CHRIS MATTHEWS, msnbc ANCHOR: Senator Biden, thank you for joining us.
Let’s go back to the text of what this is all about. Now, here’s the statement that you made the other day:
“I mean, you’ve got the first mainstream African-American who’s articulate, bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook man.”
There’s two ways to read that sentence. Please keep it up.
There’s two ways to read that. He’s the first mainstream, yes. Are you saying he’s the clean…
SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D) DELAWARE: No, not at all.
MATTHEWS: The first articulate…
BIDEN: I wasn’t making a historical statement. I was trying to complement a colleague. I was complementing a colleague. I wasn’t…
MATTHEWS: SO you were just saying he was clean and articulate? You weren’t saying he was the first one?
BIDEN: Brand new (ph). No, he’s not the first one…
BIDEN: … and when I…
MATTHEWS: People took it that way. Barack Obama said there have been a lot of articulate candidates before, as if you were saying you were trashing all the previous black candidates for president.
BIDEN: Well he’s—I campaigned with those articulate candidates. I campaigned with them.
MATTHEWS: Well why did he feel like he had to correct you and say that there were articulate candidates?
BIDEN: Well, I heard his first statement saying he understood what I meant. And then I heard his second statement.
MATTHEWS: Then he got staffed up, right?
BIDEN: Well, I don’t know about that. All I’m saying is that I can see how—in retrospect, what I really regret here is this sort of takes everything I was saying in that article about the war in Iraq and everything I was talking about what we need to do to get out of that war, and it just sort of it moves it.
And I also regret that there are people out there who would think that I was making a statement about the past. I was complimenting one of my colleagues, who by the way, he’s like a meteor. There’s not a single politician in either party who wouldn’t like to be positioned where he is at this point. That was the point I was making when I said he’s clean—what I meant to say was fresh, that he was new, he’s exciting and so…
MATTHEWS: … Well now you’re saying that.
BIDEN: Well I am saying that and I spoke to Reverend Jackson, I spoke to Carol Moseley Braun, I mean some of them called me. I spoke to Bennie Thompson. I believe they know that.
MATTHEWS: Is this media too in love with “gotcha?”
BIDEN: Well look, I mean this is …
MATTHEWS: … Is this “gotcha” journalism jumping on your back?
BIDEN: Well, look, I think I’m going to be judged by a different standard and I deserve to be judged by a different standard because I say what I think. I sometimes say things in artfully. But I think this election is about—part of it is going to be about authenticity and ideas. And so look, I can’t change …
MATTHEWS: … Here’s what I say to people. You represent a large mixed community. Wilmington is heavily African-American. Your base, you can argue, is African-American.
BIDEN: It is my base. I would not be elected without that.
MATTHEWS: So you’re talking to people on street corners, you’re talking to people in homes. You know them personally, you know a lot of your local people, your supporters for 35 years, close personal relationship with African-American friends of yours—close.
BIDEN: By the way, they’re the very people who came out of the civil rights movement. They’re the very people who were in the marches. Some of them like Linton Mitchell (ph), they got beat up. I mean I didn’t, they did. I mean so these are people I have enormous respect for.
They’re the ones that elected me.
And Chris, you know my state. My state, I think, has the eighth largest black population in America.
MATTHEWS: Every time I drive through Wilmington I think of that as your home base.
BIDEN: But it’s also the whole state. It’s evenly divided.
But my point is that I don’t think anybody in my home state misunderstands, but what I really regret is that I fought my whole life, along with many others, you and a lot of other people, to give everybody an equal shot. And for it to look like, to be interpreted that I was somehow dividing the black community into now we’ve got a good candidate, there weren’t good candidates before, now we’ve got an—that wasn’t what I was saying at all.
MATTHEWS: By the way, let’s move on—operation—moveon.org, whatever we’re going to call it, because you’ve made your statement. Let me ask you about this. There seems to be some new standard out there while I don’t understand or like, which you can’t criticize your opponent.
You said Hillary’s plan was basically to cut up the Iraqi army if they don’t do help us do what they have to do, is crazy. You said that it’s crazy to pull the troops out immediately, which you say Edwards wants to do.
And that gets drawn up in the media and everywhere else as somehow you’re getting ugly.
That just seems like standard competitive politics to me.
BIDEN: Well look.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the press is crazy all of the sudden? You can’t criticize an opponent?
BIDEN: Well look, I was criticizing the opponents ideas.
MATTHEWS: Yes, well what’s wrong with that?
BIDEN: I hope nothing wrong with that.
MATTHEWS: Well I’m answering you—I want you to say something I want you to say, which is there’s some new crazy standard out there that a politician can’t defend its position and take on the opponent.
BIDEN: Well I think they apply that to everybody.
MATTHEWS: Jesus, what kind of a world do we live in now? You can’t argue politics?
BIDEN: But I don’t think most of the mainstream press thinks that. I don’t think they think you can’t criticize your opponents ideas. This is what this is about. I’m running because I think I’m best positioned and best qualified to end this war and end it without it being a debacle, having a debacle in the Middle East.
