Two years ago, President Obama and his party were riding high - literally. Obama took his first ride as president on Air Force One, flying to southern Virginia to address the Democrats on their annual retreat and bask in the glow of a Democratic majority in both the House and Senate. Well, what a difference two years can make. This year, Obama travels to the Eastern Shore of Maryland to address the reduced numbers of Democrats from the House and Senate, and rather than having his remarks be live for all to see, he will speak behind closed doors, away from the prying eyes of the media. Instead, the White House is sending out a Hill favorite, Vice President Biden to rev up the perhaps slightly depressed democratic party.
Fox News Capitol Hill producer John Brandt reports that just before Biden spoke, the Democrats handed out hats at the retreat with their new slogan, designed by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., "Made in America" a nod perhaps to what the upcoming agenda and economic plan might be for Democrats in the new Congress. And when Biden took the stage he got a standing ovation, accompanied by "woo-hoos" and whistles. But in what could be seen as a foreshadowing of what's to come, Biden mostly steered clear of domestic policies, instead talking for almost 45 minutes about foreign policy.
Biden, who served in the Senate for over 30 years, knows the Democratic party well and has been used strategically by the Obama administration to work his friends on Capitol Hill - most recently when handling the tax cut debate and furor by Democrats that President Obama cut a "deal" with Republicans extending the Bush-era tax cuts - something the White House never really wanted. So while Obama's remarks this evening may focus on domestic policies, Biden turned to his strong suit - Iraq and Afghanistan and focused on how to achieve long-term goals in those two countries, while addressing the circumstances handed to President Obama by his predecessor.
"If we go back and do it all over again maybe we wouldn't do it. I wouldn't do it anyway, the way we did it...starting with Bush, but folks uh, we were handed, you were handed, I was, the president was handed a circumstance and we intend on making good on two promises," Biden told the Democrats. "One, they need our military presence there and two, helping them as long as they want it to build and sustain a government that can actually function and not be a menace in the region and secure its own borders. That's a fundamental interest we have to redeem our sacrifices by preserving the gain that have been made and I believe we are on track to do that."
The address to Democrats also gave Biden a turn to speak about Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, D-AZ., who was transported to a rehabilitation center in Texas Friday, just under two weeks after being shot at point blank range in Tucson, Ariz. That allowed the vice president to talk about tone, not only specifically in Congress but throughout the country.
"We've got to change the way we talk to one another. We've got to change the way we talk to one another, and tone matters Words matter. And I'm not saying they matter neccessarily in terms of whether some guy is already deranged would do something like this again but it matters in terms of how we're going to deal with the problems of this country," Biden said. "Whether we're really actually going to respond to the needs of the American people and they're significant."
Friday's retreat in Cambridge, Md. also included a question and answer session with the vice president- but that, like the president's remarks in the evening was closed to press.