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Biden Considers a Bright Post-Administration Future

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg View columnist. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.
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Vice President Joe Biden is in a comfortable place; he's also on fire.

But he's on fire about the presidential election.

"My name is Joe Biden, and I work for Hillary Clinton," he told a Philadelphia rally last week, referring to a politician he hasn't been especially close to and considered running against.

As with most everything Biden, this is authentic, and outweighs any worry about eroding the Obama administration legacy. He genuinely believes Donald Trump is unqualified to be commander-in-chief and this, coming from the man who delivered the eulogy at the funeral of the conservative Republican Senator Strom Thurmond, is an unusual expression of contempt.

"This guy's lack of any sensibility really offends me," he says of the Republican nominee during a long interview aboard Air Force Two that covered politics, his vice presidency and the future.

While Biden fought repeatedly on substance with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, he says they maintained a civility, a human decency that are lacking in Trump, who boasted of profiting from others' suffering.

"I can't imagine Ronald Reagan not feeling any pain or even rooting for failure when people were being hurt so badly, losing everything," Biden says.

The billionaire businessman also bragged that his ability to avoid federal taxes for several years showed he was "smart."

Biden contrasts such statements with the lives of a typical working-class family making $80,000, an assembly worker and waitress, who pay their bit to support troops, veterans, cops and firemen.

"Trump really thinks he's better than those people," he says. "He has contempt for them."

Looking back over the past eight years, he's pleased with his tenure by President Barack Obama's side in which he embodied the "Mondale model" of a vice president actively engaged in all foreign policy and most domestic issues.

Unlike other vice presidents of the modern era -- Dick Cheney, Al Gore and George H.W. Bush -- his personal relationship with the president is genuinely close as well as professional. They are very different: the cerebral, lone wolf, first black president who grew up without a father and with an absentee mother, and the plain-talking and talking, streetwise, family-oriented Irish lifetime politician. 

"I knew this was going to work," Biden says, recalling when, during their first year, "Barack said, 'You know we've become friends.'" 

Their mutual affection and respect has endured even during some heated disputes, usually over foreign policy. The president resists advice, Biden says, only on his speeches, because he takes great pride in his way with words. The vice president is one of the few people Obama trusts outside his family; in a way, they've grown old together.

A year and a half ago, the vice president was in a bad way, conflicted over whether to run for president and worried about his post-administration future, professionally and financially, if he didn't. In a speech to the elite Gridiron Dinner this year, Biden joked that his net worth was less than Bernie Sanders's: "When a socialist has more money than you, you know you've been doing something really wrong."

Most of all, he was heartbroken that his 46-year-old son, Beau, a political superstar, was dying of brain cancer.

Friends say it took a while, but Biden has bounced back, motivated in no small part by his job as czar of the "Cancer Moonshot," a role in which he assembles government agencies, medical experts, donors and foundations to work on a crash cancer research project. Hillary Clinton has said she wants him to stay in that post if she's elected; that's uncertain, but it's more likely than his becoming secretary of state, as some have speculated.  

Academic centers such as the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware envision a Biden public policy institute that could attract prominent politicians and world leaders. There is no national political figure who commands more good will across the political aisle and around the globe.

Also, the 73-year-old career politician wants to accumulate some money to set up an educational fund for Beau's children and a comfortable life for him and his wife, Jill, and extended family. He'll consider foundations, businesses (selectively) and offers to speak.

Some big financial institutions offer the promise of quick riches, but that would be incongruous for a guy everyone in Washington calls Joe: "I don't want to change my brand."

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Albert R. Hunt at ahunt1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net