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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

Interview

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Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

DAVID GREGORY:
Mr. Vice President, welcome back.

Great to be back.

DAVID GREGORY:
Always good to have you.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
It's good to be here.

DAVID GREGORY:
Topic A is the economy as it's been for a long time. And we have new jobs numbers out. We'll put 'em up on the screen. The unemployment rate is at 8.1%. Last month, 115,000 jobs created. Sluggish, by most estimations. The previous month 120,000 jobs. Is this a jobless recovery?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
No, no. This is-- look, we've created four-- 4,250,000 jobs. Last month's, by the way, job numbers have been reevaluated. It's up to 150,000. The month before, in February, it's up to 250,000. Look, this goes up and down. But there's been a steady path. 26 months straight employment gain, private employment. And-- but there's a lot more to do.

DAVID GREGORY:
But the net jobs are down, in terms of job created. You've lost a ton of jobs over the course of this administration, because of the financial crisis. And there is this idea of some stagnation out there. That what was economic recovery seems to have flat lined. Is that not a concern?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
No, it's not a concern. There-- it's not stagnation. Look, as you pointed out, there were four million jobs lost in the six months or so before we came to office. Before I lowered my right hand on-- on January the 20th, we lost 700,000 jobs that month. And before we got out first major economic initiative passed, we lost another 3.5 million jobs. Since that point, it's been steady growth, not enough. There's still a lot of people in trouble. But there's no stagnation.

DAVID GREGORY:
Are people discouraged is the question. And this presidential campaign, which is kicking off in a big way this weekend with the president making his official kickoff. Mitt Romney is saying, "Look, we need a different path. We need a different president to turn this around." And this is how he reacted on Friday to the jobs report.

(videotape)
MITT ROMNEY:
The reason the rate came down was because about 340,000 people dropped out of the workforce. So many became discouraged, they stopped looking for work.
(end videotape)

DAVID GREGORY:
And the discouragement is real. Recent polling showing three-- three fourths, 76% of Americans still believe the country's in recession.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Well, you know, for the people who are unemployed, it-- they there you are still in recession. For the people whose wages are stagnant, it feels like a recession. I come from a household where whenever there was a massive recession, somebody around that table was going to lose their job. And-- but here's the deal. What is Romney proposing? He's proposing, as to quote Bill Clinton, "going back to the last policy of the last administration on steroids." I mean, what is he talking about?

Is he talking about-- how is he going to create jobs? He talks about another $2 trillion in tax cuts for the very wealthy? You're going to create jobs? Is that how he's going to do it? Is he going to create jobs by continuing to undercut getting people to college and helping them get there by undercutting education? Is he going to continue to create jobs by eliminating investments in-- in-- research and development? I mean, what-- what-- what's the plan?
(OVERTALK)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
We've seen this movie before.

DAVID GREGORY:
What is-- well, but what is your warning about what a President Romney would do to the American economy?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
It's absolutely-- look, the good news, David, and you and I have been around for a lot of presidents. These guys are not hiding the ball this time. They're saying exactly what they believe, as my mother would say, God love them. They say they want the Ryan budget. They've all voted for it. And President-- and Romney says he's for it, which emasculates the very things that are going to-- allow people to-- allow us to grow this economy.

Education, infrastructure, innovation, it decimates people on Social-- excuse me, on Medicare and Medicaid. He goes out there and he says, "Well, here's what we gotta do. We need another $2 trillion in tax cuts the next ten years." He proposes a tax cut in addition to continuing the Bush tax cut for people making over a million bucks, they'll get another $250,000 a year in a tax cut. These are good patriotic people, man. But they need it like they need another hole in their head. What's he investing in? What's he going to do?

DAVID GREGORY:
Two different visions for the country.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Absolutely.

DAVID GREGORY:
But the bottom line is that you and President Obama have a record.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Yes.

DAVID GREGORY:
And this recovery out of a steep recession has been much slower than in past recoveries after recessions. And this administration's done a lot between stimulus and health care and financial regulation. You stepped up to the plate, take-- taken some big swings. And yet, recovery is still very, very slow.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
It isn't --

DAVID GREGORY:
The argument is, "Why not give somebody who's got-- a real background in business to try to turn it around?"

