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ABC "This Week with George Stephanopoulos"-Transcript

Interview

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ABC "This Week with George Stephanopoulos"-Transcript

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good morning everyone. We were back on the trail this week --

UNIDENTIFED SPEAKER: (From videotape.) Hi, Senator. Nice to see you again.

SEN. BIDEN: (From videotape.) Nice to see you.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: -- this time in Iowa with Senator Joe Biden.

SEN. BIDEN: (From videotape.) Thanks a million.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No stranger to Sunday morning and politics, the man who first got elected to the Senate at 29 and serves as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee --

SEN. BIDEN: (From videotape.) Ambassador Crocker, General Petraeus, welcome. (Applause.)

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: -- is now showing his more personal side on the presidential trail.

SEN. BIDEN: (From videotape.) I'm an Irish Catholic. We stand at the back of the church and leave early. (Laughter.) I'm only kidding, mom. Mom, I'm kidding about this. (Laughter.) I'm kidding.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Here in Iowa, Biden is drawing good sized crowds and giving them a good show.

SEN. BIDEN: (From videotape.) Am I supposed to roll and pick the first bingo ball? (Laughter.) You got it. (Laughs.) You got it.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But 20 years after his first run for president, Biden is still far behind his junior partners in the Senate. Between campaign stops in Des Moines on Friday, we began with that challenge.

I had an encounter right after the event that I think captured the dilemma of your campaign. Two sisters come up to me and say, what did you think? Oh, I liked him. I was impressed. We're for Hillary. You've got about three months. What do you say to them to change their minds?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, I don't know that I change their minds, but I do know that there's a lot of minds being changed if you take a look at what I get from these crowds is I was for so and so, I'm now for you. The most that I get are from the other candidates or people who are really -- had not made up their mind. I've not had anybody in any of these encounters, George, I've not walked away with people saying, no, not Biden, it's either I'm with you, or you're my second choice. Second isn't good enough.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They said, we're not sure he can make it.

SEN. BIDEN: Yes. Well, that's another thing. A lot of serious people think I'm capable being president and if they thought I was going win, they'd be for me, but we still have three months left here.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And what is the one thing you have to drive home in those three months?

SEN. BIDEN: That the next president of the United States is going to have a very, very serious job and a tremendous opportunity, and the moment he or she takes office, is going to be left with no margins for error here. If you notice, all my opponents and friends talk about what a great secretary of state I'd be. Well, I wondered how do I deal with that? And now I say to these small groups, I say, are you prepared to vote for anybody who's not capable of being secretary of state? And it brings it back -- the single biggest issue, George. You saw it today, whether I'm in a senior citizens home or whether I'm out with a bunch of young college kids -- Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: (From videotape.) What is your solution on Iraq?

SEN. BIDEN: (From videotape.) What is my solution on Iraq? I'm the only senator in either party that has a solution, an exit strategy to get us out of Iraq.

SEN. BIDEN: The point here is people know -- they know -- this is serious business.

SEN. BIDEN: (From videotape.) Iraq, people say why do I always talk about Iraq? I talk about Iraq because is there. It is there and it must be dealt with.

SEN. BIDEN: And they know we have a great opportunity. And they're not going to, I think, focus on anyone who they don't think from the day they step into the job knows what they're about and is going to be able to do something.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: On Iraq, your plan received an endorsement from the Senate a couple of weeks ago, but John McCain has been very, very tough on it.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): (From videotape.) It won't work. It won't work. I am a student of history and I'll tell you right now that it would take hundreds of thousands of troops. Over 50 percent of the population of Iraq is in four major cities -- Mosul, Karkuk, Baghdad, and Basra. You'd have to divide neighborhoods, you would have to divide bedrooms. Shi'a and Sunni are married to one another.

SEN. BIDEN: John is a good friend, as you know, a personal friend. And my response to John is, John, you don't like my plan, what's yours? Not a single other person including John McCain -- not one -- has offered a political solution -- not one. And the only offer that is put out there now is the president and John and all Republicans adhering to it are running for president -- build a strong, central, unified government that can gain the confidence of the Iraqi people to end the civil war. Will not happen in your lifetime, George. It will not happen in your lifetime. Never before has a sectarian -- self-sustaining sectarian violence ended in any other one of four ways -- you put in a dictator, you pick one side to beat the other side, you occupy for two generations, or you have a federal system.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's what McCain says, that your plan is going to take hundreds of thousands of troops.

