As the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden can likely introduce whomever he wants at the Academy Awards. This year, his first time presenting, he welcomed Lady Gaga. For 34 million people watching it might have yielded minor head-scratching, but thousands of college students understood exactly the link between politician and global superstar, whom Biden calls “brave and sincere.” Gaga’s Oscar-nominated song “Til It Happens To You” is the track she co-wrote (with Diane Warren) and recorded for The Hunting Ground, the 2015 documentary film about sexual assault on campuses. In 2014, with President Obama, Vice President Biden launched the It’s On Us initiative to bring awareness and collective responsibility to the epidemic of campus assaults (according to NotAlone.gov, a resource site launched two years ago as part of a White House Task Force to Protect Students Against Sexual Assault, 1 in 5 women and 1 and 16 men are sexually assaulted in college).
On April 7, Lady Gaga will join the Vice President at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, to support It’s On Us and the Vice President as he travels to colleges on behalf of the organization, which has so far seen 250,000 students from more than 530 colleges sign a pledge of solidarity and activation. In his lone interview before the event, Biden talks exclusively to Billboard about why this cause is the one he’s most proud of, his friendship with the “brave” pop star and why he’s not a fan of Donald Trump.
What’s been your proudest moment around your work with It’s On Us?
Hearing from survivors who have been helped by It’s On Us. Last April, we held an It’s On Us event at The University of Illinois. Twelve days later, a woman who attended the event — a recent graduate of the University — came forward to report sexual assault by a former boyfriend. She said she was compelled to act after attending the rally. After she reported the assault at the UI Women’s Resource Center, her case was reported to state and local police department. Turns out, her ex-boyfriend was alleged to have assaulted two other former girlfriends. After she came forward, he was charged with two counts of criminal sexual assault.
You grew up at a time when women’s rights weren’t at the forefront of cultural dialogue. How has your advocacy been shaped by the women in your life?
I grew up in a household where women’s rights were always at the forefront of cultural dialogue. My mother, my grandmother, my sister, my wife, my daughters — women’s rights have never been a question. It’s a view shared by my fathers and brothers. This was never a question. They were always at the forefront.
Why is Lady Gaga a good ambassador for this cause?
Lady Gaga is brave and sincere. She’s a survivor who has the courage to speak out, and I know how difficult that can be. We’ve talked at length and I admire her courage — everyone can see it because it’s on display. She encourages so many other women to step forward.
You’ve made many strides in bringing awareness to violence against women and campus assault. Is it disconcerting to see one of the candidates in this election cycle promoting aggression among his supporters? Do you feel it undermines the work you and the President have done?
It not only undermines the work that President Obama and I have done — it undermines the work a majority of Republicans and Democrats have done. It is the antithesis of everything this country is about.
Do you ever hear Donald Trump speak and think, “Boy, I would love to debate that guy”?
When I listen to some of the stuff Donald Trump says it just makes me sad. It’s never, never been wise to try and appeal to the darker side of human nature. Abraham Lincoln was right — it’s about appealing to our better angels. That’s who Americans are and that’s what they want.
How much easier will it be to move It’s On Us along as a cause if Secretary Clinton is elected POTUS?
Well I don’t know how it can be much easier than it is right now with President Obama’s absolute and total support, but I’m confident that whoever the next Vice President is, and if he or she decides to take this into the White House, that it will get overwhelming support from Sec. Clinton or Sen. Sanders.
What are you going to miss most about working alongside the President?
I’m going to miss everything about working alongside with him. He’s one of the most decent, honorable men I’ve ever worked with. He shares my passion for ending violence against women, and I’m grateful he’s let me lead this effort. When I accepted his offer to be Vice President, he asked if there was anything I wanted, and I said I wanted to bring the Violence Against Women Office inside the White House [Editor’s note: As then-Senator of Delaware, the Vice President drafted the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 which was signed into law by President Clinton]. He said yes. He didn’t hesitate. We both thank Attorney Generals Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch for both supporting that move.
If it turns out that this cause is your last legacy, would you be content with that? What causes will you and Dr. Biden champion after the White House?
It won’t be my last legacy, but it will be my proudest legacy.
My father always said the worst sin is the abuse of power, and the cardinal sin is for a man to abuse a woman or a child. I hope my efforts have made a difference.
Jill and I will be deeply involved in a range of things. Jill, in providing affordable education and expanding access to community colleges. I’m going to continue to be deeply involved, along with Jill and my daughter [Ashley], in violence against women issues. My son, Beau, was an attorney general, and a champion of fighting abuse of children and women. His friends set up a foundation so we’ll continue that fight. My son Hunter is Chairman of the World Food Program USA, dealing with displaced persons and the millions of people who are underfed.
These are all causes I plan on staying involved in.
And, as I’ve made clear, the President’s given me the great opportunity in the new effort to end cancer as we know it and I will continue to be deeply involved in pursuit of cancer prevention and cure. I believe we can make enormous progress in the next four or five years.
For many people, music is the soundtrack to the best and worst moments of their lives. Which songs or artists stand out?
Chris Martin from Coldplay stands out. I appreciated when he sang my son’s [Beau] favorite song, “’Til Kingdom Come,” at his funeral.
Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie” is a favorite of mine. I remember riding along with my two boys back when that song was at the top of the charts, and they’d sing at the top of their lungs in the back of the car.
What song are you listening to right now and makes for a good D.C. to Delaware commute?
I listen to a whole list of songs — from Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and Ray Charles’ “I Can’t Stop Loving You” to Van Morrison, and k.d. lang.
Which musician would make the best president?
The middle class would have the best chance with Bruce Springsteen. He understands issues facing working Americans.
To learn more about how to support It’s On Us, go to itsonus.org.