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CBS "Face the Nation" - Transcript


Location: Washington, DC

CBS "Face the Nation" - Transcript


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MR. SCHIEFFER: Today on "Face the Nation," from Wilmington, Delaware, Joe Biden's first interview as vice president. The new administration is not even a week old, but it's moving quickly, outlawing torture, announcing plans to close Guantanamo and laying the groundwork for a huge plan to get the economy going. When will we begin to see results. That's where we'll start with the new Vice President Joe Biden.

Then I'll have a final word on America's real strength. But first the vice president on "Face the Nation."


MR. SCHIEFFER: And good morning again from Joe Biden's hometown, Wilmington, Delaware.

Mr. Vice President, this is your first appearance on "Face the Nation" as vice president.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: It's my first appearance as vice president. (Laughs.)

MR. SCHIEFFER: But we looked it up, this is your 53rd appearance on "Face the Nation" in 36 years in the Senate.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: My, Lord, wow!

MR. SCHIEFFER: It's no surprise that you set up quite a record as commuting back and forth from Washington to Wilmington every night when you were in the Senate. I'm told that The Roll Call figured it up, the Capitol Hill newspaper, 7,400 round trips in, what, 36 years in the Senate.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: In 36 years.

MR. SCHIEFFER: So it's no surprise, I guess, that even though you now have an official residence in Washington, here you are taking your first weekend as vice president here in your hometown.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, my mom still lives here, and it's a short hop. And I told her I'd get home as much I -- I can't convince her to move to Washington. She lives in the same place where my home is. So you know, if I can get home here to see her it's good.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, that's great. Mr. Vice President, let's start with your new job here. You are following what I would say is the single most powerful vice president in the history of this country and certainly one of the most controversial. He basically became the deputy president. He made policy. He shaped and developed policy. Sometimes, in the days after 9/11, he actually gave orders in the chain of command. There's some argument as to whether the vice president really is in the chain of command.

Be that as it may, what is your concept of the vice presidency? Do you see it in the same way that Dick Cheney did?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: I don't see myself as a deputy president. I see myself as the president's confidant. Hopefully, I can help shape policy with him. Hopefully, I'm one of those people -- hopefully, I'm the last person in the room with every important decision he makes. Thus far, that's how it's worked. The agreement he and I have is that I would be available for every single major decision that he makes, in the room, I'd have all the paper, all the material, all the meetings. And again, not for me to make decisions, for me to give the best advice that I can give.

Bob, when the president was generous enough to ask me to join him as vice president on the ticket, I asked him, I said I don't want to be on the ticket, Mr. President, unless -- at that time, Senator Barack Obama -- I said, Barack, I don't want to be on the ticket unless you're hiring on for my judgment. If you trust my judgment, if you think my judgment is value added and I can be involved in all this, then I'd be honored to be with you. So that's what I view my role to be -- a confidant, an adviser, essentially the last guy in the room when he makes these critical decisions.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, the first job, obviously, and we heard the president spell it out already, is fixing the economy. And I hear both you and the president say it's worse now than perhaps you thought it was.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, it's worse, quite frankly, Bob, than everyone thought it was, and it's getting worse every day. I mean, there's been no good news, and there's no good news on the immediate horizon. The only good news is the president has acted swiftly. He's put together an economic stimulus package that we believe and outsiders believe will create 3 (million) to 4 million new jobs and set a new framework for the economy to develop on and a foundation.

And so we're off and running, but it's going to get worse before it gets better.

MR. SCHIEFFER: There's already opposition from the Republicans. They say they want to help. They recognize the problem. But they say there's too much spending and not enough in the way of tax cuts. Aren't you going to have to give them a little something to get the kind of bipartisan support you really want for this?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, we already have a lot of bipartisan support. For example, on the Senate side, which now the bill is going through the Senate side, a significant portion of what's in the bill already, from the outset, was placed there by Republicans. I for one personally was on the phone with six Republican senators, key Republican senators, asking what they need, what they want. And we compromised ahead of time in terms of what we put in the bill, number one.

