Biden: We've Inherited A Real Mess

Vice President Joe Biden on "Face The Nation," Jan. 25, 2009.
Vice President Joe Biden said that the Obama administration and Congress are "off and running" in getting an economic stimulus package completed and approved with bipartisan support, saying that the goal is to "get money out of the door as rapidly as possible" to speed job growth.

However, Biden said he did not want to mislead Americans about the severity of the economic landscape the U.S. is facing: "It is worse, quite frankly, than everyone thought it was, and it's getting worse every day," he said on CBS' Face The Nation Sunday morning - his 53rd appearance on the program, and first as vice president.

"There's been no good news, and there's no good news on the immediate horizon," he said. "The only good news is the president acted swiftly; he's put together an economic stimulus package that we believe, and outsiders believe, will create 3 million to 4 million new jobs and set a new framework for the economy to develop on, a new foundation. And so we're off and running, but it's going to get worse before it gets better."

Biden credits early cooperation between the incoming administration and Congress with getting a jump on action, which he said was unprecedented during his 36 years in Washington. "I've been there for eight presidents," he told host Bob Schieffer. "I don't ever recall as a senator, a senior senator, being called down in the very beginning, even before the president is elected, to a serious meeting as to how to proceed.

"There is a genuine effort here. And I think everyone in both parties is seized with the notion we must act quickly."

Biden said that the bill expected to come out of the Senate includes elements to satisfy (or dis-satisfy) both Republicans and Democrats. "Roughly forty percent of this entire package is tax cuts - that's not what the Democrats wanted - and sixty percent of it is spending, economic stimulus - that's not what the Republicans wanted. But we've come a pretty long way already. So there will be, I'm sure, more compromise."

On the remaining $350 billion of TARP funds from the Bush administration's bailout package for financial institutions, Biden said that it was important for there to be transparency and accountability in how the remaining money is spent - as has not been the case with the previous $350 billion - in order to loosen up lending by banks.

"It's about credit for people," he said. "They have to be able to purchase their cars. They have to be able to send the kids back to school. They need some mortgage abatement. And so that's what we're focusing on in this next $350 billion."

He also said he expected a strong bipartisan vote confirming Timothy Geithner as the new Treasury Secretary.

On Closing Guantanamo

Following President Obama's announcement Thursday that he would close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, within a year, the new administration has fielded criticism from some wondering about the fate of the remaining hundreds of detainees, some of whom have been held at the prison for years without charge or trial.

[The Washington Post also reported this morning that, following the inauguration when the incoming administration was finally able to gain access to documents pertaining to the detainees, Obama officials found that case files for many of the prisoners are non-existent, incomplete, or are scattered across several agencies, making it even more difficult to ascertain what (if any) case might be brought against them.]

Biden said the administration is being as prudent as possible, and dispelled fears that prisoners from Guantanamo who cannot be tried would be released within our borders. "We won't release people inside the United States because all but one, I believe, is not an American citizen, an American national.

"Definitely, it's closing, period. They're either going to be moved and tried in American courts, tried in military courts, or they're going to be sent back to their countries."

"But some of these countries say they don't want them," Schieffer said.

"Well, that's true," Biden said. "We're going one prisoner at a time. We're trying to figure out exactly what we've inherited here."

He said that Gitmo and the legacy of renditions, detention and torture under the Bush administration have enabled terrorist organizations to grow rather than diminish, and that keeping the military prison open would have further harmful consequences for the U.S. around the world.

"There's no question it has to be closed. And we don't think it's inconsistent to deal with our national security and our Constitution."

"Do you think you can get this done in a year?" Schieffer asked.

"I think so, I think so. It's going to be hard. There's nothing easy about this, Bob. I don't want to mislead the American public at all."

The Afghan Front

Demonstrations continued this week in Pakistan against U.S. military operations, after two missile strikes in the Waziristan region from an unmanned aircraft killed almost two dozen people. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said the attacks killed an unspecified number of civilians.

The missile strikes continued a Bush administration practice of granting permission to its forces to fire into Pakistan from Afghanistan.

Schieffer asked if President Obama would continue that policy.

