Vice President Joe Biden’s shout-out to an old colleague Thursday puzzled some watching his speech for his reference to 94-year-old former Congressman Neal Smith.
“Neil, I miss you man. I miss you,” Biden said, probably meaning to add, “Neal Smith, an old buddy.”
But “buh buddy” is what came out. For a moment it appeared that the Vice President had said something strange about Smith.
Smith represented Iowa in the House from 1959 to 1995, crossing paths with Biden on Capitol Hill. Biden joined the Senate in 1973, serving until he became Vice President in 2009.
Biden has not been known to stutter much in public recently, but he overcame a stutter as a child to become an eloquent speaker, even if he at times has placed his foot squarely in his mouth.
Later Thursday, during a stop at a coffee shop in Des Moines, the issue of stuttering came up when Biden spoke with Stephanie Peters about her daughter’s experience in Head Start, the government program to provide early education and nutrition services for low-income Americans.
“She has a speech problem… she likes to leave off the beginning part of words…Through Head Start she’s been able to learn how to talk to us, how to communicate, how to be civil,” Peters said, noting that her daughter received speech therapy at Drake.
At that point, Biden acknowledged his own childhood.
“I used to be a stutterer,” he told Peters. “I am very involved with the National Stuttering Association and speech therapy, so…” The conversation then moved on.
Biden’s childhood stutter was mentioned during his 1988 presidential bid covered in the book Richard Ben Cramer book “What It Takes: The Way to the White House”.
“Joe [Biden] was kind of skinny, and he stuttered, and the kids called him Bye-Bye, for the way he sounded when he tried to say his name,” Cramer said. “But Joey would never back down, and he knew how to box, when no one else did.”
He spoke with force about how difficult it was to overcome his stutter in a 2010 appearance on ABC’s The View.
As a child, Biden said he would stand in front of the mirror and quote poetry to help develop a cadence. Later, in college, he said he took public speaking classes.
Biden traveled to Iowa on Thursday to promote the White House’s post-State of the Union economic message and community college proposal.