The Big Idea is a series that asks top lawmakers and figures to discuss their moonshot — what’s the one proposal, if politics and polls and even price tag were not an issue, they’d implement to change the country for the better?
In just one week, in a United States that was already experiencing yawning divisions, thousands of President Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, forcing Vice President Pence and hundreds of lawmakers into hiding. Then thousands of troops streamed into Washington, D.C., aiming to prevent a repeat of that attack during President-elect Biden’s inauguration. And the House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to impeach the president.
That is the United States that Biden will inherit when he’s sworn in as president at noon on Tuesday.
But Moe Vela, the former director of management and senior advisor to then-Vice President Biden, believes that Biden is fit for the moment and that he will be able to work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle not only to advance his agenda but to heal the nation to the extent possible.
Vela told Fox News that among other things, moderate Republicans with whom Biden shares values will “need to feel heard” by the new administration.
This would look like numerous phone calls and in-person meetings, Vela said, but would also require the Republicans Biden engages with to denounce “this incitement and this behavior” from the past week’s events.
Vela discussed his big idea with Fox News. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
What is your reaction to the developments from the past week?
Vela: I’ve been using words to describe it, frankly, from the minute it happened. Words like appalling, disgusting, despicable, scary.
These are very volatile times for our democracy, and I never thought I would live to see the day that this would happen in the United States of America. And so for me, it’s been rattling and it’s just been a reminder of how fragile our democracy actually is and how much I think maybe all of us just took it for granted.
In your view, is Joe Biden fit for the moment he will be stepping into as president?
Vela: There’s no doubt about it. He’s the right man. The right time. The right temperament. The right characteristics. The right heart. And the right mind. And it will require all of those things at this moment in time.
What openings are there for Biden to actually succeed in reaching across the aisle to Republicans?
Vela: The unintended consequence here was that this terrorist act and this insurrection … I really believe that sometimes from all bad can come some good. And this was bad. This was just downright bad. And we all agree on that, I hope. This was wrong, it was bad, it was dangerous, and it remains a volatile situation.
But from that bad, I believe one of the good things that will come out of it, that already has come out of it, is that it is going to highlight it, heighten, it brings attention to the gift that Joe Biden has. And now, instead of making it harder, I think, for him to begin that unification process, they have actually brought it to the forefront and they have empowered Joe Biden’s gift and they’ve empowered now the unification process.
That was not their intention, I assure you. But it is an unintended consequence. So to me, that’s the good that will come out of this bad. There will be, I believe, I’m so very confident about this, that it has now it has heightened Joe Biden’s gift of connecting and finding common ground.
And I think you will have with some receptive Republicans. That’s what it will take. And I think you will have more than a handful of receptive Republicans, both in the House and in the Senate that understand how vital and integral it is that that unity begins.
What concrete actions can Biden take to advance unity? James Comey mentioned pardoning Trump, is that reasonable?
Vela: I think the most important thing he can do is with those members of Congress on the Republican side who we’ve seen again, an unintended consequence of this terrorism has been that some Republicans in Congress, not enough of them, I might add, but many of them have stepped up and denounced this incitement and this behavior.
I think you start by listening to them. I think you start by inviting them to the table and beginning that process of finding common ground.
And so I think he’s got plenty of folks on the other side of the aisle to start to do that olive branch with. And nobody does it better than Joe Biden. He does it with a sincere and authentic heart. And he’s very genuine and it’s not politically driven. For him, it literally is who he is as a human.
I think that sincerity and that authenticity is going to be really important here. And again, there are plenty of people to start with on the Republican side already. I think they need to feel heard. They need to be seen and they need to be at the table and it needs to be at a table that only Joe Biden can set. And that’s the table full of spirit of inclusion, a spirit of respect and a spirit of decency, something that we’ve lost for four years in Washington.
But I think one of the greatest things I saw in the last 48 hours was something to the effect of that unity can’t begin and the unity and healing cannot begin until accountability improves. I’m certainly not suggesting that we just erase the past. We can’t. We’ve got to learn from it. People have to be held accountable. There have to be consequences. That’s what we teach our children and that’s what has to happen in our nation.
What examples have you seen in the past from Biden that he can be this unifier?
Vela: I have a story that I was I was involved in on his first trip to South America as the vice president of the United States.
I, as a senior-most Hispanic on his senior staff, I was invited to accompany him and Dr. Biden to Chile and to Costa Rica. And on that trip, we were all sitting around on Air Force Two – relatively long flight – and we were all just having a wonderful informal get-to-know-each-other conversation. It was very early in the administration and somehow I ended up sitting to his right on a couch.
And I simply was upset with some Republican senator at the time who had begun to badmouth and denounce one of our Obama White House policy proposals.
And I just blurted out that ‘blankety-blank, blank, Republican senator so-and-so.’ And I said some not so nice things about this Republican senator. And Joe Biden reached over with his right hand and grabbed my left forearm in front of all of my colleagues. And he said, ‘Mo, you’re wrong.’
And I said, ‘I’m sorry, sir, I didn’t mean to offend you or anybody.’ And he said, ‘Let me tell you why you’re wrong.’ He said, ‘That’s my friend. We don’t always agree on how to make America better, but we do agree that America is worth making better.’
And I never have forgotten that lesson that day. Because that, to me, exemplifies and demonstrates exactly what I am talking about today.
To him, these are human beings, these are human relationships. They’re not political relationships. He has the ability to see past politics and past power. To Joe Biden, that was his friend, they had had dinner together many times, they had to develop and forged a meaningful friendship. And he did not, he wasn’t going to tolerate politics coming between or causing any type of interference or damage to that friendship.
What do you say to Americans who don’t accept that Joe Biden will be the president on Tuesday at noon?
Vela: I would very respectfully say to them and ask them to please understand that this isn’t about Joe Biden and this isn’t about Donald Trump. This is about our country and this is about our democracy. And I would ask them to please recognize that – unfortunately and regrettably – what they have been told about this election is just flat out false.
And the sooner they come to that reality and again, I would say this very respectfully and gently, but the sooner they face the reality that this election was free and it was fair and it was clear and that a lot of this propaganda and all of these conspiracy theories were all just an effort to retain power. And the sooner they face that reality, the sooner that we can go on and continue on this unification process.
But they’ve got to accept the reality that is so blatant and that is that this election was not fraudulent. There was no irregularity, no pattern of fraud across the country. None of those things are true.
And frankly, I think the onus is on Trump and those hundred and whatever of Republicans in the House and those couple of senators in the Senate who continue to promote this. They’ve got to stand up. And they have a responsibility. If they really care, truly, genuinely care about our country and our democracy. You’ve got to put politics aside.