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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, the coming political season and her new project on the country’s divisions called “America at a Crossroads.”
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 D.C. 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.
Hi, Amna and Geoff.
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.
Happy to be here.
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?
From the folks who did it, I was. The vast majority of Republicans weren't that way. But, you know, there's still a significant element of what I call the MAGA Republicans, you know, the 'Make America Great Again' Republicans. And it's you know, I didn't. I kind of anticipated but there are an awful lot of — The speaker was gracious and so was you know, there were a lot of members.
You almost seemed to be enjoying the back and forth. Were you enjoying it?
Well, you know, as you know, Judy, I spent most of my career with the Congress and members of the Congress. I know, 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 most of my life. Wasn't too bad at it either.
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 that, what is it, $1,000,000,000,000 worth of money that's going to come from the Inflation Reduction Act, the infrastructure legislation, the CHIPS manufacturing bill, $1,000,000,000,000. How do you see that making a difference?
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 and we paid for it all. We actually reduce the debt, the deficit, by $1.7 trillion 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 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, you know, the middle class, when it does well, everybody does well. So my goal was when I got elected was to campaign on this bill from the bottom up in the middle out. When that happens, the poor have a chance up and the middle class does well and the wealthy always do well. So.
And these jobs, these kinds of jobs, what effect do you think this will have on on working class Americans who frankly, more and more of them are voting Republican.
Well it will have a profound effect. I mean, look, all just as I was told we were going to lose big the last election, the off-year election, I said we weren't. Just as we were told I wasn't going to be able to pass Inflation Reduction Act or the CHIP. We passed them all. And and what's happening now is people don't understandably, don't realize all of our past back in June, July, August to September, and is only coming to fruition 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 drugs costs were going to go down and, for example, insulin. Insulin for seniors instead of being four or five hundred 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 the proposition — I do anyway — that the vast majority of Americans don't think the tax system is fair. I mean, the vast majority, including, you know, wealthy, well-off suburbanites. And the idea you got a thousand trillionaires and they pay less for the percentage of their income than a schoolteacher does. I mean, so there's a lot going on. We got a lot passed and its now just they're going to start to roll out.
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 when you when you mention the polls, when you look at the polls, CBS poll, 64% of Americans think the economy is in bad shape. There's an NBC poll, 71% think the country's on the wrong track. Why the disconnect?
Because the polls don't matter anymore. You got to make, what, 40, 50 calls and 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. Look.
So you don't think it's your policy?
Oh, I know the policy. By the way, if you ask the same things. Do they support the rebuilding infrastructure America? Overwhelmingly support. Ask anybody. Do they support the CHIPS and Science Act where we've attracted $300 billion in investments? We invented these chips. They're coming back to America. We're going to be the leaders again. When you ask them about whether or not they think they're paying too much, too much for drug prices. Overwhelmingly, yes. So it's all just like, 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 I'm not meaning you personally, editorially. So you turn on the television and everything's down. And so people understandably are down.
So when people at 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?
No. Or next year. From the moment I got elected, how many of the experts are saying within the next six months is going to be recession?
So I'm launching a reporting project for the NewsHour looking at why the country is so divided politically, culturally. What do you think? Why do you think it is?
Well, I think it's a number of reasons. Number one, I think that we. There was a deliberate effort by the last guy to play on people's fears and to appeal to base instincts. I mean, and it's just it's not who we are, but people are — you know, I also noticed a fair amount of Republicans standing up last night and clapping. You know, for example, when I pointed out that some Republicans are 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 word. There are going to be no cuts in Medicare, Social Security. My point is, I think it's the way we talk to each other. And I think, you know, 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 you know, the United States. Look at all the things that have happened. But they're coming back now. And I've just gotta to make sure everybody knows what we've done. Watch how it unfolds and see what happens.
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?
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 about 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 really began to pass 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 we've got this. It's gotten too mean. It's gotten too, too personal and too divisive. And I think one of the things — the message they sent this last election was 'come on, work together, get something done for us.'
And speaking of that, this last session of Congress, as you said last night, a lot was accomplished, including bipartisan, in a bipartisan way. This session coming up right now is different. You got a Republican majority in the House, a number of supporters of former President Trump. Realistically, Mr. President, what do you think you can get done? I mean, assuming the the debt limit issue gets resolved.
What do you think you can get done?
I think the American public, I think when we vote on whether or not to extend the Medicare benefit, I mean, health care benefits to ordinary Americans, not just on Medicare and Medicaid. I think we will see that. We say that insulin should be available for 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, you know, the laborers now, most people think that, you know, 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. So going to college. We're the best trained workers in the world. And for example, when I asked the.
