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President Joe Biden on supply chain crisis, gas prices, and unity: his interview with News19

Biden did a one-on-one with News19's Darci Strickland ahead of his trip to South Carolina.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — President Joe Biden will give the commencement address at South Carolina State University Friday, his first visit to the state since he won the Democratic primary here in 2020.

Biden will be joined at the commencement by South Carolina State alumni and U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who'll receive an award and walk across the graduation stage, something Clyburn didn't get to do when he earned his degree in 1961, exactly 60 years ago. 

RELATED: President Joe Biden to headline South Carolina State graduation this Friday

In advance of the trip, Biden spoke one-on-one with News19's Darci Strickland, discussing what he'll tell graduates. He also addressed the state of the nation and state's economy, the supply chain crisis, gas prices, and voting rights. He also called for more unity in the country.

RELATED: SC State, students excited for Presidents arrival

A full transcript of the interview is below. 

Darci: If you don't mind, I'd love to start with your visit to South Carolina State University on Friday and being the commencement speaker. Do you want to give us a hint as to what the class of 2021 will hear from you?

President Biden: We're gonna hear about why it's so important that we have strong HBCUs across America. I was able to make sure we provided for $85.8 billion in additional aid to HBCUs. Now one of the best HBCUs is Delaware State and Delaware. I got there, but I've also been to the HBCU I'm going to be there on Friday. 

My good friend and one of our great leaders, Jim Clyburn, is receiving an award that day and I've been asked to give the commencement speech and present him the award. And so I'd almost walk to South Carolina to be able to do that for Jim. We're going to be talking about what the opportunities are and why we have to do everything from making sure there's economic opportunity and also deal with voting rights, voting rights, voting rights. That's how I got involved in politics. For years. I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I was able to last time as a senator as chairman to get [voting rights] extended for 25 years, and even got Strom Thurmond to vote to extend to 25 years. In the meantime, a Supreme Court case came along and said you don't need any more preclearance. The states that were historically were prejudiced against allowing or preventing African Americans to vote had to be precleared to make sure they didn't come up with any other games. Well, the John Lewis legislation that we're trying to pass, when in fact change that. It would say 'no, no, you need to give go back to preclearance.' You have to do that. And so it's really important, because you see what's happening all over the country an attempt to keep African Americans make it harder for them to vote, not easier.

Darci: When I spoke with Congressman Clyburn Monday, he was very excited about the opportunity to march six decades after he graduated from South Carolina State University. And with that in mind, the chance to march the chance to turn the tassel, he extended the invitation to you to be the commencement speaker. Can you tell us a little bit about that conversation?

President Biden: Well it didn't take long I said yes. Because first of all, he's one of the really great leaders in the country. I mean, for real. He's a man of enormous integrity as was his wife--God rest her soul--was so deeply involved. And Jim has been a champion for all the things that matter. Not just HBCUs and education generally, but everything from making sure for example, Jim was the guy that enabled me to convince the to get legislation passed saying that, that there is on the farm programs, how African American farmers have been left behind. Well, we've changed that now that we're making up for that and there's just a lot of things that Jim has been so so much needed. He is real conscience. He has he has great integrity and a conscience and he is not hesitant to make his views known, which I like a lot too.

Darci: Mr. President, we are just 11 days away from Christmas and there are still concerns about supply chain issues across the nation. Do you feel comfortable speaking to parents and telling them that gifts are not going to be a problem for Santa on December 24?

President Biden: Well, they're not going to be you're going to the problem is they're going to be available it's gonna cost you money. It's gonna cost Santa some money. (laughs). 

