July 23, 2019
Hoping to capitalize on hope and change memories of Democratic voters (and avoid scrutiny of his 36 years in the Senate), Joe Biden talks constantly on the campaign trail about his time in the White House with President Barack Obama.
But the former vice president’s pronouncements about his accomplishments are forcing him to glide over policies the Obama administration initially lauded but faced criticism they had failed miserably. Some of them were Biden’s direct responsibility.
Known for his foreign relations experience during his last decade in Congress, Biden, 76, can rely on Democratic senators who served with him to trumpet his influence on international affairs and diplomacy during the Obama years.
“I had many conversations with them, particularly on foreign policy issues, where it was clear that the vice president was instrumental in the policies of the Obama administration. So, I think he knew he had a front-row seat and had major impact,” Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, told the Washington Examiner.
Ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, said Biden was a “full partner … in foreign policy and had probably disproportionate influence.”
Biden has boasted on the campaign trail about his foreign policy prowess, highlighting oversight of the U.S. military troop withdrawal in Iraq. But he neglected to mention his 2002 Iraq war vote.
During the Democratic presidential candidate debate in Miami late last June, Biden said, “I made sure the president turned to me and said, ‘Joe, get our combat troops out of Iraq.’ I was responsible for getting 150,000 combat troops out of Iraq, and my son was one of them.”
One month later, during a campaign stop in Manning Iowa, he went on to say, “When I was vice president, the president gave me all the easy jobs, like ‘take care of getting all our troops out of Iraq,’ which we did.”
But the Bush White House had already set up a “status of forces agreement” with the Iraqi government with a deadline to withdraw U.S. troops by the end of 2011 anticipating that 40,000 troops would be left to provide training and support.
Obama and Biden failed to leave any troops in Iraq, as had been anticipated by the status of forces agreement. The Islamic State established itself in Iraq in the vacuum created when U.S. forces began to pull in 2011, and by the end of Obama’s first term in January 2013, no American troops were left. In 2014, thousands of troops were sent back.
On the decision carry out the Osama bin Laden raid, Biden advised against sending Navy SEALs into Pakistan and was overruled by Obama, though he later claimed that he privately counseled the opposite.
But while Biden’s foreign policy decisions may be challenged by his opponents, Obamacare and the president who gave that bill its name is still popular among Democrats.
“The good news for Joe Biden is that he ran with Barack Obama, the greatest vote-getter in American history. Obamacare is popular. The Iran agreement might not be. Without photos of Biden standing with Obama getting his party’s nomination, and winning the critical South Carolina primary would likely be impossible,” Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf told the Washington Examiner.
Biden dove into domestic issues during the Obama years as well. In September 2009, the White House announced that Biden had finalized the “$535 million loan guarantee for Solyndra.”
“This announcement today is part of the unprecedented investment this Administration is making in renewable energy and exactly what the Recovery Act is all about,” said Biden at the time. “By investing in the infrastructure and technology of the future, we are not only creating jobs today, but laying the foundation for long-term growth in the 21st-century economy.”
Solyndra, a government-subsidized solar panel company, went bankrupt two years later, and critics saw it as symbolic of the Obama administration’s green energy failure. The new plant was expected to create 3,000 construction jobs and lead to as many as 1,000 jobs once their new facility opened. “Hundreds more will install Solyndra’s solar panels on rooftops around the country,” the White House said at the time.
Executives of Solyndra initially refused to testify before Congress over allegations of inappropriate dealings between the green tech company and the White House but eventually took the fifth at a hearing on Capitol Hill before lawmakers.
Around the same time, Biden also defended the Obama administration’s auto bailout program known as “cash for clunkers.” “Had we not forced the car companies to reorganize, then given them help, well, the failure of the suppliers then could have caused Ford to fail as well,” Biden said of the program. “So, this has exceeded everyone’s expectations.”
By 2014, researchers at Texas A&M released a report showing the impact of the auto bailout initiative. It concluded that the program decreased auto industry revenue by $3 billion during a nine to 11-month period. Taxpayers were out $3 billion for the cost of this bailout package.
Biden was also tasked to head up the Obama White House’s Gun Violence Prevention Task Force following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, in Newtown, Connecticut. Biden had helped write the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, received F ratings from the National Rifle Association while serving in Congress, and supported universal background checks.
As vice president, however, Biden was unable to win over Republicans, and no gun control measures were passed. Critics point out that Biden attended only a few of the 20 meetings with advocates from both sides and charge that he squandered an opportunity by moving slowly, and showed excessive deference to Senate Democrats.
Last year, Biden conceded: “We came close to legislation. We ultimately came up short.”
Sheinkopf said that Obama’s standing with Democrats would make it difficult for his rivals to attack Biden: “Criticizing Obama would be a disqualifier.”
But if Biden continues to ride high in the polls, his opponents are likely to drill deep into the specific tasks Obama delegated to his vice president and question how much he delivered.