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CNN Live Event/Special

Equality in America Town Hall with Joe Biden (D), Presidential Candidate. Aired 8-8:30p ET

Aired October 10, 2019 - 20:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: And good evening. Welcome to this historic night on CNN. A Democratic presidential town hall dedicated to equality in America. I'm Anderson Cooper. Thanks for joining us. For generation, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Americans have had to live and love in the shadows. We could be arrested, we could be imprisoned, locked up in institutions. It was just four years ago that the Supreme Court made it possible for us to marry, but the fight for equality is certainly not over.

Just this week, the Supreme Court is considering whether LGBTQ people can be fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Laws based on outdated science continue to discriminate against people with HIV and violence against lesbian, gay, and transgendered people is still all too common. Tonight we're partnering with the human rights campaign to give members of the LGBTQ community and their allies, the chance to directly ask the presidential candidates questions. Soon you're going to hear from Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, former congressman Beto O'Rourke, Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, and businessman Tom Steyer. But joining me right now is former Vice President Joe Biden.


How are you doing, sir?


COOPER: Nice to see you.

BIDEN: Hey, everybody. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

COOPER: It's good to see you. I want to start right away with questions from the audience. Someone, actually I believe you know, you've met before. Judy Shepard is here.

BIDEN: Hey, Judy. How you?

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Vice president.

COOPER: For those watching at home who may not know, Judy, her son Matthew was murdered when he was just 21 years old. He was tied to a fence and robbed and beaten and then left for dead by two men that he had met in a bar. Judy and her husband Dennis started the Matthew Shepard foundation. They now travel around the country speaking out about how to make community more accepting. Judy, your question, please.

QUESTION: Thank you.


Thanks. Mr. Vice president, our son Matthew was murdered in 1998. While we have since passed federal hate crime legislation, we know that more needs to be done. And this administration is fueling hatred amongst LGBTQ people, people of color, immigrants, and so many more. What will you do as president to help reduce violence and hate crimes against LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities?


BIDEN: First of all, Judy, it's good to see you. It really is good to see you. I don't want to ruin a reputation, but I consider Judy a friend.

QUESTION: Thank you. Feeling is mutual, sir.

BIDEN: Judy, I think there are a whole range of things. First of all, think of what has happened between 2012 and 2016, the progress made, and what's happened just since 2016 and now. The president has pulled back almost every single solitary administratively positive thing we did from the Affordable Care Act, to Title IX, just across the board. And there's a number of things we have to do. First and foremost, I think we have to pass the Equality Act. That's important.


That's important because it would change a whole range of things. And by the way, I suspect, Anderson, this is going to one forum you're going to get very little disagreement among the Democratic candidates. I'm proud of the position they all have, because every one of us -- if there is differences, they're just in degree and emotional concern. Number one.

Number two, what we had before to deal with hate crimes was we had a position in our administration within the department of -- both Department of Justice as well as within Homeland Security, a provision to keep watch on these groups that we know are out there, like terrorist groups -- they're similar -- know are out there to be able to follow -- without violating their first amendment rights -- to be able to follow what they're doing and follow up on threats that come forward, because they come forward in many different form (ph).

Number three, what we have to do is we have to make sure that we make title -- this is a civil rights issue. It's covered by, in my view and the court may not agree, this is a civil rights issue, protected by civil rights, the Civil Rights Act, and we should be focusing on how to enforce that. My Justice Department, I guess any one of the Democrats' Justice Department will in fact do that. Lastly, I think that it's really important that we start early. We

start early and we begin to acquaint all our children. My son Bo, who you knew, met, who died, my son started an organization to deal with children of abuse, bullying, and also those engaged in LGBTQ issues, particularly young people. And what he did was begin to try to educate the population about what's going on. Look, all of you, I'm not saying -- you may not all be members of the community, but all of you understand that if the American people knew what was really going on in my view, Anderson, things would be different.