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Well, take a look at his background in business. When he was in business, how did he save companies? By piling debt on them. When he was governor, he ranked 47th out of 50 states in job creation. Look, look at what he's proposing. But let's go back to what we're proposing. In terms of recovery out of a financial recession this deep, unfortunately, this is not way off. This is not slower than a significant financial recession, which this is the greatest recession in the history of America short of a depression.

And if these guys would get out of the way-- for example, had they passed our jobs bill, all the experts said it would have created two million more jobs. Two million more jobs. These guys wouldn't even let us put back to work 400,000 teachers, firefighters and cops by a 0.5% tax on the first dollar after the first million you made. Come on, man.

DAVID GREGORY:
But you can't guarantee jobs. I mean, it was--

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
No, no, but-- no--

DAVID GREGORY:
It was this administration that said you could keep 8% unemployment if you passed the stimulus act. You can't go by those predictions.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
No, no, no, here's what you can go by. You can go by what the consensus among economists says was likely to happen if certain actions are taken. And by the way, the reason why that-- that was off, that-- that projection, at the time, that was stated by some of the economists. It was estimated that the economy the previous quarter had fallen 5%. It actually fell almost 9%. Nobody, including all the business models at the time, thought the devastation was as great as it turned out to be.

DAVID GREGORY:
Let's talk about some other matters. China's a big story. As we talk, there are still negotiations about the fate of the blind dissident Chen Guangjang-- chang, rather. What is his future? And is it in America?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
I think his future is in America. His future is that-- he has an opportunity to go to NYU. The Chinese have told us that if he files the papers to be able to have a-- be able to go abroad, that would be grand. And we're prepared to give a visa right away. He's going to be able to take his family. We expect the Chinese to stick to that commitment.

DAVID GREGORY:
There was a spectacle involved this week with him making claims about what U.S. diplomats told him, what the Chinese were representing, U.S. diplomats saying, "No, that's now how it happened." All of this a distraction as Secretary of State Clinton is in China for trade talks. How-- how did it go wrong?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Well, look, I-- I-- I can only put myself in Mr. Chen's position. He came into the embassy. He was physically hurting. He needed medical help. He said he hadn't seen his family for a year. He wanted to be reunited. And he said, "I don't want to leave China, just don't want to go back to my village."
That was arranged. Understandably, by the time he gets to the hospital, talking to friends and others, he has a second thought. He said-- they said, "You-- you-- you want to get out of here. You want to leave." And then he came to us and said, "I want to leave. And I want to leave with my family." And we got to work. Kurt Campbell's one of the best diplomats we have. He got to work. And guess what? It looks like, right now, the commitment being made, that he'll be able to leave, attend NYU University, and with his family.

DAVID GREGORY:
What's more important to this administration? Standing up for freedom in China or maintaining a very delicate relationship with this emerging power?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Standing up for freedom. Look, when I spent more time with the soon to be president of China, Vice President Xi. I've spent a total of roughly ten days with him, five in China, five here. I've been alone with him for-- for over 30 hours of meetings, just he and I, publicly and privately.

I have never failed, including when he was at-- hosted at the State Department, to say, "Human rights. Human rights is critical to us." As a matter of fact, I tried to explain-- I didn't try. I explained to him why it's so critical. Why Americans, it's part of our DNA. And I pointed out that almost everybody who came here in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century came avoiding oppression. It's part of our DNA. And if he didn't understand that, there was going to be very little ability for us to cooperate. So we have not in any way backed off of our commitment to human rights.

DAVID GREGORY:
Let me talk about the campaign for the presidency. Should I assume by virtue of the fact that you're here today that you're a lock for the ticket here? No question about it?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
There's no-- there is no question about it. There's no way out. I mean, they've already printed Obama-Biden.

(OVERTALK)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
There's no-- I-- I-- you-- you-- you are looking at the vice presidential candidate for the United States of America--

DAVID GREGORY:
Does it-- does it annoy you--

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
--for Democrat.

DAVID GREGORY:
Has it annoyed you that there's been all of this buzz about, "Well, if the president would put in Secretary Clinton, you know, he'd be a shoe in for reelection, if he would just make that switch."

