US vice-presidential debate liveblog

Our US blogger Nicky Woolf is live-blogging the vice-presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.

 


10:38PM

 

I'm going to give this to Biden. Clearly, after Romney's performance last week he'd been briefed to ride rough-shod over both Raddatz and Ryan. When Romney did that sort of thing, it was counted a win. Will it be so in this case? There's no reason it has to be - in the debate game, goalposts move fast, and they move often. Many are going to say that Biden came off as condescending. But it looked like a win to me.

 


10:33PM

Wrapping-up speech from Biden. "The fact is, we we inherited a godawful circumstance. We tried to help people in need, but you probably detected my frustration about their attitude towards the American people." He points out the 47% again - I make that his fifth mention of that damning . "Those are the people that built this country, and when you level the playing field the're able to move.

Ryan has the last word, however. "I want to thank you, Joe. It's been an honour." A wry smile.

"We face a very big choice. What kind of country are we going to be? President Obama, he had his chance. His agenda: it's not working. It's failed to create the jobs we need. This is not what a real recovery looks like. YOu deserve better. Mitt Romney and I want to earn your support. ... The choice is clear. A stagnant economy that promotes more gvt dep, or a dynamic economy that promotes opportunity and jobs ... we will not try to replace our founding principles, we will reapply our founding principles."


10:27PM

Last question is about the campaign. Biden is losing his voice a little - he's been shouting for about an hour solid. "Whether or not Romney or Obama has the convition to help lift up the middle class, or going to focus on taking care of only the very wealthy - I would ask them to take a look at whether the President has acted wisely, and the slipshod comments made by Romney serve our interests. But there have been things said in campaigns that I find unappealing."

Ryan: "You have a President who ran for President promising hope and change, and has turned his candidate into attack, blame and defame. ... look at all the string of broken promises. ... remember when he said, 'I'll cut the deficit in half'."

The families I'm watching with point out that it's ironic that a question about the turn-off effect of negative campaigning has seen both candidates simply attack more. "Unappealing."

 


10:21PM

Last few questions return home: a doozy first. "Historically, you are two Catholic candidates, how has that affected your view on abortion?

Ryan pauses. "I don't see how a person can separate their public from their private; my faith tells me how to take care of the vulnerable. You ask me why I'm pro-life, it's not simply because of my faith. It's because of reason and science. My wife and I went to hospital for our 7-week ultrasound. Our little baby was in the shape of a bean. To this day, we have nicknamed her bean." He laughs thoughtfully. "I believe that life begins at conception. Those are the reasons I'm prolife. I realise it's difficult, and I respect people who don't agree ... but it's infringing on our right to religious freedom, imposing it on Catholic hospitals, Catholic churches."

"My religion defines who I am," says Biden. "I've been a practicing Catholic my whole life, and it has informed my social doctrine, which is about taking care of those who cant take care of themselves. With regard to abortion, I accept my churches position on abortion. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on others, unlike my friend here. I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that women can't control their body. It's a decision between them and their doctor."

 


10:12PM

Biden hits Ryan where the Obama campaign clearly wants Romney to be hit: their lack of specifics. Almost shouting: "if they're proposing to put American forces on the ground, they should stand up and say so. But that's not what they're saying."

"Nobody is proposing to send American troops to Syria," says a clearly confused Ryan. To loosely paraphrase Hunter S Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail: if a candidate is spending his time denying things, then he's already lost.

 


10:07PM

Raddatz is being pretty hard on Ryan, it has to be said. Possibly to make up for the limpness of Jim Lehrer when Romney was hammering Obama. To my count she's asked the Republican vp candidate two particularly aggressive questions so far - "do you have specifics."

With Biden she's much more deferential. "Do you think..." "Would you say..." "Can you tell me, vice-President Biden, what was the reason for bringing the troops-" Biden interrupts again. He's dominating this debate. But is the day two story that he was over-the-top, perhaps rude?

"We turned it over to the Afghan troops we trained," intones Biden. He's on shaky ground here, but his tone is that of a winner, and the likelihood is that's what gets remembered.

 


10:00PM

It is pointed out to me that Paul Ryan looks uncannily like a child-actor from The Munsters.

He does. Afghanistan and the Middle East up next.


9:53PM

Now we're into tax plans. How does Ryan escape from Romney's lack of detail last time? "We need fundamental tax reform. The President wants the fundamental tax rate to go above 40% ... and it doesn't even pay for 10% of their proposed spending increases."

"We're suggesting - don't raise the deficit, don't raise the taxes on the middle class."

"You have refused to offer specifics - do you actually have them?" demands Raddatz. "We want to have big bipartisan..." starts Ryan. "Do you have the specifics?" she insists. "What we're saying is, here are our frameworks: cut spending, so we can lower tax rates across the board. Lower tax rates 20%, starting with the wealthy." 

That's the closest the Romney-Ryan campaign has come so far to putting any specifics on paper about tax. It's not... very close.

