Politics

Biden to California Democrats: Republicans are 'meaner' than they used to be

Wading in to the contentious presidential race that he once considered joining, Vice President Joe Biden told California Democrats at the party's convention here that the Republican candidates haven't changed their positions, only their tone.

"They haven't changed at all, folks," said Biden. "They've just gotten meaner."

Biden ended his swing through the Bay Area Saturday with a speech in front of a standing-room-only crowd of Democratic state delegates and activists, an almost hour-long defense of the party's values and a focus on the needs of middle-class voters. Prior to arriving at the San Jose convention, the vice president and his wife held an event on cancer research at UC San Francisco. Sunday, he will attend the Oscars in Los Angeles. 

But in his address to Democrats, Biden sounded many of the themes that could have easily fit into a campaign for the White House that he declined to launch last fall.

"The middle class has gotten clobbered," he said on the impact of the nation's recession and post-recession years. "Now, we're in a position to get them back in the saddle."

Biden defended the Obama administration's efforts on healthcare and the call for tuition-free community college. Clenching his fists and raising his voice almost into a shout, the vice president pleaded for a higher minimum wage and more child care benefits for single-parent families.

"No one should work 40 hours a week and still live in poverty!" Biden yelled, to applause from the crowd of California Democrats.

His speech was nearing its conclusion as the results of the South Carolina Democratic primary came in, and news that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had won a resounding victory. Biden offered his congratulations to Clinton from the podium, but also said he was "proud of both of them," a reference to Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

When an audience member shouted out that Biden should be running, the veteran politician waved it off. "We've got good candidates," he said, smiling.

The vice president criticized GOP presidential candidates for what he said was a misplaced perception of what makes the nation great.

"What these guys don't get is we are valued around the world because of our values, not just our physical power," said Biden.

He also called for ending some business tax breaks, and for a change in the culture of corporate America.

"Since when is the only corporate responsibility to shareholders?" he asked.

The speech was briefly interrupted by a protester who unfurled a large banner that claimed Biden's late son, Beau, became ill with cancer because of cellphones. The protester was quickly ushered out, even though Biden said his son would have appreciated the man's passion.

And in a nod to the rowdy GOP events of the campaign season, he then said, "Let him go. Don't act like Republicans."

john.myers@latimes.com

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