Transcript: NPR's Full Interview With Joe Biden
Morning Edition host Rachel Martin interviews former Vice President Joe Biden aboard his campaign bus en route to Decorah, Iowa, about his bid for the Democratic nomination and the impeachment inquiry against President Trump.
This is the transcript of a conversation held on Dec. 6, 2019.
Rachel Martin: Mr. Vice President, thank you very much for having us.
Former Vice President Joe Biden: Well thanks for being on the bus. I appreciate it.
On the bus, very exciting. So we're in Iowa.
You have been here before.
Been here a lot.
You've been here a lot. This is the third time you have campaigned in this state for president.
Well for president, yeah. But I started off way back campaigning for Senator John Culver, when he was running in 1974. I've campaigned for a lot of Iowans.
You've been here. You've put in a lot of miles. You've got the most name recognition in Iowa right now in this race, or in the race writ large. You have the résumé. You've got the relevant experience, more so than any other candidate. Why aren't you running away with this thing? You're fourth in the polls in Iowa.
Well, you know, you sound like you know a lot about Iowa. You know, they don't make up their minds until after Thanksgiving. They really don't even do it till after Christmas. And you still have in the Iowa polling or favorable rating is still very high — it's in the 70s.
People think the most important issue, based on the polling data I've seen, I think from The Des Moines Register, don't hold me to it, but I think it was they said the most important thing, they want someone who can beat Trump.
And now we're starting to happen is because I had the most name recognition of my move right to the top in all the polling data. I got all the incoming, and they say [unintelligible] from y'all. And, and now other people are as they move, beginning to look at them as well. And so things are beginning to, you know, move differently.
But nationally, it's not changed. Nationally we've been had double digits, and we're way ahead in South Carolina as well as in Nevada, and so it's, you know, it's early.
Well, let me ask you: You recently got an endorsement from your friend, Senator John Kerry, former Secretary of State John Kerry. There are some within your party, in particular younger voters, who look to the former secretary of state and it's a warning for them for 2020 because they think about 2004. Because while John Kerry came from behind, while John Kerry came from behind to win Iowa, he still lost the presidential race.
And he was, he was the stabilizing force. He was the guy with the name recognition. He was going to right the ship after George W. Bush, who was at the time fairly unpopular. That's the liberal rap on you right now — that a moderate can't beat Donald J. Trump.
Look at all the polling data. Show me where the Democratic Party doesn't want somebody like me.
But I know you don't even like polls —
No, I say —
You can't trust the polls.
No, you can't. But you just. Just travel with me. Travel with me. Look what's happening. You know, you interview a lot of people on NPR. It's a great facility. No, I really mean it. It's one of the only ones where there's really genuine news, you constantly promote.
But look, it's like, you know, a moderate. What's moderate about my wanting to make sure everybody has health care? I just have a different view than other people do. And if you notice, the vast majority of people agree with my position on health care. They agree with my position on education. They agree with, and so the idea that there's something that, "I am moderate."
One of the things that I wish I had that label when I was running all the times for the Senate, I was a moderate because I was always rated as one of the most liberal senators in the United States Senate for all the years I was there.
But you're not nearly as progressive on health care as other candidates in the race —
Because I'm realistic. Guess what? You're going to find $33 trillion in 10 years. And not raise tax? Look, you all are beginning to be little more honest than you have been. You're looking at now and saying, OK, those of you for "Medicare for All," you're going to have to raise taxes on the middle class. You let everybody not answer that question for the longest time.
I'll ask you rhetorical question, you can't answer. Do you think it's remotely possible to raise $3.5 trillion a year, more than every single penny we spend on every single thing in the federal government on a yearly basis, without raising taxes on the middle class? If you answer that question, then I'm ending the interview because you know it's not true. You gotta raise taxes.
Now you're starting to ask these people the same questions you've asked me from the beginning. Tell me how you do it. Tell me how you pay off $1.7 trillion in student debt. Tell me how you provide community college for everyone, no matter what their income, for free.
