Joe Biden is hoping to be Barack Obama's indispensable man. The vice president-elect was chosen by Obama for his Washington experience, as a senator since 1973, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and former chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Obama advisers say Biden will serve as an éminence grise and senior counselor to the new commander in chief from Day 1 and won't be relegated to the role of fill-in at funerals and odd man out in policy discussions. This marginalization has been imposed on some vice presidents in the past, especially when they have seemed disloyal or untalented. Biden is neither.
Associates of the two men say that before Biden accepted the No. 2 spot, he insisted that Obama agree to meet alone with him at least once a week, and Obama said yes. This is the same arrangement enjoyed by presidents and vice presidents going back at least five administrations. The tête-à-têtes usually are set up as weekly lunches.
Decision making. "Biden will be especially instrumental in helping on the urgent foreign policy matters," says a well-connected Democratic strategist who has served in the White House and has known the Delaware senator for many years. Biden, who turns 66 on November 20, is also expected to help coordinate decision making on foreign policy inside the labyrinth of the executive branch, making sure that Obama's wishes are respected and his preferences enforced. As an influential senator, he has traveled widely around the world. And as a man who is at home in many lands, he will serve in the traditional role of globe-trotter and message-bearer for his boss and is expected to undertake regular diplomatic missions for the administration.
One thing the new vice president will not do, he says, is emulate Dick Cheney, his predecessor, in emphasizing secrecy and trying to expand the powers of the executive branch. It's time, Biden says, for the White House to show more respect for Congress and the Constitution. Ever gregarious and notoriously loquacious, he will do all he can to keep things friendly and cooperative with his legislative colleagues.
"Joe will be very helpful in improving relations and in helping pass legislation, especially in the Senate," says a friend. "He is knowledgeable and well liked, and that goes a long way. He will play a pretty big role in keeping things together on the Hill."
Biden ran for president in 1987 and again this year, but his candidacies went nowhere. At his age, he is considered unlikely to try again. But he kept his options open this time around in a different way. He ran for re-election to the Senate in Delaware at the same time he ran for vice president this month. He won both races.
Now he will resign from Congress, and Delaware's Democratic governor will name his successor. There's a good chance that Biden's son, Beau, who is the attorney general of Dela-ware and is now serving a stint in Iraq with the National Guard, will get the nod. That would mean there would still be a Biden in the Senate after Joe leaves to move into the vice presidency in January.