By Alexander Bolton - 10/19/11 11:58 PM EDT
Vice President Biden ripped Republicans Wednesday during a Democratic rally on Capitol Hill, claiming the GOP puts millionaires before teachers and first responders.
Frustrated Democrats in the Senate embraced Biden’s fiery remarks. They privately credit Biden with filling a major void in the Obama White House.
Biden’s salvos at the GOP are part of the administration’s full-court press to pass pieces of the president’s jobs bill after every Senate Republican rejected the entire package earlier this month.
“I don’t know where these guys live,” said Biden, implying that GOP leaders have fallen out of touch with the concerns of average Americans.
“The critics say this costs money. Surprise, surprise — it does cost money,” Biden added. “My dad used to say if everything’s equally important to you, nothing’s important. Everything’s about priorities.”
Biden joined Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) at a campaign-like rally that packed the Senate Russell building’s famous Caucus Room.
Biden asserted on Wednesday that some millionaires are willing to pay more in taxes to pay to keep teachers, police officers and firefighters in their jobs.
“But these guys want to curry favor with guys who aren’t even asking for it,” Biden said of the Senate GOP.
“So I say to the American people, watch your senator, watch him or her choose,” Biden told the crowd, many of them wearing yellow International Association of Fire Fighters T-shirts.
Democrats are looking to crack the GOP’s unity on Obama’s jobs bill, clearly targeting centrists such as Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who is up for reelection next year. It remains unclear, however, if all Democrats will back the incremental jobs bill. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who is facing a tough reelection fight last year, has balked at raising taxes.
Biden said, “Are you going to put 400,000 school teachers back in classrooms, are you going to put 18,000 cops back on the street and 7,000 firefighters back in the firehouses? Or are you going to save people with average incomes of $1 million a one-half of 1 percent increase in tax on every dollar they make over a million?”
Reid took to the podium after Biden spoke and vowed to force Senate Republicans to vote on a motion to consider the Democrats’ $35 billion jobs bill on Friday.
“We’re going to make sure there’s a vote on our bill this week,” Reid said.
The measure would direct federal funds to states to prevent layoffs of teachers, police officers and firefighters. Democrats estimate it will save or create 400,000 jobs.
Most of the funding, $30 billion, would go to teachers. First-responders would get $5 billion. The bill would be paid for by a 0.5 percent tax increase on annual incomes above $1 million.
Democrats told The Hill that the vice president plays a pivotal role advancing the administration’s agenda.
Senate Democrats, who rarely talk with Obama, frequently approach Biden with a variety of concerns and requests. They say he is always willing to listen when it’s hard to get Obama on the phone.
Many view a call to Obama as a special favor that should be reserved only for emergencies, and most dust ups are not considered serious enough to break glass.
“I think one of the problems with the White House is that it’s been too set apart. It’s been too Chicago-centric, and it needs to get out,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told The Hill recently. “[Former President] Clinton didn’t just talk to four leaders, he picked up the phone and he kind of said, ‘I really need your vote on this.’ ”
Senators estimate Biden visits the upper chamber several times a month to preside over joint sessions of Congress, attend ceremonial occasions such as the swearing-in of new senators, and sometimes shows up simply to reconnect with lawmakers.
“It’s a lot easier for the vice president, from a logistics point of view, to be here than it is for the president,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.).
Cardin said he’s never tried to call the president on the phone but noted that Obama had invited him and two of his Senate classmates over to the White House for an intimate lunch.
“I see the president at events,” Cardin said.
He’s not the only one.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) took advantage of the president’s signing of a wilderness bill to press Obama about the importance of funding a Navajo irrigation project in his home state.
Obama always listens politely, but rarely commits on the spot.
Udall said Biden makes himself available to lawmakers whenever he drives down Pennsylvania Avenue to visit the Capitol, holding office hours in a suite just off the Senate floor.
Biden serves as president of the Senate, which empowers him to break tie votes.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) remembered arriving at the White House well before the start time of a meeting with the president a “couple of months ago.” Biden invited Conrad into his office to chat about their family backgrounds.
“Joe Biden is for real and there’s a lot of respect and affection in the Senate for Joe Biden,” Conrad said.
The Budget chairman “rarely” chats with Obama, he said, especially over the last months, even though he considered himself close to Obama when both served in the Senate.
But Conrad said he’s not complaining.
“He’s got a very full plate … I know how much he’s got that he’s dealing with. So I try to deal with staff.”
Biden knows how to fire up a crowd. On Wednesday, audience members jostled with each other to snap pictures of the vice president while a bank of television cameras surveyed the scene from the back of the room — a frenzy rarely seen when Senate Democratic leaders stage rallies at the Capitol on their own.
Biden’s presence seemed to relax the Senate Democratic leaders, who traded jokes with him as they stood together in the wings before the rally.
Reid called Biden by the title of senator, a sign that Democratic lawmakers still see him as a member of their club.
— Originally posted at 4:04 p.m. and updated at 7:58 p.m.