TRANSCRIPT: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris' first joint interview with ABC's Robin Roberts

This was their first joint interview since accepting the Democratic nomination.

ByABC News
August 23, 2020, 8:57 PM

On Friday, Aug. 21, 2020, the day after the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention, “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir and “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts conducted the first joint interviews with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate Sen. Kamala Harris in Wilmington, Delaware. The interviews aired in a special edition of "20/20" called "The Ticket: The First Interview" on Sunday, Aug. 23.

The following is a transcript of Roberts' interview:

(Click here for a transcript of Muir's interview)

ROBIN ROBERTS: Vice President Biden, Senator Harris, I am telling you David and I are very appreciative of this opportunity to have this conversation with you both. Officially the democratic ticket.

JOE BIDEN: This is it!

KAMALA HARRIS: This is it.

ROBERTS: And I remember, many people remember, that you said that you wanted to select a vice president that had strengths and qualities that you don't have. So, what strengths qualities does Senator Harris have that you don’t?

BIDEN: She has enormous strength. The main reason and I realized that I drove my staff crazy and everybody else and all of you by not letting anybody know who I picked. But I wanted someone who was, who was strong and who was ready to be president on day one, and she's ready. And the other thing about Kamala is that I asked her, when I called her and asked her to be my vice president -- the nominee along with me -- I said, I'd like to ask you what Barack asked of me.

I want you to be the last person in the room on every major decision because I know she'll not be intimidated by the, by the Oval Office. I know she'll not be reluctant to tell me exactly what she thinks. And I know she'll have a perspective -- different in many cases than mine just by nature of who we are and our backgrounds and that's why I thought it was so important as well to have a woman as vice president.

ROBERTS: You get the call, the Zoom call. Take us back to that moment.

HARRIS: It was extraordinary, almost surreal. So the call was set up. It was scheduled. I had no idea what the content of the call, or the conversation would be, and you know, the, the great thing about Joe, he didn't make me, you know, he didn't, he didn't build up the tension. He immediately said "let's do this." And, you know, I'm so honored and I told him that then, and I -- and I feel it, to serve with him, to go through not only the campaign with him, but to fight to win this election.

I do strongly believe Joe is the person for this moment to lead our country, and I feel very committed to doing everything I can to help them in every way.

And it was, you know, it was that feeling it was the feeling of, and I told Joe this, but you know, my mother who you know at the age of 25 gave birth to me at Kaiser Hospital in Oakland, California, and at that time there was no way that she thought that this is how things would work out. It's-- you know I think about her looking down and being very proud and it's very humbling.

ROBERTS: Did you ask for any commitments, any guarantees, before you agreed to be VP?

HARRIS: No, the thing about Joe I’m telling you he just says what’s on his mind, he doesn’t play games, he doesn’t equivocate. One of the first things he said is I want you to be the last person in the room and there was no negotiation at all. It was literally an immediate commitment. There’s so much to get done and I think that’s the kind of relationship and partnership that will be necessary to tackle the kind of challenges that we have right now.

BIDEN: I mean she had the best recommendation she can get: my son Beau, not a joke. Beau asked me when she was U.S. Attorney General, they were attorneys general together taking on the banks, and I got a call and he said, "Dad, I want you to go to California." I said, "OK honey, what for?" He said, "I want you to nominate Kamala Harris for United States Senate." I said OK, without asking. And they were good friends and Beau had great respect for Kamala, knew she was tough. She has a backbone like a ramrod. She's completely thoroughly honest, and so I, you know, I'm not joking. You knew my relationship with Beau. So it was easy for me, it was easy for me.

ROBERTS: And there’s a connection there that I'm going to talk more about when it comes to Beau and the other aspects of family. You alluded, Mr. Vice President, about the fact that you made it clear early on that you were going to select a woman to be your running mate, you would select a woman of color, did you do that to rally your base or did you feel pressure to select a Black woman?

