Odd couple Biden and Obama learn to get past bumps in the road

Vice President Biden and President Obama’s odd-couple relationship has seen some bumps in the road, but advisers to both men insist Biden’s controversial "chains" remark this week wasn't one of them.

The Obama-Biden relationship has never been on more solid footing, insist advisers, who say the duo has formed a lasting bond and an appreciation for one another.

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“They’re different personalities and they’re very different people but they like working together,” said one White House senior adviser. “They’re very much a team. They spend a lot of time agreeing with each other at meetings and reinforcing the other's points.”

The two men have weekly lunches. They often compare notes. And, on a more personal level, they have been known to sit in the bleachers together to root on Obama’s daughter, Sasha, and Biden’s granddaughter, Maisy, who play on the same basketball team.

While there’s a “generational difference” between Biden and Obama, “they’re not political rivals and they don’t have ideological or philosophical differences," the adviser said.

Aides say Biden agreed to take the VP job initially if he would be the last guy in the room with Obama. And for the most part he is. Take Thursday’s schedule, for example: Obama and Biden spent virtually the entire day together holding back-to-back meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

“I think the thing that is true and is the best evidence of the role the vice president fills in the White House is that he is the last guy in the room when the president is making an important decision,” said a senior administration official. “It’s not the kind of thing you do just for show. It’s a pretty authentic statement.”

Obama came to Biden’s defense quickly this week when the vice president, in trying to make a point about financial reform, said Mitt Romney’s policies would “put y’all back in chains.” He did so even though the gaffe took Obama’s campaign off message for much of the week, handing a political gift to Romney.

In an interview with People magazine, Obama called Biden an “outstanding” vice president and said his remarks were taken out of context.

“The truth is that during the course of these campaigns, folks like to get obsessed with how something was phrased, even if everybody personally understands that’s not how it was meant,” he said. “That’s the sort of nature of modern campaigns and modern coverage of campaigns.”

Sources close to both men suggest actions from Obama and the White House reflect the stronger relationship the Democratic ticket has built over the last four years despite their differences.

“There’s a trust there between the two of them that they share the same mission,” the senior adviser said. “The vice president is the president’s biggest defender and biggest champion and even when there’s daylight between them, or the appearance of daylight — which is more often the case — they know they’re both singing off the same song sheet. And they know that if one of them goes off key, it’s not on purpose.”

In the interview with People, Obama suggested he sought out the vice president for campaign advice.

“He is passionate about what’s happening in middle-class families,” Obama said. “So I will be talking to him a whole lot about the campaign in general.”

Republicans think Biden is a weight on the Democratic ticket despite the Obama campaign’s insistence that the vice president appeals to some of the independent voters both sides are trying to win over.

Kirsten Kukowski, a press secretary for the Republican National Committee, said Biden is creating problems for Obama.

“If you’re President Obama, you have to ask Biden if what he’s out there saying on the trail is really helping the team,” Kukowski said.

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) this week was one of several Republicans who publicly suggested Obama would be better off without Biden.

But current and former White House aides insist that Biden is “not at all a drag on the ticket,” as one former senior administration official put it, and that “he gives Obama a perspective that the president might not otherwise have."

The president — almost two decades Biden’s junior — has entrusted his vice president with major issues: managing the end of the war in Iraq and playing a major role on the debt ceiling and the New START treaty with Russia on Capitol Hill.

“He is a gut check and a reality check for the president,” the former official said, adding that Obama values the work he does and what he brings to the table.

At Obama’s request, White House officials say they have been known to deploy Biden, a classic retail politician, to Capitol Hill, where he has close relationships with old-guard Republicans.

Although they are cautious about deploying him for routine meetings, there’s a sense of “in case of emergency break glass,” as former one aide put it, where Biden would head down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Dome to play the role of “closer.” Obama has also used Biden to fire up the Democratic base on the campaign trail, where he has addressed dozens of crowds.

In recent stump appearances, Biden has gone out of his way to make it clear that he and the president do not just have a working relationship. They’re pals.

“The reason we’re going to win ultimately is my buddy — and it’s a heck of a way to refer to the president, but he is my buddy — my friend has a backbone like a ramrod,” he told a crowd in Danville, Va., the same speech where he made the “chains” remark. “I’ve watched my friend make the most difficult decisions almost any president, other than probably Roosevelt and Lincoln, have ever made, and I watched him never once put his political fortune ahead of what he thought was right for the country.”

In the same speech, Biden confessed that he and Obama “have shorthand ways we talk to one another."

“When you become friends, you sort of shorten things,” he said, as supporters laughed.

A day earlier, in Durham, N.C., he joked that he was like the president’s “older brother” before moving on to say, "I don't think really I have to talk much about the character of my guy."