Joe Biden answers student questions on climate change, young workforce at University of Iowa

Former Vice President Joe Biden attracted a couple hundred people to the University of Iowa campus on Monday. Biden polls low among Iowans under the age of 35, but his supporters at the rally said they appreciated his foreign policy experience.


Megan Nagorzanski

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a rally at the Iowa Memorial Union on Monday January 27, 2020. (Megan Nagorzanski/The Daily Iowan)

Sarah Watson, Managing Editor

In making one of his final pitches to Iowa City residents a week before the Iowa caucuses, former Vice President Joe Biden sought to draw students’ attention with an on-campus stop. 

A couple hundred people attended the Biden event, a crowd that skewed older, at the IMU on the University of Iowa campus Monday night. 

One UI student attendee, second-year Madisyn Burk, said she was deciding between Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. She said she liked Biden’s experience in foreign policy and that he was vice president to Barack Obama but that she liked Warren’s stance on the environment, plus the fact that she was a woman.

But, she said she’d probably make her decision on caucus night.

“It’s just gonna be kind of a gut decision,” she said. “… You can’t go wrong between those two.”

The former vice president took questions after finishing his stump speech from young people who’d sat behind him holding Biden signage. In response to one question about how he would address climate change, Biden outlined several points on a plan he would set in motion to combat the global crisis as president.

“It’s the single biggest issue facing humanity,” he said. 

He added he would rejoin Paris Climate Accord, call on more than 200 countries to meet in the U.S. to establish enforcement mechanisms for the agreement, invest research into a “carbon-free atmosphere,” increase tax credits for wind and solar, reform mileage standards, install electric car recharging stations and  electric rails across the U.S. and within cities. 

He said Obama called him “Amtrak Joe” as a reference to his support for rail infrastructure. His climate stance is similar to other Democratic candidates in the race, but Biden does differ on his stance on fracking. Biden doesn’t support a nationwide ban on fracking, which is an oil and natural gas extraction technique by fracturing rock with a pressurized liquid.

In response to another student question, this one about how he would help young workers, he said he would take steps to address student-loan debt and grow rural economies, but that he wouldn’t go as far as Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in canceling all or even most of student-loan debt.

He said that under his plan graduates who engage in volunteer would be able to write off $10,000 of student-loan debt a year for up to $50,000. 

He also said he supports expanding Pell Grants, making two-year college free, and investing in rural economies that keep businesses open and prevents brain drain.

In the latest Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll, Biden polled near the bottom on support from those under 35 with just four percent naming him their first choice for president, tying him with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. Sanders led that metric, with 36 percent support of Iowans under 35 surveyed.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller introduced Biden, as he has on several campaign stops this weekend, pledging his support for Biden because he believes the former vice president is the most electable.

Biden’s visit to Johnson County marks the beginning of a packed campaign schedule of visits to the highly concentrated blue county a week ahead of the caucuses. Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg held a rally on the north side of the county, in North Liberty. 

Allison Gayner, 66, an attendee at the Biden event said she originally liked Buttigieg, but after Trump authorized the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in early January, she said she’d rather have someone with more foreign policy leadership experience in the White House.

“When this thing happened with Iran I thought, ‘Having been an intelligence officer in Afghanistan does not mean he’s going to be commander in chief,’ ” she said, referring to Buttigieg’s seven-month deployment to Afghanistan. “He’s just too young. He’ll make a great president in 20 years.” 

During his stop at the IMU, Biden took a dig at Trump’s foreign policy toward the Middle East and Ukraine while emphasizing his knowledge of foreign leaders. 

“There’s not going to be time for on the job training,” Biden said of what differentiates him from some of his Democratic rivals. “I know who Vladmir Putin is and he knows me. I know every single one of these leaders.”