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ABC "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" - Transcript

Interview

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Date:
Location: Wilmington, DE

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MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello, again. We begin today with our exclusive headliner: Vice President-elect Joe Biden. He's been keeping an unusually low profile since the election. In fact, this is his first interview, so we had a lot to talk about when I traveled to Wilmington on Friday.

(Begin videotaped segment.)

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Thanks for coming up.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: For the first time, Biden discussed what he's been doing during the transition and his role in the Obama White House. He opened up on Dick Cheney, Hillary Clinton, and his new puppy too. But we began with the new administration's first order of business: enacting the most ambitious economic recovery plan since FDR's 100 days.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I've talked to several people on Capitol Hill who say that your team is talking about a package in the $700 billion range -- it could rise, but in the $700 billion range.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Well, what we're doing is putting together what we think will be the economic package that will do two things. One, stem the hemorrhage of the loss of jobs and begin to create new jobs, at the same time we provide continued liquidity for the financial markets. The piece we've been pushing for, Barack and I during the campaign, as you'll recall, is that we needed an economic recovery package we thought back in September, October, November, and we still think we really very badly need it.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But then you were talking about $150 billion, $200 billion.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: We were. We were. We were.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So what have you learned? What exactly have you learned?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: What have we learned is the economy is in much worse shape than we thought it was in. This is a spiraling effect, and what you're seeing now is a whole -- every economist that I've spoken to, George, from well-known economists on the right, conservative economists, to economists on the left and everyone in between, says the scope of this package has to be bold, it has to be big.

But here's how we look at it. Anything we put in this economic recovery plan has to be designed to create jobs, to stimulate the economy quickly, get jobs moving quickly, and it has to be for something that has a long-range impact on our economic health. Case in point: we want to spend a fair amount of money investing in a new smart grid; that is, the ability to transmit across high-tension wires in the minds of most people in the public, or underground in these wires, wind and solar energy. You can't do that now.

That would create tens of thousands of new jobs, high-paying jobs. It needs to be done and it will have a long-range payoff not just for next year and the following year keeping the economy from nose-diving -- begin to turn the nose of that aircraft up -- but it will also change our energy picture.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But how do you balance out the economic need for a big, bold package, several hundred billion dollars -- some economists have said you need $700 billion just to keep the unemployment rate from going up -- with this concern about a deficit of $1 trillion -- could go to $1 trillion?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: That's a really good point. That's really important. Look, the -- we're going to inherit a deficit that's probably going to exceed $1 trillion to begin with if we don't do anything -- nothing at all. If nothing happens between now and the time we take office on January the 20th, we're going to inherit the largest deficit in the history of the United States of America.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But then you almost double it with the rescue plan.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: No. Now here's the second point. The second point is, what do you do? You know you have to infuse money into the system now. Every economist, as I've said, from conservative to liberal, acknowledges that direct government spending on a direct program now is the best way to infuse economic growth and create jobs.

The question is, are you going to create jobs that are just going to add to the deficit, or are the jobs you're creating, are they going to be doing a task that can draw down the deficit in out years?

Let me give you an example. If we were to put all medical records on electronic -- be able to be electronically transferred, we could save, they estimate, I think it's $78 billion a year. But it costs money to put the entire medical industry in a position where they can put all of those records on an electronic basis. So we're going to invest money in what they call IT, this new technology, that's going to create jobs that are needed to make this transition. The end result, though, the money we're spending, we're going to get back three and fourfold.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But in the short run, at what point--

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: There is no short run other than keeping the economy from absolutely tanking. That's the only short run.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And that's why as President-elect Obama said, we can't worry about the deficit in the short run. We can't worry about it --

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Exactly right, cannot.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: -- right now. But at what point on Capitol Hill, you know the politics on Capitol Hill --

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Yes, sure I do.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: -- does sticker shock set in? What is the upper limit to what this can be?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Well, let me tell you, first of all, I'm not sure, but I've been -- it will not surprise you; I've been around the Congress a while -- I've been on the telephone, not promoting any particular package, but asking my colleagues, including more than half a dozen senior Republican colleagues, folks, ladies, gentlemen, what do you think we're going to have to do here? And every single person I've spoken to agrees with every major economist.

There is going to be real significant investment, whether it's $600 billion or more, or $700 billion, the clear notion is it's a number no one thought about a year ago.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And President-elect Obama can sign it into law as President Obama by February?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Well, God willing, because, look, we can't -- the whole idea here is the single most important thing we have to do as a new administration to have -- to be able to have impact on all of the other things we want to do, from foreign policy to domestic policy, is we've got to begin to stem this bleeding here and begin to stop the loss of jobs and the creation of jobs. Our goal is the combination of stem the loss and create new jobs. We -- there are 2.5 million jobs we can do.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You mention being on the phone with other senators.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Yes.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, you've been fairly invisible since the election. Can you lift the veil a little bit on what else you've been doing during the transition?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Well, sure. But look, let me start off and define for you, at least, the role that Barack and I have worked out for me as vice president.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Your staff said you wanted to restore the Office of the Vice President to its historical role.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Well, let -- I -- my staff's use of historic, that's now how I think of it. I think we should restore the balance here. The role of the vice president of the United States as I see it is to give the president of the United States the best, sagest, most accurate, most insightful advice and recommendations he or she can make to a president to help them make some of the very, very important decisions that have to be made.

When Barack Obama, Senator Barack Obama then, talked to me about being his vice president, I said we have to -- let's talk and we spent three and a half hours talking. And one of the things I asked was, I said I don't want to be picked unless you're picking me for my judgment. I don't want to be the guy that goes out and has a specific assignment -- an important assignment to reinvent government, which Al Gore did a great job of, dealing with some specific discrete item. I said I want a commitment from you that in every important decision you'll make, every critical decision, economic and political as well as foreign policy, I'll get to be in the room.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Has he kept it?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: He's kept it. Every single solitary appointment he has made thus far, I've been in the room, and the recommendations I have made in most cases coincidentally have been the recommendations that he's picked. Not because I made them but because we think a lot alike. I have been there for every one of those meetings. I have been asked, the president is going to announce today, the formation, for example, of a middle-class task force that I will chair.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So isn't that a specific responsibility?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: It is a specific responsibility in terms of -- but it is a discrete job that's going to last only for a certain period of time.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What will it do?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: What it's going to do, it's going to include other cabinet members, including Labor, HHS, OMB, Education, et cetera, and my focus is going to be -- I'm going to chair this group. It is designed to do the one thing we use as a yardstick of economic success of our administration: is the middle class growing? Is the middle class getting better? Is the middle class no longer being left behind? It will look at everything from college affordability to after-school programs -- the things that affect people's daily lives. I will be the guy honchoing that policy.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So you then have line authority? If you determine that a policy --

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: No.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: -- isn't serving the middle class, you'll have the authority to change it?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: No, what I have the authority to do is to try to get a consensus among those people I just mentioned. If in fact there is no consensus, go to the president of the United States and say, Mr. President, I think we should be doing this, cabinet member so and so thinks that, you're going to have to resolve what it is we think we should do.

But we're going to present him with a package as to what are the main elements of restoring the middle class. For example, I've been asked by the president and I've been meeting separately and collectively with the foreign policy team; that is, the national security advisor, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense. One of my tasks, my responsibility is to work with that group to come up with a baseline for the president as to what we view the circumstance we're inheriting in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How do you prevent that from overlapping with the job of the national security adviser?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Well, the way you do that is it's ultimately the national security adviser's job. I'm just the guy that's honchoing this baseline study. And so that requires coordination and -- look, as you well know, the secretary of state, the secretary of defense and the national security adviser have their hands full on a whole range of issues. So there are going to be things that have cross jurisdiction a lot of the time.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I was told by several people in a position to know that you also played a key role in convincing Senator Clinton and President Clinton that this secretary of state job was a good idea, that it made sense.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Well, I don't know whether I played a key role or not but I've had a longstanding relationship with Senator Clinton. She's one of my close friends and when this came forward I did talk to her, she sought me out, I sought her out as well to assure her that this was real and that I thought that --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: She was skeptical.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Well, look, it was -- there was a lot swirling around before she actually got asked and so she is an old friend. I talk with her all the time. I have continued. There hasn't been a time since she's been in office I haven't -- not many days go by I don't talk to her. So it wasn't so much convincing, but they wanted to know my perspective and I gave my perspective.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And the entire national security team met this week for about five and a half hours.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: That's right.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You took some heat during the campaign for these comments that President Obama would be tested in the first six months, but as you listened to that briefing, as you participated in those five and a half hours of meetings, what's your sense of where the test is going to come?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Well, look, I think whoever was president was going to be faced with the same test. By test I meant -- and you know it from your experience -- the president of the United States, no matter how well thought out their foreign policy is, there are things that are going to occur in the first months and the first year and throughout the administration no one ever anticipated.

