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NBC "Today" - Transcript

Interview

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MR. LAUER: Now to the race for the White House. Barack Obama has taken a lot of heat from John McCain for his willingness to meet with and talk to America's adversaries and engage them. Now a former presidential rival, fellow Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, is coming to Obama's defense today with an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal.

Senator, good morning. Nice to see you.

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

MR. LAUER: I'm all right, thanks. This issue seems like it's going to be front and center in the fall election for a couple of reasons. One, it seems to draw a line between perceived strength and weakness, and it also seems to draw a line between perceived change and the politics of the past.

By coming to Senator Obama's defense in this op-ed piece, are you admitting that he is somewhat vulnerable on this issue?

SEN. BIDEN: No, what I'm saying is I'm sick and tired of Republicans characterizing Democrats generally, as well as Barack and Hillary, as being weak on national security. The truth is we've never been weaker in the last 100 years in terms of our position in the world than under this administration.

And it's not -- you know, they talk about freedom on the march in the Middle East. Well, it's Iran on the march in the Middle East. I've never seen a time, in the seven presidents I've been with, when America has been less respected around the world and has less leverage. And the idea that we sit there and let this president and my friend John McCain characterize us as weak is just preposterous.

MR. LAUER: And your friend Joe Lieberman, by the way, in an op- ed piece --

SEN. BIDEN: Yeah.

MR. LAUER: -- the day before in The Wall Street Journal -- I think you're referring to some of that -- he took on Obama for this idea of engaging with rogue leaders. But he was using it as a way to define an even bigger issue. And his argument, basically, Senator, is that the Democratic Party itself, somewhere in the late 1960s, became weak on national security, at least perceived to be weak, that it became -- we started to see a party that was wringing its hands and blaming America for what was wrong in the world.

Now, as we look at the upcoming election, particularly between a war hero and Barack Obama, do you think that's going to be a major problem for Democrats?

SEN. BIDEN: Well, I think that's what they're going to try to revive. There's truth there. I ran in 1972 as a young 29-year-old guy who won a Senate seat being the guy who was viewed as a hawk because I didn't join in that mantra. It was Bill Clinton and, I might say, me pushing it, saying that you had to go to war in the Balkans to end genocide. It was John McCain initially saying, "No, no, no, no, we can't do that," the Republicans voting, "No, no, we can't do anything; we don't have the power to do that." The irony here --

MR. LAUER: But why, then, Senator, the perception? Why the perception? If you look at the history of polls taken in this country over the last 20 years or so, voters tend to rate the Republicans higher on issues like national security and strength abroad than they do Democrats. Why?

SEN. BIDEN: No, I know they do, Matt. And that's why we've got to fight back. In the Gore campaign, as well as the Kerry campaign, I argued that we should not respond to this. This should be an affirmative push for us.

If I can make an analogy, Matt, you may remember in the 1970s and '80s, Democrats were viewed as weak on crime. I spent six years as chairman of the Judiciary Committee trying to convince the Democrats otherwise. We passed a massive crime bill. The Clinton crime bill passed in 1994. I wrote that bill. And what happened after that? No Democrats being run against for being weak on crime, because we stepped up and we laid out the facts.

We should not back away. Twenty percent of our party, Matt, really is anti-war almost under any circumstance, just like 20 percent of the Republican Party is probably ready to go to war on any circumstance.

MR. LAUER: Speaking of not backing away, you're one of the last undeclared super-delegates. When are you ready to -- I guess your defense of Obama would seem to indicate you're now supporting him. Would you back him?

SEN. BIDEN: No -- yes, I would back him. But I spoke to Hillary and Barack again yesterday. I speak to them frequently. I made a commitment to both of them I would not endorse the other until this thing is over.

MR. LAUER: All right --

SEN. BIDEN: I believe this will be over in mid-June.

MR. LAUER: Final question. They're starting to go through names on the short list for vice presidential candidates. John McCain's going to meet with some this weekend. Senator Obama is starting to look at those names too. Do you think Hillary Clinton would make a good vice presidential candidate, a good running mate for Barack Obama, should he get the nomination?

SEN. BIDEN: Sure, I think she'd make a good running mate. I think she's a strong, strong figure. She'd make a good president. That's why I think the measure should be who he picks who would be a good president. And I think she'd be a good president.

MR. LAUER: Senator Joe Biden. Senator, nice to see you on a Friday morning. Have a good weekend, okay?

SEN. BIDEN: Good seeing you, Matt. You have a great weekend.

MR. LAUER: Thanks very much.


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