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CNN Live Event/Special
Former VP and Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Speaks at a Town Hall. Aired 9-10:15p ET
Aired November 11, 2019 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BURNETT: And good evening from Iowa. Welcome to a CNN Democratic presidential town hall with former Vice President Joe Biden. I'm Erin Burnett, and we are live at Grinnell College, just 84 days from the Iowa caucuses, when Democratic voters will get their first say in the 2020 election.
As the contenders go all in here in Iowa, former Vice President Biden is here to make the case that he is the best candidate to defeat President Trump. Tonight, he will take questions from Iowa Democrats and independents who say they plan to participate in the Democratic caucuses. Many of them are undecided.
Please welcome former Vice President Joe Biden.
BIDEN: Thank you, Erin.
BURNETT: Great to see you. Great to see you.
BURNETT: We got a good crowd.
BIDEN: Great crowd. Good to be back.
BURNETT: Good crowd on a cold night.
BIDEN: Thank you.
BURNETT: Are you ready?
BIDEN: Ready, get set, go.
BURNETT: All right. So let's get started and get straight to our audience. You know, Vice President, of course, today is Veterans Day, and we honor all those who serve and have served this great country.
The first question we have tonight is from Dave Degner, who is a veteran, served in the U.S. Army Reserve for nine years and spent 15 years as a truck driver. He is currently running for state Senate here in Iowa and serves as the Tama County Democratic Party chair. He is also teaching at a local community college while attending the University of Northern Iowa full time.
Dave, go ahead with your question.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you.
BIDEN: How do you have time to even come and ask a question?
God love you. Thank you for your service.
QUESTION: I'll make time for you, Mr. Vice President. As she said, as a 42-year-old veteran who enlisted before 9/11 and served until 2004, I am unable to utilize G.I. Bill benefits after 15 years from when I got out of the military. Veterans that discharged after January 2013 get those benefits for life thanks to the Forever G.I. Bill. Would you, if elected, extend those benefits for all veterans so that people like myself can go back to school or enroll in job training later in life, if our situations require it?
BIDEN: Yes, I would attempt to do that. Two things. Number one, we owe you big. The fact of the matter is, only 1 percent of our population serves. Ninety-nine percent -- we only have one sacred obligation, and it's not hyperbole. One sacred obligation to the government, to protect those who -- who we send to war and equip them, when they come home, to make sure they have everything they're entitled to. You're entitled to the benefits that should come with you having served as long as you did. And so the answer is yes.
QUESTION: Thank you.
BURNETT: All right. Our next question, Mr. Vice President, is from Kate Nash, who you see there. She's from Marion, Iowa, and is an admission counselor at Cornell College. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So I come from a military family. My brother is a veteran and served two tours in Iraq. So many of our veterans do not receive proper mental health care when they return and as a result end up on the streets. How do you plan to fix this issue?
BIDEN: The fact is, you know -- you probably do know that more veterans are committing suicide than are being killed in battle. And it has to stop. One of the things that President Obama and I did when we dealt with the homelessness for veterans, we said we were going to end it -- we were going to move and make it a gigantic priority.
I would make sure that every single solitary veteran when they pick up that telephone and they need help, there's help available to them immediately. We need -- we added 1,600 doctors and 4,000 nurses in our term. We need to provide more services, not fewer, more services for those veterans that are coming home.
And they're entitled. You know, I carry in my pocket -- and I won't do it now -- but I have my schedule, and I -- every single day, and lists everything in my schedule, and it has a little black box in it. And it lists in the black box U.S. daily troop update. U.S. troops dead, died, 6,900. Yesterday was 6,989. Every single one of these people left behind an entire community. These fallen angels deserve all our respect.
Then there's 52,954 wounded. But guess what, the 300,000 that have come home from these wars with post-traumatic stress and they're not getting the services they need.
And so the combination of being able to increase the amount of money we are allocating to the V.A., it's the single most significant responsibility we have to take care of these veterans.
And I -- if you're -- my son did a year in Iraq. He came home -- we lost him, but he came home -- and, you know, one of the things we should be looking at is those burn pits that are there. That -- it's just like, you know, when all the firemen in New York went down to 9/11, and so many got cancer, and particularly brain cancer, well, that's what's happening. More people are coming home from Iraq with brain cancer than ever before, than any other war.
And we're in a situation where there's a direct connection between those burn pits and -- and -- and taking in that -- that -- that all that toxin that's available.
And we should say, anybody who was anywhere near those burn pits, that's all they have to show, that they -- and they get covered, they get all their health care covered.
There's a lot we have to do, but I think the public is ready to do it now, because so many people have direct connections with somebody in the 9/11 generation that served, and it's real, and we have to move on it now.
BURNETT: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
I want to bring in Andrew Tucker. He is a junior here at Grinnell College. Andrew, go ahead with your question.
BIDEN: All downhill from here, Andrew. Junior, man. Almost home.
QUESTION: Thank you. President Trump's recent pullback from Syria caught many Americans by surprise and left a stain on the United States' credibility while dealing with its allies. It also influenced new discussion about the need to have as many troops abroad as we currently do. Do you believe that the number of troops stationed overseas is vital to supporting our national security? Or do you think that we could have that same level of protection by re- strengthening American foreign policy and diplomacy, allowing these troops to return home?
BIDEN: Let me divide into three answers -- three sections. One, we don't need large standing -- large standing armies abroad. That is not what we need. Particularly in the Middle East. Particularly from the Mediterranean to the Gulf. We don't need that.
But we do need -- we do need special forces in small array of people that we have put together with other 69 countries we've worked with to deal with stateless terrorism and to deal with unstable areas of the world, because we can't do it all by ourselves.
The other thing we should be doing is strengthening our alliances instead of embracing autocrats and dictators, like this president does, and poking our finger in the eye of our folks in NATO and -- and -- and the Far East, in Japan and those areas. We should be, in fact, embracing them, because we need them to help us deal with what the reality of the new world is, which is we're going to be dealing with unstable countries, stateless terrorists, and they're the people -- we can't do -- we can't be the world's policemen. We need them with us.
