Barack Obama endorses Joe Biden for U.S. president
44th U.S. president says Biden's experience and character are needed for the post-pandemic recovery
Barack Obama has endorsed his former vice-president and the presumptive Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden for president of the United States.
"Joe has the character and the experience to guide us through one of our darkest times and heal us through a long recovery," Obama said in a statement.
"And I know he'll surround himself with good people – experts, scientists, military officials who actually know how to run the government and care about doing a good job running the government, and know how to work with our allies, and who will always put the American people's interests above their own."
Obama had previously stayed above the fray in the primary, rarely speaking out about intraparty fighting. The former president offered his private counsel to any Democratic presidential contender who asked for it, but made no efforts to bolster any one candidate's campaign — including Biden's, despite their long history.
In a video address released Tuesday, Obama said "our country's future hangs on this election," and accused Republicans of abandoning some of their core principles, enabled by "a propaganda network with little regard to the truth."
"Repeatedly they've disregarded American principles of rule of law and voting rights and transparency – basic norms that previous administrations observed regardless of party," he said.
Obama brought up the spectre of the current COVID-19 pandemic early and often in the 12-minute video.
"Joe helped me manage H1N1 and prevent the Ebola epidemic from becoming the type of pandemic we're seeing now," he said, referring to outbreaks in 2009 and 2014 respectively.
He said that Biden, who will turn 78 in November, could help improve America's standing on the global stage and bring the country back in the fold of international agreements like the Paris climate change accord, one of the first major Obama-era initiatives that President Donald Trump undid.
Domestically, he said, Biden was better poised to expand health coverage to more Americans.
Biden quickly thanked the former president on social media.
"Barack – this endorsement means the world to Jill and me," he said. "We're going to build on the progress we made together, and there's no one I'd rather have standing by my side."
'Can't have it both ways'
On the campaign trail, Biden often referred to himself as an "Obama-Biden Democrat," and was sometimes criticized by the other candidates for trying to campaign off of Obama's accomplishments.
"Mr. Vice-President, you can't have it both ways," Sen. Cory Booker said in a debate last year. "You invoke President Obama more than anybody in this campaign. You can't do it when it's convenient and then dodge it when it's not."
When surprising Biden by presenting him with the Medal of Freedom in January 2017, Obama praised his vice-president for his work on the economic stimulus, middle-class issues and curbing violence against women.
He also detailed the well-known personal tragedies in Biden's life. In 1972, just after his career in Washington began, Biden's first wife and infant daughter were killed in a car crash in Delaware. His son, Beau Biden, who gave a heartfelt introduction of his father at the 2008 Democratic convention, died in 2015 at age 46 after being diagnosed with brain cancer.
Obama and Biden were among a host of candidates competing for the 2008 Democratic nomination for president, but the electorate soon craved the charismatic choice with relatively little Washington experience, compared to Biden and Hillary Clinton.
Obama tapped him as his running mate, brushing off Biden's 2007 comments that Obama was "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."
"Time and again, he has made a difference for the people across this country who work long hours and face long odds," Obama said on Aug. 23, 2008, while formally introducing Biden as his pick for vice-president.
"This working-class kid from Scranton and Wilmington has always been a friend to the underdog, and all who seek a safer and more prosperous America to live their dreams and raise their families."
Democrats appear united
Obama's endorsement comes on the heels of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders formally endorsing Biden. Sanders had been the front-runner in this year's Democratic primary race until the Super Tuesday contests in early March, when he was overtaken by Biden.
Sanders, who famously clashed with Clinton, did not formally endorse her candidacy in the 2016 race until July.
The former vice-president now has the support of all of his former Democratic primary rivals except for Elizabeth Warren.
Unity. <a href="https://t.co/cZxaRCY8jr">pic.twitter.com/cZxaRCY8jr</a>—@JoeBiden
In his video statement Tuesday, Obama praised Sanders as an "American original, a man who has devoted his life to giving voice to working people's hopes and dreams and frustrations."
Obama signed off by saying that Americans would see him "on the campaign trail as soon as I can," though it is uncertain when that will take place in a conventional sense, given the nature of the pandemic and necessary mitigating behaviours like physical distancing.
Many expect the Democratic convention in Milwaukee, now pushed back to August, will have to take on a different format.
Choosing a running mate
For his part, Biden has said he intends to choose a woman as his running mate. He joked earlier this year that he would choose Michelle Obama "in a heartbeat" if he thought she was interested in the role.
Michelle Obama has repeatedly indicated she is not interested in seeking political office.
More recently, Biden said he had discussed the process of selecting a vice-presidential candidate with the former president.
Last week, Trump wondered aloud in a news briefing why Obama hadn't endorsed Biden yet.
"When is it going to happen? Why isn't he? He knows something that you don't know — that I think I know, but you don't know," said Trump.
In recent weeks, a former staffer has renewed sexual assault allegations against Biden.
Tara Reade has provided details of an alleged incident in 1993 that she first made public last year, when she publicly accused Biden of inappropriate touching. But she did not initially allege sexual assault as she is doing now.
In an interview with the Associated Press last week, Reade said she was reluctant to share details of the assault during her initial conversations with reporters over a year ago because she was afraid of a backlash from going public.
A spokesperson for Biden's campaign issued a denial of Reade's allegations.
With files from The Associated Press