Why Biden Plays Nice With Bernieand Keeps Ripping Warren

Joe Biden is sharing the presidential primarys top tier with two progressive senators. One, he says, levied an unprompted attack against his commitment to the Democratic Party and exhibits elitist behavior. The other, he stresses with striking frequency, is honest and, in the most Senate-speak way, a friend.

Bernies been honest; hes going to raise taxes on middle class, Biden said in July at a convention in Detroit about Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) approach to funding Medicare for All, a progressive policy that Bidens campaign says is not the best way to cover Americans health care needs.

Since then, the former vice president become more consistent with his praise. First and foremost, the thing you must do in public life is be honest with the public, he said on Monday night during a CNN town hall addressing the same topic. Bernie's been honest.

The same amount of honesty on the subject, he suggested, does not apply to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who waited longer than her primary rivals to release details of her Medicare for All proposal, including the funding behind it. Let's get something straight. She attacked me! Biden said during the town hall about Warren, who suggested he is running in the wrong partys primary and accused him of repeating Republican talking points. Its not about her, he added when asked by the moderator about calling her elitist. Its about the attitude that exists right now. If you disagree with me, you must be bad.

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That dynamicBiden responding to or ramping up criticism of Warren, while oftentimes going out of his way to praise Sanders honestyhas been escalating in recent weeks. With less than three months until the Iowa caucuses, the former vice president has sharpened his messaging against the Massachusetts senator over substance and style, and has largely left Sanders, who also remains a top-tier contender for the Democratic nomination, alone.

While the two politicians in their late seventies voted in opposite directions on a variety of high-stakes decisions (including to authorize the Iraq War and NAFTA, which Biden was for and Sanders was against), they have enjoyed a generally collegial Senate relationship. Sanders often refers to Biden as his good friend whom he disagrees with on many issues. And Biden tends to do the same.

I know genuinely the senator does have a respect for Vice President Biden, a senior Sanders 2020 campaign adviser told The Daily Beast. Theyll joust on the debate stage, thats as far as it will go.

In contrast, his relationship with Warren, dating back at least 17 years, is illustrated in vivid detail during a 2005 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing over a bankruptcy bill that Biden supported and Warren was adamantly against. There were several terse exchanges leaving little doubt what the two thought of each other. But even before that hearing, Warren was not a fan. In her 2003 book, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are Going Broke, Warren wrote that Bidens support of the bill that she believed hurt low-income women in particular was hypocritical. Senators like Joe Biden should not be allowed to sell out women in the morning and be heralded as their friend in the evening, she wrote. In 2013, when Warren was being sworn into the Senate, Biden quipped: You gave me hell.

The personal animus is a big part of it, Karthik Ganapathy, who served as the battleground states communications director for Sanders 2016 campaign but is currently unattached, said about the dynamic between Biden and Warren that has largely excluded Sanders.

Bidens advisers say giving brownie points to Sanders for honesty is nothing more than simply conveying the timeline and fact pattern that has unfolded in the months-long health-care discussion, when he was up front with voters about raising taxes from the get-go.

I think that [Biden] has acknowledged that Sanders has been upfront about it because he has, a Biden campaign adviser said about the thinking behind the praise. And [Warren] hasnt.

To be sure, Bidens campaign has not always left Sanders alone. Campaign officials and surrogates have frequently hit back against the Vermont Independent on Twitter and in several news stories, largely over health care, which remains a top priority for Democrats. In an October interview with CNBC, Bidens deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield questioned Sanders credibility for declining to say how he would pay for Medicare for All.

Its alarming that Senator Sanders, who has been up-front for years that Medicare for All would require middle-class tax hikes, wont tell voters right now how much more they will pay in taxes because of his plan, Bedingfield said. When youre running to take on the most dishonest president in American history, she added, Senator Sanders and others who back Medicare for All have to preserve their credibility.

But over the past two weeks, as Biden has sharpened his response to Warren, Sanders has appeared to be less of a priority, multiple strategists, pollsters, current and former campaign advisers noted.

Bidens more worried about her candidacy than he is about Sanders, Andy Smith, a University of New Hampshire pollster, said about Warren. They dont think Sanders is as much of a threat.

While Biden has fallen in some surveys in New Hampshire, the first primary state that follows just eight days after the Iowa caucus, polling averages indicate its a neck-and-neck race. In the latest Real Clear Politics polling average in the Granite State, Biden and Warren are dead even at 19.7 percent, with Sanders at 19 percent, representing a statistical tie.

In Iowa, the top tier is also volatile. The latest Monmouth University poll shows South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg narrowly topping the crowded Democratic field there, earning 22 percent of support, compared to Bidens 19 percent, just one point away from Warrens 18 percent. Sanders comes in a distant fourth place at 13 percent.

If [Biden] drives people away from Sanders, hes driving them into Warrens camp, Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, told The Daily Beast.

In another scenario: A stronger Bernie means a weaker Warren, Sean McElwee, co-founder of Data for Progress, a nonprofit progressive think tank, said. The senior Sanders adviser echoed that point, adding that Biden and Sanders both pull from a similar coalition of working class voters.

From a political standpoint, it does not benefit Vice President Biden, the senior Sanders adviser said about attacking the Vermont senator.

Multiple strategists and campaign officials said that if Warren is a more immediate threat to Biden, praising Sanders as honest can be a way to indirectly dig her, without having to go negative on his former Senate colleague who shares many of her progressive policies.

I dont think its necessarily about Bernie, Joe Trippi, a longtime Democratic campaign operative, said. Its a way of saying Bernies not being political about this. Hes telling you the truth about his policy and Im telling the truth about mine.

Warren took heat for stalling on the health-care details, which Trippi said was part of her problem. Its not that shes for Medicare for All, its that shes being political, he said.

Other Democrats say that if Biden attacks Sanders in a similar way to Warren, it would probably be in vain. Sanders still enjoys a loyal liberal following, part of which carried over from 2016. In the latest Quinnipiac Poll in New Hampshire, 57 percent of Sanders voters said they had made up their mind to support him, while the corresponding number for Warren was 29 percent.

If you go after him, A, youre not going to convince [Sanders supporters] and B, you risk alienating a big chunk of the base, Ganapathy said about Biden. If its not going to win you votes, why would you do it?

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