Interview with Vice President Joe Biden

Interview with Vice President Joe Biden

By This Week - July 18, 2010

JAKE TAPPER, HOST: I know that there are some in the White House who feel Wall Street reform, health care legislation, stimulus, and yet the public still overwhelmingly thinks this country is on the wrong track.

Are you not getting enough credit, you and the administration?

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, these are gigantic packages to deal with a gigantic problem we inherited. And the vast majority of the American people and a lot of people really involved don't even know what's inside the packages. And so you have, for example, Mr. Boehner already calling for the repeal of -- of the reform that just passed on Wall Street. People don't realize, in that reform, you know, you say, look, we've had meat inspection for 100 years ago, the meat packing companies didn't like it. Automobile safety 50 years ago.

People are going to look back on this very shortly and say, why shouldn't we have some consumer group in -- entity looking at whether or not you can give someone a mortgage with no down payment, with no -- with a teaser interest rate, with no documentation, etc.

So it is -- people don't know that. Just like people don't know a lot of what's going on in The Recovery Act, understandably, because this has been so much stuff that has been flowing our way. And -- and we're facing a bunch of guys who are good guys, but they're all about repeal and -- and repeat. Repeal what we're doing and go back, repeal the incentives for industry to invest in solar energy. Repeal the health care bill that allows you to keep your kid on your health care policy, precondi -- preexisting conditions can't deny you policies, etc.

It's just going to take time. This is Jan -- this is July. The election is not until November. And I think we're going to have to firmly make our case. I think we can make it and especially in the context of who's going to be opposing us.

Compared to the alternative, I think we're going to get a fair amount of credit by November and I think we're going to do fine.

TAPPER: So the reason you're not getting enough credit is because the public doesn't understand everything that's happened yet?

BIDEN: Well, nor could they or should they. Look, in the last six months of the Bush administration, they lost three million jobs. Before we got our economic package in place, another 3.7 million jobs were lost in the first six months we took office. The last six months of this year -- the first six months of this year, we created almost 600,000 private jobs, you know, in the private market. That's not nearly enough to make up for the eight million jobs lost in the recession. But people are going to start to focus on exactly what we're doing. And all -- look, I'm convinced, at least from sitting around my dad's kitchen table and -- and the people I grew up with is when things are really tough economically and the country is in trouble, all they want to know is, they -- they don't expect an answer, but they expect to be reassured that we're moving in the right direction.

That is...

TAPPER: But they don't think that we are.

BIDEN: No. No, they don't think now because I don't think they know the detail of what's going on.

For example, here you had the insurance industry spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make the health care bill out to be this God awful tragedy.

Now what's starting off to happen?

The health care numbers are going up.


Because they're figuring out that small businesses are going to get a 30 percent tax cut. They didn't know that because of all the advertising done.

So there's a lot -- and -- and I would use health care as an example. Health care has gone from a barrage of advertising against it, why it was so bad, just like Wall Street reform. The financial industry spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying against this  this is an awful thing, it's government regulation. All it is, is rational control and the turning around of what the Republicans did, which is let Wall Street run wild.

People -- when you say to people, you know, we just went out and had a regulatory reform bill, where I come from, it's like, OK, what -- what does that mean?

They don't know what it means yet, understandably. And so I think it takes time, Jake.

TAPPER: There's that famous saying in Washington by Mike Kinsley that a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. Robert Gibbs experienced some of that this -- this past few days...

BIDEN: I've never had a gaffe.

TAPPER: You've never had an issue with gaffes.


TAPPER: No, I know. So you can't relate.

BIDEN: Yeah.

TAPPER: But -- but he said that enough seats are in the play in the House for the Democrats to possibly lose the House. Empirically true.

How bad are the losses going to be for Democrats?

BIDEN: I don't think the losses are going to be bad at all. I think we're going to shock the heck out of everybody. I really -- and I've been saying this now. I think even when you and I went down to North Carolina and you followed be on the recovery trip, I was saying it then. I am absolutely confidence -- confident when people take a look at the what has happened since we've taken office in November and comparing it to the alternative, we're going to be very -- we're going to be in great shape.