So I think we need troops abroad, but in small numbers. And, by the way, we only had several hundred troops taking care of all of those Kurds, and 11,000 of them died fighting ISIS and winning, and we abandoned them. Did you see the looks on those soldiers when they were coming out, in those tanks, and those up-armored Humvees? There were -- people were standing there saying, help me, help me, and you could tell, you could see it in their faces the -- how they felt so, so, so badly that they were leaving. And look what's happened. Who's going to trust us?
BURNETT: You know, you're alluding to, obviously, your criticism of the president's decision to pull troops out of Northern Syria...
BURNETT: ... but also I think in your answer you touched on your -- you don't want endless wars. You've talked about not wanting that.
BURNETT: So when you look around the world right now, Mr. Vice President, we currently have 200,000 servicemembers stationed around the world. In that area that you were mentioning, the Mediterranean through the Middle East, 63,000 troops in the Middle East alone. So where would you look first to start bringing them home?
BIDEN: Let me -- let me make -- make a clarification. We don't need large numbers of combat troops conducting wars in areas like Afghanistan or Iraq, et cetera. We don't need that. That's not what's necessary.
We do need -- we do need bases and stationing around the world. We do need people that are stationed in Europe, in NATO. We do need troops that are stationed in the Far East, in -- in -- in Asia, dealing with the concerns that -- they act as a -- as a sign saying, not here, the United States is here. We are -- we are going to dissuade you from doing anything that's irrational.
But the fighting troops, the people out there shooting, are the people who are the special forces folks, those folks are needed to be -- to deal with these stateless terrorist actors.
But the idea of pulling all -- for example, if we pulled all of our troops out of everywhere from Guam to Australia and everywhere in between, what would happen is, that would be a green light for China to continue to do what they're trying to do, is take over significant areas of territory just by the mere force of their presence. We can't let that happen. We've got to make sure we enforce international rules of sea lanes and skies, et cetera, that that, in fact, we're going to make it clear, you've got to go through us to change it. That is important to have troops dispatched around the world, but not combat troops engaged in active wars.
BURNETT: We are just two days away, of course, as we all in this room know and as you know, from public impeachment hearings from President Trump, Mr. Vice President. On that topic, our next question is from Will Freeman. He's an associate professor here at Grinnell. Also, men's track and field and cross country coach. He said he supports you for the nomination. Will, go ahead.
QUESTION: Welcome, sir.
BIDEN: Thank you.
QUESTION: I feel like our country and all we stand for has been hijacked by a person who I view as decidedly un-American. He is not a reflection of what this country stands for. Will the current impeachment process convince independents that the president has to be defeated next November? Or could this backfire on the Democrats?
BIDEN: Well, you know, to answer the question, Professor, the simple answer is this, that the House has no option. It has to enforce the Constitution. Whether or not -- whether or not it turns out to work or not work or whether or not it turns out that he should or shouldn't be kicked out of office. There he's -- on the face of it, there's a prima facie case that he's violated the Constitution of the United States of America in asking other countries to engage within our politics. That is a violation. That is a problem that we have to look at. And so it may or may not...
I've been there -- I've been there for two impeachments, Coach, and they're not -- and they're not pretty. And it's not anything I wish the country to have to go through. But we have to maintain the constitutional principles that exist. Here's what will happen. If the case is made as strongly as it's being made, in my view, Erin, if it's as the strong made, you're going to find those areas that are independent and Republican areas saying, whoa, whoa, we've got to do something here. We've got to do something here.
And everybody says the House will, in fact, indict, impeach, means say there's enough reason to go forward with the trial, and the Senate will never move. I don't -- I don't buy that. I don't buy the Senate will never move. It will depend on what their constituency says. If you're a Republican and you live in a Republican area, and you have a Republican representative, and you think the president has clearly violated the law and the Republican senator does not have the courage to stand up like Howard Baker and Bill Cohen and so many others did with Nixon, you're going to let them know. You're going to let them know. And that's going to change their view. Let's see where the facts lead us. My job is just to go beat them.
BURNETT: So you remember, of course -- and many of you I'm sure also saw the New York Times op-ed written by the anonymous senior Trump official. So that person has now written a book called "A Warning." It comes out next week. And just tonight, Mr. Vice President, we've gotten an excerpt. And I just wanted to share it with you.
BURNETT: This is a passage about the internal White House reaction to President Trump asking the Ukrainian president to investigate you and your son. And here is the passage: "Those of us who have seen these sorts of reckless actions again and again wanted to slam our heads against the wall. The explanation that he wanted to help combat corruption in Ukraine was barely believable to anyone around him. The obvious corruption was in the Oval Office. The president had apparently learned nothing from the Mueller saga. Only we did. We learned that given enough time and space, Donald J. Trump will seek to abuse any power he is given."
What do you make of this picture behind the scenes in the White House?
BIDEN: I didn't write it, but I could have. Look, I think that's -- every single solitary serious investigator, including your network and others, have looked at this, have said there's absolutely zero basis to the accusation that I acted any way inappropriately or that my son did. This is all about Trump trying to create a diversion.
And if -- the big piece in the New York Times this weekend went through in detail, the testimony from people I don't know, Republican appointed -- appointments in the administration testifying before the committee, one of them saying that I couldn't believe -- I know Joe Biden. He's a man of integrity. I don't believe this. There's -- so there's not been a scintilla of evidence pointed that anything is wrong.
But there are people around him, like that chump, Rudy Giuliani -- no, by the way, it's...
It's not a good -- and the thugs that he has working with him that I think there's overwhelming evidence that this was about -- let me put it another way.
Can you ever think of a time when a sitting president was deciding that he's going to make sure he gets to choose who the Democratic nominee is?
