Trump’s belittling of U.S. intelligence agencies is ‘dangerous,’ ‘mindless’

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Vice President, thank you for talking with us.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I’m delighted to be here with you, Judy. I really am.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me start with health care, the Affordable Care Act. The Republicans say they plan to repeal it this month and then figuring Democrats are going to help them come up with a replacement later. What do you think’s going to happen?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I don’t know what’s going to happen. I think, as I said last night, it was reported in the press speaking to Democratic members newly elected members of the House that I think they’re going to inherit the wind here. You know, all the things that they said they dislike about the Affordable Care Act, they are all able to be adjusted. And we knew when we passed the act that we’d have to constantly see how it worked and improve it. For example, making sure that their significant more — more subsidies for young people to be able to get into the Affordable Care Act, bringing down overall cost.

But at any rate, I think they’re going to find when they repeal it, all of a sudden you’re going to be reporting on your program at night on PBS about so and so died because they got their insurance cut off, would no longer cover them. They — you’re going to find out that women are paying more than men again for the same insurance. You’re going to find out that pre-existing conditions are — are able to disqualify you or make the cost of insurance prohibited. And so they’re going to have a — that’s why they’re having a problem now. They have no replacement.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So do you think Democrats should work with them to —

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well I think Democrats should say, look, let’s take a look at what you have right now. What don’t you like about it? Let’s see if we can fix it. Let’s — talk to us. Tell us what your ideas are. But, this wholesale, look, the fundamental disagreement most Republicans have is they don’t think health care is a right. They think it is a privilege, not a right. We believe health care is a basic right. If education — you’re entitled to an education, why wouldn’t you be entitled to adequate health care? Period.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But based on conversations of the President, we know the President has spoken with President-elect Trump —

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: — about this. Based on that, what parts of it do you think may actually survive?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: None of the good parts can survive with out the funding pieces of it. And the part they say they don’t like is the funding. There’s a reason why. There’s a reason why it’s constructed the way it is. You can’t go to insurance companies and say, you know what, we’re not going to change anything having to do with the pool from which you — you draw your people. We’re not going to do anything. But guess what, you can no longer allow for pre-existing conditions to disqualify somebody. And they go, oh. OK. How do I pay for that? So, you know, they talk — it’s obvious they don’t know much about it. But Mr. Trump’s a good man, but he doesn’t know much about the health care system.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But they’re very serious about undoing it —

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Oh, they’re very serious about undoing it. So, like I said, lots of luck in your senior year. Undo it. See what happens.

JUDY WOODRUFF: More broadly Mr. Vice-President, the Republicans are talking about dismantling much of the legacy of the Obama-Biden Administration, legislation, regulation. What are you most worried that they will do?

JUDY WOODRUFF: More broadly, the Republicans are saying they want to dismantle much of the entire Obama-Biden legacy, legislation, regulations. What are you most worried they may do?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I think they’re kidding themselves if they think they can do away with legislation relating to the progressive values we’ve built into law. The public has moved beyond politicians. For example, I’m not worried about them repealing protections for the LGBT community, because the public is beyond that. I’m not worried about them being able to change the way in which we have reached out and provided many more opportunities for women. And I — but here’s what does concern me. What concerns me is that they will make some judgments in the foreign policy area, without having thought it through that may cause a lot of problems. For example, Ukraine, or the Northern Triangle, here in the Hemisphere, or dealing with Columbia.

Unless you are very sophisticated about what your actions or inactions — let me say it another way. I was asked to go down to Australia, several months ago, to meet with the new — same Prime Minister but with a new coalition. And to re — not re-establish, but make sure that we had close relationships. While I was there I got a call from the — from the President of Latvia saying you’ve got to come to the Baltic states because Mr. Trump, during the campaign said that, you know, they may not protect us against the Russians. So words matter. I’m not suggesting that’s his position. But you have a lot of folks around the — parts of the world that have relationships with us now that based on some of the rhetoric that’s occurred. If they follow through with the rhetoric by non-action, could cause, have some serious diplomatic and — and physical consequences. That’s what worries me most of anything.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re worried more about foreign policy than about domestic policy.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I am.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But what they can undo domestically —

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Because I — I —

JUDY WOODRUFF: — the environment and the rest of it.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I — I — I, look, they will probably do some very rash things relative to the environment. But they again will reap the whirlwind. The public has moved beyond the positions that these fellows have taken. So, in the near term, that may happen, but they’ll pay a heavy price if they do that. For example, they could come along and decide that they’re not going to have, you know, enforce the clean air standards. They could do that, but there will be a backlash.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about the Supreme Court. You chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee for eight years so you know very well what it means in the Republican controlled Senate sat on the nomination of Merrick Garland to fill that ninth seat on the court, sat on it for almost 10 months.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: First time ever.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Once the President-elect, then President Trump chooses someone. Should the Democrats do the same thing and oppose and refuse to go along?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Or Should they, thinking you need to fill that vacancy on the court, go along?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I think they should, look, the Constitution says the President shall nominate, not maybe he could, maybe he can’t, he shall nominate. Implicit in the Constitution is that the Senate will act on its constitutional responsibility and give its advice and consent. No one is required to vote for the nominee. But they, in my view, are required to give the nominee a hearing and a vote. I — it’s been my policy since I’ve been in the United States Senate, I presided over more Supreme Court nominees than anyone in history, anyone living. And never once, even the ones that I’ve disagreed with, have they been denied a hearing. And so I think the Democrats should not take up, what I think is a fundamentally unconstitutional notion that the Republicans — Republicans initiated 10 months ago. I think they should see who they nominate and vote on them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you’ve seen the list of names that the President-elect Trump has put out there. Are any of them, to you, acceptable and are any unacceptable?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well I — I’m not going to comment on it — and to be honest with you, I don’t know all that he’s put out there. I’ve been having trouble enough following him on some other things. But, so, I’m not prepared to comment on any one of his nominees.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Come back to foreign policy. Have you seen now the report by the intelligence community on Russian hacking?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes I have. Yes I’ve read it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: There’s overwhelming consensus in the community and overwhelming evidence supplied by the community that Russia did engage in an effort to impact on the elections. There is no evidence that they actually tampered with voting booths, or tampered with voting rolls. But there is clear evidence that they, in fact, they were engaged in activities designed to try to impact in the outcome of the election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Evidence of any American cooperation with the Russians in doing that?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I’m not going to comment on that Judy. I don’t want to comment on any of the detail of the report. There will be an unclassified version that will be released very shortly, and it will lay out in bold print what they know.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Will the American people learn something new from this?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I think it will probably confirm what a lot of the American people think. But, it will — it will state clearly that the Russians did, as a matter of policy, attempt to affect and, three things. One, it attempted to discredit the U.S. electoral process by implying that or laying the foundation for it is not on the level. Two, it — there’s evidence that — they — is there was an attempt to hurt Mrs. Clinton. But there’s also evidence that there was wider hacking than some people thought. So, the idea that the Russians were not involved in an effort to engage in our electoral process is simply not able to be sustained. They were.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Excuse me. In connection with that, the criticism by the President-elect of the intelligence community in this country, belittling of the intelligence community. Do you think that’s just politics or do you think it’s dangerous?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I think it’s dangerous. I hope, some very smart people around like General Mattis and some others. For a President not to have confidence in, not to be prepared to listen to the myriad of intelligence agencies from defense intelligence, to the CIA, etcetera, is absolutely mindless. It’s just mindless. How would you — now can you disagree? Can you ask for more detail? Can you question whether or not there is a disagreement among the various intelligence agencies? That’s all legitimate. But the idea that — that you know more than the intelligence community knows, it’s a little like saying, I know more about physics than my professor. I didn’t read the book, I just know I know. I mean, it’s — it’s not a, it’s — it’s worrisome. I’m assuming it will change.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If — if what the Russians did is so serious, should there be more retaliation than what the administration has just enacted?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I, when the question was would we respond to the hacking over a month ago, I said at our — our time and choosing, we would. Some of what we did you will know and some you will not know. And we’ve done both. Things you do not know and things that are known, like expelling —

JUDY WOODRUFF: (inaudible)

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Will we know those things that we’re —

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Hope not.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Syria. Will that go down as one of the administration’s great failures do you think? And is the U.S. now impotent to affect the outcome?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No. No. It is not a failure. The — to be a failure the — there was — you would assume there was an alternative that could have been offered. That would have benefited or been great — greater interest of the security of the United States. If you notice, there wasn’t anybody in either political party ever talking about putting troops on the ground. If you notice, there wasn’t anybody talking about — there was no plan put forward by anyone that demonstrated that there was a sufficient, coherent nucleus of Democrats with a small d. Who were in opposition to the Assad regime, who would, given a requisite training capability, have the ability to be able to take on both extreme elements of the Sunnis would mean Al-Qaeda as well as ISIS as well as Nusra, and take on the Assad regime at the same time.

