Everyone likes a good story. And that’s precisely why the “fake news” parade catapulted to the fore in this year’s election cycle.
So, let’s get in on some “fake news” about the next election cycle, as well.
The fake news phenomenon recently visited the U.S. Capitol. And not quite in the way you might think.
Vice President Joe Biden came to the Capitol recently to preside over a key procedural vote on the “21st Century Cures Act.” The legislation beefs up medical research for Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and helps combat the opioid epidemic.
The measure enjoyed wide, bipartisan support. Biden’s vote wasn’t necessary (in his capacity as president of the Senate) to break ties or anything like that. He was simply there to observe the bill vaulting an important procedural hurdle on its way to passage.
The vice president had a couple of stakes in this legislation. A year ago, President Obama charged his vice president with heading the cancer “moonshot” efforts. Obama thought that Biden was the perfect person to lead the initiative since he lost his son Beau to brain cancer last year at age 46.
“He’s known the cruel toll this disease can take,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., of Biden. “He hasn't let it defeat him. He's chosen to fight back.”
McConnell then asked his fellow senators to rename the National Institutes of Health cancer section of the bill after Beau Biden.
Tears pooled in the vice president’s reddening eyes as he presided over the Senate from the dais.
“Without objection,” Biden managed to cough, his voice phlegmatic with emotion.
Senators from both sides of the aisle rose to face the vicepPresident. The body erupted in bipartisan applause.
Biden clasped his hands together and looked at the desk before him, lost in the moment and thinking about Beau.
A senator for 36 years, Biden loves the Capitol. He’ll soon miss his periodic visits to preside over the Senate and pal around with his old colleagues. Once he recomposed himself, Biden was back to being “Ol’ Joe.”
He flashed his electric smile. He glad-handed and backslapped with senators from both parties. He talked to the interns and posed for pictures with pages and junior aides.
And then when he was just about to zip down an ornate staircase near the Senate floor and leave the building, a small contingent of patient reporters summoned the vice president over for a word about McConnell moving to rename the cancer section of the bill after his son.
“For a colleague to do that ... out of a gesture of friendship and affection, it means a lot,” Biden said. “It matters. It validates what we do here.”
Elated by the Senate taking action on something important to him personally, Biden spoke about his passion for the body, wistful that his time in the game may be coming to a close.
“Every time I come up here, I feel invigorated,” he said.
A reporter then half-jokingly asked if the vice president might run for President in four years.
“I'm going to run in 2020. For President. So, what the hell, man,” replied Biden with a smile.
Reporters then pressed Biden on if he was serious, informing the vice president they’d print and broadcast the story if he was wasn’t screwing around.
“That’s OK. That’s OK,” said Biden.
This was one of those moments when a reporter goes with his or her gut. Was he serious or being silly? Here’s the vice president of the United States -- emotion spilling over him as the Senate renames part of a major medical research bill after his son -- saying, indeed, yes, he’s going to run for President.
That’s a big deal -- especially after Biden took a pass on challenging Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, this cycle. Maybe there’s Monday morning quarterbacking going on as Biden considers who the voters did elect.
Lesser things have compelled people to run for office in an effort to make an impact. Do something good. Right the ship.
So better follow up. Again.
Was Biden “kidding?” a reporter asked, “just to be clear.”
One second. Two seconds. Three seconds. Four seconds.
“I’m not committing not to run. I’m not committing to anything. I learned a long time ago, fate has a strange way of intervening,” Biden said.
The loss of Beau was hardly the vice president’s first tragedy. Just after winning his Senate seat from Delaware in 1972, Biden’s first wife and 1-year-old daughter died in a car crash.
“I’ve got to get better and I will. Sometimes the second year is tougher than the first,” said Biden about the loss of his son.
But was Biden in?
The best way to find out would be to inquire of the vice president after he slept on it for the night. Biden returned to the Capitol the next morning to huddle with House Democrats.
“I’m going to start my campaign tomorrow,” Biden replied when asked about 2020 as he walked to the session with House Democrats.
Once inside the conclave, an unnamed Democratic House member hollered “2020!” at Biden. But the Vice President didn’t take the bait.
When he left the meeting, a squadron of reporters pursued him down the hall, barking questions about 2020.
“I’m focused on 2018,” said Biden, a reference to the midterm elections.
Reporters continued to hector the vice president.
“I don’t make decisions that far in advance,” Biden said. “It’s never worked for me.”
But, but … what you said last night was … .
Biden returned to the Capitol for a third-consecutive day, the next day. On this occasion, the Senate was poised to honor the exiting vice president in a series of tributes on the floor.
“Joe Biden has spent his entire adult life working across the aisle in Washington to get things done for the American people and representing our country proudly on the world stage, but he’s also cherished by his colleagues past and present as a good man, a loyal friend, and a true patriot,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., who now holds Biden’s Senate seat. “I look forward to seeing what Joe and his family accomplish in their next chapter in public service.”
And that’s precisely why reporters waited in a Senate corridor for the vice president to arrive on the third day to find more clarity about his future plans.
What about this 2020 talk?
“20/20,” said Biden as he breezed through en route to the Senate floor. “That’s my vision.”
When he finally departed the Capitol following all of the tributes, reporters pestered Biden again.
“I have no intention of running,” Biden replied.
Biden backed off during an appearance on CNN.
“Age could be very much an issue, and it may not be. It depends on the state of my health and the health of whomever is running,” he said.
The vice president then dropped away from his initial statement when pressed about 2020 by Stephen Colbert on the “Late Show.”
“I don’t plan on running again,” said Biden, but noted the age of the president-elect should he seek a second term.
“Hell, Donald Trump’s going to be 74. I’ll be in 77. In better shape,” said the vice president. “I mean, what the hell?”
So were Biden’s initial comments about 2020 authentic? Even when given multiple chances to walk it back?
Or was this just a momentary jest? Was his response a byproduct of the outpouring of sympathy from his colleagues over Beau Biden and the 21st Century Cures Act? What about his joking the next day? No one truly knows.
This was the bind for reporters. Was a potential Biden 2020 bid real or was it fake? Who knows.
Or to quote the Vice President, “What the hell, man.”