Former Vice President Joe Biden Talks Coronavirus; Attacks Buybacks

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CNBC Transcript: Former Vice President Joe Biden Speaks with CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Today

WHERE: CNBC’s “Squawk Box

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Watch CNBC's full interview with former Vice President Joe Biden


ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Welcome back to “Squawk Box.” This morning we want to get to our big guest in this hour. The apparent Democratic nominee for President Former Vice President Joe Biden joins us on the broadcast. Mr. Vice President, thank you for joining us this morning. Nice to see you. Want to start with the economy –

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Happy to be with you.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: -- and your expectations. Good morning. Your expectations for where things are headed. We are, of course, now at nearly 15% unemployment, over 36 million people unemployed, and yet the stock market is really where it was last October, as investors are expecting a sharp snapback, a V-shaped recovery. You have economists and other advisors in your midst. Does this make sense to you? Do you expect to V-shape recover?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No, I don't. But you know, for that old expression, from your lips to God's ears. And by the way, the vast majority of American people are suffering right now. They don't measure their public health their physical security and their economic stability based on the market.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Let me ask you this, you have pledged that if you are elected that you plan to raise taxes on corporations and also high net individuals. Given the pandemic, how quickly do you think you would move on that as you try to balance growing the economy, getting people back into jobs, with paying for all of the services that we are paying for now, as a result of the pandemic?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Look, my tax policy is based on a simple proposition, which is to stop rewarding wealth and start rewarding work a little bit. Let's raise the capital gains tax for people making over a million bucks a year to ordinary income. Let's reverse the Trump Tax Cut. Imagine if we had that $2 trillion now, as we go into, God willing, a recovery, which is a long way away as I see it right now. Which they used to buy back hundreds of billions of dollars of stock, 10s of billions of dollars, boost wages for the workers. Did they do that? No. let's use the money to invest in the middle class. You know, almost 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment.

And you know what the White House is proposing? More tax cuts for corporate America. I've got a novel idea: how about some relief for Main Street? And listen, the entire recovery program, the entire stimulus that’s been passed, several trillion dollars, what was it--what was it done for? To keep people employed. To keep people employed. And what's the President done? Fired the Inspector General.

The vast majority of the money has gone to the very wealthy and the major corporations. Not a single penny has gone to the Main Street fund that was set up, not one penny in the last three months. And the PPP, what happens? People are getting locked out. And so, look, I mean, we didn't advertise -- that's not what it was advertised to do. And the American people are getting a little frustrated. A little frustrated. They’re getting extremely, extremely frustrated.

And you know, the President's response to all this has cost lives and has cost jobs. The way to fix the economy is to get public health responses correct. And in a structure economy, what we're doing now is upside down. The bigger you are, the faster you get the money. The smaller you are, you don't get the money. And taxes are going to build back a better economy, boost it, create a middle class, and create jobs, Paycheck Protection Program, health care, the confidence to come back. Look, I just think he's got this all backward. But he doesn’t seem to care much about it.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Well, let me just ask you now about a couple of things that you mentioned and unpack some of this. Just on the tax front first.


ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: And I understand you want to raise taxes. The question is, how quickly you do that, in the midst of a -- in the midst of this pandemic and in the midst of trying to get the economy to recover?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Nobody making under 400,000 bucks would have their taxes raised. Period. Bingo. Let's get people back to work. Let's get them to work.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: But what about corporations?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Tell me, tell me how much, tell me how many people are investing that tax break they had in new jobs? Give me your numbers, man. Come on, let's get real. People are hurting.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Well--let me--I absolutely understand that.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I can’t hear you – I’m sorry –

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: I'm trying to just understand. I'm trying to understand, as you're trying to balance these issues, especially when it comes to corporate taxes, how quickly you move on that, given that we want to get jobs and get people back to work?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Okay, let me ask you the rhetorical question. What has what jobs have they created, if we give them more of a tax cut? The President's talking about greater tax cuts for corporations. You tell me what you think, how many jobs that will create in the next six months? You're the expert, you guys. I'm not being a wise guy. And I'm not being, trying to be like Trump. I'm not criticizing you. But really, think about it. Look, the main thing is, people need to get back to work. And the idea they're already talking about you know the President's phrase, what is it? ‘We have time to wait.’ I mean they're not even going out and helping making sure that, that, that the states have the money to keep their firefighters on the job, to keep the cops on the job, teachers on the job, all those things that do create income and do generate growth. What are we doing?