One of my arguments is that we don't -- and when we talk about being able to get married on Sunday and get -- or Saturday and get fired on Monday, the vast majority of American people don't think that's possible. The vast majority of people don't know that that is possible. They know you can't be fired because you're African- American , you can't be fired because you're this, that or the other, but they don't know that. And one of the things I will do as president of the united states is constantly remind people of what the facts are, because...


No, I really mean it. Because so many of you have taken extraordinary, extraordinary steps to make sure we moved as far as we have, and one of the things that people don't know, try it out, try it out next time you're in a restaurant. You're sitting there and you're waiting on or you meet the maitre'd and say by the way, let me ask you a question. Do you think somebody got married on Monday they could get fired on Tuesday?

They're going to look at you and tell you no. They don't know it. The American people are better than we give them credit for. But we allow -- we allow the homophobes to be able to control the agenda because they let this -- no, I really mean it. I really, truly mean it. Try it. Try it. People don't know it. And so I would constantly talk about and educate the public. Part of the responsibility of a president is to convince, is to persuade, to be able to let people know what is actually going on out there.

COOPER: Let me ask you about that, because in 2012, you were the vice president. The Obama administration hadn't yet publicly backed marriage equality. You made headlines. You said that you were absolutely comfortable with, quote, men marrying men, women marrying women, adding that you're, quote, entitled to the exact same rights. I'm wondering in that moment made you say that at that time? Because you were ahead of your president.

BIDEN: You know, it caused no consternation at all.


Look, one of the things that I made clear at the outset before we went into office, Barack -- I say Barack, not because he is not my president. He is the president, but I don't want to confuse him with the other guy when I say "president," OK? But Barack knew my position. I was raised by a dad who was, AS real simple basic issue. I remember getting out of a car when I was trying to be dropped off at the local city hall to get a job to be the only white employee in the east side of town in the neighborhood, in the projects as a lifeguard. And as I got out, there were two guys in the corner in Rodney Square, they call it, which is the sort of corporate capital of the world. It's where the chancery court and all that is. And these two guys, well dressed -- this is back in 1960 -- probably 1963, and I'm revealing that I'm almost as old as you. I'm kidding.


COOPER: You have more pepper in your hair than I do.

BIDEN: I have a hell of a lot less hair. But look, as my dad was dropping me off so I could go around the block and run and get the application. And two well dressed men kissed one another as I was opening the door. And I hadn't seen that before. And I turned around and one walked off to the DuPont building, one walked off to what used to be called the Hercules Corporation. And I looked at my dad, and he looked at me and said it's simple, honey. They love each other. It's just basic. There is nothing complicated about it. That's how I was raised, for real. And so for me...


...for me -- and Barack knew that. Barack knew that. And he knew that if I was going to be a good boy until the administration moved unless I was asked, but you know me too well. You know that, you know, no one ever doubts I mean what I say. The problem is I sometimes say all that I mean.


So when I was asked on "Meet the Press" what I thought -- and by the way, I just (ph) came from the same household I talked about, two guys that had these two beautiful children, men married here in California, and they have these two beautiful little kids. And I just saw them about two hours ago, and with their children.

One is playing football now at age 13, the little girl is 15 who introduced me to a crowd at her home. And it's just the way they looked at their parents. And afterwards, and I got asked the question by the former director of the HRC, Chad Griffin, he was at this event, and this is back in '12. And he looked at me and he said what do you think of us? And I said I don't think of you any different I think of anybody else. And I went on to say that I did not have any problem whatsoever, whatsoever with same-sex marriage. It never even crossed my mind.

And had it (ph), I would be divorced because Jill is way ahead of that already. That's my wife, Jill. But all kidding aside, and so, it was sort of already out, if you would say, I was already there. And so when I went on "Meet the Press," the next week -- I think it was the next week -- I answered the question honestly, and everybody thought that I had jumped the gun on the president. I didn't know the president was and his staff was thinking about -- in fact the president moving right after the election. And I got to tell you, he's a great guy -- I went in on Monday, and all the national press is saying Biden is really going to get nailed when he walks in and sees the president every morning. He got up, and he walked over to me and he said well, you told me. He gave me a kiss. I swear to god.


