When President Obama took office in January 2009, Biden was almost always by his side at major policy announcements, but as time went on, Biden's gaffes - like when he told the president the health care vote was a "BFD"-- were drawing more attention than the White House probably wanted.
So, in what appears to be a change, Biden has taken on the more traditional role of vice presidents - working behind the scenes with his former colleagues on Capitol Hill as a point person for the White House on major legislative moves.
A recent example of the new Biden? Tuesday afternoon, he arrived on the Capitol Hill to speak with Democrats during their weekly policy lunch. He made such an effort not to be seen, he used an entrance Fox News Senior Senate producer Trish Turner said she's almost never seen used by anybody! And rather than speaking to the throngs of reporters awaiting his exit, Biden said few words and ducked off the Hill, just as the president was holding a press conference at the White House to talk about the extension of tax rates.
But while this may seem like a new tactic by the administration, Washington insiders say this is what it's like for all vice presidents.
"Biden is doing everything he can, and does what traditional vice presidents do, and that is stay behind the scenes as much as possible using political instinct and clout to do what the president wants done," says Brad Blakeman, a former adviser to President George W. Bush.
Blakeman says Biden's history on the Hill can be an advantage for the Obama White House. "Biden has, unlike some vice presidents, tremendous respect and personal relationships on the Hill. A lot of times, the vice president is called upon to do the heavy lifting and in this case, working with the Senate and House because he knows the people personally and he becomes the most likely do that instead of a staffer."
And Obama Senior Adviser David Axelrod agrees. He spoke to reporters today, specifically addressing Biden's role in tax cut talks, saying, "[H]is role at the outset of this was not as a negotiator. His role was as someone who had relationships across the aisle in the Senate, as a result of 36 years in the United States Senate...we'd be crazy not to take advantage of that."
The White House has given Biden a lot of heavy lifting recently. While the vice president was always designated the main point person to work with the government of Iraq during the reconstruction in that nation, he's now also handling more on Capitol Hill - personally meeting with both Democrats and Republicans regarding the START treaty (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) which is being held up for a vote by various Republicans -- and making trips up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, including back-to-back stops Tuesday and Wednesday to rally Democrats behind the president and his plans to extend the so-called Bush tax cuts.
Democratic strategists say Biden's role on the Hill is a huge benefit to the White House. "In terms of Capitol Hill, it is [a benefit]. It's easier for him to move around and he knows the Hill quite well so I think it's better for him to try to smooth things over for Democrats who are upset, office by office, going up on the Hill. He has the ability to do that ... he's got some credibility with the angrier, more upset Democrats up on the Hill right now. So it's a good move for them," says Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist who was the campaign manager for Howard Dean and is a Fox News Contributor.
But Trippi adds that with some recent White House staff departures, like Rahm Emanuel who was a big player on Capitol Hill before becoming chief of staff to the president, the administration could be relying more on Biden. "You know Rahm really knew the Hill, would have been the guy who would have been up there. That was the whole reason he was chief of staff. I know there are other people and a temporary chief of staff or whatever, but I'm saying it may be sort of creating a bigger need for Joe Biden now to be up there with Rahm transitioning out and in Chicago," says Trippi.
As it stands, there are a number of legislative items the Senate and House have yet to debate and vote on in the current lame-duck Congress. Of those items, the White House has been pressing hard both in front of cameras and behind the scenes to get the START treaty ratified. While it was initially the president who was pushing, Biden has taken up the call, meeting at the White House with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a committee he once chaired.
Republican strategists say START will get done, although perhaps not on the timetable the White House is hoping for, and they say the treatment of the treaty by the Obama administration is their regular modus operendi.
"It's going to happen when Kyl and other Republicans are satisfied and they've done their due diligence. This isn't about holding up START just to hold it up - there are serious issues Republicans have as to what's in the treaty," says Blakeman. "They're not going to get it on the Obama timetable. They're not allowed to read START or question it and this has been the Obama MO and everything is an emergency and we need it done now. We've seen the disaster in doing that with stimulus package and health care."
And even if the Obama administration does or does not get their legislative agenda accomplished both Republicans and Democrats agree on one thing -at least for now - Biden probably isn't going anywhere in 2012 unless Obama asks him to move.
"I would be surprised but I don't think there's a "we've gotta move him out" kind of thing. I think if he wants to be, I could see him relishing Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense in a way if one of those folks wants to move on, he might be the one who goes in and says "Hey, can I be Secretary of State?" says Trippi. "Clearly I don't think he sees himself running for president in 2016 so I think if it serves the president by being vice president he will, if it serves the president by being Secretary of State he will. I don't think they're looking to make that change but, you know, you never know. You could need Ohio, you never know what electoral vote you may need to win this thing and where it may make sense to do something different. But if so, there are going to be plenty of places for Joe Biden."
And Blakeman is even more emphatic that Biden isn't moving.
"Biden's not going anywhere. There's always talk that VP's may switch. The fact of the matter is, Obama is not going to change Biden out unless Biden wants to leave or there's a medical condition, because [Obama] got elected with Biden and people vote for the pres and not VP's and this pres is going to rise and fall on his own record. This is all about the president."