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CNN Special Report: "Fight for the White House: Joe Biden's Long Journey". Aired 8-9p ET

Aired September 7, 2020 - 20:00   ET


HILL: Thanks to all of you for joining us. CNN special report "Fight for the White House: Joe Biden's Long Journey" begins right now.


ANNOUNCER: The following is a CNN special report.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): He's gone from a young politician with swagger.


JOE BIDEN (D), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: They said we think you should run for the Senate. I said, I'm not old enough.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): To a young father suffering great loss.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): My brother looked at me and said -- she's sad, isn't she?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): He is an Irishman with a life story that reads like a Greek tragedy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can you experience the worst thing imaginable twice in one lifetime?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): His career has been long and often controversial.


BIDEN: You swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help you God. ANITA HILL, AMERICAN LAWYER AND ACADEMIC: I do.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): That now has a new twist.


HILL: I think Joe Biden is the person who should be elected on November.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): A senator, a Vice President, finally his party's nominee on his third try.


BIDEN: Character is on the ballot. Compassion is on the ballot.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice over): Tonight.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Do you see yourself as the polar opposite of Donald Trump?

BIDEN: I hope so.


BORGER (voice over): A CNN special report, "Fight for the White House: Joe Biden's Long Journey."


BIDEN: It's a good night. It's a good night. And it seems to be getting even better.


BORGER (voice over): More than 30 years after his first run for the presidency --


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Joe Biden with a lead tonight and a lead overall in the delegate race.


BORGER (voice over): On his third try for the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BIDEN: Primary report: We are very much alive.


BORGER (voice over) It was the sweet Super Tuesday that Joe Biden had always dreamed of, setting a clear path to the nomination, finally, at age 77.


BIDEN: It was like Okay, let's buckle up. We're going to go.

DR. JILL BIDEN, WIFE OF JOE BIDEN: That was a really good feeling.



BORGER (voice over): Glorious, and unusual to say the least.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Fact, no one has ever come in fourth and Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire and gone on to become the Democratic presidential nominee.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: To do as poorly as he did in the first two contests.

BIDEN: Where I come from, that's the opening bell.

AXELROD: To have the day he had on Super Tuesday was highly, highly unusual. It defied the laws of politics.


BORGER (voice over): It's a day Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. has been waiting for, for decades.


BORGER (on camera): How long has Joe Biden wanted to be President of the United States?

TED KAUFMAN, LONGTIME POLITICAL ADVISER: I first met him in 1972 and clearly, he was not ruling out the possibility. He was 29 years old.

BORGER: There was no story about the nun holding up a paper that little Joey wrote when he was 12 years old, saying that he wanted to be President.

VALERIA BIDEN OWENS, SISTER: Well, if a nun said it, it has to be true.


BORGER (voice over): And still is. But the brass ring has some big strings attached.


RON KLAIN, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF OF VP BIDEN: If he becomes President, he's likely to inherit a country facing the worst infectious disease crisis we've seen since 1919. The worst economic crisis we've seen since the Great Depression, the worst racism prices we've seen since 1968.

It's a triple threat of crises, all at once, all combined.


BORGER: Biden has described himself as a transitional candidate.


BIDEN: We are going to speak to that now.


BORGER (voice over): But a triple threat could require drastic, urgent action.


BIDEN: The economy cannot survive if we don't get control of COVID. That's going to be the thing that's going to affect every single thing that gets done.


BORGER (voice over): From the beginning when he was just Joey from Scranton, Pa., Biden wanted to be the one to get things done.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joe Biden was always the lead dog. He had to be number one. He was in the number one position.


BORGER (voice over): A natural leader, his friends say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We always followed Joe.


BORGER (voice over): And a natural talker.


BOB MARKEL, FRIEND: There's an old joke about Joe that if Joe Biden were standing next to an electric light pole, he'd strike up a conversation.


BORGER (voice over): His family was large, tight-knit, and Irish Catholic.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Big boisterous family, constantly playing pranks on each other.


BORGER (voice over): With at least nine of them in this modest home. Joey was the eldest of four. Then came Valerie, Jimmy and Frankie.

The children's maternal grandparents live there too, along with an aunt, sometimes an uncle and their parents. Joseph R. Biden, Sr. and Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden.



OWENS: My mom was fierce in her commitment to family. She told us growing up that there's family and there's family and there's family.

JOE BIDEN: I remember going to my mother once, I guess I was in fifth grade saying, Mom, I love you more than anything. And she said, Joey, I know how much you love me. But remember, you're closer to your brothers and your sister than you are to me.

