A different kind of vetting process

A DIFFERENT KIND OF VETTING PROCESS…. Political observers have marveled for a while at the process that led John McCain to ask Sarah Palin to join the Republican ticket. By now, the details are very familiar — McCain met Palin once, briefly, earlier this year, and then talked to her on the phone, briefly, in August. Soon after, she was invited to be the Republicans’ vice presidential nominee. This was followed by McCain campaign officials traveling to Alaska to learn about the candidate after she’d been chosen.

Less is known about how Barack Obama chose Joe Biden for the ticket. Ryan Lizza has a fascinating item in the New Yorker about Biden, and it helps shed some light on the Democrats’ process.

During the primaries, which continued until June, Obama and Biden spoke about twice a week. “He’d call not so much to ask for advice as to bounce things off me,” Biden said as we sat in the tent. “And then when he asked me if I would consider being vetted” — possible Vice-Presidential candidates must submit to a personal and financial investigation by the campaign — “I said I’d have to think about it.” […]

Biden agreed to let Obama’s campaign team consider him, but with a caveat: “I wanted to make sure we understood each other — that, even if I vetted and he wanted me to take the job, I wasn’t committing to do that. When the time was appropriate for him, if I was the guy, I needed to spend at least two or three hours with him to understand what the role would be.” Biden wanted what amounted to an oral contract between him and Obama, spelling out his specific responsibilities in an Obama White House.

On August 6th, Biden said, the Obama campaign “smuggled” him into Minneapolis, where Obama was campaigning, and the two senators stayed up late in a suite at the Graves 601 Hotel working out the details of a potential deal. […]

Biden consulted with his closest political advisers, including Ted Kaufman, Mike Donilon, and John Marttila, all of whom have been with him since the early days of his career. “They convinced me that I could have more influence on policy as a Vice-President with Barack,” Biden said. “And so the bottom line of all of this is that I said, ‘Barack, look, if you’re going to ask me to do this, please don’t ask me for any reason other than that you respect my judgment. If you’re asking me to join you to help govern, and not just help you get elected, then I’m interested. If you’re asking me to help you get elected, I can do that other ways, but I don’t want to be a Vice-President who is not part of the major decisions you make.’ “

Sullivan asked the same question that was on my mind: “Can you imagine McCain and Palin having that conversation?”

No, actually, I can’t.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.