WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — Vice President Joe Biden on Friday thanked House Democrats for quickly pushing through the administration’s stimulus package, arguing that while representatives have “had to take some bites out of a pretty bitter apple,” not supporting the bill would have been worse.
“I think the one thing they won’t forgive us for is not trying,” Mr. Biden said of the public in a speech to about 200 Democratic House members gathered here for a weekend retreat. “I think they’ll forgive us for mistakes, knowing we’re in unchartered waters.”
Though Mr. Biden’s remarks centered largely on foreign policy, he devoted nearly half of the 35 minutes to a pep talk about sticking together and making unpopular but necessary decisions.
“Not since World War II has a caucus gathered with so many challenges facing our country and the stakes so high,” he said. “If we do everything right … there’s still a 30 percent chance we’re going to get it wrong. You, too.”
The vice president warned House Democrats they will likely be targeted in campaign ads by Republican challengers for voting in favor of the now nearly-$900 billion stimulus package, but assured them that both he and President Obama would be there to campaign for them in November.
Often invoking history, Mr. Biden said previous U.S. governments have turned each crisis into an opportunity, with the exception of former President George W. Bush.
“He had a nation ready to make real sacrifices,” Mr. Biden said of the country’s unity following the September 11 terrorist attacks, criticizing Mr. Bush for not using the opportunity to push through an energy bill or convene an international summit on Islamic radicalism. “But he blew it.”
Shifting to foreign policy, Mr. Biden — who is scheduled to speak at a security conference in Germany this weekend — said the nation is “on the 20-yard-line moving in” when it comes to leaving Iraq.
“But there’s an awful lot to be done,” he said, citing the lack of a plan to address the dispute over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. “Here’s the good news: The world has embraced President Obama in a way I’ve never seen in my 36 years.”
As for Afghanistan, Mr. Biden noted that the president has ordered a comprehensive review of the nation’s policy toward the country and neighboring Pakistan.
“We want to make sure our goals are clear and achievable. None of you could say precisely what our goal is in Afghanistan — what is the goal?” he said, adding that the “deteriorating situation” there is “not just our problem, it’s the world’s problem.”