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'Regular Joe' plays a key White House role

As vice president, Biden is yin to Obama’s yang. But he’s definitely no Cheney.

By Staff writer / April 15, 2009

Vice President Biden worked a crowd after a town hall meeting last month in St. Cloud, Minn. He was pressed about the local impact of the stimulus.

Jim Mone/AP



Joe Biden leans into the microphone and tells the assembled Washington elites just how important he has become to his new boss, Barack Obama.

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“To give you an idea of how close we are,” the vice president says at the annual Gridiron dinner of journalists and politicos, “he told me that next year – maybe, just maybe – he’s going to give me his BlackBerry e-mail address.”


By many accounts, Vice President Biden is, in fact, a key player in the Obama White House, with a finger in most of the central issues of the day. Whether it’s going to Munich, Germany, to deliver the administration’s first major foreign-policy address or traveling around the country as head of the Middle Class Task Force and chief enforcer of stimulus spending or attending most of President Obama’s daily briefings, Mr. Biden appears to enjoy the confidence of the boss – and plenty of face time.

But then there are the jokes, implying that Obama may find his understudy a bit annoying at times. Biden, after all, is famously long-winded and gaffe-prone, tending to speak emotionally and from the heart. Obama, though nearly 20 years his junior, is more composed and cerebral.

“I would liken it to a marriage,” says Allan Loudell, a longtime political analyst at WDEL-AM in Wilmington, Del., Biden’s hometown. “It’s like a couple who are the reverse of one another, yin and yang. And it seems to be working.”

Still, Obama himself has perpetuated the questions about how he views Biden. When Biden cracked a joke about Chief Justice John Roberts’s muffed inaugural swearing in, Obama shot a stern look in Biden’s direction and squeezed his elbow. In his first full press conference as president, Obama answered a question about a Biden comment with an air of bemused exasperation.

Administration officials insist that those instances have been overplayed and overanalyzed, and that Obama values Biden’s experience and input. As the administration has gotten into a rhythm, the two men, who didn’t know each other all that well on Inauguration Day, have settled into their own symbiosis, appearing in public together regularly. If Obama wanted Biden to be less visible, he would be.

There are superficial similarities to the Bush-Cheney administration. Like George Bush, Obama selected a more experienced Washington hand as his No. 2 to help him navigate the corridors of power and lend expertise in foreign affairs. And as Dick Cheney did long before he joined the ticket with then-Governor Bush, Biden has given up his dream of winning the presidency in his own right. By the end of a second Obama term, Biden would be 74, considered too old to run. This means that his sole focus will be serving the boss’s needs, not his own political ambitions.