Former Vice President Joe Biden made an appearance at the LBJ Presidential Library on UT Austin’s campus Tuesday night. Among other things, he talked about his long tenure in the U.S. Senate and how politics have changed since his time there.
“Today it’s gotten mean and visceral,” Biden said. “And it’s always about your judgment. If you disagree with me you are in the pocket of big business, or you are in the pocket of this, or you are unethical.”
Biden told the event’s moderator, Mark Updegrove, that this toxic atmosphere in Congress is a big problem because Congress needs to reach consensus to get things done.
“It is virtually impossible to reach consensus after you have attacked the integrity of another man or woman,” he explained.
Biden says politics have also gotten more polarized because of other forces — including the growing amount of money spent on politics by special interest groups, as well as gerrymandering.
“You know there is only 45 house seats out of 435 that are contestable,” Biden pointed out. “You could go out and do an unnatural act in a town square, if you are in an overwhelmingly Republican or Democratic district and someone from the other party is not going to beat you.”
Biden said the way political districts are being drawn has forced candidates to appeal more to the fringes of their party, which is also standing in the way of lawmakers reaching consensus on important issues.
The former Vice President also took aim at one of the most polarizing figures in the country right now: President Donald Trump.
Biden explained that he has “kept his mouth shut” and has held back from criticizing the president. He says that’s what President George W. Bush did for President Barack Obama.
However, Biden says Trump’s defense of neo-Nazis and white supremacists following clashes in Charlottesville, which left one person dead, this year warranted an exception.
“Not speaking out — unequivocally with no, no comma or semicolon — about Nazis marching in our streets is reprehensible,” he said.
Biden also spoke about the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday. He says polarization in Congress – as well as influence from outside groups like the National Rifle Association – has stopped rational gun policy from passing in the past decade. He said this is an example of an issue that the public has a consensus on, but lawmakers don’t.