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First Lady On Biden 2024 Reelection Bid: "I'm All For It"; Jill Biden On Haley's Call For Mental Competency Tests: "Ridiculous"; Jill Biden: Jimmy Carter's Legacy Will Be As A "Great Humanitarian". Aired 9-10p ET
Aired March 06, 2023 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Senator Lindsey Graham is going to join us, as well as DEA Administrator, Anne Milgram.
An important conversation, I hope you join us, for it. It's tomorrow night, at 9 PM Eastern, right after 360.
The CNN PRIMETIME Special JILL BIDEN ABROAD starts now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tonight, Jill Biden takes the world stage. Her first trip to Africa, as first lady.
JILL BIDEN, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES, JOE BIDEN'S WIFE: The young people of Namibia are not only our future, but our present.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She'll answer tough questions on the biggest issues back home.
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What do you say to those people, who say maybe he's too old to be president?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While serving as an important voice, for the Biden administration, abroad.
JILL BIDEN: You are the keepers of democracy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Biden speaks about her mission, and the challenges, facing the continent.
JILL BIDEN: Everybody has to come together, to make sure that these people aren't dying, because of the drought.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And her inspirational reunion with a woman she first met more than 10 years ago.
JILL BIDEN: I said, you could go anywhere, be anything. And you said, "No, I'm staying in my community."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Plus, her family's decision, on President Biden's run, in 2024. SAENZ: Any chance at this point that he's not going to run?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CNN PRIMETIME, JILL BIDEN ABROAD, starts now.
SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good evening. I am Sara Sidner.
Tonight, on CNN PRIMETIME, an in-depth interview, with the first lady of the United States, a one-on-one with Jill Biden, who returned, from a five-day trip to Africa.
CNN was in Africa, alongside the first lady, as she toured through Namibia and Kenya, seeking to raise awareness, about the severe drought and hunger crisis, in the Horn of Africa, championing the role of women, in democracy, and so much more.
We have exclusive footage to show you, along with a fascinating, wide- ranging conversation, with our own Arlette Saenz, who asked Dr. Biden, some of the most pressing questions, many Americans have, about 2024. They delve into the discussion, about the President's age, and those classified documents found on Biden's properties.
Our Audie Cornish, and Abby Phillip, are here, to discuss the news, from this interview.
But first, Arlette is with us, with her incredibly strong reporting.
You asked a lot of questions, and she seemed to answer candidly?
SAENZ: Yes. There were really no topics that were off-limits. And we were able to speak with the first lady, about a host of issues, relating to Africa.
But first, we also got her thoughts, on things, like 2024, and whether he'll seek reelection, those questions about his age, as well as her thoughts, on some of the former first ladies.
SAENZ: So, we are here, in Africa. But there are a host of issues and decisions waiting for you--
JILL BIDEN: Waiting, just waiting.
SAENZ: --back home. Maybe the biggest is this decision and announcement about a 2024 campaign.
JILL BIDEN: Yes.
SAENZ: Your husband was asked in an interview, if he was running. And he joked that he had to call you, to find out.
JILL BIDEN: Was this recently?
SAENZ: It was recently.
JILL BIDEN: Oh! I must have missed it.
SAENZ: So, we're going to the source!
JILL BIDEN: Yes.
SAENZ: Where do things stand? When's an announcement coming?
JILL BIDEN: Well, he said he intends to run. So, nothing's been planned yet. I think he's been so busy with being in Ukraine, handling some of the crises at home. So, I think, he's now -- he's putting that first. He's putting America's business before he's putting his own.
SAENZ: But has the decision been made amongst the family that he's going to run?
JILL BIDEN: It's Joe's decision. And we support whatever he wants to do. If he's in? We're there. If he wants to do something else? We're there too.
SAENZ: Is there any chance, at this point that he's not going to run?
JILL BIDEN: Not in my book.
SAENZ: You're all for it?
JILL BIDEN: I'm all for it, of course. There's so many things that he's done, brought people together, brought leaders together.
And so, he says, and I think you heard him, say at the State of the Union, "I'm not yet finished. I'm not yet finished." And so, I see his vision. And I hope Americans see his vision as well.
SAENZ: Now, your husband is 80-years-old. If he wins a second term, he would be 82, at Inauguration. What do you say to those people, who say "Maybe he's too old to be president?" Are those fair questions and conversations to be having?
