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Invoking U.S. Responsibility, Biden Calls for Global Collaboration in Harvard Speech

Vice President Joe Biden speaks on foreign cooperation and competition at the Institute of Politics, Thursday night.
Vice President Joe Biden speaks on foreign cooperation and competition at the Institute of Politics, Thursday night. By Y. Kit Wu
By Mariel A. Klein, Crimson Staff Writer

Vice President Joseph R. Biden talked foreign policy, the future of the United States, and the ‘bitch’ of being a vice president during a speech at the Institute of Politics on Thursday evening, the focal point of his first official visit to campus since taking office in 2009.

Biden took his eager audience around the world in his remarks, addressing key issues ranging from ISIS to the Ebola outbreak in Africa to energy independence. He also met privately with students in a study group led by his sister, IOP fellow Valerie Biden Owens, earlier in the day and after the speech took questions from students for almost an hour. He was eventually urged away from the microphone by Dean of the Kennedy School of Government David T. Ellwood.

In his formal speech, the Vice President focused his remarks on what it’s going to take for America to succeed in the beginning of 21st century when it comes to foreign policy. He stressed the need for a global response to critical issues in the Middle East, China, and Ukraine.

“International order is literally frayed at the seams,” Biden said early in the speech. “The challenges we face today require collective response.”

He went through key strategic points for maintaining America’s strength around the world, such as shoring up core alliances, confronting violent extremism, and building a strong international economy. He also addressed some more controversial issues, becoming visibly impassioned about immigration reform.

“The single most significant thing we can do to fundamentally change the relationship [with immigrants] in terms of trust and commitment is to pass immigration reform,” Biden said.

Despite emphasizing the urgency of issues such as instability in the Middle East and immigration reform, Biden, a self-described optimist, put international crises into perspective, telling the audience that America is safe.

“The U.S. faces threats that require attention, but we face no existential threat to our way of life or security,” he said. Referencing the Boston Marathon bombings, he added later, “Americans will never ever stand down; we endure, we overcome, we own the finish line, so do not take out of proportion this threat.”

After his official remarks, the teleprompter turned off, and Biden stepped out from behind the podium and into the Q & A session. College and Kennedy School students asked questions on topics ranging from human rights to Turkey to AIDS funding. He reminded students that international collaboration is not solely the job of today’s dignitaries.

“Folks, people in other parts of the world are just as smart as you, just as good and decent as you,” Biden said. “Stop that attitude ‘What can I do for you?’ It’s ‘What can I do with you?’”

When Sietse K. Goffard ’15 introduced himself as the Undergraduate Council Vice President , Biden interjected, “Isn’t it a bitch?” to raucous laughter from the audience. Biden quickly clarified that he was joking.

After answering questions for 30 minutes longer than planned, Biden was cut off by Ellwood. He then motioned for those who still had questions to come up and ask them personally, at which time a crowd of students surrounded him, discussing foreign policy and snapping selfies.

“I feel like the speech was very formal, very ‘U.S. rah rah’ because he sort of has to do that,” Timothy H. Shea ’18 said. “The good old Biden shows up when he’s asked questions and responds. He’s still one of the most genuine politicians I’ve ever heard speak.”

“He wants us to not give up on America. He wants to make sure we are still confident in our country, confident in our leadership, confident in our ability,” Osaremen F. Okolo ’17 said.

According to IOP spokesperson Esten Perez, more people entered the lottery for Thursday’s event than any other in the Institute’s history. The forum fits 750 people.

Law enforcement officials and secret service closed off JFK St. to all vehicular traffic between Eliot St. and Memorial Dr. from noon to 8 p.m. Trucks, police cars, and secret service vehicles lined the streets as attendees were forced to enter the Kennedy School from the John F. Kennedy Park.

Earlier in the day, Biden had attended an event for the Democratic National Committee in Boston.

—Staff writer Forrest K. Lewis contributed to the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Mariel A. Klein can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mariel_klein.

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