And so, our focus has been the dismantling of the so-called caliphate, the dismantling of ISIS being able to occupy territory, and govern like they were a nation-state like they were a government.

They have lost enormous amounts of ground and I predict to you before June, there will be no such place where they occupy anywhere in Syria, as well as Iraq. The caliphate will have been dismantled. It will still be a problem, but that has been our focus because that is the greatest existential threat to U.S. interests.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And President — President Assad will still be in power?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: That remains to be seen. And why I say that is we’ve been saying from the beginning, like most others, that this needs to be a negotiated settlement. The Russians appear to be — appear to be in conjunction with the Turks, as well as the Iranians, appear to be at a point where they are realizing for their interests as well, Assad being in power indefinitely is not in their interests.

So it remains to be seen. We’ve been trying to put together in multiple fora ability to bring a negotiated settlement to this. It’s still a reach, but we’ll see.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Looking back to the election, why did Hillary Clinton lose in middle-class, working-class places like Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, close to where you grew up? And what economic message could have changed the outcome?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, first of all, I’m not — there’s a false choice being put forward by some Democrats now. Either we double-down on our progressive values, or we go out there and talk about the middle class and the working class. I’ve never found them inconsistent. They go together.

The reason I’m a Democrat is because the essence of the Democratic Party is an abhorrence for the abuse of power on the one hand, and the notion that everyone’s entitled to be treated with dignity. That message never got through.

I remember going — I was flying to Cleveland — I did 83 events — I was flying to Cleveland. I was wondering why I was so upset about the way the campaign was going. This was about three weeks out. And it hit me that because of the outrageous nature of the way in which the things that Trump was saying, we never got to substance.

You can’t find me any of your viewers who can define for you what Hillary’s free tuition plan — college plan was about. We never got to it. And…

JUDY WOODRUFF: Whose fault was that?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, I think it was — I think it was multiple faults. I don’t think that the campaign was clear enough. I don’t think you guys were ready to cover it. You know, you look at what the Annenberg School and other studies have shown. There’s hardly any coverage of a single issue, of a substantive issue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you also said the campaign wasn’t clear enough.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, I don’t think — I — I’ve been the odd man out here. I — you know, I didn’t hear anybody talk about the plight of that guy who works on the assembly line and his wife is a hostess. They make 90,000 bucks a year, have two kids and they’re hurting. They’re scared.

We don’t show enough respect. We don’t show enough — we don’t speak enough to the — my dad used to have an expression. He’d say, “I don’t expect the government to solve my problems, Joe, but at least I expect them to understand it.” We were not clear enough in making it clear we understood the pressure they were under and we had concrete solutions to it. We never got to them.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Could you have beaten Donald Trump?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Oh, I don’t — that’s — I have no idea. I mean, you know, it’s easy to say now. People say that. But who knows? Who knows whether I could have beaten Donald Trump.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you seem very clear on what the message should have been.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Oh, I — I was…

(LAUGHTER)

… I’ve been clear on that message for a long time. This handle I’ve been given of “Middle Class Joe.” I know in Washington, that’s not meant to be a compliment. It means you’re not sophisticated. But the reason I talk so much about the middle class is it’s the glue that holds this country together. It really is. And we don’t speak enough to their legitimate concerns.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The future of the Democratic Party — you’re talking about it right now, but it’s now less — fewer seats in state capitals around the country.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Not only lost the Congress, but lost the White House. What does the party — what needs to happen?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I think we just have to remember who the heck we are and speak to who we are and what we believe. The American public agrees with us on most every basic issue. But here’s what’s going to happen, in my (inaudible).

The very issues that didn’t get covered are going to get covered extremely thoroughly now. You know why? This is going to be the most contentious Congress you’ve seen since you and I have been doing this business. And so what’s going to happen, just like their initial effort to do away with an oversight, you know, committee on — on ethics.

