Washington: Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee and a political veteran who knows firsthand what it is like to compete against President Donald Trump, threw her support behind Joe Biden on Tuesday, the latest party leader to make the case for returning the White House to Democratic hands in November.
“I’ve been not only a colleague of Joe Biden’s, I’ve been a friend, and I can tell you that I wish he were president right now but I can’t wait until he is - if all of us do our part to support the kind of person that we want back in the White House,” Clinton said Tuesday afternoon during a virtual town hall-style event with Biden about the effect of the coronavirus on women.
Accepting her support, Biden said: “I really appreciate your friendship. What a, just a wonderful personal endorsement.”
The Biden campaign had advertised that the event would feature a “special guest,” and on her Twitter account Tuesday, Clinton all but confirmed the endorsement as she disclosed that she would be appearing with Biden.
After Clinton endorsed Biden, the event turned into a conversation about the coronavirus crisis. With an easy banter that recalled the breakfast meetings they both repeatedly harked back to, the two shared ideas to support women who were struggling because of the outbreak.
“You’ve been way ahead on these issues for a long time,” Biden said to Clinton - a show of respect that was often returned.
Clinton also sought to validate Biden as a lifelong champion of women and victims of abuse at a time when he is facing an allegation of sexual assault.
Neither directly mentioned that accusation, made by Tara Reade, a former Senate aide. But in response to a question about how to help victims of domestic violence who were now stuck at home with their abusers, Clinton recalled the former vice president’s work on the Violence Against Women Act that “you wrote and you led.”
As the woman who got closest to the White House, Clinton remains a singular figure in Democratic presidential politics, and a complicated one. Both beloved and blamed for her narrow loss to Trump in 2016, she retains a loyal and powerful constituency of supporters, many of whom have argued that Russian interference cost her the election.
Her reemergence in presidential politics also serves as an implicit reminder to the Democratic left about the dangers of a divided party. While a wide array of factors contributed to Clinton’s loss, one element was the refusal of some on the left to coalesce behind her candidacy against Trump.
For progressives now sceptical about Biden, Clinton’s endorsement, among other things, is an invitation to reflect upon whether they want to risk four more years of the Trump presidency because they are uncomfortable with the former vice-president. Biden has argued since last year that he is best positioned to defeat Trump - but that he would need a united party to do it. No one knows better than Clinton that there is no room for error or a lack of unity among Democrats in a closely fought general election.
Not an easy relationship
Clinton’s relationship with Biden hasn’t always been easy: The two developed a respectful relationship over their decades in Washington, though one marked by slights and awkward rivalries. Biden was resentful of the attention that Clinton received when they ran against each other in the 2008 primary race, but he was the one eventually chosen as former President Barack Obama’s running mate.
They became more friendly through weekly meetings while they both served in the Obama administration. But tensions deepened after Biden considered running against Clinton for the 2016 nomination. After her loss, he was fairly open with his critique that she had failed to talk to middle-class voters. For her part, Clinton seriously weighed whether to run against Biden last year.
Now they will be partners again, this time on the campaign trail, as Biden tries to do what Clinton could not. Given her three debates against Trump in 2016, and her daily strategy and fortifications dealing with his punches and counterpunches in the heat of a campaign, her counsel to Biden has the value of firsthand experience.
During the virtual event Tuesday, Biden suggested he would continue to seek her guidance. “Hillary, I’m going to keep calling and asking for your advice,” he said.
Her endorsement follows similar ones from Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Vice President Al Gore and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington. The fast and carefully orchestrated rollout of endorsements for Biden is a sign of the value that his campaign is putting on Democratic unity against Trump.
But on Tuesday, Biden happily accepted Clinton’s endorsement - and seemed to joyfully accept a bit of ribbing, too.
During one exchange, Clinton referred to Biden’s “technological encounters” with voters, then joked that they “must be killing you, Joe Biden!”
“One of the best retail politicians there is,” she went on, “and you’re sitting in your house doing this.”
As they wrapped up the event, Biden had his own words of praise.
“I have to tell you something completely honestly - straightforward,” he said. “I wish this were us doing this and my supporting your reelection for president of the United States.”
Her half-smile suggested she wished that, too.