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Let me ask you this about --

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: And, you know, he’s taking -- I'm sorry. I get frustrated. Not with you. With the situation.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Let me let me ask you—

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I’m having trouble hearing you. Can I turn up the volume a little bit for me? Because I'm having trouble hearing. And I do apologize.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: I apologize, Mr. Vice President. We will try to get the volume turned up. Let me ask you this, about the bailouts, you know the bailouts were intended as you know, to keep people employed. And my question to you is, do you believe that companies that get bailouts, that don't keep people employed, and we're already starting to hear that the airlines after June 3 – after, I'm sorry, September 30 are going to potentially lay off people, whether they should still get those bailouts? And not only that, whether shareholders should be wiped out, and whether effectively, some of these companies should be nationalized? You participated when we did this with the automobile companies, you know after 2008, and taxpayers got a piece of those automobile companies.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, look, the taxpayers are coughing up all this money. And the idea is to keep people employed. How can you tell-- you know, the largest employers are small businesses. Collectively, they employ more people, as you know, as well as I do, what is happening to them? What help have they gotten? In the Paycheck Protection Program, what’s happening? I see we have American Airlines Delta Airlines, etc., all up there. I got it. But what about those stores along Main Street in those small cities and towns?

There's no reason why they can't do a little of both. The biggest corporate bailout in American history is asking next to nothing of corporate America. And besides that, the President has gone out and fired all the Inspectors General. I am focused on keeping people employed. Keeping them on a payroll. So that when we get to actually recovery, we're now just talking about a stimulus to keep things from getting worse, and the idea of putting people back to work is going to occur when we begin to really invest in America.

When we invest significantly in infrastructure. When we invest in, significantly, in all the research and development that has to be done to compete with, not just China but around the world. We can -- we can build back better. But the more people that are out of, all those little small businesses, they go out of work and they go out of business, they're out of business, they're gone. And so, what, why did they--why did they pass the $2 trillion program focused on helping keep people employed? What's happened?

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Mr. Vice President, I wanted to ask you about the pharmaceutical industry. In large part because the Democratic Party, as you know, has long criticized that industry. And now humanity is so dependent on their innovations in this pandemic. So, the question I’d ask you, and we were talking about some of these efforts and vaccines, would you look to put price controls on a vaccine or a therapeutic if one's found?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: No, I’ll tell you what, if one is found. I would make sure that every single person in America is able to get a vaccine, period, without any cost. And I would do the same thing with testing right now. And I, look, we need a health care policy. We need to be able to provide people the ability to stay healthy and get healthy. They are the things we need to do. Because all the talk about opening up people aren't going to open up until they have the confidence to know that they gathered together, they're not going to get sick.

You know you saw that Columbia study, you saw other studies that if the President acted just two weeks early to be 54,000 people, more, more people alive than there are in a day. We have to move. And what do we have to move on? We have to move on making sure that ordinary people who are breaking their neck, people make hourly wages who are carrying the rest of us on their back in terms of this virus, that they are able to get the kind of medical help they need as it relates to this pandemic.

JOE KERNEN: Mr. Vice President. It's Joe Kernan. Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it. This morning.


JOE KERNEN: I'm great. You know, some pundits, democratic pundits, sir, say that Sanders and Warren's voters are essential for you to win. I know you've probably seen that. But some aren't quite there yet. Others point out though, that your candidacy surged when it became apparent to mainstream democrats that Sanders might be the nominee. And, and then they flock to you, a more moderate perhaps candidate. Are you prepared now to say you're going to govern as a progressive and enact programs in the mold of Sanders and Warren? And if so what does that say to either moderate Democrats or Independents or even some Republicans dissatisfied with President Trump?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I prepared to say that I have a record of over 40 years. And that I'm going to be Joe Biden. Look at my record. The fact is that some areas that I think, for example, I think health care is a right not a privilege. I do not support Medicare for All I will not support Medicare for all. But I do support, making sure that Obamacare is around with a public option, for those who can afford, those who qualify for Medicaid and they don't get in their state, they would be able to buy it and be able to automatically enroll in the public option, Medicare, that would -- but I do not support, you know, forgiving debt loan for every single solitary person no matter where you went to school. But I do support the idea that if in fact you have student debt as a consequence of going to a public university, and your income is under $125,000, it should be forgiven.

