“It wasn’t a good deal,” one top White House official said at the time. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal thinking, also said that Republicans tend to pick up the phone and call Biden when they are trying to get something past the White House that is “not good for us.”
This year, Biden has focused almost exclusively on gun control. Obama tasked him with building public momentum around such proposals as universal background checks for gun buyers and limits on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as with lobbying senators to pass them.
Washington Post photojournalist Melina Mara talks about her behind-the-scenes photos of Vice President Joe Biden. Mara received unprecedented access to the vice president as he rode in his limousine and met privately with advocates, politicians and civil rights leaders.
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Biden succeeded at galvanizing the public but not at the inside game. Just minutes before a Senate minority blocked a compromise on background checks, Biden was exasperated at having been outmaneuvered by the National Rifle Association.
“I hope to God that there’s 60 people up there who have the courage to stand up,” Biden said, referring to the tally needed in the 100-seat Senate. By then, however, he knew the vote was going to fall short.
Still, the tragic backdrop of the gun debate played to Biden’s humane side. Whenever Biden encountered former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who is recovering from a 2011 shooting in Tucson, the vice president would praise the nurses at her side, who tend to go unrecognized.
“To turn his attention for five solid minutes to a nurse and say, ‘You do God’s work’ . . . they come home from our trips just blown away,” said Pia Carusone, Giffords’s top aide.
Biden got emotional every time he spoke about “those beautiful little babies” shot dead Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six adults were slain in a school massacre. He forged relationships with Newtown families, making long calls to them at night from his residence. Sometimes Biden told them about how he lost his first wife and 1-year-old daughter in a 1972 car accident. But often he would just listen.
“Most of the discussion is him with the phone to his ear and listening to a mom and dad’s grief or how they’re coping,” Beau Biden said. “I just think he helps them get to the next day.”
Scott Clement and Karen Tumulty contributed to this report.
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