More from the series
Read more: The Bee’s interview with Joe Biden
In an interview with The Sacramento Bee’s California Nation podcast, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden discussed his approach to the Golden State, ideas to improve California’s housing crisis and wildfire issues, as well as who could be his running mate. Read more from the Jan. 10 interview here:
In an interview with the California Nation podcast, Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden discussed his approach to the Golden State, friendship with former President Barack Obama and ideas to improve California’s housing crisis and wildfire issues.
He also reflected on the death of his late son, Beau, and why he feels strongly about building on the Affordable Care Act.
Here’s a transcript from his Jan. 10 interview held ahead of a town hall in Sparks, Nevada:
Q: We’re from California. We ask every candidate what personal ties, if any, do you have to California.
A: Well, I have a son and a daughter-in-law living in California now. I have a lot of friends in California. I’ve been going to California for a long, long time. I’ve got an awful lot of endorsements in California, including a couple three mayors today, but also great friends like Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and the governor, so I’ve had a lot of ties for a long time in California.
Q: What positions would you consider (California Sen. Kamala Harris) for under your presidency?
A: Anything she’d be interested in.
Q: Including vice president?
A: She’s qualified to be president, and I’d consider her for anything that she would be interested in.
Q: The biggest thing you’ve made central to your campaign has been this argument about electability, but California (is) a progressive state. The ideas of Medicare for All, free college tuition are popular. Why should voters pick you when some of their personal ideas might align better with a different candidate?
A: Well, they shouldn’t if they don’t align with me, but most do. Look at the polling data. We’re doing really well in California. Look, for example, Medicare for All is gonna cost $35 trillion. It’s gonna rewrite the whole system, it’s gonna take four to 10 years, according to the authors, to get it passed. I provide Medicare if you want it, and we can afford it and we can move quickly. And so, I’m finding, and I think you’re finding if you look at the polling data, a significant number of Democrats in California and across the country support Medicare if you want it and make sure everybody’s covered without raising middle class taxes.
Q: And you’ve skipped out on two state party conventions in California —
A: I haven’t skipped out.
Q: — as well as the DNC summer meetings.
A: No, no, come on, man. I haven’t skipped out at all. What I’d done is I was speaking to the LGBT community, which I found more important than showing up to your convention at the time. And secondly, I was doing an event in Ohio when you set the second debate – the second California convention.
Q: I guess what I’m getting at is a lot of your events and appearances in the state so far have been LA and San Francisco, a lot of fundraisers.You’re not alone, but what’s your approach to winning California and why have you been ignoring the middle of the state so far?
A: Well, look, I mean, there’s a primary going on. There’s one coming up in Iowa, New Hampshire, here, there’s a caucus, and South Carolina. I think I’ve probably been in California as much as any other candidate not from California.
Q: And housing affordability and homelessness are perhaps the biggest issues in the state. What are you going to do as president?
A: Well, I’m gonna make sure that everyone qualifies for Section 8 housing. No one should pay more than 30 percent of their income to be able to have rent. I’m going to make sure first-time home buyers are able to get a $15,000 down payment from the federal government. I’m gonna see to it that we invest an awful lot of money in providing housing and in addition to housing, I had a long talk with (Los Angeles) Mayor (Eric) Garcetti today about that very issue laying out our mutual housing plan. We have to invest a great deal of money. Housing should be a right for people. The idea that you have so many people on the street in California because of the increase in cost of housing, it’s just not right, and we’re gonna fully fund housing, and we’re gonna make sure that everyone has access to Section 8 housing. No one should pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing.
Q: Do you believe there should be a right to shelter?
A: Yes, yes I do.
Q: We’ve seen devastating wildfires across California. One big question is whether or not to rebuild. How would you balance that as president. Does the federal government pay to relocate people or —
A: Look, the federal government, we have a $1.7 trillion project. We have to get to net-zero emissions. We have to start immediately in 2020. I mean, for real, if you go back and look, I’m the first guy to introduce climate change as an initiative back in 1987. Politifact says it was a game changer. I’ve been involved in this my whole career.
