Former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday praised Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and three other liberal first-term Democratic congresswomen who’ve tangled with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for “pushing the edges.”
But in an interview with MSNBC, the front-runner in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination also argued that the four lawmakers don’t represent “the majority of Democrats” who won back the House of Representatives last year.
Biden complimented Pelosi for “doing a masterful job” in dealing with the four lawmakers, who in recent weeks battled with the House speaker and other Democrats over their support for a bipartisan $4.6 billion border security bill that was eventually signed into law by President Trump.
“I think the freshman, particularly AOC, is smart as hell, really bright and really a value-added to the party in terms of her pushing the edges and pushing and pushing,” Biden said in an interview recorded Monday and televised Tuesday morning on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
“But Nancy knows what she’s doing,” he said. “I think she’s doing a masterful job. I have great respect for her.”
Asked what advice he’d give Ocasio-Cortez, the controversial and firebrand liberal lawmaker from New York City who’s known by her initials AOC, Biden said: “I wouldn’t presume to give her advice. I’m not being a wise guy.”
“AOC’s brilliant and the other three women we’re talking about are really smart,” Biden added, referring to Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
All four won election to Congress last year in safe Democratic-dominated districts. Biden, pointing to the 2018 midterm elections when the Democrats captured the majority in the chamber by flipping more moderate swing districts from red to blue, said the four representatives are "the exception rather than the rule."
He highlighted that “we need that kind of energy. But that’s not the majority of Democrats who got elected last time.”
Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib have been in the spotlight the past couple of days after being heavily criticized by Trump both on Twitter and in front of cameras at the White House.
In comments that Democrats have called racist, Trump said that if the lawmakers “hate our country,” they can go back to their “broken and crime-infested” countries, fix them and then "come back and show us how it's done."
“If you’re not happy in the U.S., if you’re complaining all the time, you can leave, you can leave right now,” he said.
Three of the four lawmakers were born in the United States.
Biden called the president’s controversial comments “not only shameful" but "incredibly damaging.”
“The idea that Donald Trump says and does the things he does is just absolutely despicable,” the former vice president said.
Pointing to the American ideas of “We the people” that are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, Biden argued that “this has guy has absolutely just thrown them overboard… The idea that the only way he can stay in power is to divide America, pit black against white, pit immigrants against citizens. It just goes down the line and it is dangerous.”
Biden’s seen his large lead over his Democratic nomination rivals in the polls shrink after his less-than-stellar performance in last month’s first round of debates.
In the pivotal moment of those debates, California Sen. Kamala Harris went on the attack against Biden, as she criticized recent comments by the former vice president spotlighting his ability to find common ground during the 1970s with segregationist senators with whom he disagreed, and over his opposition decades ago to federally mandated school busing.
Biden’s meandering response was widely panned by political pundits.
Asked if he’s prepared for the next round of debates, Biden said he’s ready but criticized the format of having 10 candidates on the debate stage for two consecutive nights.
“I find it difficult to call them debates when you have one minute and it’s so easy to take out of context,” he said.
He once again admitted he was caught “off guard” by Harris but noted that when it comes to federally mandated busing, it “turns out I’m not sure her position’s any different on busing than mine.”
Pushing back against those who question how he’d be able to handle Trump in a general election debate if he had trouble dealing with Harris, Biden said, “I know it will be an ugly campaign. I know it will not be an honorable campaign that he’ll run. But I’m not backing down at all from him.”
He explained “it’s very different than turning to someone on a stage (Harris) who said something so off the wall to me. Because I don’t want to attack anyone on the stage. It’s not what I intend to do. But I realize some people have concluded that because I didn’t respond very tough back to her (Harris), that how can I take on Trump. I’ve never had any trouble taking anyone from Trump to Putin.”
Explaining his debate strategy in facing off against Trump, Biden said, “I say ‘come on Donald. Come on, man. How many pushups do you want to do here pal.’ Jokingly. ‘Come on. Run with me, man.’”
“I’m not going to get down in the dirt with him. That’s the only place he knows how to fight. I’m just going to continue to talk about what he’s doing. Why it’s so damaging to America,” Biden said.
Biden also said he’s still in touch with his old boss, former President Barack Obama.
“I do keep in contact with him. I see him,” Biden said.
But asked why Obama’s stayed neutral and not endorsed his former running-mate for the nomination, Biden said “because I’ve asked him not to do that. I don’t want to put him in that spot. I want to earn this on my own. This is not a third term of Obama. The world’s changed.”