Here's the deal. What Robert Gibbs also said was what he believes, what I believe, what the president believes, we're going to win the House and we're going to win the Senate. We're not going to lose either one of those bodies.

And so, again, this is July. November and at the time, the most vulnerable time any public official finds himself in is when they have no opponent.

Look at Harry Reid. You know, I got -- I got kind of banged around for saying I think there was a 55 percent chance Harry Reid is going to win. Well, Harry Reid, when he was the -- you know, on the other side of the barrage of how bad Harry Reid was, was in trouble. Now Harry Reid, in the last poll, was up 7 points. I -- he I think he -- I -- I'd bet anything -- I'm not allowed to bet, but I'll bet Harry Reid wins. You're going to see that repeated.

So, that old -- to paraphrase Mark Twain, I think the -- the reports of our demise are premature.

TAPPER: The NAACP had a convention in the last week. And they passed a resolution saying that elements of the Tea Party are racist.

Do you think elements of the Tea Party are racist?

BIDEN: Well, the truth is that at least elements that were involved in some of the Tea Party folks expressed racist views. We saw that on television and it was turned -- but I don't think -- I don't -- I wouldn't characterize the Tea Party as racist. There are individuals who are either members of or on the periphery of some of their things, their -- their protests -- that have expressed really unfortunate comments. And, again, it was all over TV, all over your network, you know?

A black congressman walking up the stairs of the Capitol.

But I don't believe, the president doesn't believe that the Tea Party is -- is a racist organization. I don't believe that. Very conservative. Very different views on government and a whole lot of things. But it is not a racist organization.

TAPPER: One of the big issues in this election, in this mid-term election is the economy.


TAPPER: Non-financial institutions are sitting on $1.8 trillion in cash money that could be spent expanding, creating jobs...


TAPPER: -- and they're not spending it on that -- that way. A lot of members of the business community in the last week or so have been saying the reason that money is not being spent on expansion or jobs is because the business community is convinced that the Obama administration is anti-business and they're worried about what legislation, what regulation is coming down the pike.

Why do you think they're not spending that money?

BIDEN: Three months ago, those same business leaders, they were in the White House in meetings with us saying, you know, you're going to be surprised on the up side how many people we're going to be hiring. I think that a couple of things have happened.

One, they didn't anticipate and no one anticipated the potential collapse of the European economy and the so-called Eurozone -- Greece and Spain and all of that. That put a real brake on an awful lot of people in terms of their optimism about where the world economy was going, because we're affected by that indirectly.

Secondly, I think that the very uncertainty they had is now been settled by the passage of the reforms. They didn't know which way they were going to go. They didn't know how much was going to happen.

So I think there is increased certainty now that the major reform they were worried about is law. It's passed. And they're going to know how to deal with it.

I think you see stabilization on the European side, in terms of the so-called euro and the Eurozone. And I think that's going to help.

So I think you're going to see them beginning to move.

TAPPER: You said that the stimulus is -- is working.

BIDEN: Yeah.

TAPPER: And you said earlier, in the past week, you talked about three million jobs being created by the stimulus...

BIDEN: Yeah.

TAPPER: -- so far. But since the stimulus passed, more than three million jobs have been lost. And before you took office, three million jobs were lost.

BIDEN: Yeah.

TAPPER: Was the stimulus, in retrospect, too small?

BIDEN: Look, there's a lot of people at the time argued it was too small. Actually, we...

TAPPER: A lot of people in your administration.

BIDEN: -- yes. A lot of people in our administration, a lot of -- I mean, you know, even some Republican economists and some Nobel laureates like Paul Krugman, who continues to argue it was too small. But, you know, there was a reality. In order to get what we got passed, we had to find Republican votes. And we found three -- three. And we finally got it passed.

So there is the reality of whether or not the Republicans are willing to play, whether or not the Republicans are just about repeal and repeat the old policies or they're really wanting to do something. And I -- I'm not -- I'm not -- you know...

