Vice President Biden Tells Morning Joe ‘We Made Mistakes Prioritizing’


Vice President Joe Biden appeared on Morning Joe this morning and participated in a wide-ranging interview earlier today with hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. The three discussed the Democratic party’s midterm performance, the U.S. exit strategy in Afghanistan, the START treaty, and Sarah Palin‘s possible run for President in 2012.

‘We made mistakes’ prioritizing, said Biden of the Democratic performance in the midterm elections, as well as a lusty and impassioned defense of allegations that President Obama is aloof. Watch the video below, a full transcript (from MSNBC) follows the segment below.

MIKA BRZEZINSKI, CO-HOST, MORNING JOE: It is the top of the hour.

Welcome back to MORNING JOE. We’re live at the NBC News Washington bureau. And here with us now, the vice president of the United States.

Joe Biden back on the show. Very good to have you on.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, CO-HOST, MORNING JOE: Mr. Vice President, great to have you here!


BRZEZINSKI: You look good.

BIDEN: I feel good.


SCARBOROUGH: You feel good.

For a lot of people that haven’t spent a lot of time in Washington, and I put the president in this category, and Bill Clinton was the same way, they don’t realize the tide comes in, the tide goes out. But the tide always comes back in. Are you telling them to keep calm and carry on in the White House?

BIDEN: I don’t have to tell him. He is, as my mother used to say, cool as a cucumber. You don’t have to tell the president to keep calm.

But you got it right, Joe, I do reference with the rest of — some of the younger White House staff, let’s calm down here.

SCARBOROUGH: Remember in 2004? Karl Rove’s permanent majority?

And 2006, Nancy wins. 2008, you win. And it is a new map.

BIDEN: That’s right.

SCARBOROUGH: Then two years later —

BIDEN: New map. The Republican party’s dead. I watched the Republican party die and come to life, and our party die and come to life on five occasions since I’ve been in office.

SCARBOROUGH: I remember in 1995 seeing the cover of a “U.S. News & World Report” and it had the burial of the Democratic party, when we all swept in. The next year, Bill Clinton wins. Democrats have a big year. What do you guys need to do to turn it around politically?

BRZEZINSKI: Yes, isn’t it the new map or the shellacking as the president put it. Isn’t it actually a moment of opportunity for this administration?

BIDEN: Well, it’s both a moment of opportunity but also a pretty clear message sent. If you take a look at that map, there were a lot of races. Everyplace where you saw unemployment hovering around 10 percent, you saw an R put on that district almost, with almost no notable exceptions. You go from the southern tier of New York all the way through my home state of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, out into Wisconsin. And I mean, it was a — you know, it’s awful hard to win in the district when you got that kind of unemployment.

And, look, what we have to do, you guys were talking about China. I watch you every morning for real. And the thing I find is that, you know, if you take China as an example, we’re sitting here, everybody’s talking about what China’s doing, and they are, and we can write chapters in books about it. And yet there’s this notion that somehow it’s inevitable and how can we compete and, you know, God, why are we out there, it’s over.

SCARBOROUGH: It’s over. By the way, 1989, they were saying the same thing about Japan. We weren’t going to beat Japan –

BRZEZINSKI: All right, so how would you characterize —

SCARBOROUGH: Well, how do we turn it around?

BIDEN: I think, look, I think we turn it around in two ways. One, we have to make sure that not only we actually focus on, but the entire nation knows we’re focusing on, growth and competition within the United States of America and compete internationally. I don’t know anywhere where it’s written that we have to be number two.

You know, I am the son of an automobile man, a guy who sold — managed an automobile dealership his whole life. He said, just give me product, Joe, give me product, I can sell it. Now they’re given product, and we’re winning. The first time in 23 years, J.D. Powers say, look, Americans think automobiles made in America are better than automobiles made abroad, you know? The idea that you just had a fellow on – I caught the tail end — talking about the green economy.