So anyway, but it was -- look, folks, it's kind of basic stuff, who you love.

COOPER: I want to introduce Shannon Scott (ph). She served in the U.S. Air force, including two combat tours in Iraq and is on the national board of governors.


She's also on the executive committee for the human rights campaign. Shannon, thank you for your service and your question.

QUESTION: Thank you. Good evening, Mr. Vice president.

BIDEN: Good evening.

QUESTION: As Anderson said, I served over ten years in the United States military and two combat tours in Iraq, and after that service, I was forced to make one of the most difficult decisions I've ever been forced to make, and that was to choose between serving my country and my true identity as a transgender woman. This was indeed one of the most difficult decisions I've ever made. If you are elected, what will you do to support the estimated 15,000 troops putting their lives on the line every day to protect us?

BIDEN: If I were president, you would not have to choose. Not a joke. You would not have to choose. The fact of the matter is that we're in a position where transgender men and women are in a position where they should be able to do anything anybody else in the world can do. There should be no difference. I mean it sincerely.


You know, you know my friend Sarah McBride. Sarah worked for my son as attorney general of the state of Delaware. When Sarah decided it with us time for her to come forward, and she came out. My son, being raised in the same family I was with my dad and the rest, my son immediately moved to make sure the barriers for transgendered people in Delaware were eliminated, because that's who we are. There is not a single solitary thing -- and we should be doing everything from making sure they don't deal with Title IX and cut Planned Parenthood back and can't have access. We should be -- there are so many things we did in our administration that increased the prospect of you being able to get every single solitary service anyone could get, including under the ACA covered by insurance, making sure you have to be, and making sure any surgery that was required would be viewed as necessary. And so we -- the whole thing has to change. I mean, it really does.

(APPLAUSE) And by the way, thank you for your tour. My son served a year in Iraq. You served two combat tours, and by the way, guess what? You know why we're going to win this? We're going to win this fight? It's (ph) because there are a lot of women like you who are in the Congress now for combat pilots, for combat people, who are changing it. It will happen, I promise you.


COOPER: Let me ask you -- as a senator in the '90s, I know you had reservations about" Don't Ask, Don't Tell." But you ultimately voted for a larger defense spending bill that included "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." as vice president, you obviously supported the repeal of the law. Do you regret helping get it passed in the first place?

BIDEN: Well, look, I voted against it as part of the bill. OK? And it was introduced by a guy who was trying to do something good. Introduced by a gay man in the United States senate, Barney Frank. And he was trying to figure out how to at least get by the issue of not having to do something and be automatically excluded. I didn't think it was a good idea, so I voted no. But then it became part of an entire defense appropriation bill that was a gigantic bill, and I voted for the bill. That's the kind of things that everybody had. For example, everybody talked -- well, anyway. I voted for the bill.

But when I got a chance, as vice president of the United States along with the president, who by the way was the head of everybody when he said -- I'll never forget. He asked me -- he brought in the joint chiefs and he said -- I said why don't you insist that they in fact change the policy today? And he said then it won't last, we've got to convince them it makes sense. And he was right. You usually impetuous me, I wanted to change the policy then and there by executive order. But you though what he did? He in fact said let them study it. And guess what? When the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff came out strongly, strongly in favor of eliminating "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and allowing anyone to be in the military regardless of their sexual orientation or preference, the fact of the matter, it nailed it down. Even Trump hasn't tried to do away with that piece yet.

COOPER: I want you to meet -- this is Lane Amadan (ph), a television producer.

BIDEN: Uh-oh.

QUESTION: Hello. With the extremely high prices with the extremely high prices of prep and other drugs that help prevent the transmission of HIV, what is your plan to make it more accessible, particularly to those in the most vulnerable communities and those without health insurance?

