In This Episode
Dan and Jon L. talk with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden about what’s at stake for our democracy in the 2020 election, his final debate with Donald Trump, his plans for tackling the climate crisis, Vote Early Day, and what everyone can do to help in the final days of the campaign.
Jon Lovett: Welcome to Pod Save America. I’m Jon Lovett.
Dan Pfeiffer: I’m Dan Pfeiffer.
Jon Lovett: Dan and I just had a chance to talk to Vice President Joe Biden. We asked him about the debates. We asked him about Donald Trump’s lack of a second term agenda and the stakes in this election. It was a great conversation. So, you know, listen to it.
Jon Lovett: Returning to Pod Save America, he’s the first person to ever win three presidential debates in only two attempts, please welcome Vice President Joe Biden. Thanks for being here!
Joe Biden: It’s great to be with you. Thank you.
Jon Lovett: As Leslie Stahl said to Donald Trump before he walked out on the interview, are you ready for some tough questions?
Joe Biden: You guys I know wouldn’t be easy. I’d rather be on FOX. They’d make it easier for me.
Dan Pfeiffer: Wait until you see these fastballs coming at you.
Joe Biden: I know. No, I’m happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
Dan Pfeiffer: I want to start with last night’s debate. On that debate stage, and actually throughout this campaign, President Trump has lobbed false accusation after false accusation about your son, Hunter, for doing things that we know for a fact that Donald Trump’s children have been doing: profiting from the presidency. Yet both last night and throughout this campaign, you have not brought up his children’s activities. And I assume that that’s a specific decision. I’m curious why you’ve made it the specific decdision?
Joe Biden: It’s a specific decision. And I just think it’s crass. I mean, I’ve never thought it was a…. Look, I’m running against Donald Trump, not his children. And the American people want to hear about their families. Not about Trump’s family or my family, although I’m very proud of my family. But I just think it’s, it’s just not how I was raised. It’s that basic. It’s Donald Trump.
Jon Lovett: So also in the debate, Trump seemed to think he had a kind of “gotcha moment” there at the end when you talked about transitioning away from oil and fossil fuels, even though ending subsidies for those industries is very popular. And he really wishes you’d say you’d banned fracking, even though you haven’t. At the same time, you’ve set these ambitious climate goals as part of your plan. And a lot of polling shows that climate change is the number one issue among young people, particularly among young people deciding whether or not to vote. What is your message to those young people who are passionate about this issue, but skeptical that they can count on you or really any politician to actually deliver and take this issue with the urgency it demands?
Joe Biden: It’s the number one issue facing humanity. And it’s the number one issue for me. And all the way back in the ’80s, I’m the first person ever, ever to lay out the need for a deal with global warming. And PolitiFact said, “Check it out, it was a game changer.” And but it’s just the way in which this campaign had been run from the beginning about me, in the primaries, that it just never got traction. Look, climate change is the existential threat to humanity, the existential threat to humanity. Unchecked, it is going to actually bake this planet. This is not hyperbole. It’s real. And we have a moral obligation. There’s not many things. Dan and I worked together a long time. Don’t hear me often invoke a moral obligation. We have a moral obligation, not just the young people. We have a moral obligation to everyone.
Look what’s happening right now. You just look around the United States of America. Forests are burning at a rate larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island combined — being lost. People are losing their homes, their lives. In the middle of the country we’re in a situation where you have 100-year floods occurring every several years, wiping out entire counties and doing great damage. And by the way, as Dan you may remember, the first thing that Barack and I were told about when we took when we went over to, when we were taken over to the Defense Department, they said the greatest threat facing, the greatest security threat America faces is climate change, because of what’s going to happen. You’ll see massive movements of populations fighting over land, fighting over the ability to live. And it is an existential threat.
