’re leaning in pretty heavily there.

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway was – was quoted as saying you’d be among the best possible draft picks as a running mate for President Trump. Would you join a ticket with him?

FRANCIS SUAREZ: Look, it’s flattering to be in any discussion for the vice presidency or the presidency. You know, I was — my parents came to this country at 12 and seven from Cuba, exiled from their country of birth. I never thought in a million years that I would ever be on FACE THE NATION with you talking about the possibility for running for president. I think that demonstrates the greatness of this country, that this country provides opportunities to everyone who cares about the American dream. That’s how I’ve grown up. I, you know, I’ve grown up as a – as a citizen of this country. So –

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. But – but you’ve also said that the country is looking for someone who need – is aspirational and inspirational, not divisive. Is Donald Trump a unifier? Would you stand with him on a ticket?

FRANCIS SUAREZ: What I’ve said is that I’m aspirational and inspirational and that if I do run for president, people should vote for me –


FRANCIS SUAREZ: Because I represent something different and I can appeal to a different segment of our country, which is, you know, voters under 30, that Biden won by 26 points.


FRANCIS SUAREZ: People in cities that I won my city by 86 percent and — and was re-elected by 80 percent.


FRANCIS SUAREZ: And Hispanics. As – as a Hispanic American –


FRANCIS SUAREZ: I think it’s important to be able to connect with a, you know, voting demographic that’s growing and that’s trending more Republican. Look, if that’s happened –

MARGARET BRENNAN: Let me ask you – yes, let me ask you on that though, has – there was some reporting in your local papers about your job and side job that you hadn’t disclosed. Will you release your tax returns if you run for president?

FRANCIS SUAREZ: Of course. And I have to disclose all the jobs that I have. It really shouldn’t matter how many jobs I have. What should matter is how I do my primary job, which is being the mayor of Miami. Nobody criticizes that.


FRANCIS SUAREZ: I’m also the president of all the mayors in the United States.


FRANCIS SUAREZ: You know, we are – our success story in Miami is very, very incredible. You know, we’ve lowered taxes to the lowest level in history and grown 12, the second most in recorded history.


FRANCIS SUAREZ: We have the lowest per capita homicide rate since 1964. And this year we’re 40 percent below that number.


FRANCIS SUAREZ: You know, and – and we — we’re number one in the nation in wage growth and number one in unemployment. So, I don’t know why my local paper is obsessed with how many jobs I do. I think they should be focused on the job of being mayor, which I think I do a great job at.

MARGARET BRENNAN: OK. Well, Mr. Mayor, we look forward to talking to you about the job you might be seeking in the future.

We’ll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: We traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia, on Friday to speak with Robert Gates, the former defense secretary and CIA director, who is now the chancellor at William & Mary.

We began on the question of America’s leadership and how the domestic dysfunction over the debt ceiling might undermine it.


ROBERT GATES (Former Defense Secretary and CIA Director): I think it’s a real problem. It – it feeds the narrative from China in particular that our system doesn’t work, that it’s broken, it’s paralyzed, it can’t get things done, that – that their model is more stable and – and actually more effective than ours. So — so sort of having these episodes of great crisis and then some solution at the last second really feeds the notion that — that the U.S. political system isn’t working at all.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you think the biggest threat to the United States is right now?

ROBERT GATES: I think it is the polarization in the country. And — and, you know, we’ve always had polarization in America, but what’s been different more recently is not just a measure of paralysis as indicated by the debt ceiling, but of all the meanness and lack of civility among our politicians. Our – the – the sense that somebody who disagrees with you is not just somebody you disagree with, but is an enemy, is a bad person. This lack of civility is – is, I think, something new and – and really is pretty pervasive in the Congress and it sets a pretty bad example for the rest of the country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re now over two years into the Biden administration and no cabinet member has traveled to China to date. There are some signs that there may be a bit of a thaw coming here. But the two presidents need to talk. What has to happen before they can get on the phone to each other?

ROBERT GATES: Well, I was encouraged by the – the day long talks that the national security adviser had with his Chinese counterpart a week or so ago in Vienna. Our ambassador, Nick Burns, is now being allowed to see some more senior officials than he’s been able to see in the past.

