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Roll Call

Biden Backs Public Disclosure of Torture Report

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Biden, shown here earlier in the month, spoke with reporters about the need for a country to hold itself accountable, citing Germany’s progress after its war crimes tribunals.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Friday night that he supports making a classified Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture and enhanced interrogation more available to the public.

Biden’s revelation was overshadowed by another statement he made at the forum in Sedona, Ariz., in which he suggested that the tanking economy in 2008 was the main reason Sen. John McCain lost to President Barack Obama. The vice president was appearing at a forum featuring a conversation with McCain.

Speaking about the classified Senate Intelligence report on the use of torture or enhanced interrogation by the United States, Biden suggested that his personal view is that he agrees with McCain that more information should be made public, while he noted it has been the subject of intense debate at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Now this voluminous study has been done,” Biden said. “And the internal debate that goes on in the Congress and in the White House is, do we go back and do we expose it? Do we lay out who was responsible and how we got to where we are?”

“It offends the fundamentals of what kind of country we are, and the practical side of it is, don’t think it didn’t damage the United States’ image in the world in ways that we’ll be paying for for years to come,” McCain said, noting his support for disclosing more details of what happened.

“It is not resolved yet, John, but I’m where you are. I think the only way you excise the demons is you acknowledge, you acknowledge exactly what happened straightforward,” Biden said. He explained his position that issues related to torture must be laid out before a country can move beyond them, citing the war crimes committed in the Balkans and other acts of torture overseas.

“The single best thing that ever happened to Germany were the war crimes tribunals, because it forced Germany to come to its milk about what in fact has happened,” Biden said. “That’s why they’ve become the great democracy they’ve become.”

The primary headlines out of the McCain event, however, centered around Biden’s unusual statement that he and Obama would have lost to McCain if the economy had been better in 2008.

“Maybe with the press here I shouldn’t be blunt with you,” Biden told McCain on the stage. “No one ever doubts I mean what I say, the problem is, I usually say all that I mean.”

Biden added, “The truth of the matter is, Barack knows it, I know, had the economy not collapsed around your ears, John, in the middle of literally — as things were moving — I think you probably would have won,” Biden said, as quoted by the Associated Press.

Biden and McCain also touched on other news of the day, including the terrorist attack near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, immigration and the push to expand background checks for firearm purchases. McCain was one of only four Senate Republicans to vote in favor of a background check amendment brought by Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa. He is also one of the eight senators behind an immigration overhaul bill.

Despite not getting the 60 votes needed for the background check amendment, Biden remains upbeat, sensing a sea change in public opinion.

“I think this will pass before this year is out, within this Congress, and the reason I think it will is because the public has changed on this.” Biden said of background checks. “That’s what I think happened, John. I think it was a significant miscalculation.”

“I called 17 of my friends in both parties, and the answer I got was as follows: Joe, don’t ask me to walk the plank on this, the House of Representatives will never pass it anyway,” Biden said of his personal lobbying efforts to gain votes as the Obama administration’s point man on gun issues in the aftermath of last year’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Biden said he’s sensed a change in the southern, more conservative parts of his home state of Delaware on issues like guns and immigration, places where, as the vice president put it, “they talk funny like Lindsey does,” a reference to South Carolina GOP senator Lindsey Graham, one of several in attendance at the event sponsored by Arizona State University’s McCain Institute for International Leadership. The university said that fellow senators Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. were also at the event, along with former Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn.

For his part, McCain seemed particularly troubled by the number of GOP senators who voted against cloture on even taking up the gun control measure. The longtime Arizona senator helped lead in effort in January to rebuff Democratic efforts to make major changes to the Senate’s rules and to attempt to restore comity.

“One of the more remarkable things about that whole process that we just went through was, a large number of our fellow Republican colleagues voted against moving forward with even a debate on the legislation. I have never seen anything quite like that before.” McCain said.

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