Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden defended himself Thursday against what he called the “sin” of praising a Republican lawmaker last fall in a speech that earned him $200,000.
Mr. Biden, a potential Democratic candidate for president in 2020, hit back at a New York Times report stating that his support for Republican Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan during a tough re-election fight last October “raises questions about his judgment” as a Democratic Party leader.
“I get in trouble,” Mr. Biden told the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington. “I read in The New York Times today that one of my problems is, if I ever were to run for president, is that I like Republicans. Well, bless me, Father, for I have sinned. Where I come from, I don’t know how you get anything done until we start talking to one another again.”
He acknowledged that he praised Mr. Upton at a speech in Michigan a few weeks before the midterm election, an appearance for which Mr. Biden reportedly was paid $200,000.
“He was in a race, and I praised him about the fight against cancer,” said Mr. Biden, whose son Beau died from brain cancer in 2015. Mr. Biden said Mr. Upton’s vote on the CURES Act helped to provide $8.5 billion for cancer research.
“It mattered. It saved people’s lives,” Mr. Biden said. “He stepped up, he and three other Republicans stepped up and helped us pass it. And so I acknowledged that. And now I’m, I don’t know what I am.”
The Times’ report said Mr. Biden’s public support for Mr. Upton “underscores his potential vulnerabilities in a fight for the Democratic nomination” and “set his lucrative personal activities at odds with what some Democrats saw as his duty to the party.”
The former vice president’s praise for Mr. Upton as “one of the finest guys I’ve ever worked with” was used in campaign ads for the GOP lawmaker, who went on to defeat Democrat Matt Longjohn by about four percentage points.
Mr. Biden also told the conference, on the 33rd day of the partial government shutdown, that Washington is “pretty dysfunctional, to state the obvious.”
“The more dysfunctional this town has become, the more consequential local officials become,” he said.
Mr. Biden also said that during the Trump administration, “We’re walking around with our heads bowed too much.”
“This is the United States of America, for God’s sake,” he said. “It’s time to lift our heads up, man — not walk around staring at the ground.”
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