TAPPER: So if you didn't have Republicans that you had -- if you didn't have the legislative reality...

BIDEN: I think what...

TAPPER: -- it would have been bigger?

BIDEN: I think it would have been bigger. I think it would have been bigger. In fact, what we offered was slightly bigger than that. But the truth of the matter is that the recovery package, everybody's talking about it having -- it's over. The truth is now, we're spending more now this summer than we -- I'm calling this the recovery -- the summer of recovery. We have two, three times as many highway projects going. We have significant investment in broadband for the first time now. It's starting to really ramp up because the contracts have been let. In high speed rail, in wind energy.

I mean, where are the new jobs going to come from?

And that's what we're laying the foundation for. And, again, this is a hard slog, man. And it's counter-intuitive. It's counter-intuitive to say someone sitting at a kitchen table in Claymont, Delaware, who lost their jobs  by the way, we saved or created three million jobs and they pick up when we lost three million.

The truth is, over three million people who are now working would be out of work but for this. The truth of the matter is there's an overwhelming consensus that we're not losing jobs now, we're creating jobs. The argument's gone from losing jobs to are we creating them fast enough, not whether we're creating them. And nothing is fast enough till you get these people back to work.

TAPPER: Turning to Afghanistan...

BIDEN: Yeah.

TAPPER: -- which is foremost on a lot of Americans' minds, I want to read you a quote from Jonathan Alter's new book: "At the conclusion of an interview in his West Wing office, Vice President Biden was adamant in July of 2011, that we're going to see a whole lot of people moving out. 'Bet on it,' Biden said, as wheeled to leave the room, late for lunch with the president. He turned at the door and said once more, 'Bet on it.'"

Did you say that to...

BIDEN: I did say that.

TAPPER: -- to Jon Alter?

BIDEN: I did say that.

TAPPER: And what did you mean, a whole lot of people...

BIDEN: Well, what I said...

TAPPER: -- moving out?

BIDEN: -- if you read three or four paragraphs above that, Jonathan was making a very valid point. He was saying a lot in the military think they outmaneuvered the president to render the July date meaningless. And I was saying that's simply not true. The military signed on. Petraeus signed on. Everybody signed onto not a deadline, but a transition, a beginning of a transition.

TAPPER: But what does a whole lot of people moving out mean?

BIDEN: Well, what I was talking about was you have -- we're going to have over 100,000 people there and two...

TAPPER: More, right, if you include NATO troops?

BIDEN: Oh, yeah. I'm just talking about Americans.


BIDEN: A hundred and forty thousand people there. And there's going to be a drawdown of forces as we transition. There are 34 districts in Afghanistan and the plan is, as we train up the Afghanis, we are going to, beginning in August, say, OK, now you've got this province, we no longer have to have American or NATO forces in that province. There will be a transition.

And really what I was responding to was the idea that the president had been outmaneuvered. I was saying make it clear. And so it -- it wasn't so much numbers I meant. It could be as few as a couple thousand troops. It could be more. But there will be a transition.

TAPPER: Let's talk about the present in Afghanistan. Marjah did not as well as hoped. Kandahar has been delayed.

How is you and the president, your new way forward in Afghanistan, where are we in that?

Are we -- are we losing?

Are we trading water?

Where are we?

BIDEN: It's too early to make a judgment. We don't even have all the troops of the so-called surge in place yet. That won't happen until August.

TAPPER: But it's not -- it doesn't seem like it's going...

BIDEN: No...

TAPPER: -- according to plan.

BIDEN: No, it is -- well...

TAPPER: We're losing a lot of troops.

BIDEN: Well, unfortunately, everyone knew that in these summer months, when they can infiltrate from Pakistan under the cover of foliage and the rest and it's open, that there would be more deaths. That's been the pattern. And now we're engaging them more and there are more deaths.

