Just Biden being Biden? VP's odd moves give pause

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Here's the thing about impromptu moments in politics: Often they work, sometimes they fall flat, but occasionally they turn out downright awkward. Vice President Joe Biden learned that the hard way Tuesday - twice.

Hosting a White House summit on violent extremism, Biden sought to draw a parallel between Minneapolis, where local leaders are working to prevent radicalization of Somali youth, and his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, which Biden said also has a "large, very identifiable Somali community."

"I might add, if you ever come to the train station you may notice that I have great relations with them, because an awful lot of them are driving cabs, and are friends of mine," Biden said.

His audience - a group of religious and community leaders, many of them Muslim or of African descent - responded with muted, uncomfortable chuckles as Biden continued without skipping a beat. "For real. I'm not being solicitous, I'm being serious," he said.

To some, the observation smacked of a well-publicized gaffe that then-Sen. Biden made in 2006, when he told an Indian-American supporter that in Delaware, "you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent." Amid the resulting dust-up, Biden's aides said he simply meant to highlight the vibrant Indian-American community in his home state.

Just a few hours before musing about the preponderance of Somali cabbies, Biden was swearing in new Defense Secretary Ash Carter when he got up close and personal with the wife of the man who now runs the most powerful military in the world.

As Carter began speaking in the Roosevelt Room, Biden beckoned Stephanie Carter from across the room, then put both hands on her shoulders as her husband thanked Biden for presiding over the ceremony. Biden's hands lingered for roughly 20 seconds until he leaned in and whispered in her ear.

What, pray tell, was the vice president confiding in Carter's wife? It's anybody's guess, but within seconds Carter reached back and put his own hand on his wife's shoulder as he thanked his "perfect wife Stephanie" for her support along his professional path.

Both incidents sparked prompt and voluminous reactions on social media, as viewers who caught the events on TV or heard about them later pondered: Just what was Biden thinking?

No stranger to improvisation, Biden over decades has built a brand on his tendency to speak his mind, endearing him to those who crave authenticity from political leaders. Biden's supporters brush off his more jarring moments as "just Biden being Biden."

Biden, who has run for president twice before, has said he's considering running again in 2016.

"Nationally, Biden is just regarded as almost a novelty," said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the nonpartisan Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "It cuts two ways. He gets away with some stuff that others might not get away with, but it also makes him seem like a less serious person than he'd like to be."


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