Joe Biden on Government Reform

Vice President; previously Democratic Senator (DE)


As V.P., serves as bipartisan dealmaker with Congress

"When the president asked me what portfolio did I want, I said, 'Base it on what you want of me to help you govern,'" Biden recalled. "'But I want to be the last guy in the room on every major decision. You're president, I'm not, but if it's my experience you're lookin' for, I want to be the last guy to make the case.'" For the most part, Biden adds, Obama kept the promise.

[On Capitol] Hill, Biden's relationships across the aisle allowed him to play the dealmaker on a slew of essential, if unloved, last-minute debt-ceiling and budget negotiations. Senate Democrats were skeptical of his role, but Biden was undeniably a player, not least because of Obama's inability--or unwillingness--to cultivate meaningful long-term relationships across the aisle. Says Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR), "If you put him in a room with a lot of these people on the Hill, you'd find a way to focus on what you agree on and have a product. And I just get a completely different feeling with the president."

Source: Politico Mag profile, "Joe Biden in Winter" , Mar 1, 2014

1987: Bork fight changed rules of nomination process

In the 1987 Bork nomination, Biden wrote later, "I had to reset the table on the nomination process, which had focused almost solely on character and qualifications. Robert Bork was a bona fide scholar. The way to stop was on the question of his outside-the-mainstream judicial philosophy--or ideology--and that was a long shot, too."

The basic understanding was that as long as a Supreme Court nominee had the intellectual capacity, a breadth of experience in constitutional law, and a reasonable judicial temperament, the Senate was bound to confirm a nominee. Ideology was the third rail of Supreme Court nominations.

Biden wrote that in the toughest confirmation cases in the 1960s, the nominees "were rejected for personal shortcomings, but the clear and unspoken reason was ideology. I thought it was time to take up ideology in the open and avoid personal attacks." In a major speech on the Senate floor, Biden cited specific precedents in which ideology had been the deciding factor.

Source: A Life of Trial & Redemption, by Jules Witcover, p.181-182 , Oct 5, 2010

1973: Senators deserve more than $42,000 salary

In the Senate, without challenging Jesse Helms's motives, he didn't hesitate to square off against him over the issue of a Senate pay raise. Biden said he didn't disagree in terms of economic conditions that it might not be the best time, but he took issue with what he say as Helms's argument that the senators didn't deserve more than their 42K annual salary. Biden himself pointedly had no stock investments, as most others did, and he empathized with colleagues who had to maintain two homes, one in their state and one in Washington, although he himself had no residence in the capital. In floor debate, Biden argued," It seems to me that she would flat out tell the American people we are worth are salt."
Source: A Life of Trial & Redemption, by Jules Witcover, p.113-114 , Oct 5, 2010

Led fight against Bork based on ideology

Q: Can you think of a single policy issue, in which you were forced to change a long-held view in order to accommodate changed circumstances?

BIDEN: Yes, I can. When I got to the US Senate and went on the Judiciary Committee as a young lawyer, I had been trained in the view that the only thing that mattered was whether or not a nominee suggested by the president had a judicial temperament, and had not committed a crime of moral turpitude. It was hard to change, but it took about five years for me to realize that the ideology of that judge makes a big difference. That’s why I led the fight against Judge Bork. Had he been on the court, I suspect there would be a lot of changes that I don’t like and the American people wouldn’t like, including everything from Roe v. Wade to issues relating to civil liberties. I was the first chairman of the Judiciary Committee to forthrightly state that it matters what your judicial philosophy is. The American people have a right to know it.

Source: 2008 Vice Presidential debate against Gov. Sarah Palin , Oct 2, 2008

Countries without state-church separation are in turmoil

Q: Thomas Jefferson wrote about the First Amendment, building a wall of separation between church and state. Why do you think that’s so important?

A: The best way to look at it is look the every state where the wall’s not built. Look at every country in the world where religion is able to impact governance. Almost every one of those countries are in real turmoil. Look, the founders were pretty smart. They had gone through, you know, several hundred years of wars--religious wars. And they were in the midst of religious wars in Europe. And they figured it out: The best way to do this is to keep the government out of religion. They took religion out of government. But they didn’t mean religion couldn’t be in a public place, in the public square.

Source: 2008 CBS News presidential interview with Katie Couric , Oct 1, 2008

Transparency on earmarks: $250B earmarked for Del. In 2009

Sen. Biden is requesting more than a quarter-billion dollars in earmarks to pay for projects in his home state of Delaware in fiscal 2009, but Republicans want to know when he will release the wish lists from the rest of his 35-year Senate career. A Republican National Committee spokesman said, "For decades, Biden has sought millions upon millions in earmarks and has yet to disclose those requests so that the American people can review his special-interest track record for themselves."

A spokesman for Biden derided the criticism as "Republican hypocrisy" and said [Biden's opponent] Gov. Sarah Palin requested "more pork per person than any governor in America," pointing out that Palin asked for $197 million in earmarks for 31 projects as governor.

The spokesman said, "Joe Biden believes in transparency, which is why long before he was the vice-presidential nominee he'd listed the investments he'd brought home to Delaware right on his Senate Web site, along with last year's earmark requests."

Source: Jim McElhatton in Washington Times, "Biden Earmarks" , Sep 16, 2008

Radical change to preserve family farmers

How do you preserve family farmers? And if you continue the system the way it is, it’s breaking the system. It’s going to just flat break the system. And the cost of an acreage has gone up with these excessive payments, the fact that we’re not focusing on the things the farm program started out focusing on, helping farmers that are distressed. It’s gotten all out of whack, and so it seems to me that we need a radical change. I voted today to lower the caps on the subsidies for big agribusiness
Source: 2007 Des Moines Register Democratic Debate , Dec 13, 2007

As Judiciary Chair, rejected Bork and supported Thomas

Biden became a nationally-recognized face while chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995, when presiding over televised hearings on controversial Supreme Court nominations of Robert Bork--a lone triumphant moment from liberal Democrats--and Clarence Thomas. Many women’s groups complained about what they felt was Biden’s harsh treatment of Anita Hill, and many progressives have never forgiven him for his vote to confirm Thomas.
Source: The Contenders, by Laura Flanders, p.178-179 , Nov 11, 2007

Would consider a Republican for head of DHS or Pentagon

Q: Would you go bipartisan if you were president? Would you appoint a Republican to run either the Department of Homeland Security or the Pentagon?

A: The answer is I would consider that. The fact of the matter is the next president is going to have to bring this country together. We are not blue and red. We cannot be sustained that way. We cannot get health care, we cannot get a foreign policy, we cannot do anything with a 51% solution. Every one of the things we’ve talked about here requires a consensus, and if you don’t have the experience that I have and the success I’ve had reaching across the aisle, what makes you think you’re going to get a national health care plan? What makes you think you’re going to have an education plan? What makes you think you’re going to have a rational foreign policy? The answer is, I would consider the most competent people I could, and I would try my best to reach across the aisle to reasonable people to unite this country. It needs to be united.

Source: 2007 AFL-CIO Democratic primary forum , Aug 8, 2007

Pledges to stop no-bid contracts

Q: Would you pledge to stop no-bid contracts?

A: Yes. (Laughter, cheers, applause.)

Source: 2007 AFL-CIO Democratic primary forum , Aug 8, 2007

1988: led fight against nomination of Robert Bork

[In 1988, Pres. Reagan nominated Robert Bork for Supreme Court Justice. As Judiciary Committee chair, Biden ran the confirmation hearings.] I had serious doubts about Bork. If there was an argument to be made against him, it would have to be made to Republicans and Democrats in the political center. If we tried to make this a referendum on abortion rights, for example, we’d lose.

At a meeting, I said, “If I lead this fight, it will not be a single issue campaign.” The NY Times called my staff to confirm that I’d promised to “lead the fight” against Bork. The president’s spokesman said his boss found it “regrettable” that I had “chosen to politicize the hearings in this kind of partisan fashion.”

Bork was a bona fide scholar. He had been solicitor general, acting attorney general, professor of law at Yale, and a judge. The way to stop Bork was on a question of his outside-the-mainstream judicial ideology. I thought it was time to avoid personal attacks. [Bork was defeated.]

Source: Promises to Keep, by Joe Biden, p.170-173 , Jul 31, 2007

The greatest sin is abuse of power

I was asked to give a talk about how my faith and religion informed my public policy views. It was a topic I had always shied away from because it makes me a little uncomfortable to carry religion into the arena of politics, but writing that speech turned out to be one of the most enlightening exercises of my life.

