Four Takeaways From Joe Biden’s Town Hall in Grinnell

GRINNELL, Iowa — Joe Biden renewed his attacks against Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts on Monday, pointing to her advocacy for “Medicare for All” and saying it comes from an elitist belief that Americans shouldn’t be allowed to make up their own minds on health care.

The former vice president’s comments came at a CNN town hall at Grinnell College in Iowa. During the town hall, Biden also discussed how he has connected with Americans on the campaign trail about grief. Additionally, he said he isn’t worried about potential political blowback from House Democrats’ impeachment proceedings.

He offered a contradictory view on Republicans, insisting they’ll be more willing to work with Democrats after President Donald Trump leaves office — while telling a story about them refusing to cooperate before Trump had even become the GOP presidential nominee.

Here are four takeaways from Biden’s town hall:

Attacking Warren

Biden continued to characterize Warren as “angry” and “elitist,” saying her health care plan is driven by a belief that “people can’t make up their own mind.”

The former vice president also said he’s merely been responding after “she attacked me.”

He was referring to Warren jabbing at him for his opposition to Medicare for All, suggesting without naming the former vice president that he is running in the wrong party’s presidential primary. Biden has escalated his criticism of Warren over that comment in recent days. In a Medium post published last week, he wrote that Warren, without naming her, was “condescending” and “representative of an elitism that working and middle class people do not share.”

Biden said his criticism wasn’t about Warren personally, and he went on to describe the attitude he said was behind advocating the health care plan she backs.

This time mimicking Medicare for All proponents, Biden said Monday that what he’s been calling elitist was “the attitude that we know better than ordinary people what’s in their interests. ‘I know more than you, let me tell you what to do.'”

“The attitude is elitist that people can’t make up their own mind,” Biden said.

“You like your health insurance,” he said, then dropped to a lower voice: “‘But you shouldn’t like your health insurance, you should have to give that up. I’m going to demand you not have that. We’re going to give you something better.'”

“It’s not about her, it’s about the attitude out there — the attitude that we know best, you do it my way.”

He added: “I resent that. And I wasn’t talking about her, I was talking about the attitude that if you don’t agree with me, get in the other party.”

Connecting through grief

The strongest connections Biden makes on the campaign trail often come when opening up about the tragedies he has faced — and hearing about the deep losses of others.

Asked what it meant to have people take comfort in sharing some of their deep personal tragedies with him, Biden said, “Well, you know, I have — a lot of people have suffered more than I have as loss, and I have been really — sounds bizarre to say — lucky in the sense that I had an incredible family.”

Biden’s wife and infant daughter died in a car crash in 1972 and his sons were injured. His son, Beau, died of brain cancer four years ago.

He went on to explain how his family stepped up to help him raise his children.

“When you’re the recipient of someone’s understanding and empathy, you understand how it can help and it’s just impossible, although sometimes it’s hard to not share it with others. When people come up to me often, as you’ve observed, is they come up and they’ll walk up to me and all of a sudden a man or woman will just grab me and hug me and say, ‘I just lost my son, lost my daughter, tell me, am I going to be OK, am I going to be OK?’ ”

Biden said the best way to overcome tragedy is to find purpose in life.

“Purpose. And a purpose is best utilized if it relates to something that related to what the person you lost cared about,” he said.

He continued: “There will come a time if anybody of you are going through it where the thought of the person you lost will bring a smile to your lip before it brings a tear to your eye. That’s when you know you’re going to be able to make it. That’s when you know. But it’s hard. It’s hard. It gives me some — it gives me some sense of purpose when I’m able to be of some help.”

Contradictory takes on the GOP

Biden repeated a belief he often expresses on the campaign trail: that Republicans will be more willing to work with Democrats if President Donald Trump loses the 2020 election.

But he also offered a contradictory example — one that showed, as Biden’s Democratic rivals have frequently pointed out, that GOP lawmakers refused to cooperate with Democrats well before Trump became the party’s standard-bearer.

Biden pointed to then-President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court in March 2016. Senate Republicans refused to give Garland a hearing.

“I called 12 Republicans and said, ‘What are you doing?’ ” Biden said. “I said, ‘You realize what you’re doing to the Constitution?’ They said, ‘We know, Joe, but here’s the deal: Joe, I’m in a state where if in fact the Koch brothers drop in $10, $12 million, I will lose the primary.’ ”

Garland was nominated to fill the vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. Trump was elected later that year.

Still, Biden said, “I honest to God believe, with Trump out of the way, you’re going to find people screwing up a lot more courage than they had before to say, ‘OK, OK, I can move now, I have more leeway.'”

Biden didn’t explain why, if Republicans had been unbending before Trump due to concerns that they’d anger their conservative base, they’d be more willing to work with Democrats after his departure.

That missing link is part of what Biden’s opponents have used against him: As he argues for a return to pre-Trump normalcy, his Democratic rivals — including Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who bemoans the “old normal” — say that era wasn’t working for progressives, either.

Not sweating impeachment politics

Biden expressed no worries about potential electoral backlash on Monday, saying that impeachment proceedings against Trump could help convince independents and Republicans to oppose the President.

Asked whether impeachment proceedings would help or hurt Democrats in the 2020 election, Biden answered that — no matter the political outcome — Trump’s actions have left the House of Representatives with no choice but to proceed.

“The House has no option. It has to enforce the Constitution, whether or not — whether or not — it turns out to work or not work, or whether or not it turns out that he should or shouldn’t be kicked out of office,” he said.

Biden added that if Democrats make a strong case that Trump violated his oath of office, “you’re going to find that those areas that are independent and Republican areas saying, whoa, whoa, we got to do something, we got to do something.”

“That’s going to change their view. Let’s see where the facts lead us,” Biden said. He added: “My job is just to go beat him.”

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.