'Regular Joe' plays a key White House role
As vice president, Biden is yin to Obama’s yang. But he’s definitely no Cheney.
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But there the similarities end. After 36 years in the Senate, Biden has assumed the interesting task of following the most powerful, most controversial, and perhaps most reviled vice president in history. Mr. Cheney’s approach – in which his office became an independent power center, bent on expanding the reach of the executive branch and at times withholding information from the president himself – is a model Biden rejects.Skip to next paragraph
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In fact, Biden is probably the first vice president in history who seeks to reduce the power of his office – not because he doesn’t want influence, but because he sees Cheney’s handling of the job as counterproductive.
Before taking office, Biden told The New York Times he wants to “restore the balance” in the vice president’s role.
“The only value of power is the effect, the efficacy of its use,” Biden said. “And all the power Cheney had did not result in effective outcomes.”
Last fall, before the election, Biden told The New Yorker that the best model for him would be President Kennedy’s vice president, Lyndon Johnson – that is, an experienced Senate man (serving a young president) who would maintain his close ties to Capitol Hill from the White House. The comment struck Joel Goldstein, a scholar on the vice presidency at St. Louis University, as odd, since Johnson was “miserable” as vice president, Professor Goldstein says.
The name that comes up more frequently as a model is Walter Mondale, President Carter’s vice president, now seen as the first “modern” vice president. Mr. Mondale introduced the concept of vice president as across-the-board adviser, not one who could be sidetracked with boutique projects. Mondale also started the ritual of the weekly lunch with the president, which continues to this day. Biden spoke with Mondale before taking office.
Biden’s stewardship of the Middle Class Task Force and his role making sure stimulus money is spent wisely could sound like just the kind of “project based” vice presidency Biden didn’t want. But Jay Carney, his communications director, lays out a schedule that shows Biden maintaining a broad portfolio. Though the vice president is spending 1-1/2 to two days a week as stimulus enforcer, which involves travel to other cities, he’s still pulling major time with Obama.
Is Biden “the last guy in the room” when major decisions are being made, as he told Obama he wanted when they discussed the job? Not always literally, says Mr. Carney, but when Obama and Biden are both in town, they’re spending at least three hours a day together, sometimes four or five, depending on how many meetings they have together – between the morning intelligence and economy briefings, plus meetings with visiting heads of state and national security principals.