Former U.S. Senator and 1966 Wharton MBA graduate Ted Kaufman made it clear Monday that his presence on Penn's campus was free of any ulterior motives.
“I’m not selling anything and I’m not running for anything,” Kaufman clarified in a conversation in Huntsman Hall co-hosted by Penn Democrats and the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative.
The disclaimer came at the start of a candid talk about the state of politics from a veteran political operative.
Kaufman served as a US Senator from Delaware from 2009 to 2010. The following year he chaired the bipartisan Congressional Oversight Panel, and he is now the chair of the Biden Foundation.
Kaufman has been the former Vice President and new Penn professor's right-hand man for decades. Kaufman volunteered on Joe Biden's first Senate campaign in 1972 — when Biden was elected at just 29 years old — and the two have been worked closely together ever since. Kaufman served on Biden’s Senate staff for 22 years, 19 of which were spent as Chief of Staff. When Biden became Vice President in 2009, Kaufman was appointed to finish his Senate term.
But Monday's discussion was not restricted to his relationship with Biden — Kaufman, in a wide-ranging talk, addressed President Donald Trump, former President Barack Obama, political campaign strategy and life in Washington, D.C.
Kaufman expressed deep reservations about President Donald Trump’s character and ability to serve as president. He criticized Trump's history of making unsupported claims, questioned his understanding of the principle of separation of powers and called his foreign policy “weird.”
Kaufman also said he disapproves of the way Trump attacks the media, an institution Kaufman described as a “basic building block of democracy.”
“A lot of people are going to get hurt over the next four years,” Kaufman added.
On a more upbeat note, Kaufman described what he called “one ray of sunshine” — the possibility of several Democratic senators mounting presidential bids in 2020. He identified Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) as serious threats to Trump’s re-election, as well as Penn's 2017 commencement speaker, Cory Booker (D-NJ).
“If the last two elections have shown us anything, it’s that people aren’t interested in [politicians] who have been around long,” Kaufman said.
Healthcare policy dominated the conversation for much of the night. Specifically, Kaufman spoke about last week’s defeat of the Republican-backed American Health Care Act.
“Since Republicans took over the House in 2011, they have tried to vote down Obamacare 60 times,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman also tried to dispel the idea that elected officials only care about re-election.
“Running for office is not just about getting elected, but is also a great way to promote a platform,” he said.
As an example, Kaufman cited President Obama's continued efforts to promote his health care policy even as it seemed detrimental to his re-election chances in 2012.
“Obama is really, really, really smart, he’s a good manager and a great decision maker,” Kaufman said.
Penn Democrats President and College sophomore Rachel Pomerantz noted Kaufman’s qualifications and said his affiliation to Biden made his talk particularly relevant to Penn students with the announcement of Biden’s professorship.
Wharton freshman and Penn Dems Political Director Dylan Milligan, who got the chance to speak with Kaufman before the event, said that the former senator is a "stand-up human being."
"He just had a big picture understanding of the current political situation and some great stories from his 40-plus years on the hill," Milligan added.