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I sat down with Vice President Joe Biden this afternoon and I asked him straight off about Christine O"Donnell.
MADDOW: Mr. Vice President, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate this.
BIDEN: I"m delighted to be. I"m glad you"re back in here.
MADDOW: The Republican nominee for your old Senate seat in Delaware is not long-time Congressman Mike Castle, but rather Christine O"Donnell--who you have run against in the past. Her own party has derided her as unelectable to any office and they, in fact, ran robocalls that called her a fraud. A very surprising results.
How do you explain that vote in your home state?
BIDEN: It"s hard to explain. First of all, there--we"re a single congressional district state. We"re a small state, only five smaller. A hundred eighty-five thousand roughly Republicans registered in the state of Delaware, closed primary. She got roughly, what, 25,000 to 28,000 votes out of 50,000 cast.
I"m confident that the Republican folks out there really thought there was a shot here and they showed up, I think, Mike--if Republican had the vote cast--I think would have won 130,000 to 50,000.
But the truth is that it"s real tough for the Republican Party.
Really, it"s hung on a shingle. You know, no moderates need apply. It"s -
and it sort of spawns a--I don"t know, a tone in politics that is not helpful to getting things done.
And we"re--and we"re a moderate state. And we thank God we have a really first-rate candidate.
This guy is solid. He is honorable. He"s incredibly well-educated.
He"s done a great job running the largest county.
They ended up with an AAA bond rating. They paid all the bills, eliminated the deficit. This is a very solid guy. And so, that"s the good news for us.
MADDOW: But--this has been a very fun and easy year to be a pundit because, as a pundit, you only have to say one of two things: you either say, "Boy, those Democrats sure are lucky the Republicans keep picking these unelectable candidates," or you say, "Those Democrats sure are unlucky, they can"t compete with all of that enthusiasm on the right."
Now, you and the administration obviously can affect who Republicans choose as their candidates. But what is your role? What do you see as your role in terms of trying to enthuse the Democratic base?
BIDEN: Well, first of all, I think the two premises are both correct
or both are incorrect. One is that I wouldn"t sell short these candidates. I think that in my state--this new Republican candidate"s going to have an awful lot of money. I think they"re going to see it pouring. And these third-party operations that are going to probably spend more money in both parties in some states are going to be in there.
So, I think they"re going to--I think--we"re going to take it very, very seriously. It"s a big mistake not to take it seriously, number one.
Now, number two, what I"m doing, I"ve been in to over 80 congressional Senate and gubernatorial races.
And one reason I want to be on your show is to tell the progressives out there--you know, get in gear, man. First of all, there"s a great deal at stake.
I"ve been around the Senate a long time. We fought to regulate tobacco. We fought for hate crime laws. We fought to make sure that kids get insured. We fought for all the things that we finally got done in one year--and they"re all at risk.
If they take over the House and the Senate, don"t kid yourself. They made it really clear. Pete Sessions said--excuse me--Congressman Sessions when asked, what would they do if they took over the House? He said, "We"d have the exact same agenda."
And look, there"s a lot at stake here. And our progressive base, you have--you should not stay home. You better get energized because the consequences are serious for the outcome of the things we care most about. And I didn"t mention half the stuff we"ve gotten done.
You know, look, it"s--I think when Barack got--and look, this is one exceptional public figure. I mean, Barack Obama is--this guy is amazing. But think about it, I think there was--he did so well, won so big. I think a lot of people thought, "Well, man, it"s just going to just fall out of the sky."
BIDEN: What he brought out of the sky down to earth were really significant, progressive goals that have been met. More to do. More to do. And so, I think it"s time for our base to say, "Hey, man, take a look. This opposition is for real."
MADDOW: Why hasn"t that happened organically? I mean, we"re looking at numbers now that suggest that Republican turnout in the primaries is outstripping Democratic turnout in the primaries. That"s the most concrete measure you get of enthusiasm people willing to take time out of their day to go vote--
MADDOW: -- and do it. Why do you think that hasn"t happened organically?