JILL BIDEN: I say, "Look at what he's done. Look at what he's doing." Look at how physically he's got the good bill of health from the doctors, to his physicals. But how many 30-year-olds could travel to Poland, get on the train, go nine more hours, go to Ukraine, meet with President Zelenskyy?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE: Good morning, Mr. President.
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Good morning (ph).
(END VIDEO CLIP) JILL BIDEN: His energy level, his level of passion. So, look at the man. Look what he's doing. Look what he continues to do, each and every day, and make your decision. It's up to the American people.
SAENZ: Nikki Haley, one of the Republican candidates, is calling for mental competency tests, for those politicians, over the age of 75. What do you think about that?
JILL BIDEN: It's ridiculous.
SAENZ: Would your husband ever take one of those?
JILL BIDEN: I mean, we haven't even discussed -- we would never even discuss something like that.
SAENZ: You talked a little bit about your husband, traveling to Ukraine, and Poland, this past week.
JILL BIDEN: Yes.
SAENZ: You also have told us that you found out kind of last minute that he was going to make this--
JILL BIDEN: Oh, absolutely.
SAENZ: --secret trip, to Ukraine.
JILL BIDEN: Yes.
SAENZ: What was it like, for those 10 hours, when he was taking that train ride, into Ukraine, and no one knew? How worried were you, in those moments?
JILL BIDEN: I was of course worried. I mean, I was really worried.
But one thing? And I have to say this, with all my heart. One thing that I truly believe in is the strength of our military, and how everything was so planned out, and the Secret Service, and what an amazing job, they did, in pulling off the trip, and keeping my husband safe.
I mean, I'm watching the TV, this morning. And I'm seeing, it's just incredible, what's going on in the air and in the sea. And I hope that Americans really take note of it. Like we have to give the support, all of our support, to our military, because of what a great job they do. And the Secret Service is right there hand-in-hand.
SAENZ: Were you able to keep tabs on him when he was--
JILL BIDEN: Oh, yes.
SAENZ: How do -- did you communicate?
JILL BIDEN: Well through texts.
SAENZ: Through texts? JILL BIDEN: You know? Yes, through texts. By texts (ph).
SAENZ: Was he texting you on the train?
JILL BIDEN: Well, he was -- no, he wasn't texting me on the train. But it was in the back of my mind. And so, I mean, I was kind of aware that he was safe. And I just said a lot of prayers.
SAENZ: Did he give you a call when he made it back into Poland?
JILL BIDEN: Oh, yes, yes. Yes.
SAENZ: And what was his reflection on this clandestine trip?
JILL BIDEN: We didn't -- it wasn't -- we didn't really talk about it. I think it'll be just better to talk about it in private, you know? Yes.
SAENZ: Have you had the chance to talk to him about this trip yet?
JILL BIDEN: Oh, yes. We've spoken a couple times, and FaceTimed. And so, yes. And he looks great. I mean, so he doesn't look tired, or -- yes.
SAENZ: How often do you guys FaceTime?
JILL BIDEN: I don't know, couple times a day.
SAENZ: Even if you're just in D.C.?
JILL BIDEN: Oh, sure.
SAENZ: Or when you're traveling?
JILL BIDEN: Well I'm -- yes, I'm traveling. I'm at work.
JILL BIDEN: I mean, he calls like he calls a lot.
SAENZ: Does he call you more? Or do you call him more?
JILL BIDEN: I think he calls me more.
SAENZ: I want to turn to another issue that has come up, amongst Republicans, a lot. And your son, Hunter, has really been a target, for Republicans, over the years, and likely will be, in the years to come. How does your family deal with that intense focus, on Hunter?
JILL BIDEN: We deal with it by just, I guess, have a different perspective. I mean, I love Hunter, and I'll support him, in any way I can. And that's how I look at things.
SAENZ: Has the wave of investigations, into him, does that factor into any of the thinking, heading into 2024?
JILL BIDEN: No.
SAENZ: The Justice Department has appointed the Special Counsel, to look into the way that your husband handled classified documents, when he left the Vice Presidency.
JILL BIDEN: Yes.
SAENZ: When did you first find out about these documents? Were you surprised?
JILL BIDEN: Probably when the rest of America did. I was really surprised. We had no idea. And so, I think we found out when everybody else did.
SAENZ: Where in the house were they? Were they in a secure location? Did people have access to them?
