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After 36 Years, Joe Biden Has a New Job

Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill, share a toast with the new first couple during the post-inauguration lunch in the Capitol's Statuary Hall.
Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill, share a toast with the new first couple during the post-inauguration lunch in the Capitol's Statuary Hall. (By Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)
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By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

At 11:58 yesterday morning, the self-proclaimed "Senate man" finally changed jobs.

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Delaware's Joseph R. Biden Jr. was sworn in as vice president of the United States by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, in the likely culmination of a political rise that began when Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972 at age 29. He is the first person in his state's history to become vice president or president.

Biden spent much of his first day in office joining the incoming president, Barack Obama, at events, including the inaugural ceremonies and parade and a lunch on Capitol Hill. He spoke via satellite to troops in Iraq while attending an official inaugural ball for members of the military and their families last night.

In brief remarks at the inaugural lunch, which included senators, Supreme Court justices and former presidents, Biden praised his former colleagues in Congress and noted the importance of "coequal branches of government."

"Mr. President, you've inspired a nation," he said, calling Obama "my new boss."

The day marked a new chapter in Biden's political life. Famous for riding into work every morning on the Amtrak train from his home in Wilmington, he stayed at a Washington hotel on the eve of his swearing-in. He plans now to spend most nights in Washington at the Naval Observatory, the traditional residence of the vice president.

Biden has been known as one of the most long-winded members of the Senate, but a day full of speeches in Washington included few words from the incoming vice president, whose new job may at times be less public than his role as a senator, which frequently put him in the media spotlight. Yesterday, Biden hewed to the vice presidential tradition of not giving a speech at the inauguration.

Biden's new role, as he describes it, is "counselor in chief" to Obama. Rather than taking on a specific portfolio such as former vice president Al Gore, who headed up an initiative to improve the efficiency of the federal government, Biden has said Obama pledged that the vice president will be consulted on all major decisions on both domestic and foreign policy.

During the transition, Biden has said Obama aides lived up to this promise, consulting him on all major Cabinet picks.

In his few weeks in office, the vice president will lead a task force on how to increase the number of Americans in the middle class. And Biden, who during the transition called GOP senators to encourage them to back a financial stimulus package that could cost more than $700 billion, is likely to continue to lobby his former colleagues to back Obama's agenda.

Biden has promised that he will operate differently than the outgoing vice president, Richard B. Cheney, who Democrats complained had too much influence in the Bush administration. Wary of any suggestion he would play an outsize role in foreign policy, Biden on Monday night clarified a remark his wife, Jill, made during a taping of the "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Jill Biden had suggested Obama offered her husband the choice of being vice president or secretary of state, a nomination that ultimately went to Hillary Rodham Clinton. Biden had said earlier in the campaign that Obama talked with him about being secretary of state, but his office released a statement saying he had been offered only the post he accepted.

The job is also likely to be his last in politics. The longtime senator, twice an unsuccessful candidate for president, has said he would not seek that job in 2016, even if he and Obama had two successful terms.


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