 


9:45PM

"Biden's rude and Ryan is smug" is the conclusion here in Hicksville. "This is catty."

 


9:43PM

Vanity Fair's Twitter feed is getting very, very excited right now, and loving Biden tonight.

 

 


9:36PM

"I got a letter from my friend here - 'can you send me some stimulus money for programs in my state of Wisconsin'" says Biden. This is a serious hit - after Ryan criticised the bailout fund, Ryan has been caught out in what looks like rank hypocrisy. He is clearly rattled, now.

Next up is Medicare and Medicaid. Will things have to change? "Absolutely. Medicare and Medicaid going bankrupt: these are absolute facts," says Ryan, before talking about how it helped his mother and grandmother. "If you reform these programs for people 54 and under, you can protect it for those already retired," he says: but this line, which Romney used as well (though less ably) last week, doesn't play well. As Obama said at the time: "if you're aged 50 and over, take note."

 


9:31PM

The first real laugh-line of the night from Ryan: "I think the vice-president knows that sometimes the words don't come out of your mouth the right way."

But Biden has the answer: "If you heard that 47 percent soliloquy and thought it was just an accident," says Biden, "then... I got a bridge to sell ya..."

 


9:27PM

Next up is the economy, and Biden loses no time hitting his talking-point targets: the auto bailout, Romney's statement that he'd have let Detroit go bankrupt, and Romney's 47% comment. Somewhere in campaign HQ, David Axelrod is applauding like a child being offered a lollipop.

 


9:24PM

Biden's on the attack hard – he looks as if he's trying to somehow get revenge for Romney's steamroller of Obama last week. Raddatz is having none of it, but Ryan looks very young in comparison.

 

“War should always be the last resort,” says Biden with a wise chuckle, in response to some flip-flopping on how well Iran sanctions are working from Ryan. In some ways, what's being said doesn't matter. Biden is steamrollering Paul.

 


9:20PM

Debate is getting heated about the so-called snub of Netanyaho at the latest UN summit. "I've been friends with Bibi for 39 years," says Biden. "The President has met with Bibi dozens of times. This... is a bunch of stuff." "What does stuff mean?" asks Raddatz.

"It's Irish..."

 


9:14PM

"Your candidate has a book out called 'no apologies'", says the envigilator Martha Raddatz "should we not be apologising for urinating on Taliban corpses, for burning Korans?" "Oh, god yes," says Ryan.

He's now talking about the lack of a Marine detachment for the Benghazi consulate; that's a line that sinks home here in Ohio - I'm watching with a Hicksville family, and there are nods around the room for what Ryan is saying. Not entirely, though: "His hair unsettles me," says Debbie Welly. Biden's hair, meanwhile, is getting full marks.

 


9:09PM

Paul Ryan is on the attack already. “What we're talking about here is the unravelling of the Obama foreign policy.” Joe Biden's response is to laugh – a polar opposite of Obama's grim-faced sobriety last time. "I just don't understand what my friend is talking about here," he says.

 


9:00PM

Hello, and welcome to the New Statesman's live blog of this evening.

There is a much more intimate debate setting for this evening's debate: a shared desk around the envigilator. First question is on Libya.

Crews put finishing touches on the stage for the vice-presidential debate at the Norton Centre at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. Photograph: Getty Images

Nicky Woolf is reporting for the New Statesman from the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

Graham Brady illustration
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Tory backbench leader Graham Brady: “When we vote to leave the EU, the PM should stay”

As chair of the 1922 Committee, Graham Brady is a king among Tory backbenchers. So what does the ardent Eurosceptic make of David Cameron’s prospects in the EU referendum – and afterwards?

Enter Graham Brady’s office and you are treated to a magnificent panoramic view of the Palace of Westminster and Parliament Square. It is an appropriately grand vantage point for one of the most influential MPs. As the chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, Brady is an essential barometer of Tory opinion. In recognition of this, he was one of the first guests to No 10 Downing Street in the hours following David Cameron’s general election victory. A prime minister with a majority of 12 – the smallest of any single-party government since October 1974 – must take permanent heed of his backbenchers.

I met Brady, 48, shortly before the start of Prime Minister’s Questions on 10 February. Among Conservative MPs below us in Portcullis House, there remained only one topic of discussion: Europe. Cameron’s draft agreement with the EU has failed to persuade many Eurosceptics that they should vote in favour of membership of the Union when the referendum is likely held on 23 June. Brady, who entered parliament in 1997 as the MP for Altrincham and Sale West, is one of those who intends to campaign for withdrawal.

“There is a very long-term problem that there is a massive difference between what Britain thought it was joining – the European Economic Community – and what it actually was joining,” he said. “There was no appetite or decision to join a political Europe . . . That is something that has always needed to be resolved in some way and I think the more the eurozone, in particular, integrates with the continuing crisis, the more we will have to see massive political and fiscal integration and probably, still, the departure of some of the weaker eurozone countries. As that process goes on, the United Kingdom has got to redefine its relationship in a meaningful way.”

