Feb 9, 2023
Biden Talks Economy, China, and Political Division in Interview With Judy Woodruff Transcript
Fresh off his State of the Union address, President Biden sat down with Judy Woodruff for an interview that touched on the economy, relations with China, and the coming political season. Read the transcript here.
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Fresh off his State of the Union address, President Biden left Washington for Wisconsin Today.
It’s part of a new White House push to get out of DC to highlight the economy and investments in infrastructure and blue collar jobs. Our own Judy Woodruff was on the ground with him in Madison. Judy.
Judy Woodruff (00:19):
Hi Amna and Jeff. So early this afternoon, the President toured a union job training site here in Deforest, Wisconsin, just north of Madison, where he underlined his support for trade workers and for training programs. This is all part of the White House push, his push, to grow the middle class by creating jobs for people that don’t require a four year college degree. Shortly after that, I sat down with him right here for a long delayed and wide ranging conversation. We touched on the state of the economy. We talked about my new project, the country’s deep divisions, we’re calling it America at a Crossroads. And we also talked about the coming political season. Mr. President, thank you very much for talking with us.
President Biden (01:06):
Happy to be here.
Judy Woodruff (01:07):
We are in Wisconsin. But let me ask you first about last night, the State of the Union. You are getting a lot of attaboys today from your fellow Democrats who are saying you showed energy, optimism. You stood up to the Republicans. They were yelling at you. Some of them were calling you a liar. Did you expect that kind of reaction
President Biden (01:28):
From the folks who did it I was. The vast majority of Republicans weren’t that way, but there’s still a significant element of what I call the MAGA Republicans, the Make America Great Again Republicans. And I kind of anticipated it, but there were an awful lot of… The Speaker was gracious and so was there were a lot of the members.
Judy Woodruff (01:55):
You almost seemed to be enjoying the back and forth. Were you enjoying it?
President Biden (01:59):
Well, as you know Judy, I spent most of my career with the Congress and members of the Congress. I know the place well, I know the system well, and I always feel comfortable when I’m up on the Hill. For real. Did it on most of my life. Wasn’t too bad at it either.
Judy Woodruff (02:20):
Well, here we are, as we said, in Wisconsin. You’ve just given a talk to a group of union members. This place where we’re sitting is all about training folks in construction work, union work. When you think about, what is it, a trillion dollars worth of money that’s going to come from the Inflation Reduction Act, the infrastructure legislation, the CHIPS manufacturing bill. A trillion dollars, how do you see that making a difference?
President Biden (02:50):
There’s a lot more than that. It’s going to make a gigantic difference. Look, we’ve already created 800,000 manufacturing jobs just in two years. That’s more jobs than anyone’s created anyway. And we paid for it all. We actually reduced the debt, the deficit by 1.7 trillion dollars over two years. And what it’s about is about giving working folks a chance. And I don’t mean just labor. I mean, look, you’ve heard, probably heard me say before, I’ve never been a big fan of trickle down economics. Family I was raised in, a lot didn’t trickle down to our table. But the middle class, when it does well, everybody does well. So my goal was when I got elected was to, and I campaigned on this, build from the bottom up and the middle out. When that happens, the poor have a chance up and the middle class does well and the wealthy always do well.
Judy Woodruff (03:43):
And these jobs, these kinds of jobs, what effect do you think this will have on working class Americans who frankly more and more of them are voting Republican?
President Biden (03:55):
Well, it will have a profound effect. I mean, look, just as I was told we were going to lose big the last election, the off year election, and I said we weren’t, just like we were told I wasn’t going to be able to pass the Inflation Reduction Act or the CHIPS, we passed them all. And what’s happening now is people don’t, understandably, don’t realize, although they were passed back in June, July, August to September, is only coming to fruition year now. For example, Judy, we pay the highest drug prices of any nation in the world.
Yet people didn’t know until January, even though we talked about it since last summer, that prescription drug costs were going to go down, and for example, insulin. Insulin for seniors, instead of being four or 500 bucks a month is now $35 a month. And people are going, “Whoa.” And there’s so much more to come. And look, I think we start off with a proposition, I do, anyway, that the vast majority of Americans don’t think the tax system’s fair. I mean, the vast majority, including relatively well off suburbanites. The idea you got a thousand trillionaires and they pay less for the percentage of their income than a school teacher does? I mean, so there’s a lot going on. We got a lot passed and it’s now just they’re going to start to roll out.
