Biden: One Long Speech, a Few Clues
If Vice President Joe Biden was on the verge of launching his third bid for the presidency Monday, he kept his plans under wraps during public remarks.
He bolted from a two-hour meeting with the president to praise CEOs whose companies are taking voluntary strides to curb climate change emissions. Tardy to an event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building a short walk from the Oval Office, Biden launched into a prepared global warming speech using teleprompters, adding a generous dollop of Biden-speak.
“Since I ran for the Senate as a kid in 1972 …”
“I come from Scranton, Pennsylvania …”
“This is Joe Biden. This is not some good government green guy, tying ribbons around oak trees …”
“A hundred years ago, when I was a local official …”
At the outer corners of Biden’s eyes, his skin was red and abraded in patches, raw from dermatologic treatment of some sort. His white hair was neatly trimmed; his suit and tie well tailored. The timbre of his voice was low and conversational, until he reached a section of text warning that climate change can trigger wars. Suddenly the vice president was loud and insistent, pointing to drought and famine, mass migrations and battles for power. “This is a deadly serious issue!” he boomed.
The political media were aflame Monday with anonymously sourced reports that Biden might enter the presidential race this week; that his top advisers were interviewing candidates to form a campaign team and meeting with him Monday night to discuss details; and that the vice president might appear in Iowa over the weekend to make a splash among other Democratic candidates. None of the reports fleshed out into solid confirmations by the time the sun was setting.
At midday, President Obama’s spokesman fielded yet another collection of questions about the vice president during the White House daily briefing.
“Lord knows that Vice President Biden has made a profound commitment to this country and to the Democratic Party, based on his decades of service to both,” Press Secretary Josh Earnest tap-danced. “The personal question that he is facing now is whether or not to re-up that commitment, but that's a decision that he'll have to make.”
Meanwhile, Biden, who is described by colleagues as under pressure within his party to get in or out, and also guided by his own compass, appeared relaxed, chatty… his usual vice-presidential self. He put his shoulder behind the Obama-Biden energy agenda and spoke briefly and deferentially about the president. He told his corporate audience that it had been difficult to extricate himself from an important meeting with Obama.
“He is on his own; he doesn’t need me,” he said at the outset of a 40-minute speech.
And then the vice president proceeded to offer anecdotes to contradict his humble-mumble. He described tackling policy challenges ahead of the pack (he said he introduced the first Senate climate change bill in the 1980s, passed guns legislation in the 1990s and tried to add to the law in 2013, without success).
Biden boasted of serving Obama during key assignments, such as administering $832 billion in stimulus funds authorized by the Recovery Act of 2009. And the former Delaware senator wandered into impromptu memory associations that played up his Washington status as an elder statesman and insider. He quoted colleagues long since gone from the Senate, including Wyoming Republican Alan Simpson and the late Lawton Chiles, a Democrat from Florida, who spent 18 years in the upper chamber.
He called Republican and Democratic lawmakers “friends.” And he complimented the corporate executives in the audience, assuring them he had no beef with the “rich and powerful,” even if he had always been ranked among the least wealthy senators, he said. (Biden’s familiar storytelling includes a frequent play on the word “assets.”)
“I’m not being solicitous,” Biden cooed solicitously. “What you’re doing is more important than anything” the government can do single-handedly to tackle climate change, he told corporate executives.
“Clean energy is the long play,” he said, without revealing if he has a long play of his own ready to launch.
“It starts the virtuous cycle,” Biden added, noting benefits that can spring from imagining the future.
“Look,” he added …
He need not have sounded that oft-repeated word; all eyes are trained on him – at least until he announces a decision.