Joe Biden is the most interesting politician who has no chance of becoming president

The New Yorker's Evan Osnos has been working on a profile about Vice President  Biden for months, and it finally published this week -- with a big focus on the vice president's role in the Ukraine crisis. Osnos conducted many interviews with Biden -- and even talked to President Obama. You should read the whole thing -- especially since the New Yorker archives are now open for browsing this summer -- but here's a look at some of the most interesting tidbits.


Vice President  Biden, right, walking near St. Michael's Cathedral in Kiev, Ukraine, on April. 22, 2014. (Sergei Chuzavkov/AP)

Obama: "In the foreign-policy front, I think Joe’s biggest influence was in the Afghanistan debate."

As the wars in the Middle East have ended, Biden has shifted to smaller foreign policy priorities, although his relationships in Ukraine have also proved invaluable. Osnos sums up his foreign policy role now as "big assignments that may not have a huge political upside" especially for someone who may be eying another presidential bid.

Obama adds, “You know, when I sent him to Ukraine for the recent inauguration of Poroshenko, and he’s there, a world figure that people know, and he’s signifying the importance that we place on the Ukrainian election,” Obama went on. “And then world leaders can transmit directly to him their thoughts about how we proceed. That’s not necessarily helping him in Iowa. ”

However, his political schmoozing skills have proved invaluable in international affairs throughout his career -- and continue to come in handy. Osnos writes, "After so many years, he has an arsenal of opening lines that he can deploy in Baghdad, Beijing, or Wilmington. One of his favorites: 'If I had hair like yours, I’d be President.'" George Mitchell, the Maine Senator who helped bring about the Good Friday Agreement, told Osnos that he "remembers welcoming visiting heads of state to Capitol Hill. 'I’d say, ‘Here’s Senator Smith, here’s Senator Jones.’ When I got to Joe, the leader would look out and say, 'Hi, Joe.' "

Joe Biden and Robert Gates do not like each other at all.

In his memoir, "Duty," former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Biden was "impossible not to like” but he was also “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.” When Osnos asked Biden about Gates, the vice president called him “a really decent guy,” but ... he went on to add, "You go back, and everything in the last forty years, there’s nothing that I can think of, major fundamental decisions relative to foreign policy, that I can think he’s been right about!"

Biden ended his soliloquy on Gates by later saying, “I can hardly wait — either in a Presidential campaign or when I’m out of here — to debate Bob Gates. Oh, Jesus.”

While we're on the topic of presidential campaigns, Biden's obviously thinking about one.

As you might have already noticed. He talks about it a lot.

But only if Hillary Clinton decides not to start her own campaign. When Osnos "asked John McCain, who is one of Biden’s close friends, if Biden would run without Clinton in the race, McCain said,'In a New York minute.' "

Obama doesn't get why either Clinton or Biden would ever want to run again.

“I think that, for both Joe and for Hillary, they’ve already accomplished an awful lot in their lives. The question is, do they, at this phase in their lives, want to go through the pretty undignifying process of running all over again.” 

Biden and Obama are pretty surprised they get along so well.

Osnos writes,

The trials facing the President and the Vice-President, who are separated by nineteen years and a canyon in style, have brought them closer than many expected — not least of all themselves. John Marttila, one of Biden’s political advisers, told me, “Joe and Barack were having lunch, and Obama said to Biden, ‘You and I are becoming good friends! I find that very surprising.’ And Joe says, ‘You’re [f***ing] surprised!’ ”

However, Biden adds that if he ever had a "fundamental moral disagreement" with Obama,"I’d announce I had prostate cancer and I had to leave.”

Bush once said he had gotten "a sense of his soul" after staring into the eyes of Vladimir Putin. Biden later told Putin, "I don’t think you have a soul."

Borrowing comedic tactics from "Arrested Development," Biden turned an immortal line from the Bush presidency into a callback.

To illustrate his emphasis on personality as a factor in foreign affairs, Biden recalled visiting Putin at the Kremlin in 2011: “I had an interpreter, and when he was showing me his office I said, ‘It’s amazing what capitalism will do, won’t it? A magnificent office!’ And he laughed. As I turned, I was this close to him.” Biden held his hand a few inches from his nose. “I said, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, I’m looking into your eyes, and I don’t think you have a soul.’ ”

“You said that?” I asked. It sounded like a movie line.

“Absolutely, positively,” Biden said, and continued, “And he looked back at me, and he smiled, and he said, ‘We understand one another.’ ” Biden sat back, and said, “This is who this guy is!”

Biden isn't a fan of the more rebellious additions to the Senate.

He told Osnos,  "I’ll never forget the first time I heard someone on the floor of the Senate refer to the President as Bubba." The profile also notes that "Biden’s friendships were so varied that he was the only senator who was asked to speak at funerals for both Strom Thurmond, the former segregationist, and Frank Lautenberg, the New Jersey Democrat, who called Biden 'the only Catholic Jew.' "

There are lots of wonderful descriptions of Biden's inherent Biden-ness.

To wit:

  • "When he was thirty years old, he became one of the youngest senators in history, and he has parted with youth begrudgingly. His smile has been rejuvenated to such a gleam that it inspired a popular tweet during the last campaign: 'Biden’s teeth are so white they’re voting for Romney.' At seventy-one, with his hairline reforested and his forehead looking becalmed, Biden projects the glow of a grandfather just back from the gym, which is often the case."
  • "Biden likes to be candid in such settings. In 1979, on one of his first trips to the Soviet Union, he listened to an argument from his Soviet counterpart, and replied, 'Where I come from, we have a saying: You can’t [sh** a sh**ter.]' Bill Bradley, then a fellow-senator on the delegation, later asked the American interpreter how he had translated Biden’s comment into Russian. 'Not literally,' the interpreter said."
  • "The full package — the Ray-Ban aviators, the shameless schmalz, the echoes of the Fonz — has never endeared him to the establishment, but it lends him an air of authenticity that is rare in his profession. It has also produced a whiff of cult appeal, such that his image now has more in common with Betty White than with John Boehner."
  • "Biden rule No. 1: No funny hats."
  • "Biden held on to his locker at the Senate gym, where he liked to kibbitz."
  • "Biden is such a close talker that he occasionally bumps his forehead into you mid-chat, a gesture so minor that it’s notable only when you try to picture Barack Obama doing the same thing."
Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.
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