JILL BIDEN: Well, I think they were at the Biden Penn Center.
SAENZ: And there were some at your home, in Wilmington, as well?
JILL BIDEN: Yes. And I think those were in the garage. And believe me, Arlette, I am not, I haven't even -- I mean, I don't have time to go through, the boxes in the garage. And we had no idea they were even down there.
SAENZ: I wanted to turn back to one campaign question.
JILL BIDEN: Oh!
SAENZ: You and I--
JILL BIDEN: You're not giving up!
SAENZ: Oh no, I'm not!
JILL BIDEN: See?
SAENZ: But I guess--
JILL BIDEN: You're saying "Everybody's asking you." There you go, Arlette.
SAENZ: Everyone's asking you.
Do you ever worry about how grueling a campaign might be on him?
JILL BIDEN: I think every campaign is grueling. I don't care whether you're 20, 30 or whatever age. Campaigns now have become really grueling. And Arlette, you've been on a lot of campaigns. You have to see the difference between even 10 years ago, and today.
SAENZ: I know you guys are really big into these family meetings.
JILL BIDEN: Yes.
SAENZ: Was there one definitive family meeting that "OK, we're doing this?" Or has this been a rolling conversation?
JILL BIDEN: It's been rolling, this time. Last time, we did have a family meeting. And we've had family meetings other times. But it's sort of rolling, just because of the pace of our lives. And so, if I can grab two grandkids, here, and say, "Hey, what are you thinking about? What are your thoughts?" Or, our daughter? So, I'm sort of keeping tabs.
SAENZ: So, in your mind, this is happening?
JILL BIDEN: Absolutely.
You want to come? You want to come on the trail?
SAENZ: I might be -- I might be covering you guys on the trail again.
JILL BIDEN: Oh, good, good.
SIDNER: We are back now, with Arlette.
We're also joined, luckily, by Audie Cornish, and Abby Phillip.
Arlette, I'm going to start with you.
So, you asked all of the questions that I think the American public has been discussing, about Joe Biden. And then, you get into what Jill Biden has been up to. Were you surprised by any of her answers?
SAENZ: I think that her answer, regarding 2024, is quite interesting. I think the way that she answered that question, really makes it seem as if it's not a matter and if -- of if, but when this campaign will be launched.
But she also does leave an opening for him, should he decide not to run in 2024. She says, it's Joe's decision, that they'll support him if he does. And then, she says, "But if he decides to do something else, we'll also support him there." So, it kind of provides you a little bit of answer, both ways.
But, these conversations that I had with her, over the course of those five days, in Africa, it really does seem like things are moving towards him running for reelection again, in the coming months.
SIDNER: I do want to ask about this controversy, I don't know if that's what to call it, but over age. It's come up again and again. And Nikki Haley pushed it to a whole another level when she talked about a competency test. Jill Biden responded with, "It's ridiculous."
Audie, what do you make of her response to that?
AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT, CNN HOST, "THE ASSIGNMENT WITH AUDIE CORNISH" PODCAST: I mean, first of all, I think she's more surefooted, in general, in terms of how she approaches the press, and talks to the press.
She's been in this game, for a very long time. It's a little bit different from first lady, Michelle Obama, who married someone, who was not in public life, when they first got together. Jill Biden has been in this for a while.
But it also underscores the problem for them. Here they are, she's on a trip, visiting countries, in Africa. The posture that this administration has had towards Africa is radically different than the prior administration.
But it's a conversation that can't be had. Because not only are people focused on whether he's going to run, but even being able to ask the question, should he at all, because of his age. I mean, that really, I think, gives you a sense of the kind of obstacles for them.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS SUNDAY: It also struck me that she was answering the question over and over again, at every chance that she got, even when Arlette wasn't asking her about it.
PHILLIP: She's talking--
CORNISH: Like she was ready with an answer.
PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, she's talking about the Ukraine trip. She's talking about his stamina, his ability, to do all of that. I mean, I think she is keenly aware that this is an unavoidable question, about her husband. And she is injecting it every moment, and opportunity, to say, "This is a guy, who can keep up. This is a guy, who has what it takes, who's all there."
And, I mean, to Audie's point, Jill Biden, is perhaps one of the most prepared women to ever be first lady, because of how long that she has been Joe Biden's wife.
