By Michael D. Shear, Paul Kane and Jonathan Weisman
By selecting Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate, Barack Obama has picked a Senate colleague who has a long and friendly rivalry with Obama’s Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain.
From their perches on the leading foreign policy committees, Biden and McCain have shadowboxed across the globe, building reputations as experts in their respective parties on war and peace.
But their clash over the direction of the war in Iraq — and now the prospect of a high-stakes political campaign this fall — has strained that collegial relationship, leaving both men more than willing to do battle with the other.
“He has respect for McCain but he’ll be the first to angered by the sort of cheap shots they’re throwing at Obama now,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who predicted that Biden will relish the role of playing a lead attack dog on McCain.
Over the years, Biden and McCain have traveled broadly, often returning from war zones to spar with each other on the Sunday morning talk shows. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs committee, Biden visited Iraq more than 7 times; McCain has returned to Iraq eight times as the senior Republican on the Armed Services committee.
The result was a rivalry — and a friendship — built on respect, people in both parties said. In 2005, Biden told comedian Jon Stewart that “John McCain is a personal friend, a great friend. I would be honored to run with or against John McCain because I think the country
would be better off.”
Asked in 1999 what he would do on the first day of his presidency, McCain said he would “call in Joe Biden and John Kerry and Zbigniew Brzezinski and Carl Levin and like-minded Republicans” for a frank discussion about the need for a bipartisan foreign policy.
“They actually have a long and good relationship. They’re friends,” a senior Biden aide said Saturday morning.
McCain called his colleague early Saturday morning to congratulate him, aides said. In his first speech as Obama’s running mate, Biden acknowledged that McCain is “genuinely a friend of mine” before proceeding to blast his friend for being a wholehearted backer of the Bush-McCain policies that Biden said threaten the future.
That friendship dates back decades, to the time that a young John McCain served as a staffer to senators like Biden. It was then, McCain has said, that he first wanted to become a member of Congress.
In a biography of McCain, author Robert Timberg wrote that “McCain was much in demand for overseas escort duty…He was fun to be around, his wit appealing, his natural exuberance infectious. In an Athens taverna he danced on a table with Senator Joseph Biden’s wife, Jill, a red bandanna clenched in his teeth.”
Later, as senators, the pair sometimes joined forces, especially on military and foreign policy matters. In 1999, a “McCain-Biden” bill would have authorized President Bill Clinton to use “all necessary force,” including ground troops, in Yugoslavia.
Democrats and the Republican Senate leadership opposed the bill as too broad and too open-ended, and rejected it, but the partnership was an example of their willingness to work collaboratively.
Biden and McCain both have sons in the military, giving each a personal connection to the war they see so differently. McCain’s son, Jimmy is a Marine who served in Iraq until Feburuary. Biden’s son, Beau, a reserve officer who is the Attorney General of Delaware, reports to Iraq in October.
They are also both shaped by tragedy. McCain spent five-and-a-half years in a Vietnamese prison after being captured when his plane was shot down. Biden’s wife and infant daughter were killed in an auto accident shortly after his first election.
On a lighter note, both Biden and McCain were among the most frequent guests on Don Imus’ radio show, often heaping praise on each other. During one show in 2006, Biden was effusive about McCain’s efforts to stop the Bush Administration’s torture policy.
“You know, I mean, thank God for John McCain in saying, whoa, what are you guys talking about?,” Biden told Imus.
But that friendship is likely to be strained further during the
upcoming election, as Biden is tasked by Obama to attack McCain. It is a task he had already begun even before being picked.
In April, Biden gave a speech at Georgetown University in which he said there is “no daylight between John McCain and George Bush. They are joined at the hip.”
In the speech, he called McCain “a man I greatly admire, a man I consider a personal and close friend.” But he went on to slam what he called a “myopic” view of foreign policy and said that “fundamental change” will require “more than a great soldier. It’s going to require a wise leader.”
Last month, in another speech, Biden accused McCain of “profound confusion” and “twisted logic” on the fight against terrorism and urged him to “study history” on the subject.
It is on terrorism and Iraq that there are likely to be the greatest clashes.
Both supported the authorization for war in Iraq, though Biden argues he was trying to give Bush the strongest hand possible force United Nations weapons inspectors back in. After the invasion, Biden preceded McCain in arguing for additional troops.
But in 2006, the two broke irrevocably. With sectarian violence spiraling, Biden argued that 500,000 troops wouldn’t bring peace if the Iraqis couldn’t reconcile.
Since then, they have traveled separately and returned with
opposite conclusions. About the time McCain earned criticism walking around a Baghdad Market in a flak jacket and offering a rosy assessment, Biden was marooned in Fallujah in a sand storm. Stuck in a room with Iraqi politicians, he was struck by the discord and lack of
will to reconcile.
Staff researchers Alice Crites and Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.
