Joe Biden, one of the many Democrats who is interested in the presidency in 2020, is a heavy hitter among Democratic stars in Canada.
Still, when the Canadian Press asked Biden if he had been invited to attend the Canadian prime minister’s first state dinner in Washington, D.C., in 2015 — which was slated to include his own brother, former U.S. Rep. Beau Biden, who was dying of brain cancer at the time — he hemmed and hawed.
“I think I’ve talked to them on other occasions,” he said. “You know, I have a relationship with the prime minister.”
Asked if he had been invited to the event, the former vice president said, “No, I haven’t. I know they have been and I’ve not been. But I’m confident they have and it would be a tremendous honor and a wonderful memory, I think.”
But then he added: “I’m just telling you from experience.”
That might seem like grandstanding, but here’s what Biden had to say in March 2016, long before Beau Biden’s death:
“I’ve been there, and it’s pretty amazing. It’s amazing to get the prime minister, the leader of a democratic country, to invite me, not only to a state dinner, but to speak, because that means he thinks I’m somebody,” Biden said in an interview with the CBC. “You know, when I was in Florida last week I went to a hockey game, I went to a hockey game in Canada — it’s pretty amazing to go into Canada and be asked to speak, that they’re proud of you.”
On top of that, on May 5, 2006, Biden told a campaign event in Waterloo, Ont., that “I’ve been invited by several governments, but this is the most personally meaningful.”
The Canadian Press didn’t note any of that in the report Biden made about his famous “fitness for office” speech last Wednesday in Newtown, Conn. In his speech, Biden declared that he has been the president and vice president of all Americans, even if his late son was living in Canada when Biden was vice president. Biden’s son, a former Delaware Attorney General, died in 2015.
Biden also said during his speech that having his son alive would have had a profound effect on his view of his earlier career and position in the future.
“My son Beau’s death was very, very personal to me, not just about someone who was my son and was afflicted with a horrible illness, but it was a moment in my life when I saw how profound the importance of family is to an individual,” Biden said. “As a parent you’re just so proud when your children succeed, when they’re set forth on their own, but it doesn’t mean you aren’t a concern.”
So what is the test? When is a state dinner or an invitation to speak on the floor of Parliament, a “personal” or “significant” matter that might disqualify a candidate from the presidency?
On one hand, Biden could view the invitation as a major honor for someone who has been such a prominent part of American government. On the other hand, Biden could view it as very personal and make a political calculus, looking at the optics of the invitation and thinking, “I can say something pretty nice about my opponent, a part of our country, during an event where the president is attending, even if he is not attending myself.”
For now, I would have to say Biden takes the cake in this category, because he has done both. He has been invited to speak at a prime minister’s state dinner. Biden has been extended a government job offer that likely wouldn’t have existed had he not been a vice president or vice president-elect. He has personally argued, via another country, to mend a chapter in history and heal a party that has broken apart — something the late former vice president was also fairly adept at in his political career.
It’s all very personal and very significant.