Biden's comment about McCain and President Barack Obama came during the opening dinner of an annual forum among the Red Rocks of Sedona in northern Arizona. He and McCain, a Republican, touched on the gun control debate following the Newtown shootings and the bombings in Boston, but made no mention of Syria. Just as the night came to a close, Biden turned to the grueling nature of presidential campaigns.
"The truth of the matter is, Barack knows it, I know, had the economy not collapsed around your ears, John, in the middle of literally — as things were moving — I think you probably would have won," Biden said. "But it would have been incredibly, incredibly, incredibly close. You inherited a really difficult time."
The forum is part of the McCain Institute for International Leadership, a program formed by McCain as a way to debate foreign affairs. This year's theme for the Sedona Forum is "How can we promote freedom and democracy effectively?"
Rather than a discussion between McCain and Biden, the two sat on stage together with McCain posing questions to his former Democratic adversary on gun control and whether background checks are necessary, human rights abuses at the hands of the United States and the recent bombings at the Boston marathon.
McCain and Biden both said that despite their disagreements, they've never lost respect for one another.
On gun control, Biden said it's never been a simple issue, but that Congress has miscalculated how deeply the public feels about it and has failed to stand up to groups like the National Rifle Association, particularly after the shootings in Newtown. He said the public is looking to Congress to be mature enough to figure out a way to diminish the chance it will happen again.
"For the first time ever, you have people who are for gun safety, for increasing background checks," Biden said. "Two out of three of them say it will be a major determining factor in how I vote. That's the political dynamic that has changed. So I think we're going to get this anyway. I think this will pass before the year is out, within this Congress."
In responding to a question about the vulnerabilities of the United States when it comes to terrorist attacks, Biden said that the radical, lone wolves have been the most difficult to catch. But he said America shouldn't change its values, how it treats people abroad or people coming into the United States. Nor should America adopt policies that keep people from freely walking down the street without being frisked by police or carrying identification cards, he said.
"The moment we change any of those things, that's when they win," Biden said. "Because they don't see how you can have a society that is not ordered and regimented and wedded to an orthodoxy that is theirs. That's the point that bothers them most about us."
McCain followed up by saying that those who tortured U.S. prisoners, in violation of the Geneva convention, should be exposed and be held responsible to prevent repeated abuses.
Biden agreed with the man once held as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. He said the internal debate in Congress and at the White House is how things got to that point, but it's not yet resolved.
"I think the only way you excise the demons is you acknowledge what happened, straightforward," Biden said.