Well, guess what? If they had talked about that during the campaign, they’d pay no price for it. But now they’re going to implement it. When they go and take on healthcare, when they take on Medicare, when they take on aid to education, when they take on college tuition, when they take — we’re going to — you’re going to cover it. You’re going to be — you’re going to maybe even have an old-timer like me talking about it on your program.

And people are going to, “Oh, that’s what these guys want to do? This is what the Democrats are?”

(CROSSTALK)

JUDY WOODRUFF: Excuse me. But you referred to this a minute ago. Democrats are dealing with a new reality in how this new president will communicate. The tweets — just today, he tweeted — he called the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, “the head clown.” Last week, he said — he said just, like, “doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory President O statements and roadblocks; thought it was going to be a smooth transition; not” — in all caps.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Grow up, Donald. Grow up. Time to be an adult. You’re president. You gotta do something. Show us what you have. You’re going to propose legislation. We’re going to get to debate it. Let the public decide. Let them vote in Congress. Let’s see what happens.

It’s going to be much clearer what he’s for and against and what we’re for and against, now that it’s going to get down to actually discussing in detail these issues that affect people’s lives.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Two quick things — the cancer moonshot…

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes?

JUDY WOODRUFF: … you started that in memory of your son Beau. You’re now going to be launching a nonprofit. You, among other things, look at the cost of cancer drugs. What would you consider success when it comes to the price of cancer medicine?

(CROSSTALK)

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, look, that’s a small part of this. The overwhelming part of this is to continue to instill this overwhelming sense of urgency and cooperating in terms of breaking down silos; in terms of — look, the medical — when Nixon declared the war on cancer, he had no army. He had no tools. He had no anything, except good intentions.

And there was one model — institutional model — in Jonas Salk and a laboratory — it was finding the silver bullet. We’ve now found out 45 years later that it’s enormous collaboration that’s required. But the institutional instruments have not changed.

Judy, if I could get every single cancer genome sequence that has been sequenced; if I could ever put it in one repository, we have the capacity to do a million billion calculations per second. We’ll be able to find out more in 10 minutes more than it would take 10 Nobel laureates 10 years to find out about the patterns of cancer and the cures for cancer.

These are the things that I’m working on most. Drug prices are a problem. Access is a problem. But because it is so celebrated, that issue, I — I want to put it in perspective. If I could solve everything but that, I would solve everything but that. We’re going to work on that as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You’ll be doing Cancer Moonshot affiliating with two universities?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You’ll be, I guess, lunch pale Joe is gonna become Ivy League professor?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, I’m gonna…

(CROSSTALK)

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I’m going back to my alma mater where my heart is, University of Delaware. They’ve been so good to me. I’m gonna be doing all domestic policy out of there and I’m gonna be doing diplomatic informative policy out of Penn.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Less time for politics?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, that is politics to me, they’re the issues. Look, every single morning since I’ve been 27 years old, I’ve got up and someone’s handed me a card like the one I have in my pocket with the schedule on it, of all the things I’m gonna do. I don’t know what to do if I didn’t have that card.

I mean these are the things I care about and it’s a — my dad in another expression a lucky person gets up in the morning, puts both feet on the floor, knows what they’re about to do and think (ph) it still matters. I think this stuff really matters.

So I’m gonna be able to take some of the intellectual horse power out of the vice president’s office, I’m gonna have two platforms in which I can hire those people in at Delaware and at Penn and work on the issues that are an overwhelming concern to me still.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So leaving government after, what almost half a century?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Oh geez, don’t say (inaudible) but you’re right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What — how does that…

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I — I — I don’t know. I must tell you, it was — like I said, since I’ve been a 27 year old kid, I’ve — this has been the essence of my life. And — and I — I just know that I want to stay engaged and I think that I will have a platform to do that. And that also effect public policy. That’s what — what’s why I got involved in government in the first place.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You won’t be shy about speaking out?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No, I won’t be shy about speaking out. I never got involved in it for the money as my net worth would show you. So, and I still don’t have that interest, I’m interested in doing the things that I’ve been doing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Vice President Joe Biden, thank you very much.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Thank you Judy, I appreciate it.

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