Photo: Pete Souza/Official White House photo
In case you haven’t noticed, President Obama and his vaunted PR machine are orchestrating a full-court press to boost the presidential stock of his loyal vice president, Joe Biden.It is not clear whether Biden will seek the Oval Office next time — he will be 73 years old when 2016 rolls around.
But just in case, the political foundation is carefully being laid and the public expectation is being buttressed by White House strategists, and dutifully documented by the media.
“Biden stokes talk of presidential campaign in 2016,” said a headline in Sunday’s Washington Examiner.
Since the Obama-Biden re-election in November, the loquacious vice president has been all over the place, doing everything from the ceremonial (attending the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia) to the monumental: leading a high-profile presidential task force on gun violence that will make recommendations to Obama on Tuesday.
Thanks to the president putting him in charge, rather than someone such as the FBI director or a prominent jurist, the work of the task force — a big deal since the Newtown, Conn., shootings last month — has given the vice president a lot of face time on television.
He met last week, amid much media hoopla and commentary, with groups such as the NRA, video-game executives and representatives of the entertainment industry.
In addition to all that, Biden found time to negotiate an eleventh-hour “fiscal-cliff” compromise deal with Senate Republicans, visit devastated New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, lead the official U.S. delegation to the inauguration of Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto, and meet or phone a bevy of world leaders including Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, European Parliament President Martin Schulz, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos.
Biden also got fluffy media coverage for swearing in new members of the Senate and reading the certified electoral vote count that returned him and Obama to office for a second term.
Even a Biden pre-Christmas shopping trip to a newly opened Costco store in Washington went deeper than its photo-op surface. According to the Washington Post, Susan Brotman, wife of Costco co-founder Jeff Brotman, is an Obama-Biden bundler who raised $508,646 in contributions for the 2012 campaign. Such a financial connection could be a valuable addition to a possible Biden presidential run in 2016.
Over the weekend, the Associated Press reported that the vice president has offered to talk or meet personally with the families of victims in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, which would translate into yet more media coverage.
With all that publicity, it was inevitable that pundits would begin raising the Biden presidential flag.
“When it comes to getting things done, Biden is no joke,” said the headline on an Ezra Klein column in Saturday’s Washington Post. The gist of the column is that while Biden is gaffe prone and billed by some as “lacking the gravitas to president,” he is immensely likable — more so than Obama — and respected by Republicans as an effective negotiator and mediator.
“He may sometimes make himself a punch line, but he has the record of a heavyweight,” added Klein, a liberal columnist often in sync with White House thinking.
Whether by design or not, Obama is a willing abettor of the Biden-for-president speculation. In announcing the fiscal-cliff agreement, he went out of the way to refer to Biden as his “extraordinary” vice president. Obama hasn’t always been so effusive in his praise of his running mate, sometimes expressing chagrin (if not embarrassment) at Biden’s verbal slips. But just assigning the veep to several high-profile jobs after the election suggests he wants to raise the Biden profile.
Perhaps the president is sending a message to Hillary Clinton that he will not automatically back her if she decides to run in 2016. With Biden in the field, Obama has a ready excuse as to why he can’t endorse the early front-runner. To be sure, Clinton has been a loyal secretary of state. But Biden’s loyalty has been second to none, and Clinton was Obama’s strongest and bitterest rival for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
Moreover, her recent health problems might compromise her presidential prospects. Though younger than Biden, she still would be 69 shortly before Election Day 2016. Obama and Biden will meet privately with Clinton in the Oval Office on Monday. While the agenda was not made public, given the current Biden publicity surge both sides are likely to be taking political as well as foreign policy notes.
As for 2016 hopefuls not present at that White House meeting today, it can said that Obama has displayed no particular loyalty to or affinity for the two other Democrats most mentioned as possible presidential candidates in four years, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
So until the 2016 landscape becomes clearer and Obama gets to thinking more seriously about whom he would like to succeed him, Biden makes a good place holder.
Richard Benedetto is a retired USA Today White House correspondent and columnist. He now teaches for The Fund for American Studies at Georgetown University and politics & journalism at American University.
This story was originally published by RealClearPolitics.
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