In the bowels of the Marriott Marquis in downtown Washington, Joe Biden was yelling.
The vice president was there to speak at the Democratic National Committee's annual Women's Leadership Conference, and he was fired up. Hillary Clinton and President Obama will address the crowd Friday afternoon.
In the run-up to its leadership conference, the DNC has faced somewhat of a leadership crisis of its own. DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz has faced flack from members of her party over the past two weeks for two recent PR blunders. On Friday she took the stage to introduce Biden, who has made a couple gaffes of his own recently.
In an otherwise warmly received speech, Biden did make one apparent slip, when he oddly praised a former Republican senator, Bob Packwood, who was accused of sexual harassment and ultimately resigned. Biden called Packwood "the type of Republican I miss," then continued his speech against sexual assault.
There was no apparent enmity toward Biden and Wasserman Schultz—at least in the crowd. Wasserman Schultz called Biden a "national treasure" for his work on domestic violence, including his sponsorship of the Violence Against Women Act, which President Clinton signed into law 20 years ago. She also admitted to sporting a "Biden for President" button on her backpack when she was in college.
Biden in turn called Wasserman Schultz his "little sister," and praised her for her work as chairwoman. "I've never seen anybody work as hard and as tirelessly as Debbie has," he told the crowd.
Both addressed domestic violence in the scope of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice, whom the National Football League suspended indefinitely after TMZ uncovered footage of Rice assaulting his then-fiancée in an elevator.
Biden name-dropped Cynthia Hogan, one of his former aides on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who was recently hired as the NFL's senior vice president for public policy and government affairs.
"The NFL ain't seen nothin' yet," Biden said. "They have no idea what they just bought onto." Also on Friday morning, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reportedly asked his staff to look into the military's relationship with the NFL.
Biden touted the success of the Violence Against Women Act, saying there has been a 64 percent drop in domestic violence between 1993 and 2010.
"Success will come when the societal attitude changes and not a single woman in America asks herself the question, 'What did I do?' " he said. Then, in a theatrical staccato: "Never. Never. Never is it the woman's fault!"
Biden also used the speech to introduce a new PR campaign by the White House to encourage young men to speak out against sexual assault on college campuses. The new campaign, called It's On Us, will try to shift the burden of combating rape culture from women to men. The Justice Department will also award $6 million in grants to 18 colleges "to develop comprehensive campus sexual-assault prevention and response programs."
"We have to reach out and engage young men, because the vast majority are decent," Biden said.
Then—after finishing a speech about domestic violence to a predominantly female audience—Biden derided the idea of "women's issues." The state of America's middle class, Biden said, is the most important women's issue. His speech echoed similar comments Hillary Clinton made Thursday, in which she pushed for paid leave and universal child care, along with passing the Paycheck Fairness Act.
"You can't have a conversation about economic growth if women aren't fully participating in the economy," Biden said. "It's not just about equity, it's about economic growth for everyone."
But no speech would be complete without a bit of campaign puffery, especially now that lawmakers in Congress have mutually decided to skip out on work to campaign for the next two months. Biden ended his speech by mentioning female senators facing tough reelection bids—Jeanne Shaheen, Mary Landrieu, and Kay Hagan—and reassuring the crowd, "They're gonna win, by the way."
He also praised two female gubernatorial candidates who face uphill battles against Republicans—Wisconsin's Mary Burke, and Texas's Wendy Davis, who is polling around 12 points behind her Republican opponent, Greg Abbott.
"If you have an extra dollar, give it to Wendy Davis," Biden said. "She's going to win that race."
The audience's applause drowned out the scoffs coming from the press gallery.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.
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