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
The thing that annoys me about it is the implication of that that somehow President Clinton is weak and he needs some kind of help. I mean--

DAVID GREGORY:
President Obama.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Pre-- President Obama is weak. That's not directed at me. It's-- and it's unfair. I think-- look, we got the strongest can-- in every presidential race, David, it's the only race in which the public demands one threshold test be met. Is the individual strong? And is their character consistent with what they say they'll do? Is their character strong enough to say they'll do it? And we got the best candidate, man. And he-- this guy has a backbone like a ramrod. This-- I think we're just-- I think we have clearly the best candidate.

DAVID GREGORY:
Is it going to be a close election?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Well, I think it may be close-- electorally. I think all these elections are close. As my grandfather, Finnegan, would-- used to say. He was a good athlete. And he said, "Joe, remember, any team can beat any other team on any given day." But-- they're going to need a better game plan than the one they have now about how they're going to restore the economy by removing-- by going back to-- to the policies of the previous eight years. They're going to need a better social policy than takin' the social policy back to the '50s. And they're going to need a better foreign policy than-- than one that says "The Cold War's still goin' on." I mean, it's just-- in-- in my view, anyway.

DAVID GREGORY:
You raise social policy. I'm curious. You know, the president has said that his views on gay marriage, on same-sex marriage have evolved. But he's opposed to it. You're opposed to it. Have your views-- evolved?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Look-- I just think-- that-- the good news is that as more and more Americans become to understand what this is all about is a simple proposition. Who do you love? Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love? And that's what people are finding out is what-- what all marriages, at their root, are about. Whe-- whether they're-- marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals.

DAVID GREGORY:
Is that what you believe now? Are you--

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
That's what I believe.

DAVID GREGORY:
And you're comfortable with same-sex marriage now?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

I-- I-- look, I am vice president of the United States of America. The president sets the policy. I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction-- beyond that.

DAVID GREGORY:
In a second term, will this administration come out behind same-sex marriage, the institution of marriage?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Well, I-- I-- I can't speak to that. I-- I-- I-- I don't know the answer to that. But I can tell you--

DAVID GREGORY:
It sounds like you'd like to see it happen. If that's what the president would get--

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Well, the president continues to fight, whether it's Don't Ask, Don't Tell or whether it is making sure, across the board, that you cannot discriminate. Look-- look the the executive orders he's put in place. Any hospital that gets federal funding, which is almost all of them, they can't deny a partner from being able to have access to their-- their-- their partner who's ill or making the call on whether or not they-- you know-- it's just-- this is evolving.
And by the way, my measure, David, and I take a look at when things really begin to change, is when the social culture changes. I think Will and Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody's ever done so far. And I think-- people fear that which is different. Now they're beginning to understand. They're beginning to understand that this as a base--I-- I was with-- speaking to a group of gay leaders in-- in Los Angeles-- la-- two, two weeks ago. And one gentleman looked at me in the question period and said, "Let me ask you, how do you feel about us?" And I had just walked into the back door of this gay couple and they're with their two adopted children. And I turned to the man who owned the house. I said, "What did I do when I walked in?" He said, "You walked right to my children. They were seven and five, giving you flowers." And I said, "I wish every American could see the look of love those kids had in their eyes for you guys. And they wouldn't have any doubt about what this is about."

DAVID GREGORY:
Let me ask you on another topic about the politics-- of national security. There was a bizarre moment this week with the release of these letters from Abbottabad, where Osama bin Laden-- was hiding. And at one point, he-- he talks about his desire to kill President Obama leaving you in power, because he concluded, you'd be quote, "totally unprepared to lead." How-- how did that sit with you? I mean, you had to-- come across that.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Well, I was delighted that-- President Obama acted as swiftly and as-- and decisively as he did, so we wouldn't have to worry about wh-- whether or not I'm prepared to lead. The one thing, particularly in foreign policy. I have never been really accused of is not being able to lead in the national security area. But look, it's-- you know, Osama bin Laden's been wrong about a lot of things. I hope he was wrong about that.

