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Fellow Democrats: There’s No Silencing Joe Biden

Biden announces that he won't run for president as his boss listens. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

It is no surprise Vice President Joseph R. Biden is vowing to be "forcefully" vocal in the 2016 presidential campaign even though he won’t be candidate, Democratic lawmakers say.  

But one senior Republican doubts Biden will be much of a factor in the race.  

The 47th vice president has been too passionate about a list of policy issues for him to simply remain silent while candidates duke it out for his party’s nomination, some of Biden’s former Senate Democratic colleagues said Wednesday. Their comments followed his announcement about staying out of the race, during which he said he believes the window to do the many things necessary to run for president “has closed.”

“Look, he’s had beliefs — strong beliefs — about ... particularly the middle class, something I’ve been very sympathetic to,” Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Senate Democrat, told CQ Roll Call. “And if he’s going to keep talking about that … then that’s great.”

But Schumer acknowledged Biden is taking a different approach to the 2016 contest than his boss. So far, President Barack Obama mostly has resisted reporters’ attempts to get him to comment on the Democratic and GOP primaries, saying voters should focus on the field of hopefuls. On that point, Schumer said with a raised hand: “We’ll see. We’ll see …”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who served alongside Biden in the Senate for 16 years, said she believes he “did the right thing” by opting against a third White House bid.

“I think what we don’t want is a big fight in the party,” she said. “Now, it’s not going to happen.”

Asked if Biden’s voice could become a disruptive force in the Democratic nominating process, Feinstein replied: “I have no problems with Joe Biden advocating things.”

“This is a trusted Democratic voice,” she added. “And this vice president, his life has been public service.”

Biden explained that the period since his son Beau’s death in May essentially ran out the clock on the heavy lifting needed for a credible presidential campaign — things such as fundraising and building a nationwide infrastructure. But he vowed to speak out.

“Unfortunately, I believe we're out of time, the time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination,” he said. “But while I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent.

“I intend to speak out clearly and forcefully, to influence as much as I can where we stand as a party and where we need to go as a nation. And this is what I believe,” Biden said. “I believe that President Obama has led this nation from crisis to recovery, and we're now on the cusp of resurgence. I'm proud to have played a part in that.”

He also sent a clear and direct message to his party’s presidential candidates — led by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt. “This party, our nation, will be making a tragic mistake if we walk away or attempt to undo the Obama legacy,” Biden said.

The vice president’s Rose Garden remarks included what seemed to amount to a campaign platform. The grandest vision he laid out was his desire to be the president when a cure for cancer, which took his son’s life, is found.

He talked about pushing policies that help America’s middle class, combating economic inequality, making a college education more affordable and tripling the child care tax credit. Biden also panned the existing campaign finance system, saying moves are needed to “level the playing field” because “the wealthiest families control the process.”

In statements, Clinton, Sanders, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Biden’s beloved Delaware acknowledged his voice will be present during the campaign.

Are Republicans giddy about the prospect of Biden shaking up the Democratic nominating process? Not really, says House Deputy GOP Whip Tom Cole of Oklahoma, a former political consultant.

“Vice President Biden is a respected and well-liked person. He’s a heartbeat away from the presidency. So if he says something, it’s going to get some attention,” Cole told CQ Roll Call. “On the other hand, when you’re no longer a candidate, you’re no longer nearly as newsworthy.

“People are more worried about what the next president is going to say and do than what the last vice president is going to say,” Cole added. “I think he’ll find it increasingly different as the campaign goes along to really influence the dialogue. I think the ones actually in the arena, are the people who are going to drive the debate.”

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