- (Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
Vice President Joe Biden squared off against Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan in the vice presidential debate Thursday night in Danville, Ky. Biden was ablaze with energy, frequently interrupting Ryan to press his points. The candidates spoke about the federal budget, foreign policy and how their religion influence their views on abortion.
Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, is often described as "wonkish" for his command of the federal budget. As chair of the House Budget Committee, he was the main influence behind the budget passed by the Republican controlled House of Representatives. This budget is often dubbed the "Ryan budget" as a result.
While Biden has become a frequent punch line among late-night comedy show joke writers for his frequent gaffes, he also has a reputation as a good debater. He often uses witty one-liners to succinctly press his point. Plus, his gaffes generally come in stump speeches, not debates.
Moderator Martha Raddatz opened the debate with a question about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
"Wasn't this a massive intelligence failure, Vice President Biden?" Raddatz asked.
Biden answered that it was a "tragedy" and said the Obama administration is committed to bringing the attackers to justice and to finding out what mistakes were made.
Ryan criticized the Obama administration for first blaming the attack on an anti-Muslim YouTube video.
"Look, if we're hit by terrorists we're going to call it for what it is, a terrorist attack," Ryan said.
He also criticized the Obama administration for not lending early vocal support to the Green Revolution in Iran and for calling Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad a reformer.
"With all due respect, that's a bunch of malarkey," Biden said. "Because not a single thing he said is accurate."
Ryan voted to cut embassy security, Biden said, and President Obama has "gone out and done everything he has said he was going to do."
Raddatz pressed Biden on the Benghazi attack.
"Why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on?" Raddatz asked.
Biden answered that the Obama administration was communicating information given to them by the intelligence community.
On the economy, Raddatz asked Biden if his administration could get the unemployment rate under six percent and how long it would take to do so.
"I don't know how long it will take. We can and we will get it under six percent," Biden answered.
He then accused Romney of wanting car manufacturers to go bankrupt, wanting home prices to drop and saying that "47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives."
Ryan noted the high unemployment rate in his hometown, Janesville, Wis., and Biden's hometown, Scranton, Pa., and said, "that's how it's going all around America."
"You don't read the statistics," Biden interrupted. "That's not how it's going. It's going down!"
"This is not what a real recovery looks like," Ryan said. "We need real reforms for real recovery and that's exactly what Mitt Romney and I are proposing. It's a five-point plan. Get America energy independent in North America by the end of the decade. Help people who are hurting get the skills they need to get the jobs they want. Get this deficit and debt under control to prevent a debt crisis."
Raddatz noted that this would be the first time that two Catholics debated each other in a presidential debate and asked them to explain what role their religion plays in their views on abortion.
Ryan answered that his faith informs him "about how to take care of the vulnerable." His views on abortion are not only based upon his Catholic faith but also reason and science.
"Now I understand this is a difficult issue, and I respect people who don't agree with me on this, but the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother," Ryan said.
He also criticized the Obama administration's birth control mandate, which, he said, infringes upon the freedom of religion.
"The Democratic Party used to say they wanted it to be safe, legal and rare. Now they support it without restriction and with taxpayer funding," Ryan argued.
Biden answered that his Catholic faith defines who he is and "particularly informed my social doctrine." He defined Catholic social doctrine as taking care of those "who can't take care of themselves, people who need help."
He said he accepts his church's teaching that life begins at conception, but refuses "to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews."
"I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that – women they can't control their body. It's a decision between them and their doctor," Biden said.
He also claimed that no religious institution "has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact."
"Why would they keep suing you? It's a distinction without a difference," Ryan countered.