Two things I've learned the last couple weeks. One, Putin doesn't want me to be president. And number two, that this guy, Trump, doesn't want me to be the nominee. But I'll tell him I'm coming.
BURNETT: So, Vice President Biden, the House Republicans have been -- have asked to call many of their own witnesses, as you know, in the impeachment hearing, right, in the probe. They've put forth their list. Your son, Hunter, is on it. They want to -- they want to hear from him. What's your response to those Republicans who say that Hunter should speak to the country?
BIDEN: There is zero rationale for that to happen. Nobody has suggested anything was done that was inappropriate. This is all a diversion. This is classic Trump, classic Trump. Focus on the problem. We have a president who has -- is one of the most corrupt people to serve in that office.
Look, I've -- you know, what Biden do? I released 21 years of my tax returns in detail. Mr. President, you're worried about corruption? Release some of yours. Release some of yours.
This is -- and by the way, those -- and, look, I'm going to sound -- but you're a really talented reporter and you follow things very closely. And you've been in many of these places we're talking about, physically you've been -- I remember when you were in Egypt reported, et cetera.
This is Trump's modus operandi, whenever it happens, whenever anything comes down -- what's he do? He tries to find a scapegoat to avoid focus on him. That's what this is all about. And I'll be darned if I'm going to let us take our eye off the ball. Did Trump commit impeachable offenses? He's indicted himself on the White House lawn saying he did invite these people. And by the way, if -- and he said he wants to deal with corruption. That's what it's all about. Well, Mr. President, release your tax returns. Show us what you've done.
BURNETT: You mentioned having been there...
... for prior impeachments. And Declan O'Reilly, who is a junior here at Grinnell, also has a question about impeachment, and he is a supporter of yours. Go ahead, Declan.
QUESTION: Mr. Vice President, having experienced the Watergate era, what's the significance of the executive branch defying congressional subpoenas and congressional oversight for the structure and the future of American democracy?
BIDEN: Declan, it's at stake. The democracy of this country is literally at stake if we don't respond. Even if everybody liked Trump and he did these things, you have to respond, because it's breaking down the walls, the separation of power wall. When I was asked early on did I support impeachment, I said let's see,
because I didn't -- anything to rush to. But I did say, if the president stonewalls and doesn't respond to the legitimate questions that any congressional hearing committee is entitled to ask, that they would have to move to impeachment because it gives them more power to ask -- and the idea that he gets a lawyer to send to the United States Congress, "I will not cooperate" -- basically what the letter said, in any way, no president has done that. As my mother would say, who died and left him king? This is not -- no, I really mean it.
You know, there are three equal branches of government. Equal. Equal, equal. And he is violating every aspect of the oath of that office in terms of separation of powers, in my view.
BURNETT: So when you say, obviously, you were there...
BURNETT: ... you were in the Senate for part of the investigations into Presidents Nixon and, of course, President Clinton, what to you -- Mr. Vice President, is different this time than those times?
BIDEN: This time what's happened is, even back -- I got elected as a 29-year-old kid the same year that Richard Nixon got elected in 1972. And politics today has gotten so mean and ugly and dirty, and everybody questioning motive and not focusing at all on trying to put things together, instead of disagreeing on substance, that you go to motive.
It has become so, so difficult for Republicans to be able to, unless they have real courage, to stand up and take on the president even if they think he should be taken on, because he is so -- he has such vitriol. He has no empathy. And what happens is that he controls now somewhere between 30 percent and 35 percent of the electorate, which is the bulk of the -- of the Republican Party.
And as I -- I'll give you an example.
When we nominated a Supreme Court justice and it was decided that they wouldn't even hold a hearing for him, that justice, the reason I recommended him to President Obama, was that -- that he, in fact, had gotten 35 Republicans to say great things about him. And he was a really serious person.
I called 12 Republicans and said, what are you doing? Twelve of my colleagues in the Senate. I'm the vice president now. I said, do you realize what you're doing to the Constitution? They said, we know, Joe, but here's the deal. Joe, I'm in a state where if, in fact, the Koch brothers drop in $10 million, $12 million, I will lose a primary. If you notice, Republicans lose primaries in -- in red states and in purple states. And if -- Joe, if I do that, I won't be -- it's not -- it's not about courage. Clearly not. But they know what they were doing was wrong. With Trump out of the way, I predict to you now, my 89 opponents are
running for the nomination are going to say something different. But let me just say, I honest to God believe, with Trump out of the way, you're going to find people screwing up a lot more courage than they had before to say, OK, OK, I can -- I can move now, I -- I -- I have more leeway.
Because look what he does. You got Jeff Sessions in Alabama saying, please, don't say anything negative about me, Mr. President. Please don't say anything negative. I know you don't like me.
Come on. This is just -- the politics has gotten just so out of whack. But it's going to come back and whack this guy, and when we're -- anyway.
BURNETT: All right. We're going to take a brief break, everyone. Please stay with us. We'll be back with more from the former vice president, Joe Biden, live from Iowa right after this.
BURNETT: Welcome back to the CNN Democratic presidential town hall with the former vice president, Joe Biden. We are live at Grinnell College here in Iowa.
Now, Vice President Biden, I want to talk to you about something that's deeply personal for you and for many Americans, and that is loss, deep, deep personal loss. In 1972, your wife and infant daughter were killed in a car crash and your sons injured. As a parent, it's impossible to imagine. Four years ago, you lost your son, Beau, to brain cancer.
Now, throughout your public life and throughout this campaign, Mr. Vice President, we have seen you, we have heard you connecting to people through personal grief that you've -- you've heard those personal stories in public. What does it mean to you that people have taken comfort in sharing some of these deep personal tragedies with you?
BIDEN: Well, you know, I have -- a lot of people have suffered more than I have with loss. And I have been really -- sounds bizarre to say -- lucky in the sense that I've had an incredible family. When I lost my wife and daughter, I had my best friend in the world, my sister and brother. They moved in to help me raise my kids. My mom was there. When I lost Beau, I had my son, Hunter, who was -- was the great comfort, and my daughter, Ashley.
