CAMBRIDGE, Md. – Days after President Obama delivered a combative State of the Union address in which he took aim at congressional Republicans as his 2012 re-election bid gears up, Vice President Biden followed up on Friday with searing criticism of GOP leaders and the presidential field.
In remarks at the annual House Democratic retreat here on the shore of Chesapeake Bay, Biden blasted House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) – as well as GOP presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich – by name, arguing that Republicans are out-of-step with the middle class and that their sole goal is to obstruct the White House.
“Boehner, Cantor and McConnell, they made it clear,” Biden told the more than 100 Democrats gathered at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay. “It’s about obstructing the president’s agenda. It’s about defeating Barack Obama.”
Biden’s remarks came on the third and final day of the annual House Democratic retreat, where Democrats are gearing up to go on offense against their GOP counterparts as they try to win back the House. His address also came hours before Obama is expected to speak to the retreat.
The vice president’s sharp rhetoric Friday stood in contrast to his unusually low-key delivery. Biden, wearing a suit but no tie, delivered the first half of his remarks in a low monotone and told the assembled Democrats he was getting over a cold.
But over the course of his nearly 50-minute remarks, Biden became more animated as he blasted Republicans and defended the White House’s agenda and Democrats’ record over the past three years.
“God love, you know, John Boehner,” Biden said. “And John’s a good guy. I sincerely like him personally. But John, when asked about compromise, said, ‘I reject the word.’ Well guess what? The American people are beginning to figure out, they reject the word, they reject the notion of compromise.”
Biden seized on Cantor’s remark that the August debt-ceiling vote was “a leverage moment.”
Republicans, he argued, “were using maybe the second most significant thing we inherited from our forefathers -- which was gold-plated, an absolutely gold-plated reputation around the world that there is never a doubt of America’s commitments to honor its debts -- and they used this as a leverage moment.”
And he blasted McConnell for his remark last year that the “single most important thing” for Republicans is to defeat Obama in 2012.
“I’m afraid they just can’t help themselves,” Biden said of congressional GOP leaders, accusing them of engaging in a “political strategy of obstruction and division.”
“The American people may straighten them out between now and November, not on capitulating, but on compromising,” he added.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel defended the speaker’s leadership in a statement Friday afternoon.
“Every time Speaker Boehner reached an agreement with the White House last year, the House of Representatives has passed it,” Steel said. “The problem is that the President and Vice President haven’t been willing to get serious and work with us to help create jobs - instead they’ve doubled-down on the policies that have made the economy worse.”
Biden then set his sights on the GOP field.
“Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney,” Biden said, “I think they’re slightly different. I think it’s about more than obstructionism. I think they actually believe what they’re saying.”
He cited a 2008 New York Times op-ed by Romney titled, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” and made note of several of Gingrich’s campaign-trail remarks, including his criticism of Obama as a “food stamp president” and his claim that “poor people have no habit of working.”
“It ends with Jan. 20th of next year, Barack and I again [at the White House]. ... I think we will win based purely on the merits of our position,” he said.
Referring to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Biden said that “she’s not going to be remembered for just being the first woman speaker; she’s going to be remembered for being the second woman speaker.”
He defended the Obama administration’s handling of foreign and economic policy, and spoke at length about “the middle class and those people aspiring to get into it” – a constituency that is shaping up to be the focal point of the Obama campaign’s 2012 effort.
“America is going to get an absolutely clear comparison this year,” he said, telling the Democrats that “the risks you took, and the losses we incurred, really did save this country.”
He went on to tell the Democrats that “this is about more than money; this is about who we are,” characterizing Democrats as the champions of the middle class.
“Guys, that’s what at stake,” he said. “And the president means it, by the way. That was not a political line in his State of the Union. I know this guy. I spend four to six hours a day with him.”
At one point near the end of his remarks, Biden also poked a little fun at himself.
“The American people are tired ... of being tired. I know that’s a Bidenism,” he said, pausing as some in the crowd chuckled, then continuing: “The American people are tired of being tired.”
As he has often done on the campaign trail, however, Biden stepped on his message somewhat when he praised Cantor at one point in his speech and said that the House majority leader did not, in fact, walk out of the August debt talks.
“When Cantor walked out of those talks, he didn’t walk out. He called me the day before and said, ‘Joe, I can’t come back,’” Biden said.
Nonetheless, his speech was the latest indication that Democrats are looking to launch a full offensive against Republicans on the income inequality issue ahead of November’s election – and that contrast is the name of the game.
Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.