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Joe Biden grasps for role in debt talks

- The Washington Times - Monday, October 14, 2013

For one brief shining moment on Monday, Vice President Joseph R. Biden was almost relevant again.

Mr. Biden came roaring out of quasi-exile at Camp David on Monday to take part in talks at the White House with congressional leaders aimed at ending the partial government shutdown and avoiding default. But before the vice president got his big chance to play the hero, the White House postponed the session to allow Senate negotiators more time to work out a deal.

The vice president's public silence since the shutdown began two weeks ago has been noticeable, especially because he played a prominent role in negotiating an agreement that averted a fiscal crisis in 2011.

This time, Mr. Biden has remained on the sidelines. He canceled a trip to New Jersey to campaign for Democratic Senate candidate Cory Booker, backed out of a fundraiser with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and ditched a speech at the Human Rights Campaign's annual gala, but was never brought into the conversations on Capitol Hill.

Instead of rolling up his sleeves in the Senate where he presides, Mr. Biden and wife Jill headed to Camp David on Saturday for a three-day holiday weekend.

"Maybe we need to get Joe Biden out of the witness-protection program because he has good relationships" with lawmakers, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."

The vice president's office wouldn't comment on his absence from the Senate negotiations. But a former Senate staffer who asked not to be named said it's an "article of faith among Democrats" that Mr. Biden was too conciliatory with Republicans two years ago and that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is determined not to "reward" Republicans this time around for what he views as their "extortionist" behavior.

Hence, Mr. Biden's turn in the closet while the budget impasse has dragged on.

In spite of the vice president's uncharacteristic silence, Mr. Biden has participated in meetings with the president with lawmakers at the White House since the shutdown began.

And before Monday's meeting was postponed, a former White House staffer made a Groundhog Day-like prediction about how the public would know whether the session was fruitful, by watching for Mr. Biden's choice of eyewear when he emerged from the Oval Office.

"If he walks out with the aviators on, you know we have a deal," former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau tweeted of Mr. Biden.

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