BIDEN: I don’t know if it’s my first ever podcast. But it’s the first major podcast with a major political reporter or figure.
CAPEHART: You’re off to a good start. But really, Vice President Biden, thank you very much for doing this. We’re on the campus of Clinton College in Rock Hill, S.C., a historically black college. Why here?
BIDEN: Well, I wanted to be up in the north, what they call the North Country, which is predominantly Republican in the general election. But there’s a lot of folks up here who are going to play a role in determining who the nominee is in terms of the primary here. And so I’m covering the entire state from the Low Country all the way up here and I think it’s — South Carolina is an important state.
It’s one of the gates you got to get through to get the nomination. And one of two primaries and two caucuses — and it’s really important. But I’ve been coming here a long, long time because of my relationship with Fritz Hollings and other elected officials — you know, former governor [Richard] Riley and Mayor [Joseph] Riley, and you know in Charleston there have been friends and supporters for a long, long time.
CAPEHART: So I attended the town hall that you did earlier today, and the crowd was most animated when you went at, when you talked about President Trump and the damage he’s done to our vision of ourselves and also our standing in the world. And it almost seems that the passion is more about defeating Trump than supporting anyone specifically. Am I reading that right? I mean, you are the confirmed frontrunner for the nomination, but am I reading it right that the passion really is about getting rid of Donald Trump?
BIDEN: I think there is a real passion for getting rid of Donald Trump. But I think there’s also a passion for electing somebody who they think can, in fact, repair the damage that Trump has done, and to actually bring the country back together and unite the country on the basic fundamental things that make America America.
And so that’s why I think you see the response to the soul-of-America argument I’m making because they know how deeply I feel it. And the truth is, Jonathan, we can’t get much of anything done if we don’t repair that soul. If we don’t begin to work together again, if we don’t, we stop — Look, we’ve always had this debate in America. There’s been this, as I said downstairs, American history is not a fairy tale. There’s always been this debate between evil and good or, you know, justice and lack of justice, and between — there’s always been periods of our history when beyond the original sin of slavery where we have tried to categorize people as the problem dividing America.
And it’s never worked when that’s occurred. So how do you get and deal with, for example, the need for universal health care? How do you deal with fundamentally altering the education opportunities for people? Make taking advantage of the opportunities that exist? Unless you can you know sort of heal the soul here. I mean, people get it. And by the way, Republicans get it as well as Democrats and independents. This is not who we are.
A colleague of yours who is a columnist, [New York Times columnist] David Brooks, conservative columnist, talks about, you know, every society is held up by the moral fabric of that society. That the kind of the basic American creed: decency, honor, the notion that we leave nobody behind, that things are bigger than just you, etc. And we’ve never fully lived up to it, but we’ve never walked away from it. This president’s walked away from it — matter of fact, made it the issue as to why he would stay in power, by trying to divide us.
CAPEHART: During the town hall, you talked about the fact that, you know, we know who the president is.
And you’ve made the point that even his supporters know who he is. But we need to show the world who we are. Can you talk more about what has the president done that has made America and Americans feel like we don’t even recognize who we are anymore?
BIDEN: Well, as to what he’s done, you know, look: He has deliberately from the beginning, set as a goal to divide America. From the very beginning, he comes down the escalator in his hotel ... in the Trump Tower, I should say, where he says Mexicans are rapists. I mean, that’s how he starts off his campaign. He has vilified, you know, immigrants. He talks about Muslims being, you know, just not basically good people. And now, I mean the thing I talked about today was I couldn’t believe what he’s decided to do. He’s decided to take children who were here as the children of people coming to try to get medical help and assistance, who are not citizens, for their children that are dying of cancer or they have may have serious diseases. And he’s saying no, by the 16th, I think it’s the 16th — some date in September — you gotta leave.
CAPEHART: Right, 33 days, I think.
BIDEN: Well, but, what is that? I mean, all kidding aside, it’s a sin. I mean, how can we, a country as wealthy and great and powerful and capable — how can we say we don’t have room to take care of 20, 70, a hundred, a thousand kids who can’t find medical help where they live and may die? I mean, what is happening to us? Can you imagine any other president doing that in modern history? I can’t fathom it.
