Joe Biden offers a new account of his role in the Bin Laden raid

Joe Biden used a Washington forum on the vice presidency Tuesday to highlight his close relationship with President Obama that would be at the heart of Biden’s potential presidential campaign, even offering a fresh account of his counsel to Obama about targeting Osama bin Laden.

Through that anecdote and other remarks, Biden drew an implicit contrast with would-be rivals, primarily Hillary Rodham Clinton, in underscoring his singular closeness to Obama. But Biden’s comments, while easily interpreted as politically infused given the ongoing speculation over whether he’ll run, were in keeping with the spirit of the event -- a tribute to how Walter Mondale, Jimmy Carter’s vice president, modernized the office.

Still, by pointing to his own record, Biden seemed be countering assertions made by the declared candidates during the first Democratic debate a week ago.

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Clinton had said during the debate that, as secretary of State, she was frequently in Situation Room meetings with Obama, “going over some very difficult issues.” Among them was the decision to launch a special forces raid on a compound in Pakistan where Bin Laden was believed to be.

Clinton said last week that she was among Obama’s “few advisors” advocating that he go through with the raid. Biden has previously said he urged the president to wait for more intelligence that might confirm Bin Laden’s presence.

But on Tuesday, Biden offered a new account. The only Cabinet members who advised the president one way or another with absolute certainty were then-CIA Director Leon E. Panetta, who was in favor of a raid, and then-Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who was against one, Biden said.

“Leon Panetta said, ‘Go.’ And Bob Gates, who has already publicly said this, said, ‘Don't go.’” Others were torn, Biden said.

In the Situation Room, with others present, Biden said he advocated the president take “one more pass,” sending a drone to see whether Bin Laden was at the compound. But in private, he said, he offered Obama different counsel.

“As we walked out of the room and walked upstairs, I said -- I told him my opinion, that I thought he should go, but follow his own instincts,” Biden said. “I never, on a difficult issue, never say what I think finally until I go up in the Oval with him alone.”

That account differed from what has previously been reported and, to an extent, from what Biden himself has said. But William Daley, Obama’s chief of staff at the time of the raid, confirmed Biden’s account.

“That’s exactly what happened,” Daley said in a brief interview at Tuesday’s event. “I’ve not heard him articulate it in that complete form. But he was absolutely accurate.”

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The Bin Laden raid was not the only example Biden offered of his unmatched relationship with Obama. “Depending on the season,” Biden noted, the two spend four to seven hours a day together. And when they were first elected, Obama offered Biden veto power over the choice of Cabinet members and agreed to Biden’s condition that Biden be “the last person in the room” for every major decision.

They argued at times, to be sure, but in the way that friends do, he said, and ultimately always agreed on a final decision.

The vice president said that although Obama has had “two great secretaries of State,” when Biden traveled abroad to meet with foreign leaders, “they know that I am speaking for the president.”

For the second straight day, Biden also seemed to draw another contrast with Clinton, who in the debate listed Republicans as among the enemies she was proudest to have.

“I still have a lot of Republican friends,” Biden said Tuesday as he discussed how often he’d been sent to Capitol Hill on administration priorities. “I don't think my chief enemy is the Republican Party. This is a matter of making things work.”

Biden noted he had initially refused Obama’s offer to join the ticket but was ultimately persuaded to sign on by his family.

“The best decision of my political career was to join the president,” he said.

For now.

For more White House coverage, follow @mikememoli

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