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Biden on START, WikiLeaks

In an exclusive interview, Vice President Joe Biden talks with NBC's Andrea Mitchell about the START Treaty, WikiLeaks, tax cut deal and Richard Holbrooke
/ Source: MSNBC

Vice President Joe Biden sat down with NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell to discuss the current state of the war in Afghanistan, debates over the START Treaty, the tax compromise and Wikileaks. Vice President Biden also offered his heartfelt thoughts on the loss of Richard Holbrooke.

Read the excerpts below:

Biden on the START Treaty and Tax Compromise
VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, I say let's do the nation's business. Sixty-seven senators voted to move forward on this, including John McCain and Lindsey Graham and the leading voices in the Republican Party.

NBC's ANDREA MITCHELL: But they say they haven't had enough time to study it.

BIDEN: Well, they haven't said that —


BIDEN: They haven't said that.

MITCHELL: — you know, Senator Kyl and the opponents —

BIDEN:  Senator Kyl is opposed to the treaty. He is flat opposed to the treaty. So is Senator DeMint opposed to the treaty. Do not let — do not stand in the way of the nation's best interests.  Let the Senate vote. Overwhelming, the American people support the START Treaty. Overwhelmingly, the United States Senate supports the START Treaty. It's clearly in our national interests.  Every former national security adviser, secretary of Defense, the secretary of State on the Republican Party from George Shultz to Colin Powell thinks it's essential we pass this treaty. Get out of the way. There's too much at stake for America's national security. And don't tell me about Christmas. I understand Christmas.  I have been a senator for a long time. I've been there many years where we go right up to Christmas.

There's 10 days between now and Christmas. I hope I don't get in the way of your Christmas shopping, but this is the nation's business. This is the national security that's at stake. Act.  Act.

MITCHELL: Does that go for the tax cut, as well?

BIDEN: — that we just acted on.

MITCHELL: But you had a rough session with House Democrats.

BIDEN: Sure, I did. 

MITCHELL: They say you sold them out, you sat down with Mitch McConnell and you went in the back room and you cut a deal with the Republicans.

BIDEN: Hey, look, it's true I did — It's true I did negotiate this package. I was in an interview
with another network, I will not mention, not long ago. And they said the Senate said you sold them out and it will never pass. I said more than 80 will vote for it. Eighty senators just voted for that deal I allegedly sold them out on.

MITCHELL: Eighty-one.

BIDEN: Eighty.

MITCHELL: Eighty-one.

BIDEN: Well, more than 80.  Yes, 80 — 81. The House will, as well. Look, people feel very strongly and I don't blame them.  But we cannot afford to go into next year with everyone's
taxes going up, the economy threatening to go into a double dip, not growing the economy.

So I had two dictates from the president. Joe, one, make sure whatever you negotiate grows the economy next year. Every major econometric model points out the deal that I was asked to negotiate will increase the growth of the economy from 2.3 to 2.5 to 3.7 to 4.  That means tens of thousands,  millions of additional jobs.

Secondly, he said to me, Joe, make sure our folks aren't hurt, meaning middle class and working class people. Guess what?

Every one of the tax breaks they had, from college tuition to child care tax credit, which the Republicans opposed, is part of that deal.  Every single tax break for middle class Americans has been preserved.

BIDEN: Thirdly, it's for two years. We also have a payroll tax where every person next year will get 2 percent less taken out of their payroll. That's real money. That means well over $1,000 for the average person out there, additional.

MITCHELL: But the House Democrats, the liberals, they are the people that brought you into power.

BIDEN: Sure they are.

MITCHELL: What are you now saying to them?

BIDEN: Well, I'll tell you, I went in and spoke to them two-and-a-half hours. I'm a creature of the Congress. When I walked in, I got a standing ovation. When I walked out, I got an ovation. All this talk about how there is this overwhelming contention. Not a single one did
not thank me. Not a single one said to me that they thought that I sold anybody out. Not a single one said to me that they thought you were going to be able to decouple the upper income tax from the middle class tax cut.

What their argument was is you should have taken more time, Joe. You should have taken more time. The minority who spoke said that. There were a number of people who stood up and said, this is important. Thank you for the deal you negotiated, including progressives and moderates.

MITCHELL: Well, if you were still in the Senate, what about this appropriations bill? All these earmarks and ... Senator McCain was on the floor. He said, you know, you are asleep, to his colleagues, didn't you get the message of the election, people don't want all this pork.

BIDEN: Look, we are in a position where, as the president, we don't get to negotiate this.  We set out two parameters. We said we wanted to freeze discretionary spending. It is frozen in this omnibus bill.

Two, we said we need additional funding for national security, additional funding for follow-on in Iraq, so to make sure the civilian side gets ramped up and for dealing with international terrorist organizations. We got both of those things. Do we like some of these, quote, earmarks in there?

No, we don't like them. But the question is, as we go to throw out, you know, the baby with the bath water here?

If, in fact, this omnibus bill negotiated by Republicans and Democrats — not by us —Republicans and Democrats — passes, the president will support it.

Biden on his relationship with Obama and with members of Congress
MITCHELL: And you are the point man on all of this. You're here at the United Nations. You're negotiating with Mitch McConnell. You're everywhere. Are you basically the de facto chief of staff?

BIDEN:  Well, look, when the president asked me to join him, he asked what portfolio I wanted.  I said I want to be in the room when every decision is being made. You're president, but I want to have an input.

