IDP’s JJ Dinner, the ’09 Biden edition

Vice President Joe Biden was the keynote speaker for this evening’s Iowa Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner.  During his remarks, Biden credited the late Teddy Kennedy for tonight’s senate vote on health care reform. Here’s part of the live blog of the event:

Biden said he was a bit late to the stage tonight because he’d been calling Democrats in the senate who he’d lobbied to vote tonight.

“I was on the phone and calling those senators who I was able to help change their minds on this vote.  That’s why I was late.  They did the right thing.  Tonight, tonight we defied the pundits.  We were told, every talk show you listen to, including the main stream media… health care was dead.  Well, it’s alive and well and it will pass,” Biden said. The crowd was on its feet, cheering through this passage.

“I know you knew him and loved him as much as I did. We owe a gigantic debt to Edward M. Kennedy…He’s the reason.  He is the reason why we persisted.  He was the inspiration…He, were he here, would deserve our plaudits.”

Biden told the crowd he’d been monitoring the senate vote as he flew to Iowa on Air Force II.

“We had on CNN and as they announced the vote, the plane actually jiggled.  I thought it was Teddy reaching down.”

Here’s the full live blog, with Biden’s comments at the end.

According to the screen hanging in the northwest corner of HyVee Hall in Des Moines, the Iowa Democratic Party’s 2009 Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner is to start in 47 seconds.  I doubt that, as people are milling about, basically in the dark, as they search for their seats at the round tables.  The room is set up in a sort of theatre-in-the-round, with the stage in the center of the room the only thing that is bathed in light.  Party officials say they’ve sold “nearly 1500” tickets.

conlinRoxanne Conlin, the US Senate candidate, rented a reception room downstairs for supporters to gather before the dinner.  She spoke to the crowd shortly after six o’clock.

“At this moment I have been a candidate for one week and six days and really, so far, so good,” Conlin said, laughing, as the crowd applauded.

“In Iowa we all try to live by the principle that those who work hard and play by the rules should have the same chance of success as everyone else.  We pride ourselves on our independence, but Charles Grassley seems to have lost his.   After 50 years in elected office, it’s time for him to take a rest, don’t you think?” Conlin asked.  The crowd responded with clapping and a few cheers. [More photos]

A few seconds later, Conlin told the crowd “big, big business” would be out to get her.  “Now I don’t want you to be under any illusions of any kind, This is an uphill race.  I am the underdog.  I’ve been the underdog before and it’s going to take everything I have and everything that you all have also.  Big, big business is already attacking me.  I’m not kidding.  They’re getting ready.  They’ve got lots of things to say about me and there’s a saying that I really like, ‘Know me by my enemies.’

“Money from the PACs and the federal lobbyists is flowing into Grassley’s coffers like the Mississippi….But I’m not going to take one single dime of PAC money…and no money from federal lobbyists either.  I make an exception for state lobbyists, but you understand the principle behind this.  I don’t want to be beholden to anybody but you.  Nobody but you will be my boss.”

Conlin gave a little biographical information, before concluding:  “I am sure that together we can send Charles Grassley back to the farm,” Conlin said, pausing mid-sentence as the crowd started applauding.  When they stopped clapping, Conlin concluded her sentence:  “and I’m also sure Iowa can do better.  Thank you all.”

Back up in the second floor of Hy-Vee Hall, shortly after 7 p.m., Iowa Democratic Party chairman Michael Kiernan introduced the party’s luminaries who make their way on stage.  Once all were on stage, Kiernan asks the politely applauding crowd to “give it up” for the crew of Democrats.  The crew on stage then exited into the darkness.

At 7:06 p.m.  the crowd stood to say the Pledge together.  The “Bridges to Harmony Chorus” of Des Moines then filed on stage to sing the national anthem.  As the crowd stood, waiting, it’s so dark, the crowd has giggled twice now, as people have knocked plates and glasses on the floor, breaking the silence with the sound of breaking china and glass.

The young kids in the chorus are great, by the way, rising to a crescendo at the end on the final word on the National Anthem –BRAVE — and the crowd is giving them a huge ovation as I type.

The minister who is giving the invocation is asking the crowd to participate.  She’s pausing at the end of each paragraph of her prayer, giving the crowd an opportunity to say three words in unison: “God bless America.”

Iowa Democratic Party chairman Michael Kiernan comes on stage again.  He laughs as another plate crashes to the floor in the darkened hall.  “Must have been a Republican over there,” Kiernan jokes.  Kiernan made a point of singling out AFSCME Council 61 president Danny Homan during his remarks, too.  As you may know,

Congressman Bruce Braley is next up on stage.  He takes the microphone and starts roving around the stage (unlike Kiernan, who read his remarks from behind a lectern on stage).

“It’s not acceptable for Democrats to be walking looking glum…Now is not the time for silence,” Braley said.  Braley reminisces about the 2008 Iowa Caucuses, the DNC in Denver and Obama’s inauguration last January.