I mean, I've just had -- and when I think all the time about, Erin -- and I mean this sincerely -- when you're the recipient of someone's understanding and empathy, you understand how it can help, and it's -- and it's just impossible, although sometimes it's hard, to not share it with others.
And when people come up to me, often, as you've observed, is that they come up and they'll walk up to me, and all of a sudden a man or woman will just grab me and hug me, and say, I just lost my son, lost my daughter, I -- tell me, am I going to be OK, am I going to be OK?
And what people really want to know is, when they go through these -- and how -- how many of you have lost someone to cancer that you love, or that's close to you, as a husband, wife, son, or daughter? Raise your hands. Look at that.
And, you know, what it teaches you is a lot of things. I mean, I was a single parent for five years. I'm not sure I would have fully understood how difficult it is to be a single -- with all the help I had.
And so my mother used to use an expression, which I thought the first time she used it was so cruel. She said out of everything bad, something good will happen if you look hard enough for it. And I watched the relationship that I had with my two boys, it was like a steel belt running through our chest after they lost their mom. And I watched the relationship my sons and daughter -- surviving son and daughter have with one another.
And so, you know -- and the other part is, I'll just conclude by saying, everybody's different, but what I found is the way you overcome enormous tragedy is you've got to find purpose in your life. Purpose. And a purpose is best utilized if it relates to something that related to what the person you lost cared about.
So, for example, yesterday, I was at a -- I went home to Delaware and I was at a run for the Beau Biden Foundation, which he -- was he felt he was overwhelmingly concerned about the abuse of children. He had a chance to become the United States senator, but he stayed, and he wanted to prosecute one of the serial child abusers in American history, 460 counts of molesting children, a doctor, and 160-some young girls or boys he penetrated, ages between 1 and 7. And so we had a run to make sure we dealt with those issues.
So I get up, like many of you do, with the loss you have, and think to myself, for real, not a joke, is he proud of me today? Is she proud of what I'm doing? Is this -- and so I've found -- I think they're just part of me, and it's the way I've dealt with it.
And -- but I promise you, and you know, it happens to me hundreds of times on the trail, people just want to know, can I make it, can I make it? Am I going to be OK? And there will come a time, if any of you are going through it, where the thought of the person you lost will bring a smile to your lip before it brings a tear to your eye. That's when you know you're going to be able to make it. That's when you know.
But it's hard. It's hard. And it gives me some -- it gives me some sense of purpose when I'm able to be of some help. BURNETT: Well, I know that those words...
Those words (inaudible). Mitra Rahnema is a former Unitarian Universalist church minister. Mitra, go ahead with your question for the vice president.
QUESTION: Vice President Biden, thank you for being here.
BIDEN: Thank you.
QUESTION: A year ago, my professionally successful, beloved girlfriend had a brain injury from lack of oxygen after a cardiac arrest. She remains charming and loving and funny. She's also permanently disabled with a 15-minute memory span. This has made me a health care voter, not just for her as an individual, but for all of her friends and family who need to know that she's going to be cared for, for the rest of her life.
QUESTION: So I want to know from you, rather than a plan, what are your fundamental values that will inform your decisions about health care for the people of our country?
BIDEN: What will inform my decision is, you can be guaranteed, my word as a Biden, you can be guaranteed I will protect your families as if it were my own. I've been there. I've been there, when they say there's only a few minutes left, say goodbye.
You know, it's -- most of it is about being able to have peace of mind, peace of mind. Everybody, everybody has to be in a position where they know that if they -- something happens to them, the person they're leaving behind is going to be OK, be taken care of the rest of their lives, because so many people are in that position.
I sat there and -- when they told me that Beau had stage four glioblastoma and it was a matter of -- a matter of months, not whether he could make it. And I just kept thinking to myself, what -- what -- other than being with him as much as I can, what do I do?
I remember we were having dinner one night, I came home, and he was home -- he was the attorney general of the state, and he was insisting he finish his term. And it was in November. He died in May. He outlived the expected time. And he looked -- he asked the kids -- his wife to take the kids upstairs. He lived about a mile from me. My wife and I were there. And he looked at me, and he said, Dad, he said, I'm going to be all right no matter what happens, he said, but promise me, Dad, promise me, Dad, my word as a Biden, is promise me you'll be OK. And I said, Beau, I will.
It's the first time he -- I heard him come to terms with his death in the way he did, his pending death. And he said, but, Dad, promise me, look at me, give me your word as a Biden, you'll be OK, you'll be OK, meaning -- I knew what he meant. He didn't mean run for -- he meant just don't -- he knew I'd take care of his kids and his family. But he worried that I would turn inward, turn inward, and just not -- just not participate anymore.
And so I promised. I wasn't sure I could keep the promise at the time. But what happens with that friend of yours, you look at her and you say, what happens if I'm not here? What happens? Who's going to be with her?
And so there's -- I could give you policy answers, but the personal answer is, you've got to be in a position where that friend of yours is going to be able to live her life in whatever comfort remains as long as is reasonable for her to be able to do it, in terms of the physical condition.
And that means, you know, for example, you know what we know? We know if you have a provider that, in fact, is a family member, you are much, much -- not professional, you are much better for that person that -- who is suffering through whatever the problem is. They can handle it better.
That's why we should be paying -- we should provide tax credits for people who stay home to take care of their loved one, because they're the ones who have the greatest impact on their mental -- their physical health, their attitude, that keeps them from being panicked.
And so I just think there's -- it's all about just holding on. People just want to know, want to know, they all -- hope never dies. Hope never dies. And the moment you're alone, the hope fades, and that's when it is absolutely terror.
And so I'm not sure I've answered your question, but that's how I feel about it. And I think the health care plans have to be available so that your friend, for the rest of her natural life, gets all the care she needs and has the comfort that she's not isolated and left alone. There's nothing worse, all of you know, when you have a problem, and being completely alone. Alone. It saps -- it saps the nature of human beings to be alone, I think.
