Vice President Mike Pence has been having a tough time lately. His boss doesn’t respect him; Donald Trump’s sycophants think he’s trying to stage a coup to undermine the president; and much of the country (correctly) thinks he’s a homophobic bumpkin with Lego hair.
Enter former Vice President Joseph R. Biden. According to a new book on vice presidents, Biden and Pence have grown somewhat close since Pence took over Biden’s old job, with Pence apparently confiding in Biden that he admires the former vice president’s relationship with former President Obama.
While Trump has not spoken with Barack Obama since the inauguration, Biden and Pence speak with each other “at least once a month,” according to an excerpt of the book First in Line: Presidents, Vice Presidents, and the Pursuit of Power by Kate Andersen Brower, which was published Friday in The Hill.
In the book excerpt, Biden explained his relationship with his successor and said Pence usually calls with foreign policy questions (emphasis added throughout):
Biden told me that Pence confided in him how much he admired his relationship with Obama. When Pence calls him it’s usually to ask questions about foreign policy. “Joe,” he says, “this is the decision that has to be made. What went before it?” Biden said he has made himself “available to him on mostly background things, to give him perspective.” Biden has long-standing friendships with foreign leaders from his years in the Senate and as vice president, and he frequently fields calls from worried heads of state. He says he is in touch with a dozen world leaders who ask for advice on how to work with the Trump administration and how to interpret new policies. “The king of Jordan comes to meet with him [President Trump] and gets in a helicopter to come meet with me in Delaware,” Biden said, sounding pleased.
Biden also said he considers Pence a “guy you can deal with,” unlike the president, and said he has even acted as an unofficial White House envoy to foreign leaders on Pence’s behalf:
Biden considers Pence a lifeline to a White House in a constant state of upheaval. “I have fundamental disagreements with Mike, particularly on social policy and what I consider basic civil rights, civil liberties, but Mike’s a guy you can talk with, you can deal with, in a traditional sense. Like [Bill] Clinton could talk to [Newt] Gingrich.” Biden says he tries not to criticize the president during private meetings with foreign leaders, though it is not always easy biting his tongue, and in some cases it sounds like he is working as a conduit for the administration. Before he met with former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Biden checked in with Pence to make sure he did not misrepresent administration policy and called him after the meeting and gave him a readout.
It’s hard to know how to feel about all this. On the one hand, it’s emblematic of the glad-handing between two old white men in politics, one of whom is standing behind the president despite the very real, very human stakes of the policies the Trump administration is enacting. On the other hand, it is perhaps a good thing to have someone with a modicum of experience in diplomacy advising the bumbling current administration on foreign policy.
But hey, isn’t having friends nice? :-)