As he begins his second term as vice president, Joe Biden is riding high. But the skills he has demonstrated in the past several weeks as a negotiator and deal maker won't necessarily translate into strong advantages if he runs for president in 2016.
The former senator from Delaware has been enjoying immense media coverage as head of President Obama's task force on gun control, which produced recommendations that Obama announced with Biden standing prominently at his side last week. As the year began, Biden managed to work out a deal with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to extend tax cuts for the middle class and increase taxes on the wealthy. The deal averted a budget fiasco but it was only a temporary and minimal fix that will need to be addressed again in a few weeks.
These examples of Biden as a power broker showed that he is an important cog in the administration's political machinery.
Biden intensified speculation that he might run in 2016 when he told a group of Iowans who were visiting Washington Saturday that he would be "proud to be president of United States." This statement apparently went further than the gaffe-prone Biden intended in describing his intentions, and he seemed a bit sheepish about it later. On Sunday, Biden took the oath of office for another four years as vice president, which underscored his prominent position in the Democratic hierarchy and set off a new round of chatter about his presidential prospects.
The problem for Biden, Democratic strategists say, is that Americans aren't very impressed with Washington insiders. They prefer a public leader and strong advocate with clear-cut positions. And demonstrating public leadership has not been Biden's strong suit in his two unsuccessful bids for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and 2008.
Biden is expected to play even more of a role as a deal maker now that Obama has apparently chosen Denis McDonough as his new White House chief of staff, replacing Jack Lew, who was named Treasury secretary. McDonough is currently the deputy national security adviser and, while he is a talented manager, he is not an expert on Capitol Hill and doesn't have the kind of relationships with legislators that Biden does. So it's likely that Biden will continue playing the insider game in Washington, while Obama emphasizes the use of the bully pulpit to make his case to the nation and demonstrate public leadership.
Biden seems to relish this role. "I have spent a lot of time in this town," he told CNN in an interview broadcast Monday. "And I have personal relationships with people I strongly disagree with, but there's trust. And so I'm a logical person, a logical person to, as they say and you guys [in the media] say, close the deal."
"There's a whole lot of reasons why I wouldn't run [in 2016]," Biden added. "I haven't made that decision. And I don't have to make that decision for a while. In the meantime, there's one thing I know I have to do no matter what I do [about running for the White House]: I have to help this president move the country to the next stage." Biden told CNN that he is "totally simpatico" with Obama on major issues.
Biden will be 74 on inauguration day in 2016. If he ran for and won the White House, he would be the oldest president in history when he took office.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Facebook and Twitter.