MASON CITY, Iowa (AP) – Joe Biden sought on Wednesday to ease tensions with Democratic presidential rival Bernie Sanders after the two candidates exchanged several volleys over Social Security and other matters.
And the former vice president pledged in a wide-ranging interview with MSNBC that if he reaches the White House, he would not agree to any budget deal that curtails Social Security benefits.
Biden demurred on â€œMorning Joeâ€ when asked whether Sanders had â€œliedâ€ when he and his campaign aides asserted Biden sought to cut Social Security benefits over his decades in public office. Biden also noted that Sanders apologized to him after one of the Vermont senatorâ€™s top supporters wrote that the former vice president has a â€œcorruptionâ€ problem.
â€œSometimes campaign staff gets a little ahead of the candidate,â€ Biden said, later adding, â€œI accept his apology, and I hope we can argue on the facts.â€
Biden’s comments come at a tumultuous moment in the Democratic primary as candidates are increasingly feuding with each other on multiple fronts. Tensions within the party soared on Tuesday after The Hollywood Reporter published an interview in which Hillary Clinton ripped into Sanders, reigniting divisions from the 2016 campaign and raising concerns that Democrats may struggle to unify behind a nominee this year and defeat President Donald Trump.
Still, the acrimony between Sanders and Biden isn’t likely to dissipate completely as they vie for every advantage with less than two weeks until the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses. Just Tuesday night, Bidenâ€™s campaign released a video accusing Sanders of â€œdishonestâ€ attacks, while Sandersâ€™ official Twitter account countered: â€œLetâ€™s be honest, Joe. One of us fought for decades to cut Social Security, and one of us didnâ€™t.â€
Sanders attached audio of speeches Biden gave as a Delaware senator advocating for budget deals that would have curtailed entitlement spending over time. As a senator, Biden was a supporter of a balanced-budget constitutional amendment, but he maintains that he would not have â€œcutâ€ Social Security benefits as part of the deals.
â€œMy support for Social Security has been solid my entire career,â€ Biden said. â€œI did join with a lot of other Democrats, made it solvent during the Reagan years.â€
In his current campaign, Biden proposes expanding Social Security benefits and raising more revenue by lifting the cap on the income that is subject to Social Security payroll taxes. He did tacitly acknowledge that heâ€™s moved leftward over the years on Social Security, however, comparing his long Senate record with Sandersâ€™ legislative history on gun rights. Sanders â€œvoted to protect gun manufacturers,â€ Biden said, referring to Sandersâ€™ vote to give weapons makers immunity from civil liability. Clinton skewered Sanders over that position in their 2016 nominating fight.
â€œHeâ€™s indicated that was past,â€ Biden said, suggesting Sandersâ€™ current positions on guns should be acceptable to Democratic primary voters.
The former vice president was not so charitable about the Senateâ€™s impeachment trial of Trump.
â€œI was embarrassed for the institution,â€ Biden said when asked about Trumpâ€™s lawyers stating clear mistruths during the proceedings, which are expected to end with Trumpâ€™s acquittal on charges that he abused his power and obstructed Congress.
The impeachment case is pegged to Trump pressuring Ukrainian officials to launch an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter Biden, based on discredited theories about the younger Bidenâ€™s business dealings in Ukraine while his father handled U.S. foreign policy in the country as vice president.
Joe Biden predicted that Republican senators will one day be ashamed of their fealty to Trump. â€œI think itâ€™s one of those things theyâ€™re going to regret when their grandchildren read in history books what they did,â€ Biden said. â€œI donâ€™t get it. … I think it has a lot to do with whether they can win primaries. Everybody knows how vindictive the president is.â€
Indeed, Trump has shown a willingness to go after Republicans who criticize him. But most GOP senators facing reelection this year do not yet have significant opposition from within their party. Arizona Sen. Martha McSally is an exception. And newly appointed Georgia Sen. Kelly Loeffler also could draw opposition from the right.
Biden, in his interview, did not discuss the possibility that the Senate could call him or Hunter Biden as a witness. Biden has maintained that he sees no â€œlegal basisâ€ for his or his sonâ€™s testimony, because the House impeachment charges are about Trumpâ€™s actions.
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