Exclusive: Biden to run for White House, says Dem lawmaker

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSome Sanders top allies have urged him to withdraw from 2020 race: report Sunday shows preview: As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., officials from each sector of public life weigh in Trump defends firing of intel watchdog, calling him a 'disgrace' MORE will run for president in 2020, a senior Democratic lawmaker told The Hill on Tuesday, a move that will shake up the crowded Democratic primary field and make him the clear front-runner for his party’s nomination against President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report MORE.

“I’m giving it a shot,” Biden said matter-of-factly during a phone call with a House Democratic lawmaker within the past week — a conversation the congressman recounted to The Hill and interpreted as a sure sign that Biden will run in 2020.

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In the brief phone call, the former vice president asked if he could bounce some campaign strategy ideas off the lawmaker and invited the lawmaker to sit down with him in person in the near future. Biden also said he hoped to have the lawmaker’s support, something the lawmaker did not commit to.

Biden responded that there was no harm if they keep talking, according to the lawmaker who spoke to The Hill on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the phone conversation.

Biden did not share any details about when or where he planned to make his formal presidential announcement, the lawmaker said. Biden and his wife, Jill, just returned from vacation in St. Croix in the Caribbean, where they reportedly discussed potential pitfalls and began finalizing their plans, The Associated Press reported.

Biden spokesman Bill Russo refuted the idea that the former vice president is absolutely running: “He has not made a final decision. No change.”

But at an event with firefighters Tuesday morning, Biden teased a 2020 presidential run as the crowd chanted, “Run, Joe, run!”

“I appreciate the energy you all showed when I got up here,” Biden told an energetic crowd at the International Association of Fire Fighters' annual conference in Washington, D.C. “Save it a little longer, I may need it in a few weeks. Be careful what you wish for.”

His entry into the race has been largely expected. In recent weeks, the 76-year-old Biden has been laying the groundwork for what would be his third and final presidential bid, seeking support from Democratic donors, lawmakers and others in his political circle.

Biden, who served as President Obama’s vice president for two terms, also has a team of campaign aides already assembled for the moment he decides to launch a White House bid, which is expected in early April.

Senate and House sources said Biden has been reaching out to allies on Capitol Hill with increasing frequency in recent weeks, having conversations about what his potential candidacy would look like. Biden, Democrats said, has talked about how he could win in the primary, making the case that a growing Democratic field would work in his favor and that, because of things like his blue-collar appeal, he would be the strongest candidate to beat Trump in a general election.

Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondHillicon Valley: House passes key surveillance bill | Paul, Lee urge Trump to kill FISA deal | White House seeks help from tech in coronavirus fight | Dem urges Pence to counter virus misinformation Lawmakers criticize Trump's slashed budget for key federal cyber agency Government report offers guidelines to prevent nationwide cyber catastrophe MORE (D-La.), the former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, has been speaking to Biden regularly and urging him to jump in the race. Richmond said he believes that Biden is “95 percent” committed to running and has been coordinating calls between Biden and other members of Congress. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonPelosi forms House committee to oversee coronavirus response Democrats introduce bill to set up commission to review coronavirus response Hillicon Valley: HHS hit by cyberattack amid coronavirus outbreak | Senators urge FCC to shore up internet access for students | Sanders ramps up Facebook ad spending | Dems ask DHS to delay Real ID deadline MORE (D-Miss.) said he has been informed that he’s on a “call list” and Biden should be reaching out soon.

Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDemocrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus Democratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Coronavirus stimulus package shouldn't leave out older Americans MORE Jr. (D-Pa.), a longtime Biden friend, said the former VP called him last week. While Biden wasn’t “declaratory” about a White House bid in that call, Casey told The Hill Tuesday, it would be “very surprising” if Biden didn’t run. 

One source familiar with Biden’s thinking says it’s all part of the former vice president’s mission “to check all boxes” before he officially announces he’s running.

“He’s basically in. He’s just running the traps, as he says,” the source said.