The central lesson I received from the Catholic Church and my parents had been the governing force in my political career. To wit, the greatest sins on this earth are committed by people of standing and means who abuse their power.

With power and privilege, I was taught, comes a responsibility to treat others with respect and fairness. When we see people abusing power, it is our duty to intercede on behalf of their victims.

As I looked back on my career, it was obvious that what had animated me was the belief that we should stand up to those who abused power, whether it was political, economic, or physical.

Source: Promises to Keep, by Joe Biden, p.237-238 , Jul 31, 2007

Roberts & Alito have turned Supreme Court upside down

The next president is likely to name at least one, if not three new Supreme Court justices. We should start this national debate by recognizing the truth. The truth is that Roberts and Alito have turned the court upside down. The truth is that although I got criticized for being too tough on both of them, the Democratic Party wasn’t tough enough on both of them. And the truth is, as your president, I guarantee you that will change.
Source: 2007 NAACP Presidential Primary Forum , Jul 12, 2007

History of racism was keeping black Americans from voting

Q: What would you do to ensure that all Americans are able to cast a free and unfettered vote and that that vote be counted?

A: The history of racism has been punctuated with an effort on the part of the powerful to keep black Americans from voting. It used to be originally slavery, then all the laws relating to poll taxes and now we have not enough polling machines in black neighborhoods, not enough poll workers, old machines, deceptive practices, saying you can and cannot vote, intimidation. It all comes down to a basic thing. It comes down to the effort to deny you, because of the racist attitudes of so many people, the right to be able to determine your own future. I’ve been deeply involved in the Voting Rights Act, the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, but we’ve got to move beyond that now. There should be a federal standard and I’m glad to be able to agree with Mike Gravel on something.

Source: 2007 NAACP Presidential Primary Forum , Jul 12, 2007

Modern Congress is much cleaner than in 1970s or 1950s

Partisan legal harassment had become a major industry in Washington, providing crude entertainment and satisfying careers for thousands of short-sighted practitioners.

All this in a nation's capital was, by most accounts, for less corrupt than it had ever been. "Compare this Congress to the one in 1950, during the era that most of the old-timers consider the Golden Age of civil discourse," Senator Joseph Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, said. "Those guys were taking handouts, honoraria, junkets. When I came here in 1973, Jacob Javits--a distinguished senator--was making money from a private law practice. You don't think he'd be under investigation today? By comparison, these new guys are squeaky clean. I can't stand most of the SOBs--they're ideologues, they practice Khmer Rouge politics--but they are the cleanest bunch of politicians this capital has ever seen."

Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p. 88 , Feb 11, 2003

Campaign reform in 1980s made more problems than it solved

By 1989, it was clear that the ethics was had reached a new level of intensity. Each side was using high-powered legal weapons to stalk the other. The weapons were of recent vintage--the product of the historic government reform effort that came after the Watergate scandal. "We were going to reform the system," said Joseph Biden, referring to his generation's arrival in Congress. "But we created more problems than we solved. The campaign finance laws, the Independent Counsel statute--nothing turned out the way it was supposed to."

Biden might have added: the Ethics in Government Act of 1978; the reforms of the presidential-primary selection process and of the seniority system in Congress; the limitations on presidential war and budgetary powers; the "whistle-blower" reforms that enabled disgruntled government employees everywhere to bring anonymous complaints against their bosses.

Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p. 93-94 , Feb 11, 2003

Disallowed bringing pornography issues into Thomas hearing

The 1991 campaign against Clarence Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court was far more personal and extreme than the campaign against Robert Bork had been. Members of the civil rights establishment set the tone by calling Thomas a variety of despicable names because he disagreed with the prevailing wisdom about affirmative action. Then the feminists had their moment with the belated appearance of Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of offensive ribaldry when he was boss at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; she was questioned intensely and skeptically by Alan Simpson and several other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee. A delegation of feminists visited Joseph Biden, just as Ralph Nader had done four years earlier. "They wanted the committee to expose the fact that Thomas watched pornographic films," Biden recalled. "But I told them that if he did, it wasn't material. It was private." (The media were happy to provide all the relevant details to a soap opera-loving public.)
Source: The Natural, by Joe Klein, p.104 , Feb 11, 2003