Number two, I think you're going to see a product that comes out of the Senate that is one that is truly bipartisan. I think we'll get a significant bipartisan support out of the Senate. And I think at the end of the day, to use Senate jargon, the House and the Senate go to conference and reconcile the differences, which will be very rapidly. I think you'll see a fairly strong vote across the board out of 535 members for this stimulus package.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Mr. Boehner, the Republican leader over in the House, he wants lower tax rates for the two lowest tax brackets rather than the $500 tax credits that your plan calls for. He wants more tax breaks for small businesses. Those sound like things that Democrats could be for.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, they are, but here's the deal, Bob. What we're trying to do is get money out the door as rapidly as you can. Let me give you an example. There was a debate about eliminating taxes on unemployment insurance. Well, that's a good idea except, guess what? You don't get the benefits of that for a year from now.

So what we did was increase unemployment benefits. So the same effect, quicker way to get the money out the door. Why? We've got to begin to stimulate economic growth. That's how we're going to create jobs. So there are differences we have about how to best do that.

But if you notice, roughly 40 percent of this entire package is tax cuts. That's not what the Democrats wanted. And 60 percent of it is spending, economic stimulus. That's not what the Republicans wanted. But we've come a pretty long way already. So there will be, I'm sure, more compromise. But I think everyone sees, Bob -- look, I've been there for eight presidents. I don't ever recall, as a senior senator, being called down in the very beginning, even before the president is elected, to a serious meeting as to how to proceed. And then the first thing we did the second day in office, the president of the United States called down the congressional leadership and said, folks, how's it going? What else do you need? Where are we?

And so there is a genuine effort here. And I think everyone in both parties is seized with the notion we must act quickly. This has to happen before we go off on the President's Day recess.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Speaker Pelosi said this morning on ABC that there may be even more money that needs to be funded to the banks, more than has been included in the 700 billion (dollars) that has already gone to the banks. Do you agree with that?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Look, Bob, here's where we are. Through the leadership of President-elect Obama now President Obama and a little bit of help from me, we were able to convince the members of the House and Senate who were really bitten very badly by the first $350 billion spent. They did not think it was spent well, Democrats and Republicans. There was a real reluctance to release the second $350 billion.

And we, first, we were happy to make personal commitments that any major expenditure out of that 350 billion (dollars) which has been authorized now would actually be looked at personally by the president and by me to get certain senators to vote for it to release that 350 (billion dollars). It's important that it be transparent. It's important that there be accountability. And it's important that everyone know exactly what the money is being spent on.

MR. SCHIEFFER: But does that mean you might agree that maybe more will be necessary?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: No. All I know is we cannot do anything, in my view, realistically more absent demonstrating to the American public that we can husband their money and have much more responsibility and accountability for this $350 billion we've now been given the authority to, quote, "spend" on our financial institutions. That's the first order of business.

Now, Monday, one of the most talented men, I think most people would agree, in the last 20 years, Mr. Geithner, I believe, will be voted -- he's been voted out of the committee on a bipartisan vote. I think he'll get a strong bipartisan vote in the Senate, secretary of Treasury. He will then report back to the president and me as to whether or not he thinks that 350 (billion dollars) is enough.

But first things first. We've got to spend more rationally, reasonably and transparently to move the financial institutions, to loosen up credit. And it's about credit for people. They have to be able to purchase their cars. They have to be able to send their kids back to school. They need some mortgage abatement. And so that's what we're focusing on in this next 350 (billion dollars), and we'll go from there.

MR. SCHIEFFER: All right. I'm going to take a break here. When we come back, we may talk about this some more. But we also want to talk about closing Guantanamo, your recent trip to Pakistan, that recent attack across the Pakistani border by, apparently, an American drone, when we come back in a minute.


MR. SCHIEFFER: Back with Vice President Joe Biden.

