DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — In endorsing Democrat Joe Biden for president on Saturday, former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack said, above all, the former vice president’s personal losses give him “the capacity to comfort” and “the need to heal” a divided nation.
Vilsack, who served eight years in the Obama administration with Biden as secretary of agriculture, said during a morning rally in Des Moines that Biden could step into the office with an immediate command of domestic and global issues at a time when events demand “you can’t be a rookie in this business. You’ve got to be a pro.”
More fundamentally, the death of Biden’s first wife and infant daughter in a car accident in 1972 and his son Beau’s death from cancer in 2015 have given Biden a deep sense of suffering important to understanding the day-to-day struggles, and personal pain, of many Americans.
He is “a man with empathy, and a man who has the heart of a president,” said Vilsack, who noted Biden’s outreach after Vilsack’s six-year old granddaughter died in 2017 from complications of influenza.
The endorsement comes as Biden has slipped from being the early favorite in Iowa last spring to trailing newcomers, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Biden is embarking on an eight-day bus tour next week, in hopes of sparking momentum with fewer than two months until the caucuses.
Vilsack was cheered by the more than 300 who attended the morning rally at an event hall in Des Moines. It’s been 18 years since he won reelection, and he remains the only Democrat reelected Iowa governor in more than 50 years.
The centrist Midwesterner, who shares Pennsylvania roots with Biden, was twice on Democrats’ short list for presidential running mate, in 2004 and 2016.
Later on Saturday, lamenting the lack of compromise in Washington, Biden criticized Democrats who would circumvent collaboration, and inadvertently overlooked Obama’s own moves to get around the Republican-led Congress when he was in office.
“You hear Democrats saying, when I get elected I’m going to by executive order do the following,” Biden told about 100 Democrats in small-town Knoxville. “Executive orders are basically menus to abuse the power of the presidency.”
Obama, whom Biden claims having had a close working relationship with, became prolific in issuing executive orders, in 2014 announcing in frustration, “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone.”
Asked by a voter at a campaign stop in Winterset, Iowa, on Friday evening, Biden described several prominent women he’d consider, were he to win the 2020 nomination.
"I could start naming people, but the press will think that’s who I picked," Biden said, noting it was premature.
Still, he went on to suggest Stacey Abrams, who ran for Georgia governor last year, calling her “the woman who should have been the governor of Georgia.”
Likewise, he suggested, without giving their names, that he would consider former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and the two senators from New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen.