According to the polls, Joe Biden doesn’t have a prayer in 2016. And according to former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign-policy and national-security issue over the past four decades.”
But two things are also certain: First, Biden is still Barack Obama’s go-to-guy when partisan loyalty is at a premium. Faced with rising concern and criticism over the outbreak of Ebola, Obama tapped Ron Klain, Biden’s former chief of staff, to be America’s Ebola czar. Second, Biden’s friends and family have not hesitated to profit from their ties to the vice president. Biden’s brother, James, and his son, Hunter, have cashed in on the family name, whether it be in Iraq or Ukraine. Biden may have the mien of the crazy uncle in the basement, but he is also a real reminder of what is wrong with politics.
Let’s start with Klain. Like Biden, Klain is a consummate fixer, with Georgetown and Harvard Law School degrees thrown in for good measure. But for his political pedigree, Klain would have no business being Ebola coordinator. Ebola is not just another messaging problem.
Klain was the aide to Al Gore who was memorialized by Kevin Spacey in the HBO movie Recount as pushing for a more aggressive approach to, well, the 2000 Florida recount. Then, after failing in Florida, Klain became a Fannie Mae lobbyist who helped convince Congress and Fannie Mae’s regulators that all was well with the world, even as Fannie Mae was inflating what would prove to be a catastrophic housing bubble.
And yet, Biden and Obama now seek to again unleash Klain on America. To be sure, Klain’s public-health credentials are invisible, a fact that Obama himself has tacitly acknowledged. In announcing Klain’s selection, Obama framed things this way: “Klain comes to the job with extensive experience in overseeing complex governmental operations and has good working relationships with leading members of Congress as well as senior administration officials.” Not one word about Klain, medicine, and immunology.
In that sense, Klain is all too reminiscent of Harriet Miers, George W. Bush’s White House counsel and his personal lawyer. Bush nominated Miers to the Supreme Court but was then compelled to pull her nomination after it became clear that Miers’ loyalty to the president far exceeded her legal chops.
What prevented Miers from joining the court was the fact that she would have to run the gantlet of Senate confirmation, which is something that Klain, the Ebola czar, will not need to do. He is a creature of the White House, cloaked in executive privilege.
Klain is not the first to crawl out of the swamp of Biden World on to the larger stage. He is cut from the same mold as Tom Donilon, Obama’s former national security adviser, who, like Klain, also served at Fannie Mae; had his own ties to Biden; and worked in a job in which he was over his head. For the record, Donilon’s brother, Mike, was Biden’s counselor between 2009 and 2013.
According to The Nation, “Fannie Mae paid Donilon, a longtime Democratic Party operative, $15 million to lobby Congress to gut the power of government regulators.” He was “a top executive at Fannie Mae during the period when cooking the books to increase executive compensation would later lead to a $400 million fine.”
More disturbingly, Donilon took center stage as national security adviser despite the fact that he was lightly regarded in national-security circles. In Bob Woodward’s telling, Gen. Jim Jones, Donilon’s predecessor at NSA, said to Donilon, “You have no credibility with the military…. you frequently pop off with absolute declarations about places you’ve never been, leaders you’ve never met, or colleagues you work with.” Donilon was also Obama’s guy while the president was laying out imaginary red lines to Syria.
But it’s not just Biden placing loyalty over competence that makes him who he is, his tropism toward plagiarism, or even his tendency to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. It’s Biden’s willingness to turn a blind eye in the face of his family members trading on Biden’s job as vice president for fun, profit, and disgrace that completes the picture.
Take Hunter Biden, the veep’s younger son. Just last week, it was reported that the 44-year-old Hunter was discharged from the Navy after testing positive for cocaine. But here’s the thing. To get into the Navy, Hunter needed a separate waiver on account of his prior drug use. History does repeat itself.
And then there’s that matter of Hunter and Ukraine. Back in May, Burisma Holdings, Ukraine’s largest private natural-gas producer, announced that Hunter had joined its board. To which the White House could only reply, “Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family are obviously private citizens, and where they work does not reflect an endorsement by the administration or by the vice president or president.”
And then there’s James Biden, the vice president’s brother, who made a go at winning public-housing contracts in Iraq. As reported in the waning days of the 2012 presidential campaign, after Joe became vice president, James joined New Jersey-based Hill International as its executive vice president.
So what? So this. Hill’s business is managing construction projects in the Middle East and the United States, and lo and behold, six months after James joined Hill in 2010, the company won a $1.5 billion contract to build at least 100,000 affordable homes in Iraq. Talk about coincidence.
Or not. According to published reports, the State Department, then run by Hillary Clinton, and the Iraqi government were instrumental in Hill winning the contract. Also at the time, Biden was Obama’s point person on Iraq, and like Klain, who is no expert on public health, James Biden was no maven on public housing.
The White House may have contemplated dumping Joe Biden from the ticket. But that was then. These days, it is Biden who again finds himself at the center of all things Obama.
Even as the United States struggles to build a coalition against ISIS, it is Biden who tweaks Turkey, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, without appreciating the havoc that he would wreak, tweaks for which he would ultimately be forced to apologize. We have seen the diplomatic crises Biden can stir up. But sadly, it’s hardly the worst of Biden’s handiwork.