Biden Won’t Seek Democratic Nomination, Clearing Clinton's Path

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Joe Biden Says He Will Not Seek Presidency
  • Vice president cites son's death as factor in decision
  • Biden says he will continue to speak out during campaign

Vice President Joe Biden won’t seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, ending months of deliberation and speculation and clearing the path for Hillary Clinton.

The long process of grieving over the death of his son Beau has closed the window on any chance of mounting a presidential campaign, Biden said in a hastily arranged announcement Wednesday from the White House Rose Garden. President Barack Obama and Biden’s wife, Jill Biden, stood at his side.

“I couldn’t do this if the family wasn’t ready. The good news is the family has reached that point,” Biden said. “Unfortunately, I believe we’re out of time, the time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination.”

Biden made the decision last night following months of deliberation and consultations with a close circle of advisers, according to a person close to the vice president. His announcement clarifies the choice before the party’s voters even as Clinton faces a challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and two other Democrats who are trying to position themselves as an alternative to the former secretary of state.

Clinton called Biden after the vice president’s announcement at the White House, her spokesman said, and in a statement, she called Biden "a good man and a great vice president.”

Past and Future

At 72, Biden has likely run his last campaign for elected office. He may be considered for secretary of state or other presidential nominations or appointments should Democrats prevail in next year’s general election. Biden served as a U.S. senator for 36 years and unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1988 and 2008 before becoming Obama’s running mate. 

He said he would continue to advocate for his policy priorities in the 2016 race, including limiting the influence of wealthy people in campaigns, reducing higher-education costs, bolstering middle-income families and reworking the tax code.

Speaking Out

“I will not be silent,” Biden said Wednesday. “I intend to speak out clearly and forcefully to influence, as much as I can, where we stand as a party and where we need to go as a nation.”

On the eve of his announcement, Biden spent the day at a tribute to former Vice President Walter Mondale and had a private lunch with Obama. At the tribute, he praised Mondale and former President Jimmy Carter for empowering the vice presidency and turning it into more of a partnership -- and casting his own relationship with Obama in those terms.

As he has at other recent events, Biden sought to frame his legacy and try to set some terms for the Democratic race. During a panel discussion, Biden recast how he counseled Obama about the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden. He said he wasn’t against the strike, as Clinton and even Biden himself had previously suggested. Instead, he said Tuesday that had sought to buy Obama time and space to decide while privately supporting a raid.

Obama’s Record

Biden spoke repeatedly about how close he and Obama are and how no other Cabinet official had the same bond. And he emphasized his view that any Democrat who considers Republicans to be the enemy is naive, an indirect jab at Clinton who said at last week’s Democratic debate that she considered Republicans among her enemies.

Looking ahead to the campaign, Biden said the Democratic nominee should carry the banner of the Obama presidency into the general election.

“This party, our nation, will be making a tragic mistake if we walk away or attempt to undo the Obama legacy,” Biden said in the Rose Garden. “Democrats should not only defend this record and protect this record, they should run on this record.”

Biden always left open the possibility of running in 2016 when Obama’s second term was up. The vice president saw his eldest child, Beau, a military veteran who served as Delaware’s attorney general and planned to run for governor, as the successor to his political legacy and a future presidential contender. 

Son’s Diagnosis

Beau’s diagnosis of brain cancer in August 2013 put the vice president’s own political considerations on the back burner, and when the cancer came back after a remission, it proved fatal. Beau died in May at age 46, devastating Biden and his wife and leaving him focused on his family through a long, sad summer.

He said today that he would spend the remainder of his vice presidency pressing for legislation "to end cancer as we know it today."

"I know there are Democrats and Republicans on the Hill who share our passion to silence this deadly disease," he said. "If I could be anything, I would have wanted to have been the president who ended cancer, because it’s possible."

The National Institutes of Health, a government agency that finances about $30 billion in biomedical research each year, expects to dedicate about $5.4 billion in 2015 to cancer work. That figure is more or less unchanged since 2011.

Campaign Toll

Biden and his aides were confident he was better poised for a presidential bid after seven years as Obama’s understudy than in his two previous attempts, and felt that he better represented Democratic Party ideals than Clinton and could be less divisive in a general election. But was Biden emotionally ready for the toll of a campaign? 

“Its obvious to me that the pain is very deep within him,” Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said in an interview at the Capitol shortly after Biden’s announcement. “I think he did the right thing.”

Those close to him saw a shattered man. But in an Aug. 1 column in the New York Times, Maureen Dowd reported that Biden was “talking to friends, family and donors about jumping in” and that at the end of his life Beau sought to convince his father to run. An outside group, Draft Biden, was formed to raise money and lay organizational groundwork. And Biden ramped up his private and public dialogue, including meeting on Aug. 22 with Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat and Wall Street critic embraced by many party liberals.

At the same time, he was up against societal forces of change and a hunger in the Democratic Party for the first woman president to follow the first black president. He also faced a formidable opponent in Clinton, a former secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady, who was amassing talented operatives, major donors and an organizational structure as Biden focused on and later grieved for his son.

Nor did there seem to be a hunger among voters for Biden to enter the race. In a Bloomberg Politics/Saint Anselm New Hampshire Poll, Biden placed a distant third behind Clinton and Sanders.

Biden lacked a strong base of support in Iowa, the first caucus state and the place where his 2008 bid died. If he were to run, his success would hinge on winning South Carolina. Even then, his path likely would have required sizable portions of the Democratic establishment to abandon Clinton.

Biden’s third place showing in most polls has "more to do with how strong her and Bernie’s hold is on their voters,” said Joe Trippi, a chief strategist for Democratic presidential candidates Howard Dean in 2004 and John Edwards in 2008. That, he added, would have made it harder for Biden to go on the attack against his potential rivals.

“He’s going to go out at an all-time high, and everybody’s heart is with him all the way,” Feinstein said.

“To a great extent the die is cast” in the Democratic nomination, she added. “It’s one thing if our nominee -- or if Hillary, for example, were going down. She isn’t, she’s going up.”

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