Joe Biden proves an essential weapon for Obama as he maps out second term
Biden recasting the role of vice-president – and his long career in Senate is invaluable to the Washington-averse Obama camp
Paul Harris in New York; guardian.co.uk, Friday 18 January 2013 10.54 EST
Trying to pass new gun control laws is perhaps one of the hardest things any American president can attempt, even in the wake of a tragedy like the mass shooting of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown.
But when Barack Obama decided to push back against the mighty National Rifle Association, its cohort of Republican allies and America's entrenched gun culture, he chose one man to spearhead the effort: Joe Biden, the vice-president. He delivered a set of proposals that Obama presented in public this week.
It's not the first time Biden has come to the fore recently. In the hotly disputed talks over the "fiscal cliff" raft of tax hikes and spending cuts that threatened to plunge America into a new recession last December, it was Biden who led talks with the Republican opposition and struck a last-minute deal. And, during the election campaign last year, when Obama fumbled badly in his first debate, it was Biden who rode to the rescue with a strong performance that rallied Democrat morale.
Biden's high profile is now recasting his role as Obama's number two and turning the vice-president's office into a core part of the Obama team as it maps out a second-term agenda. "It is slightly unusual in American history to have such a high profile as Biden has had," said Professor James Josefson, a political scientist at Bridgewater College.
Indeed, through much of American history, the vice-presidency has been lampooned as a toothless ceremonial job, despite being "one heartbeat" away from the presidency. Franklin Roosevelt's vice-president John Garner famously quipped that it was not worth a "bucket of warm piss". More recently, in the hit TV show Veep, the fictional vice-president Selina Meyer – played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus – spends much time waiting breathlessly to hear if the president might have a heart attack.
Though previous exceptions have existed – notably the enormous influence Dick Cheney wielded in the administrations of George W Bush – it does seem Biden has now emerged as a major influence in the Obama administration. "Recently and post-election we have had these moments when Biden has been stepping to centre stage with marquee events, not peripheral issues," said Professor Joel Goldstein, an expert on vice-presidential politics at Saint Louis University.