Friday, July 13, 2007

Live Blogging Joe Biden in Des Moines

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 556

I'm at the State Historical Building in downtown Des Moines for what's being billed as a "Cookies and Conversation" event with U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Joe Biden.

This looks like it will be quite the civilized event. We're in the building's main auditorium, and the speakers will be seated side-by-side on the stage, so "conversation" looks like it will be the operative word.

11:26 - we're scheduled for an 11:30 kickoff.

11:35 - stage hands are making the final tweaks, I think...

11:38 - I should mention that this event is being sponsored by Drake University.

11:40 - Biden takes the stage.

11:42 - question on last night's House vote on troop withdrawal - will the Senate follow suit? Biden says he hopes so; says the House measure mirrored the Biden-Levin amendment Bush vetoed d earlier. Says we need 67 votes to override the veto Bush will undoubtedly exercise, and paraphrases Oliver Wendell Holmes by saying that reality is like the pupil of the eye for Bush: the more light you shine upon it, the more tightly it closes. War won't end "until we embarrass 17 Republicans" into going against the administration.

11:46 - Biden says he doesn't believe there are more than a dozen Senators who actually believe the administration line on Iraq; the question is when the others will break. The purpose of keeping the pressure on with repeated votes on withdrawal is not to change the President's mind - impossible to do, Biden says - but to continue to squeeze Republicans to vote for redeployment or to override a veto sooner, rather than later. The longer this takes, the harder it will be to get out of Iraq without leaving chaos behind.

11:50 - Biden says it is impossible for the Iraq government to govern from the center, each of the three main groups should be given semi-autonomy, and participate in a limited central government. Says that unless this happens the Iraq civil war will spread across the region. Says he won't support keeping a single American soldier in Iraq to keep a civil war from spreading.

11:55 - will Iraqis buy into partition, as proposed by Biden? He says absolutely, because all groups understand that they cannot run the entire country. Must give Shunis a fair share of oil revenue, and the Shia must have autonomy like the Kurds have in the North. Says that he could have ended the war three years ago, if he were President.

11:57 - "We're creating more terrorists than we're destroying." Cites national intelligence estimate corroborating this point. Al Qaeda is as strong or stronger than before 9/11, and "this isn't Joe Biden saying this: this is the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community." Says we have fundamentally mishandled the primary threat to our security: bin Laden alive and well, Pakistan in jeopardy, no recommendations of the 9/11 Commission fully implemented. The idea that the Republican party has a credible argument to make on national security is "laughable."

12:04 - Administration has no coherent policy on Iraq, says "when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Says he's truly anxious to debate Republicans on these issues. Proposes a two-hour Democratic debate devoted exclusively to Iraq.

12:05 - how do you win the Democratic nomination. Biden: "Here in Iowa." Says the idea that he can't compete because he doesn't have as much money as other candidates is wrong, calls the amounts being raised and spent "obscene." Counting on Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina seeing that ideas are more important than money.

12:07 - who would be the first foreign leader he would invite to the White House? Biden says, "I would go to them," would consult our traditional allies on fundamental changes in American foreign policy. Says this would make it clear that he's ready to listen, not try to dictate American will across the world.

12:12 - what would be Biden's criteria for selecting Supreme Court justices? Says he has presided over more Supreme Court confirmations than any Senator in history. Says he goes over every thing ever written by the nominee. Says he would make sure their writings reflect a modern view of individual liberties and individual rights. Says the next president will have two main responsibilities: war and peace, and appointing two, possibly three Supreme Court justices. "And I'm the best guy to do both of these things right out of the box."

12:16 - Q&A begins. Loopy guy starts polemic on religion. No question for the candidate, so moderator moves on.

12:17 - first act as president on Israel-Palestine? Send Secretary of State to talk directly with Israel to urge negotiations with Syria over the Golan; for the first time the Israelis and Sunni Arab states have a common enemy in fundamentalist Shia turmoil from Iran, and this creates an opportunity for progress in Mideast peace.

12:22 - says we're in "hysteria" about Iran's nuclear capability, but ignoring unsecured fissile material stocks in Russia. "We have done virtually nothing" on this. We're focusing on the wrong threats here.

12:27 - cites Star Wars as another example of how we're focused on improbable threats and ignoring much more urgent threats like terrorist improvised nuclear devices.

12:29 - question on senior citizen economic security. Four points: don't privatize Social Security, secure existing pension plans, create 401K programs that automatically enroll new workers unless they actively opt out, establish universal health care.

12:34 - quotes Tom Friedman of the NY Times, and says in so doing, "I'm always really careful now to give attribution to my sources when I quote people."

12:35 - what would he do on global warming? Pass a resolution thanking Al Gore for raising awareness of this issue. Cap emissions, then improve mileage standards, then return to multilateral negotiations, invest $50 billion in new energy technologies and become a net exporter of these technologies; cites the example of clean coal, which he says he doesn't want to use here, but to export to places like China, where they're building one new coal fired power plan every month. This will help reestablish American leadership in this area.

12:39 - how will he put himself into the top tier of candidates? Says he has spent perhaps too much time thinking about what he would do as president than how he would get there. Has no national fundraising network, and that's "probably a mistake" he should rectify. Proud of record as Senator, better than any Senator from John Kennedy on, says Violence Against Women Act was his proudest achievement. Did all these things with a lot of help. Doesn't want to run for president again; wants to do more, and that means being president. Could be happy never living in the White House, but if you want to make decisions, that's where you have to be. Is well on the way to correcting campaign efforts, will do better at fundraising, doesn't need more than $25 million to win the nomination. Apologizes to supporters for not paying more attention to how to win, but will not compromise on certain fundamental things in order to win: WMD, Iraq, Russia, China, Supreme Court nominees, education (says first two years of college should be free). These will determine the fates of our grandchildren more than anything else.

12:45 - asks for a show of hands of those who have firmly committed to a candidate for the caucuses here in Iowa; very few hands raised, which Biden says validates his point that he'll be able to win people over. "I'm willing to lose over the things I care about. I can live the rest of my life without ever hearing 'Hail to the Chief' played for me. But I think I'm going to hear it alot."

And that's it. On to pressing the flesh. I'll be back later with some wrap up thoughts.



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