But all kidding aside, there are some problems with the supply chain as it relates to food relates to used cars, relates to oil. For example. I was able to release as my authority as president 15 million barrels of oil from the oil reserves, we call it the SPR reserve and convince some other countries I've dealt with to release some of their oil as well to drive down the price of gasoline. For example. Now it's below $3 a gallon and Columbia for the first time in a while. We're driving it down all over the country and food prices are particularly poultry, beef, and pork are up because there's concentration of producers of the outfits that in fact, take the pork and the beef etc. and turn it into the food that gets on the shelf. And there's a concentration that's too too too severe. It raises prices. For example, Tyson Foods made an extra over a billion dollars the last quarter when asked why they're able to raise prices because there's so few competitors, they're all the big guys. And so I have legislation that I have an executive order I signed to go in and take a look at they should hold hearings on whether or not the concentration essentially violations antitrust the concentration is too much, raising the price artificially for people.

In addition to that, there's a lot of other things that caused prices to go up having to do with COVID because we have poured an awful lot of things from around the world. For example, there are two ports seaports in California, in Southern California where 40% of all the product comes in the United States goes through those ports. Well, when you have people shutting down factories that have precursor materials for them in Southeast Asia, then the prices go up. And in addition to that, when the ports only open for five days a week, instead of seven days a week. 24 hours a day, you have these containers piling up on the docks and not getting to the market. So I met with everyone from Walmart, and all the big distributors as well as FedEx to make sure that we can get those products, those those big container ships that containers off the ships on the dock and off the docks into the stores in the warehouses. And that's one of the other reasons why there's enough product now. We still have to do more but there's just immediately more product out there for people to be able to buy on Christmas gifts.

Darci: As families plan to gather over the holidays, a lot of people are still very concerned about omicron variant [of COVID-19]. And sadly, it does not appear that the vaccination rates are what medical experts were hoping they would be at this point. What do you say to folks watching today who haven't been vaccinated and may not see the reason or the importance of doing it?

President Biden: Well, you know, you hear a lot from my home state as well as yours and other states saying, 'well, I have my freedom. I have a right to not get vaccinated.' I think of it in terms of patriotism. You're out there and you're not vaccinated. This is a pandemic of the unvaccinated--of the unvaccinated-- you have in South Carolina 55.5% of all people fully vaccinated and a nationwide 65%. But that those who aren't vaccinated are the ones that continue to spread the diseases. And so we should think of as a patriotic duty. Whether you're whether you're working in a supermarket to make sure you have been vaccinated so you're not spreading anything else or you're not likely to get the virus and Delta still as the worst is the biggest problem. 

And you know, what's happening is we have otherwise the rest of the economy is beginning to really grow. The unemployment rate in your state in October was below 4% 3.9% nationally is 4.2% and going down. Our gross domestic product is growing, etc. And so the only thing is going to stop us is vaccinations. But here's the deal. They're free. They're available. You can walk into your local drugstore and get them you can move in your some churches are providing it. There's a whole range of areas where you can get a free vaccination. And if you haven't gotten your booster shot, if your last vaccination and fully vaccinated quote unquote, and was six months ago, get your booster shot. It's overwhelming protection, overwhelming protection and and so it just seems to me that if you have a.... and what we've been able to do we now have vaccines for everyone five years and older. Five years old and older. And so it's really a game changer. A game changer.

And I don't understand why people are unwilling to other than it's almost become a political issue. If you're a conservative Republican, you're not for that--and that's not fair because a lot of Republicans do get vaccinated--but this idea that I'm not going to be told what to do. Well, you know, it seems to me that you know, if you if you have any serious problem that is communicable, you should at least be tested before you walk into somebody else's home or you walk into the church or sit next year in the pew on Sunday next to somebody you should have be cognizant of their health, their safety their responsible, their health. 

And so I just think that it's just not very responsible. It's not I you know, I again, I get told Biden you're trying to take away my right. I like to think about being patriotic. Patriotic, Help the rest of the country, because the people who are spreading the disease and basically the unvaccinated got to take care of it. 

Darci: You managed to get some agreement on the bipartisan infrastructure law. What does that mean to South Carolina?

