But Biden’s vice presidency was the biggest leap forward from the Carter-Mondale model yet. Unlike previous veeps, Biden sustained a high level of influence with the president throughout their two terms in office, Joel Goldstein, a vice-presidential scholar at St. Louis University, told me. As Goldstein has previously written, much of that prestige was derived from Biden’s public loyalty to Obama, which he accomplished “without surrendering his public identity and becoming lost in the president’s shadow.”
“It was a natural role for Biden because it involved a lot of dealing with governors and mayors and legislators, and Biden likes that,” Goldstein told me. “He was good at it.”
In addition to his weekly lunches with Obama, Biden’s schedule was packed with time with the president, in keeping with his request to be the “last man in the room.” On any given day, Biden would start the morning by joining Obama for the Presidential Daily Briefing in the Oval Office after making the crosstown drive from the Naval Observatory. He might have additional meetings in the Oval Office with Obama and a Cabinet secretary, or a Situation Room briefing with intelligence-agency heads. Depending on the day, he’d head out of town for an address, a tour, or a foreign visit, or stay in Washington for meetings with legislators.
While previous vice presidents did wield authority over special projects, they weren’t in charge of the defining issues for an administration, such as Biden’s role in implementing the Recovery Act after the Great Recession and leading efforts to whip Republican support to pass the Affordable Care Act. Biden also received major foreign-policy assignments throughout both terms, including his role as a chief adviser and surrogate as the administration debated its Afghanistan policy in 2009.
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Obama has credited Biden’s influence in policy discussions before, telling The New Yorker that “there were times where Joe would ask questions, essentially on my behalf, to give me decision-making space, to help stir up a vigorous debate.” And, as far as is publicly known, he never lost the president’s trust, unlike Cheney, who was iced out after Bush’s reelection, or Gore, whose presidential ambitions strained his ties with Bill Clinton. Biden has already signaled that he hopes for a similarly close relationship with his vice president, saying he’ll pick a “simpatico” partner.
Reflecting on Biden’s broad portfolio as vice president, Pfeiffer told me that “one reason he had so many projects is because of what we inherited.” If Biden and his running mate win in November, he’ll “yearn for the good ole days of the 2009 financial crisis."
The former campaign advisers and administration officials I spoke with said that in selecting his vice president, Biden should be thinking well beyond the campaign itself and focus instead on which person would best help him run the FDR-size presidency he’s alluded to building.