Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: Who will Joe Biden choose?

Aug 11, 2020

Columnist Eugene Robinson will be online every Tuesday at 1 p.m. Eastern for Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson, where he'll talk about the latest political and cultural developments. Catch up on the transcript of his latest chat below.

Read Eugene Robinson's columns or catch up on past Eugene Robinson Live chats.

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Hi, everybody, and welcome once again to our weekly chat. Well, it sounds as if Joe Biden has made his choice for veep. We just don't know who it is. I guess I buy the conventional wisdom that Harris and Rice are the finalists. Kind of. I keep coming back to the fact that Biden served as vice president for eight years, and I've heard both him and former president Obama talk about how important their personal and professional relationship was. I think that in the end, Biden will choose the woman with whom he believes he can work best -- and only he knows who that is. Today's column, for reference, is about the dumpster-fire hot mess that Biden will inherit if he is elected. Trump seems determined to leave behind a broken nation. Let's get started.

What are the consequential responses of the lunatic-in-chief's continued sabotage of the federal government's handling of the Coronavirus pandemic?

More than 160,000 dead, and counting. It is an epic tragedy and it's still unfolding.

Your column on Kim Kardashian doing a public service by pointing out and supporting her husband in his mental illness. Where is she to object to the republicans using her husband in the effort to get trump re-elected? He is now on the ballot in three or four states. Where is she now? Does she think her husband will be elected president? Your thoughts would be appreciated. Thank you.

I don't know what she thinks about the political dimension of her husband's candidacy. My column was about the human dimension and the psychiatric dimension. Clearly, Republican Party operatives are trying to use West's "candidacy" in an attempt to siphon votes away from Joe Biden. For all I know, that may be West's aim, too. But it's obvious that he's in a crisis, due to his bipolar disorder, and the fact is that those who love him are essentially powerless to force him to get help. KK has her own money and fame, and could simply walk away if she wanted to. I believe West is lucky that she has not done so.

Hi Gene, Thanks for offering this pocket of sanity today. I'm thinking of the conversation Nixon had with GOP allies that led to his resignation, and imagining McConnell, Graham, etc. sitting down with Trump, Melania, maybe Ivanka and laying out two options: Do you want to be a loser or a savior? Not a quitter - resigning because " . . . he's done so much for the American people and no one appreciates him. He's resigning because we don't deserve him". [gag] Savior: He will save all the down-ballot Republicans from losing their seats and flipping the Senate. Maybe I should eat less before bedtime and stop having these dreams . . .

Not happening. And if senior GOP leaders attempted such a thing, there is no reason to think that Trump would listen. He is apparently convinced that he will win, and it's hard to disabuse him of things he "knows," no matter how absurdly wrong they may be.

Thomas Friedman wrote last week in the New York Times that Biden should agree to debate trump only if two conditions are met: trump must release his tax returns (as Biden has done), and independent fact checkers must be employed to give a fact checking report at the end of the debate broadcast. I would also add a third pre-condition: no audience allowed. What are your thoughts on those pre-conditions?

I think the way both sides are looking at the debates tells you who's winning and who's losing. Trump wants more debates; Biden doesn't. The side that's asking for more debates is the side that knows it's on course to lose.

This question is somewhat irrelevant. But do you think that the GOP senate, knowing what they know now (about the mishandling of the pandemic and the economic crises that’s followed), would vote differently during impeachment? Do you think any of them regrets not voting to remove the president from office?

I'm sure that some GOP senators might be regretting their votes, but I don't think any of them would actually vote differently. No profiles in courage (except Romney), I'm afraid.

Whatever they are called where you live and vote, please consider being one. Many of us are 60+, and fearful of health issues with Covid, are dropping out. Younger people are needed in any case, as we are aging out. Please consider doing this most American thing and help continue the democratic process. Being an officer of election is non-partisan and you will be doing democracy a big favor. Thanks

Let me echo your plea. It is vital that enough poll workers are available on Election Day to accommodate those citizens who choose to, or must, vote in person. Young people who are less vulnerable to covid-19 must volunteer. Your country needs you.

What is the appeal of the vice presidency? It's only as powerful a position as the president allows, and it's not a great stepping stone to the presidency. Being a senator or governor seems to be just as good or better, both for getting things done and for future ambitions.

The modern presidency is too much for one person to handle alone, so the vice president will have actual, meaningful work to do. And not to be ghoulish, but with both presidential candidates in their 70s, there is more than a negligible chance that the vice president might have to step up into the top job. But no, being veep is not generally the best springboard. 

Mr. Robinson, With all the focus now on reopening professional and collegiate sports, is anyone looking at how much COVID testing must be used for athletes to practice, scrimmage, etc.? I would think each athlete is tested before they walk out on the field/court/whatever. At the same time we see miles of cars lined up for tests around the country then turned away when the supply runs out. Is it just me or does anyone else see an incredible inequity in this?

The inequity is obvious, and that's part of the problem of prioritizing sports. Why should football players be tested daily or whatever while teachers are not? Or bus drivers? Are utility infielders really essential workers? 

What can we do to prevent the collapse of the postal service? How can we have our voices heard?

Yell and scream in the direction of your members of Congress and your senators. Loudly.

This is in reference to your column this morning. Much of the damage Trump has done, and will continue to do, has been by executive orders. Can't Biden undo all of those on his first day in office?

There's a lot that Biden can do unilaterally and quickly, but there's much else that will take time to repair. One big question will be, if the virus is still raging out of control, whether to shut everything down again to try to get a handle on the infection rate. 

Please, not on the Lincoln's "hallowed ground" of Gettsyburg. Though from the Oval Office would be measurably worse. Surely there is a Midwest diner with old white guys at Formica-top tables that would be suitable? Or an Idaho ranch with mooing cattle and heavily armed local militiamen in the background?

Just about anyplace would be better than the White House or Gettysburg. Those trial balloons were not well received.

Hi Gene -- thanks for taking questions today and for your recent column. You outlined very well the challenges Biden would face after the disaster Trump will have left behind. I think the only way out of this mess is if the Democrats have everything -- the WH, the Senate, the House. The Senate, though, is still looking like it could be a challenge for the Democrats to flip. If it doesn't quite happen, what will things look like? Won't we still have a McConnell-run Senate where, with the exception of unqualified judges taking over the judiciary, nothing ever gets done and we're back where we started? Believe me, I’d take a Biden presidency in a heart beat…but I have no doubt that, from day one, McConnell will be riding his “Biden as one term president” horse every day.

You outline why taking the Senate is so important for Democrats. But things would be different, even with McConnell still ensconced as majority leader. For one thing, it would be Biden sending up the judicial nominees, not the Federalist Society.

Should Susan Rice get the nod, how does the Biden/Rice campaign pivot away from the likely never-ending Benghazi rehash from announcement to November 3?

That would be inevitable, I'm afraid. I'm not sure what impact it would have, though. Four deaths in Benghazi versus 160,000 in America? That's the contrast I would draw.

We know what the Republicans will throw at Susan Rice and Kamala Harris (Willie Brown). What would they throw at Val Demings or Tammy Duckworth?

Good question, and I don't have the answers. Demings and Duckworth are hard to hit, politically.

What is the argument for (presumptive favorite?) Susan Rice? She has never held elective office, no legislative or executive experience that i know and is fairly or not most famous for the Benghazi disaster. What does team Biden see that I don't.

Susan Rice is incredibly smart and competent. She would be good at handling whatever Biden wanted her to handle. And she and Biden already have a good working relationship and are friends, which is a big plus in Biden's book.

Do you think the progressive wing of the Democratic party will turn out for Biden? Some have been concerned that many will stay home since their preferred candidates didn't get the nomination, and that a non-vote is a de facto vote for Trump. Is there a way to prevent this from happening?

No. We can't compel people to vote or mandate whom they must vote for. All we can do is make them realize what's at stake and what the consequences would be of allowing Donald Trump to despoil the country for another four years.

When Joe Biden selects his VP choice there will be some disappointed folk. Would it be beneficial to name some of his cabinet selections now? He could express how important some other people are to his plans.

Whoever is disappointed by Biden's choice will have to get over it. With the exception of Sarah Palin (in a negative way), most vice presidential picks in the modern era don't have much of an electoral impact. That will probably be the case again this year.

Hi Gene, How do Biden & co. thread the needle of undoing/reversing the damage that Trump & his enablers have done, without appearing to spend 2-4 years "blaming" them for everything that's wrong with country? (They *are* to blame, but that's probably not a sustainable message.) Post-2008, the Republican Party should have been in de facto exile for many years, if not a generation. Yet there was the Tea Party in 2010, and much of the country forgot that George W. Bush ever existed. Case in point: you're already seeing some 2024 GOP hopefuls conveniently rediscover their zeal for fiscal austerity - never mind that Trump's policies and failures are the drivers behind the sky-high debt.

The rediscovery of fiscal probity was inevitable, and always happens when Republican presidents spend like drunken sailors and Democrats have to clean up after them. Not fair, but not surprising. If Biden wins, nothing will be easy for him. He must know that; he's seen this movie before.

I'm a hardcore democrat but Joe Biden doesn't inspire me. Would it be prudent for him to pick a running make that inspires voters? Someone that has a more liberal stance and will fight for things that are important for democrats?

It sounds as if you'd like to see a more progressive running mate, and I'm sure there are many Democrats who agree with you -- and many who disagree. In the end, you and everybody else are going to decide whether to vote for Joe Biden or allow Donald Trump to be reelected. I think that's an important and obvious choice.

Even though every metric indicates a victory for Democrats in terms of the White House and both chambers of Congress in November, none of us can afford to become complacent. We must vote, the very minute we are able to. That said, do you remember late January, early February, when the GOP members of Congress were full of smug arrogance, announcing their "verdicts" even prior to the Senate "trial" beginning, seemingly assured that our Constitution and democratic institutions couldn't touch them, and that they wouldn't be held to account by even the voters in November? It seems hubris can take down even the mighty. Your thoughts?

My thought is that we shouldn't write epitaphs until the party in question attains post-mortem status. As you said, no one can afford to be complacent.

Last Tuesday, I queried you as to why you thought Nancy Pelosi was not extending the stop-gap measure of $600 weekly payments to unemployed, and extending the eviction moratorium, while still working on a long-term measure. Since last Tuesday, Trump has warned he'd provide stop-gap measures if Congress didn't hurry up and do it. And this time, he wasn't bluffing. Now, it seems, his base and those on the fence probably believe he's the only one able or willing to provide more immediate emergency support. Why didn't Nancy anticipate that Trump would jump in the middle of it and skew the situation to his favor (while also attempting to cut Social Security)? What's the bigger reason she didn't jump in and provide a stop-gap measures again, that I'm just not seeing?

I think you're missing the fact that Trump's stop-gap is not a stop-gap at all. It's an unworkable mess, and it puts the ball back in Congress's court. The Democrats have passed a bill. The Senate won't even take it up. And nobody -- except, perhaps, some of Trump's loyal base -- is fooled by his faux "executive orders," which don't actually help the unemployed and soon-to-be-evicted at all.


That's all for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks, as ever, for joining the conversation, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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