This was a busy year for Vice President Joe Biden: He was President Obama’s point man on gun control; he traveled widely, pushing for infrastructure spending; and he recently returned form a trip to Asia, where he met with the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea.
In 2014, Biden may face an even busier schedule, as he stumps for Democratic congressional candidates in advance of November’s midterm elections and tries to decide whether to make another run for president himself.
From the start of his association with Obama, Biden made clear he didn’t want a ceremonial role as vice president, but wanted to serve as a key adviser, using his wide-ranging experience as a 36-year veteran of the Senate.
Ted Kaufman was Biden’s chief of staff for many years, and even his temporary successor in the Senate. He says Biden’s role has worked well for both the vice president and Obama.
“I think the plan that he and the president came up with originally is really playing out, and that was, when the president asked him to run, that he would be the last person talking to the president,” Kaufman says. “That’s worked out very well. It’s worked out well for the president, it’s worked out for him.”
But not everything worked out for Biden or the president this year. Biden’s highest-profile assignment was leading the administration’s effort to win new restrictions on gun purchases in the wake of last December’s shootings in Newtown, Conn.
The measure failed in the Senate, but Biden vowed to press on.
“We need to make sure the voices of those we lost are the loudest ones we hear in this fight,” Biden said. “We need to make sure that everyone in the country knows that this fight isn’t over. Far from it.”
While gun control was a loss for the administration, it nonetheless gave Biden a prominent role on an issue important to his party’s base. That, along with his meetings with foreign leaders, his role as an emissary and negotiator with Congress — and the fact that he is the sitting vice president — puts him in a good position if he were to run for the White House a third time.
“I think it should set him up well,” says Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who served as a staffer to Vice President Al Gore. “He is clearly one of the most capable and experienced vice presidents that we’ve had. He’s had a huge role in foreign policy right from the beginning of the administration.”
The problem for Biden now is that Hillary Clinton is also being urged to run for the Democratic nomination in 2016, and at the moment, she seems to be the overwhelming first choice among party loyalists. Obama has vowed to remain neutral in a potential nomination battle between his vice president and his former secretary of state. No one knows at this point if either of them will run, or whether, if Clinton does, Biden will challenge her.
Kaufman says the vice president has a complicated decision ahead of him.
“It’s like, not three-dimensional chess, it’s like six-dimensional chess in terms of all of the options, and clearly Hillary Clinton … he’s a big fan, a big friend,” Kaufman says. “I think that will be one of the considerations, but I think really, the primary thing is, what does he want to do? What does his family want to do?”
Biden has a loyal network of supporters in places like Iowa, which holds the nation’s first presidential caucuses. Jeff Link, a Democratic strategist in Iowa, says Biden would start with huge advantages in his state.
“He has a group of friends around the state that have been with him since 1987, and they are die-hard Joe Biden friends,” Link says. “They’re not just political friends, they’re not just political organizers, they are part of the Biden family, and you know when you have that deep a tie to people around the state, I think it matters.”
It may be a year or more before Biden makes his intentions known. For now he’s playing his cards close to his vest. He told GQ in a recent profile, “I can die a happy man never having been president of the United States,” adding, “But it doesn’t mean I won’t run.”
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