ATKINSON — Wearing his aviator sunglasses and with his sleeves rolled up, former Vice President Joe Biden greeted a crowd of more than 100 people from a porch in Atkinson, where he braced the mid-morning heat to court voters during his third visit to the Granite State.
Biden covered his stances on healthcare, the environment and prison reform with potential voters.
But his immigration plan got the most attention at the gathering, held the day before Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are set to conduct raids to deport undocumented immigrants across the country.
The former vice president highlight what the Obama administration did when it was faced with a similar increase in the number of people seeking asylum at the southern border.
He said the administration offered a $750 million aid package to three Central American countries — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — which was able to help combat corruption and human trafficking. This helped decrease undocumented immigrants coming to the border, he said. If elected, it would be one of Biden’s top priorities to reinstate the program, which was stopped under the Trump administration, and come together with more world leaders to find the answers.
“I know these guys,” Biden said about the world leaders. “It’s not because I’m important, it’s because it was my job for so many years.”
Biden has long been a frontrunner in the race, even before he announced his candidacy in April.
His lengthy political career has been the foundation of his campaign.
A Delaware senator since the '70s, Biden became the vice president under President Barack Obama in 2008.
His lengthy career has become an issue on the presidential campaign trail. At the first Democratic debate, California Sen. Kamala Harris questioned his stance on busing as a tool to help desegregate schools, which was a hotly debated issue in the Senate at the start of Biden's career.
Since the debate in June, Biden has been slipping in the polls, though he remains the frontrunner. He continues to run on his 40-plus year political record and the relationships he has built as a senator and vice president to help bring “normalcy” and “decency” back to the White House.
‘It’s a different world’
In Atkinson, after shaking hands and taking selfies with voters, Biden talked exclusively with The Eagle-Tribune to reflect on his career.
When asked about his stance busing, Biden said, “first of all the context issue, it’s a different world.”
At the time he was not in favor of the Department of Education's plan to use court-ordered busing to desegregate schools. However, he supported the civil rights movement and desegregation.
“What I am sorry for is if any use of a phrase was taken out of context, or even in context that was offensive to somebody, I strongly apologize for that,” Biden said. “I think that what’s changed is I think I’ve grown and learned a lot more as I’ve gone on.
“For example, I know I learned a lot from what I saw the way which Anita Hill was treated, and that’s why I wrote the Violence Against Women Act. I learned a lot about how things have changed about education in the country, about health care,” he said. “What you do is as you move you hopefully learn, hopefully you gain some wisdom as well as age.”
Debating where the party is going
Single-payer healthcare plans and free or reduced higher education have played a pivotal role in the Democratic primary race.
“So, there are all those issues that are so-called progressive issues, not so-called, the new progressive issues, but I think the Democratic party will see where I am on the issues. We will find that out,” Biden said. “That’s what the campaign is about. I hope we get to debate it for more than 30 seconds.”
“All the races in 2019 were for people who were traditional liberal Democrats who want to attack the new problems that are facing us from the environment, healthcare, et cetera,” he said.
Biden said that the Democratic party should be debating how to move forward, listing a variety of ways Americans could move forward with finding more affordable healthcare.
“That’s all a legitimate argument” to have, he said.
Earlier in the day Biden told the Atkinson crowd that he wasn’t for a single-payer system, instead he opted for building on the Affordable Care Act that was created under the Obama administration. He said he would add a public option that people could pay for if they did not want to choose private insurance.
“Going forward we should legalize dreamers right off the bat,” Biden said. “We should provide a path towards citizenship for the other 11 million people who are undocumented out there. We should end family separations, period.”
He highlighted the fact that the Obama administration did not prioritize separating families at the border or keeping immigrants who have not committed serious crimes in detention centers. Currently there is an influx of asylum seekers, who under previous administrations were able to apply for asylum at ports of entry and then given a notice to appear for a hearing.
“When we did that, people still showed up for their hearings and you don’t have to lock people up,” Biden said. Under the Trump administration asylum seekers are being detained or sent back to Mexico to await their hearings, he said.
To ensure asylum seekers were able to have hearings in a timely fashion, Biden said he would “surge a significant number of judges to the border to be able to in real time determine whether or not people in fact are eligible for asylum under the law.”
As for education, Biden is interested in offering a free two-year community college program to people.
“It could cut their tuition in half for four years of school, and it’s a logical way to do it,” he said.
For those already with college debt, he wants to have better programs to help people pay off debt faster, he said. For example, for graduates making under $25,000 he suggests freezing loans without interest, and then graduates making over that threshold will be capped at paying 5% of their income for the loans, he said.
Biden added that he wants public servants to have their loans forgiven after 10 years of service, he said.
“There are economic studies that show that one of the reasons why the economy may slow is because consumer spending of this generation is going to slow,” Biden said. “It’s very much in our interest that we put them in a position where they get out of college that they are not indebted their whole lives and they can never get into having a home, having a car, all these things that need to be done.”
In the lower levels of school Biden wants to expand Title I funding, which is federal funding for schools with large groups of low-income students, from $15 billion to $25 billion, he said.
Those plans would include adding pre-K programs for 3, 4 and 5-year-olds across the country, he said.
He also wants teachers at those schools to have competitive pay, and also have supplies already in the classroom so they don’t have to pay out of pocket for supplies like notebooks, pencils and paper, he said.
“Many of those teachers have to work two or three jobs… and they spend out of pocket money for everything from notebooks, textbooks to pencils for their kids, it’s ridiculous,” he said.