And so I just think, but also presents an enormous opportunity. It’s a bizarre — you know, we’re one of the few countries in the world that’s always been able to take things that are serious problems and turn them in opportunities. It’s also the vehicle by which we can not only save the planet, but we can generate such economic growth and lead the world. But we have two problems. One, we have an internal problem in the United States. What are we going to do? We make up, we make up 15 percent of the problem. But we’re in a position where the rest of the eighty-five percent of the world’s responsible for the rest. We can go we can go net neutral in terms of carbon tomorrow. And we’re still going to have our shores flooded. We’re still going to have these terrific hurricanes. The polar caps are going to continue to melt. We’re gonna have, we’re gonna have hurricanes and storms, and they’re going to increase. And so we have to do two things. We need a president who can lead the world. That’s why I was so deeply involved in setting up the existence of the Paris Climate Accord, as well as do the things we have to do and can do. And the last point I’ll make and I’ll add any detail you’d like me to. But the last point I’d make is that, you know, the way we have to do this is we, you know, we cannot discount the concerns of people, what it means for their well-being and not only in the future and now, but what what about how they make a living? That’s why I’m the first person I’m aware of that went to every major labor union in the country and got them to sign on to my climate change plan, which is extensive. We’re going to get to zero net emissions for the production of electricity by 2035. It’s going to create millions of jobs. But we’ve got to let people — we can’t be cavalier about the impact it’s going to have on how we’re going to transition to do all this. But I just think it’s a gigantic opportunity, a gigantic opportunity to create really good jobs.
Jon Lovett: What do you see as the relationship you’re going to have? So a lot of climate activists, you have said basically we have to do everything we can to get Joe Biden in office. It’s an existential threat. And then their plan is they’re gonna put a ton of pressure on you to make sure that you really deliver on solutions around climate change. What do you expect to be under pressure for from these groups?
Joe Biden: I’m going to put pressure on them. I’m going to put pressure on them to live up what, this cause they talk about. And it starts off with voting. It starts off with volunteering. It starts off with making sure that they’re organizing and they’re taking care to make sure the people on the the fenceline communities get taken care of. Make sure the priorities are set so we are in a situation where people who are hurt the most get help the quickest. You know, this is you know, I understand the sense. But the fact is that, look, the first thing we’re going to do is make sure that we use the ability we have now, and I will as president, to do away with 100 changes in an executive order as he is, he’s put forward to do everything from allow more methane to seep into the atmosphere, allow to pollute rivers, a whole range of things. We can do that very, very quickly.
But it’s also going to require us to make sure that we deal what with what we have to do now. For example, we should you know, as you guys know, because you both worked in administrations, that the president of states has control over a six hundred billion dollars in assigning federal contracts. Everything from one of the largest auto fleets and trucking fleets in the world to infrastructure. When, as Dan will remember, when the president asked me to handle to make sure we got the Recovery Act, an eight hundred billion dollars was going to be distributed to keep us from going into a depression, he gave me the authority to run that from beginning to end. And what we did was we were able to invest in bringing down the cost of renewable energy to compete with coal, gas, and oil. And so now you see what’s happening. It’s becoming a fait accompli. No one is going to build another oil or gas-fired electric plant. They’re going to build one that is fired by renewable energy. We have to invest billions of dollars in making sure that we’re able to transmit over our lines. You may remember, Dan, when we sat in that of those office buildings in between the interregnum period there, and we thought we could just make sure we could transfer this renewable energy across the country. Remember, we had that big map up and we showed all the high tension wires were going to go?
Dan Pfeiffer: The smart grid. That’s right.
Joe Biden: Exactly right. But what happened? What happened was “not in my neighborhood.” People didn’t want to have the high tension wires in their neighborhood. So what we’re going to do, and what’s happening now and we’ve been working on this for three years, you have a lot of folks in Silicon Valley and other places doing research on battery technology. So now we’re going to be able to store, for example, they can have a battery about as wide as the width of my arms and about this thick that if you have solar power in your home and the sun doesn’t shine for a week, that battery will store it. You’re gonna be able to have all the energy you need in the meantime. We’re going to provide five hundred and fifty thousand charging stations. For real. On the new infrastructure, green infrastructure we’re going to be building. We’re going to own the electric automobile market. We’re going to create a million jobs in doing that. This is not hyperbole. These are things that have been run through by economists and Wall Street and — and also by people who are in the thought community, the people who are running these major institutions. And so there’s so much we can do and we could create a clean environment. We can also grow the economy and get people good wages. The fastest growing industries are solar and wind, solar and wind. And they’re not paying 15 bucks an hour. They’re paying prevailing wage — every single contract the president gave me the authority to let when we were running the Recovery Act, every single one paid prevailing wage. That’s 45 to 50 bucks an hour plus benefits. So that’s how we’re going to grow this economy.