Judy Woodruff (05:18):
And I want to ask you about that because the picture you painted last night, unemployment record low, the growth, the economy. What is it, inflation is coming down, incomes are rising. And yet you mention the polls, when you look at the polls, CBS polls, 64% of Americans think the economies in bad shape. There’s an NBC poll, 71% think the country’s on the wrong track. Why the disconnect?
President Biden (05:44):
Because the polls don’t matter anymore. You got to make what, 40, 50 calls on a cell phone to get someone to answer a poll? Even the pollsters, you talk to them, ask them what they think about this [inaudible 00:05:57] look.
Judy Woodruff (05:57):
So you don’t think it’s your policy-
President Biden (05:59):
Oh, I know the policy.
Judy Woodruff (06:00):
… but failure to communicate?
President Biden (06:01):
By the way, if you ask the same thing, do they support the rebuilding the infrastructure of America? Overwhelmingly, they support it. Ask anybody. Do they support the CHIPS and Science Act? We’ve attracted 300 billion dollars in investments. We invented these chips. They’re coming back to America. We’re going to be their leaders again. When you ask them about whether or not they think they’re paying too much for drug prices, overwhelmingly yes. So it’s all just… Look, people went through hell the last several years, the last five years. In the pandemic, we lost a million people, dead. And so every time you turn on the news, are you reporting any positive news? I’m not meaning you personally, editorially. And so you turn on the television and everything’s down, and so people understand we are down.
Judy Woodruff (06:54):
So when people, was it the Gallup poll saying, most Americans think next year the economy is going to be bad. Do you think there’s going to be a recession-
President Biden (07:03):
Judy Woodruff (07:04):
President Biden (07:04):
No. Or next year. From the moment I got elected, how many of the experts are saying within the next six months there’s going to be a recession?
Judy Woodruff (07:14):
So I am launching a reporting project for the News Hour, looking at why the country’s so divided politically, culturally. What do you think? Why do you think it is?
President Biden (07:27):
Well, I think it’s a number of reasons. Number one, I think that there was a deliberate effort by the last guy to plant people’s fears and to appeal to base instincts. It’s not who we are, but people are… I also noticed a fair amount of Republicans standing up last night clapping. For example, when I pointed out that some Republicans were talking about eliminating Medicare, they said, “No, no, no.” I said, “Oh, okay. That means all of you are for supporting Medicare? Everybody raise your hand.” They all raised their hand.
So guess what? We accomplished something. Unless they break their words, there’s going to be no cuts in Medicare or social security. My point is, I think it’s a way we talk to each other. And I think, look, I think what happened was that the party started to take for granted ordinary blue collar workers and they really got hurt. They got hurt the previous four or five years and everything went wrong in their lives. Look at all the factories that have closed and left the United States. Look at all the things that have happened. But they’re coming back now. And I just got to make sure everybody knows what we’ve done, watch how it unfolds, and see what happens.
Judy Woodruff (09:01):
You came to Washington, to the Senate 50 years ago. This was just before Watergate where there had been assassinations, Vietnam war, Civil Rights struggles. Do you think now is worse than then? How do you compare it?
President Biden (09:17):
I don’t think it was better or worse. I think what happened was then we had a different set of problems, but we didn’t have many people playing on the fears of the American people. There was just genuine debate and discord about the War in Vietnam. The Civil Rights movement, which got me involved in politics in the first place, was just reaching a culmination point where we passed the Civil Rights Act and a number of things. So I think it’s a process, and I think that most Americans are of the view that this has gotten too mean. It’s gotten too personal, gotten too divisive. And I think one of the things, the message they sent this last election was, “Go on, work together, get something done for us.”
Judy Woodruff (10:16):
And speaking of that, this last session of Congress, as you said last night, a lot was accomplished. I mean, including in a bipartisan way. This session coming up right now is different. You’ve got a Republican majority in the House and number of supporters, former President Trump. Realistically, Mr. President, what do you think you can get done? I mean, assuming the debt limit issue gets resolved.