Secondly, as the guy who ran the Recovery Act, which was over $900 billion, I was directing the investment of billions of dollars driving down the cost of solar, driving down the cost of wind, so it’s now competitive with coal, and we invested billions of dollars, the largest wind farms, the largest solar farms in the country, in the world actually now. And so, there’s a lot we can do.
For example, the first thing you’ve got to do, the first thing I’d do as president, is rejoin an outfit I helped create, and that is the Paris Climate Accord, and bring everyone, everyone into it to the United States, whose members almost 200 nations, and have them up the ante. And, by the way, Mayor Garcetti’s a world leader in this. We’re working with mayors all across the world. He is one of the guys I’d look to to help get that done.
Q: And endorsed you for president.
A: Well, no, it’s not just that. He’s been a friend. I mean, he has endorsed me…, and I really appreciate the endorsement. But beyond that, don’t be so cynical. The fact is he has been way ahead on climate change and we’ve been able to get an awful lot done so far. But the first thing you’ve got to do is recognize science. This president, the idea of you raking leaves in the forest, is not the way you’re gonna stop climate change.
Q: I went to your LA rally, your first rally here in California and I talked to a voter who was considering supporting you, and then I asked what would it take for Biden (to win your vote), and he said, “When I see the vice president talk about, ‘Oh, we can work with Republicans,’ he must be living in a different planet.” Do you think you can work with Republicans, and if so, how, given these attacks from Trump and their strong allegiance to this president?
A: Well, three things. One, if we can’t unite the country, you’re in deep trouble. Not a joke. Our country, the democracy is at risk. There’s only one way you can govern in America, by consensus. I know I’m the only guy in this race from the beginning saying we have to unify the country. I’ve done it before, and I can do it again. It doesn’t mean it’s going to be a kumbaya moment, everybody grab, hold hands. But they say I don’t know this new Republican Party.
I know it better than anybody. I’ve been the victim of attacks. They’ve gone after my only surviving son, they’re telling lies about me. For example, today, on the air, apparently the intelligence community is investigating Russia using bots to try to spread lies about me. I don’t know that even Trump knows that’s happening. So here’s the deal: If we cannot bring the country together, we’re in real, real, real trouble. But I think we can. I don’t mean, look, we have to win back the Senate, and I think we can do that if we have a nominee who can help people win in North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, excuse me, and Texas and Arizona. We do that and you’re gonna see there’s gonna be enough Republicans that we can make some compromises on a bunch of things that matter. But we must unite the country. If we don’t, we’re in deep, deep trouble.
Q: What’s your reaction to no candidates of color being on the next debate stage?
A: Well, you know, I wish more people were on the debate stage. The fact is that, if you notice, I get more support from black and brown constituents than anybody in this race. That’s where I come from. I come from the African-American community. That’s my base. We’re the eighth largest black population (as a percentage) in the United States in my state. That’s how I got started. And so, I think there’s some really qualified people, but it’s the way, you know, the way the polls are running, the way things are moving. I’m not sure this whole debate set-up has made any sense anyway to begin with. But it is what it is. But I tell you what: If I’m elected president, I promise you my administration is gonna look like America.
Q: And I read your book, “Promise Me, Dad,” and it was a very emotional story of your late son Beau. One thing that’s top of mind is healthcare. And I remember you said in 2016 with CNN that Obama offered to pay for some of the medical expenses because you were considering selling your home in Delaware. And for a lot of people, they’re struggling and they don’t have that ability. Why is an incremental approach building on Obamacare better than Medicare for All?
