Former Vice President Joe Biden’s tendency to talk about his friendships with Republicans landed him in trouble on Thursday when he called his successor, Mike Pence, a “decent guy.”
The comment was quickly criticized by fellow Democrats, including actress and activist Cynthia Nixon, who tweeted that Biden had complimented “America’s most anti-LGBT elected leader,” forcing Biden to walk back his comment.
“You’re right, Cynthia. I was making a point in a foreign policy context, that under normal circumstances a Vice President wouldn’t be given a silent reaction on the world stage,” Biden tweeted. “But there is nothing decent about being anti-LGBTQ rights, and that includes the Vice President.”
The episode shows one of the challenges the 76-year-old Biden will face as he considers a run for the presidency. In promoting his relationships with Republicans in a way that might appeal to general election voters, Biden also risks alienating the Democrats he would need to win a primary.
His comment about Pence came during a foreign policy forum in Omaha with former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. Biden hailed “the character, integrity and humanity I’ve seen up close” of the former GOP senator from Nebraska. He also referred to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as “a good guy.”
Biden has had kind words for other Republican officials in recent weeks.
Biden hailed the late Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona as “brother” during public events, including at a speech in Germany when he pointed out another former Defense Secretary William Cohen, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire, as “my buddy.”
One Democratic official warned that Biden should focus first on the Democratic primary, not the general election, if he decides to run.
“He has to be careful not to run too much of a potential general election campaign before he even gets in the primary race,” said Brenda Kole, an Iowa-based Democratic operative who was a senior adviser to Clinton’s 2008 and 2016 campaigns.
But Jennifer Palmieri, a former top aide to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, said, “The idea that he is someone who has Republican friends and can have good bipartisan relationships is baked into the Joe Biden brand.”
“I don’t think that comes with the attendant risks that it would for newcomers,” she said.
Biden said earlier this week that he hadn’t made a final decision about running in 2020, though his family was encouraging him to launch a White House bid. Biden told The New York Times he’d launch his campaign after March if he decides to get in.