Endorsements? Biden can't count on a flood from the Senate

When Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris to host virtual Hollywood campaign event co-chaired by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling Trump plans to accept Republican nomination from White House lawn US seizes four vessels loaded with Iranian fuel MORE enters the presidential race next month, it’s not a given that the former vice president will have a ton of support from his old Senate colleagues.

Biden served in the Senate for 36 years, but his time only overlaps with 18 Democrats who are still in the upper chamber. Nearly 30 Democrats, most a generation younger than Biden, have never served a day with the former chairman of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations panels.

He’ll also be squaring off against a half dozen current senators — including Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisHarris to host virtual Hollywood campaign event co-chaired by Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling Democrats hammer Trump for entertaining false birther theory about Harris Hillicon Valley: 'Fortnite' owner sues Apple after game is removed from App Store | Federal agencies seize, dismantle cryptocurrency campaigns of major terrorist organizations MORE (Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerOn The Money: Pelosi, Mnuchin talk but make no progress on ending stalemate | Trump grabs 'third rail' of politics with payroll tax pause | Trump uses racist tropes to pitch fair housing repeal to 'suburban housewife' The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden, Harris make first public appearance as running mates Booker hits back at Trump tweet, mocks misspelling of name MORE (N.J.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenChris Wallace: Trump struggling with attacks on 'shape-shifter' Harris Markey riffs on JFK quote in new ad touting progressive bona fides Howard Kurtz: Kamala Harris 'getting walk on water coverage' by media after VP pick MORE (Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersChris Wallace: Trump struggling with attacks on 'shape-shifter' Harris Kamala Harris: The outreach Latinos need Biden and Harris seen as more moderate than Trump and Pence: poll MORE (I-Vt.) — who have forged their own relationships in the upper chamber.

ADVERTISEMENT

“It’s a different Senate today. The challenge for him will be there are so many new senators and where that center of gravity lands, I think it’s too early to tell,” said Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Watchdog report raises new questions for top Interior lawyer | Senate Democrats ask Trump to withdraw controversial public lands nominee | Border wall water use threatens endangered species, environmentalists say Senate Democrats ask Trump to withdraw controversial public lands nominee Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic MORE (D-N.M.), who arrived in the Senate in 2013, four years after Biden had left to become vice president.

“I have a lot of respect for him,” said Heinrich, who is 47. “My bias is that we have this new, incredible generation of leadership and that in 2020, my hope is that the race will reflect that and I would like to see the nominee reflect that.”

To date, Biden has secured endorsements from three Democratic senators: Biden’s two home-state senators, Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperNot a pretty picture: Money laundering and America's art market OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump's pitch to Maine lobstermen falls flat | White House pushed to release documents on projects expedited due to coronavirus | Trump faces another challenge to rewrite of bedrock environmental law NEPA White House pushed to release documents on projects expedited due to coronavirus MORE and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsCongress should remove roadblocks to generosity for nonprofits Obamas, Clintons to headline Biden's nominating convention Wary GOP eyes Meadows shift from brick-thrower to dealmaker MORE of Delaware, plus Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenators ask for removal of tariffs on EU food, wine, spirits: report Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing MORE (Calif.), who served with Biden on the Judiciary Committee when he was chairman. Freshman Sen. Doug Jones (Ala.) also has been publicly encouraging Biden to run.

All four senators have lavished praise on the former vice president even though he still hasn’t officially entered the race. In January, Feinstein went as far as saying: “My candidate would be Joe Biden.”

But many others on Capitol Hill are not rushing to endorse Biden, who could face the same problems that plagued then-New York Sen. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Senate leaves until September without coronavirus relief deal Gloria Steinem: Selection of Kamala Harris recognizes that 'black women ... are the heart and soul of the Democratic Party' MORE in 2008 when she was the front-runner against Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaUS blocking private charter flights to Cuba Biden, Harris to address Democratic convention from Chase Center in Delaware Kamala Harris is now under the protection of Secret Service: report MORE.

Back then, Clinton was taken aback when her Senate colleagues — many of whom she had known for years — turned their backs on her and supported Obama, at the time a senator from Illinois. The toughest blow for Clinton may have been when the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (Mass.) endorsed Obama, but she felt betrayed by other senators like Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillDemocratic-linked group runs ads in Kansas GOP Senate primary Trump mocked for low attendance at rally Missouri county issues travel advisory for Lake of the Ozarks after Memorial Day parties MORE (Mo.), who chose to support Obama instead.

The 76-year-old Biden could be put in a similar situation.

ADVERTISEMENT

“There may be quite a few senators who vote with their hearts,” said one longtime Senate aide, adding that it will be an “uphill climb” for Biden.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he and Biden are “friends” but that he has not heard from the vice president in awhile.

“You know what, I don’t know,” Blumenthal said when asked if he plans to endorse anyone.

The other senator from Connecticut, Democrat Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats ramp up warnings on Russian election meddling Democrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee Democrats try to force Trump to boost medical supplies production MORE, campaigned with Biden in Hartford last fall and worked with him on gun control in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in 2012. But with so many current Senate colleagues running, Murphy said he’ll probably steer clear of an endorsement.  

“I have great admiration for him. I think everybody who joins the field makes it better and stronger,” Murphy said of Biden. “He brings a national security background that I think will challenge the rest of the field to step up their game.