"I can't speak to any particular attack, I can't speak to any particular action - it's not appropriate for me to do that," Biden said. "But I can say that the president of the United States said during his campaign and in the debates that if there is an actionable target, of high-level al Qaeda personnel, that he would not hesitate to use action to deal with that."

Biden spoke of more cooperation with the Pakistan military in the FATA (Federally Administered Territory Area) in Waziristan, a tribal region he described as "ungovernable" and which is favored by militants.

"We're in the process of working with the Pakistanis to help train up their counterinsurgency capability of their military, and we're getting new agreements with them about how to deal with cross-border movements of these folks, so we're making progress."

"Would you notify [Pakistan] before any of these cross-border movements?" Schieffer asked. "Because as you well know, there is a fear that there would be leaks on something like that. Exactly what is our policy on that?"

"I always try to be completely candid with you, but I can't respond to that question. I'm not going to respond to that question," Biden said.

"You said in Afghanistan that things are going to get tougher before they get better. What do you mean by that?"

"What's happened is that because of - 'neglect' may be the wrong word, but failure to provide sufficient resources, economic, political and military, as well as failure to get a coherent policy among our allies, economically and politically, and in terms of the military resources, the situation has deteriorated a great deal. The Taliban is in effective control of significant parts of the country they were not before, number one.

"Number two, 95% roughly of the world's opium and heroin comes out of that country," said Biden, who added that corruption within the country's police and national police forces is rife. "Some of our allies who have committed to train these troops did not do them well.

"So the bottom line here is, we've inherited a real mess. We're about to go in and try to essentially reclaim territory that's been effectively lost. … There are going to be some additional military forces. There are going to be additional efforts to train their police and to train their Afghan army. And all of that means we're going to be engaging the enemy more now."

"So should we expect more American casualties?" Schieffer asked.

"I hate so say it, but yes, I think there will be. There will be an up-tick."

On Iraq And Reconciliation

On the state of Iraq, Biden used a football metaphor, in honor of the impending Super Bowl: "I think we're basically on the 20-yard line, 20 yards to go. But now comes the really hard part. The surge did work. Our military has done everything we've asked of them, but there needs to be a political reconciliation in Iraq.

"You've heard me on your program many times talking about in the past the need for the Iraqis to determine whether they have a federal system or a strong central government. They're in a debate on that. There is going to be three major elections that are going to take place this year … The bottom line is that a political reconciliation among Sunni, Shia and Kurds, Arab and Indo-European, Arab and Kurd - all of that is still in flux.

"There's progress being made on it, but we need a much stronger push. And there has to be an additional, I think, show of responsibility on the part of the Iraqi leaders that they're able to govern.

"Last point: There's a need for a petrochemical law, an oil law. How do they divide up the revenues? It's a big, big, big, big deal."

On His Role As Veep

Schieffer asked Biden about the vice president's office as it has been left to him by Dick Cheney, who more than anyone put a stamp of policy-making and command structure on the job. "He basically became the 'deputy president,'" Schieffer said. "What is your concept of the vice presidency? Do you see it in the same way that Dick Cheney did?"

"I don't see myself as the 'deputy president,'" Biden said. "I see myself as the president's confidant. Hopefully I can help shape policy with him. … Hopefully I'm the last person in the room with every important decision he makes.

"Thus far, that's how it's worked. The agreement he and I have is that I would be available for every single major decision that he makes, in the room; I'd have all the paper, all the material, all the meetings - and, again, not for me to make decisions [but] for me to give the best advice that I can give.

"So that's what I view my role to be: A confidant, an adviser, essentially the last guy in the room when he makes these critical decisions."

On a lighter note, Biden said that after thirty-six years in the Senate, and a reputation of being unafraid to speak candidly (sometimes to deleterious effect), being the vice president marks a tremendous change. "It is harder now," he said. "I'm really happy to be part of a team. But what I have to think about now is, everything I say … reflects directly on the administration. And so I may have strongly-held views that the president may not have.

"But, yes, the bottom line, it's harder!"

Read the full "Face the Nation" transcript here.

By producer David Morgan.