Mr. Vice President, there was great symbolism last week when the new president said he intends to close Guantanamo. But when you get past the symbolism, there's some really bad people down there. And the question is, what are we going to do with them? We saw this, people from all parts of the country, representing in the Senate and the House, senators and representatives from across the country, they said, look, here's the problem. You bring these people back to U.S. prisons, and then if you decide you don't have the evidence to hold them, the judge decides to let them go, are these the kinds of people that we can release inside the United States? And what are you going to do with these people? What do you say to people who have these questions?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, we won't release people inside the United States because all but one, I believe, is not an American citizen, an American national. So what I say to those people is, you've got to give us some time. The reason we've been as prudent as we have about -- definitely it's closing, period. They're either going to be moved and tried in American courts, tried in military courts or they're going to be sent back to their countries of origin.

MR. SCHIEFFER: But some of these countries say they don't want them.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, that's true. We're literally, Bob -- and I'm getting briefed on this as the president is -- we're going one prisoner at a time. We're trying to figure out exactly what we've inherited here.

The one thing we do know, Bob, is that the maintenance of Guantanamo, its symbol and the consequences of this symbolism around the world, it has grown terrorist organizations, not diminished terrorist organizations. So the question is there's no question it has to be closed. And we don't think it's inconsistent to deal with our national security and our Constitution. We don't think they're inconsistent. That's why we have the White House counsel. Mr. Craig is now going through this meticulously, deciding what we're going to do with each and every prisoner.

MR. SCHIEFFER: But you can assure people here this morning that these people are not going to be, some of them will not be released into the United States if a judge orders them free?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: If they are not a U.S. citizen or if they are not here legally, then even if they were released by a federal judge, they would not be able to stay here in the United States. They would be sent back to their country of origin. They would not stay here.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Even if the countries say, we don't want them?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Well, that's true. But they have no legal status to stay here. I don't anticipate that happening.

What I anticipate happening is that those people who are in a situation where it is either the evidence is in question or it's going to be hard to make a case, we will most likely be rendering them back to their countries of origin or another country. For example, there are countries that have already agreed that they would allow for there to be prison facilities in their country for enemy combatants that in fact were captured on the battlefield.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Do you think you can get this done in a year?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: I think so. I think so. It's going to be hard. There's nothing easy about this, Bob. I don't want to mislead the American public at all. You've characterized it correctly. There are some really difficult decisions to be made here. And the way in which Guantanamo was opened and operated initially raises additional issues as to how we are able to deal in the American courts and military courts under the military code with some of these prisoners. It's very complicated.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Let's talk a bit about your trip. You're just back from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq. Last week, an American drone apparently attacked an al Qaeda force, what they thought was an al Qaeda force, in the territorial part of Pakistan, a cross-border operation. It's my understanding that the previous president gave our U.S. forces and the CIA permission to go across that border to go after al Qaeda, if it became necessary, on the ground. Does President Obama, will he continue that policy?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Bob, as you know, I can't speak to any particular attack. I can't speak to any particular action. It's not appropriate for me to do that. But I can say that the president of the United States said during his campaign and in the debates that if there is an actionable target of high-level al Qaeda personnel, that he would not hesitate to use action to deal with that.

But here's the good news. The good news is that in my last trip -- and I've been to Pakistan many times and that region many times -- there was a great deal more cooperation going on now between the Pakistan military in an area called the FATA, the federally administered territory -- Waziristan, North Waziristan -- all that area we hear about that is really sort of ungovernable. Not "sort of," it's been ungovernable for the Pakistani government. That's where the bad guys are hiding. That's where the al Qaeda folks are and some other malcontents.

And so what we're doing is we're in the process of working with the Pakistanis to help train up their counterinsurgency capability, their military, and we're getting new agreements with them about how to deal with cross-border movements of these folks. So we're making progress.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Would you notify them before any of these cross- border movements? Because as you well know, there's a fear that there would be leaks on something like that, and there might be a temptation not to. Exactly what is our policy on that?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: I always try to be completely candid with you, and I can't respond to that question. I'm not going to respond to that question.