In a Monday interview with CBS, Democratic Sen. Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsSenate includes 0M for mail-in voting in coronavirus spending deal Hillicon Valley: Facebook reports huge spike in usage during pandemic | Democrats push for mail-in voting funds in coronavirus stimulus | Trump delays deadline to acquire REAL ID Democrats press for more stimulus funding to boost mail-in voting MORE, who now holds the Delaware Senate seat Biden held for 36 years, said he was “confident” that Biden would run.

“If he gets in, he’s the front-runner,” conceded a second House Democratic lawmaker, who has already endorsed another candidate for president. “He’s the standard that others will have to measure up to in terms of policy knowledge, in terms of his ability to run a presidential campaign, and folks who are close to him in the polls will have to compare themselves to Biden’s strengths.”

Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyOPM chief abruptly resigns The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the APTA - Biden looks for Super Tuesday surge; coronavirus fears heighten 'Liberated' Pelosi bashes Trump — and woos Democratic base MORE (D-Va.), a former Biden staffer during the 1980s, hasn’t spoken to Biden recently but said there is nothing stopping his former boss from running again.

“At this stage in life, he doesn’t have a lot to lose and has a lot to gain. And he has a lot to offer the country,” Connolly told The Hill outside of the Capitol. “He offers the prospect of some desperately needed healing in this country after this scourge.”

A new Monmouth University poll had Biden leading the pack, with 28 percent of likely Democratic voters saying they support him in the primary. Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSome Sanders top allies have urged him to withdraw from 2020 race: report We're at war and need wartime institutions to keep our economy producing what's necessary Larry David: Bernie Sanders should drop out of 2020 race MORE (I-Vt.) was a close second, with 25 percent, followed by Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisEnlisting tech to fight coronavirus sparks surveillance fears Biden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats Is Texas learning to love ObamaCare? MORE (D-Calif.), with 10 percent, and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog Biden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats Overnight Health Care: CDC recommends face coverings in public | Resistance to social distancing sparks new worries | Controversy over change of national stockpile definition | McConnell signals fourth coronavirus bill MORE (D-Mass.), with 8 percent.

But it won’t be smooth sailing for Biden. There is a concern among Democrats that while he would make a strong general election candidate, he would have a tough time in a primary because the party and many of his potential presidential rivals have tacked increasingly to the left.

The former vice president will also face decades-worth of opposition research — including his comments on the crime bill and his vote on the Iraq War — which portrays Biden as out of touch with the Democratic Party. And in the era of "Me Too," he will face criticism for his treatment of Anita Hill when he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee during Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings.

“He obviously has a wealth of experience that he brings, but he also has a lot of baggage,” Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalSome Sanders top allies have urged him to withdraw from 2020 race: report Pelosi says House will review Senate coronavirus stimulus package Critical supplies shortage hampers hospitals, health providers MORE (D-Wash.), a leading progressive in Congress, told The Hill. “He’s at a bit of a disadvantage. He’ll have challenges because of his history and what he represents in an increasingly diverse electorate.”

One Democratic lawmaker who spoke with Biden last week and has been encouraging him to run said the former vice president is very close to announcing his White House bid, barring some unforeseen complication.

“He’s 95 percent there, but he’s not 100 percent,” the Democratic lawmaker said. “He wants to make sure the due diligence is done, but it’s no secret he wants to go.”

Despite the swarm of senators already in the race — Sanders, Harris and Warren, as well as Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerEnlisting tech to fight coronavirus sparks surveillance fears Democrats urge administration to automatically issue coronavirus checks to more people Democrats ask EPA, Interior to pause rulemaking amid coronavirus MORE (D-N.J.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight Biden fights for attention in coronavirus news cycle Lawmakers already planning more coronavirus stimulus after T package MORE (D-N.Y.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharBiden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats Democrats fear coronavirus impact on November turnout Hillicon Valley: Zoom draws new scrutiny amid virus fallout | Dems step up push for mail-in voting | Google to lift ban on political ads referencing coronavirus MORE (D-Minn.) — one Democratic senator is hoping Biden joins the group.

“I love him,” the senator told The Hill, “and think he’s got a unique ability to connect with Americans in the Rust Belt who feel left behind by government.”

Updated at 3:20 p.m.