I said, how's that mom? She said, you're the same blood. You're closer to them. They're there with you all the time. Never forget that.

OWENS: Mom said that we were a gift to one another. And you know, we believed her.

BORGER (on camera): Well, let me ask you about your sister who has been incredibly supportive to you. What role has Val played in your life?

JOE BIDEN: She's been my best friend my whole life. She's been on the handlebars of my bicycle.

That's it. Excuse me. Since she was three years old, I never went to a place I didn't take her. I taught her how to play ball. I did everything with her.

BORGER: To this day?

JOE BIDEN: To this day and all the way through.

OWENS: There's all these sayings that Joe and I have for our mom and dad. Dad said to us, it's not how many times that you get knocked down. It's how quickly you get up and dad was all about resurgence. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BORGER (voice over): Especially after losing his job when Biden was young.


SHAILAGH MURRAY, FORMER DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF FOR VP BIDEN: They were forced to move away from their childhood home to find opportunity in Wilmington. They had to reinvent themselves there.

It made him very close to his family, as families often become much closer during adversity.


BORGER (voice over): Faith helped, too.


OWENS: Family and faith where the bookends, and we are an Irish Catholic, middle class household. Our family values: taking care of one another, treating people with respect, being resilient. Those values coincided with the Catholic social doctrine that we learned every single day at school. There, but for the grace of God go I, you are your brother's keeper. So it was a seamless way of life.


BORGER (voice over): A seamless way of life for a determined young Joe Biden.


BORGER (on camera): Richard Ben Cramer writes about your brother as a child and he said, "Joey was always quick, with a grace born of cocky self-possession, he didn't like some kids his age double think himself. Once Joey set his mind, it was like he didn't think at all, he just did."

OWENS: The more serious version of what he set his mind to do is he stuttered terribly, and he really couldn't string more than three or four words together at a time. And he determined that he was not going to be defined by stutter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Teenage boys can be pretty harsh, even cruel, and he used to get teased a lot. They would, "Hey, J-j-joe B-b-biden." They called him stutter head. For short, they called him "Stut." Hey, Stut.


BORGER (voice over): So the summer before Joe Biden's junior year, poetry helped him lose his stutter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN: I would do poetry to try to say, meek young men grow up in


BORGER (on camera): That's Emerson.

JOE BIDEN: Yes, that was Emerson. And the reason I did it was to try to get a cadence to how you speak. When you are able to change the cadence of what you do and say, it seems how you're able to overcome it somehow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think all of us were surprised in late August and September when we went back to school that he wasn't stuttering anymore.


BORGER (voice over): The high school was Archmere Academy, an elite Catholic school he worked hard to attend because he viewed it as a gateway to success.

He was on the football team.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was a halfback. He made some key plays in some of those games.


BORGER (voice over): Off the field, friends remember a time he stood up for a buddy. It happened when he went to a diner with some classmates including the only black kid in the class.


MARKEL: The restaurant's policy that we don't serve -- they didn't use the word "black" at the time. They must have said "Negros." Frank says, listen, I'll leave. Joseph, no, sit down. If they're not going to serve you, they're not going to serve any of us.

And this is 1961. This is before the Civil Rights Act and before the Voting Rights Act and before there was much sensitivity, I would say, at least for teenage boys -- white boys -- about Civil Rights issues.


BORGER (voice over): Biden says he learned about the reality of race relations here, while lifeguarding in a black neighborhood in the early 1960s when Delaware was very divided, racially and culturally.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Polish neighborhood, Irish neighborhood, the black neighborhood.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BORGER (voice over): He stood out, but worked hard to fit in.


RICHARD "MOUSE: SMITH, FRIEND AND FORMER President OF NAACP: Once you come in the neighborhood, and somebody like you, you become like brothers. You become deep friends and stuff. That's how Joe and I became.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was about probably nine when I first met him. I was one of the ornery kids in this pool. They called me "Dennis the Menace."


BORGER (voice over): He would grow up to become Dennis, the mayor of Wilmington.


DENNIS WILLIAMS, FORMER MAYOR OF WILMINGTON, DELAWARE: Joe saw an opportunity. The door was open, and he was going to get in. He's going to make friends and he was going to talk to people and he was going to know this community and have this community trust him, because I know Joe had aspirations of going places.


BORGER (voice over): Long before Biden went into politics, he was already politicking and planning his surprising next moves.

Up next, success.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will never, ever think anything is impossible again in my entire life.


BORGER (voice over): Followed by tragedy.