In advance of the European Council summit in Brussels on 18-19 February, he warned that Cameron’s renegotiations had fallen far short. “The reforms that are being sought by the Prime Minister, while all welcome changes, don’t come anywhere near to that fundamental reform of the nature of our relationship with the EU.”

I asked Brady, who was elected to lead the 1922 Committee in 2010, how many of his Conservative colleagues he expected to join him. “It’s very hard to say. I’ve always thought that a clear majority of Conservative members of parliament are deeply unhappy about the shape of the current European Union. And probably a clear majority would have a preference of leaving the EU as it is today. I suspect that roughly 100 will declare that they’re campaigning for Britain to leave. But many more will be very sympathetic to that objective.”

His estimate of 100 is notably higher than the 50 to 70 predicted by Steve Baker, the co-chairman of Conservatives for Britain.

In recent weeks, Eurosceptics have complained as pro-EU cabinet ministers have campaigned for membership while front-bench opponents have remained “gagged”. Brady told me it was “not unreasonable” for Cameron to force them to abide by collective responsibility until the renegotiation had concluded. But, he added: “What is important is that once the deal is done things should be brought to a conclusion as rapidly as possible. I hope there will be a cabinet meeting, if not on the Friday after the Prime Minister returns, then on the Saturday morning, [so] that the cabinet can agree its collective position and also agree that those who don’t share that view are free to say so and free to campaign.”

Some MPs expect as few as five cabinet members to support EU withdrawal (Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Priti Patel, Theresa Villiers and John Whittingdale) although others remain hopeful of persuading Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to join them. “I hope that everybody who is really committed to Britain’s future as a free, independent democracy will realise this is a key decision point,” Brady said.

“There’s no doubt that if Boris Johnson were to campaign for Britain to leave it would bring an energy and buzz to the campaign. Of course that would be welcome, and I hope that Michael Gove will resolve his dilemma in the same direction.”

I asked Brady if he was worried by what some Eurosceptics call “the Farage problem”: that the most prominent opponent of EU membership is also the most polarising. “Nigel Farage is very good at what he does,” he said of the Ukip leader. “He’s a very effective communicator with some audiences, so clearly he has a role in the campaign. Given the salience of the issue for him and his party, it would be unreasonable to expect him not to be prominent in the campaign. But he is a Marmite character and I think this is why it’s so important that there should be a wide range of different voices.”

Brady, who had just returned from a breakfast meeting in the City of London, told me that a number of business people have revealed to him that although their “institutional position is firmly that we should remain in the EU . . . privately their view is completely the opposite”.

Two days before we met, Cameron had been accused of “scaremongering” for warning that “the Jungle”, the refugee camp in Calais, could move to Dover in the event of EU withdrawal. Brady told me that the Prime Minister’s remarks were indeed “inaccurate” and that it was “enormously helpful of the French government to point out that it wasn’t going to happen”.

Were Britain to vote to leave the EU, as polls suggest is possible, many Tory MPs on both sides believe that Cameron would have to resign as Prime Minister. But Brady rejected this suggestion. “No. When we vote to leave the European Union I think it is very important that we have a period of stability. I think it would be hugely valuable to have an experienced team in place to deal with the renegotiation, I think it’s actually very important that the Prime Minister should stay.”

I noted that he referred to “when” Britain leaves the EU, suggesting he was confident of victory. “I’m always confident of victory,” he replied with a smile.

Given Cameron’s decision to pre-resign before the election by vowing to serve only two terms, there will be a Conservative leadership contest before 2020. I asked Brady whether, as some have suggested, the members’ ballot should be widened to include more than two candidates.

“The rules are constructed for each contest by the 1922 executive and agreed with the party board. The only stipulation in the constitution of the party is that we should provide ‘a choice’ to the party members. That has always been construed as a choice of two. I can’t see any reason why parliamentary colleagues would wish to reduce their own influence in the process by putting forward a larger field.”

The Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has argued that it is essential there be a female candidate (ideally herself). Brady offered her some advice: “I have very fond recollections of a woman leading the Conservative Party. I hope that if Nicky wants to launch her campaign seriously, she’ll talk to me about how we might promote more grammar schools and selective education as one of the ways that we can stimulate real social mobility in the country again – and she’ll have my support.” It was after the then shadow education secretary, David Willetts, argued in 2007 that grammar schools inhibited social mobility that Brady resigned as shadow minister for Europe.

If there is one stipulation that most Conservative members and MPs will make, it is that there be an anti-EU candidate in the field. I asked Brady whether he would consider standing himself.

“I say to people that I’m very happy with being the returning officer for any leadership contest,” he replied. But the man with a better feel for Conservative backbench opinion than any other ended our conversation with this prediction. “I do think it’s very likely that if we put two candidates forward to the party in the country, at least one of them will have been someone who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU.” 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 11 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle