Vice President Joe Biden, in an emotional interview with comedian Stephen Colbert on Thursday, said he was not in a place to say he could devote his full self to running for president again.
Biden told the host of CBS’ “The Late Show” that anyone running for the White House should be able to tell Americans that his or her whole heart, soul, energy, and passion are in the race.
“I’d be lying if I said that I knew I was there,” Biden, whose son Beau died in May, said in the interview, during which he appeared to choke up several times.
“Nobody has a right, in my view, to seek that office unless they’re willing to give it 110% of who they are. And I am, as I said, I’m optimistic, I’m positive about where we’re going,” said Biden, who also lost his first wife and daughter in a 1972 car crash. “But I find myself – you understand it – sometimes it just overwhelms you.”
Colbert at multiple points urged the vice president to run.
Biden has been considering stepping into the race to challenge Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. And he has seen his poll numbers improve steadily as he has publicly weighed a run. But during the interview with Colbert, he hinted he might not be emotionally ready for the toll of a third run at the presidency.
During the interview with Colbert, Biden recalled a particular gut-wrenching story that exemplified his hesitation about entering the race. He said he was greeting veterans along a rope line at a military base near Denver, when one veteran who served with his son yelled out Beau’s name.
“It was going great, and a guy in the back yells, ‘Beau Biden, Bronze Star, I served with him in Iraq,’ and all of a sudden I lost it,” Biden said.
“And you can’t do that,” Biden added, during a presidential campaign.
Colbert, who lost his father and two brothers to a plane crash when he was just 10 years old, seemed to disagree. He was introspective with his audience after the show’s taping, saying “why not” have someone behind the desk of the Oval Office who knows such profound loss.
He told the audience that he felt his interview with Biden was “special,” and it ran well over its allotted segment. He said it could preempt an interview with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who was heckled during his appearance.
The vice president and comedian exchanged stories about their experiences with loss. Colbert joked that he had to “raise his mom,” prompting Biden to talk about how he felt his sons – Hunter and Beau – “raised” him after the deaths of his first wife and daughter. To this day, Biden said, the levels of support around him are remarkable.
If Hunter Biden were at the taping of the show, Biden said of his son, he’d ask, “Do you need anything?” He also recalled being backstage after presidential debates when the “last two people” there would be his sons, reminding him to “remember who you are.”
Audience members cheered on Biden to run during a break for a commercial during the taping, prompting Biden to quip, “Be careful what you wish for.” And supporters aligned with the “Draft Biden” group, which is encouraging Biden to run, parked outside the Ed Sullivan Theater. Others encouraging Biden to run handed out Biden-themed chocolate bars.
For his part, Colbert at multiple points openly encouraged Biden to step into the race and challenge Clinton. Biden made recurring mention of his mother and her various expressions. One of them: “Nobody’s better than you, but you’re better than nobody.”
“You know who else said that?” Colbert said. “Thomas Jefferson. And that’s why you ought to run.”
Colbert also told Biden it would be “emotional for a lot of people if he didn’t run.”
“Your example of suffering and service,” Colbert said, “is something that would be sorely missed in the race.”
(Reuters Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Sandra Maler)