JOE BIDEN: I remember looking up and saying, "God," I was so angry. So angry.


BORGER (voice over): By early 1964, Joe Biden was a student at the University of Delaware still full of confidence, but low on cash, when he and two buddies decided to head to Fort Lauderdale for spring break.


FRED SEARS, UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE CLASSMATE: The first day we went on the beach and it was like 10,000 guys and 20 girls. The odds just did not look good for us.

Lo and behold, a plane goes by with a science saying, "Round trips to Nassau, 28 bucks." Joe, what do you think? We've got to go? Let's go.



BORGER (voice over): They arrived to discover the college women on private hotel beaches, which they couldn't afford.


SEARS: We found some hotel towels on the fence. We grabbed them and put them around or shoulders and our waists and walked in like we've been staying there all along.


BORGER (voice over): They were there just a few minutes when they spotted a young woman they all wanted to meet, Neilia Hunter, a 21- year-old senior at Syracuse University.


SEARS: I'm saying well, let's do flip a coin or one potato, two potato. And while I'm trying to figure it out and talking to him, I'm looking at my hands and everything. He just takes off.

He's got a 50-yard dash on both of us. And by the time we get over there, he's already sitting there chatting her up.

JOE BIDEN: When I met Neilia, now, God's truth, I knew I was getting marry her. I really did. The second night as I left and I said, I think I'm going to marry you. She said -- she looked at me said, I think so.

SEARS: So we get on the plane coming home and he said, Fred, I've decided. I'm in love and I'm going to Syracuse Law School.


BORGER (voice over): Just as planned, Biden made it to Syracuse Law School, and he married Neilia Hunter a year later, in the summer of 1966. After graduation, he returned home with his wife to work at a law firm.

National Guardsmen were still patrolling the streets of Wilmington in the wake of rioting that followed Martin Luther King's murder.


WILLIAMS: It wasn't good at all. We looked like a city under siege by the military.

SEN. CHRIS COONS, (D-DE): He saw a country torn apart over race, a city that was literally, literally on fire. The National Guard occupied Wilmington, Delaware, longer than any city in America after the riots following King's assassination.

And it was in that moment that a young Joe Biden said, I can help.


BORGER (voice over): Biden was a believer in his own ability to convince anyone of anything, but no amount of self-confidence or ambition was big enough to deliver a Senate seat at age 27.

So he ran for the County Council. As usual, he enlisted his sister.


BORGER (on camera): So how did you get involved in all the politics of it?

OWENS: He always picked me first. It was just a natural thing to do. He was going to be going to politics, I was going with him. We asked everybody we knew to help us. And we asked them to ask 10 people to help us and this is where we delivered -- we knocked on every door.


BORGER (voice over): He won. And then a year later, Biden found his real opening while attending a political convention in Delaware.


JOE BIDEN: I went back to the motel to shave for the evening and I got a knock on my door and in walks four people, and they said, "We've got to talk to you, Joe." I had a towel on me. I was just shaving, and they said, "We think you should run for the Senate." I said, "Oh," I said, "I'm not old enough."


BORGER (voice over): A judge in the group set him straight.


JOE BIDEN: He said, "Joey, obviously didn't do very well in Constitutional Law. It says you have to be 30 to be sworn in, not 30 to be elected."


BORGER (voice over): It was audacious, if not arrogant for Biden to run as a 29-year-old underdog candidate of change against a well-liked Republican Senator named Caleb Boggs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your last night?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no. Yes. Miller family.

TED KAUFMAN, FORMER U.S. SENATOR FROM DELAWARE: He had been governor of the state for two terms. He'd been a Member of Congress for three terms and he was running for a third term in the United States Senate.

Caleb Boggs was loved. I mean, he was loved.


BORGER (voice over): Once again, Biden asked Valerie to run the show.


OWENS: I remember saying to him, "Joey, I don't -- I can't run a statewide campaign. I don't know how to do that." Remember, he is 28 or 27. I'm 25 or 26. He said, "Don't worry about it, Valerie." He said, "We'll figure it out."


BORGER (voice over): She reached out to a local Democratic Party activist, Ted Kaufman.


KAUFMAN: So I went down and talked to him. I said, so you're running on Civil Rights. You're running on the environment. You're running on tax reform, and those are really good issues.

And then, silence, and I said, "But I don't think you have a chance of winning."

BORGER (on camera): You said what?

KAUFMAN: I don't think you got a chance of winning. You don't have a chance. Caleb Boggs was just like, Caleb Boggs is incredible. I mean, you've been in this for two years. You look like you're 25 years old. This is a race to run in order to make these issues that you care about. And I say you can do that. But there's no chance you'll win.

