Vice President Joe Biden, with his wife, Jill, and President Obama, walks toward the Rose Garden of the White House. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
On Wednesday afternoon, after months of speculation, Vice President Joe Biden finally answered the question that was on everyone’s mind.
A staffer close to the vice president has relayed a picture of a chaotic day in the vice president’s office ahead of his blockbuster announcement that he would not seek the 2016 Democratic presidential nod.
Biden’s statement that he had run “out of” the “time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination” was a shock to many members of his closest staff, who made a mad dash to the White House Rose Garden to see him deliver the remarks.
Wednesday began as a normal day for Biden’s policy team. The morning followed months of rising rumors that began when New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd published a piece on Aug. 1 noting that Biden was “talking to friends, family and donors about jumping in.” Since then, Biden huddled with a small group of advisers and, each day, his staffers speculated as they shared their first office coffee about whether and when he would make a final decision.
Many of the rumors about a potential Biden campaign suggested that a decision would be tied to Hillary Clinton’s testimony before the House Benghazi committee on Thursday. Because of Clinton’s impending hearing and the fact that the first Democratic presidential debate took place on Oct. 13, the chatter in the vice president’s office was reaching a fever pitch. Biden’s staff had been engaged in constant speculation and was aware that the various deadlines that had been thrown out in media reports about his potential campaign had come and gone.
It was all coming to a head.
As Biden staffers settled in to work on Wednesday, many again talked about where and when the vice president might make an announcement.
With the clamor surrounding a potential candidacy in mind, Biden’s communications staff had been doing extensive research ahead of each of his planned speeches this week. The vice president kept his team on their toes. One day he’d frame his discussions of policy and initiatives by making it seem he had no intention of entering the presidential race. At other times he’d begin his conversations by asking staff how they might frame things “if I’d run.”
Biden’s changing tone kept the people in his office guessing. They knew he was scheduled to spend Tuesday at a dinner honoring Walter Mondale, who occupied Biden’s office from 1977 until 1981.
The team knew Mondale’s legacy included a memo to President Jimmy Carter that they saw as defining the role of the modern vice president. However, Biden’s office also knew that the first note in Mondale’s political eulogy is his failed 1984 presidential campaign. They weren’t sure whether the current vice president had this in mind as he feted Mondale, but Biden’s staff was keenly aware of Mondale’s history as they plotted his agenda for this week.
When they tried to guess what their boss might be thinking, Biden’s team assumed he would not reveal his decision on the day of Mondale’s event.
On Wednesday morning, many members of Biden’s staff figured he would make his move on the weekend. They wondered whether his remarks would be pegged to the Iowa Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Saturday. Others thought he might make a statement in his hometown of Wilmington, Del.
Suddenly Biden’s secretary made an announcement. He would be speaking in the Rose Garden shortly after noon. Biden’s staff had approximately a 15-minute warning. Based on the location, they assumed that, if his statement was related to 2016, he would not be joining the race. They ran over to hear him speak. After exhausting their minds and bodies, Biden’s team officially learned the vice president would not enter the fray along with the rest of the country.