Transcript: Joe Biden on "Face the Nation," February 23, 2020

Biden says U.S. intelligence should brief campaigns about Russian interference

The following is a transcript of an interview with former Vice President that aired Sunday, February 23, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: As the Nevada caucuses were going on yesterday, we sat down with former Vice President Joe Biden.  He told us that he was confident about his prospects in South Carolina and beyond.

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MARGARET BRENNAN: Our latest Battleground Tracker polling shows your lead with South Carolina black voters is thinning out. In November, you were at 54 percent support. It's now 35 percent. That's a 19 point difference.

BIDEN: It's also been about--

MARGARET BRENNAN: What is happening? 

BIDEN: What's happening is you have Steyer spending hundreds of millions, tens of thousands of dollars, millions of dollars, out campaigning there. And so I think a lot is happening in terms of the amount of money being spent by the billionaires to try to cut into the African-American vote. I think that has a lot to do with it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: South Carolina, though, is your firewall.

BIDEN: You said it, my firewall.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You need--

BIDEN: I've never said it--

MARGARET BRENNAN: The campaign has said it's your--

BIDEN: No--

MARGARET  BRENNAN:-- firewall.

BIDEN: It's not fi- I said I'm going to do well there. And I'll do well there and I'll do well-beyond there as well.

MARGARET  BRENNAN: What does do well mean for you?

BIDEN: Look, you guys can do all the pontificating about what it means. I'm not going to- that's not my job. My job is to go in and make the best case I can. And I think we're gonna do well, and I think we're going to go on to Super Tuesday and do very well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Your campaign manager had said second place, there'd be a sigh of relief in South Carolina. You disagree with your campaign manager?

BIDEN: Look, I am not going to do the pontificating about, you know, I'm not a pundit. I'm a candidate. And I just- I'm going to tell you, I'm gonna go all the way through this thing

MARGARET BRENNAN: You mentioned on spending: Steyer. You think the amount of money he's spending in South Carolina--

BIDEN: A lot of money.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --is- is trimming away at your support?

BIDEN: Well I- I assume that's part of the reason why those numbers are down. But I don't know.

MARGARET BRENNAN:  What do you think is happening?

BIDEN: We'll see. I mean, look, you guys love this stuff. I'm not into this. Let's just see what happens.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're watching all of this. 

BIDEN: I'm not watching this at all. I go out- I'm running for the same exact reason when I started: to restore some dignity to the office, to make sure that African-Americans and minorities get treated well, and this time when we rebuild the middle class get brought along, and to unify the country and the party. Nothing's changed why I'm running. And I'm going to continue to do that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why does Joe Biden want to be president? What is the- the key thing that's driving you that you want to achieve if you're elected?

BIDEN: We have to restore the integrity of this country internationally. We have to get off of this God awful effort on this president's part to divide the country. We have to bring the middle class back. We have to have a health care policy that makes sense, that is doable, which I can do by- and by building on Obamacare. And we have to have an immigration policy that, in fact, is rational and reasonable and represents who we are. They are all the reasons why I'm running, among others. But look, the next president of the United States also is gonna have to stand on the stage on day one and lead the world. They're going to have to be able to know what they're doing internationally. And the other leaders are gonna have to know who that person is and know that person knows them. And I'm the best qualified person by a long shot of anybody running to do that. That's why I'm running.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Bernie Sanders. Can you stop him, in terms of the momentum he has? The Bloomberg campaign, as you know, is out saying that for moderates like yourselves, he's going to basically end up with an insurmountable delegate lead because of his early success.

BIDEN: I told you, I'm not going to play this game with you. I don't know. It's not about who I stop. It's why I'm running, why I'm telling the people that I should be the next president and why I'm the best guy to beat Trump. All those other polls you all cite also show I'm the most person- I'm the- the person most likely to be Trump. I'm the person that, in fact, in- in those polls in addition to that, I'm the only one, in terms of the Russians and all these stuff you've all been reporting. The Russians don't want me to be the nominee. They spent a lot of money on bots on Facebook and they've been taken down saying Biden is a bad guy. They don't want Biden running. They're not- no one's helping me to try to get the nomination. They have good reason.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Who informed you of that? Was it Facebook or have U.S. intelligence officials told you about some kind of meddling with the campaign?

BIDEN: I have not spoken to the intelligence community, but I think the intelligence community should inform the rest of us who are running what they told Senator Sanders.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And there's no date for that to happen?

BIDEN: Not that I'm aware of.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you're asking for it?

BIDEN: I think they should.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You should. Whe- from what you're seeing, you talked about Facebook and them alerting you. Is that- am I understanding you correctly?

