Under normal circumstances, this might be an amusing way of understanding the ethics of serving in an administration. And it still might be, if not for a lack of clarity on precisely to whom Joe Biden applies this standard … especially as the nation’s oldest presumptive president prepares to take office.
CNN’s Jake Tapper wondered how Biden and Kamala Harris, once bitter rivals, have gotten along as running mates and now transitioning to office. Just fine, Biden said, but if that changes, Biden says he’ll fall back on the understanding he had with Barack Obama. Someone will have to “develop a disease and resign,” Biden says, but who?
Joe Biden is asked about his disagreements with Kamala Harris on certain issues:
"Like I told Barack, if I reach something where there's a fundamental disagreement we have based on a moral principle, I'll develop some disease and say I have to resign." pic.twitter.com/SLcvrwaPCA
— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) December 4, 2020
BIDEN: First of all, I understand how campaigns can sometimes get a little out of whack a little bit. And, as I told her, because you asked the question, I don’t hold grudges. It’s — I mean, that’s why Richard Ben Cramer questioned whether I was really Irish, you know, I mean — but all kidding aside…
TAPPER: The first-lady-to-be told me she holds them for you.
BIDEN: Yes, she does, but not with — she’s — she and Kamala have become friends.
BIDEN: But, all kidding aside, it’s a matter of, the thing, we are simpatico on our philosophy of government and simpatico on how we want to attach — approach these issues that we’re facing. And so I don’t have — and when we disagree, it will be just like — so far, it has been just like when Barack and I did. It’s in private. She’ll say, I think we should do A, B, C, or D, and I will say, I like A, don’t like B and C. And let’s go, OK.
But — and like I told Barack, if I reach something where there’s a fundamental disagreement we have based on a moral principle, I will develop some disease and say I have to resign.
I assume he means that Harris will “develop a disease” if she disagrees with his policies. That’s not how Biden puts it here, though — he says that he’d have to resign. And Harris remains very, very quiet on this point, even though that loyalty/ethics principle should apply to her rather than Biden, who got elected to the top office and should be the one setting policy.
Needless to say, this is precisely what Republicans have argued about a Biden presidency all along. They contended that Biden would be nothing more than a Trojan horse for progressives and that he’d find an excuse to hand off the reins early in his administration. However, it’s been pretty clear from the nominations announced, candidates short-listed, and the reaction of progressives to all of the above that this is — so far — very much a Joe Biden administration and not a Harris administration. In fact, it’s a bit surprising to see so far just how little influence Harris has seemingly had, a point that Tapper raises just after this clip:
TAPPER: I don’t need to tell you, Mr. President-Elect, that the NAACP is suggesting that they are disappointed so far that there haven’t been more black Americans named to high-profile positions, present company excepted, and that Jim Clyburn said he’s watching your Cabinet picks and, — quote — “I can think of at least 10 black folks that qualify for every single one.” One position you have yet to announce is attorney general. Do you think, given George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, the social justice issues, the justice — criminal justice reform issues that a black attorney general would be the right direction?
BIDEN: Look, I’m going to be announcing the remaining 15 members of the Cabinet. The first eight members are the most diverse Cabinet anyone in American history has ever announced. There are three white men. There are — excuse me — there are three men. There are five women. There are five people of color, three white people.
I mean, this is going to be an incredibly diverse — I’m going to keep my commitment that the administration, both in the White House and outside in the Cabinet, is going to look like the country.
Harris barely says peep in this exchange, too. Eeeeeeenteresting.
Anyway, this looks like yet another of the Old Gaffer’s rhetorical fumbles, and nothing much more than that. Harris so far looks like she’s just happy to be along for the ride. We’ll have a lot more of these Bidenisms over the next four years, assuming no one develops a disease.