But this — this lack of communication is a real problem. You know, even in the worst days of the cold war we had the hotline with the – with the Soviets and – and – and then even in the ’90s with the Russians. We had agreements on how to deal with incidents, like incidents at sea and how to make sure they didn’t escalate and get out of control. We don’t have any of those kinds of communications with the Chinese today. So, my highest priority, frankly, would be direct communications linked between our commanders in Hawaii and the Chinese commanders in eastern China. But it’s also important for the leaders to talk and to begin to figure out, you know, we are going to be in this contest for a long time. And let just face that reality.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Recently Beijing reportedly appointed their state security czar to start cracking down on U.S. firms that do business in China. It’s getting – it’s getting tough on that front.

ROBERT GATES: It is tough. And – and what Xi Jinping made very clear at the party Congress a few months ago was that security was going to trumpet economy in China.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Isn’t that incredible?

ROBERT GATES: Well, for him it’s all about the power, maintaining and sustaining the power of the communist party of China. And that’s his highest priority. And he’s willing to sacrifice economic growth for that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Japan’s prime minister said Ukraine today may be east Asia tomorrow. It seems to be there’s this increased reference to Taiwan or some kind of military expansion by China as – as looming, as almost inevitable.

Do you see the potential for a head-to-head clash here, or are we thinking of it incorrectly?

ROBERT GATES: Well, there’s always that potential. I mean the Chinese have – have been building ships like crazy. They now have more ships in the Pacific than we do. And – and they’re still building. So, I think we have to take it very seriously. And I think — I think the disparity and the size of our navies, even though our ships may be bigger and better technologically, at a person point the numbers really matter.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You famously said that Joe Biden was wrong on foreign policy for 40 years. And I know you get asked about this all the time. But at this point in his presidency, how do you assess his performance?

ROBERT GATES: Well, first of all, on the thing that’s most important right now, which is Ukraine, I think that the way that the administration used intelligence to alert the Europeans and others to what the Russians were about to do was very important. And I think the way that – that the administration was able to assemble the alliance, bring the alliance together in support of Ukraine, has been very impressive.

My problem is that – that they have been, I think, slow in approving the various kinds of weapons systems going to the Ukrainians. And – and so, you know, there’s a debate for a long time, do we send tanks? Well, finally we sent tanks. Do we send things like the HIMARS and other kinds of capabilities? And we finally did it but only after months and months of indecision.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And now it’s F-16s.

ROBERT GATES: They’ve been worrying – they’ve been worrying about — talking about F-16s for many, many months and now we hear, well, we’re going to go ahead and allow the training on the F-16s.

Well, that’s a decision that could have been made six months ago. The truth is, if they had begun training pilots on F-16s six months ago, then those pilots would be able to get into those airplanes this spring.

I understand the need to avoid a direct confrontation with the Russians, but we — I think we learned pretty early on that as long as we weren’t providing things that could attack Russia proper, that Putin was not going to retaliate.

MARGARET BRENNAN: A year ago when we spoke you told me the one glimmer of hope you saw was that Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin had united Democrats and Republicans in Washington. There was strong consensus. Do you actually think that’s holding?

ROBERT GATES: I do. I think that, in fact, there’s kind of a competition on The Hill to see who can be tougher on China. And – and it makes a more nuanced policy by the administration more difficult because anything that the administration does to try and put a floor on this relationship gets criticized on The Hill as conceding something to the Chinese. But I think by and large the — there is very broad bipartisan support for what the U.S. is doing for Ukrainians, and I think it’s also in terms of China.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yet, there are some loud voices raising concerns about U.S. military readiness in terms of drawing down, in particular, U.S. stockpiles to quickly provide arms to Ukraine or to Taiwan. And the connection to this concept that that weakens the United States.

Donald Trump said last week, we’re giving away so much equipment. We don’t have ammunition for ourselves right now. We’re giving away too much.

ROBERT GATES: The kinds of equipment we’re giving Ukrainians for this ground war against Russia are not necessarily the kinds of weapons we would rely on if we ended up in a confrontation, for example, with China. I think there also is a realization that we have let our production capabilities wither since the end of the Cold War and finally people are getting behind the notion we’re going to have to make some long-term investments there.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I think there is an interesting conversation though about America’s role in the world. And we’re seeing some of the Republican candidates in particular take some pretty different positions on this. Do you think where a candidate stands on this issue of Russia and Ukraine really should matter to people at home? Like, what does it say about the candidates?

ROBERT GATES: Well, I think it should matter. I think it’s very important where a – where a candidate stands on issues related to core national security interests. And —

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because you believe Ukraine is core to U.S. national security interests?

ROBERT GATES: Absolutely. Because — we have these NATO obligations. If – if Vladimir Putin wins in Ukraine, there’s no doubt in my mind that Moldova is next, that Belarus will be incorporated into the original Russian empire, which is what Putin’s trying to recreate. And it creates great danger to the Baltic states and to Poland, where we have treaty alliances that would require American forces to confront the Russians.

So, I think – I think this is important. And there are differences of view. And, frankly, there are some differences of view on these issues in the Democratic Party as well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, testified that the U.S. assessment is that Vladimir Putin is, quote, very unlikely to use a tactical nuclear weapon. But the bravado continues. Do you still have a concern that this could escalate or are we entering this sort of slow, grinding war of attrition?

ROBERT GATES: Well, think that the chances of Putin using a tactical nuclear weapon are not zero, but they’re very, very low. And the potential for NATO’s retaliation, NATO wouldn’t retaliate with a tactical nuclear weapon, but it would engage Russia much more directly, I think, if there were the use of a tactical nuclear weapon. He also has his partner without limits, Xi Jinping, twice publicly telling him not to use tactical nuclear weapons. So, there’s just — there’s no — there’s no money in it for Putin.

I think that the risk of – of – of a significant escalation on the part of the Russians is pretty limited at this point.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But not necessarily at a point where we’re tipping towards negotiation?

ROBERT GATES: I personally think that negotiations are pretty far in the future. I think this fight will continue, and particularly — I mean either way, if the counteroffensive is really successful, or if it’s not, the fighting will continue until one side or the other is exhausted and — and – and Putin’s bet is that he can outlast the Ukrainians, outlast the Europeans, and outlast us. And Xi Jinping is watching this very carefully. So, this is another reason, I think, for us to stay the course in supporting – in supporting the Ukrainians.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you a little bit about something you said last year when I was asking you about the state of the country. You said it would concern you if President Trump ran for office again. He is currently the front-runner for the Republican nomination. What’s your level of concern now?

ROBERT GATES: Well, I’m concerned because, among other things, because he is — he has been very clear that he wants to dramatically change, if not dismantle, some major institutions in the American government. And, you know, I — my attitude for a long time has been many of the institutions in our government need dramatic reform. But those institutions are critical to the preservation of our democracy, the preservation of our economic well- being, and, frankly, our freedom.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What does this next two-year period look like for us?

ROBERT GATES: Well, the – the interesting thing to me is — is the polls that suggest that significant majorities of the American people across the board would rather have two very different candidates for president than the choice they’re likely to be given.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is there any glimmer of hope there that you see on the horizon or new talent?

ROBERT GATES: I think there are several caucuses in the House in particular that are looking for ways to have more pragmatic problem solving in Congress, to have more bipartisanship. I think it’s got to start. We can’t start solving some of these big problems until we have some restoration of civility where people actually respect each other.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, thank you for the civil conversation today, Mr. Secretary.

ROBERT GATES: Thank you. Always my pleasure. Thank you.


MARGARET BRENNAN: You can watch the full interview with Robert Gates on our website, facethenation.com, and on our YouTube channel.

We’ll be back in a moment.


MARGARET BRENNAN: More than 130 medications are in shortage in the United States, including key cancer treatments according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Joining us now to discuss it is former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who’s also a board member at Pfizer.

Doctor, it’s good to have you back.

I wanted to have you explain this because the American Cancer Society warned this week, it’s a serious and life-threatening issue for cancer patients. How bad is this shortage, and what’s causing it?

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB (Former FDA Commissioner): Look, it’s bad. This is a long-standing problem. There’s about 300 drugs in shortage right now, active shortages, and so that’s a high level. It’s the highest it’s been since 2014. But this has been a long-standing challenge. I dealt with it when I was at FDA going back to around 2003. That’s how old this problem is.

And the issue is that this mostly affects sterile injectable drugs. That doesn’t mean that small molecule pill-form drugs aren’t in shortage, but the majority of these shortages are around the sterile, injectable drugs.

The reimbursement for these drugs under government programs has been driven down very low. Something above the marginal cost of manufacturing the drugs. And that’s fine when it comes to a pill form drug where there’s not a lot that can go wrong. But when it comes to an injectable drug, you need to leave a margin in so people can re-invest in manufacturing facilities, make sure they’re high quality. They haven’t done that and things go wrong and it results in shortages.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, I know the White House is looking at this issue. Something like 80 percent of manufacturing facilities are located outside the U.S. How do you ramp up domestic production?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Yes, look, we’ve paid a high price for the low costs we enjoyed. If you want to get manufacturing back into the U.S., you want companies to have a healthy margin that they can reinvest in their manufacturing facilities to make sure that they’re modern, you need to pay them to do that. And as long as we drive down the reimbursement for these generic drugs, they’re not going to have the money to reinvest in doing that.

The White House is talking about more regulation. The generic manufacturers are calling for direct subsidies. I think we really need to create a market for high quality manufacturing so you can allow generic manufacturers to make certain claims about the reliability and the quality of the manufacturing. And then for generic manufacturers that can make those claims, thorough maybe some third-party certification, you pay them for that. You pay them for the fact that they have reliable manufacturing that might be domestic, that might be more modern so it’s going to be more reliable and less prone to shortages.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the federal government is capping the cost of certain drugs because of high costs to consumers. Is that going to add to this issue?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, look, the features under the Inflation Reduction Act will exacerbate this problem because it will prevent these generic manufacturers from being able to take price increases. For example, if they enter a market for the first time or they spend a lot of money upgrading a facility to be complaint with state of the art regulations, they’re not going to be able to take a price increase to recoup some of those costs. So it’s going to come out of their own pocket.

Fifty percent of generic drugs right now, in a generic portfolio, lose money. So, a generic manufacturer loses money on half of their drugs that they market. That’s not a sustainable business model.

I think the administration, under the IRA, should carve out these old, sterile, injectable drugs entirely. They didn’t do that in the legislation. So it is going to exacerbate these problems.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Can they do that? Can the FDA do that? Who can do that?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, the FDA — it’s going to take Congress. They did create provisions in the IRA to try to carve out some of these drugs, but the way they structured it, a lot of these sterile, injectable drugs are still going to get caught in these price caps. And so it would take an act of Congress right now to modify the IRA to do that.

I think people are looking at it. I think they recognize that there are structural features in this market that make this a recurring problem. This isn’t a new problem. It’s gotten worse over time. It’s going to take Congress stepping in to do something to change the way these drugs are paid for.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And that brings us back to a problem we talk about weekly in terms of getting things passed right now. I want to ask you about Covid, because I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the end of the federal health emergency on May 11th. What do you think the practical impact will be on people at home?

SCOTT GOTTLIEB: Well, I think the end of the public health emergency, the practical impacts is not going to be that significant to the average consumer. The administration took steps to extend certain things like telehealth, things that consumers were benefitting from.

There is going to be an impact on Medicaid eligibility. You’re going to see some people lose their Medicaid coverage and some people not get automatically re-enrolled and they won’t know how to re-enroll into that program. So there is going to be an increase in the uninsured as people get kicked off of the Medicaid rolls.

Right now cases are down to very low levels. They’re probably going to pick up going into the fall. But they’re – hospitalizations – there were 9,000 hospitalizations last week. That’s an historical low through the pandemic. Excess deaths are back to the historical baseline. So, things have improved dramatically. I do think cases are going to pick up as new variants start to emerge, but this will become a more manageable threat, hopefully.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Dr. Gottlieb, thank you, always, for your time.

We’ll be right back.


MARGARET BRENNAN: That’s it for us today. Thank you for watching. Until next time, for FACE THE NATION, I’m Margaret Brennan.


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