Vice President Joe Biden apologized to President Barack Obama for upsetting the White House’s timetable for revealing the president’s support for same-sex marriage, according to an administration official.
Biden delivered the apology to the president the morning of May 9, before Obama gave an interview to ABC News in which he said he has had a change of heart and now supports legal gay marriage, the official said.
Biden’s comments in a May 6 broadcast of NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he is “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage marked the latest instance in which the vice president publicly stepped on the administration’s message. The remarks forced Obama to speed up his timetable for revealing his position on gay marriage, administration officials said.
“The president has been the leader on this issue from Day One and the vice president never intended to distract from that,” Kendra Barkoff, Biden’s press secretary, said in an e-mail. The New York Times reported the apology earlier.
In the ABC News interview in which he revealed his shift, Obama said Biden “probably got out a little bit over his skis” in making his remarks “out of a generosity of spirit.”
While Obama said he would have preferred to announce his position “in my own way, in my own terms,” there were no hard feelings. “All’s well that ends well.”
Biden established a reputation for verbal gaffes even before Obama selected him as a running mate.
At a retreat for Democratic House members in February 2009, shortly after taking office, Biden told his audience about an Oval Office conversation on reviving the economy, saying, “if we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, we stand up there and we make really tough decisions, there’s still a 30 percent chance we’re going to get it wrong.”
A week later, Obama was asked about it at a White House news conference.
“You know, I don’t remember exactly what Joe was referring to, not surprisingly,” Obama said to laughter. He said Biden “may have been suggesting” that “given the magnitude of the challenges that we have, any single thing that we do is going to be part of the solution, not all of the solution.”
In March 2010, an open microphone picked up Biden whispering into Obama’s ear before he signed landmark health-care legislation, “This is a big f----ng deal.”
Show of Candor
Such lapses may not be so politically damaging if they demonstrate candor, especially for a Democratic ticket running against a Republican challenger in Romney that the Obama team caricatures as an “Etch A Sketch” candidate changing positions for political convenience, said Steve Jarding, a Democratic political consultant and lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
“People are so cynical, so turned off, so distrustful and disillusioned with politics and politicians,” Jarding said. “In and of itself, having a guy speak his mind I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing.”
Biden also connects well with blue-collar whites, an especially important constituency in such battleground states as Ohio and Pennsylvania, where Biden grew up in Scranton, said Democratic political consultant Paul Begala.
That leavens the professorial manner some see in Obama, a graduate of Harvard Law School, Begala added.
“He speaks middle class,” Begala said. Despite 36 years in the U.S. Senate, “he doesn’t talk like a senator. He talks like a guy whose Dad sold cars in Scranton.”
Voicing New Policy
Administration officials who briefed reporters on the president’s decision to make public his support for same-sex marriage said Obama had changed his stance earlier this year. The president and about a half-dozen aides were still deliberating the time and place for the announcement when Biden made his remarks on “Meet the Press.”
The president’s advisers knew that Biden, though speaking on his own, would effectively be voicing a new policy when the recorded interview aired, according to the officials.
Gay rights advocates stepped up pressure on the White House for Obama to take a stand in favor of same-sex marriage following broadcast of Biden’s statement. Education Secretary Arne Duncan also expressed his support when asked about the issue the day after Biden’s statements aired.
Present the Issue
While Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said on May 7 he didn’t have any update on the president’s previous declaration that his view was “evolving,” other members of Obama’s team were working on ways to present the issue.
On May 8, before Obama left Washington for a trip to Albany, New York, to talk about the economy, Obama’s communications office called ABC News to arrange the interview, officials said.
In that interview, Obama described having conversations “over the course of several years” with family, friends and neighbors. He said he was moved by seeing members of his staff who are in long-term same-sex relationships and gays serving in the military who aren’t able to commit themselves in marriage.
“I’ve just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married,” Obama said.