What About Joe? Examining Biden’s Options Post 2016
So what about Joe?
Most people think the Vice-President’s mind is already made up about seeking the Democratic Presidential nomination in 2016. The belief is that only one woman can stop him, and it’s not Hillary. That would be his wife Jill. Many rank and file Democrats, particularly those who encompass the core of chief Democratic constituencies, would rather not have to choose. Perhaps they won’t happen.
No one knows what the future holds three years away. It’s not a given that Hillary Clinton will run, though one person told me her odds of not doing so are 0-100. Biden can read the polls as much as anyone. And Election Day will find him days away from his 74th birthday. That said, could a deal be made?
One scenario, which I admit is extraordinarily unlikely, is for Hillary to ask Biden to stay on as vice-president. It is not unprecedented. George Clinton was Vice-President during Jefferson’s second term and in Madison’s first. And unlike Biden, whose influence and breadth may be the widest in history, Clinton’s was basically non-existent. A tie-breaking vote against a federal charter, was generally his only impact. In fact, when one hears the name George Clinton, Governor of New York comes to mind before the Vice-Presidency.
And John Calhoun, Vice-President under John Quincy Adams, stayed on during the first term of Andrew Jackson. People cite the age that Hillary and Biden together would bring (143 combined) but there is mutual respect between the two and the level of experience both would bring would be enormous. And even if Hillary passed and Biden lost to say, Martin O’Malley, his experience may be even more critical. Yes, I know a Delaware/Maryland ticket would make little geographic sense, but it’s little different from Arkansas/Tennessee. And Cheney or Biden himself, were not picked to deliver Wyoming or Delaware. The prohibition only applies to President, so stranger things could have happened.
Another possible route is to follow the lead of two modern predecessors, Alben Barkley and Hubert Humphrey, who unsuccessfully sought the Presidency as their terms as vice-president were coming to an end and try to return to the Senate. Delaware wouldn’t have an opening in 2016 but Tom Carper will be 71 in 2018. The Democratic bench in Delaware big but I can’t imagine anyone of prominence in the party wouldn’t gladly step aside for their elder statesman.
It’s likely that Barkley and Humphrey relished were masters of the Senate, and their likability, forcefulness and colorful personalities made them beloved even to their political adversaries. Some may say the same about Biden. the likelihood is that both relished their service there far more than the Vice-Presidency.
Biden may have a lot in common with Barkley. Before becoming vice-president, Barkley had been a member of Congress since William Howard Taft was President. He rose to become Majority Leader and disagreed with Roosevelt. Both grew up relatively poor. were in Washington 36 years becoming vice-president. Both could make off-the-cuff remarks, though in Barkley’s time it was more benign. And both steadily rose to have their opinions matter. Like Biden, he was among the most influential Vice-President’s of his time. Truman asked him to sit in on cabinet meetings. It was he who created the term “Veep.” Yet he also compared the office to “a piture of warm spit.”
Having come to Congress when William Howard Taft was President, Barkley was an initial proponent of Roosevelt’s programs. He had been the Senate’s longtime Majority Leader when Truman had plucked him onto his ticket (though in ’48, the Democrats were in the minority). In early ’52, when Harry Truman announced his departure, Barkley, though seven years older at 75, ought to succeed him. Truman gave him backing but delegates, concerned about his age, did not, and Truman eventually through his support to Adlai Stevenson.
By 1954, Kentucky Democrats approached Barkley about challenging
John Sherman Cooper. Initially, he hesitated (his much younger wife was not thrilled with the idea) but acquiesced.
The campaign was so respectful that Sherman-Cooper prompted that they found little to disagree on. Barkley campaigned energetically and went on to beat Cooper, but his second stint would barely be more than a year. while delivering a speech at Georgetown University suffered a massive heart attack and died. He was 78.
Biden may have a lot in common with Barkley. Both grew up relatively poor. were in Washington 36 years becoming vice-president. Both could make off-the-cuff remarks, though in Barkley’s time it was more benign. And both steadily rose to have their opinions matter. Like Biden, he was among the most influential Vice-President’s of his time. Truman asked him to sit in on cabinet meetings. It was he who created the term “Veep.” Yet he also compared the office to “a piture of warm spit.”
Humphrey was one of the most important Senators of the 20th century, which had started with his memorable speech at the 1948 Democratic convention. To his colleagues, he was the “Happy Warrior,” who were so impressed they made him their Whip. He took a leading role on Civil Rights. His loss to Richard Nixon in 1968 was close and painful. Down nearly 15 points weeks before the election, many blamed LBJ for waiting too long to let his loyal number two off the hook on Vietnam. His loss in the poplar vote was a mere .7%.
Following that loss, Humphrey went to academia. But by 1970, his old colleague Gene McCarthy, who also shouldered some of the responsibility for Humphrey’s loss for failing to rally liberals, was retiring and Humphrey decided that he wasn’t through with public service. His race for the Senate seat provoked a spirited campaign, though Humphrey was always considered a sure-thing.. His opponent was Clark MacGregor, a Minnesota Congressman who would later become chairman of CREEP (Committee to Re-elect the President). MacGregor came under fire by saying “Hubert’s a nice guy but, he can’t say no. If he were a woman, he’d be pregnant all the time” but Humphrey was never in danger of being denied a second act. He took 58%.
Humphrey returned to the Senate initially expecting a heroes welcome. But he was barely settled in his seat when he decided to mount another bid for the Presidency in 1972. Humphrey did win a few primaries but faced a fractured, more left leaning field, and George McGovern won the nomination. Humphrey resumed his Senate duties cheerfully and gained yet another win in 1976, this time with a career high 68%. He tried to attain the post of Majority Leader. But he was undergoing cancer treatment and colleagues rejected him for Robert Byrd. But while Humphrey’s heyday was behind, he still played an important role. The “Humphrey-Hawkins Act ” initially proposed guaranteeing employment to all citizens above 16, though it was eventually watered down to aim for goals.
By the end of 1977, Humphrey knew he was dying. Tip O’Neill, as he recounted in his Autobiography, “Man of the House,” was asked if there was a rule against a person who wasn’t a member of the House addressing the chamber. O’Neill wasn’t aware of one, and as a result, Humphrey addressed a teary-eyed chamber, the first non-member to do so. President Carter gave him a much publicized ride on Air Force One. Two months later, he was dead of cancer at 66.
Barkley initially hesitated before going seeking to reclaim his Senate seat, but much of it had to do with concerns from his wife. But he launched a vigorous bid and found that the Vice-Presidency had not loosened Kentuckians affection for him. While he won, Barkley didn’t have much accomplished, as his sudden death came just 15 months after taking office.
Another recent Vice-President, Walter Mondale, flirted with returning to the Senate in 1990 but was enjoying life too much in Minnesota. But when Paul Wellstone was killed in 2002, Mondale stepped in at the last minute and was poised to win until the Wellstone memorial saw his numbers drop by a bigger margin in one night than virtually any pollsters can recall. And one man who wasn’t Vice-President but who took aim at the Presidency and lost, Barry Goldwater, returned to the Senate in 1968 and Chaired the Intelligence Committee.
To be sure, both Biden’s odds of staying on as vice-president and returning to the Senate are rare. But public service is in Joe Biden’s blood and even at this early daty, I would suspect his career upon the conclusion of the Obama years will be far from over.