By Niall Stanage and Amie Parnes - 04/01/13 09:00 AM EDT
Vice President Biden is calling his former colleagues on Capitol Hill on a near-daily basis as he mounts a full-court press to achieve new gun control measures.
Biden has already held private meetings with Republican senators, including John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Johnny Isakson (Ga.), according to a senior administration official. The official added that Biden would also be spending considerable time on Capitol Hill in the weeks to come.
Gun control is the latest subject where Biden had been called upon to leverage his relationships in Congress for President Obama’s benefit.
As was the case with the deal on the so-called fiscal cliff reached between Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at the end of last year, Obama has set out an overall framework but his deputy has filled in the details.
“President Obama is the strategist and Vice President Biden is the tactician,” said Democratic consultant Chris Kofinis. “I think the president is laying out the frame, the message, the vision about where we need to go and why. The vice president understands how to make that happen. You have two interlocking pieces that work very well together.”
Republicans, of course, do not see it that way, arguing that Biden’s political skills are overrated.
“His effectiveness depends on how you define his role,” said GOP strategist Ken Lundberg. “So far, his work has been to rally allies and berate opponents. In that role, he’s very effective but, as for reaching out to the other side, he’s impotent. He’s breaking no new ground, and that’s probably by design.”
However one gauges Biden’s capabilities, there is no mistaking his commitment to the gun-control cause.
During a March 27 conference call organized by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Biden asserted that he and his staff had “met with every possible stakeholder out there, a total of 229 different groups,” amongst whom he numbered governors, mayors, law enforcement officials, mental health experts, religious groups and “the NRA [National Rifle Association] itself.”
Biden, like Obama, has cast the gun control debate in personal and moral terms. Speaking in Danbury, Conn., in February, he referenced his own experience of tragedy in paying tribute to the relatives of the victims of the massacre that took place in nearby Newtown in December.
“Having lost a child and a wife in [a] sudden burst of, not gunfire, but a truck, you have a hell of a lot more courage than I had,” Biden said, referring to the death of his wife and one-year-old daughter in a 1972 car crash just after his election to the Senate.
“And we owe you a debt of gratitude for being willing to stay in the ring,” he said.
Biden has pointed to his involvement in shepherding the last major gun control legislation to passage. He was, by all accounts, a key figure in ensuring the enactment of the Federal Assault Weapons Bill of 1994, which expired ten years later.
Those experiences, acquired over a 36-year Senate career, are an asset for Obama, who served only four years in the Senate before being elected to the Oval Office.
“There is a confluence of three things that I think really give Biden extraordinary importance on Capitol Hill,” said Joel Goldstein, a Saint Louis University law professor who is an expert on the vice presidency.
“First, the president is not particularly oriented toward that legislative role. Second, Biden is really good at it. Third, Obama is willing to enlist Biden in those roles.”
Biden is expected to turn his focus toward immigration reform soon.
In March, he told an Irish-American crowd that the experience of many of the attendees and their forebears should make them more supportive of today’s illegal immigrants.
Both of those hot-button issues have been problematic for Democrats in the past, of course. And, in both instances, Biden’s perceived capacity to connect with blue-collar white voters could prove very useful, especially in contrast to the sometimes-professorial Obama.
“Biden plays that role on occasions, as the messenger to the so-called Reagan Democrats who the president has not been so successful in connecting with,” said Goldstein.
Speculation continues to build that Biden could be a runner in the 2016 presidential race, especially if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decides against seeking the Democratic nomination. If that is his intention, buffering his reputation by pushing liberal policy priorities will do him no harm at all.
“I think it’s about as obvious as a thermonuclear explosion that he is going to run,” said Kofinis. “Might he change his mind? Who knows? But all the signs point to ‘yes’. I think it’s the worst-kept secret in Washington that he is seriously considering it.”