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Biden Thanks Depleted Democratic Ranks for Tough Votes

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Vice President Joseph Biden (right) gave a nearly hourlong speech to House Democrats at their retreat Friday, covering topics including the tone of political discourse, the Arizona shootings and life in the minority.

Updated: 5:53 p.m.

CAMBRIDGE, Md. — Vice President Joseph Biden extended a dinner invitation to the nine freshmen of the House Democratic Caucus, praised the party’s leadership and even apologized for tough votes Members had to take during wide-ranging remarks to House Democrats on Friday. 

Introduced by Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) as “A guy who besides [Rep.] Anthony Weiner [D-N.Y.] tends to speak his mind more than most of us,” Biden opened his remarks by praising Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). 

“Nancy, you’re a great friend and a great leader. Steny, you’re not much but I love you,” he deadpanned to roaring laughter. “Steny and I agree on almost everything, which scares everybody.” 

Biden’s remarks, laced with self-deprecating retorts, were his first since being panned by the Caucus in December. Biden recalled that heated exchange, when he came to the Capitol to sell the party on the administration’s unpopular tax cut plan, and suggested his appearance in Maryland at the House Democratic retreat was under different circumstances. 

“I want you to know that our discussion in the Caucus during the lame duck, I enjoyed it,” Biden said to roaring laughter. 

The vice president added: “I’m here to listen. I’m here to hear what you think. I’m here to have a discussion because we all have to be on the same page. These are really difficult issues that we’re dealing with.”

With that, Biden praised Hoyer for helping lead an effort for Members to sit in bipartisan pairs during Tuesday’s State of the Union address. He took several minutes to praise Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who is recovering from being shot in the head two weeks ago, and recalled his own brain trauma when he suffered an aneurism two decades ago. Such personal experiences, Biden said, draw Members together. 

“Those of us who love the Congress, we talk about it in ways that I think the public outside, I’m not sure they grasp or understand,” he said. “One of the things about this family is that ... we live each other’s losses.” 

Biden also said that the tragic events in Tucson, Ariz., offer a reason for Members to reflect on the words they use and how they handle themselves during the most heated policy debates. Hearkening one of the same messages used by President Barack Obama during his 2008 campaign — “Words matter” — Biden pleaded with his fellow Democrats to tone down the heated rhetoric and strike more civil tones. 

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