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Bridging the partisan divide: VP's chief of staff is 'Mr. Fix-It'

Bruce Reed, chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, has a reputation for getting along with both parties, and often plays a key role in pushing the Obama administration's agenda.

By Josh LedermanAssociated Press / March 9, 2013

Vice President Joe Biden's Chief of Staff Bruce Reed has lunch with President Barack Obama in Washington in August 2011. Friends and colleagues of Reed call him understated, self-effacing, non-threatening, even refreshingly old-fashioned.

Susan Walsh/AP/File

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Understated. Self-effacing. Nonthreatening. Refreshingly old-fashioned.

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Don't let these cool descriptors from friends and colleagues fool you: As the vice president's chief of staff, Bruce Reed plays Mr. Fix-It, guiding Joe Biden's role as a driving force behind the Obama administration's agenda.

With the White House wrestling Congress over gun control and tax-and-spending priorities, Reed's deep ties to the Oval Office and reputation for getting along with both parties make him a central character in some of Washington's biggest political battles.

Those who know Reed say his low-key style and consensus-oriented approach to deal-making are the keys to how he's managed time and again to bridge an ever-widening gap between Democrats and Republicans — even when it rankles partisan Democrats who see concessions to the GOP as selling out.

"It gets characterized from an ideological perspective, meaning centrist vs. leftist. Bruce would probably see it more as, 'Are you a reformer and willing to make changes to accomplish the same goals?'" said Chicago mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who co-wrote a policy book with Reed after they served together in the Clinton administration.

It's a trait that meshes well with the pragmatic, do-what-you-can approach to governing of President Barack Obama's administration. Reed's former and current colleagues say his method is also in sync with Biden's freewheeling but driven personality.

Once considered a potential liability to Obama, Biden has evolved into a serious heavy hitter whose broad portfolio of issues is never far removed from the president's top priorities. It was Biden, not Obama, who finally cut the New Year's deal with the Senate that averted the so-called fiscal cliff. White House officials credit Reed, who turns 53 this month, with steering Biden away from political pitfalls, helping him gauge which battles to fight and just how far to push.

But Reed's influence extends far beyond the vice president's quarters and deep into the West Wing. He's considered a full-fledged member of the economic team, joining the treasury secretary and others when the National Economic Council meets. Last year, he was tapped by Obama's then-chief of staff, Bill Daley, to help coordinate the State of the Union address. When Biden negotiates with Republicans in Congress, Reed is often the only other person on the phone.

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