But how do you get people excited to show up on Election Day —
For a return to the status quo before Donald Trump?
It's not the status quo before Donald Trump. It's a totally different world. Look, I promise you. Let's put it this way. Take me out of the equation.
If, in fact, someone is able to get past, in the United States Congress, a, a Obamacare with a public option that provides for a limitation of $1,000 deductible on, on, on any bills someone gets, makes everybody available to everybody who's on Medicaid, to be able to get involved free, reduces drug prices significantly, turns around and provides for early education, which I'm the only one that's laid it out clearly for everyone, 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds, which will fundamentally change their prospects of succeeding, gets climate change moving. What do you think they'll be talked about in five years?
What does get climate change moving? Because there are a lot of people who want revolution on that front. It's not good enough to say it's a priority. There was a recent U.N. report that came out. I'm sure you saw it. It was devastating.
Sure it's devastating. But what are they saying? I have the most progressive plan out there. Anybody who tells you they can eliminate carbon in the air by the year 2030 has no notion of the science.
Find me one scientist in the world. You guys, you guys know better than this.
So what do you do besides rejoin Paris and restore emissions standards?
Fundamentally change the way in which we approach things. For example, we're gonna make sure that we have doubling immediately the wind and solar power. We're gonna make sure, by the way; I'm the only guy who's done anything. I would, in the Recovery Act we fund $100 million, reducing the cost of making sun and, excuse me, wind and solar competitive with the price of coal. No one's going to build another coal plant in America because of the work we did in our administration. Number one.
Number two, we're gonna make sure that we continue to subsidize. When I was out here talking about wind 10 years ago, all of you were looking at me like, "What? Are you kidding? What do you mean you're going to have wind out here creating hundreds of thousands" — I mean — "millions and billions of dollars in revenue and thousands of jobs that are good-paying jobs?"
So those are things that young people would want. Why do you think there's an enthusiasm gap?
There isn't an enthusiasm gap! What the hell are you talking about?
I'm talking about a lot of young people who say, "Joe Biden's got a lot of experience. He's been around a long time. And that's not what we want right now."
Come with me on college campuses. You don't see that. You guys keep saying that.
Well, because I talked to people who say, "I want someone from the outside." I met someone tonight at the town hall we were at —
I'm sure you have.
She said, "I want someone who can bring some outside energy because I don't think an insider can beat Donald Trump, because he is so outside the norm that the moment demands someone who is not of the establishment." What do you say to someone like that?
I say the fact of the matter is that's not the case. The case is, look, the next person we elect to be president has to be able to pass something. Name me one thing all the rest of the candidates combined have passed that's got major things done. The Violence Against Women Act. The chemical weapons ban.
It was such a different time. Do you think —
No, it's not a different time!
It's not a different time? You don't think Donald Trump has fundamentally changed how the parties talk to each other and whether or not you can cooperate?
No, no, I got that. But you still can't cooperate. Look, after he was elected, I was able to get $8, almost $9, billion passed two weeks before he got sworn in in January. You all told me it's impossible. Come on, give me a break here.
Donald Trump is the reason why you need someone who knows what they're doing. Donald Trump. Name me somebody who's going to be able to stand on the world stage and immediately command the respect of everyone in the world. Our enemies as well as our adversaries, as well as our allies. I know all these people. This is the only reason why I'm running this time is because of my experience.
Well, Barack Obama was able to do it, and he didn't have very much experience at all.
No, that's not true. Think about it. That's not true. What happened was one of the reasons Barack Obama picked me as vice president is because he lacked the background in foreign policy — he's a brilliant guy.
He knew what he wanted to do. He knew how to get it done. But notice, every time we had a problem on Capitol Hill, who went up and got it fixed? Answer the question. Who went up and got it fixed? See you're not, you know the truth.
It's not my job to answer the question
I know it's not your job to answer —
I appreciate the sentiment. You brought up the ticket.
The sentiment [laughter].
So I want to ask you about the ticket and a running mate.
And so I want to ask you about that.
Yeah. Are you available?
Because Senator Kamala Harris is no longer in the race. And that leaves the debate stage for the next debate in the Democratic primary looking very white, all the, all the people onstage will be white candidates. And that is just not, as you know, that's not representative of the party. If you are the nominee, can you commit to selecting a person of color to be on the ticket?
I have not a little tiny bit of a problem picking a person of color or a woman.
Can you commit to that?
No, I can't commit to that.
Because here's what I know about vice presidents — you have to have someone who works with you, who believes exactly like you do on the strategic notions that you support.
The reason why the historians are writing about Barack Obama and I having the closest relations of everybody is we trusted each other completely. He was able to give me entire chunks of responsibility where I didn't have to report back because he knew I knew what he was thinking.
And you can't know right now that person would be a person of color?
You can't know that. But there's plenty of people of color. There's plenty of women who are not, who haven't run. You got senators. I can think of four women senators off the bat that would be great vice presidents. I can think of some, I can think of several women who are, in fact, lost races recently who are completely capable of being vice president of the United States.
And look, I'm in a situation where, look at my staff. I have the most diverse staff of anybody running. I've always done that. This is who I, the country has to look like, the administration should look like the American public.
I want to switch gears and ask you —
Sure you do. [Laughter]
About what happened the other day at your town hall. Because you've got a lot of, you got a lot of attention for it. A man stood up and started throwing false allegations your way about your son, Hunter Biden, and his work in Ukraine and your work as vice president then in Ukraine. And you responded by calling him a "damn liar."
Because he lied.
And then you challenged him to pushups.
I was joking with him because he —
And then you asked him for an IQ test.
He came along. What was he saying? He said he's entitled to do this. He said, "You're too old." He said, "You're too old. I can't vote for somebody as old as you." I said OK. And he was challenging me what kind of shape, and so I kidded. I said, "Want to do a pushup contest?" I was joking. Look, I'm in pretty good shape.
Which is what Donald Trump says a lot: "Hey, you can't take a joke. I was joking."
No, no, no, no, no —
But the point —
Don't compare me to Donald Trump.
But people did. At the town hall I was just at.
No, they didn't.
Yes, they did. They said to me, the woman you met at the end, 94-year-old Mary, said to me, I was "so disappointed" in him. This is a direct quote: "That is not the Joe I know. He sounded like Donald Trump in that clip."
Well, look. What Donald Trump says, he makes fun of people. He belittles people. He lies. I don't do any of those things. Period. The fact of the matter is this guy stood up, and he was in fact lying. And I just pointed out, "You're a liar." It's a fact: He lied. Period. And so, you know, maybe I shouldn't have kidded with him about that — "No, let's do pushups." It's like I was out here in a parade, a Fourth of July parade.
But I think people's point was, in this time when you talk about needing to restore civility, it's so important to so many people.
That's not civil? To call someone who lied a liar?
To call someone a "damn liar"? A voter? This isn't Trump, President Trump.
But he's lying! He's lying. You acknowledge what he said wasn't even true. None of the mainstream media believes any of that was true.
I think it was the tone. I think it was the tone that was off-putting to people.
My mother would say, "God love you, dear."
I have to ask you about what's happening right now. President Trump is in the process of being impeached. The Senate trial is pending. Republicans have suggested that they might call you or your son, Hunter Biden. If you are subpoenaed, would you comply?
No. I'm not going to let you take the eye off the ball here. Everybody knows what this is about. This is a Trump gambit he plays. Whenever he's in trouble, he tries to find someone else to divert attention to.
But this is a real thing that's happening. Republicans are suggesting that they would subpoena you and President Trump — these issues will be parsed out in the Senate trial.