No Resolution to Biden's Talk Show

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, January 25, 2007

Chairman Joe Biden of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was trying to uphold two resolutions yesterday: one criticizing the Bush administration's Iraq policy and the other Biden's own resolution to himself -- to stop talking so much.

The Iraq resolution passed 12 to 9. Biden's other resolution failed, by a voice vote -- Biden's voice.

The Delaware Democrat and presidential hopeful ran the hearing more like a talk show host than a chairman: inviting the other senators to speak and then commenting on each senator's remarks.

He opened the hearing with a 3,000-word statement in which he used the word "I" 88 times, including a lengthy discussion of the types of questions he has asked himself and how he has answered himself. Finally, the committee's ranking Republican, Richard Lugar (Ind.) got a chance to speak. Then Biden spoke again. Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) introduced an amendment. Biden interrupted him four times, the last time stating, "I don't want to belabor the point."

By this point, Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) had heard enough Biden. "We're going to be here a long time, and I'd certainly like to speak," he announced with irritation. Biden yielded the floor to Sununu, but then interrupted him, too -- five times.

"Senator," Sununu eventually pleaded. "You've had a wonderful opportunity to express your views. I think many on the committee would at least like to express their own views, and I'm sure you'll have ample opportunity to respond."

For Biden, verbosity frequently tramples what might otherwise be profound points. Friends have urged him to put a sock in it, and he knows that his wordiness prevents him from being, as he has put it, "the best Biden I can be."

But, like any addict, he is prone to lapses. "I'll not interrupt again," he promised after one of his monologues yesterday -- this one after remarks by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) -- and then he broke the promise minutes later.

The veteran legislator is hardly the only one in the Senate, or on the committee, to suffer from long-windedness. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) used his time to rehash the 2004 campaign, arguing that everything he said about the Vietnam War decades ago was true. Kerry later went to the Senate floor to announce that he would not run for president in 2008 but meandered through the better part of half an hour before getting to the point.

But Biden suffers more publicly from the need to explain every contour of his thinking; he at once seems keenly aware that he should keep things moving, yet unaware of the need to stop himself from talking. Returning from a recess in yesterday's hearing, he vowed to finish the proceedings in 90 minutes, "God willing and the creek not rising, as my grandpop used to say." He urged fellow senators to be brief, saying that "even though there's much more to say, there will be plenty of opportunities to say it." More than once he referred to the senators waiting to speak in a "queue" -- he pronounced it "kway" -- but then extended the queue by inserting himself between each speaker.

"Let me just make two brief comments," he said after Lugar voiced opposition to the Iraq resolution.

"Let me respond briefly," he said after Dodd tried to strengthen the resolution. "And I'll try to be brief." One thousand words later, Dodd tried, with limited success, to reclaim the floor.

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