And I think what is clear from the outset here is that we have a situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan that is urgent. It implicates India. It also implicates a whole lot of other very complicated issues.

And so first and foremost I think, if you want to talk about immediacy, I think that the Afghanistan-Pakistan track is a very immediate concern. But there's also -- in a sense it's good, it's less urgent, but it's a real issue -- is how to implement the SOFA and have that -- excuse me, how to implement --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The status of forces agreement in Iraq.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: The status of forces agreement in Iraq that has been negotiated between Maliki and this administration, which is not at all inconsistent in principle with what Barack and I were talking about during the election.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But it is inconsistent in details because that agreement says all American troops have to be out of Iraq by 2011. You and the president-elect have said that you believe we'll need a residual force. Secretary Gates said it could be 40,000 troops after 2011.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Well, if you take a look at that agreement, the agreement allows for the incoming administration and the government of Iraq, whatever it happens to be at the time these drop-dead dates occur in the SOFA, to be able to look at and mutually agree that maybe something else need be done. But look, our goal is to get American combat forces out of Iraq. That's what our goal is. And turn over responsibility to the Iraqis.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The "New York Times" reported that, at your national security meeting this week, Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen came forward with a withdrawal plan prepared by the commanding generals. They would start the withdrawal, but they said that they could not meet the 16-month deadline called for by President-elect Obama. Did he say, go back to the drawing board; come back with a plan that meets my promise?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: I'm not going to get into detail, but the answer is, nothing was that stark at all. There is -- there isn't any -- there isn't any conclusion reached or presentation made that suggests that we cannot rationalize the -- the status of forces agreement terms and the objectives of the Obama-Biden administration.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But is he still committed to meeting that promise: all combat troops out in --

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: He --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: President-elect Obama.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Yes, he --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: In 16 months?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: He is committed within the context of what he said at the time. He said he would at the time confer with the military leaders on the ground. We will be out of Iraq in -- in the same -- in the way in which Barack Obama described his position during the campaign. That will happen.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But they are indicating to you that they can't meet the deadline he set, aren't they?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: No. No, they're not. But I'm not going to get into the internal deliberations that we have underway now, the purpose of which is when we are sworn in on January 20th, what is -- what specific elements of the plan with regard to Iraq are we going to implement, and how are we going to do that?

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You mentioned earlier you want to restore balance in the job of vice president. And during the campaign, you called your predecessor, Vice President Cheney, probably the most dangerous vice president ever. He was pretty defiant, though, this week in interviews with ABC, with Jonathan Karl.

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: (From tape.) Those who allege that we've been involved in torture or that somehow we violated the Constitution or laws with the terrorist surveillance program simply don't know what they're talking about.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: (Chuckles.) Well, I still -- I don't agree with the vice president.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It sounded like you were going to say you still stand by your characterization.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: I -- look, I think the recommendations, the advice that he has given to President Bush -- and maybe advice the president already had decided on before he got it -- I'm not making that judgment -- has been not healthy for our foreign policy, not healthy for our national security, and it has not been consistent with our Constitution, in my view.