Joe Biden on Voting Record

1987: Rejected Bork on grounds of too-strong originalism

Biden chaired the Judiciary Committee during the contentious US Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork in 1987. Biden stated his opposition to Bork soon after the nomination, reversing an approval in an interview of a hypothetical Bork nomination he had made the previous year and angering conservatives who thought he could not conduct the hearings dispassionately. At the close, Biden won praise for conducting the proceedings fairly and with good humor and courage, as his 1988 presidential campaign collapsed in the middle of the hearings. Rejecting some of the less intellectually honest arguments that other Bork opponents were making, Biden framed his discussion around the belief that the US Constitution provides rights to liberty and privacy that extend beyond those explicitly enumerated in the text, and that Bork's strong originalism was ideologically incompatible with that view. Bork's nomination was rejected in the committee by a 9- vote, and then rejected in the full Senate by a 58-2 margin.
Source: Wikipedia.org, "Joe Biden", re: Slouching Towards Gomorrah , Nov 17, 2009

Voted YES on granting the District of Columbia a seat in Congress.

Cloture vote on the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act:[Washington DC currently has a "delegate" to the US House, whose vote does not count. Utah had complained that the 2000 census did not count many Utahns on Mormon missions abroad].

Opponents recommend voting NO because:

Sen. BYRD: In 1978, I voted for H.J. Res. 554, that proposed amending the Constitution to provide for representation of D.C. [That amendment passed the Senate but was not ratified by the States]. While I recognize that others believe that the Constitution authorizes the Congress to "exercise exclusive legislation" over D.C., the historical intent of the Founders on this point is unclear. I oppose S.1257, because I doubt that our Nation's Founding Fathers ever intended that the Congress should be able to change the text of the Constitution by passing a simple bill.

Proponents support voting YES because:

Sen. HATCH. There are conservative and liberal advocates on both sides of this issue,and think most people know Utah was not treated fairly after the last census. For those who are so sure this is unconstitutional, [we include an] expedited provision that will get us to the Supreme Court to make an appropriate decision. It will never pass as a constitutional amendment. There are 600,000 people in D.C., never contemplated by the Founders of this country to be without the right to vote. They are the only people in this country who do not have a right to vote for their own representative in the House. This bill would remedy that situation.

Reference: District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act; Bill S. 1257 ; vote number 2007-339 on Sep 18, 2007

Voted NO on requiring photo ID to vote in federal elections.

Vote on Dole Amdt. S.2350, amending SP2350 (via the College Cost Reduction Act): To amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to require individuals voting in person to present photo identification.

Proponents support voting YES because:

Sen. DOLE. I am proposing a commonsense measure to uphold the integrity of Federal elections. My amendment to require voters to show photo identification at the polls would go a long way in minimizing potential for voter fraud. When a fraudulent vote is cast and counted, the vote of a legitimate voter is cancelled. This is wrong, and my amendment would help ensure that one of the hallmarks of our democracy, our free and fair elections, is protected. Opinion polls repeatedly confirm that Americans overwhelmingly support this initiative.

Opponents recommend voting NO because:

Sen. FEINSTEIN. If one would want to suppress the vote in the 2008 election, one would vote for this because this measure goes into effect January 1, 2008. It provides that everybody who votes essentially would have to have a photo ID. If you want to suppress the minority vote, the elderly vote, the poor vote, this is exactly the way to do it. Many of these people do not have driver's licenses. This amendment would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to actually carry out. It goes into effect--surprise--January 1, 2008 [to affect the presidential election]. I urge a "no" vote.

Reference: Dole Amendment to the Help America Vote Act; Bill S.2350, amending SP2350 ; vote number 2007-269 on Jul 19, 2007

Voted NO on allowing some lobbyist gifts to Congress.

A motion to table (kill) an amendment to clarify the application of the gift rule to lobbyists. Voting NAY would define employees of lobbying companies as registered lobbyists and therefore subject to the gift ban. Voting YEA would apply the gift ban only to specific people who registered as lobbyists.
Reference: Feingold Amendment to Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act; Bill S.Amdt.2962 to S.2349 ; vote number 2006-080 on Mar 29, 2006

Voted YES on establishing the Senate Office of Public Integrity.

An amendment to establish the Senate Office of Public Integrity. Voting YEA would establish the new office, and voting NAY would keep ethics investigations within the existing Senate Ethics Committee.
Reference: Collins Amendment to Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act; Bill S.Amdt.3176 to S.2349 ; vote number 2006-077 on Mar 28, 2006

Voted YES on banning "soft money" contributions and restricting issue ads.