So I was asked by a reporter a legitimate question, “What do you think of the idea of, A) pulling down our troops and, B) putting a cap on out troops and, B) cutting funds for Iraqi troops. I said that’s a crazy idea (INAUDIBLE). But it is—it’s a bad idea.
MATTHEWS: Jesse Jackson, who was obviously, like most politicians, like you, fairly egocentric over the years, has become a very generous, I would say almost sweet public figure. He is very loyal to Obama. He treats him like the next generation. He fought, like so many blacks did, to make a chance possible for a guy to win statewide. Back in the Jesse’s time, the old Dailey (ph) machine would give him a job collecting quarters out on the Interstate if he came looking for a job.
BIDEN: Jesse won in New York.
MATTHEWS: I know.
BIDEN: Jesse put healthcare up on the…
MATTHEWS: I know. Things are moving because of Jackson. He knows it.
He’s part of that arc that goes back to 60s right into this century.
But he’s saying something about you in politics, which is rare. He says, “I hope this doesn’t dim your efforts, that you stay bright, you stay out there and keep fighting and don’t get—don’t start ducking.”
Is this going to make you duck?
BIDEN: Chris, I can’t. I am who I am.
MATTHEWS: I know. But I—it’s nice to hear Jackson say that.
BIDEN: No, no, it is nice. He’s a friend. It is nice to hear him say that. I appreciate that. But, you know, he’s been through this stuff, too. Everybody has. Everybody gets it. It’s a different game. It’s a different place. It’s a different time. And…
MATTHEWS: By the way, he took a lot of heat for when he described New York that way years ago. I remember that one.
BIDEN: Yes. No, I remember that, too.
Look, I appreciate it. I appreciate (INAUDIBLE). I appreciate all these people who know me, who have dealt with me.
MATTHEWS: Who’s given you a hard time? Besides the press.
Well, let me tell you this, Senator. You have your chance now for the platform. You’re 32nd. I can’t give you much more.
BIDEN: All right.
MATTHEWS: Why you and not Hillary or Obama?
BIDEN: Let me tell you why…
MATTHEWS: Why you and not them?
BIDEN: … why me. Why me. This president’s dug us into a deep hole.
His foreign policy has made us more vulnerable in the world. His domestic policy’s made the middle class more vulnerable.
My background, my experience, my track record and who I am I think best suits me to deal with both those problems.
MATTHEWS: Are you advantaged because of your years in the Senate? Are they going to help to learn this metric (ph)?
BIDEN: Look, I mean, I hope…
MATTHEWS: Or are you a prisoner of Capitol Hill?
BIDEN: Well, I hope I’m not a prisoner. You know, you know I ride home every day. I don’t live here.
MATTHEWS: I think they love you on the train, coming off the train this morning, based on the pictures. They know where to find you.
BIDEN: Everybody knows where to find me.
MATTHEWS: But you don’t think you’ve had too many years of politics?
Like, you know, a lot of guys like Mondale and people like that, Dole, end up talking in a Senate language. And, you know, don’t know how to talk…
BIDEN: … in the Senate language, I’d be a lot better off if I said I liked my distinguished colleague from Illinois.
But, look, Chris, I think—I’ve never seen the electorate so sober.
People know big things are at stake. They know literally their place at a shot at the middle class is at stake. They know literally that the nation is at stake. I mean, we are in a very bad place.
MATTHEWS: So you wouldn’t have been offended, maybe—let me ask you this—if Obama had said you’re the first sober Irishman to run for president? You wouldn’t have taken offense at that?
BIDEN: … and I don’t think he was offended.
BIDEN: His reference, as I understand it, was saying that others might have been offended.
MATTHEWS: Yes. Well, he was careful. But he issued a statement two after the first one. The first one was beneficial to you. Two hours later he said, obviously, historically you were inaccurate because you suggested—and this is where his judgment came in politically—he put you in a position of saying people like Jesse Jackson and al Sharpton are not articulate, the one thing their worst enemies would say there are.
So he was using your statement to get you, wasn’t he? He was playing hardball here.
BIDEN: Well, look, it’s a hardball game.
BIDEN: It’s a hardball game.
MATTHEWS: He wasn’t being chivalrous like Jesse Jackson was.
Now, let me tell you. Is Sharpton on your side in this? Because he’s coming on now. In a few minutes after you’re done, he’s going to be our judge, like the Miss America contest. He’s going to judge you.
BIDEN: Let me put this: as that old joke, I know Al knows what it’s my heart.
MATTHEWS: Did you like that joke of his? “I assured Senator Biden I take a bath every day, I’m clean.”
BIDEN: And then I told him there wasn’t anything historical about this. We’ve known each other for years. We’ve known—he’s known my involvement in the fight. He knows I’ve been there keeping the Civil Rights Commission alive.
MATTHEWS: Well, as they said in that old thing for the black states, here come the judge.
BIDEN: That’s right.
MATTHEWS: So we’ll have him coming on here. Anyway, thank you…
BIDEN: A piece of mercy.
MATTHEWS: … a good guy, by the way, Senator Biden, I’ve watching for him, a good guy.