By Sarah Lai Stirland
Barack Obama’s campaign finally texted his choice for vice president in the wee hours of Saturday morning: As reported, he’s chosen Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware as his vice presidential running mate.
Though he’s known best for his foreign policy credentials, the 66-year-old senator’s work on the Senate Judiciary Committee has put him in the middle of most of the defining issues of the internet age — epic fights over intellectual property, privacy and antitrust law.
The role of the vice president in influencing an administration’s tone and policy varies with the character of the executive teams occupying the White House, but as Al Gore demonstrated while Bill Clinton’s vice president, there are plenty of opportunities for the veep to push specific items to the top of the agenda.
“They can be a thought leader, a convener, a driver of national strategy, an exhorter to industry,” said Larry Irving, a former adviser to the Clinton White House, earlier this week.
Biden, a 30-plus-year veteran of the senate, has been a strong supporter of civil liberties. Most recently, he diverged from Obama’s position when he voted in July against a controversial bill that legalized President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program. The legislation also provided legal immunity to the telecommunications providers subjected of dozens of lawsuits for participating in the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.
And during the fall 2005 senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, Biden grilled Roberts in his views of privacy in the high-tech age — an issue Biden said was of equal importance to Roe v. Wade.
But Biden’s most-recent reputation in D.C. on telecom issues is more ambiguous, particularly when it comes to net neutrality. Though he ostensibly supported the concept as a presidential candidate during this election cycle, in hearings on Capitol Hill he’s been a hesitant supporter for pro net-neutrality legislation.
On the intellectual property front, Biden doesn’t seem to have strayed from the rest of the judiciary committee democrats’ stance of being more of a friend to Hollywood than to Silicon Valley.
Like many other members of congress, on the relatively infrequent occasions when he does talk about intellectual property, his focus is on piracy. He co-chairs the congressional international anti-piracy caucus. Earlier this year, the group fingered specific trading partners, countries where it said digital-copyright piracy had reached “alarming levels.” The group of countries included China, Russia, Canada, Mexico, Greece and Spain.
The group didn’t recommend any specific sanctions against the countries, but Biden repeated an often-heard line on the Hill at the time.
“Our ideas, our music, our books, our movies, our innovations are just as precious as any tangible property,” he said. “With new technologies coming out at warp speed, this global problem will only get worse.”
Back in 2002, Biden also authored a controversial anti-counterfeiting bill that was amended to include a draconian provision that would have made it a de facto crime to replicate a digital-rights management under any circumstances. Critics decried the idea because they said it would crimp individuals’ ability to play their media on devices of their choosing. Violators of the law would have faced prison sentences of up to five years and civil penalties of up to $25,000.
Though he might be known for his foreign policy credentials, Biden often is no diplomat.
As Slate‘s John Dickerson joked in a recent Twitter post, Obama might introduce the senator from Delaware and explain his pick by saying that he’s a “clean and articulate” and “a nice-looking guy.”
Biden caused a furor in February 2007 when he was quoted on Obama by The New York Observer.
At the time, he said: “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.”
Biden subsequently apologized for the remark.
But when they’re timed right, his blunt remarks can also be a riot. During the CNN YouTube debate last July, when asked about what they liked about the candidate next to them, Biden quipped that he didn’t like anything about Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio.
Then he added: “But the thing I like about him most is his wife.”
Kucinich is married to 31-year-old Elizabeth Kucinich, who’s six foot tall and made a striking impression on the campaign trail with her long red hair and good looks.
In an obvious ploy to build its databases of voter contact information, the Obama campaign promised that it would let supporters know about his vice presidential pick via text message.
The campaign has drawn out the release of its announcement for so long that some people started to prank each other with fake texting announcements.
Twitter became an often hilarious watercooler network of Obama VP pick jokes as people frittered away their Friday wondering who it would be.
“Just warning you Obama, if your txt wakes me up I’ll be much less enthusiastic about your veep choice,” tweeted Joel Davis late Friday night.
The warning, it turned out, was prescient: Obama texted his choice for Biden at 3 am Saturday morning East Coast time.
The message urged supporters to watch the first Obama-Biden rally at 3 pm Eastern on Barackobama.com.
“In naming my colleague and friend Joe Biden to be the vice presidential nominee, Barack Obama has continued in the best traditions for the vice presidency by selecting an exceptionally strong, experienced leader and devoted public servant. Senator Biden will be a purposeful and dynamic vice president who will help Senator Obama both win the presidency and govern this great country.” – Hillary Clinton
AP News Video on Obama Biden 08
WASHINGTON — Senator Barack Obama has chosen Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware to be his running mate, turning to a leading authority on foreign policy and a longtime Washington hand to fill out the Democratic ticket, Mr. Obama announced in text and e-mail messages early Saturday.