“Our challenge tonight is how to take the magic on the mall and turn it into prosperity for all,” Braley said.  A few seconds later, Braley urged the crowd to “stand up and speak truth to fear” to counter Republicans.

“Get back in the game.  rise up and make your voices heard.  We can’t wait until next year,” Braley said.  “…I want you, right now, if you’re able, stand up.  We’re going to get this party started.  I want you to join me in shouting, ‘speak truth to fear.’  Braley said he wanted the shouting to be loud enough that Congressman Joe Wilson, Congresswoman Michele Bachman and Sarah Palin could hear.

Congressman Leonard Boswell is next to speak, starting with a tribute to a veteran who died this past week.  Boswell, like Braley, is wandering around the stage rather than standing behind the lectern.  Boswell told the crowd he “subscribes” to everything Braley said. “I just got a little email message.  We’ve got the votes,” Boswell said, alluding to the senate vote on health care reform.

Congressman Dave Loebsack is not here tonight.  “He’s on a mission out of the country,” Boswell tells the crowd.

“We’re combat ready.  We’re ready to go.  Stick with us,” Boswell says of the 2010 election.

Next up, Iowa Lieutenant Governor Patty Judge.  Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers are playing over the sound system as she makes her way to the stage:  “I won’t back down…won’t be turned around.”

“A lot has happened since we were here a year ago and if you remember when we were here a year ago we were absolutely dumbfounded by John McCain’s….runningmate….In a few minutes, we’re going to hear from the Vice President of the United States of America, Joe Biden…He was the right choice….I really like Joe Biden.  He’s a guy that’s going to tell it to you straight.

“He lets the tail go with the hide….I worked hard to get a reference to livestock in this speech.”

“…Neither Sarah or I went to Washington and that’s a good thing, but you know what?…I’m going to write a book and I’m going to call it something really catchy, like ‘Going to Des Moines.’  Yes, I am going to do it and it’s going to be a great book….One of the first chapters in my book will be titled, ‘My Early Years….the Branstad era, or we can title that ‘Terry loves tax breaks for the rich’ or ‘Terry likes tax breaks for the rest of us.'”

Judge goes on to describe other chapters, taking a shot at GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Rants, saying one of her chapters would be titled, “lessons in the dangers of bitterness.”

The joke fell a bit flat, and Judge prodded the crowd: “Come on, guys.”

She said another chapter would be dedicated to GOP candidate Bob Vander Plaats and would be titled “a total disregard of the law.”

Judge continues with the book notes, saying it would largelly chronicle the Culver-Judge years. She got a burst of applause when she said Democrats would protect those discriminated against because “of their sexual orientation.”

Judge wound down, then introduced Governor Chet Culver to the crowd.   The Rolling Stones, “Start me Up,” was played over the sound system as Culver climbed on stage.

Culver began with the Obama chant: “You fired up?  Ready to go?”

Culver talks about the 2008 election and what’s going on in Washington.  “Now the finish line is in sight….I am confident we will get real health care reform signed into law in he weeks ahead.”

Next up, a list of items Culver presents as his accomplishments over the past three years: an increase in the minimum wage, raising teacher salaries, renovating the Veterans Home, the Power Fund and addressing the floods of 2008.

“We did all of this without raising taxes, without raising taxes,” Culver said, to applause.  “I am proud of that record and I look forward to running on it in 2010.”  There’s a lot of applause, a few whistles.

“However, tonight we find ourselves at an important crossroads…Tonight, too many Iowans are struggling,” Culver said.  Culver lamened the jobs that were “shipped overseas” with the impending closing of the Electrolux plant in Webster City.

Culver talked about the state budget, and the 10 percent across the board cut he ordered.

“I understand the consequences of these tough decisions…but as governor it is my duty to be a responsible steward of the taxpayers’ dollar.

“…Taken together, our current challenges…rival those faced at any time in our state’shistory.  Iowans are at their best when their backs are against the wall…Iowa will weather this storm…and come out of this stronger than ever before.”

Culver told the crowd he’s a lucky man, “blessed to have a wife who loves me” — a supportive family, and “the best job in this state.”

“…I wake up each and every morning with a sense of excitement and a burning desire to make Iowa a better place. And you know what? I’m on your side.”

“…I want you to know that I will always, always stand up to fear & injustice and I will always make the tough decisions…And there’s one more thing: I will never, ever back down.”

The crowd applauds loudly.

“We’ve been through a lot of tough battles…and Democrats, it’s time once again to stand up and fight for our Democratic values.  I want you to stand up if you want to stand with me.”  The crowd gets up, applauding.

“…I want to make it crystal clear for anyone and everyone thinking about running for governor next year….I welcome a healthy debate….This is not only a race that we intend to finish. This is a race we will win, together,” Culver said, in conclusion.

Senator Tom Harkin spoke to the crowd, via a video recorded in D.C. The crowd applauded loudly when Harkin said the Senate health care reform bill would have a “strong, public option.”  The crowd also applauded loudly when Harkin said the bill would be on Obama’s desk before the president gives the State of the Union message next year.

