The Joe Biden who has been reaching out to Democratic operatives and would-be donors for a potential 2016 bid isn’t quite the happy warrior of bygone days.
Mourning the loss of his eldest son Beau, who succumbed to a brain tumor three months ago, and under intense pressure from the presidential hype he’s helped stoke, Biden is more subdued, grayer and grimly on-task than usual — this while occupying political center stage for the first time since the promising opening days of his doomed 1988 campaign.
For all the breathless reporting on Biden’s every move and meeting, he is, at core, a 72-year-old man presented with an unexpected, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at one of the worst times of his life.
Several people Biden has talked to in the past month say he starts off conversations by conceding that “some days are better than others,” mixing recollections of Beau with logistical questions about mounting a state-by-state challenge to a vulnerable yet still formidable Hillary Clinton.
“He’s just not himself,” says a longtime friend of Biden’s. “He’s sort of all over the place. He’s engaged but not in that childlike, manic way he usually is. He’s taking it all in and soaking up information, but he’s hard to read. And Joe Biden isn’t usually that hard to read.”
That isn’t to say Biden won’t decide to run — he clearly sees Clinton’s struggles with her email scandal as an opportunity, and no politician in recent history has proven to be as resilient in the face of personal tragedy.
To the annoyance of the Clinton campaign, Biden’s allies have strategically leaked his modest, noncommittal doings to the media, which have given otherwise ho-hum confabs with Elizabeth Warren and President Barack Obama’s former counsel Bob Bauer bombshell treatment. (Warren, according to a person with knowledge of the interaction, offered her usual warning against bringing more Wall Street executives into the White House; the talk with Bauer, an old Biden friend who worked with him closely in the White House, was intended to be an informal, personal check-in session that was leaked against the wishes of the participants.)
But reports that the vice president has all but made up his mind to run are simply not true, according to a half-dozen people in his inner circle interviewed by POLITICO. “He’s not leaning one way or the other,” says one former aide who remains part of the extended Biden political family.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Monday that the president wouldn’t rule out making an endorsement in the primaries — and other West Wing officials told POLITICO that Obama has privately expressed a preference for Clinton as his successor, while keeping up the pretense of being undecided in public. (“I love ’em both,” Obama said on NBC’s “Today” show in February when asked who he would back.)
Clinton’s camp, hands full with the email controversy and a surprisingly stout challenge from independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, isn’t in a patient mood. Bill Clinton, according to a person who has spoken with the former president in the past couple of weeks, is “very agitated” by the possibility of a Biden candidacy and incensed at the press hype around a possible bid.
Hillary Clinton, Democrats in her orbit tell POLITICO, is less concerned — and several top Clinton campaign officials have told associates they think a Biden bid would energize what has been a fairly lackluster performance by the candidate thus far.
Either way, the Clinton campaign is monitoring Biden’s activities closely — and Biden’s small team is acutely sensitive to slights against him, and to the possibility that her operation — including Correct the Record and other Clinton-friendly outside groups — would push anti-Biden opposition research to reporters in order to dissuade the vice president from running. “They better not do that,” said a Biden confidant. “That would bring really out his Irish.”
People close to Clinton say their boss wouldn’t let them push negative information on Biden even if they wanted to — and it would backfire anyway, considering Biden’s tragic family circumstances.
SOURCE: GLENN THRUSH