The event: Former Vice President Joe Biden’s second visit to Warren County, but his first to Indianola, was a different world from his event in Prole in August. For one thing, it was cooler. The crowd was almost double the 150 who showed up for the summer event, and it was younger with many college-aged people in attendance.
The setting: Simpson’s Great Hall in Pfeifer Dining Hall had 155 chairs set up in a theatre-in-the-round setting, with a podium and microphone in the center of the room. The chairs filled quickly after doors opened at 1 p.m. and a herd of young staffers were kept busy pulling more out of storage.
Eventually, close to 300 people filled the space, with several standing. Almost 100 young people, including Simpson College students, several young people with the Mikva Challenge and other college-age people sat behind the podium where cameras from the media pool would see them behind the candidate.
What the candidate had to say: Abby Finkenauer, who represents Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, introduced Biden, telling some of his life story, including about the death of his first wife and daughter in a car accident after he was first elected to the Senate, but before he was sworn in.
“He suffered one of the worst tragedies anyone can imagine suffering,” she said. The story allowed Biden to segue to one of his key arguments — that restoring civility in politics is key.
He said the kindness of people on both sides of the aisle at the time of his wife’s death “saved my sanity.
“There were great divisions,” at the time, Biden said. “But when we finished our arguments, we would go down and eat together. We disagreed, but we did not attack each other’s integrity and motive.”
He said it’s one thing to attack someone’s ideas but attacking their motives can make it hard to reach consensus, a vital part of American democracy. “Our system is designed based on the notion that you have to reach consensus,” he said. “
Biden focused more on his personal story, including his childhood stutter and the death of his son, Beau, from brain cancer, than issues Saturday. Beau’s death pushed him out of the 2016 presidential race, he said.
“I didn’t have the heart to run,” he said. “No man or woman should seek the presidency without being able to look people in the eye and say ‘you have my whole heart, my soul, all of my attention.’ I couldn’t do that.”
But when he heard President Donald Trump say that there were “very fine people” on both sides of a racially-charged march in Charlottesville, Va., he decided he had to run, he said.
Biden then opened it up to questions.
Social Security — Biden said there is a doctored video circulating asserting that he agreed with former Republican speaker of the House Paul Ryan on privatizing Medicare, but that it is false. Current, people pay Social Security taxes on the first $131,000 of their salary. He would extend that to all incomes, he said.
“You just pay the same percentage everybody else is paying,” he said. The increased money collected would allow Social Security to pay more to Americans who live longer, to equalize payments to elderly Americans when a spouse dies, and to make Social Security solvent long-term.
Health care — Biden said he would add a public option to the existing affordable care act, allowing people to buy into Medicare if they chose. He also said he would lower drug prices by putting limits on how much drug companies could charge for pharmaceuticals.
He would pay for it by reorganizing the tax system to require people to pay the same taxes on capital gains as they do on regular income, he said.
“There’s easy ways without punishing anybody to equalize the tax structure,” he said. “We have to reward work as much as we reward wealth.”
Biden said he does not support Medicare for All. “I support the intention, but you know what it costs,” he said, claiming that it would cost $35 trillion over 10 years, compared to a cost of $740 billion over 10 years for his own plan.
“You’d have to double the entire budget, what we spend on every single thing,” he said. “It’s not going to happen.”
Cost of college — Biden cited a program that allows students to pay no more than 10 percent of their income after rent, housing and other expenses, toward college debt. He would cut that amount to 5 percent, he said. Students who go into public service jobs like teaching would pay nothing on up to $50,000 in college debt.
Not only does it help college students, it helps the economy he said.
“It’s expected the economy is going to slow because the younger part of the millennial generation is not going to be able to buy a home, or to invest in a new automobile because they’re still paying off their college loans,” he said. “It’s in the interest of the economy overall if we give them a way out and generate more public service.”
Climate change —Biden called climate change “the single most important issue, the single existential issue to humanity.”
Biden said he would return the United States to the Paris Climate Accord and enlist Iowa farmers in efforts to get to zero emissions by absorbing carbon from the air, creating a minimum of 10 million new jobs in the process.
What the crowd had to say: Almost everyone at the event, young or old, said they liked Biden’s experience, regardless of who they support.
Lucy Kingsbury of Indianola said she had been considering Biden along with former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and billionaire Tom Steyer.
“I was worried that people will attack Biden on his age. That was what was holding me back the most,” she said. Saturday may have helped convince her.
“He’s relaxed when he speaks and you know he knows what he’s doing. He’s been there,” she said. “I honestly believe everything he says. He’s an honest man. “
Jordan Kenkel of Indianola said he had been considering both Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but Saturday’s event sealed his decision.
“He’s very versed about everything about our country,” he said. “He’s well experienced, he knows the issues. He’s competent and he can make change.”
Diana Sagastizgdo, a student at Simpson, said that she liked Biden’s experience but plans to caucus for Warren.
“I believe he does have great ideas, and he has a lot of experience, so I believe that he’s a pretty strong candidate,” she said. “But he’s not my first choice.
“What ultimately in the end matters is that we find someone that can lead a country,” she said, “that has not only the ability, but also the mindset and the resilience.”
Kimberly Roberts, a Simpson student, said her list of top candidates flipped after the Biden event. When she went in, she liked Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Warren and then Biden. Now, things have changed.
“He surprised me a lot,” she said. Before the event, she said, she believed he was running for a promotion from vice president to president. “Now, after hearing him, he actually wants it. He wants to help us. I like that.”
“I like his conviction, I like his personal life story,” said Katie Cardoza, another Simpson student, who said she is leaning toward Warren because “I like how her plans shoot for the stars, so even if she misses, she’ll land pretty high up there.”