Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Bill Daley’s Big Mouth Embarrasses His Pal Joe Biden

After bragging to the press that he proposed a Hillary-for-Biden VP swap, Daley has to walk back his big talk.

Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune

On the heels of Bill Daley’s embarrassing, clumsy, petulant exit from the gubernatorial race, he was back in the headlines on Thursday. Daley confirmed to the  New York Times’ Jonathan Martin, reporting on a campaign book out next week, that yes, he, Daley, in the fall of 2011 while still Obama’s White House chief of staff, had pushed the possibility of trading then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for Joe Biden as Obama’s running mate.

The swap went as far as being poll tested and focus grouped. The book’s authors, Time magazine’s Mark Halperin and New York magazine’s John Heilemann, wrote that Daley had  been the “most vocal proponent the most vocal proponent of looking into the merits of the idea.”

That the swap never happened, and Biden, despite his gaffe-a-minute routine, remained as VP—results showed that replacing Biden with Hillary wouldn’t make much difference—is beside the point. A wiser man than Daley would have kept that gambit to himself. He and Biden, after all, are old pals whose friendship spans 30 years.

Instead, Daley gave details of the potential dumping of Biden to Halperin and Heilemann for their book, Double Down, on the 2012 campaign, a sequel their Game Change on the 2008 campaign. (From the pre-publication reports, the book will be agonizingly embarrassing to Biden who comes off as “Uncle Joe who can’t keep his mouth shut and his eye off his game plan to move up to the White House in 2016.)

And then Bill Daley, doubled down, to borrow a phrase, by making bold headlines yesterday when he confirmed details of the VP trade to the Times reporter who had managed to get his hands on an early copy of the book. “The idea of replacing Mr. Biden with Mrs. Clinton,” Martin reported, “was pushed by the chief of staff at the time… Daley.” “You have to remember, at that point the president was in awful shape,” Daley told Martin by telephone yesterday,  referring to Obama’s slumping approval rating,  “so we were like `Holy Christ, what do we do?’”

That Daley talked to Halperin/Heilemann doesn’t surprise me.  He loves to talk politics and strategy with the big boys at the highest levels of politics and journalism,  and given the chance to talk to the guys who wrote the bestselling Game Change is like giving candy to a toddler. Janet Malcolm has written about how biographers (and the authors fall into this genre because their books are packed with mini-portraits of political players) cozy up to their interviewees. They, in turn, want to impress the book writers as plugged-in, at-the-center-of-the-action guys.

And so, against their own interests, they reveal stuff they shouldn’t.

But if Daley talking to influential reporters is predictable, what’s not is Daley’s talking to Martin instead of saving the scoop for CBS News, which hired Bill as a CBS contributor in the wake of his quitting the governor’s race. Daley put CBS in the awkward position of reporting the VP swap by relying on the Times’ interview with its own contributor.

Many news outlets that reported the story Thursday and today singled out Daley as the most avid proponent of the Biden/Hillary trade. Politico’s Byron Tau and Jose DelReal, referring to Double Down—they had also managed to get a copy—called the news a “bombshell” and wrote, “Daley, in particular, was a major proponent of the idea.” CNN described Daley as having “spearheaded the effort to replace Biden….”

Again, predictably, Daley walked the whole thing back Friday when he appeared on CBS This Morning to be questioned by co-anchors Nora O’Donnell and Charlie Rose. Daley called the Biden/Hillary story “…a little bit of overhype….” And then, in a totally tone-deaf choice of words, he assured the anchors, “…not for a moment was there a serious discussion or a belief that Joe Biden should be replaced, period (emphasis added).”

(“Period,” used in that emphatic manner, has taken on a life of its own these days, as Fox News ridicules Daley’s former boss, Barack Obama, by endlessly replaying video of him promising: “That means that no matter how we reform health care, we will keep this promise to the American people: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period.”)

Should Hillary decide that she’s not running in ’16 or should something come up to put a crimp in “Hillary the inevitable”—see 2008 for how that might occur—and should Biden run, my guess is Bill Daley will not be offered a seat at the table, even though they’ve shared one of the storied friendships in an increasingly brutal profession. In 1987 Daley ran Biden’s campaign for the presidency. When  news broke that Biden had lifted remarks about his own childhood from a speech by British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, it was Daley who advised Biden to quit the race and focus instead, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on the Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Robert Bork. Biden took that advice and the Bork nomination, anathema to Democrats, failed, putting Biden back on course.

When Daley himself went off-course this week, it didn’t take long for David Plouffe, Obama senior adviser in ’12 and campaign manager in ’08, to deny that such a swap was ever afoot.  Plouffe tweeted on Thursday night: “Never any—any—consideration of VP/HRC switch. Not even entertained by the only “person who mattered. Or most of us. Back to Halloween.”

Take that Bill—who was, after all, effectively pushed out of the White House by Obama. It wouldn’t surprise me if Biden, given his long friendship with Daley, might have actually advocated for giving his buddy more time to find his footing.

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