Joe Biden


President Obama held a press conference today to announce the formation of a gun violence task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden. This seems like a good idea considering that in 1994, then-U.S. Sen. Biden was a key author of a 1994 crime bill that banned assault weapons. The ban expired in 2004, but there are renewed calls to reinstate it after the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Many questions asked by the press concerned the so-called “fiscal cliff” negotiations, but the one that stood out most to me was the last one, asked by ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper. The question itself wasn’t a bad one per se, but the way he asked it seemed a bit rude and confrontational (especially if you hear it rather than just read it in a transcript):

“It seems to a lot of observers that you made the political calculation in 2008, in your first term and in 2012, not to talk about gun violence,” Tapper said. “You had your position on renewing the ban on semiautomatic rifles that then-Sen. Biden put into place, but you didn’t do much about it. This is not the first issue — the first incident of horrific gun violence of your four years. Where have you been?”

Obama responded with what I thought was an appropriate “smackdown” response:

Well, here’s where I’ve been, Jake. I’ve been president of the United States, dealing with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, an auto industry on the verge of collapse, two wars. I don’t think I’ve been on vacation.

And so, you know, I think all of us have to do some reflection on how we prioritize what we do here in Washington. And as I said on Sunday, you know, this should be a wake-up call for all of us to say that if we are not getting right the need to keep our children safe, then nothing else matters. And it’s my commitment to make sure that, that we do everything we can to keep our children safe. A lot of things go — are involved in that, Jake. So making sure they’ve got decent health care and making sure they’ve got a good education, making sure that their parents have jobs — those are all relevant as well. Those aren’t just sort of side issues. But there’s no doubt that this has to be a central issue. And that’s exactly why I’m confident that Joe is going to take this so seriously over the next couple months.

Again, it was not inappropriate for Tapper to question Obama why he hasn’t done something about gun violence sooner, but I believe he could’ve asked his question in a less-confrontational manner.

You can read a full transcript of the press conference here.

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With less than 30 hours left before federal funding runs out, it’s time to start really worrying that we’re going to experience the first partial government shutdown since 1995.

Budget negotiations will continue tonight during a White House meeting between President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and I hope they agree on a funding bill that both political parties can accept. I don’t know what to expect, though; I’m not sure whether they actually will reach an agreement in time to avoid a partial government shutdown.

This is serious stuff, but I think an injection of humor is needed right now. Fortunately, TBS broadcast a 2007 episode of “The Office” today wherein Darryl asks Michael for a pay raise. During the negotiation meeting, Michael loses the upper hand (if he ever had it) when Darryl notices he is wearing a woman’s suit. That prompts the following reflection from Michael:

“Negotiations are all about controlling things, about being in the driver’s seat, and you make one tiny mistake, you’re dead. I made one tiny mistake: I wore a woman’s clothes.”

Keep that advice in mind tonight, guys. Don’t wear women’s clothing to the negotiation meeting. Not only would you lose control of the negotiations, but it might make Boehner cry, too.

Actor Steve Carell’s 7-year run as Michael Scott comes to an end on Thursday, April 28, and “The Office” will miss him. Will Ferrell’s four-episode arc as Michael’s temporary replacement, Deangelo Vickers, begins next week. Michael’s permanent replacement will be revealed during the season finale on Thursday, May 19.

Let’s hope that if a government shutdown takes place, it’s over before then.

Just four days after a “60 Minutes” piece noted it had been awhile since Vice President Joe Biden made one of his trademark gaffes, Biden’s foot-in-mouth disease flared up while talking to Matt Lauer on NBC’s “Today” show this morning.

“I would tell members of my family — and I have — that I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now,” Biden said. “It’s not just going into Mexico. If you’re any place in a confined aircraft and one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft.

“That’s me,” he continued. “I would not be at this point, if they had another way of transportation, [be] suggesting they ride the subway.”

Et tu, Amtrak Joe?

An msnbc.com story quotes American Airlines spokesman Tim Smith’s response: “To suggest that people not fly at this stage of things is a broad brush stroke bordering on fearmongering.”

