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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

Interview

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BLITZER: No one may know better what Paul Ryan is in for tonight than Congressman Chris Van Hollen. Take a look at this picture, first brought to you exclusively by CNN. You see the Democratic congressman standing in for Paul Ryan as part of Vice President Biden's debate preparations. And this picture came out later from Biden's Twitter feed. The mock contests were part of four days of intense debate preparations Biden has had in his home state of Delaware.

Chris Van Hollen is joining us now from Danville, Kentucky, for tonight's big event. Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.

So, here's a key question: Will the vice president do tonight what the president didn't do last week, namely come out swinging? REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: Look, Joe Biden is going to be Joe Biden. That would have been true whether he was doing this after a different debate last week or not. You know Joe Biden, and the American people have gotten to know him. This guy's a fighter for the middle class. He feels it in his gut, and even more importantly, the policies that he and the president stand for are ones that will help the middle class, which is in stark contrast to the Romney/Ryan plan.

So, I think the nation is in for a really good discussion tonight.

BLITZER: I think you're probably right -- a very serious, strong discussion.

Look, you know Paul Ryan now, probably better than anyone. You've studied and studied him, getting ready for these debate preparations. Where do you believe the Wisconsin congressman is most vulnerable?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Paul Ryan is very quick on his feet. We've debated his budget many times in the House. But I think he's most vulnerable when it comes to translating his budget into the impact that it has on real people. Because when you actually begin to crunch the numbers and do the math, you find out that his voucher plan for Medicare is going to really hurt seniors badly. You know that the original plan would have cost seniors more than $6,000. That was according to CBO. And they passed that plan twice in the House without blinking.

You know that his tax plan would provide big tax breaks to very wealthy people at the expense of the middle class. So, the question tonight, is whether Paul Ryan will really level with the American people about the impact his budget will have on middle class families, on seniors, or whether he's going to do what Mitt Romney did the other night, which is just try and run away from the Ryan/Romney plan.

BLITZER: But you know that Mitt Romney has disassociated himself from some of Paul Ryan's legislation, some of Paul Ryan's ideas, for example, on Medicare. You're familiar with that.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, yes, but there's one area where they've absolutely doubled down and that's on the voucher plan. And the way that works is, they save Medicare money by off-loading rising health care costs on to the backs of seniors. So the value of your voucher goes down as the cost of health care goes up. Seniors have to eat the difference.

And then the rest of the plan, Romney actually made the Ryan plan worse for seniors because he is now going to reinstate -- Romney -- the overpayments to the insurance companies. We made savings in Obama care by eliminating some of the big overpayments to private insurance companies. Seniors will now have to pay more premiums and more co- pays -- in fact, $360 a year on average over the next ten years more because Mitt Romney wants to overpay private insurance companies. And, so, when they tell you that you don't have to worry about Medicare changes if you're over 55, that is absolutely not true. Seniors will pay more in premiums for the Romney/Ryan plan. If you have high prescription drug costs, you're going to really be getting hit hard.

BLITZER: You've heard the criticism that the vice president may be out of practice at taking on tough questions from the national news media. He hasn't done a national television interview since five months ago when he was on Meet The Press. The Weekly Standard quotes an unnamed Republican source as saying this, and I'll put it up on the screen. "Joe Biden gets used by the Obama campaign like Bernie from Weekend at Bernie's. They drag him out to a battleground state, prop him up on a podium in front of a teleprompter, pose him for photos with locals and then quickly roll him back to Air Force 2 before reporters have a chance to ask him questions. They want Biden to be seen, but not heard in any interviews because they're afraid he might embarrass the president with another one of his hilarious gaffes."

It's a very serious charge they're making. Is he ready for these kinds of tough questions tonight? He hasn't done it, really, in a while.

VAN HOLLEN: I'm not surprised, Wolf. That came not only from a Republican source, but a Republican source that did not even want to put their name to it. Republicans are usually very eager to put their names to outrageous statement these days.

Look, he is ready, the vice president is ready, and he is looking forward to this debate. And one thing Republicans realize is that Joe Biden relates at a gut level to middle class voters. He grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, working class background, and you can be sure that he's not going to endorse a set of policies that hurt the middle class, which is why he thinks that the Romney/Ryan plan is so bad.

I mean, these are two guys who both endorsed the Bush plan to privatize Social Security. Imagine what would have happened to all those people in the economic downturn. That's what they want to do to Medicare.

So, look, Republicans realize that Joe Biden communicates very directly to middle class voters and very effectively. And of course, this election is about how we're going to deal with the strains that middle class families are facing and whether we're going to continue to climb out of this recession the president inherited, or whether we're going to go back to the same policies that helped Wall Street and put us into this mess.

So, I think Joe Biden is the perfect person to talk directly about those middle class issues up against Paul Ryan tonight.

BLITZER: Congressman Chris Van Hollen, just out of debate preparation, debate boot camp, as they're calling it, in Kentucky right now. Like all of us, getting ready for the debate. Congressman, thanks for coming in.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you.

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