BORGER: And his reaction to that was?

KAUFMAN: Well, just come and help. Just come and help. We'll see. We'll see.


BORGER (voice over): Biden was confident he could talk his way into voters' hearts. But what Kaufman saw was bleak.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KAUFMAN: On Labor Day, we did a big time polling. You know what the

number was? Forty seven percent for Boggs, 19 percent for Biden.


BORGER (voice over): But it was also the first year, 18-yea-olds could vote and young voters saw a candidate who was promising that he understands what's happening today.

Fifty years later, this time as a political elder trying to connect with young voters, it's still his mantra.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They had this funny feeling that Caleb Boggs just his heart wasn't in it. He'd been talked into running one more time by Richard Nixon.



BORGER (voice over): And then?


OWENS: We snuck up on him. Boggs, this was the Nixon landslide here. Everybody expected no Democrat to win and that was the truth.

JOE BIDEN: We won by a rousing 3,100 votes.

KAUFMAN: On election night, I remember as if it was yesterday. I stood on the floor and I said, "I will never ever think anything is impossible again in my entire life."


BORGER (voice over): He turned 30, the eligible age to serve three weeks later. He and NE ilia already had a picture perfect young family, a baby named Naomi and two toddler boys, Joseph Biden, III or Beau and Hunter.

The quintessential young family was moving to the Nation's Capital.


OWENS: For six weeks, we were on top of the world. I mean, he was the Dragon Slayer. We were the bright young hope of the Democratic Party and it was completely joyful.


BORGER (voice over): On December 18th, Neilia was supposed to go with her husband to Washington, but decided to stay behind to buy a tree and Christmas gifts.


OWENS: I went with Joe to Washington to interview staff, Senator Byrd told my brother -- offered Joe to use his office, which we did.


BORGER (voice over): And then came the phone call.


OWENS: It was Jimmy Biden, and I picked up the phone and Jimmy Biden said, "Come home now. There's a terrible accident with Neilia and the boys and the babies, all three."

BORGER (on camera): And you flew back and didn't --

OWENS: We didn't say a word. I just -- we just -- it was a bumpy ride. I remember that it was a tiny plane. And I remember he was on my right and I just had my hand on his leg. And we just -- I mean, we -- you know, you know.



BORGER (voice over): One week before Christmas, 1972, Joe Biden and his sister traveled to D.C. to hire staff. His wife, Neilia stayed in Delaware with their three children to buy a tree.


OWENS: The memory that I have that's most vivid is walking in the Russell Building with the echo of just our shoes.

JOE BIDEN: I remember looking up and just -- and I was just saying, "God." I was so angry.

I got a call from a first responder, and I said, "What happened?" And he said, "Well, there was a tractor trailer and your wife and daughter are dead."


BORGER (voice over): Neilia and the Biden's baby, Naomi were killed when a truck hit their station wagon.


JOE BIDEN: The boys were very badly injured. They were hospitalized. Hunter with a fractured skull, and Beau, literally, he was in a body cast, both arms, both legs. You had to pick him up, you know, and carry him this way.


BORGER (voice over): Biden thought their bedside, not the Senate was where he ought to be.


BORGER (on camera): Your brother is clearly considering not being sworn in. He does want to be a senator.

OWENS: Yes. He spoke to the governor to have the governor replace him.


BORGER (voice over): But the Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield changed Biden's mind.


JOE BIDEN: He said, "Your wife worked really hard for you to get elected, cared a great deal about it, get sworn in and just stay six months."

JOE BIDEN, THEN SENATOR: If in six months or so there's a conflict between my being a good father and being a good senator, I promise you that I will contact the Governor as I had earlier and tell him that we can always get another senator, but they can't get another father.

JOE BIDEN: And they sent the Secretary of the Senate to the hospital room to swear me in, so I couldn't change my mind.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations, Senator.


OWENS: The family and a few close friends were there. Hunter holding on to Beau's hand. It's heartbreaking.


BORGER (voice over): The Biden family was devastated, but they had to move on, so Valerie moved in.


OWENS: They were such a gift to me. The whole family was brokenhearted. And we just, you know, the big thing, take care of one another, not because it's her responsibility, but because it was a gift.


BORGER (voice over): And while Valerie subbed in for mom, her brother also changed his plans.


OWENS: The reason that Joe started to commute, he said they've lost their mom and they lost her baby sister. I cannot take them away and lose my mom and dada and Uncle Jimmy and Frankie and Aunt Val, so he will commute.

