A Biden 'comeback'? He never left

Olivier Knox
Yahoo News
President Barack Obama, center, and Vice President Joe Biden, center left, meet with Democratic Leadership in the Oval Office of the White House, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013, in Washington. Sitting with them are from left to right, Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y. The partial government shutdown is in its third week and less than two days before the Treasury Department says it will be unable to borrow and will rely on a cash cushion to pay the country's bills. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Vice President Joe Biden helped usher in the Obamacare era with a now-famous expression that, while commonly used, cannot be printed here in full. But the voluble veep has kept an uncharacteristically low profile for the past three weeks as Obama’s signature domestic achievement has labored through a thoroughly botched rollout.

Biden, so often at the heart of solutions to past fiscal standoffs, also was silent during the government shutdown and debt ceiling wars. One unconfirmed report said he was deliberately sidelined by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. On two occasions, the White House left the vice president off the list of attendees when President Barack Obama met with congressional leaders.

When Obama pushed for immigration reform Thursday, there was Biden — standing and smiling next to Obama but not speaking.

Is this the calm before the 2016 storm? Has the VP — the guy who “rode sheriff” on the stimulus, handled major foreign policy headaches, and led the ill-fated push on gun violence — been, for lack of a better coinage, Bide-lined?

Not even close. And that Biden-shaped hole in your life is about to be a thing of the past.

“In the next couple of months, the vice president will travel an average of two days a week and will continue to be deeply engaged on foreign policy,” an aide told Yahoo News.

(Not long after this story posted, the vice president’s office announced that Biden would go to Austin, Texas, on Oct. 30 to highlight efforts to curb violence against women. In a separate statement, it also announced that he would travel to Panama in late November to have a look at the Panama Canal expansion project.)

In the runup to the Obamacare rollout, Biden sat down for interviews and placed op-eds (like this one in the key 2016 state of Iowa) and telephone calls “designed to directly reach young Americans, Latinos [and] African-Americans, and thank key stakeholders who are still working tirelessly to educate their communities” about the law, a Biden aide said.

Biden, joined by Department of Health and Human Services officials, held a conference call with 3,000 nurses from 25 nursing organizations working to enroll patients around the United States in Obamacare.

Op-eds by Biden or HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ran in 29 local papers, according to the vice president’s office.

As the health care marketplaces opened Oct 1, Biden did an interview on College Radio Day, reaching 400 college radio stations. That kind of outreach will be crucial to whether the law succeeds, since the exchanges need young and healthy Americans to sign up in order to offset older, sicker members who require more care.

So what about the shutdown? Where was Biden, so often the administration’s point man for negotiating last-minute deals with Republicans?

Biden and Obama aides said that the vice president was in every meeting at the White House. He “spent many hours with President Obama every day,” a Biden aide said.

So what about those two instances, on Oct. 9 and Oct 15, when the White House left him off the list of upcoming high-profile meetings? Biden and Obama aides said this was entirely unintentional, the result of thinned-out communications staff who were racing to match leaks from congressional Republicans. “It’s absurd. If we’d wanted to sideline him, we just wouldn’t have invited him,” one West Wing official said.

Did Reid really work to make sure Biden didn’t cut a deal with Republicans? “Another option: The VP wasn’t involved in negotiations because our position was ‘no negotiations,’” said a Democratic official.

But the shutdown did sideline Biden in one respect: A scheduled (and announced) Oct. 11 fundraising event for Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s successful Senate run fell by the wayside.

“The shutdown forced our office to reschedule a number of official and political events,” a Biden aide explained.

Even so, Biden was hardly low-profile. On Oct. 4, he joined Obama for a highly unusual stroll to a sandwich shop near the White House.

Biden also has stayed busy behind the scenes. On Wednesday, he met behind closed doors with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

With the shutdown now in the rearview mirror, Biden attended an Oct. 15 Medal of Honor ceremony and the Oct. 18 nomination of a new Homeland Security secretary, and traveled to Massachusetts on Oct. 23 for an event promoting mental health.