BURNETT: Our next question also touches on this issue of health care. And I know a little perhaps more broadly than that. Joshua -- Joshua Marshack is an assistant professor of anthropology here at Grinnell. He currently supports Senator Bernie Sanders. Joshua, go ahead with your question.
QUESTION: Sure, thanks. Many wealthy and not-so-wealthy countries have affordable and decent health care comparable to Medicare for all and free or low-cost college tuition. Though one could cherry-pick for health care horror stories, this is irrefutable.
Some of the current Democratic candidates endorse similar health and higher education plans. As they explain them, these plans seem doable, and you appear to endorse the goals. Please state the reasons -- ideological, logistical or otherwise -- why you won't fully support trying to achieve them. BIDEN: Good question.
First and foremost, the thing you must do in public life is be honest with the public. Bernie's been honest. This is going to cost between $30 trillion and $40 trillion over 10 years. The entire federal budget on a yearly basis is less than it will cost on a yearly basis to provide for Medicare for all, number one.
Number two, it, in fact -- in my view, they all acknowledge and support it -- it will take somewhere between 4 and 10 years for it to come into being. People can't wait.
I believe the plan I have proposed, which is building on Obamacare and providing a public option that is available for anyone, significantly reducing the cost of getting in the exchanges -- my plan costs $750 billion, would immediately cover everybody -- everybody in America, allow you to keep your private plan if you wanted it, if you wanted it.
The thing that Bernie's plan does is that you either have to have his plan or no plan, period, nothing. You cannot choose. A lot of these people have gone out and they've negotiated with their employers a significant health care plan that they've given up salaries for, they've given up part of their income for, and they like it. They should be entitled to choose to keep it if they wish.
If they don't wish to keep it, they can buy into the public option that I propose. And it's affordable and it can happen immediately. Immediately. I can get it passed.
And if you take a look -- excuse me, if you take a look, the vast majority of the people who you have to go into the Congress and -- you have to get things done. It matters that you can actually deliver on what you say.
For example, I this we should have free community college, cutting in half the cost of a college education. Everything below from high school to two years of community college should be free, including trade school. We can afford to do that quickly, and we can get it done.
I believe we can forgive a significant portion of the student debt by reducing from 5 percent -- 10 percent to 5 percent the payback rate now. And in addition to that, if you engage in public service, you, in fact, can have $10,000 a year debt removed from -- taken off the books, and for five years. The average indebtedness is about $38,000. We can do that.
But to come along and say you're going to find -- you're going to fund a $35 trillion, $34 trillion, $40 trillion plan in 10 years, $1.7 trillion in student debt will be forgiven for all universities -- I can understand -- I think we can get to the point where we can have four-year public universities covered. But why should, in fact, these people out here pay for the fact that my kids had a significant debt, but they went to Yale and they went to Penn and they went -- for incredibly high tuitions?
Why should that be free?
So there has to be some correlation between you being able to do what you say and level with the American people. Health care is the single most important thing you all face. And what -- I mean, don't you think you're entitled to know whether or not your taxes are going to go up higher than the benefit you will get, significantly higher? That's what almost every single study, Professor, you know says. You know it says that.
And so how do you explain that? Well, you should stand up and do at least what Bernie did and said, yep, it's going to cost 7.5 percent more in your withholding tax, meaning your pay will be deducted another 7.5 percent, and on top of that, a 4 percent to 5 percent tax increase. Well, that makes sense. But that only gets you halfway there. There's a little bit of truth in lending here.
BURNETT: But Senator Warren, of course, has said that she's not going to be raising those taxes, as you know, right? She has a different plan. You talked about her support for Medicare for all last week. You attacked her, I think it's a fair word. The quote was from you, "It's just an elitist attitude about you're either my way or the highway."
BIDEN: Let's get something straight. She attacked me. She went out and said Biden -- she didn't use my name any more than I used hers. She said Biden is a coward. Biden -- Biden is, in fact, in the pocket of. Biden is -- and she went down the list of saying that I -- I should be in a Republican primary.
BURNETT: She did say you were in the wrong primary.
BIDEN: Oh, yeah, right. Now, what do you call that? What do you call that? So I responded by saying -- no, no, here's what I said. It's not about her. It's about the attitude that exists right now. If you disagree with me, you must be bad. There must be -- they question motive.
Look, we can disagree. I respect your view. I really do. What I was talking about is, you go home and you tell everybody, people are busting their neck at the kitchen table with conversations going on tomorrow morning, like in the house I was raised in, and you say, by the way, I know you don't think we should raise your taxes on this, but this is good for you. This is good for you. What do you mean? Where did that come from?
BURNETT: What specifically is elitist about how she's pursuing Medicare for all?
BIDEN: The attitude that we know better than ordinary people what's in their interest. I know more than you, let me tell what you to do.
(APPLAUSE) I -- and it wasn't she's elitist. The attitude is elitist, that people can't make up their own minds. You like your health insurance, but you shouldn't like your health insurance. You should have to give that up. I'm going to demand you not have that. We're going to give you something better. I like -- I know what I want.
So that is an attitude that says, OK, you're telling me it's my way or the highway. And it's not about her. It's about the attitude out there, the attitude that we know best, you do it my way. Where I come from, growing up in a middle-class neighborhood, the last thing I liked is people telling my family and me what we should know, what we should believe, as if somehow we weren't informed, that we -- just because we didn't have money we weren't knowledgeable.
I resent that. And I wasn't talking about her. I was talking about the attitude that if you don't agree with me, get in the other party. I'm more of a Democrat from my shoe sole to my ears than about anybody running in this party, OK?
BURNETT: Including her?
BIDEN: Including everybody, OK? One thing I've never had to wonder about is what I believed and where my ideology was and where I come from and why I'm in this and why I'm fighting.
