Presidential candidate Joe Biden said he's concluded that changes in Vice President Dick Cheney's opinion on invading Iraq since Cheney served as defense secretary in the Bush 41 administration are about oil revenue and permanent bases.
Answering questions from a crowd of 75 people at Iowa City's Hamburg Inn, the Delaware senator emphasized that his plan for postwar Iraq was for a multipart federal state and not three separate nation-states. Then, saying he had not said so before in public, he added:
"I am not a big conspiratorial guy, because really good conspiracies require really smart people. (Laughter.) But. Working with for over 30 years with Vice President Cheney, working with and knowing Secretary Rumsfeld, knowing a lot of people in this administration, you're gonna get mad at me when I say this. They are really smart guys…. They're dead wrong but very bright. So I ask myself why is it that Dick Cheney knowingly, knowing what he knew with Bush I, arguing as he did with Bush I that we should not go into Baghdad… what would make them change their mind? What would make people like Brent Scowcroft and Secretary Baker and other just puzzle about what happened to Cheney, a former ally? The conclusion I have reached that is intuitive -- I can't prove it -- is that the desire to have a guaranteed piece of the oil and a guaranteed physical presence in the region with permanent bases must have been part of the strategic doctrine that I didn't believe was initially part of it."
Asked if Bush, Cheney, and others in the administration should be prosecuted for war crimes, Biden said there might not be time for impeachment before Bush's term expires, but "they can be prosecuted after they've left office if there's evidence they've committed a crime. It would be a serious mistake if we let the record evaporate."
Questioners also grilled Biden about his support for the 2005 bankruptcy bill. Kurt Friese, owner of Devotay restaurant, identified himself as a longtime Biden supporter but said he was concerned about Biden's vote. "It goes against everything else you've said here," said Friese. "I gotta say, referring back to the special interests you talked about before… You're from Delaware. And that's where the credit companies are."
Earlier in the question-and-answer session, Biden had called for public campaign finance. "I don't care how pristine you are," he said, "among those hundreds of millions of dollars there are a lot of people who have a lot of
"Middle class people are carrying an exceptionally higher burden in the cost of everything they do," Biden said in explaining his bankruptcy vote, "because so many people were declaring bankruptcy that in fact did not need to declare bankruptcy, including doctors and lawyers who were walking away from their student loans."
Biden said contrary to "urban legend" no one could lose their primary home under the bankruptcy bill. "You ought to talk to John Edwards about people who are foreclosed on, when you talk about whether or not these hedge funds are going in with these sub-prime loans. That's real. This is not real." Biden does regret not being able to place a cap on home value that could be protected in bankruptcy, citing movie stars who protected their assets in multi-million dollar homes.
Reveling in the format that allowed for extended answers, Biden discussed details of the bill and turned the question to health care.
"Here's what people are mad about that has nothing to do with the bankruptcy bill, but gets laid on the bankruptcy bill. It's this. There are people out there who have medical bills that run up. The largest reason for people declaring bankruptcy is medical bills. And you probably won't agree with me… If you run up, like I did, medical bills of hundreds of thousands of dollars, I should not be able to turn and declare bankruptcy and make sure the doctor never gets paid. The doctor isn't the reason why I, in fact, should be able to declare bankruptcy. What it says is, we need a national health care policy so no one has to do it. But for us to shift the burden of health care to people who are good decent people who provide the health care to us, and say `you provide it, but we're not going to pay you, we're going to allow everyone who has a bill over 50 grand to declare bankruptcy so you don't get paid,' I think would collapse the medical health care system… I want to make sure that everybody who has a major health-care bill never has to pay it. Why? Because I will have provided catastrophic health insurance for every American. Every American takes responsibility for that person who can't pay, not just a handful of providers who have spent millions of their dollars to pay. Should that ICU nurse who kept you alive, should she not get paid?"
In a short stump speech before the questions, Biden emphasized his experience and his detailed approach to the Iraq war. The senator was accompanied by his son Hunter, who received some gentle paternal ribbing when the cost of student loans was discussed.