And so the president uses me where I have some skill set. I'm going to say something outrageous. They kid me all the time. I still consider myself a Senate man. I love the Senate.  I love the Congress. I keep in touch with them.

So I had great relationships with Republicans as well as Democrats. There's real trust. So it's logical for me, at this point, to be a point man in dealing with the House and the Senate at this time.

I have a significant background — I mean I'm good or bad, but I have a significant background in foreign policy and national security issues. So it's logical that I'd come up here.  The president asked me, as you know, because you were one of the first people to interview me when he turned to me and said, Joe, you do Iraq.  And the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State have cooperated with me. They've followed it with me.

I mean, so it was just logical things that I happened to have some experience, in some cases significant experience. And they just happened to be in the two areas that are being negotiated right now.

On WikiLeaks
BIDEN:  I came in, almost all of it was embraces. I mean it wasn't just shaking hands. I know —I know these guys. I know these women. They still trust the United States. There's all kinds of things and —

MITCHELL:  So there's no damage?

BIDEN:  I don't think there's any damage.  I don't think there's any substantive damage, no.  Look, some of the cables that are coming out here and around the world are embarrassing.  I mean, you know, to say that, you know, for you to do a cable as an ambassador and say I don't like Biden's tie, he doesn't look good and he's a homely guy, that's not something —

MITCHELL:  I never said that.

BIDEN: No, I know you didn't. I know you didn't. But yet, I mean, you know, there's — so there's a lot of things like that. But nothing that I am aware of that goes to the essence of the relationship that would allow another nation to say they lied to me, we don't trust them, they
really are not dealing fairly with us.

On Iraq
MITCHELL: Iraq — we still have 48,000 troops. Your own son was there.  Now another Christmas is coming and they're — they have a government,  but there is so much that has not been accomplished.

BIDEN:  Well, there's been — think of today. You know this place better than most. Today, the international community said, Iraq, you're back in the family of nations.  We think you have a government. We think you are moving in the right direction. We think you're protecting
human rights. And we think you're going to be stable.

And so we passed through resolutions here in the Security Council — I had the pleasure of presiding over today — which essentially wiped out the restrictions and the claims against Iraq that were imposed after Saddam Hussein went into Kuwait.

And so this is a reaffirmation that Iraq is back. The international community doesn't think there's so long to go. They know there's more work to be done. But they think they have turned the corner, they have a democracy and they're moving forward.

Biden on Holbrooke
MITCHELL:  And, finally, a terrible, terrible loss for all of us, for the country.

BIDEN:  Richard Holbrooke.

MITCHELL:  Your thoughts on —

BIDEN:  I have been —

MITCHELL: — having this Afghanistan —

BIDEN: — friends —

MITCHELL: — review without him.

BIDEN:— with Richard, I was a 29-year-old senator-elect. He was a young, 31-year-old Foreign Service officer in Vietnam. I ran opposed to the war against Vietnam — the — excuse me, the war in Vietnam. We became friends and acquaintances way back then.

He was one of the few figures in American foreign policy who was literally larger than life.  And I thought — I wish Kati could have heard when we — when I conducted the Security Council meeting. Almost every single member spoke of him before they made their statements about
Iraq. And a number of them spoke from personal terms and it was his heart — from their hearts.

No one, as my grandfather would say, it's a good thing about American democracy, is everyone is expendable, in terms of the — the functioning of this great country. But I'll tell you what, it's going to be a long, long time before anybody is big enough to fill Richard's shoes in every
way. He was an outsized personality, an outsized talent. And hecontributed more to the peace and security of this country as much as anyone in the last 30 years.

MITCHELL: And we all know there were moments with him. He could be difficult.

BIDEN: He sure could.  As a matter of I was with Kati and — at the hospital the day
before he died, because I went through a similar kind of event with the aneurisms I had.  His was more serious, but they — it was — there was a touch and go piece for me for about three months. And so she was asking me, what was it like and will he remember this. And we were

And we started joking. And I said, you know, he can be a real pain in the you know what. And she laughed like hell. And I was kidding her. I said, thank god you were there for the last 17 years to moderate him and then she told me how he would say the same of me.

But we were friends. This was a guy who was — he had a prodigious intellect. He had a sort of a Kissingerian mind. He saw things globally, strategically, like few other men and women I've dealt with. And he could be very, very tough. But he was my friend.

MITCHELL:  Do you have a Christmas message, a holiday message?

BIDEN: Yes. As my grand pop would say, keep the faith. Keep the faith. This country is so strong. It is so big. It is so resilient. Nothing at all can damage its ability to move forward.

A lot of people are hurting. I remember  a Christmastime when my dad lost his job and he told us we had to move. It is horrible. But you know what, you know what, we'll come back. And in the meantime, keep in your prayers all those people who are going through really difficult times now.

MITCHELL: And our men and women in —

BIDEN:  And, look —

MITCHELL: — combat.

BIDEN: — Jill and to be honest with you, I tried to — I had hoped to spend Christmas in Iraq this year, but it was inappropriate to go while the government was still being formed. And so  our thoughts and prayers  are with us.  We had, forThanksgiving, we had a number of the young men and women who areamputees over for the holidays. We'll spend Christmas at Walter
Reed again.

These are incredible, incredible kids. And to all you — all you moms and dads and sons and daughters who have someone in harm's way now, keep them in your prayers. They'll be home next year.

MITCHELL:  Thank you so very much.

BIDEN:  Thank you.