SEN. BIDEN: Absolutely not. He said the same thing about Bosnia. He said the same thing about Bosnia. We've had 20,000 Western troops there for 10 years, not one has been killed.

Here's where I am, George. If there is a political settlement where each of the parties believes that they have enough autonomy within the region to take care of their own security while having a weak central government that deals with border security, an army, and the fact that they distribute income -- excuse me, distribute oil. If that occurs, that's the impetus not to keep killing one another.

Look, last time I was with the president, I sat in the cabinet room with him and about six other congressional leaders. And he said to me, he said, you know, he said, this is about al Qaeda, we're going to -- I said, Mr. President, if the Lord Almighty came down and sat in the middle of this table and said, I guarantee you Mr. President, every al Qaeda person is dead, there's not one Jihadi left in the world, you still have a major war on your hands, Mr. President. It's a civil war -- Sunni, Shi'a and Kurds killing one another. We can't stop that, George. We could put 500,000 forces there.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But you won't.

SEN. BIDEN: I will not, absolutely not.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The president also stepped up the rhetoric on Iran this week. So have the Republican candidates for president.

RUDY GIULIANI: (From videotape.) If I'm president of the United States, I guarantee you, we will never find out what they will do if they get nuclear weapons, because they're not going to get nuclear weapons. (Applause.)

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Can you make the same promise?

SEN. BIDEN: No. I can't guarantee that, but I can guarantee that I have a much better chance of stopping them from getting it than he will. What's his promise? I love these guys on the Republican side. They don't know virtually -- except for John McCain -- virtually nothing about foreign policy.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Mayor Giuliani knows virtually nothing about foreign policy?

SEN. BIDEN: Virtually nothing about foreign policy -- virtually nothing. He's been the mayor of a city, a great city. How does that qualify him to be -- what has he demonstrated he knows about even national security? His claim to fame was he settled the city in terms of its violence. He did that with the Clinton-Biden crime bill. He got another 3,000 cops. They wipe out the Crime Bill, what do you hear from Giuliani? Not a word. What do you hear from Giuliani about the fact that we have a situation where the 9/11 Commission's recommended $41 billion worth of changes in our national security? The president has blown it off. What's Giuliani? You hear him talking about that at all? You hear him talking about cargo containers, about his ports, about anything? Come on. If you can't -- these guys have been parrots for this administration.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: If you can't make the promise on Iran, do you have to, as General Abizaid suggested a couple of weeks ago, perhaps we have to learn to live.

SEN. BIDEN: No. What I said is I can't make the promise, but I am much more likely to achieve the result than Giuliani. If anybody think you're going to be able to stop Iran because you're going to invade them or you're going to instigate an air war with them, they're crazy. All that will do was solidify any single Iranian -- and they're divided right now with their leadership -- to be united in their opposition to us and to the West. It will get every single solitary Islamic state in the world further enraged about our activity. It will generate more danger and loss for American lives in Iraq.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But you know what, I was talking with a senior Israeli official this week who said, you have to understand Iran is determined. They are determined to get a nuclear weapon. They are not going to stop, and the sanctions aren't going to stop them.

SEN. BIDEN: Well, they may not stop them. Then you have the option the first time they load up unto to a ramp a nuclear weapon sitting on top of a missile, you take it out. Look, George, one the ways to deal with them, if the Israelis are correct about no sanction whatsoever will work, then that means war, right? What's his option?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The president says World War III.

SEN. BIDEN: World War III. Now, does anybody think, these are the same guys all during the Cold War -- all during the Cold War that told us you cannot deal with, you cannot negotiate, you cannot engage in arms control, you cannot keep collective pressure up. What brought the wall down? It sure in heck wasn't a massive invasion of 300,000 Americans and three million Europeans crossing that curtain defeating Russia.

Let me ask the question in reverse. What makes us think you have enough forces? What makes us think we have enough capability while we can't handle 27 million people in a country we have 10 or 12 divisions of our combat divisions going that we're going to go in and invade Iran?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: In the coffee shop this morning you also took on that resolution that named the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group.

