Former Vice President Joe Biden closed out his busy 4th of July day in Iowa with a trip to a baseball stadium, greeting newly-naturalized U.S. citizens and taking in the I-Cubs game with Iowa activists. During the seventh inning, he sat down with Starting Line for an interview.
While Biden and seven other candidates shook hands at BBQs and parades, the main news narrative coming out of Iowa revolved around Kamala Harris’ ongoing criticism of Biden’s past positions on busing and Biden’s response to it. Dueling press conferences drove the back-and-forth a week after the issue rose to prominence in the first Democratic debates.
For his part, Biden told Starting Line that he was “surprised and a little bit disappointed” about the tenor of the conversation in the Democratic primary this early on.
“We’re supposed to be talking about and competing about what we’re going to do about the future,” Biden said. “Anybody can go back and pick something about somebody’s past, out of context. Like, who in God’s name knows anything about busing from your generation? Turns out, we have the same position.”
Biden was referring to Harris’ clarification of her stance this week over whether federally-mandated busing should be used today. She said it should be considered, not mandated now, though she kept up her insistence that Biden should apologize for his stance on the issue from the 1970s.
“My decision was made that I’m not going to go back and argue with people about the past,” Biden added. “What do you want to do now? I hope we move that way and continue to talk about the future.”
Still, that exchange from last week’s debate between Harris and Biden had an impact on the state of the primary. Multiple state and national polls showed Biden’s support slipping and Harris’ surging.
Biden, however, was not too concerned, noting he was still ahead in the polls, even if the race had tightened.
“For me, I judge how people respond out there,” Biden said, pointing out to people in the stands at the baseball stadium. “I judge how people are in the parade in Independence. I judge how people respond to me in Iowa, New Hampshire, etc.”
And he noted that he’d picked up a number of endorsements from African-American leaders around the country after the debate, including from Frantz Whitfield, the pastor at Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Waterloo. Whitfield endorsed Biden during the campaign’s Waterloo event on Wednesday evening.
“It’s a marathon,” Biden said. “It’s about making the case.”
If that marathon does end up with Biden winning the primary and defeating Donald Trump, it’s likely that he, just like any other potential Democratic president, will still face a Republican Senate, as well as a conservative Supreme Court. Both those will present just as many obstacles to Democratic policies as they did during the Obama Administration.
And Biden himself has already been through the height of Republican obstruction on a Supreme Court nomination.
“I think we should have been a whole heck of a lot harder on [Mitch McConnell],” Biden said when asked if there was anything he and President Obama should have done differently on the Merrick Garland nomination.
“I have pretty good relationships on both sides of the aisle,” Biden explained of his efforts during the Garland fight. “I’d say, what are you doing, you’re setting a horrible precedent here. And the answer was, I know Joe, but if I go, I’m in a red state, if I go ahead and just call for a hearing, the Koch Brothers will drop five, ten million dollars on my race. That’s nothing about political courage, it’s a reality.”
And he didn’t rule out a return of the Obama nominee who never made it to a Senate hearing.
“Sure, I would,” Biden said when asked if he’d be open to nominating Garland again. “By the way, he’s a first-rate person.”
Biden suggested reforming campaign finance laws to allow for public financing of campaigns to reduce partisanship in judicial nominating disputes. But until that happens, he argued Democrats just need to fight these battles with a Republican Senate just as hard as the other side does.
“The strategy would be to go out and actually beat them,” Biden said of what he’d do as president if McConnell continued blocking judicial appointments, adding Democrats successfully brought that fight in the 2018 midterms. “We took the fight to them [in 2018]. In that case, it was about health care. We got to take the fight to them. Part of this is persuasion, as well. And that’s why I’m not giving up on the South.”
Biden was not open to making any major changes to the judicial system, like expanding the Supreme Court.
“No, I’m not prepared to go on and try to pack the court, because we’ll live to rue that day,” he said.
And he explained what kind of justices he’d be looking to appoint.
“I’m not going to seat anybody on the court, lower court or otherwise, who doesn’t support the basic fundamental notion that there’s an inherent right to privacy,” Biden said.
In the interview, Biden also touched on his support for (and from) union members. He visited a union hall in Waterloo on Wednesday.
“What I’m all about, for real, my North Star is how do we rebuild the middle class. Not a joke. Unions are the people who built the middle class,” Biden said.
Finally, Biden didn’t have any specific names of who he might select to serve in a potential Biden Administration, but he pledged to recruit a diverse team.
“There’s a lot of really, really qualified people out there, both African-American and women,” Biden said. “My administration, like our last one, will reflect what the country looks like. So will the court reflect what the country looks like. It’s important. It’s really important. I promise that’s going to happen. Just like my staff looks like how the country looks like.”
Biden closed out the evening watching the final innings of the game with Iowa Democratic activists, then stayed for the fireworks display and photos with attendees.
by Pat Rynard