At this juncture, a White House aide comes in to tell Biden that the president needs him downstairs for a briefing on terrorism. He nods in agreement and continues with the interview.
Bush and Cheney and Clinton and Gore famously had their weekly lunches together. Do you have regular, unstructured one-on-one time with the president?
Matter of fact, I just had lunch with the president. I spend an average of four to five hours a day with him, every single day. When I first got asked to do this job, I said, "No, thank you. I'll do anything I can to help you, but I'm not interested." Then he said, "Go home and talk it over with your family." When the actual offer came forward, he asked me what portfolio do I want, and I said, "I don't want a portfolio; I don't want to be Gore" – who was a great vice president – "I don't want to be Cheney. You said you wanted me here to help you govern, and I have a lot of experience." I wanted a commitment that I get to be the last guy in the room on every major decision – not generally, but specifically. My job is to accommodate what he wants done and, internally, to make my cases for what I think we should be doing different. So it's been a really good relationship, and everybody knows that – around here and around the world. Think about it: Even our critics have never said that when I speak, no one doubts that I speak for the president. I speak for the president because of the relationship. And the only way that works is if you're around all the time. Literally, every meeting he has, I'm in. You don't have to wonder what the other guy's thinking; I don't have to guess where the president's going. So it's been really great. Once a week, no matter what, we sit down for between 35 minutes and as long as an hour and a half, depending on what we have to say.
We talk about everything, and our wives are friends. Today, we talked about foreign policy at some length, we talked about China, we talked about Russia and we talked about Syria. So that's more than you wanted to know, but this is the nature of the relationship, and that's why it works.
We have very different styles, but we are simpatico. At all the debates we had – trying to get the nomination in '08 – we're the only two who never disagreed on a single substantive issue. He has a great line. He said, "We're the ultimate odd couple," he says. "We make up for each other's shortcomings." He makes up for a hell of a lot more of mine than I do of his, but it's worked. When you leave the Senate, they let you buy your Senate chair. I have two sons, and I didn't know what to do. He said, "Look, give Beau your chair; I'll give Hunter my chair." So Hunter has President Obama's chair from when he was a senator. That's major league. On Saturday mornings, it's not at all unusual to see the president, the first lady and the second lady and the vice president sitting in a little tiny gym in suburban Maryland, watching my granddaughter Maisy and his daughter Sasha in this basketball league. The president always talks about my granddaughter on national television: "She's going D1." "Mr. President, didn't your daughter's team win their championship?" "Yeah, it was because of the vice president's granddaughter Maisy Biden."
Considering how busy you are, do you have time to read books? If so, which ones would you recommend?
I make the time because it's important. Let's see. There is a good book titled The River of Doubt, by Candice Millard, about Teddy Roosevelt's exploration of the Amazon in Brazil. I knew nothing about this. My goodness, let's see. There's Mr. Putin, by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy. Insightful. He's an interesting man. Anyone who's traveled with me to Afghanistan knows why I love this book: War, by Sebastian Junger. And that reminds me of another book, Lessons in Disaster, by Gordon Goldstein. There's a great line in there where LBJ turns to [National Security Adviser] McGeorge Bundy and says, "How can we win this war in Vietnam?" And Bundy says something like, "Sir, we don't know how to win the war, but we know how not to lose it."
This story is from the May 23rd, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone.
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