Last summer, when President Joe Biden evacuated the remaining US troops out of Afghanistan – ending the longest war in the country’s history – many felt it looked like President Gerald Ford’s exit from Vietnam .
More recently, Biden’s stance on the Vietnam War when he was a senator has been circulating on social media. A March 8 Facebook post claimed that in 1975, US Senator Biden opposed President Ford’s efforts to help South Vietnam and evacuate refugees.
“President Ford went to Congress to secure a relief package to allow American personnel and our allies to evacuate. However, there was ONE US SENATOR who opposed such support,” said affirmed the message. “THIS SENATOR WAS JOE BIDEN.
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The Facebook post cites the source of the claim as the 2018 book, “When the Center Held: Gerald Ford and the Rescue of the American Presidency,” written by Donald Rumsfeld, who served as Secretary of Defense for Ford. In a chapter on the Vietnam War, Rumsfeld mentioned a meeting Ford had in April 1975 with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including Biden, about extending aid to South Vietnam.
“Repeatedly, a number of Senate Democrats have dissented, including outspoken young Senator Joe Biden (D-DE). In the heat of the moment, I detected a difference in the attitude of some members of Congress toward the Vietnamese,” Rumsfeld wrote in the book.
However, Rumsfeld himself was not present at this meeting, according to a transcript of the meeting which does not name him among the attendees. He did not become Ford’s defense secretary until November 1975. His second-hand recollection of the meeting also does not fully capture Biden’s position on Ford’s efforts in Vietnam.
During the meeting, Ford, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger and the group of senators discussed emergency funding to evacuate American citizens and Vietnamese refugees and provide aid military in South Vietnam. Biden pushed back on tied funding for military aid and continued US troop deployment with the evacuation of US citizens and Vietnamese refugees. Biden said evacuation should be the priority as the situation in Vietnam worsens.
“We should focus on their exit. The Vietnamese exit and military aid to the GVN (Government of South Vietnam) are totally different,” Biden said at the meeting, according to a declassified transcript from the Ford Library Museum.
“I feel comfortable being presented with an all or nothing number. I don’t want to have to vote to buy everything or none at all. I’m not sure I can vote for an amount to put American troops for one to six months to get the Vietnamese out. I will vote for any amount to get the Americans out. I don’t want it mixed up with the Vietnamese out,” Biden also said at the meeting.
Just over a week after that meeting, Biden voted against the Vietnam Contingency Act of 1975, which would have provided emergency funds for evacuation and relief in Vietnam. Along with Biden, 16 other senators from both parties opposed the measure, which passed the Senate. (A majority of the House of Representatives voted against the final version of the bill, so it did not pass.)
In a Senate speech ahead of the vote, Biden expressed concern that the legislation could be used to fund military aid, rather than evacuate refugees. “There is no doubt in anyone’s mind… that Section 2 of the bill, containing $100 million, labeled as a ‘contingent fund’ may not be, but clearly could be, used for the military aid to the South Vietnamese government,” he said.
Biden argued that the provident fund was not a “diplomatic avenue” and could further escalate the situation between North and South Vietnam.
Ford’s funding proposal has been criticized by many members of Congress, not just Biden. “The Congressional pushback, and this was coming from the majority of Congress, especially the Democrats, was not to fund the evacuation, but rather not to throw good after bad money to prop up the regime in Saigon which was clearly in the process of to crumble in defeat,” said James Willbanks, a military adviser to the South Vietnamese in 1972 who wrote several military history books on the Vietnam War.
After Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese army in late April 1975, Biden backed a resolution welcoming the first 130,000 refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to the United States. Around the same time, Congress approved and Ford signed a separate measure authorizing funds to aid refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia. Biden was not present to vote on this bill, but gave it a “favorable recommendation”.
A Facebook post claims that in 1975, US Senator Biden opposed Ford’s efforts to help South Vietnam and evacuate refugees.
This claim is based on a second-hand account from Rumsfeld’s book that lacks context about Biden’s position at the time. Biden said at the time that his priority was to evacuate American citizens and Vietnamese refugees from South Vietnam. He expressed concerns about funding that could be used to provide military aid to South Vietnam, instead of evacuating American citizens and Vietnamese refugees.
We rate this claim primarily false.