Return to Transcripts main page
Presidential Candidate Joe Biden (D) is Interviewed About Mass Shootings. Aired 7-7:30a ET
Aired August 06, 2019 - 07:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That will be very interesting, so stick around for that.
[07:00:04] Also, CNN has sat down with former vice president Joe Biden. The exclusive interview as NEW DAY continues.
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. Chris Cuomo with us from El Paso, Texas, this morning, and this morning we have learned that the president will visit El Paso. That visit is getting mixed reaction to say the least. He will also visit Dayton, Ohio. Thirty-one people killed in those two cities.
El Paso's mayor says he will welcome the president when he arrives. The leader of the local Democratic Party is urging the president to cancel his trip. And El Paso native and current Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke writes that the president should not come, adding, "He has no place here" -- Chris.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The massacre here in El Paso, fueled by hatred and bigotry, allegedly at the hands of a white nationalist, the president blaming mental illness, video games, the Internet. Everything except any kind of indication of the rhetoric that he has made all too common.
While Anderson Cooper sat down with him in an exclusive interview with another presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, to get his reaction to this week's shootings, and more importantly, what can be done to prevent attacks in the future.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You entered the campaign saying that this is, in your opinion, a battle for the soul of the nation. Given the violence over the last couple of days, who's winning the battle?
JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The white supremacists are winning the battle. This is -- this is domestic terrorism. I mean, look, when those folks came out of the fields in Charlottesville, their veins bulging and I mean, this -- just coming out from under the rocks, carrying torches, saying anti-Semitic bile that was spewed in Europe and in Germany in the '30s, accompanied by white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan, and a young woman gets killed. And the president gets asked, "Well, tell us about what do you think?" And he said there's very fine people on both sides. For God's sake. No president ever said that. And he's continued it.
ANDERSON COOPER: You talked about, though, Charlottesville being a defining moment. Do you see this as -- as another defining moment?
BIDEN: Absolutely. But you know, it's a continuation. I mean, this is -- this is a president who continues to speak in ways that just are completely contrary to everything who we are. I mean, referring to immigrants as, you know, Mexicans as rapists and talking about, you know, the rats in Baltimore. I mean, the way he talks about people.
COOPER: Do you -- do you blame the president in part for what happened in El Paso?
BIDEN: I don't -- what I do is his rhetoric contributes to this notion that -- it almost legitimates people coming out from under the rocks. I mean, this -- this is white nationalism. This is -- this is -- this is terrorism of a different sort. But it's still terrorism.
COOPER: Beto O'Rourke has said that he believes the president is a white nationalist. Do you?
BIDEN: Well, let me put it this way: Whether he is or not, he sure is using the language of and contributing to the kinds of things that they say.
The idea that this guy in El Paso talked about what he's going to do is he's going to keep paraphrasing, keep these folks in South America, and these Latinos and Mexicans from polluting America, from overtaking our society, wiping out, you know, who we are, I mean, it just, it just is the kind of thing that the president contributes to. And for the first time today, the first time I've ever heard him say he condemns white -- white supremacy, white terrorism.
COOPER: When President Trump today said, you know, we have to defeat white supremacy, bigotry, hatred, you don't believe he --
BIDEN: Well, let's start doing -- Show me something, then. From this point on, show me something.
Can you imagine if you had children in a school where the principal, after a terrible shooting or after what happened in Charlottesville, or what happened in El Paso or what happened in Ohio, in Dayton, stood up and said, "Well, you know, there's really good fine people on both sides." Or you know, "There really are a lot of really bad people coming across the border, and they're going to pollute our society." And all those things he said. I'm paraphrasing him. What do you think would happen?
Parents would be asking for that principal to be fired. And if anything happened in that school, would they say, he's the -- he caused it? Well, maybe he didn't cause it, but he sure, in fact, did not do anything to make it clear it's reprehensible conduct that will not be tolerated.
COOPER: So you don't go as far as Beto O'Rourke, to say that the president is a white nationalist? I think Cory Booker said that the president is to blame for this because of the rhetoric and his lack of action on guns.
[07:05:03] BIDEN: Clearly, his actions have done nothing to do anything other than encourage this kind of behavior. That going to whether he's -- I'm not sure what this guy believes, if he believes anything that's not just opportunity, an opportunist to be able to continue to maintain his base and to divide the country.
COOPER: That may behind the rhetoric, you're saying, an effort basically to stock white supremacists or white nationalists, to at least give them a dog whistle?
BIDEN: Well, it is -- They do have a dog whistle. They do have a dog whistle.
Look, this -- this is a president who has said things no other president has said since Andrew Jackson. Nobody said anything like the things he's saying. And the idea that those will contribute to or legitimate or make it more rational for people to think that we, in fact, can now speak out. We can speak out and be more straightforward, and we can make this an issue.
We've been through this before. We've been through this before in the -- in the '20s with the Ku Klux Klan, 50,000 people walking down Pennsylvania Avenue in pointed hats and their robes as they, in fact, decided they didn't want any Catholics coming into the country.
We went through it after the Civil War in terms of the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacy. This is about separating people and the good and bad in his mind. It's about making -- it's about an access to power. It's a trait used by charlatans all over the world. Divide people. Divide them. Pit them against one another.
COOPER: If that's the case, I mean, it is a very dangerous game, then, that he's playing.
BIDEN: No, no. There's no question it's a dangerous game. There's no question that his rhetoric has contributed to, at a minimum, of dumbing down the way in which we as a society talk about one another, the way we -- we've always been -- look, we've always brought the country together. We've never, you know -- we the people, we hold these truths self-evident. He flies in the face of all the basic things that we've never met the standard. We've never abandoned it before. He looks like he just flat abandoned the theory that we are one people.
COOPER: In terms of the -- the actual things he talked about today, in terms of action, early in the morning, he had tweeted about the idea of linking background checks or stronger background checks with immigration reform. He -- he never mentioned it after tweeting about it, I guess. Maybe he talked --
BIDEN: There's an example. I mean, why don't we have background checks for the guys like, who in fact, do these terrible things? They're not immigrants that are doing this. They're American citizens who are doing these things.
COOPER: Does the idea of linking action on stronger background checks to immigration reform make sense?
BIDEN: No, but it makes it sound like the reason why we need background checks is because of those immigrants. Let's get immigration reform, period. And let's go after the notion that these background checks should be universal, period. Let's go and make sure that we, in fact, do not allow, like I was able to do once with Dianne Feinstein's help, eliminate the ability to have an assault weapon, eliminate to have -- the ability to have a clip with more than 10 bullets in it. Well, who the hell needs 200 rounds in a gun, in a weapon? I mean --
COOPER: That is not -- The president really did not talk about anything relating to guns today.
BIDEN: No, no. I know he hasn't.
COOPER: Yes, yes. No, I know.
BIDEN: That's my point.
COOPER: Right. Yes. Well, he focused on -- he talked about video games. He talked about mental health, the idea of red flag legislation identifying somebody ahead of them, perhaps committing a crime, maybe even involuntary confinement for somebody with a mental issue who seems to be a danger.
And he went on to say that it's not -- it's not -- it's mental. It's someone with a mental illness or with hatred that pulls the trigger. It's not the gun pulling the trigger.
BIDEN: Oh, come on, man. Look, how may time have I heard that? Here's the deal. Hatred is not necessarily -- it's sick, but it's not a mental illness. To confuse that with a certifiable mental illness. White supremacy is wrong. White nationalism is wrong. It is not a mental illness. It is hateful behavior.
It is the way in which people are raised and encouraged to take out their venom on people who they don't like because of the color of their eyes or the color of their skin or the way they walk or where they're from. That is not mental illness. That is a fact, hatred. Hatred. COOPER: There's much we don't know about the shooter in Dayton yet, but certainly it indicates, like, he had some mental issues or at least some emotional issues early on and obviously --
BIDEN: Well, by the way, I've always argued that, in fact, there should be people denied the about to have weapons if they have a mental illness. They should be made aware. The police should be made aware of someone in a background check if they've been treated, just like what happened down in Virginia, at Virginia Tech and a whole range of those things.
[07:10:12] We've been talking about that for a long time, but up until now, our friends -- friends, I use that too lightly -- you know, the folks on the right have argued that no, no, no, that -- that's not anybody's responsibility. They should be able to own a weapon. It -- look, why don't we call this for what it is? This is, pure and
simple, white nationalism, terrorism. It's domestic terrorism. Period.