I do believe that anyone going to school, that in fact goes to a public university and or Community College, they should be able to go for free if income is under $125,000. My wife has a great expression: any country that out-educates is going to out-compete us. We have a whole generation that's being put behind the eight ball, Joe. You know that. They're in real trouble. They’re in real trouble right now.

JOE KERNEN: Can we talk really quickly, just about one part of our economy, it's so important, Mr. Vice President. I’m talking about the energy industry. And I think about the far progressive wing of the party and the Green New Deal. In recent days you said you would shut down the Keystone Project, permanently. We know that the industry is already in dire straits given what's happening with global demand. I mean, what would we do to preserve? What would you do to try to preserve these high paying jobs, 10s of thousands of high paying jobs in the energy sector? would you close down Keystone and make it difficult.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Look, I was against – Oh, I’m sorry, Joe.

JOE KERNEN: No, I’m sorry, sir. Go ahead.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I've been against Keystone from the beginning. It is tar sands that we don't need that is in fact a very, very high pollutant. Number one. I'm not going to go shut down, for example, you know, they talk about all these other programs. The other programs exist, we're going to transition gradually to get to a clean economy. But the idea of shutting down Keystone, as if that is the thing that keeps the oil industry moving, is just not rational. That's and by the way, it is not economically nor in my view environmentally make any sense. But for example, the whole idea of whether or not we're going to stop fracking. I would not stop fracking.

I'd gradually move away from fracking. I would just not do more fracking on federal lands. I would gradually move us out of the position of relying on oil and gas, excuse me, and coal. Look, Joe, one of the things you've seen is that no one's going to build another coal-fired plant, period, no matter what the law is. Because now you can build renewable energy or you can build a natural gas plant that works better and is cheaper and can have less -- fewer problems.

And a lot of the folks who listen to your program every morning and I listen to it frequently, are already pricing in the price of carbon. So, look, the way we can create millions of jobs Joe is moved to a rational policy on global warming, which I've laid out in detail. And for example, the idea that you want to create good-paying jobs, let's make sure over the next 10 years we put in 550,000 charging stations along the highways we're building back up to deal with the present environmental circumstance we have, as well as new highways.

The idea is that we should be investing significantly in high-speed rail and rail. We know that we can take millions of automobiles off the road if we do that. We should have a President who is down right now talking with the President of Brazil saying look, stop burning the Amazon. It’s the greatest carbon sink in the world. More of what you, in fact, absorb every day is a equals every, every bit of carbon that we're putting out in the air every day here in the United States. So, we're going to get the world have come up with $20 billion to help you all like we did in organizing the rest of the world.

But stop burning the Amazon. No there's, there's so many things, Joe, that we can do without and create millions of new jobs, good-paying jobs, that, I mean, we should be invest -- we should become the net exporter of the new technology by investing the $40 billion and the $400 billion I'm proposing in research and development for new ways to absorb carbon, new ways to you know make sure that we can have a system nationwide they can transfer, they can transmit coal and wind across the country. And so, but we're not investing in those things, Joe. We're not investing in any of it. They all create jobs, the biggest employer, the fastest growing employer is in the area of solar and wind. And by the way, they don't wind does not cause cancer. Windmills.

BECKY QUICK: Mr. Vice President, thank you for being with us today. I'd like to talk about an area that our audience definitely cares about. That would be mergers and acquisitions, Elizabeth Warren has been mentioned as a frequent potential running mate for you. Has said that she's completely opposed to any deals going through right now whether that be with big companies, with hedge funds, with private equity. And then Amy Klobuchar who's actually been asked to undergo the vetting process to be a potential running mate for you has said that she's had problems with Uber and GrubHub teaming up—

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: You don’t know that, by the way.

BECKY QUICK: That's what we've read or heard in the news. But let's just call them potential running mates because they are. I just wonder, what are your thoughts on deals at this time? Do you think they should be banned? and are there mergers and acquisitions that bother you?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, I think that what we should do is we should take hard looks at it. Real hard looks. And decide whether or not it’s likely to increase competition or reduce competition. And you know, I'm not making that judgment now. What I’m saying is that I’d have the Antitrust Department of Administration take a hard look at whether or not these mergers increase the prospect of growth, increase the prospect of competition, increase the prospect of employment or not. And, but I’m not going to make a blanket judgment on that right now.

BECKY QUICK: But it's the idea of increased labor or increased employment that would be your measure that you’d be looking at all of these through?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Increased competition. Does it limit competition, does it, in fact, go against the notion of antitrust laws we have? That's what I'd be looking at.


ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Mr. Vice President, just following up on that issue. Elizabeth Warren has talked about trying to break up Amazon, a company that so many Americans have become so reliant on providing essential services during this pandemic. When you seek to break that company up?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I think Amazon should start paying their taxes. Okay. I don't think any company, I don't give a damn how they are, Lord Almighty, should actually be in a position where they pay no taxes and make billions and billions and billions of dollars. Number one. Number two, I think that companies should be in a position where they start paying their employees a decent wage and protect their employees. And so, that's the whole notion of this is, are you playing the game? Like it was set up long before. What’s the capitalist system all about? The capitalist system is about everybody doing -- having a -- dealing fairly and dealing straight up with the American people and with their employees. We're not investing nearly as much as we should be doing in a whole range of areas. You know, that study that was done by the University of Massachusetts, 2004 to 2014, Corporate America.

And I come from a corporate capital of the world, Delaware. And I'm not anti-corporate. But here's the deal. the idea that they made several trillion dollars, and all the studies show that 54% went to buy back their stock, 37% to make sure their stockholders got rewarded, leaving 9% for research, development, raises, employment, etc. Come on, man. That's not the capitalist system. You know, Friedman is not alive and well. But he seems to be running the show here.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Mr. Vice President, I wanted to ask you also about you had reference municipalities and state, some of which may very well need to be bailed out. The House Democrats have sought to repeal the cap on state and local property tax deductibility, SALT, as you know. But it would also be a huge tax break on the 1%. What would you do?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Well, what I would do is I would do what we did before. I would make sure that there's sufficient money in the recovery program to allow states and local governments to be able to maintain essential workers. And that is, firefighters cops, first responders generally, keeping their county hospitals open, making sure that the teachers are able to be employed. Because, as you know, and you guys know it better than most, that all those states and localities have a requirement to have a balanced budget. They have been clobbered with almost 40 million people unemployed. So, they've lost enormous amounts of tax revenue. And the idea that Mitch McConnell, who I've worked with a long time, says, ‘Let them declare bankruptcy.’ Come on. Give me a break. What are we talking about?

JOE KERNEN: Mr. Vice President, I just wanted to clear up one more thing for sure. So, you're on record: so, you would repeal the Trump tax cuts immediately, and then raise taxes even further, right away? Even if the economy is still in the midst of this pandemic? Would you do that, if elected?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I would repeal the $2 trillion tax cut for the folks who are making over a million bucks a year. Because, as demonstrated, it’s demonstrated very little or no growth.

JOE KERNEN: Corporations?


JOE KERNEN: Corporations—

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The corporate tax rate I've moved back to what I had proposed at 28%, but we had proposed at 28%. Because I want to make sure that we see that these corporations, that's not going to take them under. But I would not do in the meantime. Here's the biggest deal. I would stop rewarding through this program we have, the $2 trillion program put in place to try to stimulate the economy. I would get the money to Main Street.

The Paycheck Protection Program, the Small Business program, with the Main Street lending program, it's out there with billions of dollars and hasn’t lent a single, solitary dollar over three months. Farmers who are needing the help were told that -- they haven't gotten any the money out, it is not going to go out until June 1. Why is he so slow off the mark? His slowness is costing lives and costing jobs and costing our ability to rebound.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Mr. Vice President, final question. And it’s on the news this morning and just wanted to get your thoughts and really your thoughts on how you think the United States should react and what you would do if you were the President at this time? China's legislator, as you may have seen unveiled a sweeping proposal of new security laws that effectively take the firm control of Hong Kong and a crackdown on the anti-government protestors. What would you do?

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I’d be at the UN with my UN ambassador and I'd be insisting and calling out, which the United States always done, an overwhelming violation, not only of an agreement but of human rights. Silence, on our part, has been devastating for people around the world. All it does is encourage thugs and dictators, which in fact I think the President has some kind of affinity for. Look at who he embraces and look at who he pokes in the eye. The idea that we would remain silent-- look, we have governed, not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example. That's why the rest of the world has repaired to us. It's the power of our example. And we should not remain silent. We should be calling the rest of the world to condemn their actions.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Mr. Vice President, we want to thank you for this conversation this morning. We hope to do it again with you soon.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I hope so too. I really do.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Thank you again.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Thank you so much, appreciate it.

ANDREW ROSS SORKIN: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. You bet.