BIDEN: So you ask me about what it is about him. He has — I don’t know whether it’s that he realizes that he has to keep this really base base he has with him to be able to continue to intimidate the Republican Party because he gets 90 percent of what’s left of the Republican Party.
I don’t know what it is, but it’s not who we are. And look how it damages us. People look at us, I mean, you travel around the world, what do people — I know I’m not interviewing you, I don’t expect you to answer, but my point is that, ask anybody who’s traveled around the world, they say, “What’s going on, what’s happening?” Or his embrace of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and deciding that, Why did [President Barack] Obama kick him out of the G-8?
I mean come on, man! This guy violated every international commitment that was made, he invaded another country, he annexed an entire section of a country, he still has a little green men trying to take down the government. What are we ... I don’t get it, he stands before the world and believes Putin saying he didn’t interfere in our elections, and says the almost two dozen intelligence agents, I think it’s 18 of them said, “No, no, no, he did interfere.” What does that do to us with the rest of the world? He talks about love letters with Kim Jong Un, the art of the deal. I don’t know, maybe he has some secret source I don’t know about, but it’s bizarre. It’s bizarre, and now that the economy may be slipping from him because of the stupid positions he’s taken on trade as well as on the tax policy, what’s happening? He acts like he’s losing it.
He talks about, “I’m the Chosen One.” I’m not going to quote exactly, but you know, all the things he said. It seems almost irrational and the rest of the world ... because look, I know you covered it, but when I made that speech in Western Iowa about the soul of the nation and I said presidents words matter. They really do, they really matter. And as I said then, they can affect markets up or down, they can reassure a nation, they can appeal to our better angels, but they can also go to the deepest, darkest sides that’s always existed in America, and in every other country.
CAPEHART: Well on that point, I’m going to ask you a provocative, I’m going to make a provocative statement and put that out there. But I’ve said on television several times that President Trump is a racist with a white supremacist policy agenda. Am I wrong?
Now, I’m, you know, there’s two things. One, are you a racist because you really believe it and you hate African Americans, etc., and others? Or you are a charlatan and you don’t care much about it, but you know you can appeal to people. So I’m not gonna make the judgment whether his policies are racist. And so that’s why I’ve refused to get into the issue of whether or not he personally is a racist. He is promoting policies that are racist policies, he is in fact ... the idea that ... look at the comments made by David Duke after what happened in Charlotte. I’m paraphrasing ...
CAPEHART: In Charlottesville.
BIDEN: Charlottesville. Imagine what he said. He said something to the effect of, “Well this is why we elected the guy, he was gonna change the nation, bring back America...” What’s going on here? Did he condemn David Duke? I don’t ever hear him say that. And then when he is asked to condemn what happened in Charlottesville, he said they were really just marching to protect a statue of Robert E. Lee or somebody. Come on, man.
But my point is that it seems across the board, when he talks about. The way he talks about Muslims, the way he talks about them as if they’re pariah. The way he talks about immigrants as if they are, they’re corrupting America, as if they’re all terrorists. I mean, it’s just bizarre.
And I know I wasn’t joking when I said, “Our children are listening.” The example I use with people when I’m speaking to audiences that are not overwhelmingly, are just Democratic audiences, I say, “Imagine if your kids started off school this week,” because most schools are opening, “And the principal of the school stood up in the assembly and said the exact same thing that Donald Trump said about racism, about Muslims, about immigrants, etc. What would you be doing?” I said, "My guess is you’d be calling the school board just to get that principal fired. But we act like, “Oh, you know, this is just who Trump is,” but it’s corrosive. Everything he’s doing is undermining the essence of who we are.
And a long time ago, Tony Blinken, my national security adviser, wrote a sentence for me, that I’d used many, many times, and I think is the best way to explain what I was trying to express years ago. And that is, “We’ve led not just by the example of our power, but the power of our example." That’s why we’ve been able to lead the world. And our example is terrible for the rest of the world to look at.