After the accident, I mean, the bond was like steel rods among the three of them.


BORGER (voice over): Steel bonds with his boys and molten anger over the loss of his wife and baby.


BORGER (on camera): You said you went around kind of looking for fights.


BORGER: And you wrote that you even understand why people consider committing suicide.

JOE BIDEN: I thought about what would it be like just to go to the Delaware Memorial Bridge and just jump off and end it all? But I didn't ever get in the car and do it -- not even close.

What saved me was really my voice.


BORGER (voice over): On Capitol Hill, he found support he didn't expect from Senate elders of both parties.



MURRAY: These old bulls all took him in and helped buffer him from that grief. Helped him carve a path towards real meaning and value in that experience. He saw their humanity before he saw their politics in many respects.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Biden Senate was a much less polarized place. And in a 1974 interview, he recoiled at being pigeonholed by special interest groups as either liberal or conservative. His political connections were always personal.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We'll talk about a Republican opponent in private, with a great deal of empathy and compassion.

CHRIS DODD, (D) FMR SENATOR: Those relationships were built by a series of just quiet moments sitting down next to selling without any particular point to it, just to see how you're doing what's going on. BORGER (voice-over): He kept the personal close, and over the years became the unofficial eulogizer of the Senate, even delivering a final tribute for a conservative Republican segregationist.

JOE BIDEN (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I tried to understand him. I learned from him and I watched him change oh so suddenly.

BORGER (on-camera): He delivered some sermons, eulogy too.

REP. JIM CLYBURN (D) HOUR MAJORITY WHIP: Yes, he did. At Strom Thurmond request. I think that when you can hold on to your own political beliefs, and have the respect of people whose political belief is totally different, that says something.

BORGER (voice-over): Over time, Biden developed an almost pastoral habit of consoling others in public on the campaign trail.

BIDEN: Someone who's been through it and says, I know how you feel. You kind of look and you say, I guess I could make it and made it.

BORGER (voice-over): He did it privately too.

RAHM EMANUEL, (D) FMR MAYOR CHICAGO: To in the middle of his campaign for the presidency. My dad passed away. Joe was the first one to call. He's running for office. You can leave a voicemail.

BORGER (on-camera): Right.

EMANUEL: Yes. He's a good man.

JAY CARNEY, FMR PRESS SECRETARY UNDER PRES. OBAMA: One evening, I heard some crying. And I went out to see what was going on. I heard the Vice President's voice and I heard him consoling somebody. He was still in the West Wing working and had bumped into a staffer who was giving a tour to a widow, who had recently lost her husband. He was walking down the hall, and that was his instant reaction.

BORGER (on-camera): People talk about your empathy and your pastoral nature when people are suffering. Did that begin after the accident?

BIDEN: I think it really began in an earnest where's my stutter. Because it is the most humiliating thing in the world. For someone, how do you walk up to the girl to go to the eighth grade dancer, would you go to the. And there's always a bunch of chumps out there who would make fun. That's how I learned to kind of fight.

BORGER (voice-over): He found himself in the middle of a political struggle in the 1970s and early '80s. When he took a controversial stand against court ordered busing,

BIDEN: I happen to be one of those so called people are labeled as a liberal on civil rights but oppose busing.

JONES: If you're a Biden, that's going to be a tough issue for you. Because that big empathy, that big heart is this good for kids? You know, is this the right way to get kids to get along to get parents to get along? Is there another way.

KAMALA HARRIS (D) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I'm going to now direct this at Vice President Biden.

BORGER (voice-over): That decade's old decision became fodder in the Democratic debates raised by his now running mate.

HARRIS: You also work with them to oppose busing. And, you know, there was a little girl in California, who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.

CLYBURN: If you go back and look at the polls, back then the vast majority of black people were against busing. I was against busing.

BORGER (on-camera): You were?

CLYBURN: Yes. The first real serious discussion I ever had with my wife was over busing. As because I thought court order busing put too much of a burden on the students, I believe in neighborhood concept schools, rather than the in bus. And when I expressed that publicly, my wife took me to the woodshed in such a way that I will never forget it.

BORGER (voice-over): While Biden's political life was tumultuous, back at home, he was trying to get his personal life in order.


BIDEN: I had 1000 yentas, you know. Everybody had somebody for me, you know, and they're very nice about it.

BORGER (voice-over): By 1977 he had found someone who wanted to marry Jill Jacobs.

BIDEN: I had asked her five times to marry me. Five, five times. She would say no, every time I asked her.