DAVID GREGORY:
The president went to Afghanistan-- on the anniversary of the operation to kill Osama bin Laden, with a message to America that this war is coming to an end. Headlines around the world, including this in the New York Post, which sort of-- was a little bit more colorful. "Ka-Bull, now Obama spikes bin Laden football in Afghanistan." An allusion to the fact that he would not do that. That there would not be the politicization of killing bin Laden. Was all of this together, in effect, his "Mission Accomplished" moment?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
No. Look, first of all, the president would not have gone to Kabul to meet with Karzai to sign the document that lays out how we end this war and our participation in this war. That's what this document is. It's a war-ending document. He would not have done that had the document not been ready.
For 20 months, we've been negotiating that document. I promise you, had he not done that, unrelated to bin Laden's anniversary, he would not have gone to Kabul, number one. Number two, look, this is a signature moment in this president's administration, where he did what he said he would do. He said from the beginning that he would turn heaven and earth upside down, paraphrasing, to get bin Laden. Because it was a cathartic moment for the nation and to send a message to every terrorist around the world, as I said during the campaign, "We will follow you to the gates of hell if you harm Americans."

It was an important message to state. It's totally appropriate that he talks about that. It's a measure of being a commander in chief. And lastly, you know, I notice-- and I'm not making the judgment. I don't know what Governor Romney-- would have done-- get-- gettin' the same informat-- same information. But I know he wouldn't have gotten the same information.
Because he said he would not turn up-- he'd turn heaven and earth to go get him. When we came into office, I promise you, sitting in the Oval Office of the president with the national security team, he turned and said, "I want you to know," and he turned to Leon Panetta, who was head of the CIA "I have one priority, the priority, find and get bin Laden."

DAVID GREGORY:
But you questioned-- you questioned Romney's bona fides on foreign policy in-- in a realm-- in a wide area. But in this particular area, you said, "Bin Laden is dead, GM is alive. Could you say that slogan in reverse for Governor Romney?" And it's striking, Mr. Vice President, given that at the H-hour of D-day for this operation, you told this president, "Don't do it. Don't do it now," is what you said. And yet you're saying Governor Romney should be questioned? When that was your judgment at the time?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
That-- that's a valid point. I don't know what Governor-- I didn't say he wouldn't. I said--

DAVID GREGORY:
Well, but the implication was that he would not pull the trigger.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Implication.

DAVID GREGORY:

Robert Gibbs was on this program a week ago saying, "Well-- we don't know that he would."

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Well, I-- I-- I don't know that he would either. We don't know. You don't know till you're in the position. All I can tell you is, and the reason why I have such administration for this president, in that room when that decision was being made, the last call, six of us had been meeting for five months before, in secret, nailing down whether there's a possibility bin Laden was there.

President had a roll call. Everybody had some-- some-- some-- maybe yes, maybe no. I think on balance, go. The only guy who had a full throated-- full-throated, "Go, Mr. President," was Leon Panetta. I walk out of that meeting, as I usually do. I get to be the last guy to be with the president. We walked up toward the residence, toward his office. And I knew he was going to go.
And what I always tell him, when he said-- looked at me again, I said, "Follow your instincts, Mr. President. Your instincts have been close to unerring. Follow your instincts." I wanted him to take one more day to do one more test to see if he was there. But he did it for one reason. He had 100% confidence in the SEALs that even if bin Laden wasn't there, there'd be no collateral damage and they'd be able to get back.

DAVID GREGORY:
Bottom line, do you think that America will be weaker in the world, its national security weakened if President Romney takes over?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

Here's what I'll say. I am absolutely guarantee you, America's position in the world in national security is stronger with President Obama having taken over. Our alliances have been repaired. We're out of one war, a path to get out of another war. We have moved on relationships that had been-- not able to be attended to, Russia, China, South Africa, et cetera. And-- and so--

DAVID GREGORY:
Would-- would the country be any less safe under a President Romney?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Based on what President Romney has said, as it relates to his view-- for example, him saying our archenemy, I'm paraphrasing, is Russia. Oh, he called it the Soviets. Is Russia. If that's his prism through which he views our national security interest, I would say it would not be as strong.

