Joe Biden Says Age Is Just a Number

Joe Biden commands a boardroom. Meeting with the Times editorial board on Dec. 16, he moved fluidly among policy issues, though at times he became tangled in his own syntax and fell back on what President Barack Obama famously referred to as his verbal “flourishes.” Biden said his eight years as vice president and his deep relationships on Capitol Hill, where he represented Delaware in the Senate, would help him step seamlessly back into public office. He promised, “If I’m able to pass what I’m talking about, my administration would go down in history as one of the most progressive administrations in American history.”

Joe Biden Says Age Is Just a Number

He also discussed the “creeps” in Silicon Valley, the mistakes of the 2016 Clinton campaign and his current opposition to the federal legalization of marijuana.

Here is a transcript, with [annotations in bracketed italics], of the 80-minute discussion, which was filmed for a special episode of “The Weekly,” The Times’ TV show on FX and Hulu. The transcript is unedited.

Kathleen Kingsbury: So Mr. Vice President, we’re hoping to ask you a few questions that we haven’t really heard you answer on the campaign trail yet.


KK: We have a lot of questions to get through, so please excuse us in advance if we interrupt you. I want to start — you fought corruption in Ukraine. There is no indication that you or your son did anything wrong or were part of any corruption in Ukraine. But you still haven’t really answered the question of whether or not you think it’s proper for the son of a sitting vice president of the United States to serve on the board of a foreign company that’s being investigated for corruption. [In the October Democratic debate, Biden was asked by CNN’s Anderson Cooper about his son’s decision to serve on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company. Biden said he and his son “did nothing wrong,” and he simply “carried out the policy of the United States in rooting out corruption in Ukraine,” skirting the underlying question.]

JB: Look, I fought corruption when I was in Ukraine. No one ever suggested I’ve done anything differently, including all of the president’s men and women who testify. And I didn’t realize he was on the board until he had been on the board for a while. You all did write, I think, in — I can’t remember what month it was — but you indicated, and I think it was ’15, that he shouldn’t be on the board. [The Times editorial board wrote in 2015: “It should be plain to Hunter Biden that any connection with a Ukrainian oligarch damages his father’s efforts to help Ukraine. This is not a board he should be sitting on.”]

He’s acknowledged that he thought it was a mistake. And as you pointed out, the focus here is, can’t be taken off the fact who, in fact, violated the Constitution. Did the president of the United States engage in an offense that is a constitutional violation of seeking the influence of a foreign government? It’s a legitimate question to ask, but seems to me that the core of it is: No one has suggested I did anything wrong. And I didn’t realize he was on the board until after he had been on the board. At the same time, he has come forward and said it was a mistake on his part to be on the board.

KK: Would you be in favor of a law banning the children of sitting presidents and vice presidents from serving on foreign companies’ boards?

JB: The answer is, I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I don’t think I would be opposed to it, except if, what happens if there’s a — now it wouldn’t apply to my family, but what happens if somebody’s son or daughter has long been a member of a board of a major corporation that’s a multinational corporation? It could be counterproductive, but I don’t —

Look, as I said, looking back on it, Hunter has indicated that he thought it was a mistake to do what he did, to get on the board, although no one’s indicated he’s done anything that was illegal or wrong. The one thing I will do as president is make sure no one in my family, while I’m president of the United States, has any involvement with any foreign government at all. That’s also to make sure there’s not a repetition of what’s taking place in the Trump White House. No one in my family will have an office in the White House. No one in my family will be in on —

KK: What about the first lady? [LAUGHTER]

JB: Well, the first lady will have an office, but it won’t be in the White House probably. [The first lady, since at least the Carter administration, has had an office in the White House’s East Wing.] It’d probably be in the executive office building. But no one is, in my family, none of my children or anyone related to me, is going to be engaged in anything having to do with the conduct of foreign policy, international affairs, because I think what’s — anyway.

Mara Gay: Mr. Vice President, why don’t you support reparations for black Americans? [In the September Democratic debate, Biden was asked about a comment he made in 1975: “I’d be damned if I feel responsible to pay for something that happened 300 years ago.” He did not respond directly to the question.]

JB: Well, I do support reparations for black Americans. [Other candidates (and former candidates) in the 2020 field have been vocal proponents of reparations for black Americans, particularly Sen. Cory Booker, who has sponsored Senate legislation to form a commission to study reparations.] And the best way to get reparations for black Americans — end systemic segregation, and it’s real, and it’s genuine. I spent my whole career doing that.

The first thing I did as a young councilman and lawyer was to fight redlining, fundamentally alter the way in which we deal with, how we deal with education. [Biden ran for New Castle County Council in 1970 and made public housing expansion a central part of his campaign. He fought against redlining, a process that designated certain neighborhoods — often those that were predominantly black — as too risky for mortgages.] I got deeply involved in the civil rights movement from the time I’ve been a kid. And so I think that the reparations argument and debate is worth people investigating it. But how do you make that judgment?

In the meantime, there’s a lot we have to do right now to deal with the original sin of America, which is slavery. And so I think it’s much more productive to move quickly on everything from access to education to loans. I mean, why in God’s name is a situation where you can own a home, exact same home, on one side of the street, which is predominantly black, and you own the exact home across the street which is predominantly white, and your home will be valued less and your insurance will cost more? It’s wrong. There’s a whole range of things we can do legislatively now to deal with this systemic racism that still exists.

MG : I’m just going to d rill down a little bit more on that. You said during the September debate, when asked about reparations, that black parents should, among other things, make sure that you have the record player on at night. [In the September Democratic debate, Biden was asked about what responsibility Americans should have in confronting the legacy of slavery. He gave a rambling answer that began with segregation and then landed on parenting, saying that parents need to “make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — make sure that kids hear words, a kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear four million words fewer spoken by the time we get there.”] How specifically should the country confront its history of slavery, discrimination and plunder of black America?

JB: Well, I think you’re taking that out of context, but that’s OK.

MG: Actually, it wasn’t out of context.

JB: No, well, OK. The idea is that the responsibility rests on those who are still engaged in oppression to stop what they’re doing and pay for what they’ve done if it’s criminal. And if it’s not criminal, pay for it economically and change the law. So that’s the bottom line.

I remember how much trouble Barack got in when he said that parents, black parents, should take responsibility. [Obama drew ire for a June 2008 speech at a black church in Chicago that invoked his own absent father to tell African American men that “responsibility does not end at conception.”] That wasn’t my point. My point was to make it clear that there are a number of things we can do now to help parents who have been disadvantaged as a consequence of lack of opportunity to be able to provide more guidance and better guidance for themselves and their families. For example, we have one school psychologist for every 1,507 kids in public schools. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. We have virtually no social workers engaged anymore.

What I found was that if, in fact, the people — if I can make an analogy to my father. [Biden grew up in a middle-class family in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Wilmington, Delaware. During the 2008 campaign, he often described his resilient father, Joseph Robinette Biden Sr., as his most important influence in life.] My father was a well-read, high-school-educated guy, and I had an opportunity to go to different schools and offered some scholarships, some academic, some relating to playing sports. And my dad was one of those guys who said, “You’re going to be a college man, no matter what.”

I used to say to him, “Why is that so important, Dad?” He said, “They can’t take it from you.” And so when I had an opportunity to visit campuses, I was surprised my father didn’t want to go. I asked my mom, “Why wouldn’t Dad go on campus? He’s been talking about this as long as I can remember.” She said: “Because he’s embarrassed. He won’t know what to say. He’s embarrassed. What happens if someone turns to him and says, ‘What about this or that or the other thing?’”

My wife has taught for the last — my deceased wife taught grade school. My present wife of 47 years now has taught in high school and grade school, I mean, junior high, high school, and now she’s a college professor, a community college professor. [Biden lost his first wife, Neilia, and their daughter in a car accident in 1972.] And the people who don’t show up on the nights when there’s a parent-teacher meeting are not people who in fact don’t care, but folks from poor backgrounds. They don’t show up because they’re embarrassed. They’re embarrassed the teacher’s going to say — and it’s hard to say, “Well, I can’t read,” or “I don’t …”

I’m talking about not just people of color, but poor folks. And so there’s this about being able to give people a kind of help they desperately want without being embarrassed in getting the help, without being embarrassed that they’re seeking the help.

Jesse Wegman: Or they’re working a second job, right?

JB: Well, yeah. Well, that’s true, but there’s also a good deal of it, and check with the educators, there’s a good deal is they just don’t know what to say many of them. They don’t show up. So that’s why my wife started this mentoring program, and she, in fact, works with those families, calls them privately and says, “Look, this is your son or your daughter, or blah, blah, blah. This is how we can be helpful this way,” embracing people. A lot has to do with, you know, we underestimate, I think, across the board, the degree of pride people have, their pride. They just want to be treated with some dignity and a lot of it doesn’t.

MG: Mr. Vice President, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg has apologized for his record on stop-and-frisk and the decisions that he made in that policy. [Gay wrote an Editorial Observer after Bloomberg apologized for his record on stop-and-frisk, which led to the humiliation and harassment of millions of black and Latino New Yorkers. Gay wrote, “The lure of the White House can make Americans do extraordinary things.”] Just asking for a little bit of self-reflection here. Is there anything that you have changed your mind about, specifically related I would say to your record, or your thinking, your personal views, on race or busing or anything over the years?

JB: No, not on race or busing because I think you’ve all been kind of shocked how much black support I have. Overwhelming black support in my home state. Overwhelming black support with the Black Caucus. Overwhelming black support with the black community because they know me. I’ve never been ashamed of anything I’ve done. I’ve fought for the African-American community and fought for them my entire career.

I made a big mistake in the criminal justice side when I — it’s easy to forget it now — but when, all of a sudden, crack was introduced as a great threat to the United States of America. And the guy who did it is a great guy, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, he pointed out it was coming from the Bahamas, and this was going to — [To clarify, Moynihan did not introduce crack to the United States. He wrote a report, in 1965, titled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” also known as the Moynihan Report. In it, he argued that black families had been “battered and harassed by discrimination, injustice, and uprooting” and were in a state of crisis. Because the report made no formal policy recommendations, it was widely misunderstood to put blame on black families themselves, rather than broader systems of racial discrimination.]

And you had medical folks at the time saying, well, crack, because it immediately penetrates the membrane of the brain and it goes straight to the brain, it’s going to have this long-term effect. So we bought on to the idea that crack somehow should be punished much more significantly than, in fact, powdered cocaine. Well, what it meant was somebody snorting powder in the party you guys go to.

I don’t mean you. [LAUGHTER] But wealthy neighborhoods, wealthy neighborhoods. If they were to get arrested, which they don’t in the first place, but if they get arrested, they get a sentence that’s 100 times less than someone is getting convicted of crack. You buy a nickel, anyway. And so from the time we passed that, two years after, I’ve been trying to change it and have been unable to do it. Barack and I got it down to 10 to one from a hundred to one. It should be zero. [The Fair Sentencing Act of 2010 reduced the sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine. However, Biden also helped to draft the bipartisan legislation that created that sentencing disparity during the Reagan administration.]

But it’s put a lot of people in jeopardy, put them in jail, and it’s had a disproportionate impact on minority communities, particularly African American communities. I sorely regret that. We’ve also learned a lot more about drug abuse overall. It used to be that we thought — I’ve spent a lot of my career in the Judiciary Committee dealing with this issue. We used to argue — and you tell me when I’m going longer than I should — we used to deal with it in terms of we thought that mental illness was a product of drug abuse. It’s the reverse. Mental illness is the reason for drug abuse. It’s not the reverse. And that’s why, when I wrote the crime bill that everybody for a while there thought that was a massive reason for massive incarceration, which it wasn’t, I might add. But what happened was I put in that bill, at the time, drug courts to try to divert anyone arrested for a drug offense to a drug court for rehab, not to go to jail.

Jeneen Interlandi: Just a quick follow-up on that, sorry.

JB: Yeah, sure you can.

JI: But one of the things I had wanted to ask you about was you’ve called for rescheduling marijuana so that scientists can better study its therapeutic potential. [When asked about legalizing marijuana, Biden said the drug should first be further studied to ensure it isn’t a gateway drug. He then rolled back his comments to say he never claimed that pot is a gateway drug.] Virtually all of your opponents have gone further and actually called for full legalization at the federal level.

JB: They have.

JI: That’s something that most people support in both parties and across most demographics agreed on. [Pew Research has found that two-thirds of the country supports marijuana legalization.] Can you make the case to me for why to take the more moderate approach when it seems —

JB: Because I think science matters. I mean one of the reasons I’m running against the guy I’m running against is science matters, not fiction. Now nobody says, I’m not arguing, and Senator Booker acknowledged, I wasn’t arguing that we should in fact, it was a gateway drug. What I’m arguing is there have been studies showing that it complicates other problems if you already have a problem with certain drugs. [Marijuana is the most widely used psychotropic drug after alcohol. Some studies have found that regular marijuana usage is associated with mental illness (although causality has not been established), and many agree there should be further study of its medical effects.] So we should just study it and decriminalize it, but study it and find out. Get the medical community to come up with a final definitive answer as to whether or not it does cause it. If it does cause other problems, then make it clear to people. So that’s a place you don’t not engage in the use of it.

KK: But so many states have already legalized it. [Thirty-three states have legalized marijuana in some form, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.]

JB: Sure they have. I get that, but that doesn’t mean the science shouldn’t be looked at.

JI: Couldn’t you look at the science and legalize it at the federal level in tandem?

JB: No. Why would you promote the science if the science would say it’d be a bad idea to legalize it? You’ve got to find out the facts first.

KK: OK., moving on.

JB: But by the way, let’s get something straight here. I’ve argued for some time total decriminalization. Anyone who has a record, it should be immediately expunged. So when you come to work for The New York Times, and they ask you if you have any problems, any criminal arrests, you don’t have to say yes, because it will be completely expunged. And in fact, there should be anyone who is in fact, has been served any time in prison or is in prison, which a few people are these days, that they immediately be released, and the record totally expunged.

Aisha Harris: Mr. Vice President.

JB: Yes.

AH: You’ve expressed very little interest in entertaining millennials’ concerns and complaints about the problems that they face, whether it’s student debt [BIDEN LAUGHS] — well, you have said, “I have no empathy for it. Give me a break.” [In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Biden said that he often hears from “the younger generation” about “how tough things are.” He said: “I have no empathy for it. Give me a break. Because here’s the deal guys, we decided we were going to change the world. And we did. We did. We finished the civil rights movement in the first stage. The women’s movement came into being.”] In terms of things that they’ve been concerned about, with the way in which the older generations have probably, older generations have made things worse for them as a generation. [BIDEN LAUGHS]

JB: So do you think that millennials’ experience have less of a burden than previous years?

What I said I had no sympathy about — so let’s get it straight, OK.? What I said I had no sympathy about was I was asked the question about why — I made a commencement speech, I don’t know which one, either Yale or Harvard, back-to-back two years [Biden gave the commencement speech at Yale in 2015.] — and a study came out showing that, although this was the most generous, most progressive, most involved generation in history, the best educated, which I paid tribute to, because I have three granddaughters are all part of that. My daughter is a social worker with a master’s degree doing great work, et cetera.

It also said that, I forget the — don’t hold me to the exact number, it was two years ago, three years ago, that something like only 16% of young millennials would in fact run for public office. [In the book “Running for Office,” the authors, the political scientists Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox, cite findings that 89% of American high school students feel they would never want to run for public office. ] And only 14% — it was a discrepancy of 4 points between women and men, but less than a quarter.

So I was at a university and they said, “Well, why should we get involved? It’s all dirty.” I said, “I don’t want to hear it. Don’t whine to me. I got the same lecture in 1972 when I was in the middle of a — there was a Vietnam War — where I got the same thing, or was told in 1965 when I got involved in the civil rights movement: Don’t get involved, but you got to get involved.

AH: But you did double down on those comments this past summer.

JB: Sure I did. When they say to me, “I’m not going to get involved.” I said, “No, I don’t want to hear it. Get involved.”

AH: But some could argue that you’re sort of painting a broad brush of the millennials. You have —

JB: No, I’m not. I was answering questions. The question was, “Why should I get involved?” I said, “Because it’s your responsibility. You have a responsibility.”

AH: So do you think that this younger generation as a whole is not participating enough, and they don’t have the same burdens as previous generations?

JB: No. What’s happening is it’s awakened now. The point I always make is if, in fact, the generation between 18 and 30 vote in the same percentage as above 30, there would have been 5.2 million more votes cast last year, and we wouldn’t have this president we have. [In the 2016 election, voter turnout among 18- to 29-year-olds was 46.1%, according to the Census Bureau. Among people 65 and older, the turnout was 70.9%.] We wouldn’t have him. They sat home, didn’t get involved.

Where I come from, you don’t say, “Well, that’s your choice. That’s OK.” Don’t lecture me on responsibility — not you. Don’t have them lecture me on responsibility, and then not participate. When I got involved, it’s not a comparison, it’s just a generically comparable thing. When I got involved it was, like, drop out. Go to Haight-Ashbury. Don’t get involved. Literally across the board. You don’t trust anybody over 30. And all of a sudden things got so damn bad, a generation said, “Enough, enough,” and we got involved, and we ran.

I ran in 1972, a kid with no background in terms of money or influence. I’m the first senator I ever knew, and in the state that was then, we didn’t call them red and blue, that was a red state. [Biden ran for Senate as a 29-year-old county councilman, facing off against an older Republican incumbent, Cale Boggs. Biden’s ads portrayed Boggs as out of touch with the concerns of his generation. One ad read: “To Cale Boggs, an unfair tax was the 1948 poll tax. To Joe Biden, an unfair tax is the 1972 income tax.” Each one ended with: “Joe Biden. He understands what’s happening today.” A Wilmington News Journal reporter at the time, Norm Lockman, called this the “dear old dad” approach, painting Boggs as out of touch. Biden won by a little over 3,000 votes.]

Nixon got 64% of the vote in my state, and won by 3,200 votes. I went out, and we put together 20,000 volunteers of young people.

AH: So —

JB: Two years before we couldn’t do that. But what happens is, look, there’s two ways generations get engaged. One by inspirational people like the John Kennedys of the world, and other by really bad presidents, and really bad things that are happening. This guy is engaging [people] everywhere I go. Everywhere I go, there’s more and more and more young people. Everywhere I go, I talk about the need for them to get engaged.

And by the way, I do as well with those millennials as anybody else does as a percentage. [Biden has tended to poll second to Sanders among young voters.] Bernie does the best. The old guy like me. He does the best, and I’m the only one that has support across the spectrum of every single element of the Democratic Party. So, I mean this idea I’m anti-millennial, I mean —

AH: Well, I didn’t say that, but —

JB: Well, the equivalent. I didn’t say you said it, but the implication is I don’t care much about it. I care like the devil about them. They are the future.

KK: Since you just called yourself the old guy — Jimmy Carter has said that he wouldn’t be up for the job of the presidency at age 80. He’s obviously experienced the job, and lived the job. How do you respond to comments like that? Are you too old to be running for president?

JB: Watch me. Watch me. All this stuff about lack of energy. Come get in the bus with me, 16 hours a day, 10 days in a row. Come see me.

AH: Do you have an exercise routine?

JB: Every morning.

AH: What is it?

JB: I do three things. I bike, treadmill and I lift. I have the doctor who is the fellow — when you get to the White House, you get a medical doc who gets assigned to you and one of them was a colonel in the United States Army who, when I had a separated shoulder and I ended up having an operation — seven screws put in the shoulder to put it back together again, doing therapy. And he sends me — if I had my phone, I’d show you — he sends me every morning, every morning, an exercise routine, and I do it every morning. I’m not in bad shape.

KK: Why haven’t you released any health records?

JB: Oh, I am. I didn’t say I didn’t — I’ve always released my health records, and I was asked when I would do it. I had a chance, by the end of the week, you’ll have a detailed health record. [On Dec. 17, Biden released an overview of his medical records that declared him fit for the presidency. The summary was provided by Kevin O’Connor, his physician, who serves as director of executive medicine at George Washington Medical Faculty Associates.]

KK: A complete set of health records?

JB: Yeah.

KK: OK. By the end of this week? [Biden’s medical summary was released the day after his interview with The Times.]

JB: Yes, because I got a chance to go down and see my doc and go through all the tests, and the whole deal. He’s about to release a record that lays out what I’ve had before or what I’ve gone through, the state of my health, and you’re going to be disappointed. I’m in really good health. [The recent summary of Biden’s health was the most comprehensive since 49 pages of his medical records were released in 2008. The summary said he is a “healthy, vigorous” 77-year-old.]

KK: We will not be disappointed. So how many push-ups can you do?

JB: I can do 44, but what I’m doing is that I pulled my bicep on the right. So I’m doing these — if you exercise, I’m doing closed-hand push-ups because outside is putting too much pressure on this one.

KK: Do you want to show us? No, just kidding. [LAUGHTER]

JB: If you want me to.

KK: Let’s do it.

Michelle Cottle: Yeah. OK. Don’t ever do that in a room.

JB: Soon as I do that, you’ll write, Biden — anyway. [LAUGHTER]

BS: You got some ringers in the crowd in case you can’t tell.

KK: In case you wanted to —

MC: We’ve been practicing for days.

JD: Ringers out here.

MG: We’re ready.

JB: I don’t doubt it. I don’t doubt it. Look, I mean, let me put it this way. I’ve always been a pretty good athlete. I’ve stayed engaged. I work out regularly. The worst thing is that, those of you women and men who are athletes, you always think you can still do what you always did, which I keep thinking to myself.

I’ve adopted Satchel Paige’s attitude toward age. He pitched a win when he was 47 years old. [A quotation often attributed to the Major League Baseball pitcher Satchel Paige (though its veracity is questioned): “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”] He was pitching for the St. Louis team, and he’d beat the Cubs, and they come in and, Satch, amazing. Nobody’s ever pitched — on your birthday, 47 years old. You pitched a win. How do you feel about your age? He looked at them. He said, “That’s not how I look at age, boys.” They said, “How do you look?” He said, “Look at it this way. How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” I’m 50.

JW: Do you think it’s legitimate for voters to be concerned about people in their later 70s running for the highest office in the world?

JB: Sure, just like it’s legitimate for people to ask about whether you’re mature enough when you’re 35. I’m not joking. I mean, I went through the same thing when I was 29 years old. Well, wait a minute, are you old enough? And so, it’s totally legitimate.

Binyamin Appelbaum: So we have a 35-year-old limit. Should we have one at the top end too? [The Times Debatable newsletter recently considered a range of perspectives on whether the presidency should have an age limit.]

JB: No.

BA: Should there be a top? Why not?

JB: Because why would you? Show me where it’s been a problem.

BA: Why 35 then?

JB: Thirty-five —

JW: Well, President Reagan —

JB: Well, look, guys. I think you guys are engaging in ageism here. Now look, all kidding aside, I don’t think they’re — the voters will be able to make a judgment. You’ll make a judgment whether or not you think I have all my cognitive capability, I’m physically capable, and I have the energy to do the job. And so.

MC: So now your message is more you’re running on experience, a restoration of sanity, invocations of the Obama era. How do you convince younger voters that you are the person to help move the party into the future? So that’s a bit of a nostalgia thing.

JB: No. By the way, just so you know, my message isn’t that I’m going to return to the Obama era. My message is twofold. Number one, the next president of the United States, I think you’d all have to admit, is going to have to be able to do two things. [BIDEN’S PHONE RINGS] What the hell is that?

KK: You’re getting a call.

JB: Oh.

BS: That’s your staff.

JB: I assume I may have — they told me they wanted this to be taped. But two things. One, I think we’d all agree, is going to inherit a divided nation. And secondly, is going to inherit a world in disarray. I think it’s fair to say, what’s fair to say or not. I believe that my experience in both those areas better equips me than anybody running in either party to deal with both those issues.

I have a record where I have gotten big things done. I’ve been able to work with the opposition. I’ve been able to work, not all the time, when I haven’t been able to have them join, I’ve gone out and beaten them, like we did in the 2018 election. What we just did recently in the off-year election.

I went into 24 states, and I went into the red states, and I went into the purple states, and we won. Some of you suggested, when I said we’ll win back 41 seats, there goes Biden again. We won 41 seats because I was convinced that the American people understood finally what they didn’t understand before. [During the 2018 campaign, Biden has said, he campaigned in 24 states, promoting the positive effects of Obamacare and other Democratic policies. In November 2018, CNN reported that Biden had traveled to roughly two dozen states to support 65 candidates in preceding months.] They didn’t know what Obamacare was. They didn’t know Obama did it. They didn’t even know why they had it. They weren’t even sure, and all of a sudden, it starts getting taken away, they’re aware of it.

But this is a different world inherited — when I’m president, I’m inheriting a different world than Barack inherited. But some of the things that were left on the table are the same kind of massive things that are going to have to be dealt with. For example, we’ve got a world in disarray. Who’s going to be able to stand on the stage the first day and command the respect of the world leaders? I think I’m the only one who has that experience. That experience matters a lot.