COOPER: So do you -- in a Biden administration, would want to see the FBI able to prosecute domestic terror?
COOPER: In the same way that they do international terrorism?
COOPER: As of right now, that in itself, domestic terrorism is not in itself a crime. It's usually a weapons charge or something else.
BIDEN: But there is domestic terrorism. White supremacy is domestic terrorism.
COOPER: So you would like to see a change in law to have domestic terrorism basically be combatted the same way that international terrorism is by the FBI?
BIDEN: Yes. What's the difference? What's the difference? There's been as many -- there's more acts by domestic terrorists today in the past years than there has been by foreign terrorism, even though those who are being recruited.
COOPER: Chris Wray from the FBI just testified the other week that they had almost as many arrests on domestic terrorism in the first three quarters of this year than they have with international terrorism.
BIDEN: Yes, so what's the difference in terms of the lives of American citizens, innocent people?
COOPER: You've -- you're in support of stronger background checks, universal background checks.
BIDEN: Universal background checks.
COOPER: You're in support of an assault weapons ban.
BIDEN: I was able to get one passed.
COOPER: Right. In 1994. The assault weapons ban.
COOPER: The final studies, though, on the assault weapons ban that people point to say it basically was kind of inconclusive. They said there were so many guns, so many assault-type weapons already on the market that it didn't really have a demonstrable effect on the reduction of crime which occurred. There was a reduction of crime, but they can't point at the assault weapons ban.
BIDEN: Well, that's true. But look, here's a simple proposition. Let's assume it's all absolutely accurate. Do we want to continue it?
Does anybody think it made any sense that someone's able to walk into a gun store, buy an assault weapon that has multiple rounds or buy an assault weapon that has a hundred rounds, even though it may not -- you can't point to the fact that it, in fact, had stopped it before. Do you want more of them on the street? Do we want to do that?
COOPER: So to gun owners out there who say, "Well, a Biden administration means they're going to come for my guns" --
BIDEN: Bingo. You're right, if you have an assault weapon. The fact of the matter is they should be illegal, period.
Look, the Second Amendment doesn't say you can't restrict the kinds of weapons people can own. You can't buy a bazooka. You can't have a flamethrower.
The guys who make these arguments are the people who say, "The tree of liberty is watered with the blood of patriots. We need the protection against the government. We need an F-15 for that." You need something well beyond whether or not you're going to have an assault weapon.
COOPER: So would you -- How would you deal with all the assault weapons that are already out there, then, people have?
BIDEN: What I would do is I would try to -- I would institute a national buy-back program. And I would move it in the direction of making sure that that, in fact, was what we tried to do: get them off the street.
COOPER: But that's not confiscating people.
BIDEN: No. That's not walking into their homes, knocking on their doors, going through their gun cabinets, et cetera.
COOPER: So people would be allowed to keep the weapons they already have?
BIDEN: Right now, there's no legal way that I'm aware of that you could deny them the right if they've had purchased -- legally purchased them. But we can, in fact, make a major effort to get them off the street and out of the possession of people.
COOPER: Do you think President Trump is afraid of the NRA? Because he -- he -- you know, he called in members of Congress, and he was making fun, even, of some members of Congress saying that they were scared of the NRA. He said he would take -- he would take it on, and then --
BIDEN: No, the first thing he did, he showed up at the NRA, and he spoke to them nationally and said, "Mea culpa. Mea culpa." You know, "What do you need?" basically.
COOPER: You think he's beholden to the NRA still? BIDEN: I think he's beholden to his base. I think it's his base. I
think he's beholden to the NRA, because a significant portion of his base is made up of people who he has identified as being -- you know, dividing people into those are good guys and bad guys. Those who, in fact are -- you know, he preaches division. That's what it's all about.
Look, he speaks to his base, which is somewhere around 35 percent of the American people. A president should speak to everybody. Everybody. The base should be Democrats, Republicans, independents across the board. That's not who he is. He's focused on his base, and that's one of the ways he's been able to intimidate some of the Republican colleagues.
[07:15:03] CUOMO: Another aspect of the interview was the former vice president talking about his own life and his incredible experience with tragedy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: He said, "Dad, look at me, Dad." He said, "I'm going to be OK, no matter what happens." He knew he only had months to go. And he said, "But promise me, Dad, promise me you'll be OK."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: The former VP has an emotional message of hope to families now coming to grips with this unimaginable loss. Next.
CUOMO: Former Vice President Joe Biden is sharing lessons from his own personal tragedies, while reflecting on the mass shootings in Dayton and here in El Paso. Through the grief, he's offering a message of hope while discussing the president's response to the shootings. We have more of his interview with Anderson Cooper, now.
COOPER: When I mentioned that the president talked about video games today as being part of the problem, you -- I saw you kind of rolled your eyes. It's something that people have talked about for a long time.
[07:20:06] BIDEN: I've talked about it, too, but it not -- it is not healthy to have these games teaching kids, that, you know, the dispassionate notion that you can shoot somebody and just, you know, sort of blow their brains out.
COOPER: Video games are popular in Japan. And they don't have --
BIDEN: No, they are. That's my point. But it's not, in and of itself, the reason why we have this carnage on our streets. COOPER: Do you think the president's response to El Paso would have
been different in terms of what he was calling for if the shooter had been Muslim or an undocumented immigrant?
BIDEN: Are you kidding? The fact of the matter, my guess is he'd be calling for a -- anyway.
COOPER: You think it would be.
BIDEN: I think it would be, and I think that what we're talking about here is look at the way he talks about Muslims. Look at the way he talks about immigrants. Look at the way he talks about people of color. Look at the way he talks about them. He talks about them almost in subhuman terms.
He talks about people of different racism, backgrounds, as if somehow we were -- look, you can't define what an American is based on ethnicity, on race, on religion, on background. There's only one thing that unites us, only one. An agreement on the basic formation of this government, which is we hold these truths. All men are created equal. We never live up to it. But it's that notion, that notion, that holds it together.
How else do you define an American, other than a commitment, whether they talk about it in terms of a Constitution or not, the idea that everybody has a chance? Everybody is -- everybody should have an equal chance in the country, and given a chance, they can do something. That's who we are as a nation. That -- America is an idea. It's an idea. It's bigger than any damn ocean, more powerful than any army.
The only thing that can undermine America and defeat America is America itself.
COOPER: You don't hear -- you don't hear this White House talking about that vision of America, that shining city on a hill.
BIDEN: It can't. How can it talk about it when the language used is always about pitting one group of Americans against another, whether it's based on your -- your sexual identity, whether it's based upon whether you're a man, you're a woman, whether it's based upon your -- your origin, where you come from, what your religion is? Come on.
COOPER: Mitch McConnell has not allowed the legislation that's in the House right now to get to the Senate. He's done the same thing on, you know, election security, just recently. Why do you think he is doing that?
BIDEN: I'll make an analogy. No one knew what the Affordable Care Act was until it started to be taken away. I went into 24 states, campaigned for 68 or 69 candidates, Republican areas. We won back the House and the Senate.
You didn't hear any Republicans running around the end of this last election saying, "Let's take away preexisting conditions as being covered. Let's take away." The American public, unfortunately, is getting exposed to just how
deeply and badly this nation has been divided by this president. And the absolute, absolute sort of -- how can I say it -- attack on the character of the country that's going on. And they're feeling it. They're seeing it. And it's a different place.
I met with every one of the families up in Sandy Hook. I met with the families down in The Pulse nightclub. I met with the kids down in Florida who, when, in fact, their school was victimized, that they marched and they came up to Washington. These are people who, in fact have -- you know, you have to put this in human terms.
And now when American people are hearing the stories, they're seeing, like I said, up in Sandy Hook, you know what the biggest thing when I met with all -- I met with all the police that were there, the state police? They needed help, mental help, because you know what they talked about? This guy piled babies on top of one another in the classroom and then shot them again. People should understand, people are beginning to understand the depth of -- the depth of the damage and how this is scarring, scarring the country.
COOPER: And rhetoric and leadership matters.
BIDEN: It matters a lot. It matters. What a president says matters. Like I said, our kids are listening, but the public is going to listen, too. They understand if you mean it. They understand what has to be done.
The vast majority of the American people thinks there needs to be rational gun policy and that means No. 1, you have to be able to pass a certain background check to be able to own a gun, period.
No. 2, we can limit the types of weapons you can own and the circumstance in which you can own them. That's constitutionally responsible and allowable.
No. 3, you have to be in a position where you let the people know that when you -- that you have a responsibility when you own a weapon, that you have to care for it. You have to make sure no one else can have access to it. You have to lock it up. You have to have trigger locks. You have to put it in gun cases, and if you don't, you can be held responsible for that.
[07:25:15] We wouldn't say that about, I mean, everything else we talk about that damages people. You're required to make sure you take certain precautions, if something you own that has the potential to be lethal that, in fact, it is protected. It is -- it is kept away.
And they are just basic, basic things that the American people deal with and know that, in fact, are -- and then when you do have the right to purchase a gun, because you've had a background check, you shouldn't be able to buy certain weapons, because they have no rationale other than -- like when I was campaigning on the assault weapons ban, I'd go through southern Delaware, big -- a lot of gun owners in Delaware because of duck hunting. And they'd be fishing in all the tributaries, you know, on the Eastern Shore there. And they'd say, "Joe, what are you taking away my shotgun."
I'd show them a picture of an assault weapon, say, "You think you need this?" I said, "How many deer out there do you -- if you're going deer hunting, you need 30 rounds? You shouldn't be hunting, man. What do you --"
"No, no, no, I don't need that. I don't -- this is --"
And so, I mean, people when you expose them to what's going on, they understand. And there's a movement occurring in America. We're finally, I think, going to get to the place where there's a rational position on gun ownership.
COOPER: If I could ask just you one more question, and it's a personal question. If you don't want to answer, that's OK.
You've -- you've experienced losses that no parent should ever experience. I'm going to El Paso from here, will likely be talking to family members whose child or sister or brother or mother or father has been killed. What -- as someone who has been through that, and lived through that, and lives with that every day, what would you -- what do you say to the people who are grieving right now?
BIDEN: You understand it. You lost your brother. You understand. It's -- it really -- it really takes a part of your soul. I mean, it is -- And what I tell people is that it's going to take a long time, but the person you lost is still with you, still part of you.
And that I -- when it happened to me, when I got a phone call when I was in Washington after I was elected before I got sworn in that my -- that put a first responder on the phone, God love her, and said, "You've got to come home. There's been an accident."
"What happened? A tractor?" I said.
"They're dead. Your wife and daughter are dead, and your sons."
And I remember thinking to myself, "My God." I mean, I didn't -- I just remember being so angry, angry with everything. And I shouldn't say it, but angry with God, just angry.
And I remember -- and people would come up to me and say, meaning well, after that, "I understand."
And you feel like saying, "You have no idea. You have no idea." You know they mean well, but the people who, in fact, have been through it, you know they understand. And it gives you solace that they made it. You just want to know, can I make it through?
And I had an older gentleman, 35 years my senior, a former elected official in the state of New Jersey call me, former governor, and he said, "I understand."
I almost said, "Don't." And he said, "You know, I was walking home from lunch. I was the attorney general. And my wife came out of -- a woman who helps out came running across the Mall saying, 'She's dead. She's dead. Your wife just died.'"
And I said -- and I realized he did know.
And he said, "You know what I did? And my advice" -- that helped me anyway -- "is two things. One, he said, get a piece of graph paper, and mark every single day how you felt from 1 to 10 that day." Because you know you lost your brother, when the thought would come to you after a while, you'd be down to just as down as the moment it happened.
And he said, "Don't look at it for six months. Mark it on the graph paper, one to ten. The downs will be just as far down, but you know you're going to make it when they get further and further and further and further apart." You still get down.
COOPER: It never goes away.
BIDEN: It never goes away. But -- but that's when you know you can make it. That's when you know you can embrace the family members that are left. That's when you know that you can make a contribution.
It's like when I lost my son Beau. I remember him saying to me, you know, I wrote a book about it unfortunately. That was harder than I thought it was going to be. But I wanted people to know what he was like.
BIDEN: And he looked at me when he -- we'd go home, and on Fridays to have dinner with him. He lived about a mile from us. And he asked his wife to take the kids upstairs, and -- and my wife had gone home to change before he came back.