Vice President Joe Biden addressed the speculation for the first time Thursday night about whether he’ll get into the 2016 presidential race. But instead of an enthusiastic yes, or a politician’s non-answer, Biden spoke with the raw honesty of a still-grieving father.
“The most relevant fact is whether my family and I have the emotional energy to run,” Biden said, adding that he has no set timeline for himself to make a decision.
Biden’s eldest son, Beau Biden, died of cancer in May. Biden’s first wife and young daughter were killed in a car accident in 1972.
Biden said that the much-discussed mechanics of a potential presidential campaign, including fundraising, timing, and logistics, are playing no role in his decision-making process. “The factor is, ‘Can I do it? Can my family?’ The honest-to-God answer is, I just don’t know.”
After a pause, he turned to his friend and host, former ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, and said, “But I have to be honest with you and everyone who’s come to me. I can’t look you straight in the eye and say now I know I can do it.”
Biden was in Atlanta for a long-scheduled appearance at a local synagogue, but used it as an opportunity to sell the Iran nuclear deal coming up for debate in Congress next week.
As Eizenstat introduced Biden earlier in the evening, he described Biden as a longtime friend, “a man of deep religious faith and remarkable personal character,” who had helped him through his own personal losses.
The usually gregarious Biden got a standing ovation from the crowd, but when he took the podium, he spoke so softly an audience member yelled for him to speak up.
He told a story about his sons, Beau and Hunter, from a time when Biden’s own health was in perilous danger and told Eizenstat he understood what losing someone can do to a person. “I know it still leaves a hole in your heart.”
Biden spoke wistfully of his Irish grandfather, a “sober soul” and quoted William Butler Yeats’ tragic poem, “Easter 1916.” “All’s changed,” Biden recited slowly. “All’s changed utterly.”
The vice president went on to deliver a policy-heavy 45-minute address about the United States’s role in the world. He touched on China’s “testing and crossing the limits of international law and acceptable behavior.” He spoke of the so-called Islamic State widely known as ISIS and the patience it will require from the American people to destroy it. He described the United States’s evolving relationships in Latin America and the need for an immigration policy that “recognizes the dignity of all people.”
He assured the audience that the Iran nuclear pact would make Israel, the United States, and the world safer than it would be without the agreement.
The speech was nuanced, detailed, and about as far from the 2016 campaign spectacle in tone and tenor as one can get. But Eizenstat asked the one question that everyone in the room seemed to want the answer to—will he do it? Will Biden run in 2016, too?
In the end, it was clear Biden himself doesn’t know whether he will run for president again. He could not even say when he might know.
The happy warrior that Biden’s friends and admirers have known for so long did not show up in Atlanta on Thursday night. Instead a somber, sober soul had come instead.
Will the old Joe Biden be back again someday? Will he run for president and fulfill what was reportedly among Beau’s last requests of his father? Can a man ever recover from losing so much?
The only thing that seems clear about Joe Biden is that all’s changed. All’s changed utterly and he may never be the same again.