US election: ‘He misspoke’ – Joe Biden’s 60 Minutes interview screw-up

The American 60 Minutes has aired its duelling interviews with presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden, scrutinising both men and their plans for the next four years.

Biden sat down with one of the programme’s hosts, Norah O’Donnell, in his home state of Delaware last Monday. Trump did the same with veteran reporter Lesley Stahl at the White House the following day.

The show also interviewed the two vice presidential candidates, Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Kamala Harris.

We went into today’s broadcast already knowing everything that happened in the President’s interview, because he himself posted the whole thing on Facebook three days ago.

Trump was unhappy with Stahl’s questioning. He told his followers to “look at the bias, hatred and rudeness”, contrasting it with his own “flowing” and “magnificently brilliant answers”.

Since Trump’s interview is somewhat old ground now, I’m going to run you through the most significant moments involving Biden and Harris first.

O’Donnell spent much of her time with the pair probing the extent to which Biden, a moderate Democrat, would be influenced by his party’s left wing.

“The President made the case at the Republican convention that your administration would be a Trojan horse for liberals. That Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren would actually be controlling policy. That this would become the most liberal administration in US history,” she put to him.

I should clarify that “liberal” is a synonym for progressive in the United States, as opposed to Australia, where it refers to the centre-right party.

“He’d love to run against them, wouldn’t he?” Biden replied.

“Mr President, you’re running against Joe Biden. Joe Biden has a deep and successful record over a long time.”

Cut to O’Donnell’s interview with Harris, who represents California in the US Senate. GovTrack, a nonpartisan organisation which tracks the passage of bills through Congress, last year rated her the most left-wing of all 100 senators.

“You’re considered the most liberal United States senator,” O’Donnell pointed out.

“Somebody said that, and it was actually Mike Pence on the debate stage,” Harris told her, trying to laugh off the question.

“Well actually, the nonpartisan GovTrack has rated you as the most liberal senator,” O’Donnell said, going on to cite Harris’s support for left-wing proposals such as the Green New Deal and Medicare for All.

“Joe Biden doesn’t support those things. So are you going to bring those progressive policies that you supported as senator into the Biden administration?” she asked.

“What I will do, and I promise you this – this is what Joe wants me to do, this was part of our deal – I will always share my lived experience, as it relates to any issue that we confront,” said Harris.

“I promised Joe that I would give him that perspective and always be honest with him.”

“And is that a socialist or progressive perspective?” asked O’Donnell.

She was alluding to Trump’s attacks on Harris. He has frequently labelled her a socialist, and occasionally goes further.

“She’s a communist. Are we going to have a communist?” the President said during a particularly strident interview with Fox Business earlier this month.

“She’s a communist. She’s not a socialist, she’s well beyond a socialist. Take a look at her views. She wants to open up the borders to allow killers and murderers and rapists to pour into our country.”

It was the same interview in which he said Harris had been “a monster” and “totally unlikeable” during her vice presidential debate with Pence.

Harris burst out laughing in response to O’Donnell’s question.

“No! It is the perspective of a woman who grew up a black child in America, who was also a prosecutor, who also has a mother who arrived here at the age of 19 from India, who also likes hip-hop. Like, what do you want to know?” she said.

“At the Republican National Convention, Donald Trump made the case that Joe Biden is going to be nothing more than a Trojan horse for socialist policies, for the left wing of the Democratic Party,” O’Donnell explained.

“Are you going to push those policies when you’re vice president?”

“I would not have joined the ticket if I did not support what Joe is proposing,” Harris said.

During her conversation with Biden, O’Donnell brought up one of his previous remarks, in which he said he wanted to bring “revolutionary, institutional changes” to the US. She asked him to explain what he meant.

“I think we have to fundamentally change the way in which we deal with institutional racism,” Biden said.

“For example, one of the hardest things, beyond police issues, there’s the issue of accumulation of wealth. There’s an awful lot of black Americans who are equally as qualified as white Americans, based on the same status they’re in terms of their economic opportunity, but they don’t get a chance.

“So for example, if we just made every corporation pay a minimum 15 per cent tax – you got 91 paying no tax – that raises over US$400 billion. I can send every qualified person to a four-year college in their state for US$150 billion.

“I can make sure every single person who qualifies for community college can go, and we still have a lot of money left over. That’s what I mean by significant institutional changes.”

60 Minutes fact-checked Biden’s numbers and found them wanting, citing analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Centre,

“After our interview, Mr Biden’s staff told us he misspoke, and that the cost of free public college could be twice as much as he said,” O’Donnell told viewers.

Quite a big error, then.

Moving on, Biden was asked to identify the biggest domestic policy issue facing the US.

“Right now the biggest domestic issue is our health. The way (Trump) is handling Covid is just totally irresponsible,” he replied.

“He was telling people we’ve turned the bend, at a rally. He’s gone round the bend.”

He said the federal government should be investing “a lot more money” in rapid testing and contact tracing.

And the Democratic nominee stressed the importance of encouraging people to wear masks.

