Joe Biden Q&A: His Anti-Sexual Assault Campaign, Lady Gaga Surprise and "Sad" Donald Trump
The vice president opens up about his cause, It's On Us, which the singer will join him on the road to promote April 7.
A version of this story first appeared in the April 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Vice President Joe Biden's Oscar introduction of Lady Gaga might have been a head-scratcher to 34 million viewers, but thousands of college students understood exactly the link between politician and global superstar. Gaga's Oscar-nominated song, "Til It Happens to You," was written for The Hunting Ground, a 2015 documentary about sexual assault on campuses — and in 2014, with President Obama, Biden launched the It's On Us initiative (itsonus.org) to bring awareness and collective responsibility to the same issue (one in five women and one and 16 men are sexually assaulted in college, according to NotAlone.gov, a resource site launched two years ago as part of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault). Now, on April 7, Gaga will join the vice president at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, to support him as he travels to colleges on behalf of It's On Us, which so far has seen 250,000 students from more than 530 colleges sign a pledge of solidarity and activism. As he looks ahead to life after the 2016 election, Biden, 73, reflects on why the cause he's most proud of won't be his only legacy.
What's been your proudest moment around your work with It's On Us?
Hearing from survivors who have been helped by It's On Us. Last April we held an event at the University of Illinois. Twelve days later, a woman who attended the event — a recent graduate — came forward to report sexual assault by a former boyfriend. She said she was compelled to act after attending the rally. After she reported the assault at the UI Women's Resources Center, her case was reported to the state and local police department. Turns out, her ex-boyfriend was alleged to have assaulted two other former girlfriends. After she came forward, he was charged with two counts of criminal sexual assault.
You grew up at a time when women's rights weren't at the forefront of cultural dialogue. How have the women in your life shaped your advocacy?
I grew up in a household where women's rights were always at the forefront of cultural dialogue. My mother, my grandmother, my sister, my wife, my daughters — women's rights have never been a question. It's a view shared by my fathers and brothers. This was never a question. They were always at the forefront.
Why is Lady Gaga a good ambassador for this cause?
Lady Gaga is brave and sincere. She's a survivor who has the courage to speak out, and I know how difficult that can be. We've talked at length, and I admire her courage — everyone can see it because it's on display. She encourages so many other women to step forward.
You've made strides in bringing awareness to violence against women. Seeing one of the candidates in this election cycle promoting aggression among his supporters, do you feel it undermines the work you and the president have done?
It not only undermines the work that President Obama and I have done, it undermines the work a majority of Republicans and Democrats have done. It is the antithesis of everything this country is about.
Do you ever hear Donald Trump speak and think, "Boy, I'd love to debate that guy"?
When I listen to some of the stuff Donald Trump says, it just makes me sad. It's never, never been wise to try and appeal to the darker side of human nature. Abraham Lincoln was right — it's about appealing to our better angels. That's who Americans are, and that's what they want.
Biden spoke at an It's On Us event at Atlanta's Morehouse College in November.
How much easier will it be to move It's On Us along as a cause if Secretary Clinton is elected POTUS?
Well, I don't know how it can be much easier than it is right now with President Obama's absolute and total support, but I'm confident that whoever the next vice president is, if he or she decides to take this into the White House, that it will get overwhelming support from Secretary Clinton or Senator Sanders.
What are you going to miss most about working alongside the president?
I’m going to miss everything about working alongside him. He’s one of the most decent, honorable men I’ve ever worked with. He shares my passion for ending violence against women, and I’m grateful he’s let me lead this effort. When I accepted his offer to be vice president, he asked if there was anything I wanted, and I said I wanted to bring the Violence Against Women Office inside the White House [when he was a senator, Biden drafted the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, which was signed into law by President Clinton]. He said yes. He didn’t hesitate. We both thank Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch for supporting that move.
If this is your last legacy, would you be content? What causes will you and Dr. Biden champion after the White House?
It won't be my last legacy, but it will be my proudest legacy. My father always said the worst sin is the abuse of power, and the cardinal sin is for a man to abuse a woman or a child. I hope my efforts have made a difference. Jill and I will be deeply involved in a range of things. Jill, in providing affordable education and expanding access to community colleges. I’m going to continue to be deeply involved, along with Jill and my daughter [Ashley], in violence against women issues. My son, Beau, was an attorney general, and a champion of fighting abuse of children and women. His friends set up a foundation so we’ll continue that fight. My son Hunter, is chairman of the World Food Program USA, dealing with displaced persons and the millions of people who are underfed. These are all causes I plan on staying involved in. And, as I’ve made clear, the president’s given me the great opportunity in the new effort to end cancer as we know it, and I will continue to be deeply involved in pursuit of cancer prevention and cure. I believe we can make enormous progress in the next four or five years.
For many people, music is the soundtrack to the best and worst moments of their lives. Which songs or artists stand out for you?
Chris Martin from Coldplay stands out. I appreciated when he sang my son's [Beau] favorite song, "Til Kingdom Come," at his funeral. Neil Diamond's "Cracklin' Rosie" is a favorite of mine. I remember riding along with my two boys back when that song was at the top of the charts, and they'd sing at the top of their lungs in the back of the car.
What song are you listening to that makes for a good D.C.-to-Delaware commute?
I listen to a whole list of songs — from Tina Turner's "What's Love Got to Do With It" to Ray Charles' "I Can't Stop Loving You" to Van Morrison and k.d. lang.
Which musician would make the best president?
The middle class would have the best chance with Bruce Springsteen. He understands issues facing working Americans.