President Obama never considered replacing vice president Joe Biden on the ballot with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the White House said Friday, pushing back against reports in a new book that says Obama campaign aides considered doing just that.
"The president never considered that, and had anyone brought that idea to him, he would have laughed it out of the room," said Press Secretary Jay Carney, who offered an emphatic and detailed defense of Biden.
Obama considers the former Delaware senator "an excellent partner" during their 5 years in office -- and one of the keys to his reelection, said Carney, Biden's former communications director.
"The president has in a partner in Joe Biden somebody who has been an enormous asset when it comes to governing here in Washington and an enormous asset in two national elections when it comes to campaigning," Carney said, citing Biden's stewardship of the 2009 stimulus act, negotiations with Congress and his handling of the "very sensitive and important portfolio of Iraq."
And, he added, "if you look back at 2012 and you look at that moment in the campaign when the vice president had his debate, it was a key moment, and Joe Biden delivered for the ticket. I think there's no question about that and the president knew he would. That's why he asked him to be his running mate in 2008, and that's why there was never any doubt among anybody here that he would be the running mate in 2012."
News accounts of the upcoming book, "Double Down," say that in late 2011, a team of Obama’s campaign strategists conducted polling and pulled together focus groups to explore the benefits of swapping out Biden for Clinton.
And Carney suggested the election results prove it: "The fact that the president became the first person to win more than 50 percent of the vote consecutively since Ronald Reagan tells you a lot about how effective that ticket was."
Still, Carney stopped short of offering a presidential endorsement of Biden, who is said to be eagerly eyeing a 2016 presidential bid -- as is Clinton.
"I think the president picked Joe Biden as his running mate for the right reason, which that, if necessary, Vice President Biden could be president," Carney said, asked if Obama believes Biden would make a strong president. "That's, I think, the first item on your checklist when you're picking a running mate."
But, he added, "What happens in 2016 is, you know, something that we'll see in 2016." But Carney suggested he wouldn't hesitate to rate the Republican field: "We could talk about the Republicans," he said. "That's pretty interesting."
How would he compare Rand Paul and Ted Cruz? reporters asked. "I think they all ought to run. It would be awesome," Carney replied.
Carney said he didn't know if Obama was aware of the Biden replacement talks, but said "any suggestion that people periodically floated in the press that this was something under consideration was not one that he took seriously, ever."
He suggested that campaign staffers are constantly looking for ideas to test out: "They poll and focus group on what you have for breakfast," Carney said. "That's what they do."
Campaign manager Jim Messina had his own take on the situation:
Let me be clear: VP-HRC switch never considered by POTUS or anyone who mattered in the campaign. #sillyseason — Jim Messina (@Messina2012) November 1, 2013