Correction to This Article
A photo caption with the article incorrectly indicated that Vice President Biden was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearings for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. Biden (D-Del.) was on the committee, but Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who was then a Republican, was the chairman.

Biden's Advisory Role Expands to Supreme Court Pick

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 11, 2009

The person in the White House most knowledgeable about Supreme Court nominations sits in the vice president's office.

With President Obama filling his first high court vacancy with the retirement of Justice David H. Souter, Vice President Biden finds himself regularly consulting with the president and fielding queries from the White House counsel and others for insights on the process.

"The president is basically taking advantage of my experiences by asking me nuanced questions about both individuals and timing," Biden said in an interview Friday. "We've gone through specific nominees, which we're burrowing in on."

A former head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden chaired half a dozen Supreme Court confirmation hearings and voted on every sitting justice with the exception of John Paul Stevens. His feel for the personalities, complexities and sensitivities of the process has been forged during some of the most explosive confirmation battles, including those of Justice Clarence Thomas and Judge Robert H. Bork, the conservative legal scholar who was rejected by the Senate.

Although Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is leading the search, which is being run through the White House counsel's office, Biden and the president have gone over lists of potential nominees, discussed the best ways to approach senators about a prospective pick, and talked about when it would be best to announce a choice.

For Biden, the consultative role is part of his expanding portfolio as Obama's all-purpose adviser, globe-trotting emissary and political handyman.

After a 36-year career of being his own boss in the Senate, Biden is adjusting to what it means to work for someone else, be it on the issue of the Supreme Court or foreign policy.

With ethnic tensions again flaring in the Balkans, Biden, who helped encourage the U.S. military intervention there in the 1990s, is being dispatched to the region later this month. Even before they were sworn in, Obama sent Biden to Iraq and Afghanistan to get a firsthand look at the war efforts.

He traveled to Europe more than a month ahead of Obama to signal the administration's intention to recalibrate its transatlantic relationships. Biden was also dispatched to Latin America on a scouting mission before Obama visited Mexico and attended a meeting of Caribbean and South American leaders in Trinidad and Tobago last month.

"He has traveled more than any vice president" at the start of an administration, said Ronald A. Klain, Biden's chief of staff. "Having a vice president who can do that kind of work has been a large asset to the president."

When longtime Republican Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) announced late last month that he would become a Democrat, Biden was credited with playing a lead role in coaxing his old friend into crossing over.

Biden also has been put in charge of the administration's $787 billion economic stimulus plan. He has traveled the country to tout the legislation's merits, rubbed shoulders with union members, met with educators and talked to local officials. Biden also heads the president's "middle-class" task force, which is looking at ways to reverse economic trends that in the past eight years have left many workers struggling as the costs of health care, education and other essentials have risen faster than their incomes.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2009 The Washington Post Company