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Biden’s 2020 Announcement Brought Praise From Obama

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Biden, speaking to reporters at the train station in Wilmington, Delaware, later on Thursday morning, insisted, “I asked Obama not to endorse.”

Obama played a far different role in the summer of 2015, when he urged everyone in the White House to give Biden time, and space, as he talked about getting into the 2016 presidential race. Obama had decided early that he wanted Clinton to be his successor, and that she was the best fit for the job and would be the strongest candidate. Obama didn’t think running was a good idea for Biden, politically or personally. Biden was in pain after the death of his son, Beau, and he would figure this out on his own, Obama told his aides, but he wanted it to be Biden’s decision.

The long conversation Biden had with aides in the summer and early fall of 2015 about whether to run for president in 2016 was fraught with emotion. Biden’s son Beau, the Delaware attorney general, had died of brain cancer at age 46 over the Memorial Day weekend. The grief had been overwhelming for Biden in the months that followed, so much so that on some days, aides got used to seeing his attention suddenly wander off in discussions about running as a thought about his son hit him.

As Biden processed his grief, he found himself reengaging his lifelong dream of becoming president, which he’d all but shelved. Part of the reason Obama’s aides put him on the ticket in 2008 was that they figured that after his unsuccessful 1988 and 2008 presidential campaigns, and at 65 then, they wouldn’t have to worry about competing political ambitions from within the White House. Before Beau Biden got sick, the vice president had mostly transferred his presidential dreams to the next generation, “Joe 2.0,” as Obama would lovingly call Beau in the eulogy he gave at a church in Wilmington that June.

As the summer went on and Biden’s conversations about running continued, Obama grew antsy, according to multiple people who remember the moment.

In his memoir published last year, Biden alludes to the response he got from Obama about a possible candidacy, without providing much detail. One day over lunch late in the process, Biden wrote in Promise Me, Dad, Obama finally asked him directly about whether he was running, and Biden said he wasn’t ready to make up his mind. “The president was not encouraging,” Biden noted.

Out of concern for Biden, a former White House aide recalled, Obama urged him to talk to David Plouffe, the first Obama campaign manager and trusted political adviser.

This was not meant to be a pep talk.

Plouffe arrived in early fall with data, laying out how hard it would be to win the nomination, making a case that Obama agreed with. “Mr. Vice President, you’ve had a great career, you’ve been such an asset to this administration—and we love you,” Plouffe said, according to people familiar with the conversation. “Do you really want it to end in a hotel room in Des Moines, coming in third to Bernie Sanders?”

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