Vice President Joe Biden has had a rough week. It started with an apology to Jewish groups for using the term “Shylock,” and continued with another gaffe about “the Orient” at an event in Iowa that drew a smaller crowd than Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
But on Friday, Biden felt the love from Democratic women at an event in Washington – even as he made another verbal blunder by favorably invoking disgraced former Sen. Bob Packwood, who resigned following allegations of sexual assault.
In laying out the stakes of the midterm elections, Biden noted that the modern Republican Party is far more conservative than previous incarnations, which included moderate Republicans like Packwood.
Considering that Biden spent the bulk of his speech decrying violence against women, it was more than a bit dissent for the vice president to say he missed a senator who was almost expelled from the Senate after more than 10 women detailed assault allegations.
The vice president gave blistering defense of the Violence Against Women Act, whose 20th anniversary came earlier this week, but said there is much more to be done. When he was pushing the bill in the Senate, Biden said critics dismissed it as a “Biden fad,” but now they see it was a “social failure.”
“What constitutes success? There will always be some man raising his hand against someone weaker, violently,” Biden said. “But success will come when not a single woman in America asks, ‘what did I do?’”
“Never, never, never is it the woman’s fault,” Biden continued, pounding his fist on the podium for emphasis.
Despite the gaffe, Biden, who is openly considering a presidential run in 2016, found a fan in Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is facing her own controversy this week.
Calling Biden a “national treasure” while introducing him at the DNC’s Women’s Leadership Forum, Wasserman Schultz noted that she wore a “Biden for president” pin on her backpack “long after we had a different nominee.”
“I am neutral as the DNC chair [in the presidential nominating contest] and will be, but I just wanted you to have that historical reference,” she said.
Wasserman Schultz was the co-chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. Clinton, of course, is considering her own run for the White House.
Biden returned the kind words, seemingly going out of his way to defend Wasserman Schultz. “I’ve never seen anybody work as hard and as tirelessly as Debbie,” he said, calling her a “little sister.”
Wasserman Schultz’s tenure has been thrown into question this week after a Politico story detailed complaints from fellow Democrats, leading some in Washington to speculate that power interests in the party want her out, or are looking to use her as scapegoat for expected losses in the midterm election.
Biden’s praise amounts to the strongest defense of the chair from the highest-ranking Democrat thus far. When asked about the issue Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters, “From all I know she’s done a good job. But the decision that happens there is the decision of the president of the United States.”
Wasserman Schultz also addressed the ongoing controversy in the National Football League over some of its players facing domestic violence allegations. The video of embattled former Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée “shows why we need to never give up the fight,” she said.
In his own remarks, Biden also addressed the NFL controversy. The league recently hired a former top aide to the vice president, who helped him pass the Violence Against Women Act and other similar legislation in the Senate.
“The NFL ain’t seen nothing yet,” Biden said of Cynthia Hoagan. “I’m glad they hired her. They have no idea what they just bought on. Thank God for the league that they were smart enough to hire her.”
Later Friday, the White House is rolling out a new public awareness initiative to combat sexual assault on college campuses.
“This is not a woman’s issue. This is an American issue. This is a men’s issue. And it’s time for men to stand up,” he said. Bemoaning politicians who treat “women’s issues” as ones that only affects women, Biden continued, “My observation is everything’s a women’s issue.”
Turning to the 2014 midterm elections, the vice president struck an optimistic tone. The election will almost certainly be bad for Democrats, and many prognosticators think the GOP will gain control of the Senate.
But Biden waved off the concerns, paraphrasing Mark Twain: “Reports of the demise of the Democratic Party are premature, they are very premature.”
He noted that he has been campaigning for Democrats like Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Jeanne Shaheen in new Hampshire, and Kay Hagan in North Carolina – “They still let me come in,” he joked – and said that despite the candidates being outspent, “they’re still ahead.”
He even predicted a win for Wendy Davis, who is trailing by double digits in the Texas gubernatorial race. “We’re going to win that race!” Biden repeated several times.
It’s no wonder someone asked him backstage how he stays so optimistic and upbeat all the time, as he recalled toward the end of his remarks.