BALTIMORE — Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. offered House Democrats a prediction Thursday that they couldn't quite believe.
"I think the House, we can win," Biden told lawmakers gathered here for a Democratic retreat. "I really mean it."
He used his final keynote at the annual issues conference as vice president to deliver a 20-minute campaign speech rallying Democrats for the 2016 election.
"The best way to win is to run on what we’ve done and run on what we stand for and run on what more we are trying to do," he said, adding, "And then contrast that to what [Republicans] are for and what they oppose."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi acknowledged after his speech that while she's always optimistic, she's not so sure this is the year for a Democratic wave.
"Some of it will depend on who the presidential candidate is," the California Democrat said. "In the meantime, we're building our blocks to win as many seats as possible. I don't know know if we'll have it in one more year. I feel absolutely certain we'll have it in three years."
Members said they appreciated Biden's suggestion that they present an agenda that stands in clear contrast to what Republicans are offering.
"I think if we put that choice out there in a clear way there’s every possibility that the American people in the presidential race and in congressional races are going to choose the agenda, which when properly reflected, will mean the composition of the House and the Senate will be a Democratic majority,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md.
Still, few honestly believe that 2016 is the year they can recapture the House given the Democrats hold 65 fewer seats than the GOP in the current session and would need to pick up 30 to regain the majority. That may be why the vice president's remark was greeted with mild applause.
In a private question and answer session, Biden spoke his fellow Democrats about the cancer task force he will be leading and policy areas where the Republican-controlled Congress and the administration can cooperate, Pelosi said. In his public speech, though, Biden concentrated on offering advice on what Democrats need to do to make gains.
Twice he referred to gifts he believes Republicans have given Democrats.
First, he talked about Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who ran against Biden as the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate. The Wisconsin Republican, Biden said, gave Democrats a gift in passing a budget citing its proposed cuts to education and tax breaks for the wealthy.
"You guys don’t have to make anything up," Biden said to laughter. "Just say exactly what they’ve done."
Biden delivered another laugh-inducing line when speaking about the GOP presidential field.
"We have may have been given a gift from the Lord in the presidential race here. I don't know who to root for more — [Ted] Cruz or ... what's that guy's name?" he said, referring to Donald Trump.
According to Biden, Democrats have more substantive ideas to run on while "the other team talks about things that don’t bear much resemblance to reality." The Democratic party's downfall is that candidates are not hammering home issues such as rebuilding infrastructure and making the tax code more progressive.
"All that we’re for can easily be paid for without punishing anyone, without raising the deficit, without doing anything, anything but increasing American productivity," Biden said, yelling by that point. "But we don’t make the case enough."
Although the vice president decided last year not to run on top of the Democratic ticket, Biden said he plans to hit the campaign trails in 2016 to help his fellow Democrats.
"I’ll come to your district and campaign for you or against you, whichever will help the most," he said. "But all kidding aside folks I am bullish on the possibilities for the House as well as the Senate."
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