JILL BIDEN, WIFE OF JOE BIDEN: I knew what the boys had been through. They lost their mother and they lost their sister. I had to be 100% sure that this marriage would last until death do us part because I love the boys so much that I thought they can't lose another mother through a divorce.

VALERIE BIDEN, SISTER OF JOE BIDEN: Two years later, they have Ashley. She not only married Joe she married the boys, she married the Biden family and she married the state of Delaware.

BORGER (voice-over): And she may have saved his life.

J. BIDEN: I said, what do you mean giving him last right? He's not going to die.


[20:40:10] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The greatest senator from Delaware, Joseph R. Biden.

BORGER (voice-over): By the mid '80s, Joe Biden was a senator going places.

BIDEN: All right pal.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: He was young, he was dynamic. And people said, this is the next Kennedy. This is a guy who will be President of the United States someday.

BORGER: But was Biden really ready?

MARK GITENSTEIN, BIDEN'S FMR CHIEF COUNSEL: You know, it's funny thing about '88. I've never set the standard, but I wasn't sure how much he really wanted to run.

BORGER (on-camera): Was he conflicted?

BILL DALEY, FMR KEY ADVISER IN BIDEN'S 1988 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: I think he was conflicted. It was a full time commitment. And Joe really was, you know, Joe, who took the train home at night to be with his kids. And you can't do that when you're running for president.

BORGER (voice-over): But what Senator can resist the presidential lure.

V. BIDEN: He didn't get up in '88 and say I'm running for president. It was so many people came and said, you got to think about this. You got to do it.

BORGER (voice-over): And so Amtrak Joe moved on to the presidential track in a wide open and competitive race announcing his candidacy at the Wilmington train station.

BIDEN: As today, I announced my candidacy for President of the United States of America.

BORGER (voice-over): Just a few weeks after his announcement, some unexpected news took him on a detour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the surprise retirement this summer of swing about Justice Lewis Powell.

BORGER (voice-over): Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and would lead the confirmation hearings to replace Justice Lewis Powell. The crucial swing vote on the court key two major decisions like Roe vs. Wade.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Abortion, along with other women's and civil rights issues are what many Supreme Court watchers say President Reagan's appointment will have a strong opportunity to influence.

BORGER (voice-over): President Reagan took the opportunity to nominate an icon of the right. RONALD REAGAN, FMR PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: But I today announced my intention to nominate the United States Court of Appeals Judge Robert H. Bork.

BORGER (voice-over): Reaction from the left was swift.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Civil rights groups promised all out efforts to Bork's confirmation.

GITENSTEIN: The campaign was pushing us to come out against Bork early. We knew if we did that, all we would end up with is the 45 liberals in the Senate and we wouldn't win.

BORGER (voice-over): So, Biden found himself running two campaigns, one against Robert Bork, another for president, and they were pulling him in different directions.

BIDEN: My name is Joe Biden. I'd like to be the Democratic nominee for President the United States of America.

BORGER (voice-over): In Iowa, an early caucus state that mattered most, Biden was bunched with others near the top of the polls, but his attention was split.

DALEY: There was a mismatch between the expectation of Joe, and what was going on in the campaign, the sort of basic stuff wasn't getting done.

BORGER (voice-over): But that was nothing compared to what unfolded next.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Live from the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, election '88.

BORGER (voice-over): At the end of a key debate at the Iowa State Fair, Biden knew some of his stump speech, which included quotes from British politician Neil Kinnock, a populace life story, politically compelling, but it wasn't Biden's life. And it was delivered without any attribution.

BIDEN: Why is it the Joe Biden?

NEIL KINNOCK, BRITISH POLITICIAN: Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations?

BIDEN: The first in his family.

KINNOCK: To be able to get the university.

BIDEN: Ever to go to a university.

TED KAUFMAN, LONGTIME POLITICAL ADVISER: I mean, he had given that speech 25, 30 times and in every case he had attributed to Kinnock, he didn't plagiarize.

RON KLAIN, STAFFER BIDEN'S 1988 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: I don't think anyone in the campaign saw it as a major thing when it happened.

BORGER (voice-over): But it was, especially after a staffer from the Michael Dukakis campaign leaked the story right on the eve of the Bork hearings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden finds himself on trial charged with political plagiarism.

BORGER (on-camera): How did it feel to have your integrity challenged in such a direct way?

BIDEN: (INAUDIBLE) of losing my family as the worst thing that ever happened to me.

BORGER (voice-over): The controversy fed the narrative that Biden was more show and substance all as the Bork hearings began.