Mr. Obama’s selection ended a two-month search that was conducted almost entirely in secret. It reflected a critical strategic choice by Mr. Obama: To go with a running mate who could reassure voters about gaps in his résumé, rather than to pick someone who could deliver a state or reinforce Mr. Obama’s message of change.
Mr. Biden is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and is familiar with foreign leaders and diplomats around the world. Although he initially voted to authorize the war in Iraq — Mr. Obama opposed it from the start — Mr. Biden became a persistent critic of President George W. Bush’s policies in Iraq.
The brief text message from the Obama campaign came about 3 a.m., less than three hours after word of the decision had begun leaking out. “Barack has chosen Senator Joe Biden to be our VP nominee. Watch the first Obama-Biden rally live at 3pm ET on www.BarackObama.com. Spread the word!”
His e-mail announcement began: “Friend — I have some important news that I want to make official. I’ve chosen Joe Biden to be my running mate.”
The selection was disclosed as Mr. Obama moves into a critical part of his campaign, preparing for the party’s four-day convention in Denver starting on Monday. Mr. Obama’s aides viewed the introduction of his vice presidential choice — including an afternoon rally Saturday at the old State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., the same place where Mr. Obama announced his candidacy on a freezing winter morning almost two years ago — and a tour of swing states as the beginning of a week-long stretch in which Mr. Obama hopes to dominate the stage and position himself for the fall campaign.
Word of Mr. Obama’s decision leaked out hours before his campaign had been scheduled to inform supporters via text and e-mail message, and hours after informing two other top contenders for the vice presidential nomination — Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana and Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia — that they had not been chosen.
As the selection process moved to an end, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, whom Mr. Obama had defeated in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, had slipped out of contention — to the degree that Mr. Obama had never seriously considered her.
Mr. Biden is Roman Catholic, giving him appeal to that important voting bloc, though he favors abortion rights. He was born in a working-class family in Scranton, Pa., a swing state where he remains well-known. Mr. Biden is up for re-election to the Senate this year and he would presumably run simultaneously for both seats.
Mr. Biden is known for being both talkative and prone to making the kind of statements that get him in trouble. In 2007, when he was competing for Mr. Obama for the presidential nomination, he declared that Mr. Obama was “not yet ready” for the presidency.
The McCain campaign jumped on that early Saturday, as it responded to the selection, offering a glimpse into the line of criticism that awaits the Democratic ticket.
“There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama’s lack of experience than Joe Biden. Biden has denounced Barack Obama’s poor foreign policy judgment and has strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realizing — that Barack Obama is not ready to be President,” said Ben Porritt, a spokesman for Mr. McCain.
Although Mr. Biden is not exactly a household name, he is probably the best known of all the Democrats who were in contention for the spot, given his political and personal history (not to mention his regular appearances on the Sunday morning television news shows). He first ran for the Senate from Delaware when he was just 29.
Mr. Biden has run twice for the presidency himself, in 1988 and again in 2008, dropping out early in both cases. He was also the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during two of the most contentious Supreme Court nomination battles of the past 50 years: the confirmation proceedings for Robert H. Bork, who was defeated, and Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed after an explosive hearing in which Anita Hill had accused Mr. Thomas of sexual harassment. Mr. Biden led the opposition to both nominations, although he came under criticism from some feminists for not immediately disclosing what were at first Ms. Hill’s closed-door accusations against Mr. Thomas.
Mr. Obama’s choice of Mr. Biden suggested some of the weaknesses the Obama campaign is trying to address at a time when national polls suggest that his race with Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, is tightening.
Chief among Mr. Biden’s strengths is his familiarity with foreign policy and national security issues, highlighted just this past weekend with the invitation he received from the embattled president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, to visit Georgia in the midst of its tense faceoff with Russia. From the moment he dropped out of the presidential race, he had been mentioned as a potential Secretary of State should either Mr. Obama or Mrs. Clinton win the election.
He is also something of a fixture in Washington, and would bring to the campaign — and the White House — a familiarity with the way the city and Congress works that Mr. Obama cannot match after his relatively short stint in Washington.
At 65, Mr. Biden adds a few years and gray hair to a ticket that otherwise might seem a bit young (Mr. Obama is 47). He is, as Mr. Obama’s advisers were quick to argue, someone who appears by every measure prepared to take over as president, setting a standard that appears intended to at least somewhat hamstring Mr. McCain should he be tempted to go for a more adventurous choice for No. 2.
He has a long history of making statements that get him in trouble. He was forced to apologize to Mr. Obama almost the moment he entered the race for president after he was quoted as describing Mr. Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” a remark that drew criticism for being racially insensitive. While campaigning in New Hampshire, Mr. Biden said that “you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent.”
Mr. Biden quit the presidential race this year after barely making a mark; he came in fifth in Iowa. He was forced to quit the 1988 presidential race in the face of accusations that he had plagiarized part of a speech from Neil Kinnock, the British Labor Party leader. Shortly afterward, he was found to have suffered two aneurysms.
