Will Joe Biden Run? Unanswered Question Follows His Travels

  • Vice president heads to California, Michigan and Ohio
  • 'Significant ramp-up of energy' for a Biden campaign

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks after receiving the Green Jobs Champion Award during the Good Jobs Green Jobs National Conference at the Washington Hilton April 13, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

If Vice President Joe Biden were trying to design a trip to test out themes for a presidential campaign, he could hardly do better than his stops this week: California, Michigan and Ohio, big states with lots of Democratic voters and important constituencies.

Over two days, Biden will deliver speeches in Los Angeles, Detroit and Columbus, Ohio on issues dear to liberals, particularly dealing with climate change and rebuilding U.S. infrastructure. He’ll also meet with influential local officials in the Democratic strongholds.

White House officials framed the trip as a natural extension of Biden’s broad policy portfolio. The backdrop, though, is a “significant ramp-up of energy” among people backing a Biden presidential run, with no indications from the vice president’s office that the work is unwelcome, said Steve Schale, an adviser to Draft Biden 2016, an independent political action committee encouraging him to make a bid for the party nomination.

“I don’t think anybody is running away from this,” Schale said in a phone interview.

The vice president has publicly struggled with his decision, saying in an interview with late-night host Stephen Colbert last week that he still was not sure if he had the emotional capacity to run after the death earlier this year of his oldest son, Beau.

And Schale cautioned against "drawing a straight line connection" between Biden’s travels and presidential politics.

“The reality is the VP has been a pretty active stumper for the president,” he said.

Yet Biden has done little to dissuade speculation about his intentions or avoid the spotlight as he weighs his options. Air Force Two now bustles with reporters weighing Biden’s every public utterance.

Attacking Trump

The Los Angeles visit comes on the same day as the second Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Library, about an hour up the California coast. Less than a day earlier, Biden criticized Republican front-runner Donald Trump for his “sick message” on immigration during a Hispanic heritage event at the vice president’s residence at the Naval Observatory.

On Wednesday, Biden noted with disdain that most of the Republican primary contestants reject the theory that humans have caused global warming, much less measures to address it.

“If you pushed them, I think they’d deny gravity as well,” Biden said at the Solar Power International conference in Anaheim.

In California, Biden announced more than $120 million in federal grants and projects to scale up clean-energy production in 24 states. He also planned to address a joint U.S.-China summit on climate change.

The events provide Biden an opportunity to both boast of the Obama administration’s initiatives and burnish his credentials on the climate – an issue that Hillary Clinton, the current front-runner for the Democratic nomination, has made a centerpiece of her campaign.

Clinton said during an event in Iowa last month that she wants a full third of U.S. energy to come from renewable sources, higher than the 20 percent proposed by the Obama administration. Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley have also pledged bold action on climate change as they court Democratic voters and donors attuned to environmental issues.

Schedule Gaps

Following his public events, Biden is scheduled to have dinner with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who worked on President Barack Obama’s campaign. Biden’s public itinerary in Los Angeles includes significant gaps that White House officials refused to explain. During a trip last week to New York, Biden met secretly with at least one major Democratic campaign financier, Robert Wolf, who raised more than $500,000 for each of Obama’s presidential runs.

When he returns to the public eye on Thursday, Biden will meet with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan to highlight improvements to the city’s transit system. Duggan has credited Biden with helping the city to secure federal assistance for the purchase of new buses.

Infrastructure improvement has long been a hobby horse for the vice president, who last year toured the nation’s ports in an effort to boost congressional appropriations for construction projects.

In Columbus, Ohio the vice president will highlight the one-year anniversary of the administration’s “It’s On Us” campaign targeting campus sexual assault with a rally at Ohio State University. Biden has a long record as an advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and wrote the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.

On Monday, Clinton proposed to combat campus sexual assault during a speech at the University of North Iowa, including more comprehensive on-campus resources for survivors, fairer investigative and disciplinary processes, and increased preventive education.

Aides say Biden has still not made a decision about whether to enter the race, and White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Tuesday looked to dispel the notion that the administration was concerned about Clinton’s performance. Sanders has eclipsed her in polls of Democratic voters in early-primary states Iowa and New Hampshire as Clinton has struggled to explain and apologize for her use of a private e-mail system while Secretary of State.

“It’s unwise to draw significant conclusions about the outcome of an election 15 months before it’s scheduled to be held,” Earnest said.

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