BIDEN: I"ll tell you, it"s not happening organically for two reasons. My grandfather used to say, "People don"t focus on the general election until after the World Series." It used to be in early October.
The truth of the matter is, a lot of people are hurting. A lot of people are angry. A lot of people are worried and frightened--and with good reason. I mean, as much progress being made, there"s so much more that has to be done.
And so, they don"t want to make a choice now. They haven"t focused on a choice. What they"ve focused on is the people in power, their dissatisfaction with more--not more progress having been made.
But here"s the deal: remember--you"re too young--but there used to be a mayor of Boston, his name was Kevin White. And they asked him in his second run for election, you know, a tough question. He said, "Look, don"t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative."
"Don"t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative."
People haven"t wanted to make that choice. They don"t want to focus yet.
They don"t want to--it"s like I don"t want to be bothered--I"m angry. But they"re going to now--watch them, starting the begin of October, they"re going to focus. And the alternatives are stark between a Democratic-led House and a Democratic-led Senate and a Republican-led House and Senate.
And I"ve been saying all along, Rachel, I know I"ve been getting beat up for saying this, we are going to retain control of the House. We are going to retain control of the Senate. Because when the American people focus on the alternative, it"s going to be absolutely clear to them there is no alternative. And I really mean that. I really mean that. I believe that with every fiber of my being.
MADDOW: "When the American people start focusing on the alternative, start focusing on what it would really mean to vote for this slate of Republicans this year," the vice president says, "they"re going to vote for Democrats."
The vice president is speaking with me today at the Secretary of War suite in the Executive Office Building--in case you were wondering what that fancy room is.
That confidence that he expressed about Democrats keeping control of both the House and the Senate today, that confidence was also stated in almost the exact same terms by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. The White House says Democrats are going to hold both houses in this year"s elections. They know they need to get Democratic voters to actually care about the election and turn out to vote in order to do that.
Coming up next: The vice president tells me exactly what Democrats and the administration are planning on doing to get their voters out.
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MADDOW: It"s a black and white issue.
BIDEN: It"s a black and white issue.
MADDOW: Something that the administration"s going to go to the mat for?
BIDEN: Yes, absolutely.
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MADDOW: More for my interview today with the Vice President of the United States--ahead.
MADDOW: Still ahead: what"s the appropriate response when your political opponents call you a communist, a foreigner, space alien? My interview with Vice President Joe Biden continues.
MADDOW: So let"s say you are vice president of the United States. You"re facing your first midterm elections after you were elected and so, you know your party is going to lose seats.
Beyond that historical inevitability, though, this is also turning out to be a year in which the opposition party"s base is really enthused. For the first time since the 1930s, more Republicans are turning out to vote in Republican primaries than Democrats are turning out in Democratic primaries -- for the first time since the "30s.
That said, overall big picture, no one"s really turning out to vote.
Republicans are turning out more people than Democrats are turning out. But both parties are down. And if you are a Democrat, there"s your--relatively speaking--silver lining.
Statistically speaking, the conservative movement this year has greatly enthused a very small number of people. So, a few Democrats can get their turn out and enthusiasm numbers up, they cannot only compete, Democrats could even potentially still win.
On paper, it works perfectly. But in real life--if you"re vice president of the United States and a Democrat, how do you actually get your voters to turn out? How do you get Democratic voters to care about these elections?
Here"s how Vice President Joe Biden sees it.
MADDOW: At a fundraiser this week, you said this is not your father"s Republican Party. You"ve used the construction the Republican Tea Party as if those two things are merged. Should--in terms of defining that alternative, in terms of sharpening the differences between the parties, making this not a referendum just on state of the country but choice, as you"re saying--
MADDOW: -- should the Democrats welcome a chance to really engage on big questions of what government is for when we"ve got so many people dependent on unemployment, so many people dependent on food stamps, all the safety net things people need because of the bad economy right now? And on the right, it"s a wholesale assault on the very idea of a safety net, including wanting to get rid of Social Security--
BIDEN: The answer is yes. And as you"ve even said on your show, that Biden seems to be swinging a lot out there. Now, I"m ready for this fight. And what I do when I go into these districts where these congressmen, Republican congressmen, vote against this health care--I say, "Look, the choice is clear." I want Republican so-and-so, congressman so-and-so, explain to the people in his district who lost their job through no fault of their own, because of the financial chicanery of Wall Street, because of this Ponzi scheme they had masquerading as a policy, tell them why they should not get unemployment insurance.
