The Penn Biden Center officially launched in Washington, D.C., where former United States Vice President and Penn professor Joe Biden faced a packed room of policy makers, international affair advisors, and University administrators to answer questions on foreign policy.
The celebration marked the official opening of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, but the center's "soft opening" took place in March 2017, according to its Director of Communications Carlyn Reichel. She added that since then, Biden has led its work in diplomacy, national security, and foreign policy.
Biden was interviewed by former NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell — a 1967 College graduate who was recently announced as the 2018 commencement speaker — following an introduction from Penn President Amy Gutmann.
Since Penn President Amy Gutmann announced Biden’s new appointment as a Penn Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice professor last year, students have flocked to attend Biden’s appearances on campus, with tickets to his speaking events selling out in a little over an hour and Snapchat stories flooding social media.
Many students have questioned exactly what Biden's role at Penn would actually involve. In February 2017, Biden spokesperson Kate Bedingfield confirmed he would not be instructing classes. Several Penn undergraduates, however, have had opportunities to work alongside Biden by taking on semester-long internships at the center.
The event took place in the Penn Biden Center's conference room. The center itself consists of a series of about 10 office spaces located in the 101 Constitution building. This functions as Biden's main office for the roughly two or three days a week that he is in Washington, D.C.
In attendance were various Penn administrators and former politicians including former Attorney Generals Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, Penn Vice Provost for Faculty Anita Allen, Dean of the Perelman School of Medicine Larry Jameson, and Director of Perry World House William Burke-White.
Following a brief introduction from Penn Biden Center's Managing Director and former Deputy National Security Advisor from 2013 to 2015 under former President Barack Obama Tony Blinken, Gutmann took the floor.
“I’m reminded today of a line from Cole Porter. It goes like this: ‘It’s always darkest just before they turn on the lights.' So today, here in Washington, D.C., the Penn Biden Center is turning on some lights,” Gutmann said, perhaps in reference to the event's 15-minute delay due to an accidental power outage in the center.
Gutmann continued addressing the importance of educational diplomacy.
“Our nation’s need, our world’s needs is to connect and understand the power of connectivity, and the power of communicating across divides,” she said. “And this jives perfectly, not surprisingly, not coincidentally, with the historic mission of the University of Pennsylvania.”
Gutmann then continued by introducing both Biden and Mitchell as participants in the conversation.
“There’s no one in Washington or anywhere else for that matter, better at posing pressing questions and eliciting compelling answers than Andrea Mitchell,” Gutmann said.
Gutmann also praised Biden's connections to world leaders and knowledge of foreign politics.
Mitchell then began the conversation by asking Biden a series of questions about foreign policy and the state of the country. In the conversation, Biden mentioned instances in which global leaders anxiously called him concerning the actions of President Donald Trump, a 1968 Wharton graduate.
"I started off being confused, confused – and moving from confusion to worry," Biden said. "What is going on?"
Biden added that he will never undermine a president with whom he disagrees now that he is no longer in the White House. In response to such phone calls, he said he calls officials in the current administration to ask them what he should do.
While Biden clearly indicated that he will not run for president, he expressed his views on some of the controversial topics that have emerged under the current Trump administration, such as his belief that individuals currently protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals act are United States citizens.
"I don't know whether or not the president understands how much damage he's doing around the world," Biden said.
Exactly an hour after the start of the event, Gutmann took the podium and ended the conversation by thanking Mitchell and Biden and then announcing the following reception.
"There is more to come," she said.