I’ll deal with different problems. My job will be not to go back to the old days, but be able to re-establish our alliances, keep the world from falling apart, keep NATO from disintegrating, etc. The same way, for example, climate change. [The Obama-Biden administration had a number of climate change triumphs, including negotiating the Paris climate accord and pushing through new auto emission standards. The weekend before Biden met with the editorial board, the annual United Nations climate change conference adjourned with no significant accomplishments.] You saw what happened this weekend? We didn’t show up. In fact, we tried to raise the ante. I’m one of the guys that put that climate change deal together, but it requires someone who the rest of the world’s going to respect when they ask them to come to the United States, a hundred of them, somewhere between 180 and 200 sit down and say, we have to up the ante now. The politics has changed in terms of what is actually happening in the environment.

KK: You’ve hinted a little bit that you’d be willing to only serve one term. [Politico reported in December that Biden signaled to aides he would be willing to serve just a single term.]

JB: I never hinted that. That is simply not true.

BS: Where’d that come from?

KK: Yeah, where does that come from?

JB: I don’t know where it came from, but it did not — it came from somebody who in fact, I guess, thinks that they know me and thinks that maybe, I don’t know.

KK: Who’s on your short list for vice president?

JB: I’m not going to presume that because you’ll eat me alive on that. [LAUGHTER] But there’s a bunch of people that are qualified. I mean a whole group of people in addition to the ones that are running who aren’t running. I can think of, off the top of my head, five women who hold public office who would be completely qualified, who are not running for president. I can think of at least four African Americans, and I —

John Broder: Can you name them?

JB: Yeah, I can, but I’m not going to because what you’ll do, Biden’s being presumptuous. I don’t have the nomination yet.

BA: Would you pick a running mate over the age of 70?

JB: Yeah, sure I would. No, what I’m going to have to do is to balance just like anybody balances. I’m going to make sure that whoever is picked as vice president, where I’m the nominee, everyone thinks is able to, if I drop dead tomorrow, would be able to take over. Look, the idea that somebody who is 60 can’t be diagnosed with stage-four glioblastoma is no different than the idea someone at 77 won’t be diagnosed with a terminal disease.

BA: But you mentioned your adherence to science before. You surely know that the odds increase with age.

JB: Yeah, they do. They do. But they don’t increase like they did. We’re in a situation where things are fundamentally different than they were 20 years ago.

MC: One of the things you have to deal with in addition to just questions about basic age is as long as you’ve been in public life, you have baggage.

JB: That’s right.

MC: And you’ve had in debates, a couple of times, you’ve had a little trouble answering for positions that you held decades ago, which I think is a bit ridiculous that that’s an issue. But those questions aren’t going to go away. So have you had time to figure out a strategy for just answering, kind of the basic approach to those? [Some of the aspects of his record that Biden has struggled to speak to include his position on the Hyde Amendment limiting abortion funding and support for tough-on-crime legislation.]

JB: The answer is yes. If you notice, they’ve hit me on every single thing I could be hit on so far. That’s the good news. Every aspect of my record, period, has been hit. By Trump and by the people I’m running against. And I’m a big boy. My dad used to have an expression. Never complain and never explain. And so, and guess what? I’m still leading in all the polls. OK.? That’s number one.

Number two, if you take a look at what they call these debates, they’re not debates. They’re 30- to 45-second assertions. Because what comes to me all the time is the attack. I get to speak, but I get to speak in response to an attack.

And one of the things that I have to admit to you, I’ve had difficulty accommodating, is how do you turn to someone who is attacking you on something that I know they know is not true, and do it in a way that doesn’t look like you’re being dismissive? Particularly if it’s a person of color or if it’s a woman. [There were fireworks when Biden and Kamala Harris clashed on busing and segregation during the June Democratic debate. Harris recalled Biden’s opposition to school busing in the 1970s and shared her own history as “a little girl in California who was a part of the second class to integrate her public schools.” Biden said this was “a mischaracterization of my position across the board.”] And so I’ve had to learn how to deal with that. I mean, look, you have a situation where when I was attacked on busing. It’s acknowledged now the woman who attacked me had this exact same position I had. Exact. No different. None.

KK : You have always been known —

JB: So what do I say?

KK : You’ve been known as a great retail politician, but there have been some kind of odd moments on the campaign trail in the last few months. When you called the guy fat — [Biden made some awkward headlines when a video seemed to show him responding to a voter’s questions about Hunter Biden by saying, “But look, fat, look. Here’s the deal.”]

JB: I didn’t call him fat. That’s not true. I started to say fact was, and I decided to back off it. I did not call him fat. No. I honest to God didn’t. [A senior adviser for the Biden campaign said in a tweet that Biden had been saying “facts,” not “fat.”]

KK: We’ll check the tape on that.

JB: Check it. [Tape checked. Biden deserves the benefit of the doubt, but he did call the man “a damn liar.”]

KK: You know what? I’d really like to move on maybe to a couple of other issues if you don’t mind. Lauren, do you want to —

JB: Sure! No, I’d rather continue to talk about my age.

Lauren Kelley: I have a different topic for you. Mr. Vice President, I’d love to ask you about reproductive rights.

JB: Yes.

LK: So I think it’s fair to say that this is a pretty extraordinary moment for reproductive rights. They’re more threatened than they probably have been since Roe v. Wade was passed. [In 2019 Alabama passed one of the country’s most restrictive abortion bills and a number of states passed “heartbeat” bills, essentially outlawing all abortions. Many worry that the newly empowered conservative majority in the Supreme Court will hear a case that allows them to overturn Roe v. Wade.]

JB: I agree.

LK: There are a lot of people who question whether you will go on the offensive for reproductive rights as much as is going to be necessary with Roe v. Wade under threat, given the fact that, while you are pro-choice certainly, you switched your position on Hyde only just recently. [The Hyde Amendment was first passed in 1976 and is renewed annually. It bans all federal funds for abortion except in cases of rape, incest and threats to the woman’s life. Biden supported it for decades until he reversed his position in June.] For instance, you also originally argued for greater exemptions to the contraception mandate in Obamacare. So I think there’s some concern out there —

JB: No, I didn’t, by the way.

LK: You didn’t?

JB: No, I was on the opposite side of that. [News reporting indicates that Biden was not on “the opposite side” of the contraception mandate debates. He reportedly argued that the contraception mandate would anger Catholic voters and threaten Obama’s 2012 reelection.]

LK: There was a lot of reporting from the time that said that you were arguing — I think it was a political strategy, right? That it might be read as trampling on religious freedom. But that’s not correct?

JB: No. What is not correct is the idea that — the argument was what the president put out initially was different than what ended up being finally the final position on. And the question was, would I defend the president? I don’t want to get into —

LK: OK., how about we focus on Hyde then?

JB: But anyway. I can explain Hyde.

LK: Please do.

JB: First of all, everybody’s voted for Hyde. Every single person running has voted —— [Many representatives have had to vote for the Hyde Amendment despite their opposition so as not to torpedo spending bills. Because it is attached to federal government funding bills, most candidates will have to vote for it until its repeal.]

LK : Well, because it’s in the spending bill.

JB: Well, I understand. I got it. But they all, this idea, this is such a principle thing.

LK: Well, it’s principled. I mean, most of the party has been in favor of overturning Hyde.

JB: No, I understand that. I understand that. Look, let me answer the question directly. I thought that when there were reasonable alternatives and funding mechanisms that did not deny women the opportunity to take advantage of their constitutional rights under Roe v. Wade, as amended by Casey, that in fact it was OK to not make other people who had strong views different than that pay for it. [In the past Biden has ascribed his opposition to certain abortion measures to his Roman Catholic faith.] But — let me finish, please.

LK: Go ahead.

JB: But when in fact we decided that we were going to move to, which I wanted to do a long time ago and everybody has, is to have basically universal health care. That option is eliminated. It’s not available if it’s basically universal health care. You cannot say that the poor women are now going to be covered by Medicaid and/or, and my plan, a Medicare option in to Obamacare and then expect that there’s going to be mechanisms by which they could still get the kind of help they got through private contributions and Planned Parenthood, which rated me 100%, by the way, during this period and the rest. [In 2008, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund gave Biden a rating of 100% on his support for reproductive rights; in 2007 NARAL Pro-Choice America gave him a 75.]

LK: Sure.

JB: And so that’s why I changed the position.

LK: Mr. Vice President, though, the thing is, under the Hyde Amendment, it has been the case since 1976 that women who are on Medicaid, women who are in the armed services and other women have not had access to reproductive health care if they can’t afford it. So I guess I don’t understand how it is, that by changing the health care plan that ——

JB: I changed the health care plan. That’s the only vehicle people are actually going to have because people aren’t spending the money on supporting these other alternatives available for people. That’s what’s changed. And look what the states have done. There’s been an all-out attack. Across the board.

LK: But if you’re saying women should have access and they have not had access, poor women specifically, have not had access since 1976 —

JB: They haven’t had, they have had access to other means by which they could get the help, not as nearly —

LK: For many women, that hasn’t been the case. Women have suffered. Women have died. [The Hyde Amendment affects Medicaid funding of abortion; it disproportionately affects low-income women and women of color.]

JB: I don’t disagree with you.

KK: If you cannot afford to have the procedure, then you have to turn —

JB: But before that, before what existed was, there was vehicles by which there were organizations that provided the procedure for free. [It’s not clear which programs Biden is referring to or what would be impossible under his health care plan.] They didn’t need to pay for it. But when you make it all a federal program, that makes it impossible.

Here’s the deal. If in fact, and I’ve said this for a while, if in fact this court comes along, all these draconian laws that are being passed and what’s happening now? It’s all designed to go to the Supreme Court in the hope the Supreme Court will in fact, by a 5-to-4 decision rule against Roe v. Wade and/or amend it some way as it relates to Casey. And if that were to occur, I will immediately send to the United States Congress legislative — legislative — requirement legislating and codifying Roe v. Wade as amended by Casey and put it in the law. And so I strongly support that as the option. It has to be available to all women, all women.

LK: Right. So I’m going to move on to another topic. You called Anita Hill when you launched your campaign this go around. And what your campaign said was that you expressed your “regret for what she endured” at the time of the Thomas hearings. [Biden oversaw the 1991 confirmation hearings in which Hill testified that she had been sexually harassed by the Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.]

JB: Dr. Hill said a couple of things in response to your phone call. On the one hand, she said that she did not see the way that you conducted the Thomas hearings as being disqualifying to being president. But she also, it seems, felt that it was not really adequate. What she said specifically was, “there needs to be an apology to the other witnesses” — the women who were not called — “and there needs to be an apology to the American public. … There are women and men now who have just really lost confidence in our government to respond to the problem of gender violence.” I was just wondering if you would respond to Dr. Hill. [Hill said she cannot support Biden for president until he takes responsibility not just for what she endured but also for his failure to call up corroborating witnesses.]

Three things. Number one, I did apologize, and you saw the last hearing went through the same exact thing. [Biden is referring here to the confirmation hearing of Brett Kavanaugh.] The question is how do you deal with — and Professor Hill and I had this discussion. What would be a way to fix the hearing process whereby a senator could not ask a question that was demeaning? The question raised was, should we do it on camera? She argued strongly no, we shouldn’t do that. She had thought about that. She thought we shouldn’t do that. I’ve discussed this with a whole group of women who advise me.

What is the way to get by what you saw again in the Blasey Ford position, with whom I met, by the way, [she] asked to meet with me, and I spent some time with. [When Christine Blasey Ford testified about Kavanaugh’s alleged sexual misconduct, Biden hailed her “courageous” testimony.] And so we got to figure out a way to in fact, in a he-said, she-said circumstance, how do you prevent a senator from asking a question that in fact would be available to be asked in court if you wanted to do that? I tried to, you remember, I got in shouting matches in that hearing, attacking people who were attacking her, her credibility. I believed her from the beginning. I was opposed to the nominee from the beginning. And when we lost by a single vote, I made a commitment that I kept that I would pass, I was in the process of writing the Violence Against Women Act, which initially women’s groups did not support as you’ll recall.

LK: Sure.

JB: And secondly, I would make sure that there would be women on the Judiciary Committee, and I went out and campaigned for two women on the express commitment they would agree to go on the committee: Dianne Feinstein and Carol Moseley Braun. And they did. And, by the way, they’re both supporting me. [Feinstein endorsed Biden in October. Former Moseley Braun did, too, along with defending Biden after he sparred with Harris. Biden called Moseley Braun “the only African American woman that’s ever been elected to the U.S. Senate,” to which Harris responded: “Nope. That’s not true. The other one is here.”]

