Biden seeks advisory role as vice-president

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Joe Biden calls Dick Cheney the “most dangerous” vice president in U.S. history because of his broad powers and says he wants a lower-key but important advisory role for himself as Barack Obama’s No. 2.

The Delaware senator, who became vice-president elect after Obama won the presidency on Tuesday, says he is not looking for a special portfolio but wants to be at Obama’s side when important decisions are made.

“Barack is going to be the guy who makes the policies and makes the decision. I’ll give my best judgment,” Biden, a veteran senator known for his foreign policy experience, told reporters traveling with him last weekend.

In a debate with defeated Republican candidate John McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin last month, Biden made clear he did not want to emulate Cheney.

“Vice President Cheney has been the most dangerous vice president we’ve had probably in American history,” he said.

U.S. vice presidents have two constitutional duties -- act as back-up president and preside over the Senate, voting only to break a tie. Traditionally, their role has been limited.

But Cheney has proven powerful, extending his influence into national security, energy and environmental policy.

Known in Washington circles as Darth Vader, Cheney was a driving force behind the Iraq war and pushing the limits on the use of harsh interrogation methods on suspected militants.

Cheney also steadfastly refused to comply with an executive order about safeguarding classified information, saying his office was part of the legislative branch, not the executive branch, due to his role as president of the Senate.

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Experts and historians say Biden will not carry the kind of influence Cheney had with President George W. Bush, particularly over energy and national security issues.

“I just don’t think that is likely to happen again,” said Peter Beinart at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Cheney was just totally sui generis (unique), off the charts.”

Biden spokesman David Wade said Obama did not choose a vice president to “farm out an issue here or an issue there.”

“Joe Biden will be a vice president who is at the table and in the Oval Office for all the big decisions.”

Bush put Cheney in charge of the transition effort following the chaotic 2000 U.S. election, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court after a recount in Florida.

“Cheney had tremendous influence because George Bush gave it to him. He desperately needed the advice from an old Washington hand. Cheney exploited that opening,” said Paul Light, an expert in the political appointment process.

Cheney, defense secretary under Bush’s father President George H.W. Bush, helped get old colleagues in top spots, including Donald Rumsfeld for a second term as defense chief.

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President Bill Clinton’s vice president Al Gore had significant sway with his boss and was influential in pushing the administration to act militarily in Bosnia, for example.

Several experts said Biden was more likely to model himself after Democrat Walter Mondale, who as President Jimmy Carter’s No. 2 sought a role as confidential adviser.

But this might be a hard one for Biden who has made many gaffes in his lengthy political career.

“I think they will have to be careful about Biden’s penchant for talking himself into trouble. It is not just long meetings but the press conferences and the off the cuff comments he makes. Obama will not want to find himself explaining (Biden’s comments),” said Light, a professor at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service.

Biden and Obama also have different temperaments, with the president-elect being cooler and more cautious while the Delaware senator is more emotional and passionate, Beinart said. That would be an interesting dynamic in their Oval Office relationship, he added.

In his victory speech on Tuesday, Obama said of his running mate that he was a man who had “campaigned from his heart.”

Biden, who was first elected to the Senate in 1972, is seen as most useful in dealing with Congress, where he has long friendships and greater political capital than Obama.

But he will want to avoid being seen as interfering in the legislative branch of government.

“He’s probably got more friends among Senate Republicans than John McCain does, and that’s a huge plus for Barack Obama who is committed to breaking the partisan roadblock of recent years.” said Biden’s spokesman Wade.

Despite professing that he does not want to take on any portfolios, several analysts said it was likely his foreign policy and judicial experience would be put to use.

Presidential scholar Stephen Hess of the Brookings Institution had some advice for Obama when allocating tasks to Biden: “Never give major public policy responsibility to someone you cannot fire.”

Editing by David Alexander