Joe Biden

Interview with Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC

May 12, 2021

O'Donnell. Mr. President, you met and exceeded your first 100 days' goal of 100 shots in arms; I've got two of them in here. Thank you for that, Moderna, thank you for executing that delivery.

What about the next hundred days? Is vaccination still your number one priority in the next hundred days?

The President. Yes, but there are close seconds that we're going to have – that are going to be announced in a couple of days. We have another 50 million that have been put in arms, so it will be 250 million.

And one of the things I focused on when I got elected, I said I had two overwhelming needs; one, to get the American public vaccinated, and we had to go out and get an awful lot of vaccinators as well as vaccine to get 600 million doses of it, and we got that, a lot of it, done.

And to get people back to work, because, you know, we lost millions of jobs — 22 million, I think it was 22 million jobs. And they're directly related to the vaccine — not to — to COVID-19.

So, what I'm continuing to do is making sure we get people back to work and change the circumstance where we get to the far point, where we have at least 70 percent of the American public vaccinated, and my goal is by July the 4. And I think we can do that. We're close to 59 percent getting one shot, so I think we're getting very close.

O'Donnell. You're coming up against something we've never seen before in any vaccination program or any public health program, which is a partisan resistance to vaccination.

This is in addition to other hesitancies that other populations have. But there is a partisan resistance, and that is among people, many of whom fail what is a basic mental competency test -- who is the president of the United States? They actually get that question wrong.

How are you going to convince them to get the vaccine?

The President. They're showing up. All this stuff about vaccine hesitancy; the truth of the matter is more and more and more people are getting the vaccine.

And so, I've never believed that there would be a large percentage of Americans who wouldn't get the vaccine.

But what's the best way — you know, you used to do local politics a hundred years ago — what happens? When your neighbor gets a vaccine, your next-door-neighbor gets it, you say, well, maybe I should get it. And no matter what your position was, when you see people in a position where you can easily get the vaccine, you don't have to go way out of your way.

That's why you see I was on doing some meetings with folks who are providing for example and the governor of Maine, a Republican, is saying, if you want to get a free hunting license, come get a vaccine. Well, people are showing up.

And people are showing up across the board. So, the idea, I've never believed that at the end of the day, there would be any large percentage of Americans who would not get the vaccine.

O'Donnell. I have a question from my Telemundo colleague, Vanessa Hauc, who wonders, what do you say to people who worry that their immigration status is a reason not to get the vaccine?

The President. Well, I say they shouldn't worry. They should get the vaccine. They should get the vaccine.

O'Donnell. And there won't be any interactions with government that occur because they get the vaccine?

The President. What I have said is that it's one thing for people who are in country here to have, if they show up for a doctor's appointment, they show up to drop their child off at school, et cetera, we should lay off those people.

We should, and that's why I introduced a comprehensive immigration bill. There's 11 million undocumented people in the United States, the vast majority of whom overstayed their visas.

We should move about getting that taken care of, making sure there's a pathway to earn citizenship and get underway. They should not be in a position that, if they're trying to save their lives or their health and they do what's needed to be done to make people around them safe as well, they shouldn't be penalized for that.

O'Donnell. You just had a meeting with the Big Four; the speaker of the House, minority leader of the House, majority leader of the Senate, minority leader of the Senate, and it had that external signal, which is always a good sign, which is that it went into overtime, it went much longer than people outside the room were expecting.

Kevin McCarthy said it was a productive meeting. Mitch McConnell said it was a productive meeting. But they do seem to be drawing a red line, as Mitch McConnell called it, on any taxes, any taxes to pay for an infrastructure bill, and you have some serious tax increases in your infrastructure bill.

The President. Well, look, there was a red line saying they wouldn't do anything on anything, quite frankly.

O'Donnell. Well, that was last week. Mitch McConnell said last week —

The President. Yeah.

O'Donnell. — he had 100 percent of Republican senators lined up against your infrastructure bill.

The President. I understand that. That's — but I think we can have a deal.

And there are ways in which we can pay for this without just putting the entire burden on working class and middle-class people.

For example, there's a situation where there's an estimation of somewhere between $700 billion and a one-trillion-three-hundred billion dollars, if we hire up more IRS agents and we go after those folks who are avoiding taxes at the top end.

And that is — I mean, these are serious — this isn't pie in the sky — these are serious, serious experts and liberals, conservatives, et cetera.