LK: Sure. I think that her response was really more about the other women who could have corroborated her story, who —

JB: By the way, if you look at, there were one of the women we did not know about. The one we knew about, the professor from California who ended up being a judge for, I think it was an employment judge. I’m not sure exactly what her — and she was going to come and testify. At the last minute, she decided she wouldn’t. She actually signed an affidavit saying, I don’t want to come. I asked her, please come. And she understandably, from her perspective, didn’t want to be put through the ringer nationally. I guess that’s why she didn’t come. And so I could’ve demanded I call her. Now, how much would that help me beat Thomas? If we brought in a witness who was designed to cooperate, that’s why she was being called, and she didn’t corroborate what she said and remained silent. [Biden blocked two witnesses from testifying: Sukari Hardnett, who had submitted a sworn affidavit testifying to Thomas’ inappropriate behavior, and Angela Wright, who also accused Thomas of harassment. In September 2018, NPR spoke with Hardnett, who had wanted to corroborate Hill’s testimony and was not invited. That month, The Times spoke with Angela Wright, as well.]

LK: I mean, I think all of those three women have since said that they felt like the process wasn’t being handled in a way that they would be heard fairly, but —

JB: Well, that may be, but wasn’t because I didn’t ask them. [As The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer has reported, Biden could have given Hardnett and Wright, as well as a third corroborator for . Hill named Rose Jourdain, a chance to testify publicly. Instead they were allowed only to submit depositions or written statements, which, as Mayer reported, “went into the public record so late that few senators ever saw them — all of which was Biden’s call.”] They were asked.


JB: I actually had them sign an affidavit saying, I won’t come. We sent a lawyer to their, to the hotel because I had planned on having them be there. Look, let me give you an example. Remember when I started the Violence Against Women’s hearings? I had to warn every woman who — I believed if we rip the Band-Aid off, we would get progress. But it was ugly ripping the Band-Aid off. [Biden has said one of the reasons he first began working on legislation addressing violence against women was he was “appalled” by the lack of action on marital rape. He introduced the Violence Against Women Act in 1990. It was written with Rep. Louise Slaughter.] There was a young woman here in this city who was a model. And she in fact, she was — she wanted to get her, she was on the upper 50s and she lived in a nice apartment complex with a restaurant bar in the basement. She wanted to be in a position where she could in fact get back her rent because or her deposit because every time she wanted to go from utility apartment or a, you know a, not utility, you know, the, no bedroom.

MG: A studio.

KK: Efficiency.

JB: Anyway. To a one-bedroom apartment, the employer would hit on her. So she was doing a shoot somewhere here in the city. She got a call, come stop in the restaurant bar. I have a one-bedroom for you, and everything’s OK. She walked in, sat down, had the discussion. He hit on her again. She got up and left. And you’ll remember her. Her name was Marla. She walked outside, and two thugs slashed her face. Remember that? [Marla Hanson, who was a model at the time, rejected the sexual advances of her landlord, Steven Roth, and he arranged an attack by two men who slashed her face with a razor.]

KK: Sure.

JB: So she said she was willing to come and testify. And I said, “But I want to let you, I want you to testify, but I don’t want you to be sandbagged here.”

I said, “What did your mother say to you when she found out?”

She said, “Why were you in a bar?” “What did your girlfriends say to you?” “Were you wearing a short skirt? Were you wearing a bra?”

And so I wanted her to know what she was about to go through. Look, we got to change the culture. The culture is what’s wrong. That’s why I finished the Violence Against Women Act and that’s why I started the “It’s On Us.” [“It’s On Us” is a social campaign started by the Obama-Biden administration to fight sexual assault on college campuses.]

JW: Mr. Vice President, can I ask you, since we’re talking about Supreme Court nomination hearings, would you give us any names of people that you might consider to nominate to the court?

JB: No, but there are at least a half a dozen I’ve already gone through and people I’ve gone through in the past and who are available now.

JW: Do you think you would —

JB: The moment I do that you, you know what will happen.

JW: Well, Donald Trump did it in 2016, and it — [ Trump released 11 names of possible Supreme Court picks May 18, 2016, and then added 10 more in September 2016. The unorthodox move was largely an effort to rally Republicans behind him by showing he would nominate conservative justices.]

JB: I am not Donald Trump.

JW: I know you’re not.

JB: Don’t ever confuse me with anything having to do with Donald Trump.

JW: I know. But there’s been a criticism of Democrats and people on the left in general, that they don’t get the significance of the court to the country and to the policies of the country. And I think what Donald Trump understood, and it seemed to work for him, was that by signifying whom he would choose, it made a difference to a lot of voters. Would you consider doing that? At least once the —

JB: I would tell them the kind of person I would choose. I will not —

JW: No names?

JB: No names.

JW: Can I ask you another —

JB: Sure.

Nick Fox : I was kind of curious what kind of person? What are you looking for in the Supreme Court?

JB: They have to have an expansive view of the Constitution. Recognize the right to privacy, unenumerated rights that exist in the Constitution. Not the Federalist Society view that if it’s not listed, it doesn’t exist. And they have to be, they acknowledge the unenumerated rights and a right to privacy in the Constitution, and the “penumbra” [laws] and the Ninth Amendment, then in fact that means I know they will in fact support Roe v. Wade. They’ll support a woman’s right to choose and a whole range of other things that relate to individual personal rights. That is critical. I’ve written about it extensively. I’ve written law review articles about it. I’ve presided over more judges and more Supreme Court nominees than anybody else has. Look at the people I supported.

When I defeated Bork, I was able to provide a woman’s right for a generation because had he won, it would have been over. [Initially, Biden said he would support Judge Robert Bork’s nomination, but as his Democratic colleagues lined up against the nomination, he withdrew his support.] That’s what I would look at. I’d look at the philosophy of the judge, their background and their judicial temperament, whether or not they have the temperament to be on the court. And there are a number of really qualified people out there. I must tell you, my overall predilection would be to look for and put more women on the court because it’s part of getting down through the cultural morass here. Because unless we have courts that look like the public, people lack confidence in them.

KK: You keep saying that you want to change culture. I think — going back to young people for a moment. I think a lot of them are having trouble believing that, after as long as you’ve been in Washington, D.C., that you actually do want to change the culture. Because you’ve had a lot of time in Washington —

JB: And I have changed the culture. I wrote the Violence Against Women Act. And none of you supported it. Not you — editorially supported it. I wrote the legislation —

I’m also the guy that made sure Slobodan Milosevic got tried as a war criminal. I’m also the guy who went in and got 150,000 troops out of Iraq. I’ve done a lot of things that in fact are progressive, very progressive.

And what I’m proposing — the other thing I find interesting is that we talk about whether or not my program is progressive. If I’m able to pass what I’m talking about, my administration would go down in history as one of the most progressive administrations in American history. Because we’re talking about fundamental changes in the environment. Fundamental change in dealing with health care. Fundamental change in dealing with education. And it’s real.

KK: And if Mitch McConnell is still in charge of the Senate, how will you get those things passed?

JB: It takes me to this next point. The next president of the United States, the nominee, has to be able to win in states that in fact are up for grabs, and we can win. I’m beating Trump in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia and all those Midwestern states, which I will win in a walk. [National polls from October showed Biden to be beating Trump in Florida, Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, but trailing him in North Carolina and tied with him in Michigan.] But we have to be able — if we do not engage and nationally in the states where there’s a chance to win a House member or a Senate or change the legislative body, we are not doing our job.

Think about all the times when there was real change take place. The presidents have not only gotten elected, they’ve brought along Democratic majorities. We have to win back the Senate. We have to win, and we can. We can. And so what I think, respectfully, not you, but people are going to have to consider, is OK, who among the candidates will enhance the prospect we can win a Senate seat in Texas? Who among the prospective candidates is going to enhance the prospect in Georgia —

KK: It’s very early. In 2003 in December, Wesley Clark was leading, winning the polls. [Pew polling from December 2003 showed General Clark and Gov. Howard Dean at 15%, Rep. Dick Gephardt and Sen. Joe Lieberman at 12% and Sen. John Kerry at 6%.]

JB: Oh, don’t get married to that. Come on. Be fair, OK.? Wesley Clark. I know Wes. He’s a good guy. I’ve been consistently leading in the polls after taking all the hits. I go down, and everybody who’s hit me is out. They come back. I don’t mean it’s guaranteed, but look at all of the data.

And so I’m not saying that it’s guaranteed I win, but name me a nominee who’s taken as many hits from the beginning of them announcing, even I announced late, who has taken the hits. You all declare me, not you, editorially in a broad sense, declare me dead and guess what? I ain’t dead. I’m not going to die.

JW: Mr. Vice President, can I follow up on —

KK: Everybody dies.

JB: I’m not going to die politically.

JW: Can I follow up on Katie’s question here. You’re saying not that you would work with them if Mitch McConnell led the Senate, but that you would have the greatest likelihood ——

JB: Oh, there are certain places you can work with a Mitch McConnell. For example, look what happened in the taxes. I got him to vote to raise taxes, Republicans, $660 billion. Now, that was unusual circumstance because he had bluffed and said, “You’re going to shut down the government.” I said, “OK, go ahead man.” [When Bush-era tax cuts were set to expire in 2012, which would have raised $3 trillion in revenue over the next decade, Biden negotiated with McConnell and they settled at $600 billion. The rest of the tax cuts were made permanent.]

JW: But I think most people —

NF: But you also angered a lot of Democrats by getting an extension of the Bush tax cut and cutting the estate tax.

JB: Sure I did. But I also saved the damn economy. Be honest. Six hundred and sixty billion dollar increase in taxes. What they’re angry is allowing to have the tax cuts stay for people making under four, when in fact they want it to stay for people under two.

NF: I think what they were angry about was that we didn’t try to fight, you didn’t try to fight for more and that you accepted too little.

JB: I fought — fight for more? It was the day we’re about to default. You remember how it all happened?

NF: I do.

JB: Well, tell me. I don’t mean to be argumentative here, but it happened on New Year’s Eve day. I’m riding in to meet the president, and I get three phone calls from McConnell, which I didn’t take, and I find out he says he’ll only deal with Biden. We had 12 hours before we defaulted for the first time in our history.

NF: What do you think you could accomplish now after even more years of partisanship with Mitch McConnell?

JB: What Mitch McConnell is finding out, and a lot of Republicans are, that they’re going to have a hell of a lot of baggage to carry going in to win their own reelections.

Look what we just did in Virginia. I campaigned all through Virginia. Look what we just won in Kentucky. I campaigned in Kentucky. You all were saying we can’t win that governorship in Kentucky. [In Kentucky in November, Andy Beshear, a Democrat, defeated the incumbent governor, Matt Bevin, who had alienated members of both parties.]

I’m pretty good at this, knowing where to go. My point is I can’t guarantee anything, but I can guarantee that I know how to campaign to help people win. And in all of those states we’re talking about, the Democrat who they most would rather have run in their state to help them raise money and get votes is me. That could change, but at the moment, think about it. Do you think that — name the other candidates. Who’s going to go in North Carolina and help that candidate win? There’s going to be value added. And don’t tell me — I shouldn’t say don’t tell me. I’m being rude. The fact is if you take a look, it matters who is at the top of the ticket. It matters the resources they have.

JW: Speaking of those other candidates, several of them have proposed major structural reforms to our government and to our democracy. These include abolishing the Electoral College, expanding the size of the Supreme Court, setting term limits for justices, abolishing the legislative filibuster. Which, if any of these, do you support? [The Times editorial board has supported abolishing the Electoral College: “Fix the Electoral College — Or Scrap It.”]

JB: None.

JW: Why not?

JB: Because that structural change requires constitutional amendments. It raises problems that are more damaging than the problem that exists. We’re in a situation where the reason they gave judges lifetime tenure, you know why.

JW: And you think with a legislative filibuster in place, even if you control the Senate, that you’re going to move any of your agenda?

JB: Yes.

JW: How?

JB: Because there’s a lot of things people agree on, though you don’t — there’s two things. One is that there are a number of areas where you can reach consensus that relate to things like cancer and health care and a whole range of things. I think we can reach consensus on that and get it passed without changing the filibuster rule.

There are other areas where if you were to change the rule, first of all, if you couldn’t get it changed, if you can’t get 60 votes, the fact that you’re going to amend the Constitution on judicial independence is kind of a stretch. And what I love hearing my colleagues say that I’m running with, saying, “Well, I’m going to by executive order.” And my mother would say, “Who died and left them boss?” We have three branches of government, equal.

JW: Agreed. That’s why I’m wondering how you’re planning to do this with — you had a front-row seat to Republican opposition in the Obama administration.

JB: Yeah. We still got a lot of things done. Well, I’ll tell you what. I was able to get every Democrat to vote on the floor to make sure we passed Obamacare. Number two, I was able to make —

KK: Which all of your opponents want to change.