And I didn't really see any doubt in her in this interview. I think she thinks her husband can do it. And she's kind of wondering why we keep asking her about it. And that really, I think, tells you everything that you need to know. She would probably be the first to say, "It's time for us to take a step back." And that's not a woman who wants to take a step back.
SIDNER: I think she made that really clear. I do want to ask you guys about classified documents.
She said something that struck me, "We found out when the rest of the country did." And when she says, "We," I mean, is it plausible that they had no idea that they were there?
PHILLIP: I think it's certainly plausible that they didn't know that they were there. I'm not sure about both of them finding out, when the rest of the country did. But yes, it is possible that they didn't know that they were there. I mean, this is a former Vice President of the United States. He's not going through old files in his--
PHILLIP: --in his home, or in his office. It's just not how these things are done. So, it is very likely that when these things were boxed up, and brought to the home, they weren't even really looked at, for a long time. Is that an excuse? Probably not, and certainly not, in the eye of the Justice Department.
And remember, just one quick thing. The boxes in the Biden office, some of the things in those boxes, had to do with Beau Biden. That strikes me as materials that would have been kept, as they were, and really not rifled through, even by the former Vice President.
CORNISH: At the same time, the issue has been somewhat neutralized by Mike Pence, also having documents.
CORNISH: Obviously, the Trump ongoing investigation, I think, for the public, at this point, it's like, everyone's got a box, they should figure this out.
And it's really about waiting for the Justice Department, to see if there's anything sort of more nefarious, to your point, though anything related to Hunter, anything that can be connected to him in some way. Expect to hear more of that in any forthcoming kind of congressional hearing, especially led by House Republicans.
SIDNER: And we should also be clear that, Joe Biden did not hold on to these, after he learned that they were there. And there is a difference between him--
SIDNER: --and Trump.
CORNISH: Like he's not under investigating--
CORNISH: --for obstructing, in any way.
CORNISH: Or not cooperating, which is very different from the former President.
SIDNER: Yes, same goes for Pence.
Arlette, Audie, and Abby, are staying right here with us, because there's just so much more ahead.
Up next, why being first lady is harder than Jill Biden ever imagined, and whether she's heard, from her predecessor, which is customary?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JILL BIDEN: Most of the first ladies, "If you ever need anything, or you want to talk, or if there's something on your mind, or if I can help you in some way?" They've all been great.
SAENZ: Have you spoken with Melania Trump?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Her answer, when we return.
SIDNER: Welcome back to CNN PRIMETIME.
Arlette Saenz's in-depth interview, with the first lady, while she was in Africa, "First lady Jill Biden goes abroad" continues right now.
SAENZ: You've said that being first lady is a bit harder than you had imagined. Which parts of it are more difficult that you thought maybe would have been?
JILL BIDEN: Well, the schedule, I mean, that's one part of it. So with the, being a mom, and a grandmom, and a wife, I mean, you have to fulfill those roles. And then, you layer on first lady, and you layer on teacher.
So, like you're saying, just trying to balance it all, is, you have to be very organized, which I think all teachers are. But I just think you have to find balance. And that's what every day, I strive to find balance.
SAENZ: I know, you've said that you are not the President's adviser. You're his spouse. But you do hold a lot of influence. And I'm sure, over the years, you have learned, when to weigh in, and when not to.
JILL BIDEN: Sure.
SAENZ: So, what are the areas you do offer him advice on?
JILL BIDEN: Well, certainly, I tell him stories, and of things that I've seen, and things that people want, and where their challenges are. So, it's not that I'm like weighing in. It's like, "Let me tell you, what I saw or what I heard, or what people are saying to me." And so, it's in that context.
Because, I'm out every day, I'm in the classroom. I'm out, somewhere in the United States. And so, I think it's a good balance, really.
SAENZ: And I think there's a lot of focus, on the role, and the impact that you have, on him. But how does he help you?
JILL BIDEN: Well, sometimes, I don't -- I may not see things, from his perspective. Let's just put it that way. And so, he offers both sides. I'm always a little bit better, like, "This person feels this way."
He's very good at that, understanding why people feel the way they do. He understands both sides, which is part of his strength, I think, that he can, work with people, as he's done, Arlette, on both sides of the aisle. He may not agree with them. But he does understand their perspective.
SAENZ: Are there areas where the two of you just agree to disagree?
JILL BIDEN: Yes.