But, you think you can get those things through, that you just
I know I can.
With with Republicans .
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.
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?
Public's not going to pay attention 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.
I want to ask you about foreign policy, and a few things to ask you about this.
A Chinese surveillance balloon that went across the country. You ordered the military, the fighter jets to shoot it down off the coast of South Carolina. But Republicans are saying you look weak. Mike Gallagher, the congressman, said.
He's an impressive guy, isn't he?
'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.
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 can 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 recovered major pieces of it to determine if we can learn anything from what they garnered and what kind of equipment they had. You know, there were several of these balloons that during the last administration they didn't even know they were there. They didn't even do anything about them. So, look, I just think that the idea that it was a dereliction of duty, I think, is a bizarre notion. China knows exactly that, what the deal is with us.
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 U.S. and China taken a big hit lately?
How do you know?
I know. I talked to him.
You've talked to.
Xi JinPing before. I in our team talks to their people.
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're going to compete fully with China, but we're not looking for conflict. And and that's been the case so far. China wants very, has… Let me put it another way as I said, you can think of any other, 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. 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, you know, everybody assumed that China would be all in with Russia and Ukraine. But they're not all in it. As a 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 corporations 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 in Europe is so they invest in China. So who's going to invest in China if you engage in the same kind of deal? You notice there's not been much going on there.
Ukraine, you mentioned that you, we heard what you said last night, but we now also hear from Jim Jordan, who is a Republican congressman, that maybe some of the money being spent in Ukraine should go for American citizens. We heard Kevin McCarthy say, begin to raise questions about it. It's now been $100 billion, somewhere in that area the U.S. has spent on Ukraine. You said to the ambassador last night we were with you until, you said, 'as long as it takes.' Does that mean this is an open ended commitment?
It's a firm commitment. Look, when is the last… 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 our Asian allies to join with the Europeans in terms of taking on Russia, whether or not. So I mean, we are, we have a better relationship and tighter control over our destiny now than we've ever had. And, you know, we have Germany increasing our budget by over 2%. You have Japan doing the same thing. I mean, I just don't — 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 Ukraine rolls, when Russia rolls across Ukraine or into Belarus or anywhere else?
So is it open ended for now?
Yeah, it is. Look, there's no way that Putin is going to be able to cope. He's already lost Ukraine. The idea that he's ever going to be able — Well, here's what he thought. He thought that if he invaded Ukraine, first of all, he'd get a welcome by every Russian speaker, they'd say, 'come on in.' And 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.
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 about 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.
What they've informed me not to speak to this issue to anyway, try to prejudice the investigation that's going on. But what I was talking about was what was laid out. All these documents were a top secret, code word and all the rest. And I'm not at liberty and I'm not even sure, I made voluntarily — no one's had to threaten to do anything — voluntarily opened every single aperture I have in the house, offices, everything. For them to come and look and spend hours searching my home. Invited them. Nobody. And so, in the best of my knowledge, the kinds of things they picked up were 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'll just let the investigation, you know, decide what's going on and we'll see what happens.
Last question, Mr. President. Every indication you're running for reelection. You haven't announced yet. Democrats, though, as you, I'm sure you know, are saying we wonder about his age. You'd be 82 to date of the next election, 86 if you're successful and elected and finish that term. Does it give you any concern?
Watch me. It's all I can say. I mean, you know, it goes from one extreme to the other. Last night I was — I heard that people are saying, Well, just watch Biden, my God, age is not an issue anymore. Look, I'm a great respector 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 and, so we'll see. But, you know, I just — I think people have to just watch me.
It sounds like you're running.
I haven't made that decision. That's my intention, I think. But I haven't made that decision firmly yet.
Mr. President, thank you very much.
Thank you, Judy. Thank you.
Watch the Full Episode
Judy Woodruff is a senior correspondent and the former anchor and managing editor of the PBS NewsHour. She has covered politics and other news for five decades at NBC, CNN and PBS.
Beth Summers is the senior politics producer for the PBS NewsHour where she oversees coverage of Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court. She joined the NewsHour in 2001 as an editorial assistant in the newsroom, and has worked as a reporter for the national desk and as well as the politics desk before becoming the NewsHour’s political director.
Senior Editorial Producer
Richard is a senior producer for PBS NewsHour and a senior member of the editorial team, helping to manage, plan and produce daily news and feature content for the broadcast, as well as for digital and social media platforms.
Frank Carlson is a general assignment producer at the PBS NewsHour, where he's been making video since 2010. @frankncarlson
Tess Conciatori is a politics production assistant at PBS NewsHour.
Saher Khan is a reporter-producer for the PBS NewsHour.
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