Joe Biden

Interview with David Muir of ABC News

February 24, 2023

MUIR: Mr. President, you know, as we sit here today, it was one year ago today, the Russian invasion of Ukraine. You said in Warsaw that Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. So, how does this war end and what does what's does victory look like?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that depends on what the Ukrainians decide. But here's what we have to do in the meantime. We have to put the Ukrainians in a position where they can make advances this spring and summer and move to a place where negotiation, they can negotiate from a position of strength. And, but, you know, that expression event heard me use before and others, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. We're not going to dictate to them what the end result is.

MUIR: When you talk about them negotiating, does that mean they get to keep Crimea and parts of the east?

THE PRESIDENT: That means they decide that. They, the Ukrainians, decide that. But I could picture a circumstance where there's a transition to that. It's not all one time. Look, a year ago today, they were only 70 kilometers from the border where Russians expected to come rolling down into Kyiv and own it all. They got pushed back. It didn't happen. And I think they underestimated a great deal, the Russians did.

MUIR: You announced another $2.5 billion in aid to Ukraine today, $113 billion now. We know the vast majority of Americans support Ukraine. But there are now many who are asking, how long can we spend like this?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I'm not sure how many are asking that. I know the MAGA crowd is. The right-wing Republicans are, you know, talking about, we can't do this. We find ourselves in a situation where the cost of doing, walking away could be considerably higher than the cost of helping Ukraine maintain its independence.

MUIR: We know the Germans are now sending tanks in after the US said it would send Abrams tanks as well. But we know what President Zelenskyy continues the say what we really needs are F-16s. Will you send F-16s?

THE PRESIDENT: Look, we're sending him what our seasoned military thinks he needs now. He needs tanks, he needs artillery, he needs air defense, including another HIMAR. But there are things he needs now that we're sending him to put him in a position to be able to make gains this spring and this summer going into the fall.

MUIR: You don't think he needs F-16s now?

THE PRESIDENT: No, he doesn't need F-16s now.

MUIR: Is that a never?

THE PRESIDENT: Look, first of all, the idea that we know exactly what's going to be needed a year or two, three from now, but there is no basis upon which there is a rationale according to our military now to provide F-16s.

MUIR: But you're not ruling it out.

THE PRESIDENT: I am ruling it out for now.

MUIR: For now. Vladimir Putin told the Russian people this week that China's President Xi is coming to Russia, likely as early as this spring. I know the State Department and the Pentagon now have both warned China not to offer lethal military assistance to Russia in this war with Ukraine, saying the US is concerned China is considering providing lethal support to Russia. Would that cross a line for you?

THE PRESIDENT: Look, it's not on China's, I had a very frank conversation with President Xi this past summer on this issue. And I pointed out to him, the conversation went like this. I said, Mr. President this is not a threat, it's an assertion, a statement what I think the reality is. You saw what happened when the rest of the world, Europe in particular, saw the brutality of what Putin was doing in Ukraine, to the Ukrainians from Russia. And I said, without any government prodding, 600 American corporations left Russia, from McDonald's to Exxon, to across the board. And I said, and if you are engaged in the same kind of brutality by supporting the brutality that's going on, I said, you may face the same consequence. I don't anticipate, we haven't seen it yet, but I don't anticipate a major initiative on the part of China providing weaponry to, to Russia.

MUIR: But if they did, would that be crossing a line for you, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT: It would be the same line everyone else would have crossed. In other words, we'd impose severe sanctions on anyone who has done that.

MUIR: So, there would be severe consequences?

THE PRESIDENT: I'll let you characterize what they would be. We would respond.

MUIR: I ask you all of this because there's a new report in a German newspaper, "Der Spiegel," that the Russian military could be negotiating right now with a Chinese drone manufacturer to produce kamikaze drones for Russia. Are you aware of this? Is US intelligence tracking this?

THE PRESIDENT: US intelligence is aware of everything that's going on in this area, but I'm not going to confirm specifically what US intelligence has found out or not found out.

MUIR: What do you make of this Chinese peace plan that floated overnight that Putin is applauding today?

THE PRESIDENT: I think you answered the question. Putin is applauding it, so how could it be any good? I'm not being facetious. I'm being deadly earnest. I've seen nothing in the plan that would indicate that there is something that would be beneficial to anyone other than Russia if the Chinese plan were followed. The idea that China is going to be negotiating the outcome of a war that's a totally unjust war for Ukraine is just not rational.

MUIR: Let me ask about US-China relations in general, already strained after the Chinese spy balloon over the US. Let me just ask you this first, do we know definitively yet whether or not that spy balloon was flying over the continental US intentionally?

THE PRESIDENT: It is almost not relevant once it was over the United States.

MUIR: So, there's a possibility President Xi didn't know.

THE PRESIDENT: There is a possibility of that.

MUIR: Were they surveilling the US or attempting to?

THE PRESIDENT: That's what that balloon does, surveillance.

MUIR: Let me ask you, when the balloon was shot down off South Carolina, the defense secretary placed a call to his Chinese counterpart on a line that's supposed to always be open. The Chinese did not take the call. They didn't pick up the phone. Does that trouble you?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. There should be a direct open line of communications, particularly from two most powerful nations in the world to be able to resolve anything quickly so there's not a mistake made.

MUIR: The defense secretary says they still haven't had that call. How does the US, how does your administration fix this?

THE PRESIDENT: We make it clear that it's necessary for that to occur. We can't fix it.

MUIR: I want to ask you about a couple of issues here at home. It's been three weeks now since the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, as you know. The mayor says he saw you in Ukraine and he says, it tells you he doesn't care about us. They're asking, is the President coming to Ohio? Do you have any plan to travel to Ohio? And have you talked with the mayor yet?

THE PRESIDENT: Let's put this in perspective. Within two hours of that derailment, the EPA was in there, within two hours. Every major agency in the United States government that had anything to do with rail and/or cleanup was there and is there. In addition to that, I've spoken at length to the congresspersons, the governors, the senators from both states of Pennsylvania and, and in Ohio, and I've made it clear to them anything they need is available or will make it available. Whatever happens, you've got to understand, it's the responsibility of the railroad company who's made, by the way, tens of billions of dollars in profits. Tens of billions of dollars in profits lately.

MUIR: So, do you plan to travel there and have you talked to the mayor?

THE PRESIDENT: I can't recall. I don't think aye I've talked to the mayor there. I've talked to both the senators, both governors, everyone there is to talk to, and we made it clear that everything is available.

MUIR: Let me ask you the question everyone is asking, are you running?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, apparently, someone interviewed my wife today I heard.

MUIR: I heard that, too, just before I came in.

THE PRESIDENT: I got to call her and find out. No, all kidding aside. My intention from the beginning has been from the beginning to run, but there's too many other things I have to finish in the near term before I started campaigning.

MUIR: But let me ask you, you brought up your wife, the first lady, Jill Biden, obviously, traveling in Kenya. She was asked just today, is all that's left at this point simply setting a time and place for the announcement? And she said, pretty much. Do you agree with your wife's assessment?

THE PRESIDENT: I say, God love her. Yeah. Look, I meant what I said. I've got other things to finish before I get into a full-blown campaign.

MUIR: Let me ask you about a conversation that people are having at home. Both your supporters and your critics. They know if you're re-elected you would be 82 when sworn in, you would be 86 at the end of your term. Is your age part of your own calculation into whether to run again?

THE PRESIDENT: No. But it's legitimate for people to raise questions about my age. It's totally legitimate to do that. And the only thing I can say is, watch me.

MUIR: Let me ask you one of the immediate questions if and when you do announce you're running again. You and the former president are now under investigation by the Justice Department for the discovery of these classified documents. I know that you believe these two cases are very different. But I do remember something you said after the discovery at Mar-a-Lago. You said, I thought data that was in there may compromise sources and methods and names of people who help, and it's just totally irresponsible. Can you assure the American people that none of the documents discovered in your garage or at your old office compromised sources or methods or US intelligence?

THE PRESIDENT: I've been advised by the counsel, let the Justice Department make that decision, to not try to alter the case in any way. There have been very few documents that have been confiscated, found in my possession that were in other than in my possession, meaning in my home. All the stuff that was moved out of my Senate office over the years, I'm told there were a couple of things from 1973 or '74 documents were marked classified. I don't know of anything maybe, I don't know of anything that is marked like it was, top secret, highly et cetera. But I'm told not to comment on that, because I don't even know what they were able to, what they confiscated.

MUIR: There are many who will understand why you can't comment, why your lawyers are saying not to comment. They also saw you, though, comment on former President Trump. And so, at the very least...

THE PRESIDENT: Because they were showing, you guys were showing on television things lying on the ground that said top secret, national, you know, code word. And the difference is, every single solitary thing I have been asked to do, I've done voluntarily. I've invited the Justice Department to come into every aspect of any place that I had any control off. There was no need for search warrants, no need, what do you need? Just come. Whatever you want. Whatever you want, wherever you want to go, you can go. That was totally different.

MUIR: But that one word you used, when you hear about boxes in your garage or in your old office, you called the Trump discovery irresponsible. Is there something irresponsible here, though, too?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, you're a good lawyer, but you're trying to make a comparison. What, there's degrees of irresponsibility. They can be significant degrees of irresponsibility. What, the way in which the boxes were packed up from my office, apparently not everything was gone through as meticulously as it should have, but there was no intention. I opened up my home, all my homes the home at the beach and the home that I, my permanent home. And they spent hours and hours going through everything, personal everything I had. And that's a fundamentally different thing. There's nothing for me to hide.

MUIR: Let me ask you about a conversation that people are having at home. Both your supporters and your critics. They know that if you're re-elected you would be 82 when you're sworn in, you'd be 86 at the end of your term. Is your age part of your own calculation into whether to run again?

THE PRESIDENT: No, but it's legitimate for people to raise issues about my age. It's totally legitimate to do that. And the only thing I can say is, watch me.

MUIR: I want to ask about the economy. You talk often about how the inflation – the rate of inflation has begun to slow. Unemployment now at its lowest level in 50 years. But you've also seen the polls. Our latest ABC News poll shows four in 10 Americans say they're worse off than when you were elected. Only 16 percent said they were better off. So, why is that? Why aren't Americans feeling this?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, I think it goes well beyond the economy. Think about it. You make the – I mean you interview for the news. Can you think of anything you turn on the television and go, God, that makes me feel good? Almost anything? Everything is in the negative. We're also finding out now that one of the outlets has decided that they even put things on they know to be false in order to increase their ratings. So, I think things are a little out of whack. And I don't blame people for being down. You know, when you had a year, two years of the pandemic, kids out of school, the mental health problems in the country are seriously increased, especially among young people. Some things are, for example, even feeling down about unemployment. They've got better jobs, are making more money. Inflation is still higher than it should be, and, you know, everything from gasoline prices, to a war going on in Ukraine. I mean, so I can't think of a time when there's been a greater uncertainty, notwithstanding the fact we're created 800,000 manufacturing jobs. We're better off than virtually any other major nation in the world, economically. But it's understandable why people are just down.

MUIR: I know this a defining moment in this war. We watched your speech here in Warsaw. And as you know, just hours before Vladimir Putin gave his own speech. And I wanted to ask you about something Vladimir Putin said. He said that Russia is suspending participation, cooperation, in the nuclear treaty with the United States. What's your message to Putin on that?

THE PRESIDENT: It's a big mistake to do that. Not very responsible. And, but I don't read into that that he's thinking of using nuclear weapons or anything like that. I think it's a, I'm not sure what else he was able to say in a speech at the moment. But I think it's a mistake. And I'm confident we'll be able to work it out.

MUIR: He is saying he's going to suspend participation in this nuclear treaty. Rhetoric is one thing, but we're a year into this war now. Does it concern you when he says something like this? And are we less safe?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look. I think we're less safe when we walk away from arms control agreements that are very much in both parties' interest, and the world's interest. But I've not seen anything, we've not seen anything, where there's a change in his posture and what they're doing. The idea that somehow this means they're thinking of using nuclear weapons, international continental ballistic missiles, there's no evidence of that.

MUIR: The world watched this surprise visit to Kyiv. How risky was it for a sitting President of the United States to go into Kyiv?

THE PRESIDENT: I didn't think it was that risky.

MUIR: You like a train?

THE PRESIDENT: Not 20 hours' worth, though.

MUIR: With those air sirens, those air raid sirens overhead in Kyiv, how important was it that the world saw you standing next to President Zelenskyy?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, I think that's for, I'm not being facetious, folks like you decide how important that is. It was important to me to stand with Zelenskyy and let the world know, on the year anniversary, we're not walking away from Ukraine.

Joseph R. Biden, Interview with David Muir of ABC News Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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