Joe Biden Defends Public Gaffes, Asks Americans to "Lead the World" in 'Late Show' Appearance

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert _Joe Biden - Publicity - H 2019
Scott Kowalchyk/CBS

The former vice president also joked about asking Michelle Obama to be his vice president and explained the motivation for his presidential campaign during a conversation with Stephen Colbert.

Joe Biden traded jokes with Stephen Colbert while also defending his public record in his first campaign appearance on The Late Show on Wednesday night.

The former vice president was in a joking mood when he sat down with the late-night host at the top of the appearance. Answering a question about how he was doing, Biden said, "Things have been going the same. There's no global warming, don't worry about that, the nation is in great shape, and the rest of the world is looking at us with envy."

The Democratic presidential candidate also jokingly blamed Colbert for his latest run for president, following two previous unsuccessful attempts. In his last appearance on The Late Show, he told Colbert, "You said I should run, and so that's why I'm running. It's your fault." On a more serious note, Biden said that the real impetus to run for president after months of speculation was President Trump's response to the 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va., which saw marchers bearing Nazi flags and a protestor killed. After Trump said there were "good people" on both sides of the rally, Biden said he thought, "No sitting president has said anything like that, making a moral equivalence between haters and those who said 'not in my town.'" In a subsequent story for The Atlantic, Biden wrote that Americans had to restore "the soul of this nation," which he told Colbert motivated him to put his name in the race.

When Colbert asked Biden whether he wanted to bring America back to a "pre-Trump normalcy" that nevertheless saw Trump get elected, the candidate bypassed the question by arguing that America has changed significantly since the president took office. "The thing that really bothers me the most is that we are so well-positioned to lead the world in the 21st century," Biden said, and yet Americans feel a lack of optimism about the future of the country. "It's time to pick our heads up and move," he added.

The late-night host then challenged Biden to address a series of public gaffes he had made in the span of a few weeks, including incidents where Biden confused New Hampshire and Vermont and said Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated in the late '70s. "Are you going nuts?" Colbert asked (quoting Biden's recent line, "I'm not going nuts.")

"Look, the reason I came on the Jimmy Kimmel show is because I'm not, I got it," Biden joked in response, to loud applause. 

When Colbert asked if it was fair to criticize him because of public mistakes, Biden responded, "Here's the deal: Every gaffe that I've made ...  have been not about a substantive issue, I'm trying to talk about what other people have done." He cited a recent story that he told at a New Hampshire event about pinning a medal on a soldier that has since been called out as false and misleading: "I was not talking about me. I was praising the valor of all these people out there that I visited," Biden explained.

Colbert then backed down slightly, noting that the man at the center of the story "said that the important thing to him was that you empathized with him, that you understood his emotional state at that moment, which is something we sorely need right now."

Biden emphasized that the "essence of [the story] was true" and that the facts that he had gotten wrong in the story — his political position at the time, the branch of the military involved, the date, the rank of the man involved and the act that the man was awarded for — weren't central to the point of the story or disqualified him for the presidency. "I don't get wrong things like, 'We should lock kids in cages up a the border,'" he said, taking a shot at President Trump.

During a "lightning round" of questions, Colbert asked Biden about the last time he talked to former president Barack Obama ("three or four weeks ago") and whether he would appoint Obama to the Supreme Court ("absolutely," but he probably wouldn't accept, Biden said). When asked subsequently whether he had asked Michelle Obama for advice, Biden responded, "Only to be my vice president." Following applause, he added, "Michelle, I'm joking."

Watch the full, extended interview below.