Fearmongering might be a strong word to use in this instance because I don’t think Biden meant to stoke people’s fears. But the vice president’s comment was definitely irresponsible. Sick people need to use caution, and healthy people need to use caution around sick people, but that’s really always the case, isn’t it? There is no evidence that riding an airplane or the subway significantly increases your chances of contracting the swine flu — other than the normal increased chance that comes along with being around other people. Studies are ongoing to determine how this strain of swine flu is transmitted, but if it is like other strains of flu, the swine flu is transmitted via infected droplets of body fluids discharged by coughing or sneezing and is NOT an airborne virus. You can’t catch swine flu by simply being in the same airplane or subway car as an infected person.

President Obama reiterated this morning his plan to build a nationwide system of high-speed rail lines to ease congestion and modernize the transportation systems in some of the country’s most populated corridors.

“A major new high-speed rail line will generate many thousands of construction jobs over several years, as well as permanent jobs for rail employees and increased economic activity in the destinations these trains serve,” Obama said. “High-speed rail is long-overdue, and this plan lets American travelers know that they are not doomed to a future of long lines at the airports or jammed cars on the highways.”

The federal stimulus package includes $8 billion for high-speed rail projects and Obama requested an additional $1 billion a year for the next five years. I’m sure that sounds wasteful to the TEA Party protesters, but building a high-speed rail system is stimulus spending I support. Not only would a high-speed rail system create jobs and ease congestion, it would help roads last longer and reduce carbon dioxide emissions per passenger, making it environmentally friendly. Plus faster travel times encourage tourism by making it easier to go to further-away places, which sounds a lot like true economic stimulus spending to me.

There currently is only one high-speed rail line operating in the United States, between Boston and Washington, D.C.

* * *

The government identified 10 corridors of 100 to 600 miles in length with the greatest promise for high-speed rail development. They are:

— California Corridor (Bay Area, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego)
— Pacific Northwest Corridor (Eugene, Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver BC)
— South Central Corridor (Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Little Rock)
— Gulf Coast Corridor (Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Birmingham, Atlanta)
— Chicago Hub Network (Chicago, Milwaukee, Twin Cities, St. Louis, Kansas City, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville)
— Florida Corridor (Orlando, Tampa, Miami)
— Southeast Corridor (Washington, Richmond, Raleigh, Charlotte, Atlanta, Macon, Columbia, Savannah, Jacksonville)
— Keystone Corridor (Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh)
— Empire Corridor (New York City, Albany, Buffalo)
— Northern New England Corridor (Boston, Montreal, Portland, Springfield, New Haven, Albany)

* * *

One more note from Obama’s news conference, as reported by The New York Times:

In making the announcement, the president was joined by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., whom Mr. Obama joshingly referred to as “America’s No. 1 train fan.”

In the Senate, Mr. Biden earned the nickname “Amtrak Joe” for his regular train use between Washington and his home in Delaware over decades and for his strong support for increased rail financing.

Perhaps someone can explain to me why The New York Times anally refers to the vice president as “Joseph R. Biden Jr.” but uses the hokey word “joshingly” in the same sentence.

The presidential election is over, which means “Saturday Night Live” sucks again.

Tonight’s episode was intolerable, as SNL tends to be when it isn’t satirizing something political. It even fell flat with its opening skit about Joe Biden’s tendency to commit verbal gaffes. I started to watch several other skits throughout the next 45 minutes, but ended up turning off my television before each one was finished.

The only part of the show worth watching was the usually funny Weekend Update, which ended on a low note with a bit involving Justin Timberlake. Probably the funniest part of Weekend Update was when an actor portraying Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Snagglepuss (an effeminate pink lion) commented on the recent passage of Proposition 8, which amends California’s constitution to eliminate the right for same-sex couples to marry. Snagglepuss came out of the closet and revealed his lover is the Great Gazoo (of “Flintstones” fame).

Seth Meyers also delivered this fine joke during Weekend Update: “Will Smith, Tom Cruise and Rush Limbaugh are among Barbara Walters’ ’10 Most Fascinating People of 2008,’ which proves, if nothing else, that Barbara Walters is easily fascinated.”

I guess I’ll tune back into “Saturday Night Live” four years from now.