Attacks Grow Shrill Over Biden's Remarks

National Journal Staff
National Journal

Despite meaty issues on deck such as the future of Medicare and Social Security, the presidential campaigns and their surrogates used Sunday’s talk shows for another round of thrust and parry over Vice President Joe Biden’s controversial remarks this week, with the tone of some attacks growing ever more shrill.

At the core of the arguments were the “back in chains” comments Biden made on Tuesday, when he spoke before a diverse audience in Virginia. Biden said that Romney wanted to repeal the regulations imposed on Wall Street in the wake of the financial crisis.

“He’s going to let the big banks once again write their own rules – unchain Wall Street!” Biden said, adding, “They’re going to put y'all back in chains.”

Republicans pounced on the remark in much the same manner as they did with Obama's "You didn't build this" reference about businesses requiring some indirect forms of government help. They said the vice president's comments—made before an audience that included many African Americans—conjured up unfair racial stereotypes.

Despite several calls for an apology—including one from The Boston Globe’s editorial page—the Obama campaign said on Sunday that there would be none forthcoming. Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter said Biden’s words were “a distraction from the larger argument” about deregulation, adding that Mitt Romney had made comments that were offensive to Obama supporters in the past, such as “calling the president un-American.”

“We are not going to be lectured by Mitt Romney,” she said on CNN’s State of the Union. “That’s completely hypocritical.”

Several Democrats defended the campaign, with Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley—who has become an increasingly visible attack dog for his party—perhaps the most artful. “Governor Romney’s the sort of guy ... that you’d never want to play pickup basketball with,” O’Malley said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “He’s always fouling and he’s always crying foul.”

Meanwhile, a posse of Republican surrogates all but lined up to attack Biden’s comments.

"I saw the vice president play the race card in Virginia,” said former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum on CNN’s State of the Union. He called on Biden to apologize.

Perhaps most vicious was former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who earlier in the week questioned whether Biden had the “mental capacity” to serve as vice president and took his arguments further on Sunday.

“Joe is a laugh line on Jay Leno, he’s not a vice president,” Giuliani said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “He’s a joke. You never know what he’s going to say.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said on CBS’s Face the Nation that Giuliani’s criticism had “gone too far” and that there “isn't a racist bone in Joe Biden’s body.” He said there was no need for Biden to apologize.

In fact, several Democrats pointed to Giuliani’s introduction of Sarah Palin at the GOP convention in 2008, noting that criticizing Biden and praising Palin was inconsistent at best.

“If he wants to criticize the capacity of a vice president to take hold of this country, he should go back and look at those remarks and whether he still believes that they're true,” Cutter said on ABC’s This Week.

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