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CBS "Early Show" - Transcript

Interview

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MS. STORM: Democratic presidential candidate Senator Joe Biden has spent 35 years in the U.S. Senate. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he is at the center of the debate in Congress over the Iraq war. We'll talk to him about that and the children's health insurance bill and lots of stuff.

Good morning, Senator.

SEN. BIDEN: Good morning, Hannah. How are you?

MS. STORM: I'm doing great.

SEN. BIDEN: By the way, there's 41 guys older than me still in the Senate.

MS. STORM: Oh, yeah, okay. We want to clarify that.

SEN. BIDEN: I wanted you to know that, okay. I want to clarify that. (Laughs.)

MS. STORM: Yes, yes. It's been three and a half decades, but you got in the Senate very early, in your late 20s, right?

SEN. BIDEN: Sounds awful -- 35 years. Oh, my God.

MS. STORM: All right, thank you so much for clearing that up.

SEN. BIDEN: (Laughs.)

MS. STORM: Let's talk about something, because American voters are still so concerned about national security. And a drum that you have been beating so hard since 9/11 -- because you commute, what, 250 miles a day when the Senate is in session, right, on the train --

SEN. BIDEN: That's correct.

MS. STORM: -- is railway security. What have you been able to accomplish in the last six years in that regard?

SEN. BIDEN: Not a whole lot. There is such a prejudice against doing something about rail; it amazes me. This morning in this city, six tunnels underneath New York City, more people in aluminum tubes -- that is, train cars -- than in 27 full 747s. You don't have adequate lighting. There's no ventilation. There's no escape. You know, nothing -- we've done virtually nothing.

MS. STORM: But why can't you do more, Senator?

SEN. BIDEN: I really don't know. I think everything seems to go to the airline industry. I, along with a guy named Fritz Hollings, introduced legislation, I think, 15 days after 9/11. We've been pushing it and pushing it. And there is this notion; it's almost like nothing's really going to happen.

MS. STORM: Yeah, but you're there. You know, people see you. You're a prominent U.S. senator, and they feel like you should be able to get something done.

SEN. BIDEN: Well, you know, I've been able to get some things done in Iraq. I've been able to get things done. But I don't know what it is, Hannah. There is this sense that somehow rail cannot be protected. We're not trying to protect every rail car in the hundreds-of-thousands-of-miles system; major places where you know terrorists would use to go for an attack.

MS. STORM: So are you saying you would have to be president to make a difference in this regard?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, let me put it this way. So far --

MS. STORM: I mean, you've got to know why there's this resistance there.

SEN. BIDEN: I'll tell you what. When I get elected, I'm going to be the most pro-rail senator you ever saw. (Laughs.)

MS. STORM: Yeah, yeah, because --

SEN. BIDEN: But all kidding aside, we've hardly implemented any of the 9/11 recommendations.

MS. STORM: But that shouldn't be so mystifying. I mean, there's got to be a reason for that.

SEN. BIDEN: I think the reason for that is that they don't want to spend the money, number one. There is a bias against rail. They just don't -- more people are going to ride on Amtrak today on the East Coast than all the aircraft that are going to land on the East Coast today.

MS. STORM: So why isn't the leadership on this effective? I mean, you've tried to --

SEN. BIDEN: Well, I really don't know. The truth is, I think, in part because most states don't have Amtrak. Most states, they view it as -- (inaudible). Everybody has an airport.

MS. STORM: So there's, like, a geographical bias?

SEN. BIDEN: Everybody has an airport. Not everybody has a port. The two places we've not been able to make much progress, in our ports -- that is, where all those cargo containers come in -- and in railroads. And I think it relates to the fact you probably have 30 states with virtually no interest in rail.

MS. STORM: All right, you say you have been able to make a difference in Iraq. Let's talk about this report in The Washington Post that says some of the generals are considering declaring victory in Iraq over al Qaeda. Now, does it matter if they do or don't? Is this just a matter of semantics?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, look, here's what I think it's a matter of. The point I'd made to the president in my eighth trip coming back from Iraq was, "Mr. President, even if every jihadi in the world is dead and al Qaeda is gone, you still have a full-blown war in Iraq."

MS. STORM: Right.

SEN. BIDEN: I hope the administration stops this malarkey that the war in Iraq is about al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is a bad element. We've made progress against al Qaeda.

The problem is a civil war. And what are you going to do, Mr. President, to end this civil war so our kids don't keep getting killed in the middle of this civil war?

MS. STORM: And al Qaeda wasn't there before the war in Iraq. They've been a presence since then. So where do we need to concentrate on al Qaeda?

SEN. BIDEN: We need to concentrate on al Qaeda in Afghanistan and in Pakistan and in northern Africa. That's where we have to concentrate on al Qaeda. We have to concentrate on al Qaeda by having much, much closer relations with our allies, and even those who aren't our allies, who have an interest in making sure we grab these terrorist networks. We need a network to combat a network.

MS. STORM: All right, let me ask you about this -- moving along to the president vetoing this children's health care insurance program bill. And he's calling for a compromise. Can you work on a compromise with the president on this, and what would that entail? What are you going to call for?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, I'll call for passage as it is, quite frankly. I mean, if they spent as much energy in passing -- in supporting this legislation as going after that 12-year-old kid, we would be in a much different spot.

Look, I'm one of those people who believe if the president says, "I want to compromise," obviously we should listen. But usually --

MS. STORM: You're saying it's not possible, though?

SEN. BIDEN: No, I think it is possible. But usually the president's compromises are "You do it my way. We compromise and we do it my way," the president's way. And the president's position on child health care has been, I think, abysmal. And this is overwhelmingly supported by the American people -- Republicans, Democrats and independents. So he should compromise by moving considerably the position that the United States Senate and the House of Representatives have passed.

MS. STORM: All right, real quickly, you're going back to Iowa tonight, right?

SEN. BIDEN: I am.

MS. STORM: Do you have to finish in the top three there to stay in the race? Can you do it?

SEN. BIDEN: I think -- yes, I can. Yes, I can.

MS. STORM: Do you have enough money?

SEN. BIDEN: I have enough money. I don't have money to compete like the rest of them. Look, I've raised about $10 million. That used to be enough money to run in these primaries in the past, last time around.

MS. STORM: Yeah. Those days are long gone, right. (Laughs.)

SEN. BIDEN: But those days are long gone. I think we'll do very well in Iowa.

MS. STORM: Okay, Senator Joe Biden, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

SEN. BIDEN: Thanks for having me, Hannah.


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