Will 2013 be Joe Biden’s year?

January 2, 2013

President Obama delivered a statement at the White House late Tuesday night praising Congress for passing a deal to avert the fiscal cliff. Flanking him was Vice President Biden, the man who hammered out that deal.

It was a signature moment for a vice president who's experienced a roller-coaster first term. And it solidified Biden's standing as a key player in two of the administration's most immediate legislative priorities following the 2012 election. 

Only time will tell, but it may all amount to a boost in the vice president's popularity as well as his place in the early speculation about 2016. 


(Charles Dharapak/AP)

Biden's poll numbers were underwhelming at points during the 2012 campaign, though he appeared to bounce back a bit after Obama was reelected. 

A Washington Post-ABC News poll in August found Biden with just as many regarding him unfavorably as favorably -- 43 percent apiece -- a far cry from his peak popularity just before he took office in 2009. Then, 63 percent held favorable views of him. More recently though, Biden's approval rating was 54 percent in late-December CNN/ORC survey, with just 40 percent disapproving of the job he was doing. 

But for Biden, the challenge has not only been to evoke positive feelings among Americans, but also to project a seriousness about politics and policy. His off-the-cuff, gaffe-prone style has hurt the administration more than once. 

The caricature of Biden as a gaffe-machine extends well beyond Washington: It's permeated popular culture and affected the way people broadly think about him. 

A Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll conducted in early September found   “good,” “honest,” and “OK” to be among the most common single-word descriptions of Biden. But “clown,” “funny,” “a joke,” “goofy,” “buffoon” and “comical" were also frequently mentioned. 

That's why Biden's role in crucial legislative battles is so important. For a pol known mostly for his style over these past four years, the negotiations are a way for Biden to earn his stripes on substantive matters as a member of the Obama Administration. And for a man who hasn't ruled out a 2016 presidential bid  -- even as some observers see the odds that Biden will run and win as long -- it could make him a more appealing prospect. 

Biden's deal on the fiscal cliff wasn't the first time the former Senator struck an agreement with Republican Mitch McConnell in high-stakes fiscal negotiations: During the 2010 debate over the George W. Bush tax cuts and the 2011 wrangling over the debt ceiling, Biden and McConnell came to agreements other political players weren't able to reach. 

From the Senate, Biden immediately moved to the House on Tuesday, where he briefed Democratic lawmakers on the package he helped create and drummed up support for it. One House Democrat described Biden's pitch as a “point-by-point presentation."

For Biden, a veteran of Capitol Hill who has cultivated longstanding relationships with lawmakers, a return trip to Congress to court support for legislative priorities at the top of the president's list may soon be in the offing. The vice president's been tasked by Obama to lead a working group to come up with ways to reduce gun violence in the wake of the recent mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn. school. 

Biden's impact on the campaign trail has received as much attention as his work in the administration. His easygoing demeanor and ability to connect with voters is a major reason Obama put him on the 2008 ticket. And in his role as campaign surrogate, Biden has filled gaps for Obama, stumping in places where his style is a good fit. With his success during the fiscal cliff negotiations, he similarly stepped up where the president needed him in Washington. 

The next several months may be a crucial period for the vice president who many have come to view as more court jester than policy player. He's looking at an opportunity to be a major part of some big discussions that could dramatically reshape the way the public views him. 

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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