SAENZ: What are they?
JILL BIDEN: I don't think I want to get into it. I don't want to create another argument at home!
SAENZ: I want to ask you about Jimmy Carter. What do you think Jimmy Carter will ultimately be remembered for?
JILL BIDEN: I think he'll be remembered as a great humanitarian. I mean, all that he has done to help people? He never stopped. He never stopped, helping Americans, whether it was Habitat for Humanity, building homes, or going into communities, traveling the world, helping people all over. And I actually feel a little sad, even saying this, because he's still with us, thank God. And -- but I think that will be his legacy.
SAENZ: I mean, you and your husband visited him, and Rosalynn Carter, at their home in Plains, Georgia.
JILL BIDEN: Yes, yes.
SAENZ: I think it was in 2021. Can you talk to us a little bit about what that moment was like, your interactions with them then?
JILL BIDEN: Well, he and Joe get along so well, and have so much in common. And, I mean, they talked politics, the whole time, and what was going on. And they have a real ease in -- with one another. You've seen it. And they do so much together.
And she's so much a part of his life. I don't know. I worry about her.
SAENZ: In what way?
JILL BIDEN: Well, what will she do? They've been married, what, over 70 years? It's a really strong partnership. SAENZ: And have you had conversations with Rosalynn about being first lady?
JILL BIDEN: No, I don't think I have. She's always been very supportive. As have, quite frankly, most of the first ladies. "If you ever need anything, or you want to talk, or if there's something on your mind, or if I can help you in some way?" They've all been great.
SAENZ: Have you spoken with Melania Trump?
JILL BIDEN: Not Melania.
SAENZ: When you leave the White House, is it your intention to keep up a similar type of relationship with first ladies, and offer advice where they need?
JILL BIDEN: Oh, sure, absolutely. And I don't care whether they're Republican or Democrat. I think it's a big role. I think, if they ask, I mean, I'm not going to, but if they ask? Of course. I mean it's a very small number, at this point of women, and I think we have to support one another.
SIDNER: The first lady's passion to highlight women, supporting women, goes well beyond the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JILL BIDEN: So, we can look to Namibia and say, "Look, it's working there. It's going to work for us as well."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: How Jill Biden is finding inspiration, half a world away, when our CNN PRIMETIME Special continues.
SIDNER: For first lady, Jill Biden, the opportunities that come with a ceremonial role, in the White House, are about far more than photo ops. And when she visits Africa, she is no stranger to that.
Arlette Saenz is back with us, to look at the personal connections she's nurtured, and the hope that she sees even as parts of the African continent struggles.
SAENZ: Yes. And she really was trying to take some of her key messages that she has here, in the U.S., over to Africa as well. And she's spent there -- as time there, as second lady, and that really has given her some familiarity, with the continent, as she tried to spread her messages, from both Namibia to Kenya.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SAENZ (voice-over): Dr. Jill Biden, in Africa, for the first time, as first lady.
A return to a continent that's familiar to her.
She traveled to Africa, five times, as second lady. But in her debut trip, as first lady, Biden kicks things off, in Namibia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (FOREIGN LANGUAGE).
SAENZ (voice-over): A young country, where preserving democracy was at the top of her mind.
JILL BIDEN, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: You are the keepers of democracy.
CROWD MEMBER: Amen
BIDEN: Amen, that's right amen.
SAENZ: She says the relationships she's built as first lady drew to her to the country.
BIDEN: We had the Africa U.S. summit in December, and I met Monica, the spouse of the president of Namibia, and we just hit it off so fast and she said, you know, come to my country.
SAENZ: Why is it important to you to build these types of relationships with other first ladies?
BIDEN: Because I think the one thing Joe taught me is that all politics is personal, and that -- that's true, because once you have these connections, you can call on someone when you need help, when you need to be lifted up, when you can support programs.
SAENZ: Throughout her five-day trip, she pushed for women to use their voices, and for young people to get involved, using her own experience as an educator for more than 30 years to connect with locals.
BIDEN: And what subject do you want to teach?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: English.
BIDEN: Do you have a favorite author?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, Shakespeare
BIDEN: Shakespeare! Wow.
SAENZ: And with her granddaughter Naomi in tow offered simple gestures to children.