President Biden (10:42):
I think we get-
Judy Woodruff (10:42):
What do you think you can get done?
President Biden (10:43):
I think the American public, I think when we vote on whether or not to extend the Medicare benefit, I mean the healthcare benefits to ordinary Americans, not just on Medicare and Medicaid. I think when we say that insulin should be available 35 bucks for every American out there, I think you’re going to see a lot of things done because people are becoming aware of what we can do. And we’re starting to see those things happening. And one of the reasons I’m here at this facility, the laborers now, most people think that, “We’re going to be a laborer.” Well, you just sign up, you show up. They have four years apprenticeships to become a laborer. It’s like going to college again. Not again. It’s like going to college. We have the best trained workers in the world. And for example, when I ask the-
Judy Woodruff (11:36):
But you think you can get those things through that you just-
President Biden (11:39):
Oh, I know I can.
Judy Woodruff (11:40):
President Biden (11:41):
Yeah. By the way, we got them through. The things I’m talking about we’ve already gotten through. And I think it’s a matter of just demonstrating what we’ve done.
Judy Woodruff (11:50):
One of the things Republicans say is a priority for them is investigating your family, your son Hunter, your brother, Jim. They talk about access that they say others have gotten because of you, because of your political success. How do you plan to deal with that?
President Biden (12:13):
The public’s not going to pay attention to that. They want these guys to do something. If the only thing they can do is make up things about my family, it’s not going to go very far.
Judy Woodruff (12:24):
I want to ask you about foreign policy. There’s a few things to ask you about. This Chinese surveillance balloon that went across the country, you ordered our military, fighter jets, to shoot it down off the coast of South Carolina. But Republicans are saying you look weak. Mike Gallagher, the congressman, said-
President Biden (12:44):
He’s an impressive guy, isn’t he?
Judy Woodruff (12:45):
… inexplicable that you didn’t shoot it down earlier. Marco Rubio said it was dereliction of duty not to immediately tell the public about this.
President Biden (12:55):
Look, I told, it’s now public. I told the military I wanted to shoot it down when it was safe to do it. They said it was unsafe to do it over land. They said they could learn a lot in the meantime by watching it go across the country. As soon as they had a chance to shoot it down over water, they did, and they’re recovering major pieces of it to determine if we can learn anything from what they garnered and what kind of equipment they had. There were several of these balloons that during… The last administration didn’t even know they were there. They didn’t even do anything about them. So look, I just think that the idea that there was a dereliction of duty, I think is a bizarre notion. China knows exactly that what the deal is with us.
Judy Woodruff (13:51):
So China today is saying they feel smeared, that you smeared them and their leader in your remarks last night. Have relations now between the US and China taken a big hit, frankly?
President Biden (14:08):
Judy Woodruff (14:10):
How do you know?
President Biden (14:11):
I know. I talked to him.
Judy Woodruff (14:15):
You’ve talked to-
President Biden (14:16):
I’ve talked to Xi Jinping before, and our team talks to their people.
Judy Woodruff (14:21):
During this, and since?
President Biden (14:22):
Yeah, after. I haven’t talked to him during this. But look, I mean the idea of shooting down a balloon that’s gathering information over America and that makes relations worse? Look, I made it real clear to Xi Jinping that we are going to compete fully with China, but we’re not looking for conflict. And that’s been the case so far. Let me put it another way, as I said, and you’re very informed in foreign policy. Can you think of any other world leader who would trade places with Xi Jinping? Not a joke. Can you think of any who would? I can’t think of one.
This man has enormous problems. Enormous. He has also great potential. But so far he has an economy that’s not functioning very well. He’s in a situation where he is… For example, everybody assume that China would be all in with Russia and Ukraine. Hell [inaudible 00:15:38] they’re not all in. Matter of fact, I called him this summer to say, “This is not a threat, just an observation. Look what’s happened to Russia. 600 American corporation have pulled out of Russia, from McDonald’s to Exxon.” And I said, “You’ve told me all along that the reason why you need a relationship with the United States and Europe is so they invest in China.” I said, “Who’s going to invest in China if you are engaged in the same kind of deal?” You notice there’s not been much going on there.
