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As Joe Biden Hints at Presidential Run, Andrew Cockburn Looks at His “Disastrous Legislative Legacy”

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Speculation is mounting that former Vice President Joe Biden will soon enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. As a longtime senator from Delaware, Biden has previously run twice for the Democratic nomination. The last time was in 2008, when he ultimately became then-Senator Barack Obama’s running mate. While a new campaign would seek to capitalize on Biden’s two terms as vice president, it would also invite scrutiny of his Senate record in a Democratic political climate that is notably more progressive today than it was when Biden last sought the nomination. We speak with Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor for Harper’s magazine. His latest piece is headlined “No Joe! Joe Biden’s disastrous legislative legacy.”

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, speculation is mounting that former Vice President Joe Biden will soon enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. On Tuesday, he addressed the International Association of Fire Fighters in Washington, D.C.

JOE BIDEN: I appreciate the energy you showed when I got up here. Save it a little longer. I may need it in a few weeks. … Be careful what you wish for.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, to talk more about Biden, we go now to Washington, D.C., to talk to Washington editor for Harper’s magazine, Andrew Cockburn. His latest piece for Harper’s is headlined “No Joe! Joe Biden’s disastrous legislative legacy.”

Welcome back to Democracy Now! Andrew, talk to us about his legacy.

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, it is, as the title of my piece—subtitle of my piece indicates, it’s pretty disastrous. I mean, going back to the beginning, he really—his most sort of active cause, when he first got into the Senate in the 1970s, was to be a fierce opponent of busing, you know, the effort to integrate schools, which was the main—it was the main effort to integrate schools across the U.S., particularly in the North. And Joe Biden was a vociferous opponent of that, introduced legislation to weaken it. And he said he had made it comfortable for liberals basically to oppose busing. So, that was rather shocking.

Then he went on, and his next major initiative, throughout the '80s and into the ’90s, was on being tough on crime. He would—excuse me, sorry—he would argue fiercely for tougher sentences, and he teamed up, unbelievably, with Strom Thurmond, who was a sort of archsegregationist who had run on a Dixiecrat ticket in 1948. And with this aging racist, he fought to increase sentences for everything. Particularly, he introduced—tried to introduce 51—count them, 51—new categories of death penalty. And he—you know, the disparity, the notorious disparity, between crack cocaine, as used by black consumers, and powder cocaine, as used by white people, a, you know, just shocking sentence disparity—he was right behind Bill Clinton for the 1994 Crime Control Act, which basically incarcerated a whole generation of young black people. And, of course, if we discuss his electability, black people well remember that. So, it's been pretty shocking all the way down.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Anita Hill?

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, yes. I mean, that’s the one—amid a sort of long litany of disasters, that’s the one that people tend to remember, and quite rightly so. I mean, Anita Hill reluctantly came forward to talk about Clarence Thomas’s rather warped record on sexual harassment, and Biden didn’t want to call her. He basically threw her under the bus. He refused to call witnesses that would have backed up her testimony. It was clear that he was really concerned about his own reputation, and he didn’t care much for Anita Hill’s. And as a result, you know, we were saddled with Clarence Thomas for as long as he feels like serving, this extremely right-wing justice.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And Joe Biden’s role in eliminating bankruptcy by students on student debt?

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, he—yes, he made it impossible for students really to get out of crushing student debt through bankruptcy. I mean, on bankruptcy, of course, he’s been—his major role has been as the errand boys for the banks—errand boy for the banks and credit card companies, who have been his major donors throughout his career. And, of course, he represents Delaware, which is the sort of Cayman Island—our onshore version of the Cayman Islands, which is really ruled by the banks and, you know, the financial industry. And, you know, interesting, of course, that although he’s done them such faithful service over the years, he tends not to talk about that very much. Elizabeth Warren, a long time ago, rather waspishly pointed out that he didn’t talk about his relationship with these—among his many boasts on his website, there’s not much to read about his relationship with the credit card companies.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have 30 seconds, but how would you evaluate his role as vice president under President Obama?

ANDREW COCKBURN: Well, very, very disappointing. For example, he did absolutely nothing to—I mean, people were outraged that the perpetrators of the 2008 crash got off scot-free, essentially—well, better than scot-free, with enormous sums of enormous bonuses. His replacement in the Senate, Ted Kaufman, tried to introduce a bill to break up the banks. He got no support from Joe Biden. His record on foreign policy under Biden was equally disastrous. He basically, you know, helped cause the installation or maintained a government in Iraq which was viciously sectarian and corrupt, which had a lot to do with the rise of ISIS.

AMY GOODMAN: Andrew Cockburn, we have to end the show, but we are going to do Part 2 and post it online at Andrew Cockburn, Washington editor for Harper’s magazine. We’ll link to his latest piece, “No Joe! Joe Biden’s disastrous legislative legacy.”

I’ll be speaking in Denver, Colorado, on March 15th, Friday night, 7, at East High School. Check I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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