BIDEN: No, I didn't feel pressure to select a Black woman but I-- what I do think and I've said it before, and you've heard me say it. I've probably said it on your show with you, is that the government should look like the people, look like the country. Fifty one percent of the people in this country are women. As that old expression goes, women hold up half the sky, and in order to be able to succeed, you've got to be dealt in across the board, and no matter what you say, you cannot, I cannot understand and fully appreciate what it means to walk in her shoes, to be an African-American woman, with Indian-American background, a child of immigrants. She can’t assume exactly what it's like to walk in my shoes.

What we do know is we have the same value set, and I really mean that and so it was, it was easy for me, it was an easy decision to make. Although there are an enormous number of really qualified women. I spoke to every single woman that was on the list before and as the day I made the choice. Before anything was announced I called every single one of them.

ROBERTS: And so what was the tipping point?

BIDEN: The tipping point was -- I was, it was -- there were several things. But it just seemed to fit the closest and the best. I thought I understood and I think I understand her-- where she comes from, what her instincts are, her, her character. I watched her take on the big banks, I watched her take on the gun lobby, I watched her-- the way she was a prosecutor. I've watched her as a United States senator.You know, I mean she -- she's an incredible woman who just-- and on the Judiciary Committee which I used to chair for years. I watched her just insist on getting the answers, and not, not relented until she got the answers. And so I just-- it just seemed to fit.

ROBERTS: You're not the first. This is not the first time that you are a first and you, you said something about your mom which made me think of mine.


ROBERTS: "It's an honor to be first and do what you can to make sure you're not last."

HARRIS: That’s what my mother said. That was her advice. She said Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure not the last. But -- but I want to say something about Joe in terms of the selection. You know, we talk about what it means to be progressive. Joe really walks the talk. I'll remind everyone that Joe was one of the first Democrats to speak out in terms of LGBTQ rights and equality. He just did it.

Joe in selecting a woman of color, a woman of color to be his vice president what an audacious move. The audacity of Joe Biden to actually just make that decision, and then follow through on it. And in that way, advance something that might have taken many, many, many years otherwise. And I think that's a very important aspect of Joe’s selection of me. To run with him to be on the ticket with him, and God willing to serve with him. And, and that's one of the things that really makes me so respect and have affection for Joe Biden, because those are the kinds of things he does, and he doesn't seek permission to do it. He doesn't look to whether or not it’s popular. He said I'm going to select a woman, and then he selected a woman of color. Right? It says a lot.

ROBERTS: People are hearing the glowing things that you were saying, and believing these things that you're saying about the vice president, but they're also remembering, can't get past the debate. A lot of people cannot let that go, the way you challenged him, so how did you go from there to here?

HARRIS: I want Joe Biden to be the next president of the United States. I believe in Joe Biden, I believe in his perspective, and frankly I think that's that conversation is a distraction from what we need to accomplish right now and what we need to do. We're looking at a situation where the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of Americans have died in the last few months, where millions, tens of millions of people have become unemployed, and Joe Biden has not only a plan but a deep, deeply rooted commitment to take care of folks. And there are so many of the priorities that he has that are shared priorities between us based on our collective life's work. And we certainly have one thing in common in this election of-- that is, in addition to all the policies, which is: Donald Trump should not be President of the United States. And so that's where I'm focused.

ROBERTS: And did you have a conversation? After that debate, before selecting her? Because it's something that people and I understand what you're saying and, and that was a moment then and how you're committed, but it is the one thing that people ask over and over and over again in this brief amount of time since you've been selected.

BIDEN: As matter of fact, we talked after the debate, exchanged pleasantries. I think what’s-- I think there is an inherently greater burden on women seeking the presidency than on men. I think there’s, there's an inherent sexism that just pervades our politics and, and I was, you know, I remember (former Sen.) Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) saying to me that you can always tell when a guy really means it by look how strong his mother was.

You know, you think I’m joking, I’m not. And, you know, my mom. Also, she was all five foot two of her, she had a backbone like a ramrod, I've been surrounded by, my whole life by and not a joke, by women who are smarter than I was, tough, as tough, women who said what they thought and did it in a way that wasn't always palatable.