BIDEN: I honestly believe Judge, I think I've read everything that you have written.

BORGER (voice-over): Biden zeroed in on Bork's controversial opinions, like his critique of the Supreme Court's decision to strike down a state law banning contraceptives.

BIDEN: Does a state legislative body or any legislative body have a right to pass a law telling a married couple or anyone else. Telling them they can or cannot use birth control?


ROBERT BORK, FMR JUDGE: I don't know what rationale the state would offer or what challenges the married couple would make.

GITENSTEIN: The problem with Bork is he could never admit that there was right to privacy under the constitution.

BORGER (voice-over): Biden may have been swaying public opinion on Bork, but his own presidential campaign was imploding with more charges.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First, there came reports he had lifted the phrases of other speakers without identifying them, then new charges that as a student of law at Syracuse University, he used five pages from a Published Law Review article without quotation or attribution.

BIDEN: I knew I had one or two choices, leave the Bork hearing and go out and save my campaign if I could, by going out and making my case. And I thought that what I don't want to go down in history is the guy who does save his political life that Bork getting the court.

BORGER (voice-over): So he was out.

BIDEN: Like all of my energy and skill is required to deal with President Reagan's effort to reshape the Supreme Court. I've concluded that I will stop being a candidate for President of the United States.

J. BIDEN: I can remember how devastated I felt, and how devastated Joe felt. I mean, no one had ever sailed his character before.

DALEY: It was a big blow to him. Some people, they'd never come back from that sort of end of a campaign.

BIDEN: And unless I say something that might be somewhat sarcastic. I should go to Bork hearing.

J. BIDEN: He was about to go into the meeting room. And I said Joe, you have to go in and win. You have to win this one.

BORK: If you look at the next paragraph of that talk --

BORGER (voice-over): Bork was pummeled by Biden and others and left to fight largely on his own by President Reagan.

GITENSTEIN: He thought he was smarter than Biden. And he thought he could beat Biden and he was wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The yeays are 42, the nays are 58. The nomination is not confirmed.

BORGER (voice-over): In a 2008 interview for years before his death, Bork told CNN that quote, as a whole, Biden wasn't fair.

BORK: The Democrats, including Biden, spent time making the most scurrilous charges about me.

BORGER (voice-over): Democrats praised Biden, but others blamed him for permanently politicizing judicial confirmations.

CARRIE SEVERINO, PRESIDENT, JUDICIAL CRISIS NETWORK: Well, he really presided over the inauguration of the politics of personal destruction in the judicial confirmation process.

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And now the ideology of the judge is front and center. It's about how you going to vote on these things.

BORGER (voice-over): For some, Bork became a new verb, a shorthand for getting railroaded and destroyed and remains to this day.

BRETT KAVANAUGH, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE: It was just a good old fashioned attempt at Borking.

BORGER (on-camera): But what's your response to them and they say, well, it's just was all about his ideology?

BIDEN: Well, it was about his constitutional philosophy, which is totally legitimate. Nothing I did when after Bork character or anything of his background.

BORGER (voice-over): So, Biden won one fight and left another. And his family now sees it as a lifesaver.

J. BIDEN: Maybe this is rationalization. But his pulling out probably saved his life. You know, he never would have stopped. BORGER (voice-over): Right as the campaign would have been in full gear. Biden collapsed after an event in New York. He made it home and Jill rushed him to the hospital.

J. BIDEN: He looked so gray and I thought, oh my god.

V. BIDEN: My brother had an aneurysm. And an aneurysm didn't have any calculation whether Joe was running or not running, the aneurysm was in his brain and interrupted.

BORGER (voice-over): There were two aneurisms, both extremely dangerous.

BIDEN: There was a better than even chance that I was not likely to make it through the first operation.

BORGER (voice-over): The situation was so dire, a priest came to give the 45-year-old Biden his last rites, but was interrupted.

J. BIDEN: I ran into the room. The priest was at the bedside and I said, get out because he is not going to die. And the priest, I think I just shocked the priest, and he just ran out of the room.

BORGER (voice-over): Biden had two surgeries and a tough recovery. Seven months later, he would turn to the Senate and more controversy.

BIDEN: (INAUDIBLE) swear to tell the whole truth?

BORGER (voice-over): Coming up. Anita Hill on a possible President Biden?

(on-camera): Would you be willing to work with him?




BIDEN: Professor, Do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

HILL: I do.

BIDEN: Thank you.

HILL: It was really scary because there was something that hadn't happened before. And the stakes were so high.

BORGER (voice-over): At stake a seat on the Supreme Court for Clarence Thomas. The man in charge, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joe Biden.

HILL: I expect that for Joe Biden to have a fair hearing, Joe Biden's leadership was very weak. BORGER (voice-over): Almost 30 years later, Thomas sits on the Supreme Court. Biden is the Democratic nominee for president. And Anita Hill has made a decision.

HILL: I think Joe Biden is the person who shouldn't be elected in November.

BORGER (on-camera): So you're going to vote for Joe Biden?

HILL: Yes.

BORGER (on-camera): Would you be willing to work with him?

HILL: My commitment is to finding solutions. I am more than willing to work with him.

BORGER (on-camera): Isn't just about the fact that he's running against Donald Trump? Or is it more about Joe Biden?


HILL: Actually it's more about the survivors of gender violence. That's really what it's about.

BORGER (voice-over): Hill an attorney is now a professor of gender politics. She was 35 when she testified before Biden's committee, accusing Thomas of sexually harassing her when she worked for him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Her testimony was graphic.

HILL: He referred to the size of his own penis as being larger than normal,

BORGER (voice-over): Her motives dissected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have a martyr complex?

HILL: No, no I don't.

BORGER (voice-over): And additional witnesses who may have corroborated her story, were never called to publicly testify.

HILL: The idea that anyone who was saying what I had to say? It's going to be heard with just sort of out the window because the Republicans were in control and Joe Biden lost control.

BORGER (on-camera): Some say you let the Republicans take over.

BIDEN: I don't think I did. But the point was, I wish I could have done it differently under the rules. There are certain rules you cannot call people out of order if they're asking questions that are related to the issue. I wish I could have done better for her. The truth is, I believed her, and I believed he should not be in the court. Sexual harassment is a serious matter. And in my view, any person guilty of this offense is unsuited to serve not only --

BORGER (voice-over): Biden let the floor fight against Thomas and lost.

CLARENCE THOMAS, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT: As a black American as far as I'm concerned. It is a high tech lynching.

BORGER (voice-over): Thomas denied the allegations, and his supporters still see about the hearings.

SEVERINO: With the Hill allegations, he said, you know, if he's come out in the public, I will be your biggest defender. Quite the opposite. It really happens. So he repeatedly was saying one thing, you know, he's talking on one side of his mouth to one group and one side to another.

BORGER (on-camera): So what does this tell you about Joe Biden?

SEVERINO: You know, he's someone who I think is, like, wants to try to please everyone.

BORGER (voice-over): And even when he'll received a call from Biden earlier last year, she remained unsatisfied.

HILL: What I heard on the phone call was an apology that went something like, I'm very sorry if she felt she wasn't treated fairly. And, you know, that apology is to be real and sincere, has to take responsibility for harm. That was what I wanted to hear that if I had done better, and this is Joe Biden speaking, if I had done better, maybe there would be less harassment in the workplace today.

BIDEN: Private conversation --

BORGER (voice-over): But Hill has watched the Vice President talk more about the hearings on TV. And she says it's encouraging.

BIDEN: She did not get a fair hearing. She did not get treated well, that's my responsibility. And --

HILL: What it says to me is that, then maybe the next step is, these are the things that I'm going to do to make it good.

BORGER (voice-over): But the story of Biden and women's issues is not just about Hill. When the Thomas hearings ended.

BIDEN: I was determined to do two things. One, make sure never again (INAUDIBLE) women on the committee. And so that year, I went out in campaign for two women, Dianne Feinstein and Carol Moseley Braun on condition they join the Judiciary Committee if they got elected, and they did. And I was determined to continue and finish writing and passing the Violence Against Women Act.

BORGER (voice-over): It was an idea born one year before the Thomas hearings to beef up protections for women, including a provision allowing them to sue their attackers in federal court.

VICTORIA NOURSE, FMR JUDICIARY COMMITTEE STAFFER UNDER BIDEN: Some in the legal academy who decided that women in the 1950s were basically making up rape. They were fancy lawyers, liberal and conservative who would say domestic violence is you know, as American as apple pie, prominent liberal lawyers.

BIDEN: Overall, the toll on women's lives and health is devastating.

BORGER (voice-over): Biden held Senate hearings for victims to share their stories.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And in 1983, my husband stabbed me 13 times and broke my neck where the police were on the scene. I nearly died and I am permanently paralyzed.

NOURSE: They all have the same story. And what was the story? I don't believe you. This doesn't happen and they said they did not buy it was a crime.


BORGER (voice-over): Biden believed it was and spent four years pushing the bill. But it would ultimately take more than --