Dan Pfeiffer: You know, in the debate stage, and frankly throughout this whole campaign, there’s been sort of a mystery. Every time Donald Trump’s been asked about a second term agenda, he has failed to answer that question with any detail. But in just the last hour here, the Republican Party tweeted out his second term agenda, so I’m going to read that to you.
Joe Biden: I’d be happy to hear it.
Dan Pfeiffer: Item number one, establish a permanent manned presence on the moon. Item number two, send the first manned mission to Mars. Item number three, build the world’s greatest infrastructure system and item number for established national high speed wireless Internet network. Now, I will not ask you to respond to that absurdity if you do not want to. But what would sort of be your version of that tweet? What are the three or four things that are at the top of Joe Biden’s first-term agenda?
Joe Biden: Get control of the virus. Get control of Coronavirus. Without that, nothing else is going to work very well, number one. Number two: invest in the community, in real infrastructure. He’s been promising to invest in infrastructure in ’17, ’18, ’19, ’20. He hasn’t done a single, solitary thing. So we’re going to invest in generating economic growth in the United States by making it and buying it. Buy it in America, made in America. He is exporting jobs overseas. The first thing we’re going to have to do is to, in order to compete internationally, is we’re going to have to compete. We used to have, we used to invest a little over two point six percent of our GDP in in research and science. It’s now down to point six percent. We’re going to invest in science and technology. We’re going to make sure that we can compete with the rest of the world and lead the rest of the world. We have the greatest institutes. We have more great research universities in the United States of America than every other research university in the entire rest of the world combined. And the good news is, the people own them. They are not private institutions. Los Alamos is owned by a university. It is a university. The people own these systems and we so underestimate. That’s where every major breakthrough has come out in the last twenty five years. And we’re going to invest in those. We’re going to continue to invest in the research and development. And it’s going to go from making sure we have access to know how we’re going to generate economic growth through infrastructure that is green as well as we’re going to invest five billion dollars a year in cancer research.
We’re going to cure cancer. Mark my words. We’re in a situation where, as you know, I ran the moonshot for the president. And what happened was we found significant breakthroughs. Everybody in the past walked by the mirror and looked in the mirror and saw a Nobel Prize about to be won. Great scientist, but they didn’t share much information. They’ve virtually didn’t share any information. Well, that’s all changing now, it’s changing drastically. And we’re going to have to invest in dealing with the things that affect the mental, physical and and environmental health of the country. And we can do that. For example, if we don’t do something about dealing with with Alzheimer’s, every single bed, hospital bed in America within the next 20 years will be occupied by an Alzheimer’s patient. And no insurance company is going to invest the kind of money needed to deal with it. We can’t do that. We can do the same thing with other diseases like diabetes. We can do it with regard to a whole range of issues.
So it’s not just making sure we deal with the physical environment, which is critical and invest in new technologies. For example, one of the things I laid out, and I know as boring as hell but it’s consequential. I laid out a farm policy farm F-A-R-M that allows us to drastically increase the amount of acreage able to set aside. So we pay farmers for putting their land in a land bank and planning deep rooted plants. You say, what’s that about? It’s about carbon capture. Put this in perspective. Right now, they’re burning the Amazon. The Amazon absorbs more carbon from the air into the ground and the roots of trees and vegetation than is put into the air by the entire United States of America every single day. And what are we doing? We’re letting it burn. We’re not doing much at all. Organizing the rest of the world would go to the Brazilians and say, we’re going to pay you collectively the following multi-billion dollars to go into a different direction. If you don’t, you’re going to pay an economic price for doing it. Well, right now, we can have the first net zero industry in America, carbon emissions, can be agriculture. I know this is boring stuff, but you think about what it can do. Look, all of the methane that is going into the air because of cow manure and because of pig manure and because of chickens, you know, we have a four billion dollar industry on the east coast of the state of Delaware. I mean, east coast of United States and the Delmarva Peninsula. Well, guess what? The chicken manure has been polluting the estuaries in the Chesapeake Bay. We know now how to take the methane out of the manure, turn it into pellets and make it reusable fertilizer and take the methane and stored in other ways. And it creates jobs in the process of doing it. But when you try to talk about things, other than the kids who are really deeply into the environmental stuff, it kind of glazes over.