BIDEN: Well I- I was told that- that tho- there are a lot of bots on Facebook. And they've been all taken down. And so there were-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Fake accounts being run by the Russians?

BIDEN: --attacks on me. Fake accounts, yes. And they're taken down. But I- I don't know who- I didn't get a call from Facebook. But I was told by my- my staff that's what happened. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because I know you've been critical of Senator Sanders for not being strong enough in his condemnation of some of the vitriolic sentiment online. And Senator Sanders has come out with a statement saying, and he said it on the debate stage as well, that perhaps some of this may be fueled by the Russians. In other words,--

BIDEN: Well--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --they're not actually his supporters. Do you buy that? 

BIDEN: Well, look, the people that occupied my office, maybe they were Russians. I don't know. But they- they said they were Bernie supporters. The people who occupied other offices and the people who did these terrible things to the Culinary Workers and the women who run that operation, I- I guess anything's possible, but they're identified as Bernie supporters. So I- I'm not making any comment beyond that. But there should be absolute condemnation of the conduct of these folks who are engaging in that kind of behavior and the misogynistic behavior against the Culinary Workers and people coming into my office. The police had to- this was back in- in- in, you know, the first two primaries and have to call the police to get them out of our office. I mean, that- that's Trump-like stuff. I mean, this is not the stuff that we've done in Democratic primaries before.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When he says the ugly stuff, may be because of the Russians. Sounds like you're saying no. 

BIDEN: I don't know. I'll let you make that judgment. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, all of us would like to know a little bit more about exactly what's happening, but U.S. intelligence hasn't made any of this public yet. White House isn't shedding much light. But the bottom line seems to be that- 

BIDEN: The White House is shedding light. The President is angry because the intelligence community, in fact, informed Bernie Sanders and I guess others and members of the Intelligence Committee that, in fact, the Russians want to see Trump reelected. And they like Bernie.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We spoke to the national security adviser to the President, who is denying that the White House was informed of the preference for Trump. But- but you and I both know that in 2016, that was the intelligence community's clear--

BIDEN: All I know is--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --assessment. 

BIDEN: --what I've read and has been reported. No one has confided in me. I have no inside information. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the bottom line is, doesn't all of this shake the confidence of the American people to a certain extent in the- in terms of the integrity of the election itself? I mean, this is--

BIDEN: That's--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --right at the heart of American democracy.

BIDEN: I've been saying this for over three years. The President denies they're involved. They've been involved. I was deeply involved in the intelligence apparatus and how it functioned before we left the vice presidency. It was clear they were involved. The President continues to deny their involvement. It's overwhelming. And the fact is that everybody knows. Except when the President stands before the whole world, looks at Vladimir Putin, says, why would he want to interfere in our elections? Well, 17 intelligence agencies told me- told him he did. So this is all- this is bizarre. This is bizarre. This is continuing. And what's happened? Why in God's name haven't we hardened the electoral process- provided billions, hundreds of millions of dollars to states to be able to harden their voter rolls, make sure they can't be attacked by cyber security as a consequence of cyber attacks. Why haven't we provided the capacity for them to be able to have the money to have paper ballots in addition to that? I mean, this is- this is outrageous and it's going on. Look, I joined with the leaders of Europe when the European elections took place back before I got involved. I'd be- before I- before I decided to run. And we set up an organization that in fact said every European leader running in either party, in any party, would take a pledge-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --mmhm-- 

BIDEN:  That if you got any negative information about someone else from another- from a foreign source, you would not use it. And if you got any information that they were trying to interfere, you'd report it. I took-

MARGARET BRENNAN: Have you asked your democratic colleagues 

BIDEN: -- that pledge. 

MARGARET BRENNAN:  --to do that? 

BIDEN:  I've said that on- on-stage. I- I, you know, I think we all should take that pledge. I've taken the pledge. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You were in office obviously in 2016--

BIDEN: Yep. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --when all of this interference was first detected.

BIDEN: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Since that time, a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee finding faulted the Obama administration for its response and said that the actions taken undermined public confidence in the election and allowed for further Russian interference. Do you agree with these findings-- 

BIDEN: Not at all. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --that the administration fell short?

BIDEN: Not at all. Look, we went out and went to the committee, went to the Republican leadership and said, look, this is what we have. I didn't. But the intelligence community did. This is what we have. Why don't you join us in condemning what's happening? And the Republican leader of Senate said, no, I want no part of it- joining in what is happening. And everything that came up subsequently to that reinforced what we were saying was going on. Now, the question was, should the president have come along and said, by the way, this is happening and then it be viewed and accused of we were somehow-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. 