Every district is going to say, "Oh, no, no, we"re not against unemployment insurance. We"re not against it. We"re not against making sure that there"s COBRA or that they have health care. We"re not against them." When you press them, they"re not against it.
That"s why this fight--I think the probably marquee fight is going
to be on taxes. Think about this. Here you have Mitch McConnell offering -
talking about the deficit, offering a tax bill that "The Washington Post" said today, if it were to be passed--tax cuts for the very wealthy and (INAUDIBLE) -- if it were to be passed, would create a hole in the deficit bigger than the Recovery Act and the health care bill combined.
Let me put this in perspective. We want a middle class tax cut. If you"re making $50,000 a year and you"re a family of four, you get $2,100. That"s the difference between being able to have meat a couple of times a week, being able to pay your utility bill, making sure you can keep your kid in -- $2,100 matters.
Do you know where 50 percent of the tax cut go for the top bracket go and that"s $350 billion? To people whose average income is $8.3 million a year. And they"re going to get a $350,000 tax break. What are they going to do with that that they couldn"t do already?
But yet, somebody, a family of four, making 100,000 bucks, they have two kids in school. They get a $4,100 tax break. It matters to them. It matters.
I want this fight. I want this fight.
MADDOW: Does that mean that repeal--letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the richest people in the country while pushing for their extension in middle class tax cut for everybody else, is that a black and white issue? Is that a--we haven"t heard a veto threat, for example, from the president on that.
BIDEN: It is a black and white.
MADDOW: It"s black and white issue.
BIDEN: It"s a black and white issue.
MADDOW: Something the administration"s going to go to the mat for?
BIDEN: Yes, absolutely. Look, here"s the deal--the deal is that if you think about it in sort of black and white terms, it also points out the hypocrisy of the Republicans talking about deficits.
Remember, these are the guys that put two wars, and the prescription drug bill on a credit card, plus a tax cut. The day we walked into office, we inherited a deficit of $1.3 trillion. Before we turned the lights on in the West Wing, we had--in the previous seven months--lost 3,750,000 jobs.
And folks, you know, what we"ve got to make clear to people is these guys are straightforward. They"re not bad--the opposition, they"re not bad guys. But they really believe what the leader of the Republicans campaign committee said, "We are going to reinstate the exact same agenda."
Look, this would be a different fight if they said, "You know, the Bush policies really dropped us in a hole so deep that it"s just this short much--this short of a depression. And, you know, we don"t like the Democrat answers, but we"re offering these answers that are different." They"re not.
They"re saying, "We don"t like the Democrats"--I know what they"re against, I don"t know what they"re for yet. That"s--all different. I mean this literally. What are they for that"s different that they have been for the previous eight years?
MADDOW: If I was running against--against Democrats right now, if I was running as a Republican politician, I would do everything that I could to avoid saying what I was for.
BIDEN: Exactly right.
MADDOW: Because what you want people to do is focus on what--
BIDEN: Exactly right.
MADDOW: -- they"re dissatisfied with--
MADDOW: -- and put all of that on the Democrats.
MADDOW: So, it comes down to sharp Democratic strategy--
BIDEN: Exactly right.
MADDOW: -- Democratic strategy that has a sharpening focus on who the Republicans are.
BIDEN: Exactly right.
MADDOW: It seems to me like the most interesting thing about Republicans right now is that it is impossible to be a moderate and to sustain reelection. So, you had a lot of allies in the Senate across the aisle--across the aisle, people like Dick Lugar and Chuck Hagel.
