Biden talks Cuomo, Putin, migrants, vaccine in ABC News exclusive interview
By BEN GITTLESON, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — President Joe Biden sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos for a wide-ranging interview Tuesday in which he said his message to migrants was to not come to the border and that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo should resign if allegations he committed sexual harassment are confirmed.
Biden also told Stephanopoulos that he agreed Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “killer” and would “pay a price” for interfering in U.S. elections.
And he said it would be “tough” to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by May 1, a deadline set out in a deal former President Donald Trump’s administration made with the Taliban.
‘I honest to God thought we had’ politics out of vaccine discussion
Biden told Stephanopoulos he was surprised that COVID-19 vaccinations were still so politicized.
“How do you get the politics out of this vaccine talk?” Stephanopoulos asked.
“I honest to God thought we had it out,” Biden said. “I honest to God thought that, once we guaranteed we had enough vaccine for everybody, things would start to calm down. Well, they have calmed down a great deal. But I don’t quite understand – you know – I just don’t understand this sort of macho thing about, ‘I’m not gonna get the vaccine. I have a right as an American, my freedom to not do it.’ Well, why don’t you be a patriot? Protect other people.”
Biden said getting vaccinated himself has let him show Americans doing so is safe — and has changed his life “because I can hug my grandkids now.”
“They come over to the house,” the president said. “I can see them. I’m able to be with them.”
Putin is ‘going to pay’
The United States’ chief intelligence office on Tuesday released an unclassified report on foreign meddling in the 2020 election that concluded Russian President Vladimir Putin oversaw sweeping efforts aimed at “denigrating” Biden’s candidacy.
Biden told Stephanopoulos that he had warned Putin about a potential response during a call in late January.
“He will pay a price,” Biden said. “We had a long talk, he and I, when we — I know him relatively well. And the conversation started off, I said, ‘I know you and you know me. If I establish thisoccurred, then be prepared.”
Stephanopoulos asked: “So you know Vladimir Putin. You think he’s a killer?”
“Mmm hmm, I do,” Biden replied.
While the president said “you’ll see” that Putin is “going to pay,” he did not elaborate.
He did say, though, that it was possible to “walk and chew gum at the same time for places where it’s in our mutual interest to to work together.” He pointed to his decision to extend an arms agreement with Russia in January.
‘It is tough’ to pull troops out of Afghanistan by May
Biden also addressed his administration’s review of a deal Trump made with the Taliban under which the U.S. would pull out all of its troops from Afghanistan by May 1 if the Taliban met certain requirements.
“I’m in the process of making that decision now as to when they’ll leave,” Biden said. “The fact is that, that was not a very solidly negotiated deal that the president — the former president — worked out. And so we’re in consultation with our allies as well as the government, and that decision’s going to be — it’s in process now.”
Biden said it would be “tough” for all service members to leave by May 1.
“It could happen,” he said, “but it is tough.”
Says Cuomo should resign if allegations confirmed
Biden told Stephanopoulos that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo should resign if an investigation confirms claims he committed sexual harassment.
“I know you said you want the investigation to continue,” Stephanopoulos told Biden, referring to a probe by New York’s attorney general into allegations Cuomo had harassed several women. “If the investigation confirms the claims of the women, should he resign?”
“Yes,” the president replied. “I think he’ll probably end up being prosecuted, too.”
Seven accusers have in recent weeks raised allegations against the Democratic governor, and one claim he groped a woman was referred to police in Albany, New York. A number of top Democrats from New York, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, have called on Cuomo to step down.
Cuomo has denied the allegations.
Biden has so far stopped short of backing an immediate end to Cuomo’s governorship.
“There should be an investigation to determine whether what she says is true,” Biden told Stephanopoulos during a wide-ranging interview in Darby, Pennsylvania. “That’s what’s going on now.”
Things will ‘change’ with Saudi Arabia in wake of Khashoggi killing
Stephanopoulos also pressed Biden on why he had not punished Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally after U.S. intelligence concluded that the crown prince had approved an operation to capture or kill Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. As a candidate, Biden had promised a strong response to Saudi leaders.
The president said “I’m the guy that released the report” — referring to the U.S. intelligence report the Trump administration did not make public but that he did. Biden also said he had “made it clear” to Saudi Arabia’s king “that things were going to change.”
“We held accountable all the people in that organization — but not the crown prince, because we have never that I’m aware of, when we have an alliance with a country, gone to the acting head of state and punished that person and ostracized him,” Biden said.
He said he “went down the list of the things we expected the Saudis to do,” including that it should “end the war in Yemen, end the starvation there.”
Message to migrants: ‘Don’t come over’
Amid a surge of migrants and unaccompanied minors on the U.S. southern border, Stephanopoulos asked the president, “Do you have to say quite clearly, ‘Don’t come’?”
“Yes, I can say quite clearly: Don’t come over,” Biden said.
“Don’t leave your town or city or community,” he added.
The number of unaccompanied teens and children who have been taken into U.S. custody along the U.S.-Mexico border has shot up in recent weeks, as the number of migrants attempting to cross into the country increases.
Republicans have said Biden’s moves to rescind Trump’s harsh immigration policies have encouraged migrants to come to the United States, but Biden told ABC News that “we’re sending back people” who cross the border.
Stephanopoulos asked Biden: “Was it a mistake not to anticipate this surge?”
“First of all, there was a surge in the last two years,” the president said. “In ’19 and ’20, there was a surge, as well.”
Stephanopoulos noted, “This one might be worse,” and Biden acknowledged, “Well, it could be.”
“The idea that Joe Biden said, ‘Come’ — because I heard the other day that they’re coming because they know I’m a nice guy,” Biden said.
“Here’s the deal, they’re not,” he said.
Thousands of unaccompanied minors are currently being held in U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities, many for longer than legally allowed, as Biden said his administration was scrambling to “provide beds for these children.”
“We will have, I believe by next month, enough of those beds to take care of these children who have no place to go,” Biden said.
Biden said he “inherited” a “mess” and that it was important to address the root causes of migration from Central America.
“It’s not like someone’s sittin’ in Guadalajara right now in Mexico — which is not the biggest problem right now — and saying, ‘I got a great idea. Let’s sell everything we have, give it to a coyote, give him our kids, take ’em across the border. Leave ’em in a desert where they don’t speak the language. Won’t that be fun?” the president said.
He added: “That’s not why people come. They come because their circumstance is so bad. Now, some come because they want a better opportunity, for economic reasons. They don’t qualify. And so in the meantime, what we should be doing is making sure we provide beds for these children.”
On a lighter note: Is Major out of the doghouse?
At the end of the interview, the president also addressed his dog Major, one of two German Shepherds he has, recently causing “a minor injury” — as the White House had said — to someone at the White House. Major was brought to Biden’s home in Delaware after the incident took place, although the White House said it was because first lady Jill Biden was out of town.
“Is Major out of the dog house?” Stephanopoulos asked the president.
“The answer’s yes,” Biden said, laughing. “Look, Major was a rescue pup. Major did not bite someone and penetrate the skin. What happens is for– th– I guess what surprised me is the White House itself, living there. Every door you turn to, there’s a guy there in a black jacket.”
He said living in a new environment startled Major.
“You turn a corner, and there’s two people you don’t know at all,” Biden said. “And he moves to protect. But he’s a sweet dog. Eighty-five percent of the people there love him. He just– all he does is lick them and wag his tail.”
Biden said “the dog’s being trained now” in Delaware and that he planned to see him later that night when he stayed in Delaware.
“He was going home,” Biden said. “I didn’t banish him to home. Jill was gonna be away for four days. I was gonna be away for two so we took him home.”
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