President-elect Obama has a truly unenviable task. Biden, however, has the luxury of following one of the least popular VPs ever. But maybe if he works at it…
But it remains an open question what Biden will do. He has stated that he wants to be “Counselor-in-Chief.” An appropriate role, more or less filled by several of his predecessors, but whether or not he will be called upon to do so is a open question. Obama has stocked his cabinet with heavyweights, inspired by Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals.” It is worth remembering that Lincoln’s VP (Hannibal Hamlin) was not a player.
Vice President-elect Biden just appeared on Larry King Live and talked about his role in the administration. He discussed his role heading The White House Task Force on Working Families. This commission is intended to strengthen the middle class. While it will include cabinet secretaries and other power players, it is unclear what it will actually do. This may be a throwback to the many well-intentioned, but essentially powerless commissions VPs have chaired since the 1960s. They can play a valuable political role, but rarely do they exercise real power. Considering that the issues before this committee will be the responsibilities major departments like Health and Human Services – and that the task force will include power players like HHS Secretary Tom Daschle and National Economic Advisor Larry Summers – it is tough to see Biden exercising much real power from this post.
In the interview, Biden mentioned taking a leading role in preventing the proliferation and infiltration of WMD. Again, a worthy cause. But the foreign policy team is also full of heavyweights. Hillary at State is likely to command center stage wherever she goes. Gates has several advantages in any power struggle: he is already in place and is considered to have been a success as SecDef. The National Security Advisor, James Jones, is a four-star general. Again, tough to see where he will have a spot in this line-up.
That being said, if Biden has the President’s ear then he has the President’s ear – and in any administration that is what matters most. However, smart VPs who did have this influence kept quiet about it.