Throughout the months of speculation, the vice president has denied that his relationship with Carolyn Pence — wife of Pence, a longtime friend of the Bidens — would ever be an issue. He’s brushed off questions about whether the vice president’s office should have clarified his blind trust or exercised additional leadership regarding the situation.
The vice president didn’t want the situation to be a distraction, Pence said, and as someone who has long been a friend of the Bidens, “there wasn’t really a clear choice to make in terms of where there was going to be a controversy that could really impair our efforts on the national security.”
Joe Biden has long maintained a calm approach to the rumors about his wife.
“Oh, I don’t know. It hasn’t been a great distraction,” he said in late January after news broke that Pence’s wife had taken control of his savings fund for charitable donations. “I think it has been well documented. I’ve made that very clear, as has the president.”
It’s easy to imagine a contentious exchange between the two couples, given what many see as a rift between the vice president and Pence. A senior White House official said last week that “there’s no longer any incident between Pence and Biden.” That’s been the case for months, and from a fundraising perspective, Biden has generally stayed out of the fray. In November, for example, he made only $2,700 in donations to Democratic campaigns and committees — and only $500 to a Virginia GOP candidate who criticized Biden’s support for sanctuary cities. He has not donated to Senate candidates this cycle, according to OpenSecrets.org data.
The Vice President’s Office declined to make Pence available for comment for this story.
Biden has also declined to weigh in on aspects of the Pence situation: an issue that was brought to his attention by a New York Times story last year. But in previous statements, he’s made it clear that he’s fine with her taking over his plan.
“My trust will continue, and so will the structure that the president has set up, so whatever the trust is responsible for will continue in a set of options that are mutual and appropriate and will allow us to do the work of the vice president and the president,” he said last fall.
The unusual arrangement was not in Biden’s plans when he hired his first secretary of energy, a former mayor of Los Angeles, 21 years ago. He then brought on Petersen to help build that office’s digital media team. Biden praised Petersen and his staff. “We’ve had an amazing team for a very long time and they’ve done a phenomenal job.”
It is highly unusual for the White House to use a deputy for the vice president. But if Pence’s underlings looked at her experience and success and wanted to put her in charge, he could only object, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communication and politics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication.
“The vice president has a job to do, and she’s doing a job for the president. If this is an excellent arrangement, and it’s been a reasonable arrangement and she’s done well, of course that’s part of the job,” Jamieson said. “You take a few heat chips off of the president and do the work for him.”
Pence has visited the vice president’s office once — in June 2017, the day President Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate accord.
But despite the rarity of the arrangement, people who worked with Pence in that office say she was effective. One longtime Biden staffer, who requested anonymity to speak frankly, described her skills as coordinating executive branch resources and finding workarounds.