Diary

When Headlines Don't Agree With News Stories

Seeking to convince us that “Speaking Freely, Biden Finds Influential Role,” the New York Times, instead, makes clear that the Vice President’s role is anything but influential.

Consider:

Top aides say it has become customary for Mr. Obama to solicit Mr. Biden’s opinion at the end of meetings. But his views by no means always carry the day. At one January meeting to discuss the budget, Mr. Biden railed that the government was in no fiscal shape to pursue a health care overhaul this year — to the dismay of many present and others who heard about it.

The vice president later backed off, but Mr. Obama — who disagreed strongly with the view — has come to see Mr. Biden as a useful contrarian in the course of decision-making.

So much for the Vice President’s influence when it comes to health care reform.

Mr. Biden’s colleagues in the administration — and former ones in the Senate — describe him with fondness, often as “Joe,” and catalog his old-fashioned kindnesses (he sent a two-page note to the wife of Education Secretary Arne Duncan after meeting her at Mr. Duncan’s introductory news conference).

But they also acknowledge that the verbose vice president has struggled to adjust at times to working within a White House that prizes discipline.

During the fall campaign, Mr. Obama’s aides — usually David Axelrod, the media strategist, and David Plouffe, the campaign manager — spent considerable time on the phone with Mr. Biden and his staff over remarks that they had deemed unhelpful. Mr. Biden listened and saluted smartly.

“He was a good soldier,” said Senator Ted Kaufman, Democrat of Delaware, who had been Mr. Biden’s Senate chief of staff before being appointed to his old boss’s seat. “But I sat with him. That was hard, that was hard. He has all these ideas.”

So much for the Vice President’s ability to push for his ideas.

Mr. Biden has taken steps to rein himself in — or others have insisted on it. He has begun to use a teleprompter more. He often uses note cards to stay focused while presiding over meetings. He has given few interviews since Election Day, and those have focused mainly on discrete policy topics.

“He knows a lot, and he is extremely experienced,” Mrs. Clinton said of Mr. Biden, with whom she has breakfast each Tuesday. “I think sometimes he has to be a little aware he could literally educate the rest of us on an issue for a long time.”

So much for the Vice President’s ability to . . . talk.

And to complete the portrait:

When President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. meet for their standing Friday lunch engagement, Mr. Obama always picks the cuisine — a subtle break from previous administrations in which the president and the vice president typically ordered off a menu, and a reminder, if any was needed, about who is in charge.

“The dietary bar is set by the president,” said Ron Klain, Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, who recently fielded a prelunch query from the White House kitchen about whether Mr. Biden wanted sour cream with his tacos (he did). “Biden eats anything. He’s a pretty easy guy that way.”

The fact that this is a family blog prevents me from stating explicitly what the Vice President is forced to eat, but let’s just say that his diet appears to be a core ingredient for fertilizer.

The sound you hear in the distance is Dick Cheney laughing.