So, let's say it's somewhere in between; that's one trillion dollars. I'm confident they would go for that.

I'm confident, for example, something that's not in the, that two-trillion-dollar tax cut for which nothing was paid for, and it ended up being — increasing the debt. There's a thing called stepped up basis. That's not in it. Stepped up basis is complicated. I didn't know what it was; I never had any money, so I didn't know what it was.

But for example, if you have a capital gain, you're a wealthy person, you're about to cash-in, you bought a million-dollars' worth of stock, now it's worth it's worth one-million-five-hundred-thousand, you're going to cash it in, and god forbid, on the way to cash it in, you figure being hit by a truck and you die, that gets left to your son or daughter; they pay none of the capital gains you would have had to pay.

It's not an inheritance tax. It's a tax owed 10 seconds before it happened. Eliminate that. That raises billions and billions of dollars. So, there's ways to do this.

O'Donnell. Mitch McConnell said that he's not willing to reopen anything that was in the Trump tax cut.


O'Donnell. Now there are —


The President. — neither of those were in the [inaudible] —


O'Donnell. Yes, OK. So, is that where you're exploring? Did you have an exploration of possible revenue with them, actual pay-fors —


The President. No. I didn't get into that. I got into what constitutes infrastructure.

I want to make it clear. I want to get a bipartisan deal on as much as we can get a bipartisan deal on. And that means roads, bridges, broadband, all infrastructure.

But I'm not giving up on the fact that we have, you know, two million women who are not able to go back to work because all the daycare centers are closed. They're out of business. And so, they can't go back to work.

I'm not going to give up on a whole range of things that go to the question of productivity, of increasing jobs, increasing employment, increasing revenues. I'm not willing to give up on that. So we're going to fight those out.

So I want to know, what can we agree on? And let's see if we can get an agreement to kickstart this. And then fight over what's left and see if I can get it done without Republicans, if need be.

O'Donnell. You were trying to make a deal today in a room with Kevin McCarthy, where what he was doing before he came up here was expelling Liz Cheney from his leadership group for saying things like, the election is over, as she said last night on the House floor. And Kevin McCarthy is the same person who supported Liz Cheney just weeks ago.

How can you accept whatever someone like Kevin McCarthy says today as something that you're actually going to legislate a few weeks from now or months from now?

The President. If a man looks me in the eye, gives me his word that something's going to happen, I take it unless he breaks it. He may have broken his word to somebody else, but to me, has he made that deal — we're nowhere near having made a deal. We agree that we should try to get a bipartisan agreement.

But the Liz Cheney/McCarthy thing is above my pay grade. I mean, I have enough trouble figuring out my own party all the time, let alone the Republicans.

O'Donnell. Are you shocked that there's just, at this point, one member on the Republican side of the House who was willing to stand up last night and say things like, the election is over, and if you don't believe in the outcomes in our courts, you are an anti-constitutionalist on the Republican side. That's what her fight is on the Republican side of the House of Representatives.

The President. I think I heard Kevin McCarthy say today Biden's a duly elected president.

O'Donnell. He did.

This is the experience I had working with you in the Senate. I have to let the audience in on this. We've known each other 25 years, and when we were working together in the Senate, what I always saw is you take the most positive things someone says in your direction and try to work with that tomorrow. And you try to ignore anything that isn't part of what you're trying to work with tomorrow.

Is that the way you're doing this job?

The President. As Pat Moynihan once said to me, Joe, I'm not sure you're Irish. You don't hold a grudge. [laughter]

O'Donnell. Exactly. That's right.

The President. I don't. Look, it's too important to the American people. I don't want to sound – I'll just say what I believe. It's too important to the American people for me not to continue to reach out to get things done with people that I agree and disagree with.

I mean, I ended up making a deal with Jesse Helms for the lord's sake on funding the United Nations. I didn't have to give up anything, but I worked on it and worked on it. He finally came around.

But if I had said, because Jesse Helms has done all these other things, I'm never going to deal with him — it's just not the way it works.

I don't — look, I believe — how can I say it? My mother used to give me — I believe in redemption for myself as well.

But look, Lawrence, I have — I once had a doctor who was — had worked on me because I had had an aneurism 20 some years ago. He said, you know what your problem is? He said you're a congenital optimist.

Well, I am, because I know the American people. The American people are optimistic. The American people never ever, ever, ever, ever give up. Never. Not once in our history did they give up. And I just – I have faith. I have faith, and we just got to keep pushing it.

O'Donnell. Let me ask you about the second most powerful Joe in Washington — Joe Manchin, who has become a visitor to this White House, and he's not there with the Democrats even on everything that's proposed. He's not there 100 percent on your infrastructure bill. He's trying to work with Republicans to bring Republicans along into something that could be a compromise.

What about S.1., the voting rights, voting access bill that the Senate Rules Committee considered yesterday? So important that the majority leader and minority leader went to the Rules Committee and — to testify about and talk about that bill.

That bill looks like there will be zero Republican votes in the Senate for that bill. That bill also doesn't fit any reconciliation rule. That bill cannot get through without 60 votes or without an adjustment to the cloture rule, which Joe Manchin would have to agree to.

Does Joe Manchin see this road in front of him and what that means for voting rights in America?

The President. I don't know. I've not had — I've not had that discussion with Joe. I've been meeting with a lot of Republicans, a lot of, quote, "bipartisan groups" have been coming to see me on everything from my – the overall bill, the families bill that I have and the caregivers bill, as well as the infrastructure bill.

We were at the same place. I don't know — I can't say that you asked me, but other serious folks in your business asked me the same kind of questions when we were trying to do the American Rescue Plan. How can you possibly get it passed? Well, it passed by one vote, even though up to the time that vote took place there were a number of people saying, I'm not going to do it.

But look, Lawrence, I have — this is going to sound naive. I have faith in the American people. The American people overwhelmingly support what I'm doing. The polling numbers are overwhelming — Democrat, Republican, and Independent, the averages. We've got 78 percent of the American people, if I'm not mistaken in the last major poll done, showing that they support my — what I'm talking about, this gigantic effort to try to build back and build back better.

You had an enormous number of American people supporting the last bill that passed. And look what's happened — 1.5 million new jobs, 1.5 million new jobs. You had all that money in there for COVID. We've now got — we have 250 million people will have gotten shots. The death rate is the lowest it's ever been. It's down 80 percent. Hospitalizations are down.

And so, I just think with all I — what I have to do is just keep moving forward. Just keep moving forward, and the more we move, the more I demonstrate what we've done is working and is right, the more likelihood I'll have to get it — look, for example, you know, we used to be, back in the old days, when I first got to the Senate, we used to invest in research and development, the things of the future. We invested more money than any — a higher percentage of our GDP than any nation in the world.

And China was number I think nine or something. We're now number eight. China's number one. What do we think is going to happen if we stand still for god's sake? What do we think is going to happen if more corporate American doesn't invest in research and development instead of buying back their own stock?

What do — I mean, so, I think this is a matter — this is a bit of — as my grandfather, Finnegan, might say, this is a bit of an epiphany that's going on here where people are beginning to look and say, whoa, whoa.

And I've met with either on the — almost all on a telephone and/or on Skype, with I think now 40-some world leaders. They want to know, is America really back? Are we really back in the game? Are we going to engage?

And so, I just think — I know this sounds — well, I don't know what it sounds like, but you know, it's never ever, ever been a good bet against America. That's never occurred. It's never been a good bet, to bet against the American people, and I'm betting they're going to come around.

O'Donnell. I just have one more question for you, and that is, you're 113 days into the presidency. This is the top of the mountain. You were climbing this career mountain for many, many years. You're the most prepared president in history with 36 years in the Senate, eight years as vice president.

The one thing you don't have on this 113th day in the presidency is your son, Beau's, advice, and I'm just wondering what you would say if Beau called you today and said, hey, Pop, how's it going?

The President. I'd say, Beau, I remember what you'd say to me every single time we'd talk about a political issue. He'd say, Dad, look at me. I'd give him my word. Dad, look at me. Remember, home base. Home base. Be who you are.

The one thing that I'd hope that he would say is, Dad, you're home base, you're sticking to it. Some things are worth losing over, old buddy. I haven't done this, this long than I had now to do things that I don't — I don't believe.

O'Donnell. Mr. President, thank you very much for your time today. We really appreciate it.

The President. Thank you. You always catch me off guard with Beau. God love him. He should be sitting in this chair.

Anyway, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

O'Donnell. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Joseph R. Biden, Interview with Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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