On the flight from Namibia to Kenya, no time for a break. Dr. Biden still teaches full time back home, juggling her work as first lady, focusing on helping military families and working to end cancer. SAENZ: How do you spend this time on the flights in between
BIDEN: Reading. You see these books, I spend my time reading, grading papers and I'm a reader. I'm an English teacher.
SAENZ: Biden is carrying on a long tradition of first ladies visiting Africa, starting with Patricia Nixon in 1972, continuing from Hillary Clinton to Melania Trump.
Laura Bush touted her husband's PEPFAR program to fight HIV/AIDS.
LAURA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: Well, it does seem like an insurmountable problem, but the fact is you can measure progress.
SAENZ: And Michelle Obama urged countries to educate young girls
MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY: These are young women transforming their communities and their countries
SAENZ: On the ground in Kenya, Biden promoted economic empowerment for women with the country's first lady, and met with young people on the importance of safe sex.
BIDEN: So, besides condoms, does it promote birth control pills?
SAENZ: On Biden's final day in Kenya, we drove about three hours south of Nairobi, over bumpy dirt roads to the rural village of Lositeti, part of the Horn of Africa suffering through severe drought.
Nearly 500 people gathered there to receive medical checkups and nutritional assistance, the first lady talking with members of the Maasai community, whose livelihoods are threatened and mothers struggling to feed their children.
BIDEN: All their livestock are dying. As we came down that long road of the livestock and how they're just skin and bones. And so they're left with nothing. Some of the women told me that they're walking three hours a day, to go into a populated area. So they really need a lot of help.
SAENZ: What more needs to be done?
BIDEN: Everybody has to come together to make sure that these people aren't dying, because of the drought. Because, believe me Arlette, they have nothing. They have nothing and their children are malnourished, and they're receiving, you know, from USAID these food supplements. And but that's not enough, that's not a meal. It's a supplement.
SAENZ: Having visited the same drought plagued region in 2011, when she toured the country's largest refugee camp, it's an issue she's passionate about.
BIDEN: We're right on the edge, we're right on the precipice, I think of a famine, where, which is what I saw thousands of refugees coming from Somalia, walking miles and miles with children, who were sick and trying to carry them. And the children were so weak, we're right on the edge. We need to act now.
SAENZ: The U.S. announced it's sending more than $126 million in additional food assistance to Kenya. But the first lady pushing for more countries to pitch in aid, while also hoping her visit offered the community a simpler message.
BIDEN: I think showing up matters, you know, to give them a little piece of hope, that things are going to get better.
That's what I hope I did. That's what I hope they feel that when they go home tonight that they might feel a little bit better.
SARA SIDNER, CNN HOST: And more from Arlette's in-depth interview ahead, including the message the first lady says she is bringing to Africa after former President Trump used derogatory language to refer to some African nations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: We want to say, hey, we're back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SIDNER: Welcome back.
Two years after the Trump presidency, First Lady Jill Biden went to Africa with a message from the United States.
Here's more of CNN's interview.
SAENZ: You are here in Africa, paving the way for other White House officials to come. Vice President Harris is expected to come, your husband President Biden has committed to visiting this year. When you go home, what is the main takeaway you share with him from this trip?
BIDEN: Well, I think we'll talk about democracy, certainly. Furthering democracy, and as we talked about Namibia, as a young democracy, and then to come here to Kenya, just to say to our global partners, we're standing with you.
I saw certainly, you know, women's empowerment here, I saw youth groups, what the American programs are doing, and that people are responding to them the youth, which is so important here, as you know, 75 percent of the population is under 30, which is amazing in itself.
[21:40:13] SAENZ: What kind of impact do you think a visit by a first lady has compared to a president's visit?
BIDEN: I hope it has a major impact. I think it just creates awareness of a lot of programs that we support.
And so, I think it does have an impact. And I think I take that back. And I can incorporate that in my speeches. And when I'm going around our country and talking about really the price of freedom and democracy.
SAENZ: Do you think there are connections that you're able to make as first lady that perhaps the president can't?
BIDEN: Well, I think as a teacher, myself, I think maybe those, I feel that those connections are a little stronger. Joe tends toward policy as he should, and I try to, you know, go in a little bit, maybe a softer direction.
SAENZ: We've talked about how Africa has a large youth population, it's home to some of the fastest growing economies in the world, and a lot of countries are trying to make inroads here, including China. Do you feel at all that the U.S. is losing influence in Africa?