BIDEN: We put $100 billion in the Recovery Act for clean energy and people said, oh, my God, government interference, why are you doing that? The government’s taking over. All we’re doing is providing money, start-up money, for organizations to get out there, start to compete —


SCARBOROUGH: I’m sorry, Mika. But let’s talk, though, about the election losses.


SCARBOROUGH: Obviously, you guys feel like you did a lot of good things over the past two years. A lot of Americans disagreed. Sure, there’s part of a communication problem, but you guys also understand, don’t you, that the actual substance of some of those bills were unpopular with independent voters?

BIDEN: Look, Joe, we made mistakes, we could have done things differently. We could have prioritized things in a different way. And what we have to do now is learn from those lessons and move forward.

And part of what people are looking for is they’re looking for us to actually be able to lay out for them how are you going to get from here to there.

What’s — what’s next? When you are sitting there and you don’t have a job, and you’re going to bed staring at the ceiling every night wondering how in God’s name you’re going to make it, you don’t want to hear anything about anything other than how am I going to get a job.

BRZEZINSKI: All right, and those people face potentially losing their unemployment benefits. How are we going to get something done on that? There are Democrats and Republicans at this point voting against extending them for another 90 days.

BIDEN: Well, I think they’re making a gigantic mistake, not only in terms of what historically this country has done when unemployment is this high — we’ve always extended unemployment — but also in terms the economy.

The single biggest stimulus to the economy are the unemployment benefits we’re paying. These people go out and they spend the money. They go out and they have to get by to everything from paying their mortgage or buying food or just getting by. It has a significant impact on economic growth and the continuation of economic growth.

Look, I got criticized by saying we’ll create 100,000 jobs a month a year ago. Well, we created 100,000 jobs a month. It varied, but we created over 1.1 million jobs that are private-sector jobs. That’s not nearly enough. But now if we’re going to pull out of the economy, the unemployment benefits we’re paying, if we’re going to pull out of the economy, you know, the tax cuts for middle-class people. I mean, it not only goes to equity, it goes to economic growth.

SCARBOROUGH: Let’s talk about an issue, if you watch every morning —

BIDEN: I do.

SCARBORUGH: — you know we talk about, especially when Barnicle and I get together.


BIDEN: I like Barnicle. I think he actually likes me.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes, he does.

SCARBOROUGH: Who do you think started the no-attack Joe Zone around here? It was Barnicle.



SCARBOROUH: Despite the fact the first time I met Joe biden, he came up to me at a reception and said, “My father warned me about people like you.” He said, “Never trust a Democrat that gets money and then becomes a Republican.”

BRZEZINSKI: Like my father. That was affection, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH: And speaking of no money, I mean, my parents did well, but my dad was out of work. He got laid off by Lockheed in ’73 during the recession. Rolls-Royce went bankrupt, Lockheed collapsed. He lost his job. He was looking for a job. We were looking for work for a year-and-a-half. Unemployment benefits got us through.

How do you, though, tell Americans, there are the truly disadvantaged that need the unemployment benefits, but we’re not going to extend these things forever? How do you do that balance? Because obviously there’s some unrest out there.

BIDEN: Well, no, I think the way you do that is — first of all, you point out, these unemployment benefits don’t go to the problem you’re going to have the — my friend Allan Simpson — talking a little bit later, and that is the long-term debt. These have life — look, if this going on five years from now, we’re all gone. OK? So, the idea of unemployment benefits at this level will be extended indefinitely is just not true.

SCARBOROUGH: And this is not the problem —

BIDEN: This is not structural. This is something that doesn’t add

one- one hundredth of one percent to the long-term debt, to GDP. What it does do, it does have an economic positive impact in terms of economic growth. But beyond that, unless you sat around the kitchen table when you’re a kid and you knew when a recession hit, some adult around there is going to lose a job, it doesn’t seem like important.

But it’s life and death.

