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Vice presidents swap stories, experiences of being right-hand men

Former Vice President Walter Mondale and Vice President Joe Biden talked about their  experiences on the job. Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor
Former Vice President Walter Mondale and Vice President Joe Biden talked about their experiences on the job. Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor

Vice President Joe Biden helped to celebrate the legacy of a former vice president – and gave some tips to the next one – at an event on campus Tuesday morning.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale is an instructor at the University of Minnesota, which hosted several events in a series called “Walter Mondale: Living Legacy” this year. This event, held in the Jack Morton Auditorium, concluded the series.

University President Steven Knapp was joined by Eric Schwartz, the dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota and Kathryn Newcomer, the director of the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, to welcome about 200 attendees to the discussion between Biden and Mondale, which was moderated by Richard Moe, Mondale’s former chief of staff.

Here are three takeaways from the discussion:

1. Disagree privately, agree publicly

When President Barack Obama asked Biden to be his running mate, Biden said he declined at first. But Biden said his decision changed when Obama agreed to one condition.

“I said, ‘I want to to be level with you and argue with you privately,'” Biden said. “‘I want to be the last person in the room on major issues.'”

Biden said arguments are “a healthy part of the relationship” between himself and Obama. He said they’ve had “very candid” conversations in the Oval Office, but part of their success as a team is their mutual respect for one another.

But at the end of a conversation, the pair always agrees on how the administration officially feels about an issue, Biden said.

2. Speak as one unit

Mondale and Biden agreed that it is the vice president’s job to be not only an adviser to the president, but to be his or her official voice in meetings.

That singular message, Biden said, is critical to the vice president’s capacity to speak for the president on Capitol Hill and in conversations with world leaders.

“I told President Carter, ‘they’ve got to believe they’re talking to you,'” Mondale said. “We’ve got a stake in making that point.”

Biden said the most difficult part of transitioning into his role as vice president was having a boss. He said as a lawyer and as a senator, he always spoke for himself.

“But I had to realize everything I said would be attributed to the President,” he said. “It really matters when people know you are speaking for the president and you have his full confidence.”

3. Location, location, location

Mondale was the first vice president to have an office in the West Wing. Biden said having an office adjacent to the president in the White House is key to their day-to-day operations.

Mondale and Carter were also the first team to eat lunch together once a week.

Biden said that precedent of proximity to the president helped to shape a standard for the strong ties he and Obama have.

“Depending on the season, I attend every meeting with the president,” he said. “And at least half of Barack’s staff are my former staff members.”

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