Biden Sees Vice President's Role as 'Adviser in Chief,' Aides Say

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. emerges from a voting booth in Wilmington, Del.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. emerges from a voting booth in Wilmington, Del. (Rob Carr - AP)
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By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. sees his role in Barack Obama's administration as "adviser in chief," using his decades of experience in the Senate to offer the president candid input on domestic and foreign policy issues, according to Biden aides.

But Biden, a twice-failed presidential candidate, will not use the post in a way many vice presidents have: to make a play for the Oval Office. He has said publicly that he does not intend to run for the presidency again.

Although Vice President Cheney has performed a similar role in the Bush administration, advising the president on key issues, meeting with congressional leaders and eschewing his own presidential run, Biden intends to operate differently. In the vice presidential debate last month, Biden called Cheney "the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history," and he has criticized Cheney for excessive secrecy and holding too much power in the Bush White House.

"There will be cc's and not bcc's," said Antony Blinken, a top Biden adviser, referring to the practice in the current administration in which Cheney aides receive e-mails on key matters, but without other recipients knowing the vice president's staff is involved. "There is not going to be a shadow operation."

Biden aides said the senator from Delaware does not intend to take on a defining issue, as Al Gore sought to do with his "reinventing government" initiative, which aimed to improve the efficiency of the federal bureaucracy. Biden's team says such a project distracts from a vice president's ability to serve as a general adviser to the president.

Instead, they said, he is likely to take on special projects. They cited as an example Gore's work in the Clinton administration in helping negotiate an agreement with the Russian government to stop it from selling weapons to Iran.

Biden plans to spend much of his time working with his former congressional colleagues, possibly attending some of the weekly lunches hosted by Senate Democrats, looking to gain support from key lawmakers before Obama officially announces proposals to the public so he is aware of concerns from both Democrats and Republicans before they become major problems.

"I'm confident I'll be spending a fair amount of time" working with Congress, Biden said at a news conference in Ohio a few days before the election. "I really have genuine relationships with Republican leaders in the House and the Senate. . . . I've never once misled any of my colleagues, Democrat or Republicans."

But it is not clear how much impact Biden could actually have in getting bills passed. His closest friends on the GOP side, such as Sen. Richard G. Lugar (Ind.) and Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), are moderate Republicans who may not be able to win over their more conservative colleagues. And Biden's and Obama's generally liberal views diverge sharply from those of many Republicans in the House and the Senate.

Because of his foreign policy expertise -- he has been serving as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- he expects to weigh in on key security matters. Obama assured him that he would be consulted on all major issues, but Biden has pledged to stay out of the way of the secretary of state.

"Every major decision he'll be making, I'll be sitting in the room to give my best advice," Biden said in the vice presidential debate.

David Wade, Biden's campaign spokesman, said Obama reached out to Biden, once he dropped out of the presidential race in January, for advice on issues. The two have spoken at least every other day since Obama tapped him to be his running mate.

But Biden may have a tough time becoming Obama's top counselor. His relationship with Obama is not longstanding: They met when Obama was running for Senate in 2004.

The president-elect chats often with his lead political adviser, David Axelrod, whom he has known for more than a decade and with whom he has a much closer relationship than with Biden. And whomever Obama picks as his chief of staff will hold major sway as well.

"It can be a senior adviser-in-chief role, and I think Al Gore had that," said Charles Burson, who served as Gore's chief of staff in the last two years of the Clinton administration. "Whether or not Biden has that role goes back to the chemistry between he and President Obama."

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