BIDEN: Well, I don't know whether they're losing interest. But I can't speak to that. But I can speak to America's interests. And so, America wants to keep reassuring the countries and the leaders of Africa, like we didn't forget you. You know, we were isolationist, pretty much for the last four years of the last administration.
And I think countries around the world, I mean, whether it was NATO, whether it was you know, Mexico, Canada, I mean, all these alliances that we formed, Latin America, they were wondering, like, hey, America, what happened to you? You know, we used to be partners, we used to strive towards the same things. Not that we all agreed on everything, but certainly, there was a dialogue, and then it's sort of like America, you know, stepped away, like, no, we don't want to deal with every other country.
And so, we want to say, hey, we're back.
SAENZ: Why do you think it's hard for Americans sometimes to pay attention to what's happening here in Africa?
BIDEN: You know, the one thing I find about Americans, and this is what I found the last time when I came here, in 2011, well, this is how I got here. I was watching TV, and I saw these children dying. And I was shocked, like, you know, that people that were so many countries have so much food, and yet people are dying.
And right then, I called my chief of staff and I said, we've got to do something about this. We've got to create awareness. And, and we did I mean, I think within three days, we were on an airplane, we came, we created awareness, Americans responded, they opened their hearts, to see people, children, just skin and bones and, and they're responded with their pocketbooks. And so, sometimes they need a little nudge, like, hey, I know things are tough, maybe in your household or your, you know, this is a bad month, but hey, look at what somebody else is dealing with.
SAENZ: You talked a little bit about your way to connect with people here as an educator, after all these experiences with these young people, young adults, what do you take back to your classroom to share with them?
BIDEN: You know, I have so many students from other countries, that I learn more about their countries, you know, that I don't think I take much back to them, I think they give me so much.
You know, one of my students, I texted her yesterday on the one-year anniversary of Ukraine, the war in Ukraine. And I said, I hope you're ok. You know, how's your family? How are you doing?
And she said, hey, Dr. B, you know, how about can I come in and have lunch with you on Tuesday, so she'll come. And so, that's the sort of connections you know, I have, I'm telling you, Arlette, I have a lot of freedom fighters from a lot of different countries who come to the United States to get their education.
And sometimes you just wonder, my goodness, how did you get here with all the violence that you've seen, all the war that you've been through? I mean, I've learned so much really from them.
SIDNER: Arlette, Audie and Abby are back with us.
After hearing her remarks on Africa, I'm curious from you if there's something that really -- she tried to make a really big point here about the difference between the two administrations, the former and her husband's administration.
SAENZ: Well, you heard her there talk about how they have viewed former president Trump's administration as really engaging on this isolationist policy and that she and her husband are really going to bring back more of American involvement in the continent.
And we know that in the coming year, there's really going to be this big diplomatic push from the Biden White House, the first lady was the first -- the first of the four principals to travel there this year, but we've also learned that Vice President Kamala Harris is actually expected to visit multiple countries in sub-Saharan Africa just a little bit later this month, and President Biden himself has also promised a trip there.
Now, the first lady isn't going to really get into international policy, right? She told me she views her role there as really being this type of soft power, diplomacy, but there will be very big questions for Vice President Harris and President Biden when they travel to Africa to show that the U.S. is actually committed and in their investments there and what they're trying to do with the continent.
SIDNER: Audie and Abby, the Chinese -- and this is -- you know, people have been watching what China is doing in the African continent and what Russia is doing partly because of what's happening in the world globally, but the Chinese have traded with Africa about four times as much compared to the United States.
Is this -- I'll start with you, Abby. Is this something that the U.S. is catching up on their relationship with Africa because of this, or are we reading that wrong?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's a really important question. I actually a few weeks ago spoke with the U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, and she said to me she views China and Russia as catching up to the United States in terms of the relationships that the United States has had with multiple countries on the continent and especially in sub-Saharan Africa over decades. What that means at this moment is that for China, catching up means really investing quite a lot in this moment in Africa.
And when you talk about the food crisis, you talk about oil, Russia is such a huge player in that, and the United States is aware of that, they are trying to counter that. And as Arlette was just saying, they're keenly aware that they believe in the four years of the Trump administration, there was time lost.
AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You'll notice the language from the second lady but also Tony Blinken is partnership. Hi, we're still here. Hi, we still want to be involved in what's going on here.