JB: Sure, they want to change. But they don’t want to eliminate it. Who’s out there saying, “I want to get rid of it”? The ones that want to change it, they’re saying, “Look, I know I can’t get mine done for three, four, five, 10 years. In the meantime, what are you going to do? I’m going to take Biden’s plan in the meantime. I’m going to expand Obamacare.”

Come on. Look, part of this is what can reasonably be done that fundamentally changes the dynamic that everybody has access to adequate health care. And the fastest, quickest and most extensive way to do that is my plan to add — take Obamacare, further subsidize it to the tune of another $750 billion over 10 years. Add a public option. Provide for that for anybody who wants it and allow the 160 million Americans who seem to like their hard-negotiated health care keep it if they want it. If they don’t want it, they can buy in and/or if they don’t have the money, they automatically are into the plan. [Biden’s health care plan would create a public option open to everyone and restrict pharmaceutical pricing. Unlike Warren and Sanders, he does not support “Medicare for All.”]

MC : Now related to this, do you think that the Democratic primary, it’s been a mistake that so much of it has focused on whether or not to blow up Obamacare and in what way? [Times reporters noted that Sen. Warren has moderated her stand on Medicare for All in recent weeks.] I mean there are a lot of issues.

JB: No, I don’t think it’s a mistake because I think if you take a look at the data and just come out with me — I invite any one of you to travel with me when I do these things and watch the audiences no matter where. I mean just open forum. Watch the audiences. Tell me, do you see any support? Do you see any majority support Obamacare for all — I mean, for Medicare for all in the Democratic primary? If you do, I’d like to know what it is. I don’t know where it is. I’ve been saying that from the beginning.

Now there’s a lot of people who in fact really, really support it. I get it.

It’s not a bad idea if you have an extra $35 trillion lying around. And you’re not going to raise taxes on the middle class and you’re only going to do the wealthy.

Look, part of what’s going on here, I think, and I’m sorry to get passionate about this, is that what I find people are most looking for is honesty, authenticity and being able to tell you exactly what they’re going to do and have a chance of doing it. That’s what I find. Now, how many of you in here believe there’s any possibility in the next four to six years raising another $35 trillion? [The Urban Institute’s estimate put the cost of Medicare for all at $34 trillion over the next decade.] Do any of you think it’s less than that? Do you think maybe $30 trillion in 10 years? And not raise not only taxes for everybody, for the 2% tax for the wealthy? That doesn’t even get you even close to paying for it.

So what are you going to do? You’re going to help the middle class, and you’re going to go out there and you’re going to provide Medicare for all. If you wave a wand, everybody sleeps, no problem. But now, you have, look what you’re paying when you have 16 million people on Medicare with withholding? Now you’re going to drop another 280,000 people, million people on it? And taxes aren’t going to go up?

Jeneen Interlandi: Your public option plan has a lot of promising features, but it’s still quite a heavy lift. The public option that was attached to the Affordable Care Act did not get through the Senate. What’s different this time?

JB: Gigantic difference.

JI: And yours is much more ambitious than that earlier one.

JB: Sure it is. And I’m glad you raised that. Two things. One, every Democratic president since Roosevelt tried to do what Barack got done. [The last successful attempt at health care reform, before Obama, was President Lyndon Johnson’s creation of Medicare and Medicaid.]

And it was a really heavy lift to get it done. It was a gigantic step forward. But even when it got done, the arguments are, I can say this now publicly, is — between Barack — and I say take a victory lap, man. We got to let people know. We’ve got to let people know what was done because they don’t know it.

I came up here on the Empire State Building when I convinced the president we should spend $100 billion on climate change issues. And we’re talking about new windows and all the things we could do to save energy for public buildings. [The Obama administration proposed the Better Buildings Initiative to provide tax credits and other financing for building owners to retrofit to save energy. The Empire State Building did it before the program was passed, but Obama and Biden cited the annual savings of $4.4 million in energy costs from replacing all the windows.] And the one of the leaders of the business community was there said, “You know, my” — I think he said live-in help or wherever it was — “came up to me and thanked me for the raise.” She said, “The raise is what you got, reduction in the take-home pay withholding.” No one knew it was Obama, and no one knew what he did.

JI: Sorry to interrupt you. There’s certainly more public support for the Affordable Care Act now. I think people came around to realize how valuable it was —

JB: Why?

JI: Because they tried to take it away.

JB: Bingo.

JI: But it’s still a heavy lift, and industry is going to be vehemently opposed to it. You’re still going to have to fight a battle, so can you talk a little bit about what your plan is for that?

JB: That’s right. I’m going to have to fight like hell. Well, my plan is for that is to do what I’ve always done, and that is, be able to convince people. I’ve been pretty good at it. I find it interesting. My opposition says, “Yeah, it’s true. Joe has put together more bipartisan agreements than anybody. Joe is — but that was the old days.” It was three years ago.

With regard to, for example, the Cures Act, which came up after he was elected, and two weeks before I got sworn in, convincing over 200, and I think 398 folks in the House to vote for it, when initially it started with 119 as well as, what did get? [The 21st-Century Cures Act was signed into law Dec. 13, 2016. It was supported by the pharmaceutical industry because it sped up drug and device approvals. It provided (only) $6.3 billion in total funding. The Senate vote was 94-5. Among the opponents were Warren and Sanders, because it was a victory for the big drug companies.] Eighty-nine senators, 90 senators — don’t hold me the exact number — when it started off with 48. It’s called persuasion. Presidents are supposed to be able to persuade.

And what’s happening now is everybody — look, the carny show’s gone through town once, and they found out there’s no pea under any of the three shells. It’s coming back again, and people are going, “Ooh. I didn’t know that. You mean to tell me they did this and did that?”

Part of it is the president, God love him, Barack, had everything land on his desk but locusts. I mean, everything. Look what’s happened. We were about to go into a major, major depression. I remember getting chastised because I said, “This is the greatest recession in the history of the nation short of a depression.” Biden’s exaggerating — it was. It was.

JI: Sorry to keep interrupting you, but just one quick follow-up on this. You’ve said, and President Obama said, “If you like your private insurance, you can keep your private insurance.” In 2013 — [In July, Biden drew a contrast between Medicare for All and his own health care plan, saying that under his: “If you like your health care plan, your employer-based plan, you can keep it. If in fact you have private insurance, you can keep it.”]

JB: I didn’t say that, by the way, but go ahead.

JI: You have been quoted as saying that in multiple places.

JB: No, it’s a long — OK. Yeah, said we can keep your private insurance. Yep.

JI: Do you say that not — are you not saying that?

JB: The doctors. They said you can keep your doctor.

JI: OK. You can keep your doctors. What happens if employers curb their own offerings as the public option takes hold? There’s a lot of incentive —

JB: Bingo. They can automatically go get a public option.

JI: But they would lose their —

JB: Sure they would.

JI: An employer could take away, if someone likes their private insurance —

JB: No, no, here’s the deal. If you like your private insurance and your employer keeps it with you, you can keep it.

JI: But what happens if your employer cancels it?

JB: If you can’t, you come on the Biden plan. You provide that option. You can get a gold plan where you do have nobody — you do not have to pay more than a $1,000 deductible. We significantly reduce drug prices, which, by the way, Republicans are looking to get done, OK.? What you do is you provide that option. But if you like your plan, if you really like it, I don’t think we should come along and say, “You must give it up.”

JI: But if your employer cancels that plan, then you don’t get it, you don’t have that choice.

JB: No, you don’t have the choice, but you had the choice to — that’s why — I’m not saying, I said, if you like your plan, you can keep it, assuming — I should add the obvious — if your employer doesn’t take it away from you. OK?

But the point is, that’s why I set the plan up the way it is. You can automatically buy in much cheaper to get a gold plan, limit to a $1,000 deductible. Get your meds paid for in a reasonable way by setting up a system that exists that, I propose, exists in Germany. That, in fact, you have a group come in from the outside.

We put together at NIH to set what the value of what you did is. When I did the moonshot, I met with 13 major drug manufacturers, in a private room, and I said, “Tell me, what do you think you should be able to charge for your drugs?” They said, “Based on efficacy.” I said, “If you find a drug that cures a particular cancer, we should be able to charge anything you want for it.” I said, “No. Wrong. You should in fact, as a matter of public policy, be able to make a significant profit on what you’ve invested.” [Inspired by the death of his son Beau in 2015, Biden introduced a “moonshot” initiative to end cancer. Efforts to cure cancer have been started periodically since the Nixon administration, though to little effect. The death rate from cancer has dropped only 5% since 1950.]

The example I gave, if it costs you $10 bucks to get to where you were, you can charge $13 bucks for it, but you can’t charge a hundred for it. And that’s why we’re going to have this system like exists in Germany where, in fact, they set the price, because most are bio-based drugs now, they’re no longer chemical-based drugs. And the problem is, it’s going to end up being only one or two people who come up with that drug, and therefore to be able to charge exorbitant prices and continue — and you cannot raise the price of that drug beyond the cost of medical inflation unless you can prove you fundamentally altered the drug, or you don’t have the patent. So it’s a very practical thing.

This is a place where I find, whether you’re Republican or Democrat, you think you’re getting screwed on drug prices. And you are, in terms of everything from insulin to inhalers and a whole range of other things. So, again, can I guarantee that it gets done? No, but I can tell you what, if anybody can get it done, I can, and I think there’s a consensus for it. If you take a look across the board, Democrats and Republicans, just overall polling, they think we have to do something about lowering health care costs. They think they have to do something about making it affordable and eliminating the overwhelming deductibles. They think it’s really and critically important that you reduce the cost of necessary drugs across the board. So the same way they told me I couldn’t get the Cures Act passed, couldn’t do it.

KK: Sir, we’re running out of time —

JB: I’m sorry.

KK: — and I want to get to some economic questions as well as foreign policy. But before that, we have been asking every candidate the same question, which is, who’s someone who has broken your heart?

JB: I can tell you what has broken my heart but it’s not someone who’s broken it. It broke my heart when my son died. [Beau Biden, who was the former attorney general of Delaware, died of a rare strain of brain cancer in 2015. Decades earlier, he had survived a car accident that killed Biden’s first wife and daughter.] Broke my heart when I was unable to do anything about — I left the house and I got a call saying my wife and daughter were dead.

I don’t know whether to be completely straight with you, and how you’ll — I learned a lesson a long time ago, that, it was a friend I had, a really good friend. We were in high school, and he was a troubled guy, but I was always — lived down the block from me, and he got in an accident when he was drinking and killed the guy who was riding shotgun. Hit a tree and the fellow died. He was hospitalized a long time, and I was the only one that would go see him. [In 2019, Politico published an article called “How Grief Became Joe Biden’s ‘Superpower,’” about the profound ways that Biden’s personal losses have shaped him. Biden declined to speak on the record for the article; he is wary of any perception that he “uses” his tragic experiences in political campaigns.] After he was out and recovered, and I insisted that the guys that we hung around with before, that they bring him back, they allow him to come back into the fold. I remember we were sitting, like in the high school days when you’ve got five guys in a car going home after whatever we were doing and got in an argument, and he turned around and he said something really mean to me. I remember going home. It hurt me more than anything that had happened to me before. Because I thought this guy was my soul mate.

I remember my dad saying to me, Joey, you’re always going to be disappointed if you hold people to the same standard you hold yourself to. You’re going to be disappointed. Don’t expect that people are going to necessarily be prepared to appear in the second edition of “Profiles in Courage.” And that’s the only time.

From that point on, I never let anyone, man or woman, hurt me in terms of, you know. I get criticized, as you know, and even some serious press people who are not being negative with me say, “Biden doesn’t hold a grudge.” You know that old saying, “Seek revenge, you got two victims.” You’re one of them. I’ve never done that because it’s just not worth the effort.

But I have not been hurt by a woman or a man. But what’s hurt me is, look, a lot of you’ve been through a lot more than I’ve been through too. It’s not just me. I have a cartoon on my desk, it’s about the size of this insert. I guess I was feeling sorry for myself, and my dad was over at my home. This was 20 years after the accident. He thought I was just too down. He went up to a local Hallmark store and came back, you know they sell the things like this that have a gold frame around them in glass, and two etchings in it from the funny papers, “Hagar the Horrible.” There’s a picture of Hagar in the one standing there and his Viking ship had crashed down to the rocks and the mast was down, and his horns and his helmet were charred. And he’s leaning out, he’s going, “Why me, God?” And the next, the same exact cartoon, and a voice from heaven says, “Why not? Why not you?” Why not me? What makes me so special? I still have it on my desk, and I’ve reprinted it for a lot of people, because it’s just not. You just got to get up. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get so. Anyway, there isn’t anybody, that is, any woman or man, since I’ve been a high school kid that has really hurt me.