A: There’s nothing incremental. Let’s get this straight. The most profound healthcare change in America has happened with Obamacare. I can make sure everyone, everyone is covered with healthcare. We can reduce the price of drugs, we can reduce the cost of gold plans, we can limit deductibles to $1,000, and we can do it right away. We can get it done, and it covers everyone. And I promise you when it passes, it’s gonna be revolutionary. You’re gonna see what happens. The idea you think we’re gonna pass a $30 trillion plan raising taxes on working class people and middle class people is just, at least Bernie’s being honest about it. He’s saying there’s gonna be middle class tax increases, there’s gonna be an overall tax increase. We can get the same thing done quickly, nothing incremental about it. It’s getting it done.
Q: With “Promise Me, Dad,” Beau said, “Promise me dad you’re gonna be OK,” and you decided not to run for president. How are you emotionally ready right now? How have you been able to move forward?
A: I didn’t answer your other question. Beau wasn’t worried about whether or not we could pay the medical bills. We paid the medical bills. He was able to pay the medical bills. He was a hero in the Army, came back after a year in Iraq with the bronze star, conspicuous service medal, he had insurance. That’s not the point. The point was what we’re worried about was that he was worried he’d have to leave his job, he would leave his job as attorney general, and he had no savings.
And the president was asking me, the only person I confided in about Beau’s condition because I had my responsibilities as vice president, was Barack. He was a friend. He asked me how I was doing, and I said, “It’s rough.” He’s worried that he had aphasia, he was starting to lose his ability to recall proper nouns. And I said, “He’s worried that he may have to resign as attorney general, and he has no savings,” and I said, “But I’m good. I’m good. I can sell the house. I don’t need the big house I have now.” I was pointing out the president’s friendship and generosity to Beau. He said, “No, no, Joe. I have the money. I’ll take care of it, and you can pay me back whenever.”
We didn’t have to do that at all, but my generic point, the reason I wrote about it is to show you what a big heart and how close Barack was to my family and how much he cared about it. Now here’s the one thing about Obamacare you talk about: Had we not passed Obamacare, what would’ve been able to happen with the insurance companies is they could say Beau had a death sentence, it was just a matter of how long he’d live, not whether he’d live.
And so, they could have come in and said, “You’ve run out of coverage, suffer in peace the next five, seven, eight months that you lived.” That’s what Obamacare did. It prevented that from happening, guaranteed that 20 million people that didn’t have insurance before had it, guaranteed that you had over 100 million people who in fact, out there, had pre-existing conditions and their kids couldn’t be covered. That’s what it did. Nothing incremental. Nothing incremental about it.
And the way we beat Republicans like the way we did in the year when they don’t agree with us is we go out and beat them not by questioning their motive, by questioning their judgment. I went into 24 states with over 65 candidates, and we won back the House, we won back the speaker, because we ran on them against taking down Obamacare, and that’s where my bottom line is. We’re adding to Obamacare, building on it, we can get it done now and not have to wait forever. …
… The other thing is that you think about all the people, all the people who’ve gone through what I went through and more, alone, alone. Even if they had insurance, alone. And they get up every single day. And I mean this from the bottom of my heart, they get up every single day, put one foot in front of the other, and they’re heroes. They are heroes. You watch tonight, I’ll make you a bet. If you watch, you know, all the stuff, you notice you guys aren’t writing about my hugging women anymore because you figured out they’re hugging me. And the reason they’re hugging me is they walk up and grab me and say, “I just lost my daughter, cancer,” or, “My son’s dying,” or, “I have Stage 4.” And what they’re really looking at, and I found out after I lost my wife and daughter when I was your age, is that they’re looking for reassurances. Can I make it? Will I make it? They just want assurance. Just like if you lost friends who committed suicide. I mean, it just rips your heart out.
The reason I wrote the book about Beau is to let people know how incredible he was but also to let people know the only way I’ve gone through these tough things is with purpose. You have to have purpose. And Beau’s concern about “promise me, dad,” he was worried that I was gonna withdraw, I was gonna go inward. And he made me promise him that I would not do that, not that I’d run for president but that I would not do that.