My sister and I went to the same university. I graduated, she graduated with honors. My wife has two master's degrees and doctorate degree, my deceased wife was a scholar student at Syracuse University. And I, you know, my daughter has her master's degree with honors from the University of Pennsylvania. I mean there's a lot of-- So I just, and I don't hold grudges. It's not. I think you, you asked me one time in Richard Ben Kramer's book, he said when I waved to a guy who had gone after me and he said, "what are you waving at him for? He's the guy that did such and such to you." And he looked at me and said, "I'm not sure you're Irish. You don’t hold grudges."

But I just look at Kamala and she has everything it takes to engender confidence in the American people. She’s straight as an arrow. She tells people what she wants to do. She does it in a way that is-- I mean, let me say it this way. I remember this very room, the night I got elected when I was 29 years old, and a person came up and said "how'd you do it, how'd you do it?" Like there had to be some secret that I had. And I said, you know, the first thing you got to do if you decide to run is figure out what's worth losing over. If you can determine what's worth losing over, then run. If you don’t, go into something else. You'll be much happier, you’ll do much better. She knows what's worth losing over. And so that's why I like her so much.

ROBERTS: There’s so much that brings you together, and it's family, and that was very apparent during-- in convention, we heard from your families, a great deal. You speak about Beau and how, in essence, he introduced you to Kamala Harris. There's another bond in there in that something that many people can relate to a club that no one wants to belong to and that's when it comes to cancer, and what it can do.

BIDEN: You know.

ROBERTS: And you both lost a loved one. Your mother was a cancer researcher and was taken by the disease. This is a bond that you all have and sharing?

HARRIS: It is and Joe and I have actually talked about the experience, which is an awful experience that far too many Americans have also experienced. He and I have talked about the trips to the hospital for chemotherapy with your loved one. We talked about, you know, when my -- when my mother was sick, there was a doctor who came up to me and said, has anyone talked to you about anticipatory grief, and I had never heard that term, but it makes perfect sense which is you are deeply grieving someone you've not yet lost. And while they're obviously still there-- and it is definitely a shared experience.

BIDEN: But it’s also going to be a shared effort we’re going to have.


BIDEN: We can beat cancer. We talked about -- I think we're a country of possibilities. After Beau passed the president allowed me to run the Cancer Moonshot. I visited virtually every major cancer research facility in the world, in the world. I traveled the world. And one of the things that came, that came out of that was that there are a number of brilliant, brilliant researchers and clinicians, but they didn't talk to each other very much. They didn't share data very much.

You know, when Nixon declared the war on cancer he had no army, he had no troops, he had no capacity to have these hospitals even share records, but we're now in a position where things are changing so drastically. And I truly believe, and we're going to, we're going to assist that we invest considerably more money in research and NIH and -- and I mean make a major, major effort, because we can fundamentally change cancer. So many people are affected by it.

I need not tell you, I think the most frightening word in the English language is that "c" word, “you have cancer.” And so many people deal with it, but we're going to make continued progress on it. And we're making progress right now, but we're going to invest in it.

HARRIS: And you know one thing to add to that point about this election and the shared experience that the three of us have, as it relates to cancer, is the issue of the Affordable Care Act.

And let's remember that it was Joe Biden with President Barack Obama that made that happen that brought health coverage to tens of millions of people. And right now, Donald Trump is in court trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, and if he's successful, over 20 million people will lose their health coverage. One of the blessings that Joe and I had is that Beau, his son, [and] my mother, they had coverage, but to go through an experience like that, where a person you love so deeply is dying before your eyes, and all that that requires in terms of trying to take care of them and have to worry about how you're going to pay the bills and are you going to lose your home, and everything you've worked for, while you're also losing someone you love.

And so, that is also, you know, in terms of the bond that Joe and I have around the issues that are at play in this election, based on our personal experiences, and that being one of probably the most profound and important, which is the dignity of human beings and their right to have health care, and not have it be a function of how much money they have.

BIDEN: How can you maintain your dignity looking at a child, or a husband, or a wife, a mom, or a dad, or a brother, or a sister and they’re terminal and know that without Obamacare, without the Affordable Care Act-- they could have come in and said to Beau well you've outgrown your coverage, suffer the last five months in peace on your own. What? I used to sit there and think about that.