So there’s so many things we could do in the process. We can generate, we can generate economic growth in rural America, let alone what we’re gonna be able to do relative to the other changes we can make with regard to the environment, for example. Well, I won’t go on…. I’m sorry, but I get a little excited about it because it’s such an opportunity. And by the way, that’s why we have to, the first thing I’m going to do is rejoin the Paris climate accord, because without us, nobody runs it. Nobody steps up. No one has the moral authority to do it. And I’ll conclude by saying the thing that bothers me most about Donald Trump, is he has so fundamentally damaged the moral authority we have. We are the most powerful military in the history of the world. We not only lead by the example of our power, but with the power of our example. And our example we’re setting around the world is devastatingly negative to our own security interest and the world’s overall interests…. I apologize
Dan Pfeiffer: No, no, no. it was great.
Jon Lovett: No, I’m I’m interested. I’m very interested. Look. Trump thinks we should go to the moon. You want to solve climate change. I think that that’s a good distinction.
Dan Pfeiffer: One final question for you, Mr. Vice President. This interview is going to come out tomorrow, which is early vote day. And so I’m going to ask you a two part question, which is what I think President Obama used to call pulling a Chuck Todd. So part part one: what’s your message to the folks who have not yet voted or do not yet have a plan to vote? And, part two, for the folks who have already voted, the 50 million Americans who’ve already voted, what can they do over the last 10 days to help make sure that you’re the next United States?
Joe Biden: Well, first of all, you know, what really rankles my opponent is I say that the thing that bothers them most is he’s not a patch on Barack’s jeans. I mean, Barack is one hell of a president. And I tell you what, man, what an honor it was, I think you guys believe it, too, to serve with him. An incredible honor. And I’m not being solicitous. I really mean that. He had more integrity in his little finger, than most people have in their whole body. And he had a backbone, like a ramrod, has one. But one of the things that I think is most important is those who haven’t voted yet. First of all, go to iwillvote.com to make a plan. Exactly how you’re going to vote, where you’re going to vote, when you’re going to vote. Because it can get complicated. Because the Republicans are doing everything they can to make it harder for people to vote. Particularly people of color to vote. So go to iwillvote.com. Secondly, we’re in a situation where we have put together, and you guys did it for President Obama’s administration before this, we have put together, I think, the most extensive and inclusive voter fraud organization in the history of American politics. What the president is trying to do is discourage people from voting by implying that their vote won’t be counted. It can’t be counted. We’re going to challenge it and all these things. If enough people vote, it’s going to overwhelm the system. You see what’s happening now. You guys know it as well as I do. You see the long, long lines in early voting. You see the millions of people have already cast a ballot. And so, don’t be intimidated. If, in fact, you have any problem, go to and I don’t have the number, but it’s 833-DEM-VOTE. The letters D-E-M-V-O-T-E. Call that number. We have over a thousand lawyers, over a thousand of them answering the phone. If you think there’s any challenge to your voting, go to 833-DEM-VOTE. Dial those letters on your phone that will get you the assistance that we have already put in place.