What do you think is going on in other capitals when they say this president’s immigration policies decided to take away the ability of children who need lifesaving care to be here and they’re going to disconnect them from whatever they are, if they’re connected to it, and send them back to a country that does not have that capacity.
I mean, my Lord.
And so, anyway, I just ... I think he is ... He’s used a tool that many charlatans have used throughout history, and that is, the best way to maintain power, is to find a scapegoat. The other. For whatever problem you have, your problem is because of the other. It’s that immigrant that cost you your job. It is that black person who did this to you. It is a tool that’s been used many times, and it really is a threat to our democratic institutions.
CAPEHART: As I mentioned, we’re in South Carolina. ... Wait. What did you call it? High Country? Not Low Country.
BIDEN: No, there’s Low Country and upstate.
CAPEHART: Upstate. Well, we’re upstate, because we’re not far from Charlotte.
CAPEHART: And we’re in South Carolina, because it is the fourth ... it’s the fourth contest. And it’s the fourth contest because the African American electorate here is 60 percent of the vote. And as has been discussed, no one’s going to win the Democratic nomination for president without winning the African American vote. You are, right now, the overwhelming favorite of African Americans polled, but within the African-American community, there’s a schism. And I’m gonna take each schism one by one.
The first schism is what I call the “My aunt Gloria schism.” So I went to my family barbecue in North Carolina, northern North Carolina, and I polled everyone at the picnic. 26 people. 20 of them said you were their first choice. And I asked my aunt Gloria, who was the most outspoken, about why. She said she loves Kamala Harris, Senator Harris, but she thinks you’re the person to go up against Trump because, quote, “It’s gonna take an old white person to beat an old white person.”
CAPEHART: Old school against old school. What do you think about that?
BIDEN: Well, I hope she’s wrong. I don’t think that’s the case, but, look, what it underscores is that I found in all communities, but particularly the African American community, there’s an overwhelming concern about Trump remaining as president.
I think overstated is viewed as sort of an existential threat to the African American community and minority communities. But I also think there is a real desire to elect someone who they think understands the community and understands what makes it tick. Understands the dilemmas that they face. My dad used to have an expression, “Joe, I don’t expect the government to solve my problems, I expect them to understand it.”
And I think that I have demonstrated through my career that not only do I ... there has never been a time I’ve ever been uncomfortable in a black community, whether it’s a black church, it’s a tough neighborhood, it’s a wealthy neighborhood, there’s never been a time.
And so it’s not like ... I find myself, I think most of the vast majority of the community, young and old, knows where my heart is. And so, I also think ... I mean, for example, if they knew there was someone else ... let’s say, someone who did not have an overwhelming commitment to the African American community and wasn’t familiar with the opportunities and dilemmas. I doubt whether they’d say, “Well I’d beat that person, even though they don’t understand my community, just because he can beat Trump.” They’d be looking for someone who maybe done them as good a chance of beating Trump, but understands the problems and the opportunities that they face.
And so, I have not ... your aunt could be right. I don’t think she is, when the assertion is made that ... well, the reason the only person that can beat Trump is, “an old white guy.” I just think that ... I think there’s other people in the race who can beat Trump.
BIDEN: Well, I think almost anybody. They’d all make a better president than Trump, no matter who’s left in the race. But I also think that there are people who have to be able to convince ... you have to do two things. That old joke: You have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. You’ve got to be able to convince that the African American community that you understand the concerns and you have answers to deal with the dilemmas that they face — in minority communities overall. And at the same time that you can beat Trump.
But it goes beyond that. You have to be able to ... be able to have support across the spectrum of support in the basic Democratic Party. Look you have ... I don’t know whatever they’ve written about it, but you’ve talked to me about it. I’m of the view that you don’t have to choose between your heart and your soul as a Democrat. And that being that there are a lot of folks who said, well you know what, you can’t be concerned about that white high school educated person’s problems and still be progressive. I’ve never found that to be the case. I’ve never found you had to choose between your heart and your soul.
