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Waiting on Biden

Joe Biden President 2016 endorsements
Biden was on the Hill last week pitching the Iran deal. Few lawmakers are clamoring for him to run for president. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

While most Senate Democrats are #ReadyForHillary, a few are waiting on Joe.

After both buzzed through the Capitol last week — Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. made the trip as the White House’s emissary on an Iran nuclear disarmament deal and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was there to shore up support for her White House bid — Clinton has already locked up the bulk of the Democrats and time seems to be running short for anyone else.

The reasons vary, but some holdouts are waiting to support a candidate out of deference to Biden — who represented Delaware in the Senate for 36 years and hasn’t ruled out a third run for the Oval Office.

A couple of members sound ready to endorse him, but no one told CQ Roll Call they’re urging him to get in the ring.

“I’m waiting to see about what the vice president is going to decide,” Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., said. “He’s been my friend for a long time.”

Carper has held elected office in Delaware since 1976, as state treasurer, congressman, governor and finally senator. He spoke highly of Clinton, but his ties with Biden are understandably strong.

Carper did not call for Biden to enter the race, instead saying Biden should decide in his own time. “I don’t think there’s a need for a rush to judgement on this, people throughout this country have huge admiration and affection for him,” he said.

Following a closed-door meeting in the Capitol between Biden and Foreign Relations Committee Democrats, Delaware’s junior senator, Chris Coons, said Biden “showed today the remarkable, the impressive depth he has in foreign policy and national security; his thorough grasp of the underlying issues, his energy and his engagement.”

“It was an impressive and compelling conversation, so I have no doubts that he would be a very strong candidate if that’s what he chooses,” Coons said, though he also declined to call on Biden to run. “But I really hope folks will let him reach a decision on a timeline that is appropriate for him and his family.”

Rep. John Carney, the state’s lone representative in the House, is another longtime Delaware politician, having served as lieutenant governor, secretary of Finance, chief of staff under then-Gov. Carper, and even as a Senate staffer for Biden.

In a statement, Carney spokeswoman Francesca Amodeo noted her boss hasn’t made any statements on the race, but said, “If the Vice President throws his hat in the ring, Rep. Carney will absolutely be supporting him.”

Biden’s support is slimmer outside of the First State’s delegation. Last week, Minority Leader Harry Reid reiterated he had not endorsed Clinton. The Nevada Democrat is waiting to make a decision, possibly out of deference to Biden.

Others are holding off on endorsing for other reasons. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, stayed neutral through the 2008 Democratic primary and remains neutral this time around. But Brown was complimentary of Clinton following her trip to the Capitol last week.

Oregon’s delegation — Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley — is also declining to endorse at the moment, with both addressing their concerns recently to The Oregonian.

Wyden said he supports Clinton, but didn’t think it was “time for a formal endorsement,” while Merkley said Clinton wasn’t strong enough yet on campaign finance, income inequality and trade.

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and is choosing to stay neutral. Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., is running for the nomination. Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., declined to say why he hasn’t endorsed.

And Sen. Angus King, the Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, told MSNBC in April he’ll let the parties decide who the candidates will be.

“I’m the only guy in Washington who can get away with not answering that question,” King said.

It’s not that Biden doesn’t have supporters in the Senate — he is generally well-liked and highly regarded in the body where he spent so many years. It’s more because of personal preference mixed with a too-little-too-late vibe.

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., said he is a “huge Joe Biden fan” — but he ultimately endorsed Clinton. Cardin predicted Clinton would be the nominee with a “relatively” easy time.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who endorsed Clinton before she even announced her candidacy, said she shouldn’t “take anything for granted” because “people love [Biden],” but Kaine didn’t believe Biden would run with Clinton in the race.

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., another Clinton endorser, said Biden would be a “fantastic candidate,” but pointed out he is running out of time to get into the race.

Clinton’s campaign has been running both officially and unofficially for some time now, spending time messaging and on the ground with supporters. While Biden is a sitting vice president, she has global name ID. As of June 30, Hillary for America had raised more than $47 million during its first quarter.

So, endorsements aren’t the only thing Biden is behind on. Perhaps that’s why no senators are saying they think Biden could beat Clinton, while others are convinced of the inevitability of a Clinton nomination.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., said he thought Clinton would win both the primary and general elections, while Sen. Richard Blumenthal was blunt on whether Biden could beat her.

“No,” said the Connecticut Democrat.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.


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