Biden and McCain: Still Friends?

(CBS)
From CBS News' Ryan Corsaro

(SAN FRANCISCO) - As Joe Biden might say -- look folks, sometimes friends fight.

It certainly has been the case between Biden and his longtime fellow senator, John McCain, who have argued opposing political views for over two decades on the floor of the United States Senate. Yet while both are fighting for their respective presidential tickets, Biden has maintained that the two hold more than just a political camaraderie, often calling McCain a "genuine friend."

But today, at a fundraiser in California, Biden referred for the first time to his friendship with McCain in the past-tense – something he has not done before on the campaign trail.

"What's happened here, what Bush has done, and is now being done by McCain to my great disappointment -- he used to be a close friend -- what's being done, is a constant attempt to win by actually making, appealing to cynicism of American people and the sense that government cannot work. That it cannot work. That's the wedge that's the ultimate wedge they use."

Biden's spokesperson, when asked to comment on Biden using the words "used to be," said not to read much into Biden's phrasing of their friendship.

"He meant that they used to talk all the time, spend time together, see each other every day, socialize…" wrote David Wade in an email to CBS News after speaking with Biden on the matter.

Nevertheless, Biden has displayed an increased concern and disappointment when referring to McCain recently, coinciding with the increased negativity seen on both sides as the election nears.

"We're going to make it through these last seventeen ugly days," Biden told his supporters this afternoon.

For the last two months, Biden has often recounted anecdotes which show the more candid side his relationship with McCain, who he refers to as informally as "John" in his campaign speeches.

Back in early September, Biden recalled an overseas trip where he found his wife and McCain, one might say, palling around together.

"Jill and John are standing up on the tables, drinking Ouzo and dancing," said Biden, laughing. "I never trusted him after that!"

Only until recently, Biden had restrained from criticizing McCain's character, going after McCain's policies and positions instead.

"I can't attack him personally. This guy's my personal friend," said Biden last month at a stop in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, after a reporter noted that Biden seemed "ill at-ease" about attacking McCain beyond his political views.

But statements about McCain, the man -- rather than McCain, the politician -- have started to fall from Biden's lips in recent days, including that McCain has come across recently as "angry" and "out of character."

While appearing as a guest on talk shows this past week, Biden described McCain's demeanor as being unfamiliar.

"I think John's -- look, the – I don't think John's comfortable with the negative stuff and the advertising that his campaign," Biden told Jay Leno Thursday on "The Tonight Show".

"I think John is really sort of -- he seems a little more angry than he usually is. I really do like John, and we do go back a long way, but I don't know. It just doesn't seem -- John doesn't seem comfortable right now."

Later that evening, Biden was asked by Ellen DeGeneres at a taping of her talk show if he thought of McCain as being different from who he was earlier in the campaign.

"I know you were friends with McCain before and I, uh, are you surprised by how he's changed?" asked DeGeneres.

"Well, I'm disappointed that he, uh. He's uh, um," sputtered Biden before pausing momentarily. "Look. There's negative campaigns. It's one thing to attack someone's position on an issue. But I think what his campaign is doing now and I just was informed there's a, what they call a robo-call, one of those calls you get, 'Hello, this is the RNC, dah-dah-dah' and you know and this attempt to associate Barack Obama with terrorism and terrorists, I mean, I think it's over the top. And I uh, I'm really, uh, I am surprised."

"Yeah," replied DeGeneres. "Because it's not, it seems to me anyway -- and he was on the show -- it seems that he's just changed."

"I think it's out of character," said Biden. "I've known John for 33 years. Um, and uh, when people were going after John really hard, remember in the 2000 campaign when he was running for president and Bush campaigned and went after his daughters and his wife? I literally picked up the phone and I called him. He was out west and I was in Arizona or California or something and I was for Gore, and I said 'John, where do you want me? I'll show up in public anywhere with you to testify to your character.' And some of the same people that ran those kind of smear campaigns against him are some of the people that, uh, that are involved in this campaign."

Earlier in the week, on the day of the final debate between McCain and Obama, Bided was asked at a diner in Lisbon, Ohio, if he had telephoned McCain recently regarding the tone of his campaign's attacks.

"A while ago I did. I called him a while ago. But look…" said Biden.

"Not recently?" interrupted a reporter.

"No, it's been - just since before 9/11," said Biden. "When we went at that event…not we, but he and Barack had that event in New York. But look, I think John is -- I was proud that John decided to take on some of that attitude that was expressed at his, one of his campaign rallies," referring to an event where McCain described Obama as a decent family man, quelling boos and rejecting a supporter's statement that Obama was an Arab.

"And I hope he keeps it up," said Biden.