DAVID GREGORY:
Let me ask you about the ways of Washington in a concluding area here. We've talked before. I've asked you about the-- the fact that Washington doesn't work very well right now, and hasn't for now a number of years that coincides with-- Obama-Biden being in the White House. And you've been very critical of Republicans. Do you think that there is a modern, right-wing conspiracy that has aligned against this president?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
No, I don't think there's a modern-- I think the Republican Party's been taken over by the Tea Party. It happens. Those things happen. My party was taken over by the far left, when I got elected in 1972. We go through phases like this. This isn't fundamentally new. What we need is a Republican Party. We need a strong Republican Party. A party that there's two or three or four people when they're not in office or if they have a president, when he's in office, can speak for the party, can make agreements. That's what we need.

DAVID GREGORY:
You're going to fight about taxes all campaign. If you win reelection, does that mean you go into this lame duck period where all these big decisions have to be made, including about the Bush tax cuts, which will expire by the end of the year, automatic spending cuts happen by the end of the year. If you win reelection, is your-- is your position, "That's it. We're not going to compromise on taxes, rates are going to go up for wealthier Americans, period."

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Yes. Because there's no way, there's no way to do anything other than hurt the middle class if we don't do that. And this election, in our view, the big idea in this election is the middle class. Will they begin to grow again? And it's not-- look, we had this whole thesis, it seems to me, from the other side, that if you concentrate more and more and more wealth and success in the very top, somehow something positive's going to happen. We've always moved forward as a nation when the middle class grows. When they grow, the poor have access and the wealthy get wealthier. It's a fundame-- fundamental disagreement--

(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
But you believe this has to happen only after the election. Is it your view that Speaker Boehner, Leader McConnell, they don't speak for the Republican Party?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Well, let me put it this way. I have had the great honor of-- spending hours and hours and hours that you've covered, my negotiating the debt limit and other things, with the-- with the leaders of the Republican Party. And on several occasions, they've pre-- they've been prepared to make some real compromise and have ended up calling back and saying, "I can't do it. I can't get it done."

And-- would it have solved every problem? No, but-- it is-- I think that-- Republic-- look, I'll give you the best example. Republican leadership said, "Extend-- extend the payroll tax." They couldn't get it done till the Wall Street Journal came in and started beating up-- I mean, drum beat beating on the-- on-- on-- on the Tea Party types. That's the only way it could get done.
In the past, it would be the Republican leadership would say, "Okay, here's the deal, guys. This is what we're doin'." John Boehner wasn't opposed to extending those taxes. But how did it happen? And I'm not criticizing John. John's in a situation where he has-- a group of people-- that-- that old expression. This is the tail wagging the dog. This is not your father's Republican Party.

DAVID GREGORY:
What have you seen in this president, over these four years, op-- in terms of how he operates in Washington, that makes you confident that if he wins reelection, he somehow can break through what's gone wrong in Washington and do something meaningful to get our fiscal house in order and restore prosperity?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:

I'll tell you what changes these gridlocks is success. Let me g-- just give you one example. The overwhelming opposition to rescuing the automobile companies. It was viewed by the public at large, it was viewed by the vast majority of the Republicans, even some Democrats as a big mistake. He bet on an iconic industry if they reorganized. It worked.

Now people are saying, "You know, well, maybe-- maybe we should take another look at some of these other proposals." If, in fact, he's re-elected, what will happen as a process of that? Is many of the things he's already put in place will be coming to fruition. They'll beginning to take root. And the American public will demand that people begin to compromise, just like the Wall Street Journal had to demand that the Tea Party guys extended the tax credit-- I mean, excuse me, the payroll tax. You'll have the public and ultimately everybody, left wing, Democrats in the '70s to Tea Party guys and women in the 2012. They ultimately respond to constituencies.

DAVID GREGORY:
Final question. This fall, who would you most like to face on a debate stage?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
Hey, you know, the-- that old expression "be careful what you wish for, you may get it." I'm confident whoever I face on that stage will be-- will be a good debater and competent. And the good news is, I think the distinctions in the choices about the policies are going to be so stark, it's a debate I'm looking forward to.

DAVID GREGORY:
Who's more likely to run for president in 2016, you or Secretary Clinton?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:
I think we may run as a team. I'm only joking, obviously. I don't-- I don't know whether I'm going to run. And Hillary doesn't know whether she's going to run.
(OVERTALK)

DAVID GREGORY:
There's a lot of truth in humor, Mr. Vice President. Thank you very much--

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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