BRZEZINSKI: All right. So, while we’re on the topic of the economy and what we’re supposed to do to help people, we had Dick Cheney speaking this week at George W. Bush’s presidential library groundbreaking, and he took a shot or two at the administration. Take a listen.


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Of course, the George W. Bush Presidential Center isn’t much to look at just yet, but the workers are ready. Construction will move fast after today’s groundbreaking. This may be the only shovel-ready project in America.




SCARBOROUGH: You laughed at the joke. The guy’s had a tough year.

But he’s still got the left hook.

BIDEN: I’m just glad to see he’s up and — really nice. I keep in touch with him.


BIDEN: And I, you know —

BRZEZINSKI: But after we ran that bite on our show, I believe it was Dr. Sachs or someone else, there are some people who vehemently believe the stimulus plan did not work.

SCARBOROUGH: It just could have been crafted better. Instead of being a grab bag of House and Senate projects, some people are saying — and we’ve said it — you guys need to organize it in a much more effective way.

BIDEN: Well, Joe, we did. What we sent to the Hill was a different bill than we got. We — you know, our Republican colleagues insisted to be to even consider it, it had to be more heavy on the tax-cut side and less on the infrastructure side. We had a lot of pressure to deal with counter-cyclical help to the states. We sent up a bill that was probably about $120 billion more and it had more to do in infrastructure. But, remember, we could have done better.

But, Joe, I had to do everything but promise my sixth-born grandchild to get three Republican votes to get it passed in the Senate. And so the idea, well, you know, we could have done better. You and I do politics, man.


BIDEN: You got to count. You got to count the votes. And what we did do, no one is now arguing that it didn’t have an economic — positive economic stimulus impact on jobs. They argue you could have done better instead of 3.5, it was 2.7. Nobody argues that it didn’t have an impact on the growth of the GDP.

SCARBOROUGH: Right. Did you guys oversell it, though? I know at the time you said unemployment wouldn’t go over eight percent. You put a marker out there that —


SCARBOROUGH: — that obviously that the bill didn’t match.

BIDEN: Yes. Some will tell you that I had a little disagreement on whether or not we should focus it the way we were focusing it. But, yes, the substance was the same, but yes. And I do think — the other thing is most people thought it was $787 billion in new highway projects. When in fact only $260 billion had to do with projects of any kind.

SCARBOROUGH: So, let’s talk about something that we do talk about on this show every day. It’s Afghanistan.


SCARBOROUGH: We — I believe, if you believe Woodward’s book, our position was your position. We thought Afghanistan was an unwinnable war. We didn’t think the president should have given the generals three times the troops. And I didn’t say this to you, but I told other high-ranking officials, you’re going to get your troops, and then the generals, they’re going to have their way with you. And they’re going to keep pushing that date out and — and it’s happened. We’ve gone from

2011 to the end of 2014.


SCARBOROUGH: We can’t stay there for another four or five years, can we?

BIDEN: No. I don’t think we can stay there for five years with 100,000 American forces, 150,000 NATO or ISAF forces combined. But, Joe, look. What we said back last Thanksgiving and repeated again and we’ve gotten the living devil beat out of us by good friends like John McCain and others, we said, look, beginning the summer of 2011, we’re going to begin the transition. We’re going to begin the transition out of Iraq — I mean, Afghanistan.


BIDEN: We are going to begin to transition. We’re keeping that commitment. That commitment will be kept. We said then the slope and the pace at which we get out depended on the circumstances. But we will begin to transition.

And 2014 is now a date that everyone has agreed upon, NATO as well as the Afghanis, that’s kind of the drop-dead date. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to have anywhere near 100,000 troops in 2013. This is — it’s just like the commitment we made in Iraq. We’ve actually kept that commitment. We said we’d get out of the cities last year. We said we’d bring 100,000 troops home this year, and we’re going to bring them all home next year.

SCARBOROUGH: What is our exit strategy in Afghanistan?