It's because the people like I grew up with, many of whom, in fact, didn't have college degrees, many of whom -- most of the people I grew up with, their parents never went to college. Most of my generation were the first in our families to go to college.
But they were as smart, as decent, as honorable, and as committed as anybody else. But they get left behind. It's one of the reasons why I feel so strongly about the need to make -- have more power, unions. People don't -- they don't respect anything until you stand up and say, this is what I want. This is what I believe. That's the only point. It's not about her. It's about the attitude that's out there.
And if -- imagine if I said to her, well, you should be in a Republican -- or you should be in a socialist primary. Biden is being -- bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, right? You'd all say that. You know it.
BURNETT: Well, do you think she should?
BIDEN: No. I'm not going to get in a fight with her.
BURNETT: OK, just...
BIDEN: Look, I think the plan that's being offered is not an irrational plan. It's not unreasonable. But tell us what it means for people. Tell us the truth about what is going to happen.
Now, maybe you don't know. Maybe they really don't have any idea what it's going to cost. But raise your hand here, anybody -- and you, Professor, if you think that you can, in fact, have Medicare for all in the 5 to 10 years and not raise taxes on middle-class people?
What do you think, Professor -- that's unfair to do to you. But you know you don't believe...
BURNETT: He doesn't have a mic anymore.
He's saved by not having a mic. I'm sure he has an opinion. He's a professor here.
BIDEN: He's a professor. That's why I know he knows the answer.
BURNETT: We will take a brief break, and we'll be back with more from the former vice president right after this.
BURNETT: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with former Vice President Joe Biden. We are live from Grinnell College right here in Iowa.
Now, Vice President Biden, you just told our Dana Bash -- you all were together in New Hampshire just the other day -- that you welcome the former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's entry into the race. But what do you think about his apparent strategy to skip the first four contests, including the caucuses right here in Iowa?
BIDEN: Is that possible?
I -- look, one thing, I'm -- I'm going to leave it to the prognosticators to, you know, psych out what is good politics, bad politics.
Look, I just think that -- we'll see. I mean, Michael is a talented man, has a little bit of money, and can be engaged as long as he wants.
But I just think that the way the system is set up now, there are four gates you have to get through to get to Super Tuesday and on. And they are Iowa caucus, New Hampshire primary, Nevada caucus, and -- and South Carolina primary. And so I just think it's the way it's been, and we'll see what happens. But that's a judgment he has to make.
BURNETT: All right. I want to bring in Peggy Hugen. She is a photographer and former journalist. Peggy, go ahead with your question.
BIDEN: Hey, Peggy.
QUESTION: Russian interference in elections and governments worldwide is alarming to me, particularly the role that social media has played in the attacks. How will a Biden administration protect our democracy for future generations?
BIDEN: Well, two things. One, you're obviously under no illusion, like the president is, that Russia did not engage and trying -- and continues at this moment to engage in our politics, which is a violation of our sovereignty.
And I think that the fact that Facebook, for example, would take down the ads, the bots that -- for example, like I said, I know that Putin doesn't want me, because thousands of bots were used to try to attack -- attacking me. And I just think that social media has to be more socially conscious of what is in important in terms of our democracy.
And part of that is a little truth in lending here and making sure that everything is not about whether they can make a buck. It requires that the journalistic responsibility you have -- you can't do what they can do on Facebook. You can't do what they can do and just say anything at all, then not acknowledge that when you know something is fundamentally not true.
And I just think it's a -- it's a little out of hand. And I, for one, think we should be considering taking away the exemption that they cannot be sued for knowingly engaging on -- in promoting something that's not true.
BURNETT: All right. We're going to take a very quick break. We'll be right back with more from our presidential town hall with the former Vice President Biden right here in Grinnell, Iowa. Stay with us. We'll be right back.
BURNETT: Welcome back to CNN's Democratic presidential town hall with former Vice President Joe Biden. We are live on the campus of Grinnell College in Iowa.
I want to bring in Jessica St. John. She's a high school teacher, Vice President, who teaches English as second language. She's also a veteran who served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, with the Army national Army. Jessica, please go ahead.
BIDEN: God love ya.
QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Biden.
BIDEN: Thank you.
QUESTION: How do you plan to help veterans who served honorably but then were deported back to their native country?
BIDEN: Bring them back. Not a joke.
It's outrageous. It's outrageous what they did, outrageous what the president did.
And, look, one of the greatest honors I had -- I've been in and out of Afghanistan and Iraq, I guess, total about 20 times. I was in the Al- Faw Palace, and only I think my wife, the second lady, was the only person to go into combat zone. Went over. You know for? We swore in 120 -- 120 soldiers and sailors in Al-Faw palace, none of whom had -- were American citizens, all who had volunteered, from Silver Stars to Bronze Stars to Purple Hearts.
And you should have seen the looks on their faces as each one of them came up. That's why we're who we are, the country we are. We are a country of immigrants, and they serve, and they should be treated the same way.
What's your dog's name?
BIDEN: What's your dog's name?
BIDEN: Victor. OK, Victor. I got two German shepherds at home, Victor, but they -- I had a lab for 14 years, too, black lab.
BURNETT: He definitely knows his name. Tomorrow the Supreme Court, Mr. Vice President, will hear a case that will impact the fate of Dreamers who are here in the United States. I want to bring in Thomas Condit. He is retired. He used to work in manufacturing right here in Iowa, and he has a question about DACA, of course, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Go ahead with your question, please, Thomas.
QUESTION: Good evening, Mr. Vice President.
BIDEN: Good evening, Tom.
QUESTION: Institutions such as Grinnell College often have some student who are undocumented. Assuming the current administration does not end the program in the next few months, what are your plans to address DACA?
BIDEN: They are Americans now. They should be treated as Americans now. No, I really mean it.
(APPLAUSE) And what I don't get -- I don't get -- and I met hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of DACA students. What they don't get, what this outfit doesn't get -- can you imagine, you're 9 years old and Mom is going to take you across the line, across the border illegally, and you're going, no, mom, leave me here. Leave me, I'm going to stay.
Come on, man. What are we talking about? We're going to send these children back to places they don't have any idea about? Many of them don't even speak the language anymore? It's bizarre. It's -- they are Americans now. They should be treated that way. And we should find a pathway for citizenship for (inaudible)
BURNETT: We're here in Iowa tonight, one of many states that is feeling the ongoing effects of the trade war with China. Let's bring in Alicia Adelmund. She is a student and she is a stay-at-home mom from Marshalltown, Iowa. Alicia, opiate with your question, please.
QUESTION: Good evening. How will you protect Iowa's agricultural industry in the long term, which has suffered under the current administration's trade war with China, beyond bailouts and subsidies?
BIDEN: We're going to end that trade war with China. We're -- the war -- it's the wrong war. What they're doing is stealing intellectual property. They're violating international norms. It's not about not allowing American products to be sold in their market or them selling here. That's number one.
Number two, we should be moving in the direction of keeping our word that we had on ethanol and renewable fuels. That has created millions of job -- millions -- billions of dollars, $2 billion of growth in this state. And we should be making farmers the recipients of a climate change plan where they get paid to absorb carbon. They get paid to absorb carbon.
There's much more to say, but I only have a little bit of time. But that's -- I have a whole plan -- well, on rural America that Tom Vilsack helped me put together. I'd like to get it to you, and I think -- I think you'll like it.
BURNETT: You mentioned climate change, and that's obviously a big issue for many Democratic voters across this country. I want to bring in Amelia Zoemig, she's a junior here at Grinnell with a question on that. Amelia, go ahead.
BIDEN: Hi, Amelia.
QUESTION: Good evening. Climate change is causing extreme weather events with exponentially increasing frequency. In Iowa, flooding over the last 30 years has cost over $13.5 billion in direct property losses and over $4.1 billion in crop losses. What action will you take to protect Iowan people, communities, farms, and businesses?
BIDEN: It's not just you. I live in a state that's only three feet above sea level. No, no, I mean it sincerely. And my entire two- thirds of my state are in jeopardy, OK? And there are close to a trillion dollars of loss up and down the coast, OK? So, number one, I agree with you completely.
Number two, I would immediately rejoin the Paris climate accord, which I helped put together.
Number two -- number two, I would invite the 187 nations that belong to that to the United States within my first 100 days and up the ante, because they make up 85 percent of the problem. I would, number three, in the United States move immediately to move to make sure we set in place standards that cannot be changed, for example, by putting in place the whole portions that relate -- for example, every single building in America should be energy efficient. We should be investing in battery technology, not just for automobiles. There's new companies out there investing -- I have a $400 billion plan to invest in new technologies.
For example, if you, in fact, have solar panels on your house or wind, you are able to now -- there's new research going on -- you can within your home store that energy with this new battery technology, so you will never have to go even when the wind's not blowing and the sun's not shining.
I would make sure that we go back to making sure we deal with transportation. Look, I'm a big rail guy. If we had rail that goes as fast as a car can go and get from one place to the other as fast, we'd take hundreds of thousands of vehicles off the road. And there are five corridors in which we can do that right now. It is cheaper. It is better. It is smarter.
We should be building every new highway we build -- I'm going to build 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles on every highway we build so you can plug in and move. And we'll own the market. We will be in -- creating millions of good-paying jobs. And so there's so much we could do. I wish I had time to -- maybe afterwards I'll stick around and give you a more detailed answer, if you'd like. But we have to. We have to get to zero -- net zero emissions by 2050, but lock...
PROTESTORS: 2050 is too late! Climate change will seal our fate! 2050 is too late! Climate change will seal our fate! 2050 is too late! Climate change will seal our fate!
BURNETT: OK. Thank you. Thank you. We appreciate your passion, but please respect -- please respect the vice president and our town hall. Thank you. Thank you.
BIDEN: But by the way...
BURNETT: Finish your point, sir. BIDEN: We can lock -- we can lock in things that can't change. We
can make fundamental changes now in the next 10 years that would significantly reduce the emissions of carbon now, right now. We don't have to wait.
And -- but anybody who tells you that you're going to be able to do it within less time is -- they haven't shown a way to do that. But we can fundamentally reduce the amount of carbon that's emitted beginning now.
BURNETT: I want to bring in Pamela Pelzel. She's a small-business owner here in Grinnell, Iowa, and a supporter of yours. Pamela, please go ahead with your question.
QUESTION: What is your position on Saudi Arabia and Prince Mohammad bin Salman and their killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist?
What kind of consequences should there be for his murder in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul?
BIDEN: There is very little social redeeming value of that administration. And I think it was a flat-out murder. And I think we should have nailed it as that. I publicly said at the time we should treat it that way and there should be consequences relating to how we deal with those -- that power.
He has not gotten much better. And they're playing a game here. What they're doing in the region, continuing a war that should not be underway to begin with, killing innocent people, all on the rationale that this has to do with Iran.
And the problem is that this president has so damaged our relations in the world with the -- with the permanent five that we walked away from what was working in Iran, keeping them from having a nuclear capacity, the most intrusive regime we -- we negotiate in our administration that ever has occurred in all of human history. We had investigators and the international atomic energy commission, every single place they could possibly be doing something bad.
He walked away, said he was going to make it better. What's happened? We now are isolated. We are the isolated country. We are wondering what we do when the bad actors -- and there are bad actors, like the Quds Force in Iran, who we had the ability to respond against anyway, unrelated to whether or not they were keeping the deal on -- on -- on nuclear power.
And what's happened now? Now they use a drone, they get engaged, and what are we doing? We can't find the allies to come with us. We're the isolated country. And we use Saudi Arabia as a rationale why we can't get tougher on them for their violations of international law, the way they treat women, the way they treat their people. That, in fact, we should be speaking out about what constitutes a violation of human rights, and they violated the human rights of their citizens, as well as their -- Khashoggi was, in fact -- he was butchered.