He is also, at least arguably, a Washington insider, having worked there for so long, though he still commutes home to Wilmington every night by train.
The choice by Mr. Obama in some ways mirrors the choice by Mr. Bush of Dick Cheney as his running mate in 2000; at his age, it appears unlikely that Mr. Biden would be in a position to run for president should Mr. Obama win and serve two terms. Shorn of any remaining ambition to run for president on his own, he could find himself in a less complex political relationship with Mr. Obama than most vice presidents have with their presidents.
Mr. Biden was born in Scranton, grew up in the suburbs of Wilmington, Del., and went to Syracuse Law School. As a young man, he was in the center of a gripping family drama: barely a month after he was elected to the Senate, his wife and their three children were in a car accident with a drunken driver resulted in the death of his wife and daughter. His two sons survived, and Mr. Biden remarried five years later.
Barack Obama has decided upon a vice-presidential running mate. And while I don’t know who it is as I write, for the good of the country, I hope he picked Joe Biden.
Biden’s weaknesses are on the surface. He has said a number of idiotic things over the years and, in the days following his selection, those snippets would be aired again and again.
But that won’t hurt all that much because voters are smart enough to forgive the genuine flaws of genuine people. And over the long haul, Biden provides what Obama needs:
Working-Class Roots. Biden is a lunch-bucket Democrat. His father was rich when he was young — played polo, cavorted on yachts, drove luxury cars. But through a series of bad personal and business decisions, he was broke by the time Joe Jr. came along. They lived with their in-laws in Scranton, Pa., then moved to a dingy working-class area in Wilmington, Del. At one point, the elder Biden cleaned boilers during the week and sold pennants and knickknacks at a farmer’s market on the weekends.
His son was raised with a fierce working-class pride — no one is better than anyone else. Once, when Joe Sr. was working for a car dealership, the owner threw a Christmas party for the staff. Just as the dancing was to begin, the owner scattered silver dollars on the floor and watched from above as the mechanics and salesmen scrambled about for them. Joe Sr. quit that job on the spot.
Even today, after serving for decades in the world’s most pompous workplace, Senator Biden retains an ostentatiously unpretentious manner. He campaigns with an army of Bidens who seem to emerge by the dozens from the old neighborhood in Scranton. He has disdain for privilege and for limousine liberals — the mark of an honest, working-class Democrat.
Democrats in general, and Obama in particular, have trouble connecting with working-class voters, especially Catholic ones. Biden would be the bridge.
Honesty. Biden’s most notorious feature is his mouth. But in his youth, he had a stutter. As a freshman in high school he was exempted from public speaking because of his disability, and was ridiculed by teachers and peers. His nickname was Dash, because of his inability to finish a sentence.
He developed an odd smile as a way to relax his facial muscles (it still shows up while he’s speaking today) and he’s spent his adulthood making up for any comments that may have gone unmade during his youth.
Today, Biden’s conversational style is tiresome to some, but it has one outstanding feature. He is direct. No matter who you are, he tells you exactly what he thinks, before he tells it to you a second, third and fourth time.
Presidents need someone who will be relentlessly direct. Obama, who attracts worshippers, not just staff members, needs that more than most.
Loyalty. Just after Biden was elected to the senate in 1972, his wife, Neilia, and daughter Naomi were killed in a car crash. His career has also been marked by lesser crises. His first presidential run ended in a plagiarism scandal. He nearly died of a brain aneurism.
New administrations are dominated by the young and the arrogant, and benefit from the presence of those who have been through the worst and who have a tinge of perspective. Moreover, there are moments when a president has to go into the cabinet room and announce a decision that nearly everyone else on his team disagrees with. In those moments, he needs a vice president who will provide absolute support. That sort of loyalty comes easiest to people who have been down themselves, and who had to rely on others in their own moments of need.
Experience. When Obama talks about postpartisanship, he talks about a grass-roots movement that will arise and sweep away the old ways of Washington. When John McCain talks about it, he describes a meeting of wise old heads who get together to craft compromises. Obama’s vision is more romantic, but McCain’s is more realistic.
When Biden was a young senator, he was mentored by Hubert Humphrey, Mike Mansfield and the like. He was schooled in senatorial procedure in the days when the Senate was less gridlocked. If Obama hopes to pass energy and health care legislation, he’s going to need someone with that kind of legislative knowledge who can bring the battered old senators together, as in days of yore.
There are other veep choices. Tim Kaine seems like a solid man, but selecting him would be disastrous. It would underline all the anxieties voters have about youth and inexperience. Evan Bayh has impeccably centrist credentials, but the country is not in the mood for dispassionate caution.
Biden’s the one. The only question is whether Obama was wise and self-aware enough to know that.