“Freedom is about making sure that you care about the people you’re around. It’s patriotism to put this mask on,” he said, brandishing one in his hand.

O’Donnell mentioned that Biden would be the oldest president in US history, should be inaugurated in January of next year.

“But I’m in good shape,” he shot back with a smile.

“Donald Trump says you have dementia and it’s getting worse,” she said.

“Hey, the same guy who thought the 9/11 attack was the 7/11 attack. He’s talking about dementia?” he said.

“All I can say to the American people is, watch me. Look at me, compare our physical and mental acuity. I’m happy to have that comparison.”

Finally, she broached the subject of the unsubstantiated allegations Trump is throwing at Biden, suggesting he received illegal and corrupt kickbacks from his son Hunter’s business interests overseas.

“From what I’ve read and know, the President was warned that (his personal lawyer) Rudy Giuliani was being fed misinformation from the Russians,” said Biden.

“It’s a smear campaign, because he has nothing he wants to talk about – what is he running on? What is he running on?”

The harshest criticism of the President actually came from Harris, rather than Biden, when she was asked about him calling her a monster.

“Well this is not the first time in my life I’ve been called names, and it was predictable, sadly,” she said.

“Do you think the President is racist?” O’Donnell asked.

“Yeah I do. I do,” she replied.

“You can go back to a pattern that goes back to him questioning the identity of the first black president. You can go back to Charlottesville. Calling Mexicans rapists and criminals. His first order of business was to implement a Muslim ban. It all speaks for itself.”

As I mentioned at the top, we already saw Stahl’s interview with Trump three days ago, because the President decided to post it online himself ahead of time.

But in case you missed our coverage, here’s a quick summary.

The sit-down immediately got off on the wrong foot as Stahl asked whether Trump was ready for some “tough questions”.

“You’re going to be fair. Just be fair,” Trump replied.

“Last time, I remember you saying to me, ‘Bring it on,'” Stahl said, referring to previous interview with the President.

“No, I’m not looking for that. I’m looking for fairness, that’s all,” said Trump.

“You’re going to get fairness. And you’re OK with some tough questions?” asked Stahl.

“No, I’m not,” Trump said.

“You don’t ask Biden tough questions. It’s terrible. It’s terrible. You know that.”

Things did not improve from there.

Stahl grilled Trump on his response to the coronavirus and his insistence that the US was “rounding the turn”, even as cases continued to rise.

At the time of their conversation, daily infections were at about 60,000. In the week since, they have spiked even further to record-breaking levels, passing 80,000 in a single day for the first time.

“I think we’ve done a great job with Covid,” Trump said.

“The numbers are going up,” Stahl pointed out.

“OK, you know why cases are up, also? Because we do more testing. If we didn’t do testing, cases would be way down,” he told her.

“Why are you saying they’re not up? You’re saying things that people can see -” Stahl started to say.

“No no, what I’m saying to you, Lesley, is the following. We do more testing than any other country in the world by far,” the President argued.

“If we did half the testing, we’d have half the cases. If we did no testing, like many countries, we would have no cases.

“Because we do so much testing – the fake news media loves to say cases are up. The fact is, we’ve done a very, very good job.

“Cases are up,” Stahl told him again.

“That’s right, because we’re doing so much testing,” Trump insisted.

To be clear here, testing has gone up across the US in recent weeks, but the number of infections has increased much more sharply.

Stahl and Trump clashed over several other subjects, including the President’s decision to hold massive rallies without social distancing amid the pandemic, his struggle to appeal to suburban female voters, the healthcare plan he has been promising to release (without following through) for years, and his accusations against the Bidens.

Eventually, Trump got fed up and cut the interview short. This was their last exchange.

“”You know, I didn’t want to have this kind of angry -” Stahl started to say.

“Of course you did. Of course you did,” Trump interjected.

“No I didn’t,” she insisted.

“Well then you brought up a lot of subjects that were inappropriately brought up,” he claimed.

“Well I said I’m going to ask you tough questions,” said Stahl.

“They were inappropriately brought up, right from the beginning. Your first question was, ‘This is going to be tough questions,'” he complained.

“You’re President. Don’t you think you should be accountable to the American people?” the veteran reporter said.

“Listen. Your first statement to me, ‘This is going to be tough questions.’ I don’t mind that. When you set up the interview, you didn’t say that. You said, ‘Oh let’s have a lovely interview.’ And here’s what I just say, you don’t ask Joe Biden – I saw your interview with Joe, the interview, it was a joke,” Trump continued.

“I never did a Joe Biden interview!” Stahl protested (correctly).

“The interview, 60 Minutes. I see Joe Biden giving softball after softball. I’ve seen all of his interviews. He’s never been asked a question that’s hard,” said the President.

“Lesley, you started with me, your first statement was, ‘Are you ready for tough questions?’ That’s no way to talk. That’s no way to talk.”

Trump did not return for a planned “walk and talk” segment alongside Pence, leaving the Vice President to clean up the situation.

“What just happened with the President?” Stahl asked.

“Leslie President Trump is a man who speaks his mind,” Pence said.

“The American people always know where he stands, and he’s always ready.”

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