Biden On Governing, Gaffes, And His Boss

Lesley Stahl Interviews The Vice President, His Wife, And President Barack Obama

The first 100 days of an administration is when the first report cards come out.

The president is facing a barrage of tough issues and is getting some good marks - and some criticism. What about the vice president?

Well, he's still "regular Joe," a man deepened by tragedy when his first wife and baby daughter were killed in a car crash in 1972.

He's been a senator for 36 years, chairman of two powerful committees, and as he told 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl, he may have more experience than any vice president ever. And yet he has a reputation as a gaffe-machine - a loose cannon who simply talks too much.

Stahl asked if he was worried about doing an interview for 60 Minutes. "It's not you I'm afraid of," Biden replied. "It's me!!"

But everyone 60 Minutesspoke to at the White House said they don't want him to change.

"The president and the entire team close to him has encouraged me not to try all of a sudden to be a different Joe Biden than I was for the past 36 years," Biden told Stahl. "Sometimes maybe I shouldn't be as straightforward as I am. …I'm not sitting on it. I decided I just - it's who I am."

After trying to muzzle the man often ridiculed for his loose lips, the White House now calls his - shall we say exuberance - an asset. They call it "truth telling."

And they see his talent for connecting as a real advantage - his "hot" personality, versus Obama's cooler approach.

"You seem to be not just yin and yang, but diametric opposites. He's so disciplined. This is not you," Stahl remarked. "He's crisp. This is not you."

"There's a lot of constituencies out there that want the time. Want to hear more than they, as you would say, the crisp answer. They want somebody who's going to take the time and have the time to listen to them," Biden replied.

"And that's you?" Stahl asked.

"That's basically my job. I like engaging with people," the vice president replied.

Call him "schmoozer in chief." And, as he told an audience in St. Louis, he loves being vice president: "When I was a United States Senator and a powerful chairman, I'd have to plead," Biden joked. "Now I can just call a cabinet meeting. They all show up. (laughs) You know what I mean?"

But at the end of the day, he is the number two and the question of how he's dealing with the transition from powerful senator to the guy standing behind a much younger president has become a Washington parlor question.

He admitted to Stahl that after 36 years being his own boss, the first 100 days have been a period of adjustment.

"Well, it's like, for example, I would ordinarily have phoned the captain [of the Maersk Alabama] as Chairman of Foreign Relations Committee. Well, it's not appropriate for me to do that. I mean, the president did it right away. Do you follow me?" Biden replied. "And so I mean, it's little things. They're
really not big things, but little things."

He hasn't had much time to worry about the "little things" because there've been so many big things: from Afghanistan to bailouts to torture memos. Which means, he told Stahl, he's been spending a lot of time with the president.

"When Mr. Obama asked you to be his vice presidential running mate, there was kind of a deal - a conversation. You wanted to be, I've heard the expression, 'uber-advisor.' You wanted to be involved in all the issues. And be the last person in the room when he makes a decision. Has that worked?" Stahl asked.

"Well, the first part is too sophisticated for me," Biden joked.

But he told Stahl that overall it has worked out. "On every major decision the president has actually sought my advice," he said.

The president wants everyone to know - his team, and us - in case there's any question, that he thinks he made a brilliant choice.

Asked what kind of impact Vice President Biden has, President Barack Obama told Stahl, "He's pretty fearless in offering his opinions. He's oftentimes willing to make the contrarian argument. The one that runs against conventional wisdom. And really forces people to think and defend their positions, and that ends up being very valuable for me."

Asked if Biden argues with him, Obama said, "You know, Joe's not afraid to tell me what he thinks. And that's exactly what I need, and exactly what I want."