Joe Biden swearing-in behavior: Kindly or creepy?

Vice President Joe Biden had a bravura performance on Tuesday administering the oath of office to new and newly reelected members of the US Senate. Some critics have raised eyebrows.

Susan Walsh/AP
Sen. Thad Cochran (R) if Mississippi (l.) talks with Vice President Joe Biden before Biden administered the Senate oath during a ceremonial re-enactment swearing-in ceremony, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Joe Biden seems to really enjoy swearing in senators. Is that charming? Or does he bring a little too much enthusiasm to the job?

That’s an issue in Washington in the wake of Mr. Biden’s bravura performance on Tuesday administering the oath of office to new and newly reelected members of the US Senate.

Biden cuddled. He cajoled. He glad-handed moms and, according to critics, got a little too familiar with some daughters.

“It’s not that big of a deal, I guess, but it got kind of creepy,” writes right-leaning Mollie Hemingway at The Federalist.

Why does Biden swear in senators, anyway? He gets the job because under the US Constitution, the vice president is also the president of the Senate. He gets to vote if there is a tie. And he gets to officially welcome electoral winners into the club.

The official swearing-in is carried out en masse on the floor. Then Biden hosts individual ceremonial swearing-ins for those who want something a little more personal. Many new senators bring family members along for what is a pretty big day in their lives.

And Biden gets to be Biden. He doesn’t just whisk these folks along as if it were a chore for him on a grip-and-grin greeting line. He especially greets the newbies with the enthusiasm you might appreciate if this was a crowning moment in your career. For many observers it is, yes, charming.

“Administering the oath of office to the U.S. Senate sounds like a mundane job.... Joe Biden turns it into an event that's so joyful, and so lacking the partisan rancor that typically dominates American politics, that it’s almost hard to believe that you’re watching a scene from Washington,” according to NPR’s Don Gonyea.

Biden greeted new Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell warmly, points out Mr. Gonyea, and told Senator McConnell’s grandson to say, “Grandpa, can I talk to a Democrat?”

He greeted newly reelected Sen. Thad Cochran (R) of Mississippi, who scraped by a tea party challenger, with “Thaddeus!”

“Best guy in the US Senate right here. I can say that now because it can’t hurt him,” Biden said.

He called absent grandmothers with proffered cellphones. He agreed with crying babies that “this is boring.” He asked toddlers if he could wear their hats. And so forth. If you want to see some highlights, The Washington Post’s Fix political blog has put together a mash tape of “102 seconds of pure Joe Biden magic.”

Not everybody was amused by some of his comments to young women, though. Some conservative bloggers say that the media would have been harsh on Biden’s penchant for hugging politicians' daughters if he were a Republican.

They noted that the daughter of Sen. Chris Coons (D) of Delaware pulled away and looked uncomfortable when Biden tried to kiss her cheek. After meeting the daughter of Sen. Joni Ernst (R) of Iowa, he said, “How old are you? Fifteen? I hope mom has a big fence.” (Presumably the fence would defend against marauding boys.) And so on.

“It’s not the biggest deal in the world and I don’t think Biden is some sort of dangerous character.... I also think he could take the feelings of these young women into account and leave them off his hug target list. Take it down a notch, Uncle Joe,” writes Mary Katharine Ham at right-leaning Hot Air.

Such complaints seem limited to Biden’s political opponents, at least for the moment. If any Democrats join in the chorus, Uncle Joe might need to watch out. In the meantime, anyone who wants to experience the full Biden treatment can spin the wheel of the Post’s "Joe Biden random compliment generator."  On our first try we got, “You’ve got a smile that lights up a room.”

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