President Biden: Well, it's gonna mean a lot for example, everything from you know, a lot of your state does not have broadband. And you know, and a lot of moms and dads have had to be on be able to get the internet so their kid can do their homework. How many times you drive by a fast food restaurant and see people sit out in the cars, not ordering food, but getting access to broadband so their kid can. This the United States of America. Why in God's name do you have to go to a fast food restaurant to be able to work off of their broadband? So it provides broadband.

And it's also going to do something on it fairly familiar with South Carolina. Not unlike Delaware, a lot of shoreline. We have a lot of problems with lead pipes. You have a lot of problem with water that is contaminated. This is going to replace all those pipes. All the money's in there to make sure that you're going to able to replace all those pipes so you can be certain in the 400,000 schools out there, where a kid turns on the faucet or goes to the water fountain what he or she is drinking is pure water, they're not going to get sick. 

In addition to that, you have to along your coastline whenever the flooding that's occurred, you can't build back to what it was before. And so, let's say the flood comes in is two feet above the road level. washes it  out. You got to build a three feet above because it's not going to get better. The environments not gonna get a lot better, but it can get a lot worse. So you got to build back better and when you have a lot of bridges that need repair, South Carolina, you have a whole lot of things that have to be done and guess what it's going to create millions of jobs nationwide, thousands of jobs in South Carolina. And these aren't jobs paying $7 an hour. These are jobs paying the prevailing wage 40 bucks an hour or more with health care and coverage.

It's allowed people to live as my dad used to say--a high school graduate-- and dad used to say, 'Joey, all I'm looking for is a little bit of breathing room. A little bit of breathing room.' 

For example, you know right now if you're a mom or a dad, you have one of those hundreds of thousands of children who have type one diabetes, guess what? Your insulin for that child not going into into a coma or God forbid dying costs somewhere around between $400 and $1,000 a month depending on how much you need to take. Well, the proposal I have in the new legislation says nobody pays more than $35 for the monthly. By the way it costs the drug companies $10 to make this nothing's changed since then. Why in God's name is costing all this money? And a lot of it has to do with a lot of people are reclaiming their dignity. I can't imagine being a dad or mom, knowing my kid needs this and I have no insurance and no way to afford it. And just not only in your child's health in jeopardy, but this strips your dignity and we can do this without raising taxes on anybody making less than 400,000 a year. I don't know it just frustrates me as you can tell. I'm sorry.

Darci: No need to apologize, Mr. President. And as we wrap up this afternoon the final question as we look forward to your visit South Carolina on Friday, what do you say to the folks who may not be supporters of Joe Biden? Why is your visit important for South Carolina as a whole and not just South Carolina State University Bulldogs?

"Well, look I I'm in the view I got involved in public life because of civil rights and civil liberties issues and coming from a state that's a good state but had a lot of problems. I'm not sure that Joe Biden's visit is important except to the extent that I think we've got to come together. I don't think we can continue to be red and blue. I really mean it. 

We're a purple nation. We're all Americans. And I think if we--and I know I got criticized heavily when I was running for the presidency and getting the nomination, even in South Carolina where I did very well with the help of Jim and others. The whole notion that I said I'm running for three reasons. One, to restore the soul of the country. A sense of decency and honor, to treat each other with respect. Don't talk to each other like we're talking to each other. Secondly, to build the backbone of this country back up and that's the middle class and working class folks. 

You know Wall Street--I'm not anti-Wall Street--but Wall Street didn't build America. Hard working middle class people built America. And unions built the middle class. And thirdly, I said--which I really got clobbered by everybody for saying but I still believe it--we have to unify the country. Democracies cannot function long unless you can reach consensus. And compromise is not a dirty word. And so we've got to get back to that. Talking to one another. Getting engaged like we did before. [Former U.S. Senator] Bob Dole on his deathbed asked me to do his eulogy. Bob Dole was a leading Republican. But guess what? We disagreed on a number of things but we were friends we treated each other with respect. We've got to get back to that. Democracies are in jeopardy if we don't start working together. 

Darci: Mr. President thank you so much and we'll see you on Friday. 

President Biden: Thank you very much. 

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