It’s been close to five years since Joe Biden bared his soul on the very first week of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, revealing that he was not emotionally ready to run for president in 2016 after the death of his son.
Now, Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee for 2020 and both men are stuck broadcasting from home during the coronavirus pandemic. And unlike President Trump, Biden wasn’t too proud to let people see him in a mask.
“I wear the mask all the time,” Biden told Colbert, removing his black face covering at the top of the interview. “Well, not all the time. When anybody's around, other than Jill. Although sometimes she wants me to put the mask on so she can't hear me speak.”
Colbert began with the one burning question on his mind: “Are you gonna beat this guy?”
“Yes,” Biden answered, before repeating that word three more times. “Look, I don’t want to jinx myself, but I’ll tell you why. The American people fully understand what’s at stake here. This is the most important election in anybody’s life, not because I’m running, but because of the circumstances.”
The former vice president mostly focused on criticizing Trump’s response to the crisis. He asked the president, “Why don’t you start to tell the American people the truth? They’re tough. They can handle it. And tell them what’s going to happen and tell them how you’re going to get these things done. He’s done none of that.”
Later, Colbert asked Biden about his search for what he has promised will be a female running mate. He said he’s looking for somebody who can “complement and/or make up for” his “shortcomings,” the way he and President Obama did for each other throughout their eight years in office.
In response to new reports that Senator Amy Klobuchar has been asked to undergo vetting for the position, Biden clarified that no one has been vetted yet but did not deny that she was under consideration. “It’s a very invasive process,” he said, “and that’s why what you don’t want to do is, you don’t want to let all the names out you’re vetting because if someone’s not chosen, the presumption is—not necessarily true—that there must be something wrong.”
Along with the rest of the politically minded late-night field, Colbert has deliberately avoided covering the sexual assault allegation against Biden by former Senate staffer Tara Reade. The most generous explanation is that he was waiting until he could ask the former vice president about it directly. When he had the chance Thursday night, he took a pass.
Toward the end of their long conversation, Colbert returned to the topic of grief that dominated their first Late Show sit-down in 2015. And like with the first time they spoke, this was the section where Biden came alive.
“The American people look to you as a figure who understands suffering, who understands pain of the heart and the soul and what is required to overcome that,” Colbert said. “And while we all know we’re in a crisis, not just nationally but globally, not enough attention really is being paid to the necessity for grief right now, for the grief of the loss of close to 100,000 people so far.”
“There hasn’t been a public expression from the top of that grief, which helps guide the country’s soul in times of crisis like this,” he continued, making a not-so-subtle dig at Trump. “And it’s not just for the irreparable loss of lives but the economic loss, the insecurity, worry about the future, the loss of a normal national state.”
“What can you say to those people who are worried about the future and have no outlet right now, nationally and collectively, for their grief?” the host asked.
To those who have been sucked into the “big black hole” of grief after losing loved ones to the virus, Biden said, “You’ve got to remember, over time, that they’re still part of you, they’re your heart, they’re your soul. It’s who you are, it’s this connection that is real, and the only way I know for me how to get through it is to find purpose.”
“What would the person you lost—what would they want you to be doing?” Biden asked. “What can you do to make it better?”
Biden became visibly emotional as he recalled the promise he made to his son Beau before he died of brain cancer. “He said, ‘Dad, I know no one in the world loves me more than you do,’” he said. “But, Dad, I promise you, I’m going to be OK. But, Dad, promise me you’re going to be OK.”
“He was worried I would withdraw,” Biden said. “I would go inside, because mourning in public is a lot different than being able to mourn in private. And he made me promise to stay engaged.” That didn’t mean running for president necessarily, but it did mean fighting for the causes he believed in.”
“Every morning I get up, I ask myself, is he proud of me?” he added. “Am I meeting the requirement that I promised him I would do? Because he and Hunter, whom, thank God I still have him, he was my soul, Hunter is my heart.”
Colbert ended the heartfelt interview with one more question: “Are we going to be alright?”
“Yes, we are,” Biden replied. “I promise you, we will get through this and we’re going to come out stronger.”