Biden's speeches this week were classified as official events, but nonetheless revealed the makings of a stump speech should he enter the race
Biden at times revealed his penchant to ramble in sometimes confounding directions
Vice President Joe Biden revealed the underlying rationale for jumping into the presidential race this week, even as his own uncertainty about a bid was laid bare for the first time.
The vice president’s trip to Miami and Georgia, his first foray into political speech-making since intense speculation began about his future, was ostensibly to tout administration priorities: the importance of community colleges and the Iran nuclear deal.
But in public remarks Wednesday and Thursday, Biden instead delved into broader economic and foreign achievements, underscoring his own role in seeing them through.
And while he closely aligned himself with President Barack Obama’s record, he didn’t avoid pointing out where more work is needed.
“Under the leadership of President Obama, we’ve gone from crisis to recovery and now we are on the verge of a real resurgence in the American economy,” he said Wednesday, before adding that the middle class “is not back yet.”
Biden’s speeches were classified as official events, but nonetheless revealed the makings of a stump speech should he enter the race.
He railed against income inequality and Washington dysfunction, even while highlighting his own decades of experience as a policy-maker.
On Thursday, he demonstrated his seniority in Washington by recalling the 42 years he’s worked on American foreign policy.
And he pointed to his workmanlike travel as vice president, pulling a card from his pocket that lists his mileage to date: 992,894 as of Thursday.
“I have met virtually every major leader in the world,” Biden said. “I know these guys. I know them better than anyone in the administration because I’ve been hanging around so long.”
While Biden at times spoke like a seasoned political campaigner, at other moments he revealed his penchant to ramble in sometimes confounding directions.
During opening remarks to a roundtable with Jewish leaders outside Miami Thursday, Biden said he would speak only for 12 minutes before delivering a 40-minute explanation of the Iran deal that drifted from Soviet-era nuclear negotiations – the names of which he admitted younger people might not recognize – to precise calculations about Iran’s nuclear capacity.
His remarks included so many “last points” that the final one elicited laughter. And while the setting was far from a campaign rally, it did reveal a challenge for the sometimes long-winded Biden if he enters the race: No one departing the meeting said Biden had changed their mind about the Iran agreement.
By contrast, his remarks Thursday at a synagogue were a tighter defense of the Obama administration, even as he allowed himself some distance from the more controversial aspects of the White House’s record.
Defending the Iran nuclear deal, Biden still repeatedly called himself a “skeptic” of initiating negotiations with Tehran. As he did in Miami, Biden claimed he took a “”backseat to no one” in his support for Israel.
“He was at the top of his game,” said Stuart E. Eizenstat, the former ambassador who questioned Joe Biden Thursday night about his 2016 thinking. “Forceful, coherent, not just throwing off pablum. It was a well-constructed speech.”
Those who spoke with the vice president on his two-day swing in Miami and Atlanta walked away unsure if Biden would make a run – but said his demeanor wasn’t that of a man who has openly said he is still grieving over the loss of his son Beau in May from brain cancer.
“I think he sounded like the Joe Biden I’ve known for all the years I’ve known him,” said Andrew Weinstein, the Finance Chair of the Florida Democratic Party who’s donated to Biden’s campaigns in the past. Weinstein attended the roundtable of Jewish leaders outside Miami Thursday.
“I think that’s the best thing about the vice president,” Weinstein said. “He is who he is. And he always is that way. And I think that comes across every time folks speak with him.”
Biden himself said he was torn in emotionally raw comments at a synagogue Thursday night.
“If I can reach that conclusion that we can do it in a fashion that would still make it viable, I would not hesitate to do it,” Biden said at Ahavath Achim Synagogue in Atlanta.
People he spoke with on his trip said it wasn’t clear his decision would come within his self-proclaimed end-of-summer deadline – which his associates now say will probably slip past without a decision. An announcement by October 1 is now considered more likely.
“There’s no way to put a timetable on that,” Biden said Thursday.
“The way I read it is it was neither affirmation that he’s plunging in on a Shermanesque statement that he’ll never run,” said Eizenstat. “What he was doing was asking for time to sort out whether he or his family are up for this.”
Eizenstat said he asked Biden’s staff before the event if he could broach the topic of 2016 during the public question-and-answer session that followed Biden’s lecture. He said no one raised objections.
The topic, however, didn’t arise when Biden spoke to the most overtly political gathering of the trip: a high-dollar fundraiser for Senate Democrats.
Attendees said that Biden’s presidential decision-making didn’t come up during the two-hour event – an opportunity missed, some said, to take the temperature of an important crowd.
“I wish it did,” said one attendee, who lamented missing the chance to hear Biden discuss his political future to potential supporters – and donors.
“It’s kind of hard to believe” Biden didn’t bring it up, said another.
Despite having spent the better part of two hours in his presence, no guest surveyed by CNN appeared sold on a Biden candidacy.
”What does he have to offer that Hillary doesn’t?” wondered one.