So I think that it's this idea of reengagement in the world and that may mean the continent of Africa. That also means maintaining support in Ukraine, but it's trying to kind of reassert the U.S., our position to ourselves about what is our role internationally.
SIDNER: Those are really good insights and a great interview that we're not done with.
Audie Cornish, Abby Phillip, thank you both for being here.
While in Nairobi, an emotional moment when the first lady reunites with an inspiring single mother who she first met as America's second lady more than a decade ago, rekindling their special bond when CNN PRIMETIME returns.
SIDNER: Two role models living thousands of miles apart reunite in Nairobi, Kenya, years after forming a special bond. Our cameras were rolling and CNN's Arlette Saenz was there to see when First Lady Jill, Biden have this reunion and you join us again, Arlette.
This is quite touching, isn't it? SAENZ: Yeah, it really was a special moment between these two women,
a first lady of the United States and a woman that she had met 13 years prior. She visited Kenya, a moment, a visit that the first lady has described as something that really changed her life. And we were there as the two women caught up with each other on each other's lives.
BIDEN: Oh my goodness. Hello!
SAENZ (voice-over): It was a reunion more than ten years in the making. Aliyah (ph), a mom of two, lives in Kibera, an informal housing settlement in Nairobi.
BIDEN: So how are your children?
ALIYAH: My children, they're doing well. Actually, you met Jamal.
BIDEN: He was four.
ALIYAH: Yeah, he was too small. But now I have Salma. Salma is two years, and doing well.
SAENZ: Dr. Jill Biden first met Aliyah during a trip to Kenya in 2010 when she was second lady, and the two immediately shared a bond.
BIDEN: This woman, Aliyah, is one of the young women who's a role model for many of the other young women and we talked about living in the slum. And when I said to her, Aliyah, are you working to try to get out of the slum? And she said, oh, no, I'll live here my whole life. This is my community.
Remember I said you're so smart, you could go anywhere, be anything. And you said no, I'm staying in my community.
ALIYAH: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
BIDEN: I remember that so well.
ALIYAH: I wanted to fight for them.
SAENZ: True to her word, she's still there, and still fighting.
ALIYAH: I'm a single mom, but I feel grateful because every each and every day, I fight for them. And that's why I would like Salma to get a good education that I didn't get it. Because I wish to go far, to go to university, to go anywhere.
SAENZ: Aliyah became a business owner, opening a restaurant in Kibera. She was forced to close during the COVID-19 pandemic, but she recently received a grant to reopen.
ALIYAH: They are willing to support me reopen my business. And I think to this, it will be a great opportunity because I've been wishing for the best for the young girls of Kibera and for me, it will be like a great opportunity for them.
SAENZ: During the 13 years apart, Aliyah also kept tabs on the first lady.
ALIYAH: So how is your family back home?
BIDEN: My family's good. It's been a journey and since I last saw you because that's when husband was as vice president, and now, he's president.
ALIYAH: By the way, congratulations.
BIDEN: Thank you.
ALIYAH: Actually, when everything was happening, I was like one of the voters down here, I was like yeah, good people, good people, I need good people. So I felt so much grateful.
This is Salma.
BIDEN: How are you?
SAENZ: I want to talk about that moment, the reunion you had in Kibera with Aliyah.
What was that like for you?
BIDEN: Oh, my gosh, I loved her. You know, when I met her, she was such a beacon of hope.
She had a little four-year-old son, and she was running a program to teach young women about violence and domestic violence and how to protect themselves against rape, and she was so impressive.
And then to see her again, 10 years later. And now, of course, her son's 18. And, and she has a new daughter, two years old. And, and she's still at it. She's still working for her community.
And I think it's such a strong message that people try to, you know, help their own communities.
SAENZ: The two women hoping this meeting won't be their last.
ALIYAH: I'll never forget you in my entire life because I was so much super excited to meet you again and thank you so much.
BIDEN: And, you know, fate brought us together, right?
ALIYAH: Yeah, sure, sure.
ALIYAH: And I hope one day, maybe I'll have time to visit America.
BIDEN: I hope so.
ALIYAH: See how America, how you are doing over there. Yeah, hopefully.
SIDNER: Arlette Saenz, thank you for great reporting.
And a reminder, you can see more of Arlette's conversation with the first lady at CNN.com.
Thank you very much for watching. Stay tuned, the news continues right here on CNN.