I mean, I get overwhelming support from working-class folks of all backgrounds, and at the same time I get significant support in my career from African Americans as well as I get support from folks who have decided that we weren’t listening to them and voted for Trump last time. There’s not that many of them that switched, but the point is it’s a combination of turning out the vote and turning back that, those couple hundred thousand votes, less than that probably, that actually went to Trump, because we stopped talking to their concerns. It wasn’t Hillary’s fault, it was the nature of the way politics began to change. We weren’t talking about the concerns of that ... for example, you got a, whether African American, whether it’s a Latino, whether it’s a high school educated white person, and all of a sudden they’ve been working, making the average, which has been shown, 50,000 bucks a year at a outlet for one of the Benetton or Saks, or any of them. And all of a sudden, 200,000 lose their job, and they’re 50 years old. They were making 50 grand and no one talked to them, because what was happening? Amazon came along. Nobody bad did it to them.
Amazon comes along and people are buying online now so they’re shutting down. The way I’ve always been taught is you gotta understand, let people know you understand the problem. There’s things we can do for those folks, just like Barack and I did in the administration by retraining people, giving them opportunity. It’s hard. But talk to them and say, “I understand.” Or how many of those truck drivers out there, making a good living? And ... lots of times we very sophisticated has decided they’re not that smart. Well, let me tell you something. They’re smart enough to know that they’re predicting there’ll be no truck drivers later because they’re making truck driving something that doesn’t require physically a driver. Well, you know, I know guys I grew up with are going, “Whoa, John, I’m gonna lose my job.” So, here’s a person, 50 years old, 55 years old, busting their neck making a good living and all of a sudden they say all trucks — and this was the prediction, within four years, it’s not gonna be four years — they’re gonna be, in fact, driverless trucks and you’re not gonna need the driver anymore. And they’re sitting there going, “What do I do? Talk to me, Joe. Tell me. Tell me what’s going on?”
We stopped talking to those people. That the big change in the 2018 elections, we started talking to them again. We went into their districts. We went and talked to people about health care. We talked to people about their problem. We talked to people about, who were legitimately worried about their future.
Some took the bait and said, you know the reason this has happened, the reason you don’t have a job, is because that immigrants come up taking your job. Reason you don’t have that job is because that black person just had an advantage in getting this job and you didn’t get it." But that wasn’t many. It’s just there’s legitimate concerns because we’re in the middle of a fourth industrial revolution’s going on and we’re not talking to them.
CAPEHART: The second half of the schism within the black community: So, aunt Gloria is the first half, “an old white person can beat an old white person, old school against old school.” And then there’s the other side of the schism that’s represented by Jamil Smith of Rolling Stone, who had a column recently where he’s quoting a reverend from Philadelphia talking about you saying, “I don’t think any of the candidates will help us with a Barack Obama-style turnout, but I think Biden is like getting back into old comfortable shoes that will allow us to get our footing back.”
Jamil has a problem with this and he has a problem with what you said a moment ago about, you know, there’s no part of the African American community that you don’t feel uncomfortable in.
And he writes, “that led me to wonder why we haven’t seen much of him thus far in this campaign talking to the black communities that he told the Times he has, ‘never, ever, ever in my entire life had a circumstance where I felt uncomfortable,’ introducing himself and his policies to our voters. I cannot help but wonder whether he and his campaign consider it too risky to put Biden in front of black folks who may have a particular image of him as a sidekick to their beloved Obama and then he opens his mouth and they’re all confronted with the reality.” What is your response to that?
BIDEN: He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I speak to black communities all the time. Come on. I haven’t come ... I invite him to come with me. I invite him to come with me. I go to black churches, I speak in black churches. I show up in black churches. I come to communities that are overwhelmingly black whether it is in Iowa and there’s some black communities there. You watched today how many of those ministers lined up to support me in the town hall today. Look, I mean, the idea that I’m uncomfortable in black communities, tell him to go back to Delaware. Interview anybody you wanna ask in the black community. I’m not saying everybody’s with me. Ask them whether or not I’m there. I’ve always been there. So, this idea that, you know, I [chuckle] open my mouth. What is it that he thinks that I’m wrong about with regard to the problems relating and the limits relating the black community? I mean, open my mouth and then they’re gonna change their view? Well, maybe he should come with me.