Thirdly, for those who’ve already voted, it’s not enough, God love ya, it’s not enough that you voted. You got to go out and get your friends. You’ve got to go out and get your family. You’ve got to go out and get people. There’s so many people like the old days when we used to be it used to be a lot easier. There’s so many people when you get over that, were you able to knock on doors and know Mrs. Smith didn’t have a vehicle that you drive her to the polls. You make sure that you get your friends, your family, because, look, you know, as John Lewis said before he passed away, you have a sacred right and it’s a sacred obligation to vote, particularly young people. You’re the one who, if eighteen to twenty five years old voted in the same percentage that the rest of the population voted in, in 2016, we know what happened. We would have had 5.2 million more people voting. You can own the election. You can own the outcome. It really, really, really, really, really matters.
And make the case to your friends, make your case to your friends that they can’t complain if they don’t vote. And it’s going to be counted. It’s going to be counted. And because I think the American people are going to show up, Dan, in such large numbers, there’s going to be no way to avoid the outcome. And look what he’s done from the beginning. Done everything to try to discourage you, saying he’s not sure he’ll accept the results. He’s not sure what he’ll do. I guarantee you, he’ll accept the results and he’ll be out in…. There’s no one going to stick with him, you know? You know, he’s the only president I know that six of his generals who worked directly for him said he’s unfit to be president and commander in chief. So I’m not worried about any any coup here. You know, I’m not really saying there’s going to be a coup, but let’s think about everything’s been said. When I said about three months ago, I think he’s going to he’s going to suggest he may not step down. He may not accept the outcome of the vote. People said “Oh, there goes Biden.” What did he do? Two weeks later?
It’s all designed to try to keep people from voting. So those who have voted, you know how long it took you, how you did it, what you did. Go to, particularly if you have, you know, grandparents or older folks in your neighborhood who you know, and they have they have an absentee ballot. Show them it matters how they fill it out. It’s complicated, some of it. They haven’t made it easier for people in many states. And by the way, that’s why we challenged, it may not hold up in Pennsylvania if the Supreme Court were to change it, but now they’ve allowed the county that it’s postmarked, it can be counted for all the way for the next several days, which it should be. Well, you have in Texas the governor having these drop boxes, one in a county. Some of the counties are as big as my state almost, literally. And the idea there’s one drop box? And so we’re going to be we’re going to have enough people out there policing it, watching it, making sure. Do not be intimidated. But go out and help those who you know are going to have physical difficulty getting to a polling place or may need help on how to get done, what they need to get done to vote. iwillvote.com will tell you exactly where you can vote, where you live, what circumstances are available to you, and vote early. Vote early.
By the way, I particularly at one of the things we did, you know, you guys generation has stepped up. One of the things you may recall that I started arguing for is the need for significantly more young poll workers. Well, thousands of you have showed up. Thousands of you have showed up. Because of COVID, older people who traditionally are the poll watchers and make sure everything’s quite squared away, they’re afraid to show up because they’re dying. Or they’re getting COVID many of them, they’re worried about it. They see what’s happened to their friends. And so what’s happening is this election is a generational election. This is this generation’s opportunity, not a joke, to take back our democracy. It literally, literally my word as a Biden is at stake. Our democracy is at stake. And, you know, I have to admit to you, you know, I heard that. I was a history and political science major in college. I’ve been involved in public life my whole adult life. But I never really believed it, that it was really, you know, every generation has to earn it. Well, guess what? It’s in jeopardy, man. It’s in jeopardy. Do not be intimidated. Do not be intimidated. And whether you vote for me or against me. Vote. Vote. Vote. There’s not a single thing we can’t do when the American people stand together, and that’s not hyperbole. I mean it. There’s nothing, nothing beyond our capability.
Jon Lovett: On that note, Vice President Joe Biden, thank you so much for your time. Good luck in the last 10 days. Let’s go win this thing.
Joe Biden: I’m going to give it hell. Thank you very much. By the way, you guys have such an enormous following, not only with my children, my grown children, but my five grandchildren who range in age from 27 to 14. Oh no, that’s not true, 16, she’d be very upset. I said 14. But all kidding aside, you really, you’re really reaching out. And it touched me. Because you talk you know, you talk plainly to people and it matters. It really matters. Anyway, thanks. Looking forward to seeing you guys in person.
Dan Pfeiffer: Thank you.
Jon Lovett: Thank you.
Joe Biden: Thank you very much.