In a wide-ranging “60 Minutes” interview that aired Sunday, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. declared himself the Democratic front-runner, defended his son’s foreign business dealings and explained why it was critical for the country’s future to defeat President Trump in 2020.
“What I am worried about is the country,” Mr. Biden said. “Four years of Donald Trump will be very hard to overcome, but we can. Eight years of Donald Trump will fundamentally change the nature of who we are as a country. And it’ll take a generation, a generation or more for us to get back on track.”
Making a pitch for his presidential bid as the nomination contest tightens, Mr. Biden emphasized his experience.
“I think, as I said, we need somebody who, on day one, knows exactly what to do, can command the world stage,” Mr. Biden said. “No one wonders whether I know a great deal about these issues and foreign policy and domestic policy. They’re things I’ve done.”
Noting that the president calls Mr. Biden “Sleepy Joe,” the “60 Minutes” anchor Norah O’Donnell said some people worried about whether Mr. Biden was “quick enough” to defend himself against Mr. Trump.
“What they’re really trying to make the case is about age,” said Mr. Biden, who will turn 77 in November. “And with age comes experience, with experience comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes judgment.”
The CBS interview with Ms. O’Donnell, taped at Mr. Biden’s Delaware home days earlier, marked his first major network sit-down since Mr. Trump, 73, launched attacks on the international business dealings of Mr. Biden’s son Hunter Biden.
Revelations that the president had pressured Ukrainian authorities to investigate the Bidens prompted the impeachment inquiry that Mr. Trump now faces in the House of Representatives.
Asked why Mr. Biden did not tell his son to avoid a role in the Ukrainian gas company Burisma for fear it might appear improper, Mr. Biden said, “He was already on the board. And he’s a grown man. And it turns out he did not do a single thing wrong, as everybody’s investigated.”
Mr. Biden added that he had never discussed business with his children. “They know where I have to do my job and that’s it and they have to make their own judgments,” he said.
Taking aim at Mr. Trump’s family, Mr. Biden said, “Look, I wasn’t raised to go after the children. Their actions speak for themselves,” adding, “If I’m president, get elected president, my children are not going to have offices in the White House. My children are not going to sit in on cabinet meetings,” Mr. Biden said.
“It’s just simply improper because you should make it clear to the American public that everything you’re doing is for them,” Mr. Biden said. “And the idea that you’re going to have his children, his son-in-law, et cetera, engaged in the day-to-day operation of things they know nothing about.”
The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, should not be negotiating Middle East peace, Mr. Biden said. “What credentials does he bring to that?”
With little more than three months until the first caucus, in Iowa, most national public polls show Mr. Biden leading his top opponents, Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, although one poll recently placed Ms. Warren at the head of the pack.
Asked whether he was worried that his opponents were exciting young voters by offering dramatic change, Mr. Biden said that while he wants young people engaged, older voters — a demographic in which Mr. Biden has considerable support — will ultimately control the outcome of the nomination race.
“Overwhelmingly, people over the age of 50 vote in these primaries,” Mr. Biden said. He also took aim at his rivals for what he called far-reaching assertions.
“I mean, let’s talk about ‘Medicare for all,’” he said of the single-player health system that Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders support. “Do you think there’s been any truth in advertising on that? It’s going to raise taxes on middle class people, not just wealthy people.” Mr. Biden proposes a plan that would build on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, maintaining a public option for those who need it.
Ms. Warren’s recent advance — combined with the fund-raising difficulties of Mr. Biden’s campaign — have left some of his supporters worried.
Expressing optimism, Mr. Biden said, “I know I’m the front-runner,” adding that he wasn’t concerned about money. “We’re on a course to do extremely well,” Mr. Biden said. “I’m not — I’m not worried about being able to fund this campaign.”
In the last fund-raising quarter, his campaign said it had only $9 million cash in hand, far less than that of his key rivals. But Mr. Biden’s campaign recently reversed course on its longstanding opposition to the assistance of super PACs, opening the door for wealthy supporters to spend unlimited amounts of money to assist his Democratic primary candidacy.
Mr. Biden was pressed by a CBS News reporter on this reversal after a campaign event in Durham, N.C., also Sunday night, and the former vice president pointed to the barrage of attack ads he has faced from Mr. Trump’s allies.
“I learned after the fact from, from my folks, there are a lot of people who said, ‘We can’t let this stand,’” he said “They are able to do that. I haven’t discouraged them from doing it, but I haven’t encouraged it either. I’ve just stayed away. Hands off. But if I’m the nominee and if I win, I promise you I’m going to continue to push for a constitutional amendment to make sure that there’s public funding of elections.”
During his “60 Minutes” interview, Ms. O’Donnell also hammered Mr. Biden about his debate gaffes. While he acknowledged that the Democratic debates had presented a “learning curve” for him, his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, who sat in on part of the interview, expressed confidence that the public would overlook them.
“The American people know who Joe Biden is,” Dr. Biden said. “I mean, if he misspeaks one word — that doesn’t affect the way they’re going to vote, one way or the other.”
When Ms. O’Donnell asked Dr. Biden whether she had observed any “change in his ability to communicate in recent years,” she laughed, “No. Not at all.”
Katie Glueck contributed reporting.
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