One of the more bizarre answers Joe Biden gave during Thursday night’s presidential debate was that he could not achieve criminal justice reform when he was vice president because he and President Barack Obama faced a Republican Congress.
Biden was responding to a challenge from President Donald Trump, who accused Biden of being “all talk, no action”:
Trump: Why didn’t you do it? You just said, “I’m going to do that, I’m going to do this.” You put tens of thousands of mostly Black young men in prison, now you’re saying you’re going to get… You’re going to undo that, why didn’t you get it done? You had eight years with Obama. You know why, Joe? Because you’re all talk and no action.
Moderator: All right, Vice President Biden, and then we’re going to move on to the next section.
Biden: We had a Republican Congress, that’s the answer.
Trump: Well, you got to talk them into it, Joe. Sometimes you got to talk them into it.
The irony is that Biden had earlier presented himself as a unifying figure: “I don’t look at this in terms of the way he does, blue states and red states. They’re all the United States,” he said, borrowing a line from Obama’s 2004 convention keynote.
Trump went on to point out that he had to persuade Democrats to support his criminal justice reform bill, the First Step Act. But an even better example — one that he unfortunately neglected to mention — was Trump’s success in passing the U.S., Canada, and Mexico Agreement (USMCA) through Congress. The USMCA fulfilled a central campaign promise to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) — which Biden supported — and yet Trump managed to pass it while Congress was busy impeaching him. (Technically, it passed the House the day after impeachment, before the Senate trial.)