Judy Woodruff (16:09):
Ukraine, you mentioned that. We heard what you said last night, but we now also hear from Jim Jordan, who is the Republican congressman, that maybe some of the money being spent in Ukraine should go for American citizens. We heard Kevin McCarthy begin to raise questions about it. It’s now been a hundred billion dollars, somewhere in that area, the US has spent on Ukraine. You said to the ambassador last night, “We’re with you until…” You said, “As long as it takes.” Does that mean this is an open-ended commitment?
President Biden (16:49):
It’s a firm commitment. Look, if these guys, Jordan or whoever you mentioned, the idea that the Russian military, with over a hundred thousand forces, would invade and try to maraud Ukraine, and us stand by and do nothing? Come on. And what I’ve done, and I think I’m very proud of it, I’ve been able to unite NATO completely. He was convinced NATO would collapse. NATO would not be engaged. I’ve been able to get our Asian allies to join with the Europeans in terms of taking on Russia, whether or not… So, I mean, we have a better relationship and tighter control over our destiny now than we’ve ever had. And we have Germany increasing their budget by over 2%. You have Japan doing the same thing. I mean, if these guys don’t want to help Ukraine, I get it, they don’t want to do that. But what are they going to do when Russia rolls across Ukraine or into Belarus or anywhere else?
Judy Woodruff (17:55):
So is it open-ended for now?
President Biden (17:57):
Yeah, it is. Look, there’s no way that Putin is going to be able to… He’s already lost Ukraine. The idea that he’s ever going to be able to occupy… Well, here’s what he thought. He thought that if he invaded Ukraine, first of all he’d get a welcome from every Russian speaker. They’d say, “Come on in.” Secondly, he thought what would happen is that NATO would collapse. NATO would not do anything, they’d be afraid to act. Then he thought… Anyway, go down the line. None of that’s happening.
Judy Woodruff (18:24):
Two other quick questions, Mr. President. Classified documents, it’s clear there’s a difference between the way you’ve handled this and former President Trump. You’ve cooperated with the Archives, with the FBI. But I want to ask you quickly about what you said last September. You said just possessing classified documents is, you said, “Totally irresponsible.” So what was totally irresponsible about the fact that you had some?
President Biden (18:52):
They’ve informed me not to speak to this issue, to any way try to prejudice the investigation that’s going on. But what I was talking about was what was laid out. All these documents were top secret, code word, and all the rest. I’m not at liberty, and I’m not even sure… I made voluntarily, no one’s had to threaten to do anything, voluntarily open every single aperture I have with house, offices, everything for them to come and look and spend hours searching my home. Invited them, nobody… And the best of my knowledge, the kinds of things they picked up are things that from 1974 and stray papers. There may be something else I don’t know. But one of the things that happened is that what was not done well is, as they packed up my offices to move them, they didn’t do the kind of job that should have been done to go thoroughly through every single piece of literature that’s there. But I just let the investigation decide what’s going on and we’ll see what happens.
Judy Woodruff (20:03):
Last question, Mr. President. Every indication you’re running for reelection. You haven’t announced yet. Democrats though, as I’m sure you’d know, are saying, “We wonder about his age.” You’d be 82, date of the next election, 86 if you’re successful and elected and finish that term. Does it give you any concern?
President Biden (20:28):
Watch me. That’s all I can say. I mean, it goes from one extreme to the other. Last night I heard that people were saying, “Well, just watch Biden. My God, age is not an issue anymore.” Look, I’m a great respecter of fate. I would be completely, thoroughly honest with the American people if I thought there was any health problem, anything that would keep me from being able to do the job. And so we’ll see, but I think people have to just watch me.
Judy Woodruff (21:06):
That’s sounds like you’re running.
President Biden (21:08):
I haven’t made that decision. That’s my intention, I think, but I haven’t made that decision firmly yet.
Judy Woodruff (21:15):
Mr. President, thank you very much.
President Biden (21:16):
Thank you, Judy.