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“One thing that’s happened, I think there is sort of generic recognition that we got to change the way we talk to one another,” Biden said, again drawing applause. “Tone matters. Words matter. And I’m not saying they matter necessarily to some guy who’s already deranged and will do something again. It matters in the way we’re going to respond to the problems of this country.”
Biden also gave a broad overview of his recent trip to the Middle East, a departure from the jobs and messaging focus of the weekend. He said the Obama administration is expected to withdraw the remaining 50,000 troops in Iraq by the end of the year but warned that civilian troops will have to stay in the region to help Iraqis build a sustainable government.
“Is this worth 4,439 fallen angels? Is this worth 32,000 wounded — 16,000 needing care the rest of their lives, as long as they live? Well only history will answer that,” Biden said. “But folks, you were handed the circumstance, and we intend on making good on two promises: One, ending our military presence there, and two, helping them as long as they want it to sustain a government that can function.”
Biden largely refrained from partisan attacks during his speech, except recalling once in 2002 when then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld instructed Senate military attaches that they would be court-marshaled if they took Biden to Afghanistan. The vice president acknowledged it would be difficult if not impossible this year for the party to enact policies in the House, and he remembered to congratulate the nine new Democratic freshmen only when he was well into his nearly hourlong talk.
“By the way, you’re going to love [Rep.] John Carney,” Biden said, giving a special shout-out to his former aide who now holds Delaware’s at-large seat. “John, he won’t tell you, he used to work for me. And his wife, who’s way smarter than he is.”
A question-and-answer session with Members after the speech was closed to the press. But before closing his public remarks, Biden thanked the crowd for taking tough votes in the past and wished them well in the new Congress.
“Thank you all again for your hard work and your support of the administration last year,” he said. “I know that it’s not going to get any easier anytime soon.”