Did those bipartisan relationships, when there were some--either moderates or at least people who were friendly across the aisle--did those have an actual benefit to the country? Or did that just make it nicer to be a senator? Did it just improve your working environment? Because those things are never going to happen again.
BIDEN: Well, I hope--I hope--I"m afraid they"re not going to happen soon.
BIDEN: I hope we"re wrong about they"re not going to happen again.
I think they did have a great deal of benefit to the country in substantive ways. You know, in terms of our willingness for all the stuff that Bush did, there was still the willingness of the folks you named to try to cut a different path in American foreign policy, to try to cut a different path on social issues, to try to cut a different path on the extreme positions that are being--were being pushed even then.
But now, they"ve sort of doubled down. With this the moderates gone, it"s enabled them to double down. I mean, look at that "Forbes" magazine article about the president. If you read it, the article reads like science fiction. That here, you know, Barack Obama--
MADDOW: The Kenyan anti-colonialist--
BIDEN: The Kenyan anti-colonialist, a father who was a drunkard who was--is now reincarnated--I forget the exact phrase--in the White House. It"s all being channeled through.
And guys like Newt Gingrich repeating that garbage? I mean, this is -
this is kind of what"s happened on the Republican side. I mean, it"s gotten to the point where--you know, it"s the same old playbook.
When you can"t compete in ideas, what you do is the same playbook out of the conservative playbook. You try to delegitimize the other guy. That"s what"s going on--the attempt to delegitimize one of the most talented men to enter American politics in three generations.
They did the same thing with Bill Clinton. Remember? Bill Clinton was part of a drug network in drug dealers in Arkansas. Bill Clinton was somehow complicitous in a murder of an individual.
I mean, they--you know, when you look at these guys, I mean, it was all about delegitimizing. And one of the--
MADDOW: It worked. It did weaken the Clinton presidency, those attacks.
BIDEN: Well, it did, but it didn"t work. It ultimately didn"t work.
He was elected two terms.
And during his term, we created millions of jobs. The middle class folks actually saw their incomes go up. You really saw a change in our foreign policy. We were respected.
I mean--so it didn"t work. And it"s not going to work this time.
But it will work if we"re silent. It will work if we"re silent.
And I know I sometimes get criticized for going out and punching back. Well, let me tell you something--I learned a long time ago, you cannot underestimate these guys. You cannot sit back and just take the punch.
MADDOW: When the punch is insane--when the punch is "the president is secretly foreign" or "the president is secretly a space alien" or whatever--whatever the flavor of the week is in there, what"s the best way to punch back?
In storytelling, in making effective memorable news stories about this sort of thing, usually, the most fun thing to do is talk about the person who has come up with that science-fiction, sort of name and shame them, try to make them famous for it. That"s not the way it works in politics, because to do that, you guys would have to be elevating the sort of smear merchants who are coming up with these things.
So, how do you respond when the questions about the birth certificate or anything else like that?
BIDEN: Well, the way we respond is, go and try to focus on the ideas, substantive ideas that the smear merchants are peddling. To point out that this isn"t about the accusation they"re making. It"s about delegitimization, they tried to give an opportunity for their argument to win without having to make it. And so, it seems to me, it"s a little bit like, again, I"ve known Newt Gingrich for years. I am stunned! I really am, I am stunned he bought into this playbook. I mean, there is such--seems like such desperation on the republican side. To pander to the lowest common denominator that I just--it is--and by the way, my wife always says. I say, look, "I have great faith in the American people"s judgment," and she"d look at me and say, you know, "would you have as much faith if you lost?"
But the truth of the matter is, I do. The American people will see through this. But what they want to know from us, they want to know from us is we want to fight to keep going. We want to fight for our agenda. We care enough about this to fight back. And the best way to fight back is with the facts. It"s that old clich'. Harry Truman said, you know, they give them hell and he yelled back, I"m not going to give them hell, I"m going to tell them the truth and they"re going to think it"s hell.
