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Biden assumes role of enforcer, pushes budget
It was mostly a victory lap. The budget, which was the business of the day, already had earned enough votes to pass comfortably - but his presence on the floor, chatting with Republicans and Democrats before taking the president's chair for the final vote, underscored the value of having the former six-term senator on the Democrats' bench as a friendly enforcer of discipline.
He credited his former colleague with helping keep two Senate Democrats from wavering on the final vote.
“I had a couple I needed to call. I had a couple of bad signs from a couple of my senators,” said Mr. Reid, who asked the vice president to talk with the two Democrats. “That was so important for me. He called me back and said, 'They're both going to vote for it because I asked them to.' ”
Mr. Biden has carved out a role in the young administration combining the ceremonies of the office with some heavy diplomacy and major domestic roles.
He laid the groundwork for President Obama's Afghanistan-Pakistan plan through face-to-face meetings with leaders of those nations and of NATO allies. Mr. Obama tapped his No. 2 to run a middle-class task force and to make sure the government properly manages the billions of dollars of grant money in the stimulus spending package.
On Tuesday, Mr. Biden took on the role of surrogate defender while Mr. Obama was overseas. He told CNN that Mr. Cheney was “dead wrong” when he said Mr. Obama has raised the risk of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Mr. Biden said Mr. Obama has improved national security by repairing the U.S. image abroad.
Republicans say Mr. Reid's embrace of the vice president's assistance is at odds with his tone of a few months ago, when the majority leader told the Las Vegas Sun that Mr. Biden wouldn't be regularly attending Senate Democrats' weekly policy lunches. That was meant to mark a contrast with Mr. Cheney, who regularly sat down with Senate Republicans.
Mr. Cheney was focused on enforcing White House discipline and preferred to work behind the scenes, Mr. Reid and others said, but Mr. Biden is putting himself at the disposal of legislative leaders to advance the Democrats' agenda.
A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal operations, said the vice president made phone calls and held personal meetings with several senators about the budget; had a private lunch with Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, at the White House; and lobbied senators on some of the amendments offered. He also made 10 calls to what the official described as “the toughest targets in the House” and had a private meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
Joel K. Goldstein, a professor at the St. Louis University School of Law who studies the vice presidency, said Mr. Biden is following the model set by Walter F. Mondale, who as vice president acted as a general adviser to President Carter and kept a portfolio of issues he shepherded.
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