NF: Can I kind of bring that down to a more mundane level? You’ve talked about your relationships with Republicans and honestly sometimes they seem crazy, you can’t work with these people. And then see there’s an old video going around of Lindsey Graham just saying —

JB: I’m having trouble hearing that, sorry.

NF: You’re the greatest. I can’t remember the exact words, but saying some —

JB: Lindsey Graham?

NF: Yeah, that he was saying that there’s got to be something wrong with you if you can’t admire and like Joe Biden. You realize that the relationships that you built over the years. And then I think of these guys going after you with nothing. No evidence at all, no reason, and you know that they know it’s wrong.

JB: They’re frightened. They’re frightened. They lack courage. I know why Lindsey’s doing this without talking to him. He’ll lose his election in South Carolina. [ Graham was initially a fierce critic of Trump but has become a loyalist. He told The Times Magazine, “If you don’t want to get reelected, you’re in the wrong business.”]

NF: He could.

JB: Did you see him? I wish he had more courage because he knows, I mean he — anyway we’re on camera, I don’t want to get too personal about him. But look, there’s just a lot of people I don’t expect.

Barack always kids with me. I say to Barack, the president, I call him Mr. President, so I don’t mean to be, we are close personal friends, but I don’t call him, I just don’t want to confuse him with the president, O.K.? When I say, Barack I should say President Obama. I don’t want to confuse him with the other guy. And he always was quoting me on the things I’d repeat to him all the time. He said to his friends, “What’s it like having Joe?” “He’s just like having an older brother. He always just tells me the truth.” [There were tensions between Obama and Biden — for example the vice president sometimes went off script, frustrating the president. But the two became close friends. In the wake of Biden’s son’s death, the president said to him: “Joe, you are my brother.”]

I’ve never, never once — we’ve hollered at each other, we’ve yelled at each other, but always in private. Because that’s the role. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to be vice president to begin with, why I said no, because I know what the role is. But he’s turned out to be a really close friend. But I’ll say things to him. He’ll ask me questions about how’d you do this, or how would you deal with that, or interpersonal relationships, or how does the Senate work, and what would you do to get this done? That’s why he asked me to be vice president, along that and foreign policy. That’s why he asked me to be on the ticket.

KK: Speaking of foreign policy —

JB: And the answer to your profound question is that I always said to him, “Barack, all politics is personal.” It’s all personal, and international relations is personal. By that I mean, you got to figure out what the other guy or woman is, and know who they are, and for them to know who they are so you don’t have any extended expectations about what they’ll do or not do. And how they’ll respond. I know Lindsey. I think Lindsey is in a very vulnerable position. I wish — did you see when he was shaking hands with the president when he talked about Biden? He was like this. [LAUGHTER] I’m not joking.

Anyway, I don’t expect of people things that are going to cost them greatly, to keep a commitment. There used to be the case, where you got to the Senate, if I gave you my word or anybody gave your word, you could count on it. Now it’s all situational, the last 15 years. When I give my word, I give my word, and I never yield from it. If I promised you I was going to do something, even though circumstances have changed, I keep the commitment. A lot of people used to do that. A lot of people used to do that, like Teddy and a whole, whole bunch of folks, Chris Dodd and whole bunch of people. Bob Dole. But now it’s, I know I said that to you, but you know, things have changed. I didn’t realize that this is going to cost me A, B, C or D. That’s what I call situational ethics. It’s all kind of situational these days. I factor in situations as best I can. Foreign policy, sorry.

KK: Yes, if you don’t mind if we move into foreign policy?

JB: Sure, no.

KK: Do you feel comfortable with the United States still having nuclear weapons in Turkey given Erdogan’s behavior? [The United States has about 50 nuclear weapons based in Turkey. This began to stir public debate after Turkey’s offensive into Syria in October.]

JB: The answer is my comfort level is diminished a great deal. I’ve spent a lot of time with Erdogan. [Mr. Biden had to offer President Recep Tayyip Erdogan an official apology in 2014 after remarks he made suggesting Turkey played a role in enabling the rise of the Islamic State, prompting diplomatic tensions. ] More than anybody in our administration did because Erdogan concluded that he’d only talk to me because he thought I wasn’t anti-Islam. Remember when I made that speech to NATO saying, when he got elected, “You had to reach out. This is an opportunity to bring another Muslim country.” And you knew why they were acting the way they did in other countries in Europe, to not reach out at all for the first election. We have had —

KK: You mean because of anti-Muslim bias?

JB: Yeah. I’ve spent a lot of time with him. He is an autocrat. He’s the president of Turkey and a lot more. What I think we should be doing is taking a very different approach to him now, making it clear that we support opposition leadership. Making it clear that we are in a position where we have a way which was working for a while to integrate the Kurdish population who wanted to participate in the process in their parliament, etc. Because we have to speak out about what we in fact think is wrong. He has to pay a price. He has to pay a price for whether or not we’re going to continue to sell certain weapons to him. In fact, if he has the air defense system that they’re flying F-15s through to see how they can try to figure out how to do it.

So I’m very concerned about it. I’m very concerned about it. But I’m still of the view that if we were to engage more directly like I was doing with them, that we can support those elements of the Turkish leadership that still exist and get more from them and embolden them to be able to take on and defeat Erdogan. Not by a coup, not by a coup, but by the electoral process. He got blown out. He got blown out in Istanbul, he got blown out in his party. So what do we do now? We just sit there, and yielded. And the last thing I would’ve done is yielded to him with regard to the Kurds. The absolute last thing.

I had a couple of those meetings with him about the Kurds, and they did not clamp down at the time. We have to make it clear that if they’re looking to, because, at the end of the day, Turkey doesn’t want to have to rely on Russia. They’ve had a bite out of that apple a long time ago. But they got to understand that we’re not going to continue to play with them the way we have. So I am very concerned. I am very concerned. I’m very concerned about our airfields and access to them as well. And I think it takes an awful lot of work for us to be able to get together with our allies in the region and deal with how we isolate his actions in the region, particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean in relating to oil and a whole range of other things which take too long to go into. But the answer is yes, I’m worried.


Jim Dao: You campaigned on your ability to handle a crisis. If China were to send troops and tanks into Hong Kong to violently crack down on peaceful protesters, how would you handle that?

JB: Well, that’s a very, I’m not sure I should answer it on —

JD: Why not?

JB: Let me put it this way. First of all, the first thing I’d do is go to the United Nations. I would introduce resolutions to condemn them for their actions. [Among all the candidates asked this question, Biden is the only one who offered a detailed plan of action in response to this question.] I would, in fact, try to reestablish the kind of a relationship, when we left, we had with Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Australia. I would move American warships into the region, like we were trying to do, to take 60% of our fleet and have it in Asia. To make it clear to him that he, in fact, is not going to be able to go any further, that there’s a price to pay if he were to do that.

I would do the same thing I did when he set up the air identification zone, and I went over to meet with him. And I said, “You’ve got to just understand, we’re not.” [When China established an air identification zone in 2013, igniting tensions with Japan, Biden visited the region and urged President Xi Jinping to show restraint.] He said, “What do you expect me to do, take it down?” I said, “No, but we’re going to fly through it.” We flew a B-53 through it, F-15s through it to make it clear we’re not playing that game. We are not going to do it. I would spend the time doing what we’ve absolutely shredded. I would get the rest of our allies in the world to join us in dealing with sanctions against China. We make up 15% of the world’s economy. There’s another 25% that are allies that we have dissed already. They’re wondering who the hell — where we are.

I would try to put back together the coalition, and I would, in fact, make it clear what I said to him in my private meetings and they’ve been public: We are a Pacific power. He said, “Why do you say that?” I said, “Because we are a Pacific power, and you would have never had the economic stability you were able to accomplish, but for the fact we, we, the United States, kept the peace.” I would make it very clear there are going to be a price to pay in terms of his economy and in terms of the access to other opportunities that China badly needs.

Look, we always talk about China, and there’s an 800-pound gorilla, and what they’re doing. China has more problems than we could ever contemplate. They don’t have enough water. They’re talking about a close to $1 trillion project to turn rivers around. Forty percent to 45% of the land is filled with cadmium. They cannot produce crops. They are out now deciding that they’re in a position where they have a million Uighurs in, essentially, jail and re-education camps in the West. They’re in a situation where they’re having trouble figuring out how do they hold on to the Tibetan area without getting into a conflict with India. They have a lot of problems, a lot of problems. We should be making it clear that we’re not going to do anything to accommodate what they’re doing and make it much more difficult for them to engage in how they proceed. It requires diplomacy, requires a show of our resolve that this is where it stops, and it raises a big question about what to do after that. We’ll see what happens.

NF: Some said that a move like that against Hong Kong would also threaten Taiwan. Do you see that?

JB: Oh no, I do. I absolutely do think it could. And I think it will do the opposite in Taiwan. I think the Taiwanese government will move to try to be more combative with China than it was before, because that’s all he talked to me about. I’ve spent more time, allegedly, with Xi Jinping than any world leader has before we left office, just because the president wanted me to get to know him. He was the vice president, I was vice president, it wasn’t appropriate for the president.

So they tell me, the State Department, I had 25 hours of private dinners with him. For real. He’s not a stupid fellow. But he also, there’s not a democratic, small-D bone in his body. And he’d ask questions like, “Do you really control your military? Do you?” He didn’t control the military. The president didn’t, the party controlled the military. “Do you really? Do governors have any power?” They don’t have any power. That’s why they’re annexing big chunks of — they have no independent authority to do anything. “What is your national security team? What’s the National Security Council do?” I mean, these are the questions.

AK: Can I ask about our own National Security Council?

JB: Sure.

AK: Reporting out from The Washington Post about years and years and years of generals in Afghanistan essentially lying about the conduct of the war. [The Washington Post obtained a trove of government documents revealing that senior American officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan and hid evidence that the war could not be won.] Eight years as vice president, you know this issue very intimately. Have the American people been lied to about what we’re doing there?

JB: Yes. Yeah.

AK: What do we do about it? And why should they trust you again?

JB: They should trust me because you wrote about I was the only guy who took them on in your editorials. I was the vice president of the United States of America. I was not president of the United States of America, number one.

No. 2, that’s why [former Defense Secretary Robert] Gates and I have our problems. Gates talks about, “Biden doesn’t know anything about foreign policy.” [Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ 2014 memoir, “Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War,” offered a harsh assessment of the former vice president’s foreign policy chops. Gates wrote that Biden is “simply impossible not to like” but “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”] Because I convinced the president of the United States not to buy into his proposal and for sending — with the Riedel Commission talking. Anyway, thousands and thousands of troops. The problem was that there was, I look, the first thing I did when we got elected, the president asked me to go to Afghanistan before we were sworn in. So I flew to Afghanistan, and I brought along with me Chuck Hagel and John Kerry and General [David] Rodriguez was along, and I came back and I wrote a report saying, “We have no policy.” The idea that the Afghans can absorb training of 120,000 forces?

AK: Do you have a responsibility to say that in public, though?

JB: No, but my responsibility was to make that fight, and I did fight it. I fought it all along the way.

KK: But the administration in which you were a vice president did the surge, for instance.

JB: But it didn’t do the surge they wanted to do. Remember, what happened was, the surge was — we were going to have a counterintelligence force in there that were going to go in and we were going to unify that country. I came back and wrote a detailed 54-page report laying out how that is not what we can do. [During the December Democratic debate, Biden reiterated that he opposed the Obama administration’s surge in forces in Afghanistan. David Axelrod, former senior adviser to Obama, tweeted: “Whatever your view or the decision, @JoeBiden was, in fact, a strong voice in WH against the surge in Afghanistan. He described his position accurately.”]

When that helicopter went down when we were up in the Kunar Valley, I remember standing there, and we were in the wash of the helicopter. Fortunately, [we] had found a place literally not wider than this room to land on. The helicopter blades were over the edge of these pointed mountains where they told us it was 3,000 feet on one side down and 6,000 on the other. I’m looking across, and I see these people on what looked like a goat path. And I asked — they had a sharpshooter with us. I said, “Can they get us from here?” And he picked up, I said, “No, no, no, no, no.” He picked up his rifle. I said, “No, I don’t — “ He said, “No, I’m just measuring.” Said, “They’re nine-tenths of a mile. No, they can’t, but I could.”

And I watched. I looked from 1:00 to 4:00, and I saw this village sitting in the middle of this hollow. You could see smoke coming out, it looked like almost an adobe hut. It was a whole village there. The idea you’re going to unite them. They’re only 17 clicks from Bagram Air Force Base. It would take them a year to get there, figuratively speaking. The idea is you’re going to have a united — a united Afghanistan? That we are going to be able to bring into the 21st century from the 14th century, is a ridiculous assertion.