BIDEN: The exit strategy in Afghanistan is twofold. One is that the Afghan government gets to the place where they are able to compensate for the help that the Taliban gets in the villages and in the communities because they’re no longer the better alternative. So, slightly better government. Doesn’t doesn’t have to be perfect. Not going to be the great democracy, just better governance.

Secondly, they have enough trained forces that the Taliban cannot bring that government down or occupy population centers. But our fundamental responsibility and the president stated again and the guys keep missing it. It’s not to defeat the Taliban. It’s to degrade and ultimately defeat al Qaeda. And we are making great progress on al-Qaeda central.

It has really been degraded very badly. And as long as we continue to have the platforms to be able to do that, you’re going to see we will need fewer and fewer troops as we go down the road there.

SCARBOROUGH: But the Taliban can obviously scurry over to Pakistan. That’s the biggest problem. Leon Panetta said 50 al Qaeda members left in Afghanistan.

BIDEN: You know my view, Joe. Look, one of the things that we have to decide is what is good enough.


BIDEN: And what is good enough is us being able to guarantee our own security by making sure the Taliban continues to be degraded, cannot come back and occupy Afghanistan.

Secondly, that the Afghan government is stable enough that it is able to maintain while it’s going through this whole reintegration progress with the Taliban its ability to stay in power.

And, thirdly, for us to be in a position where we are able to ultimately not be spending the kind of money and have the number of troops we have there, and the sooner that happens, the better.

BRZEZINSKI: I think people would like to hear a little bit about the S.T.A.R.T. treaty, and I’m going to read from the president’s piece in “The International Herald Tribune.”

“For just as the United States and Russia have reset our relationship, so, too, can NATO and Russia. In Lisbon, we can make it clear that NATO sees Russia as a partner, not an adversary . We can deepen our cooperation on Afghanistan, counternarcotics, and 21st century security challenges. From the spread of nuclear weapons and the spread of violent extremism. And by moving ahead with cooperation on missile defense, we can turn a source of past tension into a source of cooperation against a shared threat.”

The president, of course, in Portugal meeting with NATO leaders. How important — or maybe what’s the question is, what’s the damage that can ensue if it’s not passed?

BIDEN: First of all, just on the merits, the treaty all by itself, unrelated to the overall relationship — we’re blind now, as they say.

We’re not able to verify what the Russians are doing or not doing with their nuclear stockpile, because — that’s why we need the treaty for the verification purposes.

Yesterday, I had a group of gray beards, as we call them. Significant Republican leaders, five former Republican secretaries of state, three of whom were in the room. Former secretaries of defense, national security advisers, and so on. All Republicans, pointing out the absolute necessity for us just from a purely strategic standpoint to have this treaty.

But what a lot of Americans don’t know, the only way we’re able to continue to conduct the war in Afghanistan, 50 percent of all of our lethal and nonlethal material goes through Russia to get into Afghanistan. The reason why the — we’re having such success in real sanctions against Iran is because Russia’s cooperating. They’re in the deal.

There’s a lot that is at stake here in terms of the overall relationship with Russia, and particularly with, as people will point out, this thing everybody’s trying to figure out, the relationship between Medvedev and Putin. Medvedev stuck himself way out on a line on this. And so we found he’s someone we can work with and cooperate with. And so there’s an overwhelming and overarching interest in getting this treaty passed from a purely strategic standpoint as well as a geopolitical standpoint.

SCARBOROUGH: And yet only Dick Lugar seems to be cooperating with you guys. Does that speak to how poisoned partisan relations are right now in Washington?

BIDEN: Well, it speaks more, I think, Joe, to the circumstances in the Republican party. Because I’m confident that there are 15 of my former Republican colleagues who are inclined to support this treaty.

But they’d rather have as we Catholics say, the cup passed from them, you know, because they’d rather not have to take on what is the internal dynamic in the Republican party, at least as I read it.