BIDEN: Under the Affordable Care Act, which I still think is a way for us to go, I build on that by providing the public option if I'm president of the United States. There is a provision we had that by 2021, it will be available to anyone who is, has insurance, and all will be eligible for insurance under the Affordable Care Act. It will be available in and the insurance companies must pay for it. Must pay for it. Because, look, folks, this is crazy, think about it. Why in god's name even if you're homophobic, why in god's name would you not want the elimination and/or the reduction of the significant change in AIDS?

It makes no sense. It makes no sense even for the homophobic guy out there or woman. No, I mean, think about it in just sort of rational terms. Why would you not want to see, why would you not want to see the reduction, elimination or change in AIDS? And so I would make sure that it is -- and secondly, it is important that -- excuse me, I thought he was -- under the Affordable Care Act, it will be made available and the insurance companies will have to cover it in my proposal. If you want more detail, I can go into more detail.

COOPER: We're going get another guest. Zack Zikowski (ph) out here in a minute. Before we do, I just want to ask, the Supreme Court heard arguments as you know about whether the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ workers from being fired over their sexual orientation or gender identity. Are there specific protections your administration would put in place to make sure that LGBTQ citizens are protected in from workplace discrimination?

BIDEN: If the Supreme Court ruled that they're not protected?


BIDEN: Yes, we would pass the Equality Act right off the bat, number one. Because guess what? What's going to happen, again, most people don't know. Most people think you are covered. The average person thinks you're covered, that it is, you can't discriminate like this. And so if the Supreme Court goes ahead and rules, which a lot of us fear they may, and says it is not covered by the Civil Rights Act, which I believe as a constitutional -- I taught constitutional law for 21 years in law cool as a constitutional professor, I believe it clearly is covered, clearly is covered. But in the event that they rule otherwise, then we have a platform which to say, look what they just did, look what's happening now, point out the downside and all the pain that comes from it not being covered and say, now we're going to pass the Equality Act. We should do it anyway, but that would be the jump -- I hope we don't get there, but I believe that's the way we would proceed.

COOPER: I want you to meet Zack Zikowski (ph), an entertainment television producer and a violinist with the Santa Monica Symphony. Zack (ph)?

BIDEN: Zack (ph), I have no talent.

QUESTION: I recently visited a country where homosexuality is illegal and could result in the death penalty. What is your stance on LGBTQ rights when it comes to our relationships with other countries that may have very different cultural beliefs? Should we be actively promoting acceptance of LGBTQ people across the globe? And should we continue to provide aid and trade with countries that persecute gay people?

BIDEN: Yes and no.


And let me explain what I mean by that. If you notice, in some of your varying form, I've been the most outspoken critic, starting with Chechnya and every single country who has passed laws that relate to whether or not you, in fact -- it's a crime, you can be stoned to death, you can be punished, et cetera, et cetera, if you are gay, number one.

Number two, in my State Department, not a joke, we will have a special office that's devoted directly to promoting LGBTQ rights around the world. Around the world.


Now, two other things. Interesting phenomenon. I know I heard a question about -- asked about the Catholic schools and Catholicism. Guess the first nation in the world to change their constitution to allow gay marriage? Ireland. Ireland, OK? Number one.

Number two, look what's happened as well in India. I was in India promoting a proposal when I was vice president that I had to have universal women's -- the Violence Against Women Act made a condition upon which aid goes to other countries, deny aid if they don't provide it. And at the time -- I'm not saying I'm the reason why India changed, but my vocal opposition and our vocal opposition to the way they in fact dealt with LGBTQ populations was, in fact, part of the reason I think they changed.

Lastly, I would, in fact, curtail aid, curtail foreign assistance to countries who, in fact, engage in -- engage in this kind of behavior, just like I would if I were dealing with China and what they're doing to the Uighurs, a million Uighurs out -- you know, Muslims. So what's the difference?


It is pure, unadulterated prejudice.

COOPER: So a country like Saudi Arabia?