SEN. BIDEN: (From videotape.) Yet we had Democrats -- we had Democrats vote for that legislation.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You're shaking your head again.

SEN. BIDEN: I think it was a gigantic mistake.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet Hillary Clinton and other senators who voted for it say that when you suggest this is some kind of backdoor authorization for war with Iran, you're misrepresenting the truth.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY): (From videotape.) That was in no way, nor could it be construed as, a vote to authorize any kind of military action against Iran, so people are either misunderstanding or misrepresenting what I and 75 or 76 others voted for.

SEN. BIDEN: I'm not going to speak about any of the motives or the judgment of the other who voted for it, but let me tell you -- do you think -- rhetorical question -- do you think this president abided by the spirit of the Iraqi Liberation Act? What did he use it for? He used it to justify taking down Saddam. Do you think he abided by the spirit of the legislation authorizing the use of force in Iraq? He did not. He just leap-frogged over the conditions in it to go to war.

Now, you're telling me that you declare roughly a third of the entire Iraqi (sic) military a terrorist organization and that does not give this president the color of right to use force against it? The president is going to stand there and say, if he does, ladies and gentlemen, as the United States Congress voted, they said these guys are terrorists. I moved against them to save American lives. They're terrorists. That's what he'll do.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So if the president takes military action against Iran, those senators who have voted for that resolution share responsibility?

SEN. BIDEN: Absolutely, positively in my view -- absolutely, unequivocally, positively.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: While we're sitting here today, all of the Republican candidates are meeting at something they call the Values Voters Conference. (Laughs.) You laugh, but in the last several presidential elections, Republicans have had an advantage on that issue -- that issue of values. How do Democrats get it back?

SEN. BIDEN: Fight back. Fight back. Point out what's a value. Tell me what your values are whoever I'm debating for the presidency. Tell me what your values are. Do you value people making an average of $1.4 million a year getting an $85 billion tax cut? Do you value that more than sending ever kid who can't get to college to college that costs less than $9 billion? Do you value more providing for a tax cut for people who in fact are able to clip coupons that cost $198 billion over the next five years than making sure that every child has health insurance? You want to talk about values? I'm ready to talk about values. You want to talk about religion? I'm ready to talk about religion.

These guys are going to suggest of me as a nominee that I'm not a man of faith, that I do not have the values that exists, that are shared by the vast majority of this country (inaudible) to use George Bush's phrase, bring it on.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How does your faith inform what you've done in public life?

SEN. BIDEN: It actually does it in a big way. All the thing that energized me and my family and my faith as I was raised was the whole notion that the cardinal sin you could commit was abusing power -- a man raising his hand to a woman, abuse of a child; using your economic power to embarrass, subjugate, and/or not treat with dignity other people. It's abuse of power -- abuse of power.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Your faith has also been tested. You speak out on the stump about how your first wife and infant daughter were killed right after you were elected to Senate back in 1972. You were angry at God them.

SEN. BIDEN: Oh, I was. Look, I wish I had conducted myself better, but I was outraged and I went from thinking there was a benevolent God to blaming God. And it took me a while to figure out I'm not that important in the sense that why not me. My dad gave me a thing to put on my desk. It was Hagar. You know that cartoon of the Norseman? It shows him in this Viking boat with his Viking helmet on and then a bolt of lighting comes in the next frame and he's charred in the next frame, and in the last two frames he looks up and says, why me, God? And a voice comes from heaven, why not you? It takes you a while to figure out why not me.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You also wrote in your book that at the time you understood how people saw suicide as a -- (inaudible).

SEN. BIDEN: Sure. I did. I never consciously contemplated going to the bridge, but I could see -- intellectually I could see how a man or woman could reach the point where from their perspective they've been at the top of the mountain, they'll never to be able to get there again in their thoughts and it's just easier to walk away. I could understand how people could do that. I used to think you just had to be stark raving mad, but in the depths of despair that a lot of people have shared, like I have, I can understand how it could be a conscious decision. It never got there with me, and one of the reasons I suspect among many others is that I have two young boys. I couldn't imagine anybody --my sister -- explaining to my two young boys why their father was gone.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Now those two boys -- your whole family is actually on the campaign trail.