I mean, and it strips so many people, so many people of their dignity knowing they can’t provide for the people who are ill. That's not going to happen on our watch. It's just not gonna happen, no matter what this guy does.

ROBERTS: I know this issue is so important to you. And I'm glad, and many are glad to hear, when it comes to health care in particular, about the fight for cancer. Race relations also are extremely important in this country. You said, "I choose to speak truth, even when it's uncomfortable."


BIDEN: So when you have a running mate who makes a comment like, "you ain't Black," and leads some people to say, "he just doesn't get it." Have you been able to speak truth to him about that?

HARRIS: Listen, when Joe and I talk about, and frankly have talked about, over the years, but in connection with this race about the state of Black America, he has a deep sense of awareness and knowledge about racial disparities, inequities and systematic racism. And Joe speaks the words and actually knows how to say the words "Black Lives Matter." Contrary to what the president of the United States, the current president of the United States, does which is to sow hate and division full time, has never spoken those words and will never speak the words "Black Lives Matter." So in this election, there is no question to me, that electing Joe Biden as president of the United States, means for the first time in the last four years having a president who takes on the issue of systemic racism and does something about it.

So his plans are about dealing with home ownership in the Black community, dealing with investing in Black entrepreneurship. You know, Joe talks full time about the need to support working families. And, you know, some people might think that, oh, that you're only talking about a certain kind of family. No he'll talk about that it's about all families, including Black families, about economic well being, he talks about criminal justice reform. He has an agenda that deals with the fact of race and the difficult fact of race, both in terms of current inequities, but also history, and the racism that has existed in our country, that, that exists today and has historical basis.

In fact, you can talk to Joe about his personal reaction to the kind of white supremacy and, and, and even Charlottesville. He has been outspoken on those issues and, and continues to talk about disparities, and I know where his heart is. I know where his heart is.

BIDEN: I wouldn't be here without the African-American community. We have the eighth largest Black population in America. I worked in the East Side, six blocks from here, which is virtually all African American.

That and I decided to do that because I wanted to learn more. I was a kid getting engaged in the Civil Rights movement. When I came back from law school, we didn’t have a law school in Delaware at the time. I went to Syracuse law school, came back. That semester, Dr. King had been assassinated, 20% of my city was burned to the ground. I had a good job with a well-known law firm and I quit and became a public defender because we're the only city in American history since the Civil War occupied by the military for 10 months with drawn bayonets.

That's where I-- that's where I got my education and get overwhelming support-- over 94% of the vote when I’ve run, but here's the point. You know, when I was asked a question about, you know, why should someone vote for you or they were talking about Trump, and I said, he said, "Well, we like Trump." I said, Well, and I shouldn't have said it. And I said, "Well, OK. Who are you? How could you vote-- how can a Black man vote for him?" I shouldn't have said that.

But what I was trying to make the point that this is a man who spent his entire career denigrating African Americans. Denigrating them, continuing to denigrate them. To do nothing but go after race and inflame it. Pour, you know, gasoline on the fire. I shouldn't have said it, but the truth is, there's a fundamental difference between Donald Trump and me on the issue of race across the board.

I'm not going to, I'm not going to try to divide people. It's all about bringing people together.

ROBERTS: George Floyd and I know you spoke to his daughter.

BIDEN: And their whole family.

ROBERTS: Breonna Taylor. Say their names, and there's so many names, such unrest in this country this summer-- the summer of unrest. And people from all backgrounds, taken to the streets and saying enough. There's a sense, maybe a hope, that this time is different and you both have been involved in the Civil Rights movements from, you were in a crib in a stroller with your parents in the 60s. Is it different this time? Is it different?

BIDEN: It is different

ROBERTS: How is it different and what will you do if elected a Biden administration to truly bring about change, lasting change?

BIDEN: I would do a whole range of things first of all I'm going to have America look and see that my administration across the board is gonna look like America, number one. Number two, we're going to make sure that we change the entire system in the way in which we deal with, with criminal justice from punishment to rehabilitate, no one should be going to jail because they have a drug addiction. They should be going into mandatory drug treatment that's why I set up drug courts.