But that’s why I’m convinced that faced with the choice of this going down and losing what you and I should always talk about, this stockpile stewardship program, the fancy word for saying all the nuclear weapons that are left reduced to make sure they remain reliable without having new testing —


BIDEN: — that’s a very expensive proposition. We’re committed to doing that so we don’t have to build new nuclear weapons. All that’s in the balance now. And I think when faced with having to vote yes or no, they’d rather not have to make the vote. But yes or no, I think you’ll find there’s another eight or nine, ten Republicans who will come onboard.

SCARBOROUGH: Now, you got here in ’72, right?

BIDEN: I did. I got on board in 1973.

SCARBOROUGH: Twenty-nine-year-old kid, 30, I guess, by January.

Talk about how things have changed. Because as you know, every day on this show, we talk about how, at least since Clinton was elected, the second a president gets elected, the other side tries to delegitimize that president from day one.

You’ve seen that from the outside since early ’93. Have you been shocked since you got on the inside at just how tough it is —

BRZEZINSKI: Or not surprised.

BIDEN: Well, I’ve not been surprised, unfortunately. I wish I were shocked. I’ve been here for eight presidents. This is the eighth president I’ve worked with.

And what I found is that there is a — there’s a plethora of outlets for people on get their news from. There’s a plethora of outlets for people to organize through. And so you get, you know, a couple hundred thousand people with one point of view, and you’ve got yourself a platform. And there’s a cacophony of voices out there that make it very confusing for serious people to try to figure out what is — what are the facts, what’s the real deal here.

And things have just gotten a lot more complicated. And unfortunately, we always learn the wrong lesson from one another. You know, we learn how to take down a president, and the next guy, they learn. And now there’s a big debate in the United States Senate about, OK, do we now change the rules of the Senate.


BIDEN: Filibusters. Do we — I mean, it’s a — you know, I keep reminding people when, you know, going up the ladder is good, but you’re going to come back down the ladder, remember.


SCARBOROUGH: Exactly! Always remember that.

BRZEZINSKI: All of us can go up the ladder and down the ladder several times.

Before we go, let me just show you Sarah Palin, your former rival for the vice presidential position, talking about 2012. Take a listen.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I’m looking at the lay of the land now, and trying to figure that out. If it’s a good thing for the country, for the discourse, for my family, if it’s a good thing.

BARBARA WALTERS, NBC NEWS: If you ran for president, could you beat Barack Obama?

PALIN: I believe so.



BIDEN: Well, look — I don’t — you’ll get me in trouble.

BRZEZINSKI: Okay, okay.

BIDEN: I don’t think she could beat President Obama, but, you

know– you know, she’s always underestimated so, you know, I think — I think I shouldn’t say any more.

BRZEZINSKI: There you go!

SCARBOROUGH: So, what’s your — what’s your top goal moving forward?

BIDEN: Top goal is to create jobs. Top goal is get the economy moving. Top goal is to keep some momentum. And the top goal, I mean, the really my goal — our goal is America has to be able to lead the world in the 21st century.

And we cannot do that built on the basis of the old economy. We’ve got to create not only new jobs, but new industries. That’s why although I know you can’t create 50 million jobs from green energy, I know one thing. I don’t want to go from importing oil from Saudi Arabia to importing windmills from China.


BIDEN: There’s no reason why we cannot compete, and I’d argue look at the automobile deal as an example. There’s — we can make things better. We can compete. We can — we are the most innovative country in the world. And we got to — you know, we got to start remembering who we are.

SCARBOURGH: Yes, we do.

BRZEZINSKI: Vice president Joe Biden, thank you so much for being on the show.

SCARBOROUGH: Great to have you back.

BIDEN: Good to be back.

SCARBOROUGH: And thanks for watching.

BIDEN: I do watch!

BRZEZINSKI: In our control room, Chris Licht moves fast and he says thank you. There you go.

BIDEN: I saw that.

BRZEZINSKI: There you go. All right, come back soon. Great to see you.

BIDEN: I’d like to. Thank you very much.

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