But he added: “I have lots of friends running, so I would be foolish to wade in. It’s a no-brainer for me.”

Biden has been in touch with members of the Senate.

Murphy said he recently spoke with Biden on some policy matters but did not discuss the presidential race. Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseySenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Fred Upton says it is 'tragic' to see Americans reject masks, social distancing; Russia claims it will approve COVID-19 vaccine by mid-August People with disabilities see huge job losses; will pandemic roll back ADA gains? MORE Jr. (D-Pa.), who is close to Biden and represents the state where he was born, has been in contact with him in recent weeks. And Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - At loggerheads, Congress, White House to let jobless payout lapse Overnight Defense: Senate poised to pass defense bill with requirement to change Confederate base names | Key senator backs Germany drawdown | Space Force chooses 'semper supra' as motto Democrats call for expedited hearing for Trump's public lands nominee MORE (D-Mont.), who briefly overlapped with Biden in the Senate, said he called his former colleague two weeks ago to catch up on his likely White House bid and other issues.

Asked if he was encouraging Biden to run, Tester replied: “I certainly would not discourage him. Joe’s a good friend.”

The change in the Senate “has been generational,” Tester said, “but he still has a lot of old friends.”

Across the Capitol in the House, support for Biden has been hit or miss. Behind the scenes, he’s been reaching out to a select group of lawmakers and asking for their endorsements.

Biden’s longtime adviser Steve Richetti also has been making calls to shore up support. Ricchetti even invited Rep. Don Beyer, the former Virginia lieutenant governor and a key House fundraiser, over to his home for dinner recently, though Beyer described the evening as two old friends catching up rather than a Biden pitch for president.

But the Biden calls and invites aren’t going out to everyone.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsTrump rips Bill Maher as 'exhausted, gaunt and weak' Bill Maher delivers mock eulogy for Trump The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden comes to Washington to honor John Lewis MORE (D-Md.) has known Biden for decades but said he hasn’t spoken to him “in years.” Another veteran Democrat, Rep. Lacy ClayWilliam (Lacy) Lacy ClayOcasio-Cortez celebrates 'squad' primary victories: 'The people triumphed' Allegations roil progressive insurgent's House bid Ryan Grim rejects claim that 'insurgent' Democratic movement is 'inherently racist' MORE (Mo.), hasn’t heard directly from Biden either, though he’s been in touch with two other 2020 hopefuls, Harris and Booker, his colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

“They serve in the Congress with me and in the CBC, so I am considering both of them,” Clay told The Hill. “They both seem to be doing pretty well out there on the campaign trail as far as attracting crowds, speaking to the issues that Americans care about.”

One of Biden’s strongest arguments in a Democratic primary is the idea that he can beat President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE in states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania that turned away from Democrats in 2016.

It’s not hard to imagine Biden being a favored candidate among House lawmakers representing swing districts that Trump won in the last presidential election.

At the same time, there’s reason for House liberals to think twice about backing Biden, who supported the Iraq War and whose chairmanship of the Anita Hill hearings during Justice Clarence Thomas's confirmation process has come under new scrutiny.

Rep. Lois FrankelLois Jane FrankelMatt Gaetz, Roger Stone back far-right activist Laura Loomer in congressional bid Former cop Demings faces progressive pushback in veepstakes Gloves come off as Democrats fight for House seat in California MORE (D-Fla.), co-chair of the bipartisan Women’s Caucus, said she’ll be backing a woman in 2020, though she hasn’t decided which one.

“In my heart … we have so many good women running for president, I would like to see one of them make it,” Frankel told The Hill.

“Kamala Harris, Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandIn the next relief package Congress must fund universal COVID testing Expanding our health force can save lives and create jobs simultaneously Sanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic MORE, [Minnesota Sen.] Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharElection security advocates see strong ally in Harris The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - The choice: Biden-Harris vs. Trump-Pence California Democrats back Yang after he expresses disappointment over initial DNC lineup MORE, Elizabeth Warren — I would support any of them. Tulsi’s running too,” she said, referring to Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardTrump and allies grapple with how to target Harris It's Harris — and we're not surprised Democrat Kai Kahele wins Hawaii primary to replace Tulsi Gabbard MORE (D-Hawaii). 

Some Biden allies said they don’t put too much stock in the congressional endorsement game. Clinton had overwhelming support among her former Senate colleagues in 2016, yet Sanders mounted a stronger-than-expected challenge in the primary that year, Carper recalled.

And Hill surrogates aren’t always on message. A close Biden friend for four decades, Carper played a practical joke on a reporter from The Hill who asked whether Biden was close to jumping in.

“I heard this morning that he’s getting cold feet and that his wife has had second thoughts. And you know what they say in the Biden household: Happy wife, happy life,” Carper said with a serious expression. “I expect him to announce that he’s not going to run.”

“Are you joking?” the reporter replied.

A wide smile appeared on Carper’s face: “It’s not a joke; it’s an outright lie.”

The senior senator from Delaware said he knows the entire gaggle of senators running for president very well, adding that there are no bad feelings given his early Biden endorsement.

“In that gathering,” Carper said, “there are a lot of terrific potential vice presidential candidates.”