CBS’s Stahl: Joe Biden the ‘Schmoozer-in-Chief’

Lesley Stahl, CBS During a fawning interview on Sunday’s 60 Minutes on CBS, anchor Lesley Stahl repeated White House talking points portraying Vice President Joe Biden’s constant verbal gaffes as a positive attribute: "After trying to muzzle the man, often ridiculed for his loose lips, the White House now calls his, shall we say, exuberance, an asset. They call it ‘truth-telling.’ And see his talent for connecting as a real advantage. Let Joe be Joe. With his ‘at a boying,’ hand-gripping, ‘hot’ personality, versus Obama's cool cat...Call him ‘schmoozer-in-chief.’"

Stahl went on to highlight some of roles that Biden has taken on as vice president: "With so much on his plate, the President has made his number two the stimulus cop. The assignment, to see that the $787 billion in stimulus money is spent wisely...He's on the phone several hours a week with mayors and governors, making sure they follow the rules...The Vice President gets especially high marks as a team player. For those who predicted he and the Secretary of State would be rivals, they both say 'uh-uh.' And in fact, they meet for a policy breakfast every Tuesday."

As further evidence of Biden being "schmoozer-in-chief," Stahl later declared: "He's physically ‘embracive’ with everybody, total strangers. He hugs, he slaps, he punches, grabs, holds, noses in, and bumps foreheads. Children are a special magnet: he and his wife Jill worked them like a rope line of voters on a campaign. And he cannot resist speechifying, even when his audience is made up of six year olds."

Stahl did acknowledge the awkwardness created by some of Biden’s gaffes: "All his expertise doesn't mean the White House rests easy when the Vice President is holding forth -- his penchant for bloopers still make them nervous...The President himself once called them 'Joe’s rhetorical flourishes'...His body language, when Mr. Biden made fun of the Chief Justice's flubbing at the inaugural swearing in of the President...The President moves in with a disapproving tap and a tight-lipped grimace." However, at the end of the segment, Stahl concluded: "So is the Vice President really unleashed? There's a sense he's trying to find a balance between watching his tongue -- he hasn’t made a gaffe since early February -- and just being Joe."

Stahl asked Biden about President Obama’s recent meeting with Hugo Chavez: "The Republicans are hammering away on this handshake that the President had with Hugo Chavez. And whether it conveyed some kind of lack of toughness on his part." Biden dismissed the criticism: "Do you think Hugo Chavez, or anyone else in the world, thinks that Barack Obama shaking hands with a man who's invited to a conference with him, who's president of another country, who walks up to him and shakes his hand. Do you think they think that's weakness? I think it expresses confidence."

Later, Stahl cited criticism from Dick Cheney: "And this is a direct quote from Dick Cheney, saying that he finds it 'disturbing that Mr. Obama apologizes all the time. Our enemies will be quick to take advantage of a situation if they think they’re dealing with’ -- quote -- ‘a weak president.’" Biden replied: "Look, I don't know what he's apologized for. For example, saying we should close Guantanamo is not an apology, it's a reflection of a fact that the policy that we engaged in made us weaker in the world. He didn't go out and say, ‘Oh, my God, the fact that the last administration did these things - we're so sorry.’ He didn't say -- he just said, ‘we don't do torture any more.’"

Here are relevant portions of the interview:

7:04PM SEGMENT:

LESLEY STAHL: The first 100 days of an administration is when the first report cards come out. The President is facing a barrage of tough issues and he's getting some good marks and some criticism. But what about the Vice President? Well, he's still 'regular Joe,' a man deepened by tragedy when his first wife and baby daughter were killed in a car crash in 1972. A senator for 36 years, chairman of two powerful committees, he told us he may have more experience than any vice president ever. And yet, he has a reputation as a gaffe-machine, a loose cannon who simply talks too much. I asked if he was worried about doing an interview for 60 Minutes. 'It's not you I'm afraid of,' he said, 'it's me.'

STAHL: But everyone we spoke to at the White House said they don't want him to change.

BIDEN: The President, and the entire team close to him, has encouraged me not to try to all of a sudden to be a different Joe Biden than I was for the past 36 years. Sometimes maybe I shouldn't be as straightforward as I am, but I'm not going to change that, I decided-

STAHL: So, you're not sitting on it?

BIDEN: I'm not sitting on it. I am who I am.

STAHL: After trying to muzzle the man, often ridiculed for his loose lips, the White House now calls his, shall we say, exuberance, an asset. They call it 'truth-telling.' And see his talent for connecting as a real advantage. Let Joe be Joe. With his 'at a boying', hand-griping, 'hot' personality, versus Obama's cool cat. You seem to be not just Yin and Yang, but diametric opposites. He's so disciplined, this is not you. He's crisp, this is not you.

BIDEN: There's a lot of constituencies out there that want the time. Want to hear more than the, as you would say, the crisp answer. They want somebody who's going to take the time and have the time to listen to them.

STAHL: And that's you?

BIDEN: That's basically my job and I like engaging with people. You only have to stand for presidents!

STAHL: Call him 'schmoozer-in-chief.' And, as he told this audience in St. Louis, he loves being vice president.

...

STAHL: All his expertise doesn't mean the White House rests easy when the Vice President is holding forth -- his penchant for bloopers still make them nervous. The President himself once called them 'Joe’s rhetorical flourishes,' like this one:

BIDEN: If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there’s still a 30 percent chance we're going to get it wrong.

STAHL: The gaffes. He's actually shown some displeasure with you in public.

BIDEN: That's true. That had happened in the past, and quite frankly, the President said to me he was sorry it was taken out of context, his body language on one of those cases.

STAHL: His body language, when Mr. Biden made fun of the Chief Justice's flubbing at the inaugural swearing in of the President.

BIDEN: My memory isn't as good as Justice Roberts'.

STAHL: The President moves in with a disapproving tap and a tight-lipped grimace. Do you talk it out, Take him to the woodshed? Are you candid enough with each other?

OBAMA: We are actually. And if Joe was off message on a particular day, usually I don't have to bring it up. He's the first one to come to me and say, 'You know what? I'm not sure that's exactly how we want to position ourselves.' The flip side is, if I'm off message, he's not going to be bashful about saying, 'You know, Mr. President, I think-

STAHL: Really?

OBAMA: -we might want to steer more in that direction.'

BIDEN: Does it make me susceptible to being a target? Yeah, it does.

STAHL: A little bit of lampooning kind of stuff.

BIDEN: Yes, well, you know, much of the ridicule of me is well deserved.

STAHL: The Vice President gets especially high marks as a team player. For those who predicted he and the Secretary of State would be rivals, they both say 'uh-uh.' And in fact, they meet for a policy breakfast every Tuesday.

HILLARY CLINTON: He has been at the highest levels of American foreign policy decision-making. And we all listen to him.

STAHL: Mr. Biden prides himself in knowing how the world works. So what about the criticism that the President's been too chummy with some of our adversaries? The Republicans are hammering away on this handshake that the President had with Hugo Chavez. And whether it conveyed some kind of lack of toughness on his part.

BIDEN: Do you think Hugo Chavez, or anyone else in the world, thinks that Barack Obama shaking hands with a man who's invited to a conference with him, who's president of another country, who walks up to him and shakes his hand. Do you think they think that's weakness? I think it expresses confidence.

STAHL: And there's something else bubbling. And this is a direct quote from Dick Cheney, saying that he finds it 'disturbing that Mr. Obama apologizes all the time. Our enemies will be quick to take advantage of a situation if they think they’re dealing with' -- quote -- 'a weak president.'

BIDEN: Look, I don't know what he's apologized for. For example, saying we should close Guantanamo is not an apology, it's a reflection of a fact that the policy that we engaged in made us weaker in the world. He didn't go out and say, 'Oh, my God, the fact that the last administration did these things - we're so sorry.' He didn't say -- he just said, 'we don't do torture any more.'

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC