Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned in Southern Nevada on Saturday, defending his record, striking a moderate tone on immigration reform and urging Democrats not to forget working class people as they strive to defeat President Donald Trump in 2020.
Biden spoke to a packed ballroom at Sun City MacDonald Ranch in Henderson, following his appearance at a UNLV presidential candidate forum sponsored by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
“This election, no matter how young or old you are, is the most consequential election of our lifetimes,” a soft-spoken Biden told the crowd. “The core values of our nation are really under siege.”
So is Biden himself: He’s been assailed in debates and on the campaign trail by more liberal members of his party on issues from his support for a crime bill in the 1990s to his stance on health care.
Biden said he’s “committed to finishing the job of Obamacare” — the signature achievement of former President Barack Obama. Biden said he wants to add a public option to Medicare that people could buy into if they didn’t want to keep their employer-provided insurance. He estimated that would cost $750 million, far less than the more sweeping Medicare for All proposals advanced by some of his rivals.
Biden said in an interview following his remarks that none of his plans would require a tax increase on the middle class.
Although several candidates said in the recent debates that they would support decriminalizing illegal immigration, Biden disagreed.
“I think it’s a mistake,” Biden said. “We have a right to protect the border, we have the right to turn back people who are only here — and say they have to get in line — if they are only here for economic reasons and not for reasons relating to genuine asylum. And we can also let come in a lot more asylum seekers, too.”
Biden said he supports increasing legal immigration, offering a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers and for others who are currently in the country illegally. He said that people who’ve come illegally shouldn’t be able to get free social services such as health care outside of emergency situations, although he said immigrants should be able to buy into health care plans like anyone else.
Without mentioning other candidates by name, Biden contrasted his approach with the stances advocated by some of his rivals and some newly elected, high-profile Democratic representatives who are pushing for swift, radical change.
“Our whole system is built on consensus,” he said. “Unless we get consensus between the Senate, the House and the president, we’re in real trouble.”
But if consensus can’t be had, he said, the only choice is to defeat rivals at the ballot box. He said the current incarnation of the Republican Party isn’t the same as it was when leaders such as Nevada’s Paul Laxalt were in the Senate.
“When you disagree with the opposition, you go out and make your case, as I’m going to be doing in Kentucky this time,” he said. Kentucky is the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican who ignored a Supreme Court nomination made by Obama as well as several pieces of legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled House.
In his interview, Biden urged his fellow Democrats not to lose focus on working-class voters, many of whom cast ballots for Trump in the last election or just didn’t vote.
“The fact of the matter is that I think the people who stayed home were people who are frustrated by a whole range of things, some of whichis the Democratic Party, as a party, stopped talking to their fears,” he said. “There’s a lot of really hard-working middle-class people who, in fact, are worried about their future.”
But Biden said the Democratic Party, while disagreeing on some fundamental policies, is in agreement on several overarching themes, including providing health care to more people, addressing climate change and making education available to more people. Those things, he predicted, would unite the party behind the eventual nominee.
This is Biden’s third bid for the presidency.
In 1988, he dropped out of the race in the wake of allegations he’d plagiarized a speech by British politician Neil Kinnock. He ran again in 2008, but dropped out after earning only 4 percent in the Iowa caucus.
But eventual 2008 nominee Obama selected Biden as his vice president.
Biden, 76, would be 78 years old in January 2021, the date the next president will be sworn into office. That would make him the oldest president elected in American history, behind President Donald Trump, who was 70 when he took office in early 2017.
A Gallup Poll released in May found 63 percent of Americans would be willing to vote for a candidate older than 70.
Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.