TRANSCRIPT: VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN ON THE PREMIERE OF MSNBC'S "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O'DONNELL"
NEW YORK - Sept. 27, 2010 - Tonight on the premiere of MSNBC's "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell," Vice President Joe Biden said Christine O'Donnell's Republican primary win should be "a wake up call for Democrats" and that Democrats should "take them both very seriously. Treat them with respect. Debate their ideas and don't get diverted by all of these silly things that they may or may not have said that have nothing to do with policy."
Vice President Biden also discussed the upcoming Colbert/Stewart rally in Washington, DC, saying it's "designed to make, quite frankly, a mockery of some of the extreme positions of the other side."
On peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians: "I don't think the peace talks are doomed. It's a very politically difficult situation where both Mr. Abbas as well as for Prime Minister Netanyahu. And the good news is that the talks have not ended. You have Abbas saying -- President Abbas saying that he would take under consideration what the next move would be. You have Bebe Netanyahu, the prime minister, saying he wants to continue these talks. And George Mitchell is headed to the region as I speak. And we still hope there will be a way to bridge this -- this divide to keep the talks going."
A complete transcript is available below. If used must credit MSNBC's "The Last Word." Embeddable video will be available following tonight's interview.
"The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell" telecasts weeknights, 10 p.m. ET on MSNBC. Izzy Povich is senior executive producer. Greg Kordick is executive producer.
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, HOST: Mr. Vice president, thanks for joining us tonight.
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I'm happy to be with you.
At the U.N. last week, President Obama asked the Israelis to extend the freeze on West Bank settlement construction. But they actually allowed the freeze to expire at midnight last night. The West Bank settlers today have been celebrating. Some of them are already beginning to build.
Should Prime Minister Netanyahu extend the freeze on the settlements?
And if he doesn't, are the peace talks doomed?
BIDEN: I don't think the peace talks are doomed. It's a very politically difficult situation where both Mr. Abbas as well as for Prime Minister Netanyahu. And the good news is that the talks have not ended. You have Abbas saying -- President Abbas saying that he would take under consideration what the next move would be. You have Bebe Netanyahu, the prime minister, saying he wants to continue these talks.
And George Mitchell is headed to the region as I speak. And we still hope there will be a way to bridge this -- this divide to keep the talks going.
O'DONNELL: As we all know, Bob Woodward has a hot new inside the White House book out there, which we will get to in a moment.
But I want to go back one book, to the first inside the Obama White House book by Jonathan Alter, "The Promise."
In that book, you tell the president not to do health care in the first two years. You urged him, instead, to concentrate on the economy and on jobs.
If the president had followed your advice that you were giving him at that time, what would the unemployment numbers look like now and where would the Democrats be in the Congressional campaign?
BIDEN: Look, Lawrence, I -- I'm not going to confirm anything that I've said to the president privately. The advice I give him is that.
Hopefully he listens to it, because I give it only to him. I don't discuss it on the air.
I think the president did a remarkable thing that no president has been able to do since Teddy Roosevelt -- actually deliver a fundamental change in health care, which is now only beginning to roll out. And one of the very positive things about the health care proposal of the president, it is going to drive down the deficit, the long-term debt, by $100 billion the next 10 years and a trillion after that, the following 10.
So I think the president deserves remarkable credit for such a monumental piece of legislation.
O'DONNELL: Now, as everyone knows, the economy is always the most important factor in national elections. Unemployment today is running almost 50 percent higher than in 1994, when the Democrats last lost control of both the House and the Senate.
Is that what you meant when you said today: "If we make this a referendum on the current state of affairs, we lose?"
BIDEN: Yes, because, look, what's -- what -- people are angry.
People are upset. People are like the kitchen table I grew up around -- when there was a recession and unemployment, the people sitting around that table, the adults -- my uncles, my dad -- they worried about whether or not they were going to lose their job. So people are frightened and they're angry. And as long as -- and they have a right to be angry. And we're in charge and they're focusing on us right now.
So if it's just a referendum on the state of the nation, then we're in trouble.
But it is a choice. All elections are a choice. And the choice between what the Republicans are offering, as Pete Sessions, who is the congressman -- a very good guy, a very smart guy -- said, when asked whether -- if the Republicans took control of the House, what would he do, he said we'd go back to the same exact agenda.
