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

When Joe BidenJoe BidenThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Biden to debate for first time as front-runner Rules for first Democratic primary debates announced 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 Devi HarrisThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Biden to debate for first time as front-runner Rules for first Democratic primary debates announced MORE (Calif.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBiden to debate for first time as front-runner Rules for first Democratic primary debates announced Press: Democrats form circular firing squad MORE (N.J.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenAbigail Disney: 'We're creating a super-class' of rich people Is Big Tech biased? The Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations MORE (Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill's Morning Report - In exclusive interview, Trump talks Biden, Iran, SCOTUS and reparations Biden to debate for first time as front-runner Rules for first Democratic primary debates announced MORE (I-Vt.) — who have forged their own relationships in the upper chamber.

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“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: Democrats ask if EPA chief misled on vehicle emissions | Dem senators want NBC debate focused on climate change | 2020 hopeful John Delaney unveils T climate plan Democratic senators want NBC primary debate to focus on climate change Collins offering bill to boost battery research as GOP pushes energy 'innovation' 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 CarperSenate investigation finds multiple federal agencies left sensitive data vulnerable to cyberattacks for past decade Senate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions The '90-10 rule' in higher education is a target on veterans' backs MORE and Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsDemocrats want White House hopefuls to cool it on Biden attacks Senators revive effort to create McCain human rights commission Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion MORE of Delaware, plus Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinDemocratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Negotiators face major obstacles to meeting July border deadline Young activists press for change in 2020 election 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 ClintonBiden to debate for first time as front-runner Top Trump ally says potential Amash presidential bid could be problematic in Michigan Chaotic Trump transition leaks: Debates must tackle how Democrats will govern differently MORE in 2008 when she was the front-runner against Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden to debate for first time as front-runner John Kerry: Play based on Mueller report is 'an act of public service' Obama photographed alongside Clooney on boat in Italy 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 McCaskillConservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Lobbying world MORE (Mo.), who chose to support Obama instead.

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

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“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 MurphyOvernight Defense: Officials brief Congress after Iran shoots down drone | Lawmakers fear 'grave situation' | Trump warns Iran | Senate votes to block Saudi arms sales | Bombshell confession at Navy SEAL's murder trial Senate votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale Trump faces skepticism about Iran war authority from both parties 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 CaseyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump, Biden go toe-to-toe in Iowa Overnight Health Care: Biden infuriates abortion-rights groups with stance on Hyde Amendment | Trump tightens restrictions on fetal tissue research | Democrats plan event to scrutinize Trump's mental health The Hill's Morning Report - 2020 Dems, progressives preview anti-Biden offensive 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) TesterVA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Democrats aim to block defense money from being used on Trump border wall 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 CummingsNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question White House to block Conway from testifying over alleged Hatch Act violations 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 ClayCriticism punctuates Nadler's leadership of Trump probe FBI database stokes worries over facial recognition tech On The Money: US banks see profits rise | Pelosi 'optimistic' on infrastructure deal with Trump | Former Black Caucus staffers flex clout on K Street 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 TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question 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 FrankelOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Senators unveil sweeping bipartisan health care package | House lawmakers float Medicare pricing reforms | Dems offer bill to guarantee abortion access Republicans amp up attacks on Tlaib's Holocaust comments Overnight Health Care: Biden backs Medicare buy-in | New warnings as measles cases surpass record | House Dems propose M to study gun violence prevention 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 Elizabeth GillibrandRules for first Democratic primary debates announced Juan Williams: Warren on the rise 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the first Democratic showdown MORE, [Minnesota Sen.] Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharRules for first Democratic primary debates announced Senate set to bypass Iran fight amid growing tensions Sanders unveils student debt plan amid rivalry with Warren MORE, Elizabeth Warren — I would support any of them. Tulsi’s running too,” she said, referring to Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardRules for first Democratic primary debates announced What do millennials want? 2020 primary debate guide: Everything you need to know ahead of the first Democratic showdown 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.”