CAPEHART: There seems to be a generational split. So, my aunt Gloria is north of 50, Jamil is south of 40. How do you convince Jamil and that generation, the younger generation of African Americans, that you are about the future and not about —
BIDEN: Showing up —
CAPEHART: Clinging to the life preserver of President Obama.
BIDEN: No, it’s not about the life preserver.
The only reason I ever picked Obama was in talking about my past, saying that Biden was a racist. You thinking ... or, not a racist, but he’s insensitive. My point was, not because I am a friend of Obama’s and I’ve always had his back. Why would he have picked me if he thought I had a racist bone in my body or I wasn’t good in the black community? It’s just ... come on. But that’s not my justification for being ... arguing that I should earn or I can’t earn the African American vote no matter what their age. The fact is, I haven’t seen data showing that in fact young blacks don’t support Joe Biden. I haven’t seen that. Have them show it to me. Maybe he is, I get it.
And he’s entitled to not support Biden. But the fact is that I, as vice president, I spent my time going into black communities and black churches. And so, I’m not quite sure where that comes from, but like I said, when I show up at Temple University, there’s an awful lot of African Americans who show up for me. When I went around the country with It’s On Us campaign, there were thousands of them, collectively, African Americans, young, college-educated and college students that are for me. So, I’ve not seen the data that people under 40 in the black community don’t support Joe Biden or support somebody else a great deal more. If it’s there, it could be, I haven’t seen it, I haven’t felt it.
CAPEHART: So, if there are two narratives about the Joe Biden campaign for president. One, it’s about your standing within the black community. The other one is about the so-called gaffes, where you have said things that weren’t exactly right, mushed stories. And right now, there’s a story by my colleague at The Washington Post, Matt Viser, the headline, “As he campaigns for president, Joe Biden tells a moving but false war story.” And, synopsis, it’s three separate stories smashed into one that isn’t true. How do you ... one, what is your response to the story by Matt Viser?
BIDEN: I’ve not read the article, but my response is similar to a story he had about the fact that Joe Biden talked about the assassination of Barack Obama. Everybody understood the context. It was a totally different context that was all about. Later, everybody clarified it, but there was no gaffe there. I was making the point to a group of young people that, “Imagine if your generation were confronted with the things that happened in mine.” And I said, "Imagine what would happen... " I was making the comparison of Bobby Kennedy being assassinated on the eve of a nomination. I said, “What would have happened to the country if that had occurred then? So, we have to be strong. We have to realize that we have to change things.” Now, only thing I know, I’ve been told, I’ve not read the story for real, I haven’t seen it. I guess it came out this morning. But the assertion I made was, there was a young man who I attempted to pin a medal on at the request of the commander, and he said, “I don’t want it. He died. He died.” Well, it turns out, that’s true. The young man did say that. Think it went back I’m told, I haven’t seen the story and confirmed it, yeah, that’s exactly true. That’s what I was talking about.
There was a separate incident that occurred in a different time in a different circumstance. But what I was talking about was a young man ... what is the gaffe when I said there was a young man I tried to pin a medal on, he said, “I don’t want it sir. He died, he died, he died.”
There was a young man, my recollection was, that in fact pulled a colleague of his out of a burning Humvee and he risked his life doing it and the young man died, that he tried to save. His commanders asked me to pin the medal on him when I was in theatre. And when I went to do it, he said, “I don’t want it, sir.” He took it, I pinned it on him. He said, “He died, sir. He died.” I was making the point how courageous these people are, how incredible they are, this generation of warriors, these fallen angels we’ve lost. And so, that, I don’t know what the problem is. What is it that I said wrong?
CAPEHART: So in the story about a few paragraphs down from the top it they write, “almost every detail in this story appears to be incorrect. Based on interviews with more than a dozen U.S. troops, their commanders and Biden campaign officials, it appears as though the former vice president has jumbled elements of at least three actual events into one story of bravery, compassion and regret that never happened.”
BIDEN: He just confirmed it happened.
CAPEHART: And so, what I’m getting at here is, and what this story does, it sort of feeds into the narrative that Joe Biden makes things up, Joe Biden is too old, Joe Biden isn’t all there. How do you keep the narrative, the “too old” narrative from damaging your campaign? How do you break out of this narrative? Can you?
