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Biden shares stage with heavy hitters

  • Story Highlights
  • Cabinet appointments have been at the center of attention recently
  • Joe Biden is sharing responsibilities with power leaders joining Obama's team
  • Former White House adviser says Biden needs to repair office of VP
  • Biden has forged relationships across the aisle during three decades in Washington
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From Jim Acosta
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In Washington, power is measured by access to the president, and as Barack Obama's team fills up with heavyweights, some are wondering if Vice President-elect Joe Biden is running out of room.

On election night, Obama and Biden stood together in triumph, but ever since then, it's gotten a lot more crowded around the president-elect.

Biden last week stood to the side as Obama unveiled his economic team, and on Monday, the incoming VP -- who's known as a foreign policy guru -- shared the stage with Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama's high-profile pick for secretary of state.

Obama announced Monday that he's keeping Robert Gates on board as secretary of defense, among other heavy hitters joining the Obama-Biden team. The president-elect also is expected to nominate former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as secretary of health and human services and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson as secretary of commerce.

"You have to wonder what will Joe Biden do. What will his role be?" said Ken Vogel, a reporter for Politico. Video Watch more on Biden's role »

But former White House adviser Stephen Hess insists that Biden has a critical role to play -- one of repairing the office of the vice president.

"This is a position that has to be re-established after what we have seen from eight years when Dick Cheney was the vice president and assumed great powers -- or we think he assumed great powers," Hess said. "And now it has to be readjusted to what it really is."

And that idea is not foreign to Biden, who said during the vice presidential debate that Cheney "has been the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history."

But on the other hand, as Cheney has made clear during his tenure as vice president, the job can be what you make of it.

"Dick Cheney coming into the Bush administration in 2000 didn't have a very well-defined role either and he ended up being one of the most powerful vice presidents in United States history," Vogel said.

Another key role for Biden, should the situation arise, would be tie-breaker in the Senate. And also not to be discounted -- during Biden's three decades in Washington, he made plenty of friends across the aisle.

"Go ask guys like Bob Bennett, a very conservative United States senator. ... I was asked to do Strom Thurmond's eulogy. It wasn't an accident," Biden pointed out shortly before the presidential election.

Julian E. Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, says Obama should turn to Biden to unify factions among Democratic legislators.

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"Along with Rahm Emanuel -- who will be Obama's chief of staff -- Biden should be used by Obama as a point man on Capitol Hill to help twist arms, make arguments and build voting coalitions," Zelizer wrote in a commentary on CNN.com. Read the full commentary

A source close to the transition team says Biden has been a part of every key meeting since the election and has had weekly lunches with Obama -- a sign that Biden, so far, is serving in the role he wanted: adviser-in-chief.

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