BURNETT: When you say Saudi Arabia has very little social redeeming value, and you're talking about some of the reasons you feel that way, the reality when it comes down to it -- and you well know this right -- they're by far the largest buyers of U.S. weapons of any country on this planet. As president, would you curb those arms sales to Saudi Arabia?
BIDEN: Yes. Yes. Look, we should not make our policy based on who we get to sell weapons to. What -- I mean, what a foreign policy. I mean, it makes no sense to me. It makes no sense.
Look -- look what's happened in China now. They have a million Uighurs, Muslims, in re-education camps out in the west. Hong Kong, they're shooting people in the streets, violating every agreement they made when Hong Kong rejoined China. Look what's happening in Shanghai. We're silent. We're silent and wonder why the rest of the world thinks that we're not going to stand up.
And so what do you have happening in Europe? You have Orban in Hungary. You have what is an anti-democratic leader in a democratic state, supposedly, of Turkey with Erdogan. This is starting to fall apart. We have to lead the world, and we have to lead it by our example and making it clear that human rights and civil rights and civil liberties, they matter to us. I don't give a damn whether you buy all our arms. It's a mistake.
BURNETT: Our next question is from Tara Shukla Jones, an artist and the vice chair of the Poweshiek County Democratic Party. Tara, please.
QUESTION: Good evening, Mr. Vice President.
BIDEN: Good evening.
QUESTION: You've outlined a lot of really ambitious domestic plans this evening. In an era of hyper-partisanship, even in areas of bipartisan agreement, the need to score political points has resulted in congressional gridlock. You're on record as saying you will be able to work across the aisle and bring Republicans and Democrats together. Yet even under the Obama-Biden administration, this rarely happened. What makes you think your administration will achieve what has become increasingly rare?
BIDEN: Not true. It happened a lot, and I'm the guy that got it done. For example, the largest government spending program in all of history, I convinced three Republicans to join the Recovery Act, kept us out of a depression. That's the very beginning.
Take you all the way to the end. We had already, already lost the election. It was in January. I put together with Republicans and Democrats the single largest commitment to cancer research and NIH, almost $9 billion, seven days before he was going to be sworn in, when they were told that they would not do anything more.
Look, we can move. We can make great progress, for example, on cancer research. We can make great progress on infrastructure. We can make great progress on a whole range of things.
The places where you can't make the progress, you do what I did.
I campaigned for more Democrats in 2018 than anybody, most of them women. What did we do? I went into 24 states. I went into -- campaigned for 68 candidates, and we took back the House by going at them directly on health care. What happened? All of a sudden, when people realized that we -- no one knew what -- what we did until it started being taken away.
So we went in, and I said, hey, look, here I'm -- I'm campaigning for -- and I turned to the person I'm campaigning for. Her Republican opponent says that he or she wants to take away pre-existing conditions coverage, wants to take away -- oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, not us. How many Republicans do you hear talking about it?
Look, one of the problems and the responsibility of a president is to be able to persuade people. And one thing everybody in the Senate and the House knows, I have never, ever, ever, ever misled a person that I've tried to get an agreement with. And where we can't get an agreement, we go and we fight it out in their district.
But we got a lot done by pure compromise. Remember, every time we got in trouble and couldn't get something passed in the House or the Senate, who got sent up to the Hill? I even convinced the Republicans to increase taxes on the wealthy for the first time ever by $600 billion on New Year's Eve Day, when we were about to go under, in terms of reneging on a national debt. This is something I've done. I can do it again.
BURNETT: Our final question and our next question comes from Jonathan Rebelsky, who is a senior here at Grinnell and a supporter of yours. Jonathan, please.
QUESTION: Hi. You've talked a lot about your career tonight. Given all of the process you've seen and been instrumental in, in American history and through your career, what change in American society are you proudest of?
BIDEN: Well, there's a number of things I'm proud of. One, I think leading the fight to change the culture of how we treat women in America, with the Violence Against Women Act. I'm proudest of doing that.
(APPLAUSE) It's about a cultural change. It's not just the act. And I had great difficulty getting it passed. Even I had opposition from women's groups, initially, because they thought it was going to take the focus off of choice and gender issues. But the fact is, we're beginning to make significant progress.
Another thing I'm incredibly proud of, every American president, Democratic president since Roosevelt has tried to come up with a comprehensive plan for health care. Well, Barack and I did it. Barack did it, but I helped a lot getting it done.
And I also am very proud of the fact that I was able to be the guy who sort of led the effort on the arms control agreement for nuclear weapons with Russia, which this guy is now blowing. So there's a lot of things that I've done that I'm very, very proud of, and I think will have long-term consequences of what needs to be done in terms of -- look, last point I'll make.
My proposals on education, climate change, health care are as radical and change-driven enough as anybody else's plan, anybody else's plan. The difference is, I believe -- and I don't criticize the other people who don't agree with me -- but the idea, we're talking about fundamental change in education, fundamental change in the way we deal with health care, fundamental change in the way we deal with the environment, fundamental change in the way we deal with the criminal justice system.
So there's nothing -- I love this thing about, well, Biden's the moderate. Tell me, if I had -- if tomorrow I was able to change the system like I'm calling, what do you think history will write? Was it moderate change? I don't think so. I don't think so. And we can get it done. We can get it done. It will be hard as the devil. It may take more than four years for some of it, but we can get it done by driving it home to the American people and letting them know what we are for.
Everybody knows who Donald Trump is. We've got to let them know who we are, who we are. We choose science over fiction. We choose hope over fear. We choose truth over lies.
BURNETT: Mr. Vice President, thank you so very much for your time tonight. And to all of you, we want to thank our audience and Grinnell College for being such wonderful hosts. "CNN Tonight with Don Lemon" starts right now.