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MADDOW: The Obama administration"s position on gay people serving in the military is that they should be allowed to serve. The process of getting rid of Bill Clinton"s disastrous Don"t Ask, Don"t Tell policy however has always presented as some sort of hellish Gordian knot that takes something far more time-consuming and delicate than just political leadership to cut through. Since the policy is now stuck in the Senate. Today, I asked the vice president if he"s using his 36 years of Senate experience to try to finish this thing off.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about fighting on an issue that has been a totally political one, and that is Don"t Ask, Don"t Tell. The administration very permanent stand that Don"t Ask, Don"t Tell should be repealed. Are you personally involved in trying to get it past the Senate next week in that defense authorization?
BIDEN: Absolutely. I was personally involved in getting out of committee. Look, I don"t only think we should repeal it, I think everyone who was fired should be able to reinstated if they want to. I just think, look, there"s 20 nations in the world that are allies that allow openly gay and lesbian people to be able to function. I mean, here we have fired hundreds of translators when we"re out there trying to figure out how in the God"s name to find enough people to speak everything from Farsi to Urdu. I mean, this is absolutely minors what we"re doing. We"re going to have a chance, I think we have the votes. When it comes up in the defense authorization bill. And this sounds like, this is, you know, Senate speak, I apologize.
There"s going to be vote on the bill authorizing spending for the Defense Department. In that bill, there"s a provision to repeal Don"t Ask, Don"t Tell. End it, bury it. Now, the republicans are going to introduce at some point an amendment to strike it from the bill. We"ve got the votes to defeat that. We"ve got the votes to defeat that. Then the republicans as they are as foolish as I think they may be, then they may try to hold up the defense authorization bill. And they"re going to probably filibuster that. I believe that at that point, the issue is, are these guys so out there that they"re willing to punish the Defense Department and the fighting women and men who we have in Afghanistan which you just-visited in Iraq? I mean, that"s the frame. We have enough votes to sustain support for repealing Don"t Ask, Don"t vote and we"re just going to push it as hard as we can.
MADDOW: In terms of the timing of that, if that goes as you say, it"s possible that it could go, if that repeal happens, the timing is that the Defense Department is studying the issue through December. They"ve got another I think 60 days or something that they after which they would have to delay any repeal process. So, we"d be looking at best case scenario for repeal would be sometime in the spring. With the policy under such intense scrutiny, that study under way at the Defense Department. Progress being made in the court ends politically. Why not suspend the discharges of people under the policy now pending that Defense Department review? Why keep kicking people out now while all of this movement is happening toward ending the policy?
BIDEN: Because that is the compromise we basically had to make to get the votes to finally repeal it. In other words, everybody"s looking for, in my view, if I can just waive a wand, it would just be flat repeal, no one else would be able to suspend it. And everyone suspended would be able to come back if they wanted to. But the truth of the matter is, we had to build a consensus for this. Working very hard on the telephone, calling people thumb, and everybody is looking for the orderly elimination of this law. I would prefer it not be orderly, I would prefer to just end it, boom, done. But that"s why that hasn"t happened. It"s resulted in us getting over 55 votes, I think we"ll get 55 votes to flat repeal it. And to send the statement to the country and to all the world that the majority of the elected members of the United States Congress and the president and vice president of the United States think this is a bad policy. That"s why it"s played out to the legislative process the way it has.
MADDOW: Vice President Joe Biden detailing his own day to day work trying to end Don"t Ask, Don"t Tell. Saying the process of kicking people out of the military while the policy is studied is not on the table though because of real politics. Compromise to try to get it repealed some day once and for all hoping that the republicans don"t filibuster the offense bill for it. On tomorrow"s show, the vice president on why U.S. troops in combat conditions in Iraq aren"t described technically as on a combat mission now, and what the U.S. still plans to do in Iraq before we leave there.
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BIDEN: Nothing easy about it. But we"re bringing those kids home, including my son.
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MADDOW: More of my exclusive interview with Vice President Joe Biden tomorrow night. "COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN" starts right now.