MR. SCHIEFFER: You're not going to respond to that question. One thing you did say, you said in Afghanistan that things are going to get tougher before they get better.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: That's true.

MR. SCHIEFFER: What do you mean by that?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: What's happened is that because of -- neglect may be the wrong word -- but a failure to provide sufficient resources -- economic, political and military -- as well as failure to get a coherent policy among our allies economically, politically and in terms of military resources, the situation has deteriorated a great deal. The Taliban is in effective control of significant parts of the country. They were not before, number one.

Number two, 95 percent, roughly, of the world's opium and heroin comes out of that country. And their national police force which was relied upon heavily, as you've noticed, in Iraq as it was in Bosnia -- we train them up and so on -- the corruption is rife. Some of our allies who have committed to train these troops did not do them well.

So the bottom line here is we've inherited a real mess. We're about to go in and try to essentially reclaim territory that's been effectively lost. So it's going to require -- there are going to be some additional military forces. There are going to be additional efforts to train their police and to train their Afghan army. And all of that means we're going to engaging the enemy more.

MR. SCHIEFFER: So should we expect more American casualties?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: I hate to say it. But yes, I think there will be, there will be an up-tick. Because as the commander in Afghanistan said, he said, Joe, we will get this done, but we're going to be engaging the enemy much more.

MR. SCHIEFFER: What do you think the state of Iraq is right now? I know you're just back from there as well.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: I think, if I can use a football metaphor moving up to Super Bowl Sunday, I think we're basically on the 20-yard line, 20 yards to go. But now comes the really hard part. The surge did work. Our military has done everything we've asked of them, but there needs to be a political reconciliation in Iraq.

You've heard me on your program many times talking about in the past the need for the Iraqis to determine whether they have a federal system or a strong central government. There in a debate on that. There's going to be three major elections that are going to take place this year -- provincial elections and national elections. I won't bore everybody with the details.

The bottom line is that a political reconciliation among Sunni, Shi'a and Kurd, Arab and Indo-European, Arab and Kurd, all that is still in flux. There's progress being made on it, but we need a much stronger push, and there has to be an additional, I think, show of responsibility on the part of the Iraqi leaders that they're able to govern.

Last point, there's a need for a petrochemical law, an oil law. How do they divide up the revenues? It's a big, big, big, big deal. There's a need for there to be a decision on what authority the regions have, like our states versus -- if I can make an analogy. We started off with the Articles of Confederation, a loosely federated government. We had a very weak central government, states were strong. We then had a Constitution, strong central government, states not. So all those things are going on.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Can this happen when all the people involved know that we're bringing our people home?

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Yes. But we're bringing our people home totally consistent with what had been worked out by the Iraqis parties. The one strong sign of some political movement is all the parties voted for this so-called SOFA, that is the deal on how we protect American troops, when we draw them down and in what order we draw them down.

And so yes, Bob, I think it's totally consistent. I think we can do it.

MR. SCHIEFFER: You have a new job now.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: I do. (Laughs.)

MR. SCHIEFFER: You had the job you used to have for a long, long time, what, 36 years.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Thirty-six years, yeah.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Is this going to change you? You are known for being candid, for talking, being unafraid to talk. Is it harder now? People on the Hill are independent contractors. You're now part of a team now.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: I'm really happy to be part of a team. But what I have to think about now is everything I say I'm the vice president. I am not the president, I'm the vice president. So everything that I say reflects directly on the administration. So I may have strongly held views that the president may not have. And that should be done between us not for me to -- but yeah, the bottom line, it's harder. (Laughs.)

MR. SCHIEFFER: Mr. Vice President, I hope we'll see you many times.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: I hope so, Bob. I really do.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Thank you so much.

VICE PRES. BIDEN: Thank you.



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