Vice President Joe Biden highlighted the importance of concerted government efforts to fight global warming during a swing through Southern California on Wednesday, championing investment in solar power and other renewable energy sources as a path to economic revival.
Biden's remarks, made at a solar-industry conference in Anaheim and a climate-change summit in Los Angeles, put a focus on what he said were the White House's progressive environmental policies even as the Republican presidential field gathered in nearby Simi Valley for their second televised debate.
Biden didn't miss the opportunity to take a swipe at the GOP candidates assembled 50 miles away at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, saying that some of them – like other Republicans in Congress – continue to deny the reality of climate change.
"These people have denied global warming. And they're the same folks, I suspect, that have denied gravity," Biden joked at the evening conference of Chinese and American political leaders in downtown L.A.
By contrast, Biden – who could conceivably still find himself contending for the White House against a Republican opponent next year – championed what he said was a more progressive approach to climate change that would generate "middle-class jobs" by nurturing the alternative-energy industry.
"Here's the deal. We can protect the environment, save taxpayer dollars and create good paying jobs all at the same time. That's a fact. That's the truth," Biden said. "It's time to end these debates. It's time to get down to business."
Earlier in the day, Biden announced a new $102-million grant for companies, universities and research laboratories to expand solar power use even further, and called on Congress to prioritize tax incentives for renewable energy sources over those that oil companies have enjoyed.
"The idea that we don't think renewable is so critical to the future of this country and we won't do everything to grow this industry is absolutely absurd. It really is absurd," he said in Anaheim.
Biden's brief tour of the Southland comes as speculation intensifies about his plans for 2016. A vocal faction of Democrats dissatisfied with party presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton are calling for him to jump into the race.
But Biden has so far demurred, saying in an emotional interview with "The Late Show" host Stephen Colbert last week that he was not sure whether he had the fortitude for the campaign or the job after the loss of his son, Beau Biden, who died in May at 46.
Still, Biden's travel schedule in recent weeks has often looked like that of a potential candidate. After leaving L.A., he planned to travel this week to Ohio, a presidential swing state, to deliver an address about college campus sexual assault.
Biden showed signs of tending to his political options Wednesday, meeting with the secretary treasurer of the Culinary Union, which backed President Obama over Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary.
Biden also accepted Mayor Eric Garcetti's invitation to dine at the mayor's official residence Wednesday evening, according to the White House.
During his own remarks at the U.S.-China Climate Leaders Summit, Garcetti praised the vice president in language that alluded to the heart-on-his-sleeve appeal that – contrasted with Clinton's cautious demeanor – could be a significant asset should Biden decide to run.
"We've laughed with this man. We've cried with this man. And he continues to set an example for all of us," Garcetti said.
While he largely stuck to the topic of climate change, Biden wryly referred to the speculation over his political ambitions. Referring to Frank Cownie – mayor of Des Moines, in the first presidential primary state – Biden began to call him his friend, then paused.
"I can't say he's a good friend anymore," he said, smiling, "because he lives in Iowa, and that means I'm doing something."