KK: And yet your administration sent thousands more troops into Afghanistan.

JB: No, we pulled those. No, by the way, they were asked to send — they sent one-third of the number of troops that were asked. The president was in a ——

KK: But that doesn’t make it easier for the families who lost their loved ones in that conflict. If you truly were concerned, why would we have sent a single —

JB: Because I wasn’t the president of the United States of America. You will see, when you’re able to look at —

KK: But you’re running on the idea that you have this record, that you have the ability to make these decisions in the past, and you have, and —

JB: That’s right, I made the decisions, and had I been president, it would have been right. You all acknowledged it, by the way — what you’ve written. I’m the guy that said we should, in fact, not — we should be just purely a counterterrorist strategy with small bases, and we had to work more with the Pakistanis, who were our biggest problem. You’re never going to unite that country as long as the Haqqani Network controls those three. I’ve written extensively on this.

The fact is that the two things I’ve, the longer I’m away from it, the things that I, in fact, took issue with, I feel good about because it turns out I was right. But I wasn’t able to convince and make an overwhelming case that Gates and all his folks are making the case that, well, for example, they talked about how these folks are with us. I met with the — I’m saying too much. What I can’t do is be here undercutting [TAPE CUTS OUT].

I had profound disagreements with Gates and the military on this. They know it. I made my case, I won half the fight because we did not put in 150,000 troops, which they wanted to do. [In 2009, Obama ordered the deployment of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.] As one former Bush administration official who I admire came by to see me, and he said, look, I said, “Am I right about this?” He said, “Yeah.” He said, “What happens? We leave. Who’s going to know?” The idea that you can unite Afghanistan as a coherent country between among China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan is bizarre. Period. That’s been my view from the beginning.

KK: So we’re running out of time. I want to ask my colleagues —

JB: Ask me easy questions, then.

KK: Yeah, we’re turning to the easy stuff now. Maybe if we could do one tech question, one econ question, how’s that?

Charlie Warzel : Sure. Mr. Vice President, in October, your campaign sent a letter to Facebook regarding an ad that falsely claimed that you blackmailed Ukrainian officials to not investigate your son. I’m curious, did that experience, dealing with Facebook and their power, did that change the way that you see the power of tech platforms right now?

JB: No, I’ve never been a fan of Facebook, as you probably know. I’ve never been a big Zuckerberg fan. I think he’s a real problem. I think —

CW: Can you elaborate?

JB: No, I can. He knows better. And you know, from my perspective, I’ve been in the view that not only should we be worrying about the concentration of power, we should be worried about the lack of privacy and them being exempt, which you’re not exempt. [The Times] can’t write something you know to be false and be exempt from being sued. But he can. The idea that it’s a tech company is that Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one. For Zuckerberg and other platforms. [Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act says that online platforms aren’t held liable for things their users post on them, with some exceptions. In July, The Times’ Sarah Jeong weighed in on proposed updates to Section 230, arguing that “we should reopen the debate on CDA 230 only because so much of the internet has changed,” but “the discourse will be improved if we all take a moment to actually read the text of CDA 230.”]

CW: That’s a pretty foundational laws of the modern internet.

JB: That’s right. Exactly right. And it should be revoked. It should be revoked because it is not merely an internet company. It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false, and we should be setting standards not unlike the Europeans are doing relative to privacy. You guys still have editors. I’m sitting with them. Not a joke. There is no editorial impact at all on Facebook. None. None whatsoever. It’s irresponsible. It’s totally irresponsible.

CW: If there’s proven harm that Facebook has done, should someone like Mark Zuckerberg be submitted to criminal penalties, perhaps?

JB: He should be submitted to civil liability and his company to civil liability, just like you would be here at The New York Times. Whether he engaged in something and amounted to collusion that in fact caused harm that would in fact be equal to a criminal offense, that’s a different issue. That’s possible. That’s possible it could happen. Zuckerberg finally took down those ads that Russia was running. All those bots about me. They’re no longer being run. [In October, a 30-second ad appeared on Facebook accusing Biden of blackmailing Ukrainian government officials. The ad, made by an independent political action committee, said: “Send Quid Pro Joe Biden into retirement.” Biden’s campaign wrote a letter calling on Facebook to take down the ad.] He was getting paid a lot of money to put them up. I learned three things. Number one, Putin doesn’t want me to be president. Number two, Kim Jong Un thinks I should be beaten to death like a rabid dog and three, this president of the United States is spending millions of dollars to try to keep me from being the nominee. I wonder why.

KK: Under the Obama administration, Silicon Valley’s power actually expanded greatly. There are very few mergers blocked. Do you have any regrets about that?

JB: The reason why I was given presidential power when I was given an assignment is because I kept the disagreements I had with the president just that, as I said at the outset, with the president. One of the reasons he said he picked me was I’d never walked in the Oval Office and be intimidated by being in the Oval Office. I’d always tell him what I thought, but at the end of the day, he gets to make the decision.

There are places where he and I have disagreed. About 30% of the time, I was able to convince him to my side of the equation. Seventy percent of the time I wasn’t when we disagreed, when he laid something out. And you may recall, the criticism I got for meeting with the leaders in Silicon Valley, when I was trying to work out an agreement dealing with them protecting intellectual property for artists in the United States of America. And at one point, one of the little creeps sitting around that table, who was a multi- — close to a billionaire — who told me he was an artist because he was able to come up with games to teach you how to kill people, you know the —

CW: Like video games.

JB: Yeah, video games. And I was lectured by one of the senior leaders there that by saying if I insisted on what Leahy’d put together and we were, I thought we were going to fully support, that they would blow up the network, figuratively speaking. Have everybody contact. They get out and go out and contact the switchboard, just blow it up.

And then one of these righteous people said to me that, you know, “We are the economic engine of America. We are the ones.” And fortunately I had done a little homework before I went and I said, you know, I find it fascinating. As I added up the seven outfits, everyone’s there but Microsoft. I said, you have fewer people on your payroll than all the losses that General Motors just faced in the last quarter, of employees. So don’t lecture me about how you’ve created all this employment.

The point is, there’s an arrogance about it, an overwhelming arrogance that we are, we are the ones. We can do what we want to do. I disagree. Every industrial revolution, every major technological breakthrough, every single one. We’re in the fourth one. The hardest speech I’ve ever had to make in my life, I was asked to speak at the World Economic Forum, to give an answer on, to speak to the fourth industrial revolution. Will there be a middle class? It’s not so clear there will be, and I’ve worked on it harder than any speech I’ve ever worked on.

The fact is, in every other revolution that we’ve had technologically, it’s taken somewhere between six years and a generation for a government to come in and level the playing field again. All of a sudden, remember the Luddites smashing the machinery in the Midlands? That was their answer when the culture was changing. Same thing with television. Same thing before that with radio. Same thing, but this is gigantic. And it’s a responsibility of government to make sure it is not abused. Not abused. And so this is one of those areas where I think it’s being abused. For example, the idea that he cooperates with knowing that Russia was engaged in dealing with using the internet, I mean using their platform, to try to undermine American elections. That’s close to criminal.

CW: I think he would argue that he didn’t know about that at the time and —

JB: He’d argue it and I don’t believe him for a second.

CW: You don’t believe that?

JB: No, I don’t. Nor do you, in your heart. [LAUGHS]

CW: Some of your opponents right now are in Silicon Valley raising money from these people. Has your campaign steered away from money from Silicon Valley?

JB: I haven’t gone to — there are people in Silicon Valley who are decent people. I’m sure there’s people from Silicon Valley have in fact —

CW: I am using that as a stand-in for the tech industry, mostly though.

JB: Well the tech industry, look, not everyone in the tech industry is a bad guy, and I’m not suggesting that. What I’m suggesting is that some of the things that are going on are simply wrong and require government regulation. And it’s happened every single time there’s been a major technological breakthrough in humanities since the 1800s, and this requires it. For example, you have children?

CW: No.

JB: Well, when you do and you’ll watch them on the internet, it gets a little concerning. What in fact they can see and not see, and whether or not what they’re seeing is true or not true. It matters. It matters. It’s like — well, anyway.

KK: Will you indulge us two more questions? [There were, in fact, several questions we wish we had gotten to. Pushing on Biden’s economic proposals more deeply, for one. But immigration was a notably absent, too. While Obama said that he supported comprehensive immigration reform, efforts to win support from Republicans in Congress were unsuccessful. The Obama administration, by executive order, created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allowed hundreds of thousands of young people brought to the country illegally to avoid deportation and secure work permits. But hundreds of other undocumented immigrants were forcibly returned to their home countries. For more context, read this July 2019 editorial, “All Presidents Are Deporters in Chief.”]

JB: Sure.

KK: All right. Binya?

BA: You’ve talked about the urgency of the climate change. The new NAFTA agreement includes no measures aimed at dealing with climate change. At what point should Democrats stop voting for international agreements that fail to deal with climate change? [Environmental groups criticized 2018 tweaks to the trade agreement, which included no mention of human-caused climate change.]

JB: Well, first of all, the two things that the new NAFTA agreement has, is they have enforcement mechanisms. I’ve not read them yet. OK.? I’m told by staff. Enforcement mechanisms that have environmental protections, as well as, not talking for fundamental climate change, but though you cannot compete and disregard existing climate regulations that exist. So environmentalists are at the table, I’ve been told, and labor’s been at the table and they should be. They should be.

Now, if in fact what I propose is as president, I’m, by the way, I’m not joking. I did. I’m the guy that came back and said, we can embarrass Xi Jinping to join the Paris accord. And everybody looked at me like I was nuts. Well, it did. But what happened was that only works if in fact we are the aggressive leader. So number one, I would immediately rejoin the Paris accord, number one. And number two, I would do what the accord calls for. Upping the ante as circumstances change and more science becomes available that we have less time. For example, think of what we should be doing now in the biggest carbon sink in the world, the Amazon. Instead of talking about $2 billion, I’d be organizing, not a joke, organizing the world as I did in Latin America on other issues, like Colombia and so on. [The Obama administration reopened diplomatic ties with Cuba and negotiated trade deals with Colombia and Panama.] Anyway, to make sure that they in fact either, and we would provide, the world would provide, $20 to $30 billion for them to be able to make up for what they’re going to lose by not having agriculture.

BA: Those are good programs, but do you think Democrats should vote for an agreement that does not affirm the Paris accord and does not contain any binding commitments to deal with climate change?

JB: Look, it’s like saying would you sign an agreement with Turkey on a base closure because it didn’t have that in it? It depends on if it’s related to climate. Absolutely they should be part of it.

BA: But this is not a hypothetical. This is a deal that exists and is coming before the House —

JB: It is, but the deal relates to matters of trade, that in fact, there is no circumstance where we are saying anything that we’re going to do more or less relative to what we’re selling back and forth across the border. Here’s an example that would matter. China. China, in fact, in their “Belt and Road” proposal is in fact exporting more dirty coal around the world and is subsidizing more than anybody in the world. The answer is, what we should be saying to them is, you keep your agreement on the climate accord, which you signed up to. If you don’t, you will pay a price for it. You will not be able to sell product here. And organize the world to make sure that no, they couldn’t sell product anywhere. To make sure that they in fact have a requirement to stick to what they committed to. They’ve already signed it, so I don’t know. It’s a little bit like saying to me, should we —

BA: Why wouldn’t you apply that standard to Canada, which is a larger energy exporter than China?

JB: Well, no, by the way, I would. That’s what we should be doing to everybody in the world. I’m basically giving you one example. That’s why I oppose what China’s, what Canada’s doing in terms of the pipelines and the dirty crude they’re sending south on us, letting it go forward. We have to do that. We have to. But we can’t do a damn thing if we don’t meet our responsibility. We make up 15% of the problem in the world. We walk away from it all and the rest of the world says, what the hell are you holding me accountable for? You’re not doing anything. That’s why this president’s does such incredible damage, incredible damage to our effort to deal with climate change.

KK: Your staff is getting a little impatient with us, so allow us our last question, if you don’t mind. [LAUGHTER]

BS : What are you likely to fail at as president?

JB: I never start anything thinking I’m going to fail. I really mean it. I never sat down before an exam thinking I’m going to fail it. I never had a football handed to me and think I wasn’t going to score. I’ve never put a ball in my hand — I’m serious. Look, half of winning is believing you can. I think people communicate when they think they’re going to fail.