After the Harkin video, IDP chair Michael Kiernan came on stage to announce the U.S. Senate has voted 60 to 39, which means Republicans won’t be able the “filibuster” the health care bill in the senate.  “That’s right,” Kiernan said, as the crowd gets to its feet.  This is the loudest they’ve been all night.

Next up, the “bucket pass” as two legislative leaders — Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal & House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — rib one another and try to spur the crowd to dig into their purses and wallets for spare cash.

At 8:17 p.m., Governor Culver comes back on stage to introduce the keynote speaker for this event, Vice President Joe Biden.

At 8:21 p.m., Biden comes on stage and references his opening remarks at the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in 2007 (Biden in 2007 questioned whether the Obama backers in the room were from Iowa or from Obama’s homestate of Illinois).  “Hello Iowa!  I assume the reason there’s no balcony this year is because Chicago’s in Washington.  Come on.  Come on.  Chicago is in Washington.  Thank God for America.”

Biden references the 2008 Iowa Caucuses.  “You pushed (Obama) a little harder than you pushed me.  I’d say Iowa is where the Obama presidency was born, but I don’t want to confuse the birthers.”  The crowd laughed.

“Had I known how good Barack was, I would have joined right in the beginning and not wasted so much of your time,” Biden said,

Biden mentions the “odds” he says seem stacked against Democrats.  “Look at these odds.  Embrace them.  Be challenged by them and prevail again,” Biden said.

Biden then mentioned a few people/party luminaries in the crowd.

Then, Biden begins with a defense of the Obama Administration, a defense in the face of criticism he says comes from “the tea partiers” and “pundits.”

“We’ve been at this for 10 months,” Biden said. “…This is a marathon but some of the pundits want to declare a winner at the five mile mark.”

Biden suggested “yelling and saying, ‘No,” — “don’t make for progress.”

Biden said “powerful” interests were allied against Obama’s priorities.

“They should be worried about us because we are their worst nightmare.  This is no time to be frustrated.  We’ve never thought change would be easy.  All of you knew it would be hard.

“…It’s hard to change the direction of a nation that’s been adrift for at least eight years,” Biden said.

Biden said he was a bit late to the stage tonight because he’d been calling Democrats in the senate who he’d lobbied to vote tonight.

“I was on the phone and calling those senators who I was able to help change their minds on this vote.  That’s why I was late.  They did the right thing.  Tonight, tonight we defied the pundits.  We were told, every talk show you listen to, including the main stream media… health care was dead.  Well, it’s alive and well and it will pass,” Biden said. The crowd was on its feet, cheering through this passage.

“I know you knew him and loved him as much as I did. We owe a gigantic debt to Edward M. Kennedy…He’s the reason.  He is the reason why we persisted.  He was the inspiration…He, were he here, would deserve our plaudits.”

Biden told the crowd he’d been monitoring the senate vote as he flew to Iowa on Air Force II.

“We had on CNN and as they announced the vote, the plane actually jiggled.  I thought it was Teddy reaching down.”

Biden said Democrats now have “momentum” on the health care issue.  “Tonight we have more momentum than we’ve ever had in the history of the discussion of health care in America,” Biden said.

Biden spoke about Afghanistan, briefly, and about the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court.  “Don’t tell me we’re not making progress,” Biden yelled.  The crowd applauded.

Biden quoted Yeats, then spoke about the “radical change” that he says is needed in a variety of fronts if the US is to “lead the world” in this new century.

“How can we ever, ever gain control of our fiscal house without bending that curve as we’re about to,” Biden said.

Biden next told a story about becoming Obama’s running mate, saying he initially said no.  After a few more discussions, Biden said he wound up meeting Obama in a hotel reception room in Minnesota.

Biden told the crowd he asked Obama a basic question:  “Do you mean it? He reached across the couch and said, “I do mean it,” and I said, ‘I’m in.'”

Biden soon expanded on that, saying:  “We are not talking about incremental change.”

Biden said some Democrats have questioned why the Obama Administration was moving so fast on so many fronts. “How could we do any less?” Biden said.  “What would you have us not do?”

Biden then said of Republicans: “I know what they’re against, but I — honest to God — do not know what they’re for.”

“…Either they want to return to the failed policies of the Bush/Cheney Adminsitration or they think their only path to their success is our failure….I think it’s important to remind ourselves, why did we all invest in this?…Because sometimes we get so wrapped up in the politics of politics, we sometimes take our eye off the ball.

“…As I’ve said many times….we will measure our success…on whether or not the mdidle class is larger when we leave office than it was when we entered office.”

“…We have a long way to go, but I’m certain we’re on the right path.”

Biden closes with a story from his childhood, plus a final bit about Obama.

“I can tell you with absolute certainty that his resolve has never waivered for one instant, and neither should yours,” Biden said.  “….We have a chance to bend history…Stick with him.”

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.

Comments

  1. I’m pretty sure Patty Judge’s joke was that Terry Branstad likes tax breaks for the rich and tax HIKES for the rest of us.