But we still believe that the policy that the military signed onto, put together initially, signed onto, is, in fact, going to work. And let me define what I mean by work. We are making considerable progress against al Qaeda, which is our primary target. We're taking out significant numbers of the leadership in al Qaeda. And we are, in the process, which is painfully slow and difficult, of training up Afghani forces in order to put them in a position they can deal with their own insurgents. There is, for the first time now, a real attempt and a policy of trying to figure out how to reconcile those in the Taliban who are doing it for the pay, who are not the Mullah Omars of the world, into the government of Afghanistan.

All of this is just beginning. And we knew it was going to be a tough slog. But I think it's much too premature to make a judgment until the military said we should look at it, which is in December.

TAPPER: There was a recent incident involving the commanding general -- now the ex-commanding general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal. And I just wondered, since you were one of the people mentioned disparagingly by his aides. I know he called you to apologize.

BIDEN: He did.

TAPPER: I'm wondering, what was your reaction when you...

BIDEN: I didn't take it personally at all. I really, honest to God, didn't, compared to what happens in politics, this is -- that was a piece of cake. And it wasn't so disparaging is that I -- I was the enemy. It wasn't that I -- I wasn't the clown. I was the guy who, in fact, was their problem, they thought. I'm not their problem. I agree with the policy the president put in place. But it was clear -- I was asked to and I did on my own survey, I think, six four star generals, including present and former, every single one said he had to go.

So we did -- we made -- the president made the right decision. He changed the personalities, but not the policy. He put the strongest guy in the U.S. military and a counter-insurgency policy in place.

So I think it was -- it was the absolutely necessary thing to do. The president didn't take it personally. I didn't. I met with McChrystal. The president met with McChrystal. He was -- he was really apologetic. He knew they had gone way beyond. But we also knew that if a sergeant did that, if a lieutenant did that, I mean no one could stay.

TAPPER: Why do you think they thought of you as the enemy, because you had been in favor of...

BIDEN: Well, because...

TAPPER: -- the counter-terrorism instead of the counter-insurgency?

BIDEN: -- they -- because I had been someone who -- who offered a plan that was different in degree. But, you know, again, I -- I -- someday I'll be able to lay out exactly what the plan I offered was. It would be inappropriate to do that because it was so close to what -- what, in fact, the plan ended up being that there was virtually no difference. But I got characterized because I was really very challenging to some of the assertions made.

If you notice, what we have is a counter-insurgency plan along the spine of the country, where the population is. It's not a nationwide counter-insurgency plan. We're not engaged in nation-building, which the original discussion was about. We have a rec -- we -- we have a date where we're going to go look and see whether it's working. And we have a timetable in which to transition.

All of those things were things I was supporting. All those things were -- so. And to -- to conclude, when -- when General Petraeus was picked the day in the office -- it was the day we were supposed to go downstairs into The Situation Room, they call it, to discuss the overall policy. Everyone was there. I pulled him aside and I said, David, there is no daylight between your position and mine.

And he said, I know that. Will you tell people that?

TAPPER: Let's switch over now to Iraq.


TAPPER: This is your first news interview since returning from Iraq.

BIDEN: True.

TAPPER: There's a -- there's a tremendous stale mat -- stalemate there.


TAPPER: Since the March elections, I believe the parliament there has only met for 20 minutes. And just this week in Washington, the Iraqi foreign minister, Zebari, pleaded for more U.S. engagement. He said: "We believe that there's a role for more engagement to help, to encourage, to facilitate, not to pick and choose the next government or the next leader, but really to play a greater role in the process."

You once advocated for a three way partition of Iraq because you were not confident that Iraq's government was capable of having a strong central government. You said: "The most basic premise of President Bush's approach that the Iraqi people will rally behind a strong central government headed by Maliki, in fact, looks out for their interests equitably is fundamentally and fatally flawed. It will not happen in anybody's lifetime here including the pages!"

So it's -- that was from 2007.

Is it possible that you were right back then...


TAPPER: -- that it is just impossible...

BIDEN: -- and, by the way...

TAPPER: -- to have a centralized government...

BIDEN: No, it's -- I don't want to debate history here, but I never called for a partition. I called for a central government with considerable autonomy in the regions.

TAPPER: Three provinces.

BIDEN: Well, it was...

TAPPER: I'm...

BIDEN: -- not -- it wasn't even, it was to allow them more autonomy, like what's happening in Kurdistan right now, like what's happening in Anbar Province right now. And so what's happening here is, there is an election that's taken place. And what happened-- there's 325 plus members of what they call their core, their parliament. And no one party won more than 91 seats. The two major parties, one won 89 and one won 91 seats. That's Maliki and Allawi, Iraqiya and the State of Law, they call them.

They're in negotiations right now to figure out how to allocate the power within that government. In other words, share power. And it is about just that. And it's underway. And it's going to happen. There will be a central government with control of its foreign policy, with control of the military. But you will see that there are going to be significant amounts of autonomy in each of the areas that exist in these provinces. That's what their constitution calls for.

And, look, it took the Dutch six months to form a parliament the time before last. It took the -- the folks in the Netherlands six months, 280 some days, if I'm not mistaken. So this is -- and this is their first crack at democracy.

I used the phrase politics has broken out, not war. We're moving in that direction.

TAPPER: And the combat mission ends at the end of August.


TAPPER: And can that happen even if there isn't an Iraqi government?

BIDEN: There is a transition government. There is a government in place that's working. Iraqi security is being provided by the Iraqis, with our assistance. We're going to have -- still have 50,000 troops there. We will have brought home 95,000. There is no one in the military who thinks there's any reason we can't do that

So they're making real serious progress. I don't have a doubt in my mind that we'll be able to meet the commitment of having only 50,000 troops there and it will not in any way affect the physical stability of Iraq.

TAPPER: You spoke to the leader of Southern Sudan...

BIDEN: I did.

TAPPER: -- recently.

BIDEN: Kiir.

TAPPER: And the referendum on whether or not Southern Sudan can break away from Sudan takes place in January. There's a lot of concern by human rights groups that that election will be riddled with fraud, just like the ones in April.

BIDEN: A legitimate concern.

TAPPER: The White House's point man on the Sudan is in the -- has said that the U.S. has waning influence in the region, General Gration said that.

Are you willing to pledge that the U.S. will make sure that they're -- that war does not break out between Sudan and Southern Sudan should that happen?

BIDEN: We're doing everything in our power to make sure this election on the referendum is viewed by the world as legitimate and fair. That's why we've been pushing the UN. That's why we've been pushing Kiir. That's why I've been working with Mbeki. That's why I've been working with President Mubarak, all who have significant influence in this.

And it must be viewed as credible to keep that country, that region, from deteriorating. The last thing we need is another failed state in the region. And I'm still hopeful. We are on it full-time. And -- I believe that we'll be able to pull -- they'll be able to pull off, with our help and the UN's help, they'll be able to pull off a credible election.

TAPPER: What's the larger strategy for combating Islamo-terrorism or Islamic fascism, as some people call it?

Even if Iraq works, even if Afghanistan works, it pops up everywhere. It pops up in Yemen. It pops up in Somalia. It pops up in Uganda.

What's the larger vision?

How does the U.S. combat that?

BIDEN: The larger vision is to appeal to the moderate Islamic states and the moderate Muslim world, which is the vast majority of the world. That's the first piece.

The second piece is, in those areas which the radicals can feed on and breed off of is to try to help stabilize those governments, not alone, but with the rest of the world. And part of that is building strong countries around them, as well as inside.

And it's a long-term deal. But I think we're making progress. And President Obama ju-- -- you know, I got asked the other day, you know, well, you ran for president, you know, you're vice president. I said we got the order right. Even if I had been a great president and been elected, it would have taken me four years to do what he did in one month. In one month, he changed the attitude of the world about American intentions.

And the Muslim world and the moderate Muslim world no longer thinks it's us or them. The most important one that we're finishing up now, God willing, is Iraq. Imagine Iraq as a stable country in the midst of that part of the world, a very positive outcome.

TAPPER: Mr. Vice President, thanks for spending your time with us.

BIDEN: Thank you, Jake.


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