We have to make it clear what we're -- what we've done and what we're offering to do or what we're planning to do from here and what they've done to get us into this mess and what they're offering. That is not a choice -- that's not a referendum, that's a choice. And if we do that, we're going to be just fine.
O'DONNELL: Mr. Vice President, the Democrats' tax position is to allow the current tax rates, the -- the Bush tax rates, to stay in place for everyone except the top brackets.
If -- if that's a winning political position, why shouldn't the Democrats in the House and the Senate vote on it now, before the election?
BIDEN: Well, look, I'm not sitting in the Senate any longer doing it day to day. The leader of the House and the leader of the Senate have made their own judgments about everything from filibusters to tactical maneuvers the other side would take. The important thing is that we accomplish what we're setting out to do -- give middle class taxpayers a tax break and not -- and, by the way, everyone would get a tax break, even multi-millionaires. They'd get the same tax break that somebody got at $250,000 instead of -- look, $700 billion that the Republicans want to spend and are continuing the tax breaks for the very wealthy, $360 billion of that goes to 120,000 families that have an average income of $8.3 million.
They're good people, but what are they going to do with a $310,000 tax break they can't do with the $8 million they have?
Whereas a tax break for a family of four making $50,000 is $2,100 or a family of four making $100,000 is $4,100. That's the difference between -- between making your car payment, your car insurance, keeping your kid in college, being able to pay your bills.
And what we want to do is we want to give middle class taxpayers the money to be able to go out and do the things they need to do, generate economic growth in this economy. And we want to take that $700 billion and pay down the debt.
And -- and our Republican friends, I find them kind of fascinating.
They keep lecturing us about the debt they created and now they're talking about wanting to extend a tax cut that cost $700 billion for the very wealthiest among us without paying for it.
O'DONNELL: Now, the East Coast seems to have its own Sarah Palin in Christine O'Donnell. You are the only Democrat alive that has beaten both of them in elections.
What do the Democrats -- what do you have to teach Democrats about how to stop the Palin -- no relation, by the way, on O'Donnell -- the Palin-O'Donnell phenomenon?
BIDEN: Take them both very seriously. Treat them with respect.
Debate their ideas and don't get diverted by all of these silly things that they may or may not have said that have nothing to do with policy.
The reason, what we should be doing -- the Democrats -- is focusing on what they are offering -- and those who agree with them -- and what they are against and compare it to what we are for and what we are against. And the truth of the matter is, when we do that, we'll do just fine.
But, Lawrence, actually, I really think that the win in Delaware -- and I'm sorry to see a really first rate guy lose, but -- although he would be a much tougher candidate, I suspect, the fact of the matter is that it's a wake up call, not just for Republicans, but for Democrats.
There's a lot of Democrats who might have been thinking about doing exactly what a lot of Republicans did -- not show up and vote in the primary.
Well, this is a wake up call to Democrats. We have to show up and we have to make our case and focus on the differences, not their personalities.
O'DONNELL: You sent out a fundraising e-mail today saying, quote, "Republicans running now are not your grandfather's Republican Party.
They're from the Republican Tea Party."
Now, is there a real -- a risk in an e-mail like that, that it could stimulate more Tea Party energy than anti-Tea Party energy?
BIDEN: Well, look, I -- I don't think the -- look, a lot of the Tea Party folks are -- are just normal Ameri -- they're all normal Americans. But they're Americans who are just angry and fed up. Others are ideologically very hard right and are against everything from, you know, Social Security to Medicare and wanting to privatize it and all those things. The fact of the matter is that what I really said was that this is not even your father's Republican Party. These folks don't want to talk. These folks don't want to enter into a compromise. These folks don't want to come up with practical solutions. I know what they're against. What I don't know is what they're for.
Why do the -- why are they against us trying to stimulate jobs by giving tax cuts to the middle class?
Why are they against us stimulating jobs by giving tax breaks to small businesses, which, in fact, are the ones that create the jobs?
Why don't they think it's important to develop alternative energy and all of the jobs that would flow from those green jobs and encourage manufacturing to stay here in the United States?
Why is it they don't even support the president's proposal to continue to increase our investment in infrastructure, which would be necessary even if we had full employment?
I know what they're against -- they're against all those things. I just don't know what they're for.
O'DONNELL: And today you -- you said that the base -- your base in the Democratic Party...
O'DONNELL: -- should, quote, "Stop whining."
I'm going to give you an opportunity that you used to have in the Senate, Mr. Vice President.
Would you like to revise and extend your remarks on that one?
BIDEN: Yes. What I think -- what I mean by they're -- there are some on the Democratic based, not the core of it, that are angry because we didn't get every single thing they want. We got a -- a health care bill that is becoming -- every day it will become more apparent how much it does for people and businesses in terms of cost and availability.
But because there was no public option, some of them are so angry, they say, oh, we're not going to participate.
They should stop that. These guys, if they win, the other team, they're going to repeal health care and I -- I want them to tell me why what we did wasn't an incredibly significant move that's progressive and helping people?
That's why with a lot of other issues. It's time to focus. This is a choice. The president has done a remarkable job given the fact that we -- you -- you and I had a mutual friend, Pat Moynihan. When Pat Moynihan, when you were running his show and I was his colleague, a majority in the Senate used to mean 51 votes. Since we've gotten elected, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, there's a new majority in the Senate -- 60 votes. What the president has been able to do has been truly remarkable, with the help of a Democratic Congress.
And so those who don't get -- didn't get everything they wanted, it's time to just buck up here, understand that we can make things better, continue to move forward and -- but not yield the playing field to those folks who are against everything that we stand for in terms of the initiatives we put forward.
O'DONNELL: You know, I did -- I didn't think of myself as running Pat Moynihan's show. Liz Moynihan ran Pat Moynihan's show...
BIDEN: Well, that's true.
O'DONNELL: -- as you can remember.
BIDEN: That's true. No, I do. And she's -- if she's listening, I send her my love and -- and -- and also to her lovely daughter-in-law.
I -- they're -- they're great family.
O'DONNELL: Mr. Vice President, in Bob Woodward's new book, "Obama's Wars," you argue against the troop increase that the president ended up going with, argued for a different strategy than what the president settled on.
What would the situation in Afghanistan look like today if we had gone with the Obama strategy -- the -- I'm sorry, the Biden strategy?
BIDEN: Well, look, Barack Obama is president of the United States.
I told him I would give him my unvarnished opinion and back it up with the facts as I saw them. The president had the most thorough review.
The American people should read Bob Woodward's book because at the end of the book, they're going to see a president who is a leader, a president who approached problems in an analytical way and made sound decisions that everyone signed onto, including Joe Biden.
And the strategy the president put in place, I think, is the best strategy that we have in play. We have it in place now. We should pursue it. And -- and, Lawrence, it's only this August -- the end of August -- that all the troops have been in place and the civilian piece. And -- and now we're in the process of implementing it.
And there's been a lot of positive things that have happened so far. We've made great strides against al Qaeda. We've cut into the leadership of the Taliban. We're training Afghan national security forces, which is very difficult. There's a lot of very difficult problems ahead.
But I think the president came up with a strategy that is the best strategy for victory. And remember why we are there. We're there to defeat, degrade and ultimately defeat al Qaeda and sustain the Afghan government while they build up their physical capacity to resist the insurgency that exists and they can operate under their constitution.
That's the reason we're there. And the president came up with, I think, the best plan to do that.
O'DONNELL: Have you spoken to Richard Holbrooke since the book has come out?
BIDEN: I haven't. But, you know, I know that -- that widely published partial quote from Bob's book about what I said about Dick Holbrooke, look, it will not shock you that in a discussion, people may or may not have talked about Dick's ego, just like the talk about my being too loquacious. But what they didn't do is they didn't say what the end of that sentence was.
I told the president that he's the best man for the job. He should have the job. This is one of the most talented diplomats we've had in
-- in 30 years. He's been my friend for 35 years. I think that he is the right guy for the job. And -- and so Richard knows that.
O'DONNELL: And just for the audience's sake, you said that he was egotistical and you used a colorful phrase for it. And as far as I know, that is 100 percent agreement among all those who have met Richard Holbrooke that that is a reasonably accurate adjective to use.
BIDEN: But I do think most people would also agree with the second part of my -- my sentence, which was that he's -- he was the right man for the job. He's one of the most talented diplomats we've had in a generation.
O'DONNELL: I want to read a sentence that the president is -- is quoted by -- by Bob Woodward in the book, saying, : "We can absorb a terrorist attack. We'll do everything we can to prevent it, but even a 9/11, even the biggest attack ever -- ever -- that ever took place on our soil, we absorbed it and we are stronger."
How did 9/11 make us stronger?
BIDEN: It made us stronger by demonstrating to the entire world there's nothing -- nothing -- nothing that can shake our conviction of everyone under the constitution have equal rights. We have not gone underground. We have not turned to repressive measures. We are the same open, strong, vibrant society that the rest of the world wants to emulate.
And so that's the reason they took the shot at us. They took the shot at us to try to prove to the world that we weren't who we aver -- advertised ourselves to be. And we are. And the rest of the world has looked at that. And they've looked at the election of Barack Obama and see that the American people mean what they say. We do think all people are created equal. The rest of the world and the Islamic world is figuring out, we have mosques in -- in Los Angeles bigger than mosques in most countries in the Arab world.
We are a society that reaches out, embraces people and, in fact, is stronger because of it. That's what I think the president meant by saying we're stronger for it. They tried to deal us a body blow. And it was horrible for the 3,000 people that lost loved ones and my heart goes out to them.
But the fact of the matter is, in terms of our national stability, our economic power and strength, our military capacity, it was a glancing blow.
O'DONNELL: Mr. Vice President, Hamid Kaza -- Karzai is presented in the book as being a diagnosed manic depressive. General Petraeus refers to him in one meeting as running, basically, a criminal syndicate in his government. Ambassador Eikenberry is quoted as telling you that he's off his meds.
How can we have a successful exit strategy, as the Obama plan calls for in July of 2011, if the exit involves leaving Afghanistan to the whims of Hamid Karzai?
BIDEN: Hamid Karzai has long since then decided that his interests and the interests of his country lie in cooperating with us and sort of righting his ship. The fact of the matter is that whether it's corruption or whether it's training of Afghan security forces or integration of and re -- reconciliation with the Taliban. Hamid -- excuse me -- President Karzai is in a position now that, faced with an incredibly difficult circumstance, I believe, that he is fully capable of -- of stepping up to the plate and -- and -- and acting responsibly.
It's a very different position he's in. But he must step up to the plate. We must train an Afghan national security force and he must take ownership of it. He must deal with the most virulent types of corruption, those types that, in fact, cause populations -- villages, provinces -- to turn to the Taliban for justice until the -- instead of corrupt officials. And he must deal with the larger pieces of corruption that exist within his society.
And some of it is changes we have to make. We're making changes in contracting authority. General Petraeus has set forward -- there's billions of dollars rolling into that country, in a country that was the fourth poorest in the world and one that didn't have much infrastructure.
And so we're making changes, as well, to make it easier to deal with that problem.
But Harmid Kar -- excuse me. Hamid Karzai must step up to the ball. I think he's capable of it. If he doesn't, his country will fail. If he does, it can succeed.
O'DONNELL: And finally, to the controversy that divided the Democratic leadership in the House last week, the only thing that maybe could divide them -- your friend, Stephen Colbert. You and I are what he calls -- what Stephen Colbert calls friends of the show. You did Stephen Colbert's show recently. Stephen Colbert was then invited to testify to a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration last week. He did that.
Speaker Pelosi support it. She said she thought it was great.
Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, however, said that it was an embarrassment.
So, Mr. Vice President, who's right, Pelosi or Hoyer?
O'DONNELL: You have to pick one.
BIDEN: -- 36 years as a United States senator, I never got in the middle of a House fight among House members. I'm not going to do it now.
But look, one of the things that's going on is this -- this march on Washington that Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart are putting together.
It is all -- all done with an overwhelming dose of -- of humor and sarcasm. And it is, I think, going to -- it's designed to make, quite frankly, a mockery of the position -- of some of the extreme positions of the other side.
But I'll -- I'll let the House decide its own rules. I'll pretend I'm still a senator. It's against Senate rules to comment on the conduct of events in the House.
O'DONNELL: You're off the hook, Mr. Vice President.
Mr. Vice President, thank you very much for making the time for us tonight.
BIDEN: Well, thank you.
I wish you luck with the show and I hope you'll have me back.