BIDEN: Well, I can only break out of it when I win, because there’s a number of reporters who are convinced from the beginning ... for example, what’s the narrative from beginning? The narrative is the party’s moved way left. There is no room anymore; it’s the new progressive party that is way, way left.
That was the story, right? That really bright people like [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] got elected and that’s where we’re going and that’s what’s happened. But look at the results of the elections, results of the election. I went into 24 states with over ... campaigned for over 60 candidates. The people who beat Republicans are all mainstream progressive Democrats, every one of them, every one of them. So tell me, I don’t get this story where all of a sudden the Democratic Party is lurched way, way left. We’ve always had that debate within the Democratic Party.
I ran with George McGovern for God’s sake back in ... so I ... but I don’t quite get what this is about except that it’s part of the narrative that was written right after the election, and you guys are gonna stick with it 'till it’s proven wrong.
CAPEHART: What do you tell ... what do you tell voters for whom this might be an issue?
BIDEN: I don’t tell them anything. I’m just gonna go out and say what I believe, why I’m doing what I’m doing, and how I’m gonna do it, and how I’m gonna do it. It’s a little bit like a ... I find it interesting that with the record that I have of... Like for example, the big thing was, Biden misrepresented, he spoke to the students from Parkland. Well, what I misrepresented was one word. I said when I was vice president I went up on Capitol Hill, and I met with the parents and these young students as they’re about to lobby their congress persons. I did, but it was in ’18, it wasn’t ’17, but we were out of office. I was the vice ... I was vice president, but I wasn’t the sitting vice president, but it happened.
I met with all of those people, and I was asked to meet with them, unlike other people who were asked to meet with them. And the point I was making was, they have the reason why we’re gonna win this fight on guns and rational gun policy is they’ve energized the whole generation.
I watched what was happening as these parents and children were going to comment, to lobby, a congressman they’d run or hiding. I can’t see him. I don’t ... because they know the pressure that puts on them. But the fact I said I was vice president. Well, I wasn’t the vice president, I met them when I said I did. It was in Capitol Hill, on Capitol Hill. Everything I said was true, and I’m still called vice president, so I said, vice president. So the idea ... and everybody goes, “Well, okay. Well, he didn’t get the dates wrong. He did go up there after out of office. It was in Capitol Hill.” What’s the deal here, man?
CAPEHART: Let me ask you three rapid fire ...
CAPEHART: Rapid fire questions, because I see your team is already up on their feet ready to get you out of here. Okay, would you keep the tariffs against China? Because Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer likes going toe-to-toe with China, so would you keep the tariffs?
BIDEN: I do too like going toe-to-toe with China on things that matter. It is not the... It is not the fact that we have a deficit with China as it relates to our trade, it’s the fact that we’re not dealing with China in a place where it most hurts. They’re stealing our intellectual property, they’re demanding anybody invest in China has 51 percent ownership of a Chinese entity. They’re demanding that et cetera. What I’m gonna do as president is we make up 25 percent of the world economy. Either we, in fact, are gonna be the organizers of the rules of the road on trade or China is, so we have to bring together the rest of the world. We have to get up to the 40 percent of the people who agree with us instead of offending all of our trading partners who are allies, join us, and say, “China, here are the rules, man. We’re not gonna deal with you unless you follow the following rules.”
CAPEHART: Sounds like [the Trans-Pacific Partnership].
BIDEN: It is except for one thing. I argued then and I argue now. You have to have environmentalists and labor at the table before any agreement is made. That’s what has to happen, and we’ve got to rebuild the American economy, the American economy. Invest in these people, invest in these workers, invest in the idea that we can ... as my mother would say, “Where is it written we can’t be the manufacturing capital of the world? Where the hell is that written? I don’t see where that’s written.” We brought back manufacturing. He’s blowing it up.
CAPEHART: Iran. As president, would you get back into the Iran nuclear deal?
CAPEHART: And if you ... if it was President Biden at the G-7, and the Iranian foreign minister came to the G-7, would you have met with him as he did, as he came to the G-7 now?