SEN. BIDEN: Well, it has always been a family affair. My sister's been my best friend my whole life. She still runs my campaigns.

SEN. BIDEN: (From videotape.) My name is Joe Biden and I'm a poor substitute for my sister.

SEN. BIDEN: My sons -- at first I tried to talk them out of it. My son is the attorney general of the state of Delaware, my other son is so committed, just a kid out of Georgetown goes and runs a homeless shelter. He wants to change the world. He's a lawyer, he's a -- my daughter is a social worker. To them it's just ingrained. And my wife is really a special person. And so we'd never done anything that isn't family.

I remember saying once, when we were talking about whether or not I was going to run, I said, we're going to have a family meeting. And I think people looked at me like -- and I thought it sounds stupid. You know, who has family meetings about those decisions, but we --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Did any of them vote no?

SEN. BIDEN: Yes. My mom.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Why?

SEN. BIDEN: She just thought it was too mean and too vicious a game. And I really never thought I'd get back and running for president. It was never -- I had spent my last 20 years trying to establish a reputation as being a serious thinker about foreign policy and constitutional issues.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That first run was 20 years ago.

SEN. BIDEN: Yes.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And you got forced out of the race.

SEN. BIDEN: Yes.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: -- on charges of plagiarism.

SEN. BIDEN: (From videotape.) In my zeal to rekindle that idealism I made some mistakes.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How are you different now?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, first of all, I'm 20 years older. Back then I was the exciting, passionate guy and they thought that I, you know --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You said, I was the John Edwards, the mini Barack Obama. I was the candidate of passion, and I didn't like that. Why not?

SEN. BIDEN: The part I didn't like about it is everything that I -- it was my fault by the way, the whole strategy of that campaign 22 years ago when it started was, make me the new Bobby Kennedy, and I was never comfortable. I'm not Bobby Kennedy. I am not this person who is just -- I have ideas. I'm -- granted -- occasionally I'm able to make an emotive speech. Maybe I'm not bad on the stump, but that's not what makes presidents. What makes presidents great presidents are ideas and a sense of certainty about what you believe and a sense of sureness about what you want to do. I'm running because I honest to God believe I'm the most qualified person to sit behind that desk.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned that book about the 1988 campaign by Richard Ben Cramer --

SEN. BIDEN: Yes.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: -- and what it takes.

SEN. BIDEN: Yes.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It sounds like you now have a good idea in your own mind about what it takes to be a great president.

SEN. BIDEN: I think I do. I've watched seven presidents. I've watched them up-close and personal. And I take a look at what are those traits, what are those -- that inner confidence that's required to deal with really, really complicated issues that affect people's lives.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But is that what it takes to become president?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, you know, I joke about it. I say that I thought a lot more about being president, how to be president than getting elected president, and that's literally true. This may be the only time that a guy like me could get elected president. By that I mean, I think the single most important thing Americans are looking for -- just my fingertip feel as a politician -- is authenticity and insight.

SEN. BIDEN: (From videotape.) The one thing I warn you about me, I hope all of you caucus for me, but I want to warn you -- what I say in this primary is what I will do as president. What I say, I do.

SEN. BIDEN: They're looking for somebody who's genuinely authentic, who's going to tell you what he means or she means, and has the confidence to be able to communicate to you, they have the depth and breadth of knowledge to lead this country through what is going to be a fairly difficult decade. They want to trust. They want to trust not only your character, but your judgment, and that's why I think I'm in the game. I'm not bad at this. I have a track record --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So this is a (track record?)?

SEN. BIDEN: I really believe it is. (Laughs.) Nobody has all the answers, I'm not suggesting that, but if the Lord Almighty came down and sat here, George, and said I guarantee you, A, B or C can do a better job than you, I would say, thank you God, I can go home.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're not going home yet.

SEN. BIDEN: I'm not going home.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Biden, thanks very much.

SEN. BIDEN: Thanks an awful lot. I appreciate it.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And this weekend, Biden became the first candidate to get an editorial endorsement in Iowa. The "Storm Lake Times" in Buena Vista County said, we stand with Joe Biden because he has all the professional skills and, more important, the personal strength to get the job done unlike any other candidate


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