We make sure that we're going to see that people have an opportunity to make a living. That's why we're going to see to it that-- right now, 23% of the money that goes into government contracts should go to minority firms, it's not happening. We should, for example, we're going to provide for a $15,000 tax credit for anyone buying the first term homebuyer, designed to allow African Americans and minorities to be able to get into the-- into the market to build wealth.

We're going to provide for a significant increase in what Barack and I started for entrepreneurs and minority entrepreneurs. It's about not just eliminating quote unquote prejudice is about putting people in a position where they can amass wealth, they can amass-- they can do what every other person has been able to. Where do you amass most of your wealth, that gets handed down well and, and the value of your home. Y

You know, if you, if you and I bought a home, same home at the same builder, even though you're an incredibly qualified person and you probably make a hell a lot more money than I make, and same home, different sides of the highway, you're in an African American community, and I'm in a white community. My homes can be valued 23% higher than your home. You park your automobile in the Black neighborhood, you have a better driving record than the white guy in a white neighborhood, you're gonna pay more for insurance.

We have to root out to systemic racism. And an education, an education. That's why we have to triple the money we're spending on Title One schools, those schools that come from low tax base areas, so that we can in fact provide the kind of early education for three and four and five year olds because we know when you do that, you increase exponentially the prospects of success, no matter what you-- where you come from, Black, white, Hispanic, Asian American and so there's so much we can do.

And the public is ready, the blinders have been taken off. They've seen in this COVID crisis who the people who have been lifting them up, who the people are risking their lives, who is stocking the grocery shelves, who are the first responders. And I just think we have an enormous opportunity. Enormous.

ROBERTS: But there's also been a national conversation about policing. And, you know the name that you have “Kamala: Top Cop." Top cop. And the book that you wrote 10 years ago "Smart on Crime," where you could put it by saying that you wanted to see more police on the street. Do you still feel that way?

HARRIS: Listen, I think there is no question. First of all, when I wrote that book, we-- Black Lives Matter did not exist. And I give full credit to the brilliance of that movement in terms of what it has done to advance a conversation that needed to happen, a long time ago, but did not capture the ears or the hearts of the American people. What Black Lives Matter has done as a movement has been to be a counter force against a very entrenched status quo around the criminal justice system in America.

And so we have seen the kind of change that we need that has been happening over the course of the last five years, for sure. And that's why I'm so excited about what we can do in terms of a new administration in the White House. That is about taking on these issues in a way that makes clear that the American people are ready for it and they want it. And so it's about a policy that says we're going to ban chokeholds and carotid holes. George Floyd would be alive today if there had been such a ban. We need that ban.

That's part of the policy and the platform, that a Biden-Harris administration is going to fight for. We need pattern and practice investigations of police departments who have a history and a pattern and practice of discrimination. When I was Attorney General of California, I conducted pattern and practice investigations of law enforcement agencies that were discriminating or exercising excessive force.

A Department of Justice, unlike what Bill Barr is under Donald Trump, that is actually investigating these cases and enforcing consent decrees. A policy that is going to be about decriminalizing marijuana. Having a policy that is about looking at having a centralized database in our country that tracks police officers that have been found to break the rules or break the law. These are the kinds of things that need to be in place. Finally.

And these are the kinds of issues that we are going to take on as an administration and implement, because it is time for that kind of change and enough is enough. Enough is enough.

ROBERTS: It has been almost a daily conversation with a lot of people. President Trump says that you want to defund the police. Do you?

BIDEN: No I don’t. By the way, he proposes cutting a half a billion dollars of local police support. Look, what the police need is the police, first of all, there has to be national standards that in fact apply to every police department in the country.

And that's what we're going to do and it goes across the board in terms of conduct transparency, when in fact there's a defense of a police officer that it can't be by the prosecutor, a prosecutor, you can't be the by the prosecutor that police officer deals with, has to come from another jurisdiction to do it. There’s a lot we can do. But the other side of that is, you know, one of the things that we have in the African American community is the desire to have police who will protect them and know them to be in the street, community policing.

The whole idea of when I wrote that, that bill is community policing. Everybody forgets a third of that bill that I wrote was to put more cops in the street, not in their automobiles, but getting out and knowing the community. Knowing who owns the local grocery store, knowing everybody in the community, and crime will drop. The other thing is-- they also need help. We-- they need more social workers, they need psychologists with them, they need to have the kind of help that in fact allows them to deal with circumstances, where you have someone who is about to jump off a building or someone who is crazed and needs-- you have to have people who are-- have expertise beyond just the physical support and the physical protection of someone.

And that includes psychologists and psychiatrists on police departments. And so that's why we have to-- I don't, I don’t want to defund police departments. I think they need more help, they need more assistance, but that, that-- look, there are unethical senators, there are unethical presidents, there are unethical doctors, unethical lawyers, unethical prosecutors, there are unethical cops. They should be rooted out. The vast majority of the police, they're ashamed of what they saw, what they saw.

But you have to take action, and it has to be national. We have to make it clear that this is about protecting neighborhoods, protecting people, everybody across the board. So the only guy that actually put in a bill to actually defund the police is Donald Trump.

ROBERTS: A final question for each of you. I'll begin with you, Vice President -- Mr. Vice President. How are you going to reach out to people-- that many people who you know have not supported you, do not support you?

BIDEN: Look, I'm going to run as a Democrat, but i’m gonna be an American president. I'm going to, I'm going, I'm going to represent everyone whether they voted for me or not. That’s what presidents are supposed to do. That's what I'm gonna do and reach out and just tell the truth, lay it out. I'm going to be the president for all the people.

The job of a president is to represent everyone whether they voted for you or not. And to tell the truth. Take responsibility. Let people know what you're going to do. The words of a president matter. They matter a great deal, no matter who's uttering those words, and it starts off by telling the truth, and making it clear, this is about-- I get criticized the day I announced if you recall, I think you asked me about it. You said, "do you think you could unite the country?" We have to unite this country.

We have to unite this country. And there's just been too much misinformation that’s been laid out there. People are looking for someone to be authentic, tell the truth and say exactly what they're going to do. And that's what I'm going to do.

ROBERTS: People have had the opportunity to know you over the years, over the decades. You're new on the scene as a nominee.

HARRIS: Oh no, I’m not.

ROBERTS: Well as far as a national public knowing you, in comparison to the vice president. My point being, you’re good, my point being, what is it that one thing you want people to know about you, the one thing that you want them to take away from this conversation tonight?

HARRIS: We see them. We see them. We see, we see that father and mother who are sitting at their kitchen table after the kids go to bed and they're wondering how they're going to pay the rent in September. We see the one in five mothers in America who right now is describing her children under the age of 12 as being hungry. We see those families who have a loved one who is suffering from cancer, or COVID, and deserve to have all the support that gives them dignity and the care they need and the support they need.

We see the eyes of the children in our own families and in our communities, and in our country. Who, who have optimism, and they have capacity and they have brilliance but they need a government that invests in their education and takes it seriously. We see the people. And I think that's what the people deserve. You know Joe, I'm going to, I'm going to, Joe has many sayings I love, he has all kinds of sayings. He and I have that in common too, he talks about his father and his uncle, I talk about my mother. But Joe what is it you talk about, your dad said that what people, they don't expect that their government will solve--

BIDEN: My dad used to say, "I don’t expect the government to solve my problem, but I expect them to understand my problem." Yes, and I think the background we both come from, although very different. It's all about understanding. Ordinary people, given half a chance, not a joke, half a chance, can do extraordinary things. They've never, ever, ever let the country down, given a chance.

ROBERTS: That’s right you said your family you said my uncle's my aunts and "my chitthis."

HARRIS: My chitthis.

ROBERTS: That really blew up the social media, they really appreciated that. It resonated with a lot of Indian households.

HARRIS: That’s great. Well, it is a thing.

ROBERTS: Thank you both very much.

HARRIS: Thank you.

BIDEN: Thank you.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

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