BIDEN: I would not meet with anyone on a critical subject without having a competent foreign policy staff work out the details before we got there. The idea of just showing up on a critical issue without, I mean, having worked through anything does not make sense. But I would encourage this ... my national security adviser, my secretary of state, my secretary of defense to be negotiating with them ... what is it you wanna talk about, and what are the circumstances, so we know the ground rules before we sit down. Because you cannot make ... especially making judgments on the fly. I’m prepared to meet with anyone as president if in fact, I understand what the game is. For example, I would not have met with Kim Jong Un until I knew he was going to make a commitment. What did he want most? Legitimacy. That was it. So the president, without making any concessions at all, meets with him and gives him the legitimacy. What did that do? It weakened our ability to maintain an embargo on those countries who would supply them with everything from energy to technology.
CAPEHART: Is French President Emmanuel Macron, is he now the leader of the free world? And can the United States get that mantle back? Will the world trust America again?
BIDEN: Let me put it this way: for France and for the world, America has to get the mantle back. We are the indispensable nation, as the former secretary of state said. And they need us and they want us, but they gotta have some knowledge that the president of the United States knows what he or she is talking about, has been there before, knows and has a competent team around them, that the State Department is not an echo chamber where you can holler down the hallway and hear an echo, that we’ve actually funded, funded the State Department, and that we haven’t walked away from our basic commitments.
So if I’m elected president, I suspect the first couple months I’m gonna be just on a reassurance tour, on the telephone with a lot of our European leaders as well as Asian leaders, that are our allies, saying, “Look, we gotta put this back together.” It is and it’s critically important, not just for the United States, but for the rest of the world. Who else does it? Who else can do this? And I’m not being critical of Macron, I’m not being critical of any other single world leader. But we are the indispensable nation, and that’s what the rest of the world knows. When I went to the Munich Security Conference, you had ... and this is, I’m gonna shorthand, so don’t quote me on ... I mean you can quote me on [laughter] this. No, no, no. You know what I mean.
CAPEHART: I know what you mean.
BIDEN: Angela Merkel stood up and said basically we gotta go it alone, telling her European friends. All the heads of state were there, the foreign secretaries, the defense secretaries, national security adviser, and something like 35 members of the United States Congress; John McCain used to always lead that delegation. And everybody kinda nodded, “Yeah, I guess we can’t basically trust America to keep their commitments.” This president treating NATO like it’s a protection racket, “Pay up or we’re not gonna support you.” What the hell are we talking about?
And so secondly, you end up in a circumstance ... and by the way, we got NATO to say they would, in fact, move toward their 2 percent commitment. But in addition to that, then what happened is Vice President Pence spoke up. He said, “I know I’m representing the president.” There was dead silence in the room. Nothing. I get invited, I get a standing ovation, not because of me. I get introduced because ... not everyone stood but I get this incredible ovation, and what happens? It’s not about me, and my dad used to have an expression, “Don’t compare me to the Almighty, Joey, compare me to the alternative.” Well, I’m standing up and I’m actually having a rational position on what they asked me to speak to: Is there a view in America that still thinks that NATO is important; that still thinks Europe is critical to us? And so I made the case like most of the members of Congress made at the time. But, what’s going on here? The United States has to lead the world.
Last example I’ll give you. One of the things that occurred is we put together the Paris Climate Accord. The Paris Climate Accord calls for upping the ante every couple years for all those over 170 nations that signed up to be engaged. Well, we have so damaged our reputation among them, who’s gonna pull that together? We make up 15 percent of the emissions that are contributing to global warming, 85 percent’s the rest of the world. If we don’t pull together, who does? We can get everything right at home. Net-zero emissions, God willing, and guess what? The glaciers are still gonna melt. We still got a big problem. So you need to be able to regain the confidence of the world that you’re in the deal, you’re on their team, you know what this is about.
CAPEHART: Former vice president Joe Biden, thank you very much for being on the podcast.
BIDEN: Well thank you for having me. I hope you’ll invite me back.
CAPEHART: Come back any time.
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