His notion of a unitary executive, meaning that in time of war essentially all power, you know, goes to the executive, I think is dead wrong. I think it was mistaken. I think that it caused this administration in adopting that notion to overstep its constitutional bounds, but at a minimum to weaken our standing in the world and weaken our security. I stand by that -- that judgment.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He says the more you learn about threats as you see the intelligence, the more you're going to come around to the Bush administration's point of view on their counterterrorist policies.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: I'll make two responses to that. One, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, unless they were lying to me all along, I knew the details of the threat. I was one of those four people that had access to all that information -- excuse me, one of those eight people the -- that had access to that information. Secondly, I have been getting what they call that presidential briefing you get every morning from the intelligence community since the day we have been -- since the day we were elected, not sworn in. I have learned nothing thus far that would change my view --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Nothing?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Nothing thus far that would change my fundamental view that Guantanamo should close, number one; that, number two, the way in which we have conducted our policy in terms of both surveillance as well as the detainees has hurt our reputation around the world. And to quote from a previous national security report put out by the intelligence community, we have created, not dissuaded, more terrorists as a consequence of this policy. Nothing I've learned thus far has changed my fundamental view on the constitutional as well as the practical positions we should take relative to the issues of torture and others.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Senate Armed Services Committee last week had a unanimous report that said that the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo, at prisons around the world is a direct and indirect result of decisions made by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other high officials. Should they be prosecuted for that?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: First of all, that's a judgment, remember, four years ago on your program I made, so I haven't changed my mind. And this confirms. But the questions of whether or not a criminal act has been committed or a very, very, very bad judgment has been engaged in is something the Justice Department decides. Barack Obama and I are -- President-elect Obama and I are not sitting thinking about the past. We're focusing on the future. Obviously, that if the justice --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But should the cases be reviewed?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Well, that's a decision I'd look to the Justice Department to make.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're not ruling it out at this point?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: I'm not ruling it in and not ruling it out. I just think we should look forward. I think we should be looking forward, not backwards.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Looking forward, switching subjects here to the inaugural, quite a bit of controversy the last couple of days over the choice of Pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the inaugural.

(Begin taped segment.)

RICK WARREN (Pastor, Saddleback Church.): I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage.

MR. : Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?

MR. WARREN: Oh, I do.

(End taped segment.)

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Many in the gay and lesbian community simply can't understand how you can give this place of honor to a man who's equated gay marriage with incest and pedophilia. What do you say to that?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Well, look, Barack Obama, candidate Obama, Senator Obama, President-elect Obama has a stellar and outspoken record in support of equality for all Americans, including gay and lesbian Americans.

But he also has made a judgment -- I think correctly -- that in order to heal the wounds of this country and move this country forward so we get out of this -- this mindset, overstated, of red and blue and the like -- that he was going to reach out, he was going to reach out. He made it clear there are parts of the positions taken by the reverend that he strongly disagrees with, but there's also some very positive things about what he did.

So he believes -- and I think he's right -- that this is a time to reach out, reach out to constituencies and people who you don't share the same view with in the hope that the end result of all this will be ultimate reconciliation. And so -- and, look, he's giving an invocation. He's not making policy. He's not part of the administration.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So on matters of policy, what do you say to the gay and lesbian community? They're calling out for an action plan, saying have an action plan on revoking "don't ask, don't tell" within the first 100 days. Will that be done?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: I'm not making a commitment for the administration based on any timetable. But the commitments we made during the campaign to deal with these issues of equity and fairness, we will deliver on in our administration.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But no timetable?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: But there's no -- look, we are faced with the first, most critical urgent problem. And the immediate -- the day we're sworn in, the thing that we have to worry about is the further collapse of this economy. We have not -- no president raising his right hand will ever have been in the position by the time he says, I so swear, and drops his hand, will he have such an immediate, urgent obligation of consequence since Franklin Roosevelt. And I would argue this is equally as consequential.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, you beat the president to the punch on the puppy.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: Well, we're going to have more than one puppy. What I -- what -- from the time we got -- we've always had two dogs. And we've always had two big dogs and so they can have companionships. And I've had German shepherds my -- from the time I was a kid. And I've actually trained them and shown them in the past, my past life. So I wanted a German shepherd, and we're going to get a pound dog that my wife wants, who is hopefully --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Very politically correct.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: -- a golden -- well, no, it's because my -- we already have a pound cat. We've had pound animals at our house already. And so -- but it's mainly so there's companionship for the dog. So we've always had -- the last time around, we had a golden retriever and a lab. And before that, we had a Great Dane and a German shepherd. So -- and the good news about the vice president's residence is there's a big fence around --

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I know it.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: -- several acres.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Got a name for the shepherd yet?

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: No. My granddaughters are going to make that clear on Christmas morning. I gave it to them. They literally -- my number two and three granddaughter, Finnegan and Maisy, have been calling all the relatives saying, Aunt Val, this is -- what do you think of this name? What do you think? So they're really into this thing. So I'll know the dog's name Christmas morning.

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I hope you have a great Christmas. Thanks very much for your time.

VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT BIDEN: I'm looking forward to it. Thank you.


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