Vote on passage of H.R. 2356; Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (Shays-Meehan bill, House equivalent of McCain-Feingoldf bill). Vote to ban “soft money” contributions to national political parties but permit up to $10,000 in soft money contributions to state and local parties to help with voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives. The bill would stop issue ads from targeting specific candidates within 30 days of the primary or 60 days of the general election. Additionally, the bill would raise the individual contribution limit from $1,000 to $2,000 per election for House and Senate candidates, both of which would be indexed for inflation.
Reference: Bill HR.2356 ; vote number 2002-54 on Mar 20, 2002

Voted NO on require photo ID (not just signature) for voter registration.

Motion to Table Schumer Amdt. No. 2937; To permit the use of a signature or personal mark for the purpose of verifying the identity of voters who register by mail, and for other purposes. Voting Yes would kill the amendment. The amendment would allow a signature to identify voters who register by mail, instead of requiring showing photo identification or other proof of residence before being allowed to vote.
Reference: Bill S.565 ; vote number 2002-38 on Feb 27, 2002

Voted YES on banning campaign donations from unions & corporations.

Vote to ban soft money donations to political parties and forbid corporate general funds and union general funds from being spent on issue ads. The bill would increase the individual contribution limit to candidates from $1,000 to $2,000.
Reference: Bill S.27 ; vote number 2001-64 on Apr 2, 2001

Voted YES on funding for National Endowment for the Arts.

This table motion would end debate on an amendment aimed at funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Support for the motion to table is a vote for NEA funding. [YES to table means supporting the NEA; NO means defunding the NEA].
Status: Motion to Table Agreed to Y)80; N)16; NV)4
Reference: Motion to table Smith Amdt #1569; Bill H.R. 2466 ; vote number 1999-260 on Aug 5, 1999

Voted YES on favoring 1997 McCain-Feingold overhaul of campaign finance.

Support of the campaign finance bill proposed by Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Feingold (D-WI).
Status: Cloture Motion Rejected Y)53; N)47
Reference: Campaign Finance Reform Bill; Bill S. 25 ; vote number 1997-267 on Oct 7, 1997

Voted YES on Approving the presidential line-item veto.

Approval of the presidential line-item veto authority.
Status: Conf Rpt Agreed to Y)69; N)31
Reference: Conference Report on S. 4; Bill S. 4 ; vote number 1996-56 on Mar 27, 1996

Voted NO on banning more types of Congressional gifts.

To exclude certain items from the Congressional Gift Ban.
Status: Amdt Failed Y)39; N)60; NV)1
Reference: Murkowski Amdt to S. 1061; Bill S. 1061 ; vote number 1995-339 on Jul 28, 1995

Establish the United States Public Service Academy.

Biden co-sponsored establishing the United States Public Service Academy

Introductory statement by Sponsor:

Sen. CLINTON: I rise today to introduce legislation that will create an undergraduate institution designed to cultivate a generation of young leaders dedicated to public service. The US Public Service Academy Act (The PSA Act) will form a national academy to serve as an extraordinary example of effective, national public education.

The tragic events of September 11 and the devastation of natural disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita underscore how much our Nation depends on strong public institutions and competent civilian leadership at all levels of society. Congress must take a step forward to ensure competent civilian leadership and improve our Nation's ability to respond to future emergencies and to confront daily challenges.

This legislation will create the US Public Service Academy to groom future public servants and build a corps of capable civilian leaders. Modeled after the military service academies, this academy will provide a four-year, federally-subsidized college education for more than 5,000 students a year in exchange for a five year commitment to public service.

The PSA Act will meet critical national needs as the baby-boomer generation approaches retirement. Already, studies show looming shortages in the Federal civil service, public education, law enforcement, the non-profit sector and other essential areas.

Unfortunately our young people are priced out of public service careers all too often. By providing a service-oriented education at no cost to the student, the PSA Act will tap into the strong desire to serve that already exists among college students while erasing the burden of enormous college debt.

The establishment of a United States Public Service Academy is an innovative way to strengthen and protect America by creating a corps of well-trained, highly-qualified civilian leaders. I am hopeful that my Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle will join me today.

Source: United States Public Service Academy Act (S.960 & HR.1671) 07-HR1671 on Mar 23, 2007

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