CONCORD – There were no off-the-cuff remarks. There were no gaffes. It was not an episode of Joe Biden uncut, or Joe Biden untamed. The Vice President came to New Hampshire on Wednesday not only in his official role, but also laser-focused on the official message of the administration he represents.
And there was no indication he was here looking for a better job. He seemed comfortable and content in his current one.
Praising the six years he and President Barack Obama have been in office, Biden said the nation is in recovery and on the verge of “resurgence.”
“America is not only back, it’s leading the world again,” Biden said.
Pushing an Obama administration economic agenda he said has lifted the country out of a recession, he said it is now time to: “Just give the middle class a fighting chance.”
In first visit to the Granite State since last September, when he campaigned for Democrats running in the midterm elections, Biden spoke at the Warren B. Rudman Center for Justice, Leadership and Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire Law School – named after the iconic New Hampshire senator with whom Biden served for 12 years on opposite sides of the political aisle, but as friends. Rudman died in 2012.
Biden’s remarks came as he received the center’s second award for distinguished public service.
After an impromptu stop at a local bagel shop, Biden’s motorcade then headed to Manchester Community College, where he headed a give-and-take discussion for about an hour with a group of educators, students and business leaders. There, he pushed for the administration’s plan to bring make a community college education free.
Those looking for clues and hints of whether Biden is considering a third run for President — he ran in the 1988 and 2008 Democratic presidential campaigns – came away mostly empty, just as they had during his recent visits to first-caucus state Iowa and to South Carolina, which holds the first southern primary. He refused, for instance, to comment on the Clinton Foundation’s practice of taking foreign donations, saying he did not know enough about the controversy.
He did note that he has been coming to New Hampshire since 1973 and he talked about his good friendship with Rudman and John T. Broderick the UNH Law School Dean and executive director of the Rudman Center, who is also a longtime friend of former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.
Biden did not bring up Hillary Clinton; and perhaps more surprisingly, he did not mention any of the Republicans currently moving toward presidential candidacies. Biden has not ruled out a candidacy but said he will not decide until the summer.
Biden instead stuck to a pro-Obama narrative, from an almost entirely domestic agenda standpoint. He also decried the gridlock and partisan battling on Capitol Hill.
Rudman served in the U.S. Senate from for two terms, elected in 1980 and 1986. While a strong Republican, he was also known as a consensus builder. He was a leading voice for a balanced budget and co-author of the Gramm-Rudman law.
“Think about what the Senate would look like this very moment if Warren Rudman were in the Senate,” Biden told about 200 law students, attorneys, political and business leaders gathered in the law school auditorium. “Think about how the tone of the Senate would be different. No one man or woman can change the Senate, but Warren Rudman would not remain silent in the face of what’s going on.”
Polling shows that by far, most likely Democratic primary voters in the Granite State are ‘Ready for Hillary,” as the name of the grassroots PAC suggests, but Biden has not ruled out a potential run for President and has long been well-received by state Democrats.
Former state Senate President Sylvia Larsen of Concord, a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton, said at the Rudman Center event that if Hillary Clinton decides not to run for President, Biden would emerge as a strong potential candidate.
“Of course” Biden would then be the frontrunner, Larsen said. “You can’t be the vice president and not be the frontrunner, and add to that his foreign policy experience and his long period as a voice for the middle class.”
State Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, declined to speculate on presidential primary politics, but said he has a “great amount of respect for the vice president. He is someone who stands up for the middle class every day.”
Broderick, joking with his friend while introducing him, said Biden “has been in public service for four decades… and he’s only 47-years-old.”
Biden said Rudman would not tolerate “phonies.” He said Rudman was defined “by his physical courage as well as his political courage, and his loyalty was unmatched. He served the New Hampshire way –forthright, frugal and fair.”
Turning to a current crisis playing out in Washington, Biden said, “Can you imagine Warren Rudman playing games with shutting down the Department of Homeland Security, the Border Patrol, the Coast Guard? Can you imagine that? Can you imagine him remaining silent? I can’t.
“Warren believed that government was supposed to do work for the people, that you could be true to your principles and still work across the aisle,” Biden said. He believed, Biden said, that “when you focus on the motive, you have lost a chance to reach compromise.”
Biden took issue with the conventional wisdom that the country is more divided than ever. “That is so far from the truth,” he said.
He said that when he joined the Senate in 1973, “there were real divisions. There were senators from eight segregationist states in the Democratic caucus. The women’s movement was beginning to take hold” and the Vietnam war was at its height.
“To say that we’re more ideologically divided today than then is simply not true. It’s the politics that’s broken,” Biden said. “But a lot of our future will depend on how we behave, whether we can put personal animosities aside and move the country forward.”
Defending President Obama’s policies as laid out the State of the Union address, Biden said, “The middle class has enough to overcome without having to overcome dysfunctional politicians and dysfunctional government. The American people are demanding that it pass.”
He said the Affordable Care Act “strengthened the Medicare system” even while cutting it by $716 billion, and he said that with the continued divisiveness making news daily, few have noticed that “we actually have reduced the deficit by two-thirds’ since we’ve been in office.
Recalling the administration’s early challenges, he said, “We had to do the single most unpopular thing in the world – stabilize the banks.
“We had to tell the American people that we’re going to take your tax dollars and stabilize the banks and spend billions of dollars. But we knew there was no choice and it required banks to make significant changes in how they operated.”
He touted the Dodd-Frank law as a way to restore confidence in Wall Street and providing transparency and oversight.
And he said that “with the help” of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was formed.
Biden reiterated a call for the “Buffet Rule,” saying “no CEO should pay a lower tax rate than his secretary does.”
Biden said that 48 percent of community college students receive Pell Grants but that it should be free. He said the administration and Congress “tripled the child care tax credit for young working families with children.
“What this is all about is building a consensus that a strong middle class is the way to build back our economic security,” Biden said. “The middle class is more than just a number for me. For me it’s an idea.”
At Manchester Community College, Biden said the community college system is “the most flexible educational institutions in the country” and have adjusted as the world economy has changed.
“We’re on the verge of a resurgence that can be really, really consequential,” Biden said. “We are in a position to be the lead economy in the 21st Century by a long shot.
“The President and I believe that we can no longer sit back and hope to keep pace,” Biden said. “And that is why we are focusing on community college. Two-year community colleges is the best way to a four-year degree.
And, he said, “If it is free, we can make a path for working class and middle class Americans struggling to find a way to go to college. We can cut in half the cost of a four-year degree.
“How to pay for it, that is the question and we are proposing things that will make the economy more productive. More of a skilled workforce will generate more economic growth.”
Biden said the cost to the taxpayers of providing free community college educations is about $8 billion a year. He said “we’ll spend $221 billion over the next 10 years making sure that people who make up less than four-tenths of one percent of the population do not have to pay capital gains taxes.”
Free community college can be provided by closing that “loophole,” Biden said.
“The idea is not to punish anybody,” Biden said. “It is not to create class warfare.” He said it is an attempt to “grow the economy” and “put more people in positions where they can have an income, generating economic growth.”