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Joe Biden, gay marriage and 2016

at 02:15 PM ET, 05/10/2012

Opinion varies about why Vice President Joe Biden seemed to endorsed gay marriage during an appearance last Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press”.


Vice President Joe Biden gestures while speaking to students and educators about student loans, Thursday, May 10, 2012, during a White House Briefing on College Affordability in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Was this Biden being Biden, a politician with a penchant for speaking off the cuff doing just that? Was it an authorized trial balloon directed by the White House to test reaction to President Obama coming out in favor of gay marriage? Or, most deliciously, was this Biden acting alone — but not by accident — in an attempt to bolster his 2016 prospects?

On that question, there is considerable disagreement although most people reject the idea that Biden was put out as a guinea pig for the White House almost out of hand.

President Obama said as much, telling ABC’s Robin Roberts that Biden “probably got a little bit over his skis” on the issue. And, in the stories detailing the back story of Obama’s decision, it’s clear that the White House would have preferred to make this decision later this summer and that Biden forcing the President’s hand was not appreciated.

Here’s how a story in Politico cast the matter:

“Biden’s remarks on ‘Meet the Press’ deeply annoyed Obama’s team, people close to the situation tell POLITICO, because it aggrandized his role at the expense of Obama’s yeoman efforts on behalf of the community and pushed up the timing of a sensitive announcement they had hoped to break — at a time and place of their own choosing — in the weeks leading up to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this fall.”

So, if Biden wasn’t acting at the behest of the White House, the next question is whether he was simply speaking out of school, which he has turned into something of a cottage industry over his long political career, or whether he was doing a bit of 2016 positioning.

One Democratic strategist, granted anonymity to speak candidly about the Vice President, said there was no personal political motivation in his comments about same sex marriage.

“This verbal miscue feels like we’re back to the Old Biden, but the VP is not getting thrown out with the bath water.” said the source. “Going forward, he will have been on the right side of history and the overwhelming majority of his party.”

Added a source close to Biden: “This was Biden being Biden and speaking personally and from the heart.”

Other Democrats, however, saw more Machiavellian motives in Biden’s seeming support for same-sex marriage.

“On one level, Biden has merely drawn even with other prominent ‘mentions’ for 2016 — [New York Gov. Andrew] Cuomo and [Maryland Gov. Martin] O’Malley have been ahead of the Administration,” said one senior party operative. “On a broader level, this puts him with the forward-looking younger politicos in the Democratic party, which is company he dearly needs to keep if he has genuine aspirations for 2016.”

Both Cuomo and O’Malley helped shepherd same sex marriage laws through their respective state legislatures over the past year and given the President’s stated support for same-sex marriage, it’s virtually impossible to imagine any Democrat winning the party’s presidential nomination without being expressly supportive of it.

For those who scoff at the idea of Biden potentially running in 2016, it’s worth remembering a few things.

First, he has expressly refused to rule out a bid; “I’ll make up my mind on that later,” Biden told CNN’s Candy Crowley in October of last year, adding: “I’m in one of the, probably the best shape I’ve been in in my life.”

Second, Biden has already run for president not once but twice before. The fire just doesn’t go out. In fact, the Fix is a firm believer that the best predictor of running for president in the future is that you have run for president in the past. (Hillary Clinton, we are looking at you.)

Third, as Politico’s Glenn Thrush pointed out in a story recently, Biden has surrounded himself with a very high-end level of staff for someone who has no aspirations beyond a second term as vice president.

The counter, of course, is that Biden would be in his 70s in 2016 — he was born in November 1942 — which is older than any president ever elected to a first term.

Biden’s reasons for speaking out on same sex marriage are his own and, therefore, virtually impossible to totally nail down. But regardless of why he did it, Biden set in motion a major change in the President’s position that could well have political impact for both men in 2012 and beyond.

 
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