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Biden Shares Views On The State Of American Politics


Earlier today I spoke with Vice President Joe Biden at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House. The occasion was Biden's announcement about the big effort to fight cancer, the so-called Moonshot. We hear about that elsewhere on the program.

I also asked him about politics. Why, for example, are Democrats doing so poorly this year with white, working-class voters, a constituency they once counted on? Well, Biden said they've spent so much time keeping the economy from, as he puts it, going over the cliff, they didn't talk enough about these voters.

JOE BIDEN: I don't think we've spoken enough about the plight they have. For example, when you're a husband or wife working - an auto mechanic and a waitress - they may be making $70,000, $80,000 a year with two kids, or they may be making a hundred thousand dollars.

If you live in a city and you have two kids, that's awful hard to make it, to send your kid to college, to be able to maintain your home if you lost all your equity in the home during the recession by making no mistakes on your part, et cetera.

SIEGEL: But you...

BIDEN: We don't talk enough about it.

SIEGEL: I mean you've spoken often about how your own father was I guess financially undone by the Great Depression of the 1930s.

BIDEN: Yeah, well...

SIEGEL: Do you think people who have been undone by the Great Recession of 2008 look at Washington and say, they've come to my aid in a way that FDR came to the aid of people?

BIDEN: Well, I think an awful lot of people do. If you look at the poll numbers now, a majority of the American people think that we're making progress, that their prospects are better. But look. It's taken a long time because here's what happened. When in fact the recession hit, what happened was the very thing that most people had their wealth tied up in is the equity in their home.

They never missed a mortgage payment, lost everything, and now they've lost their sense of security. And it's - and now if they're out of their home, they're not back in as it comes back. So they have a lot of anxiety.

SIEGEL: Your appraisal of the passage of the Affordable Care Act will go down in history. You said it was a big something deal I believe.

BIDEN: By the way, a reporter read my lips. I whispered in the president's ear, and thank God my mother wasn't around to hear.

SIEGEL: Well, my question is, was it the right something deal? That is, in 2009, 2010, when you look back, was access to health insurance more important than a big move to keep people in those houses that they were losing that you just mentioned...

BIDEN: Well, what...

SIEGEL: ...Or get them jobs?

BIDEN: What - you know, there's the - Kathleen Jamieson, a scholar up at the University of Pennsylvania...

SIEGEL: Annenberg.

BIDEN: ...Annenberg - she did a report. I think it was she - showed that even though we were fighting like the devil to keep people in their homes, something like 85 percent of all the headlines for an eight-month period were about the Affordable Care Act even though we were doing all those other things. We were fundamentally changing the circumstance relating to housing and jobs, et cetera. But the impression left in people was the only thing we were concerned about was health care.

SIEGEL: One last quick question. If you were a young guy now looking at the state of American politics, what a political campaign is like, what the discourse of American politics is like, would you be as attracted today as you were in the 1970s to say, I am - I want to be part of that.

BIDEN: Absolutely. I'm more optimistic about America's chance today than ever have been. And by the way, let's go back when I got involved in 1971 as a 29-year-old candidate for the Senate. The war - the Vietnam War divided families. People weren't speaking to one another. The women's movement was a incredibly divisive issue in the United States of America. The environmental movement - you were viewed as some radical if you supported (unintelligible).

There was more substantive division on issues than there is today. The differences we didn't have a dysfunctional Congress. We didn't have a Congress that decided that anything that a president - President Obama was going to do, they would oppose. I've never heard of any time in my career - I've served with eight presidents - where with - before the president of the United States was sworn in in 2009, the leadership of the Republican Party met and said, how do we prevent this guy from succeeding? It never happened before.

SIEGEL: Well, if Donald Trump were elected president, we don't think that members of the U.S. Senate, Democrats would say, how do we stop this guy from succeeding and having a second term?

BIDEN: They didn't even know - it wasn't about his policies, you know, if you take a look. I mean Donald Trump - I think you'll have first and foremost Republican Party saying, how do we stop Donald Trump's policies?

SIEGEL: Vice President Biden, thanks for talking with us once again.

BIDEN: Thank you very much - appreciate it.

SIEGEL: On our way out, I asked Biden where he'll be this time next year. He said he doesn't know yet. He has spoken with some universities, but he said the one place you won't find him is Wall Street. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.