Joe Biden celebrated his 75th birthday at Proctors Monday night, and if he had a special birthday wish it had nothing to do with presidential aspirations.
Instead, the six-term U.S. senator from Delaware and the vice president under Barack Obama spoke about family and a cure for cancer. As for a 2020 presidential run, he told moderator Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post and a large Proctors audience that he hasn't made up his mind yet.
"I can tell you I am not running right now, I am not organizing anything, I'm not asking for money," said Biden. "If the Lord almighty came down and told me right now, 'Joe, the nomination is yours,' I'd have to say no. I'm not ready. That doesn't mean I won't run, but as of now I am not running."
Biden, a native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, said his indecision is genuine.
"I say what I mean, but the problem is that sometimes I say all that I mean," said Biden, drawing laughter from a very supportive audience. "What I can say is that I'm not withdrawing from public life. I may not run for president but I won't stop fighting trying to make this country better, and that way I won't break my promise to Beau. There's a lot of time before 2020 and my family may say, 'Dad, Joe, let's go.' But I'm not making that decision now."
Beau is Biden's oldest son, an attorney who served in Iraq while with the Delaware National Guard. Elected the state's attorney general in 2006, Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015. It was the second harsh personal tragedy experienced by Biden, who also lost his first wife and their 1-year-old daughter in an automobile accident in 1972.
Remarried in 1979 to his current wife, Jill, Biden made his first attempt at the presidential nomination in 1988, losing to Massachusetts senator Mike Dukakis. His 2008 attempt was also unsuccessful, losing to Barack Obama, who then picked him as his vice presidential candidate.
A longtime member and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee during his time in the Senate, Biden entered politics in 1970 by winning a seat on the New Castle County Council in Delaware. Two years later he was the sixth youngest U.S. senator in history and was re-elected to the upper house of Congress six times. He was the fourth most senior senator in the country when he resigned to become vice president in 2009.
Biden's appearance in Schenectady on Monday night was part of his "American Promise Tour," a 15-city tour running through the middle of December to help him sell his new book, "Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose." The title of the tour and his new book both refer to the promise Biden made to his son that he would continue to remain in the political battle for the country, if not seek the presidency himself.
"He told me, 'Promise me dad. Give me your word that no matter what happens, you're going to be OK,'" Biden told the crowd. "What Beau worried about was me withdrawing from public life, and that's not going to happen."
Monday night's program began with a short film clip about Biden's early life and some of his trials and tribulations. His daughter Ashley Biden then appeared on stage and gave a short presentation before introducing her father and Capehart.
He was greeted with an enthusiastic standing ovation by the audience when introduced and when the show finished. Biden then headed into the lobby area at Proctors where he signed copies of his new book.
Those looking for a more historical presentation or some choice tidbits about his professional colleagues in Congress were disappointed. He and Capehart spent nearly the entire evening talking about his family, finding a cure for cancer and his friendship with President Obama. The name of the current U.S. president never came up as Biden, amazingly, never really ventured significantly into politics. He did speak about his father's influence on him, and he told the story of how his mother convinced him to accept the nomination for vice president.
"My Dad told me, 'It costs nothing [to be nice], but it does matter," said Biden. "And my mother asked me, 'The guy [Obama] asks you to be vice president to help him carry Pennsylvania and Ohio, the first black man ever to be president, and you tell him you don't know.' Barack asked me what I wanted to do, and I said, 'I don't know. What I do know is that when you make the really big decisions, I want to be the last guy in the room with you.' We had a great relationship, I think because he had the confidence in himself to allow me to make some decisions. We became great friends."