BIDEN: --we alone were doing something. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But in hindsight, you know where this story ends up.

BIDEN: Well I-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you-- 

BIDEN: But we didn't have the-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think are lessons for the current administration to learn? 

BIDEN: Look, this administration is incapable of learning elections. They like this. Come on. Let's be fair here. They've known this for a long time, for three years. Every intelligence agency has told them they continue to be engaged in this activity. Every intelligence agency told me they were engaged before. There is not any question anymore. There's never been a question for the last three years. And what's he doing? Zero. What is the Republican leadership in the United States Senate and Congress doing? Zero. 

*END VT*

MARGARETR BRENNAN: We'll have more of our interview with the former vice president in our next half hour. We'll be back in one minute with National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien.

*COMMERCIAL*

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're back with more of our interview with former Vice President Joe Biden.

*TAKE VT*

MARGARET BRENNAN: Let me ask you a little bit about a few other matters.

BIDEN: Sure

MARGARET BRENNAN: Afghanistan.

BIDEN:Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: There is a plan in place for a deal to be signed at the end of the month after this pause in violence or reduction in violence. I remember when the Obama administration sought a deal with the Taliban. The Trump administration is now on the verge of signing one.

BIDEN: Which we know nothing about. Look, I opposed the surge in the first place. Number one, I didn't think we should have even the troops we sent there. Now, it's all been made public now that we should have the troops in the first place that we sent there. And I didn't think we should have had the number of troops, which is considerably less than the present- this- this president added. I think we should only have troops there to make sure that it's impossible for the Taliban and excuse me- for ISIS or al-Qaeda to reestablish a foothold there, to be able to go from Afghanistan to the United States to attack the United States. That requires a much smaller footprint. But as I understand it, we're not drawing down to a level that was even as low as it was when we left Afghanistan.

MARGARET BRENNAN: About eighty six hundred is the number of troops.

BIDEN: And so we'll see. I mean, it's a little premature to make the judgment whether or not this is a good deal or not a good deal.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But as you just said, in the course of your answer there, you do think there should be some U.S. presence that remains--

BIDEN: Yes, a very small--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --in Afghanistan.

BIDEN: --presence to be able to determine whether or not, I mean a small footprint--

MARGARET BRENNAN:What does that look like for American--?

BIDEN: --looks like several thousand people to make sure that we have a place from which we can operate, if in fact, you find that there's a re-amassing of Taliban capacity, excuse me, of al-Qaeda and or ISIS capacity to strike the United States like happened in 9/11.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The Washington Post quoted you this week in a story about Afghanistan, saying that back in 2010 you said to Richard Holbrooke, the then envoy, I'm not sending my boy back there to risk his life on behalf of women's rights. It just won't work. Not what we're there for. Is that how you remember it?

BIDEN: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Or what did you mean?

BIDEN: What I meant was there's a thousand places we could go to deal with injustice. I can think of 10 countries where women and or children and or people are being- are being persecuted or being hurt. But the idea of us going to be able to use our armed forces to solve every single internal problem that exists throughout the world is not within our capacity. The question is is America's vital self-interest at stake or the vital self-interest of one of our allies at stake? And the fact that they have a system in Afghanistan, as they do in parts of Pakistan, as they do in parts of other countries, that we're going to send troops to- because there is not a- a- human rights are not being valued to the same degree that we are, that's a different story about sending combat troops. We should call it out. We should go to the United Nations. We should be saying this is what's happening. We should try to shame and get the world to put pressure on, an economic pressure, on people who engage- countries who engage in that but not send troops. That's what I meant. It is not sufficient. That was my point. And the idea was, and I think Richard had said something like, well women are being abused there. I said they're being abused in a lot of places around the world. Are we going to send our American forces all over the world to make sure that stops?

MARGARET BRENNAN: But then don't you bear some responsibility for the outcome if the Taliban ends up back in control and women end up losing the rights?

BIDEN: No I don't. Look, are you telling me that we should go into China because- go to war with China because what they're doing to the Uyghurs, a million Uyghurs, in the- out in the West in concentration camps? Is that what you're saying to me?

MARGARET BRENNAN: It was your quote, sir, I was asking you what you meant.

BIDEN: No I know. I gave you my- I gave the answer. Do I bear responsibility? Zero responsibility. The responsibility I have is to protect America's na- national self-interest and not put our women and men in harm's way to try to solve every single problem in the world by use of force. That's my responsibility as President. And that's what I'll do as president. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Alright, Mr. Vice President. I'm told we're wrapping here.

*END VT*

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back with our political panel.