BIDEN: Saudi Arabia, same thing. By the way, they have very little social redeeming value. No, I've been blunt about it. I've been very, very blunt about it. Very blunt about it. I know they are supposedly our ally and all the rest. And I'm -- look, there are certain things that we cannot tolerate. We cannot be part of propping up governments who abuse in any fundamental -- culture is never a rationale for pain. Never a rationale for prejudice. It really isn't.


COOPER: I want you to meet -- this is Christopher Hucks-Ortiz who leads the social services division for Dignity Health at St. Mary Medical Center right here in Los Angeles. Christopher, welcome. BIDEN: Looks like you just stepped out of Gentleman's Quarterly here.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. I tried.


My question for you this evening, sir, is that it has been said that when white America gets a cold, black America gets pneumonia. Health disparities across this country have resulted in higher rates of HIV acquisition among black people than any other group. What would you do as president to help change this narrative, especially in the South, where 50 percent of all new diagnoses occur?


BIDEN: A number of things. But let's start off right off the bat. First of all, we have to make sure that there is no ability for hospitals and/or any health care provider to discriminate based upon whether or not you have HIV or whether or not you are gay or lesbian or transgender. You -- that is a violation of the law. That should not be allowed under any circumstances, number one.


No, for real. And my Justice Department would move to prosecute those folks who did that, number one.

Number two, it's really important that we, in fact, begin to educate people about what's going on. Because, for example, when I came out and -- I came out -- when I publicly stated...


COOPER: That would be news, if you...

BIDEN: I got something to tell you.

COOPER: I kind of figured it out a while ago.


BIDEN: OK. Don't jump, folks. You're way up there. When I -- when all the talk about how I'd stepped across the line saying that I support gay marriage and I thought it was constitutionally eligible, and so on and so forth, there was a lot of talk about how I -- among some, not the president, some in our administration, I may cost the election and all that kind of stuff.

And I made a bet. I won't mention the individuals, but people you know in the administration, and I said I'll make you a bet. I'll make you a bet, like almost everything, the American public's way ahead of us, that well over half the American public supports gay marriage already.

That week, a poll was taken, the first one I'd seen, showing that -- I think it was 57 percent of all Americans supported gay marriage. The generic point I'm making here is, folks, the vast majority of people in America are not homophobic. They're just afraid. They don't understand. They don't know. They don't know what to do or say.

Let me give you one closing example. Let's say that -- I see my guest I'm supposed to be -- and, by the way, a guy who knows more about this than everybody, Pete is about to come up here and talk about it, because -- by the way, imagine. I mean, I -- when I sit and think about it, what about my sons, my daughter, my granddaughters, my grandson? What happens if they are at age 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, and they know there's something different about themselves and they have to come out? What do they say if they're not going to be accepted? What happens?

Think about Los Angeles here. If you had a business lunch 8, 10 years ago, and there were six or seven people at the lunch, and a gay waiter came up and said something that identified himself being gay, in fact, if one of the people made fun of that waiter, the vast majority of people wouldn't have said anything at the table. Today you'd all look at him and say, if you're straight as can be, look at him and say, what the hell is the matter with you? And he'd never be invited back.

The point is, they're not afraid now to stand up and say -- because guess what? We learn. Our brothers, our sisters, our -- the girl we went out with in high school, the guy you know -- no, I'm serious. Think about it. The idea it's normal. It's normalized. It's not anything strange. It's not strange. That's the generic point.

And the more people know that, the more they understand it -- remember, Anderson, back 15, 20 years ago, we talked about this in -- in San Francisco was all about, well, you know, gay -- gay bath houses. And everybody -- it's all about around-the-clock sex. It's all -- come on, man. Gay couples are more likely to say together longer than heterosexual couples.


COOPER: We're going to leave it there, Mr. Vice President.

BIDEN: Thank you.

COOPER: Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Great. We'll be right back with Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

BIDEN: Thank you all very much.

COOPER: And then Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.