I think it’s going to be incredibly difficult, incredibly difficult to deal with what is left of the Republican Party. Which is not the Republican Party. And I think the most important thing that we have to do, and I know some from the beginning suggested I was not, didn’t make sense. The single most important thing we have to do is restore the soul of this country. It’s been absolutely eviscerated.

President’s talking about how he’s worried about anti-Semitism. This recent rule about universities. This is the same guy who watched anti-Semites, their veins bulging, coming out of fields, literally carrying torches. It was almost like a movie. Preaching anti-Semitic bile. The same exact thing that was preached and hollered in the streets of Nuremberg in the ‘30s and throughout Germany, carrying swastikas. Kid gets killed, a young woman. President’s asked to comment, and he said there were very fine people on both sides. That’s the single most important thing we have to excise. Have you heard him say a word about white supremacy? Have you heard him say a word that would lead anybody to believe he still not decided that the only way to win is divide the country? Pit race, religion ——

BS: Listen, man, this is our hometown guy, I know extremely well.

JB: No, I’m sure you do, but it was more a rhetorical question, but I mean, so it really is gigantic. If I only get to do one thing, could wave a wand and say I could solve one problem, that’s the first one I solve because unless we solve that one, none of the rest matters a whole lot.

We’re not going to be able to unite the country. And if we can’t unite the country, this is all for naught. We have a system, the Constitution, and it’s like that old thing oft-quoted and sometimes inaccurately quoted about Benjamin Franklin walking out of the — “What have you given us, Mr. Franklin?” “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Our democracy is at stake. I truly believe our democracy is at stake. [The story is often told that when Franklin was leaving the Constitutional Convention, he was asked what sort of government had been created and replied: “A republic, if you can keep it.”]

And I worry about some of the folks, I don’t mean anybody around here, some of the folks on the opposite end of the scale in our party think that they should do, not preach hate, but be able to, by executive authority, do what the right thing is. The whole thing requires consensus. None of it works. You’re all understandably cynical about can I bring the country together? Can I get anything done? Well, guess what? I refuse to give up on that notion. Not a joke, because if I can’t, if somebody can’t, say goodbye, man.

Eight years of this guy will fundamentally, I said this in the beginning, you thought it was hyperbole, fundamentally change who we are as a country. Fundamentally we’ll not be recognized and not recognize ourselves. And it really is the, the threat.

And what bothers me is that some bright people on the other team, our team, are buying into the same thing. Well, the way we have to do it, why don’t we do what he does? Why don’t we do what he does? Not on race. We’re going to be the opposite. But if you don’t agree on this, boom, we’re just going to insist on it. Like for example, I’m the only guy who’s ever beaten the NRA, nationally and twice. Now I hear, by the way, when I get elected, by executive order, I’m going to eliminate the right to have an assault weapon. Where does the Constitution say you have the authority to do that? You can stop the importation. Where does it say that? Or I’m going to insist that we move forward with the following health care plan. O.K. How do you do that?

KK: Allow me one last question. I apologize. A lot of the reason that Trump was elected, at least one of the things that we heard a lot in the months following the 2016 election, was people being angry at or let down by government, and that anger fueled has his rise to power. How do you respond to critics who worry that, in fact, that it was something about the Obama administration that gave rise to Trump?

JB: I didn’t, I didn’t hear that. You got — I mean I’ve heard it but some of what I heard is that the Democratic Party, in the last election — and I did 84 events for Hillary, 84 — that the Democratic Party forgot our base. When’s the last time we talked to those folks who are working-class white folks? I would go out all the time and the Saturday, excuse me, the Sunday or Monday before I’d go out, Robby Mook or [the former White House chief of staff John] Podesta or someone, [would] come by and ask me where they wanted me to go because some places I was stronger with the African-American community and with white working-class folks. I remember being told at one point where they’re going to give up on white working-class folks because they’re not making any progress. [Biden considered a presidential run in 2016, but when he announced he would not in 2015, he helped clear the path for Clinton’s nomination. He then campaigned for Clinton in a number of states including in his hometown Scranton, Pennsylvania.]

Well, look what’s happened. Look what started to seep in, beginning and probably even with candidates during our administration. We stopped showing up at the Polish American club. We stopped showing up, and we all went to you, the really smart people. We had a new kind of coalition we were putting together. College-educated women and college men and boom, boom, boom and so on.

Tell you a story, and I’ll end. We found ourselves, I think, and we would have this internal debate toward the end — why I thought, I came back after campaigning for [the former Wisconsin senator] Russ Feingold and said, we’re going to lose. I have pretty good tactical political instincts. We’re going to lose. Because we weren’t doing the kind of retail politics we used to do. We weren’t stopping in diners. We weren’t going over to the Greek American club. We weren’t going into the black community and sitting at the local Y that’s in that community.

I’m not joking. Think of the candidate, not just for president. Think across the board. And so I pointed out that over 54% of all the voters in Pennsylvania are white, high school educated. Sixty some — and if I remember the numbers, I don’t remember exact numbers — in Michigan and Ohio and etc. I actually had the campaign come, someone come with me, not Hillary — and I think she knew — one of the political people come. I said I was going to speak at a Ford Motor plant in the Valley and in Ohio.

And they were talking about how we had to make a distinction between progressive values and working-class values. I said I’ve never found a distinction. Never found them hard to sell. They told me there were 3,000 people in the plant. This is toward the end of the campaign, second week of October, something like that. And I stood up and said, we’ve got to elect Hillary, and it was [light clapping]. I said let me tell you why we have to elect Hillary, and there are 3,000, but there are a lot of seats — there are probably 500 seats in the front.

I look down at one guy and said, because your wife deserves to make every damn penny you make, the man she’s standing next to. They all cheered. Neighborhoods I come from, guess what, that means you can put four new tires on the car. That means, not a joke. You guys don’t even think about it. That’s what it means. It means you can replace the water heater. It means you can send your kid back to that community college. It matters about your standard of living.

But guess what? All white guys are just basically, they don’t give a damn about women. They don’t care about equal pay. You’re damn right if they’re working guys. The people that don’t like equal pay are the people at the top of the heap. I don’t like the idea that you’re going to get paid as much as a man doing your job. That’s not happening on the line.

The second thing I said, I said and, by the way, who somebody marries is none of your business, because I’m so associated with pushing for gay marriage. And they all laugh for a second. I said I’m not asking you to light your home up in rainbows, but you know it’s none of your business. I got a standing ovation.

Third thing I said, I said any man who raises his hand to a woman is a God-darn coward and deserves to get his ass kicked. They went nuts because they have daughters. They have wives who were victimized.

And then I talked about economic issues, about the issues that affected labor. By the way, without labor, we’re dead. If labor doesn’t come back, there was no one else to keep the barbarians on the other side of the gate. It’s power, power, power, power. And guess what? I come back, and I meet with a lot of their people: Well, that’s because you’re middle-class. Joe Biden can do that, but we can’t do that.

The other thing we think about, we think that people, if they don’t have a good education are ipso facto stupid. President asked me to get Detroit off its feet, back on its feet. For real. He gave me all the good assignments.

One of the things I did — now, I’m serious. Look at it. Look at specifically who handled everything relating to Detroit. Me. [After Detroit filed the country’s largest ever municipal bankruptcy, the Obama administration began a close partnership to revive the city’s economy. The administration created a Detroit Federal Working Group to improve the bus system, lighting infrastructure, housing market and more.] And the good reason, the good news about that, he gave me presidential authority. I could task anyone in the administration. For real. And so I put together a group, that in fact made up of five agencies, to go find all the money Detroit was eligible for they never knew they were eligible for. And we sat down and we put everything from lighting in and transit and so on and so forth.

But then we found out when it got out of bankruptcy, what happened? No one knew how to turn on the streetlights. Not a joke. No one knew how to turn on the water system, maintain the sewer system because black, white, anyone who had that expertise left, abandoned it.

So I had an idea. We went to this outfit that in fact, if you’re looking for tech people, you go and they’ll supply them to. It’s called American — I can’t think of the name of it now. And I said, go out and find us people that we can put through a 19-week class at the community college to teach them how to program.

And on the floor I go around, my liberal friends are saying, you can’t expect that, man. No. Well guess what? It turns out, there were 50-some women, happen to all be women, all of color but one, all African American but one. Nineteen weeks, I went to the graduation. Every single one had a job, lowest-paying job $48,000 a year, highest paying $102,000.

You think people are stupid. Went to school with a guy in Delaware and in a little town called Claymont. Went to the same Catholic grade school. Then I went off to a local school that was academically very challenging, a Catholic prep school. It was a very challenging school. He went to the local high school where my wife ended up teaching, and I saw him. He made a lot more money than I made. He was an independent trucker. He was making somewhere between $85,000 and $110,000 bucks a year. In the last 10 years of his life, he busted his neck. I was down at the largest mall in Delaware, and it’s big because no tax in Delaware, so New Jersey folks and Pennsylvanians come there. And I’m with my granddaughters three years ago, Christmas shopping. He walks up. I don’t have permission to use his name so I won’t mention it, but he goes or goes, “Joey, baby!” Grabs my cheek. I thought the Secret Service was going to shoot him. I said, he’s a friend.

He said, “What you doing, Joey?” And I remembered who he was and I said, “How you doing, pal?” I said, “You still drive?” And he said, “Nah, Joey, only guys like you who never worked in their life can continue to work.”

I said, “Well, how’s Tony doing?” His son was the age of my son who died. Said he’s in trouble, Joe, he’s in trouble. I said, can I help? I thought maybe was a drug problem or something. He said, No, no Joey. He’s still driving and he knows he’s not going to have a job in five years. We all think — when, in your economic pages, you guys write about automation of trucking, and it’s supposed to be in five years, it’s going to take more like 10 — that these guys are stupid. They don’t get it.

They know it. They’re not stupid. We treat them like they’re stupid. They know they’re in trouble, and nobody’s talking to them. Nobody’s talking to them. That’s what we used to do. That was our base. That’s who I’m talking to. There’s answers. There’s answers.

That’s why I’m spending so much time with unions. Unions are scared to death of global warming, and they know it’s a problem, but they think they’re all going to be lost. We can create 10 million good-paying jobs. I just met with the IBW. I can put in new green infrastructure — 550,000 charging stations. And they’ll do them. They’ll make money. We can move to the EV market and own it and we can create millions of good-paying jobs.

I can go down the list. Same with agriculture. Everybody’s wondering why Biden’s doing so good with rural, rural Iowa. Because I talk about how they can make money by becoming a carbon sink themselves, by planting deep-rooted plants, by absorbing carbon into the soil, by doing a whole range of things and get paid for it. Not just what they grow to eat, but we don’t talk to them.

Guys, think about it, this is complicated stuff. And I find the big argument I always have with my staff is I say, “Speak English to me.” Not as opposed to Spanish, as opposed to complicated. Without talking down to people, how do you explain? How do you go out and explain? Go to the local bar here with really bright people. Explain to them global warming, as much as you know about it. They don’t know, from Shinola, what you’re talking about, but we can explain it. But we don’t do it.

KK : Well, we try to do that every day.

JB: No, you do. I don’t mean that, but look what we —

KK : Speaking of which, we do actually have to put out a newspaper. [LAUGHTER]

JB: But again, I don’t think it’s talking down to anybody when you say you write to an eighth-grade population. The thing about The Times that is so special is The Times goes well beyond that. I’m not being critical of you.

I’m just saying generically, think about the people you know, go back to your own neighborhoods. Even if they have a job, they’re frightened. They are frightened. But who in a political establishment is talking to them? That’s even remotely realistic? And unless we figure that out, folks, we’re in real trouble, man, I think.

I’m probably in real trouble after this interview, but thank you very much.

KK: Thank you.

BS: Good to see you.

JB: Good to see you, thanks.

BS: I’m from Chester, Pennsylvania, by the way. Right across the border.

JB: Well, you know, and by the way, you know we talked about Chester.

BS: Two generations of truck drivers.

JB: That’s right, you understand it. I’m not joking. Am I telling the truth? And by the way, the other thing is, you know, we talk about environmental impact. Reason why that part of Pennsylvania and Delaware has the second-highest cancer rate is because when you and I got up in the mor morning and you turn on the first frost, you turn on your windshield wiper, there’d be an oil slick on your window. [A ning and you turn on the first frost, you turn on your windshield wiper, there’d be an oil slick on your window. [According to the Centers for Disease Control, Kentucky has the highest cancer rate, and Delaware and Pennsylvania have the next highest. People get sick more in states where income is lower, screening rates are lower and smoking is more prevalent.]

BS: Yes.

JB: Not a joke.

BS: Oh. absolutely, yes.

JB: I love the lectures I get about — do you understand?

KK: I do. Thank you.

JB: Thank you. I’m going to beat this guy.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times .

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