WASHINGTON — Of his No. 2, Vice President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama has famously said, "Nobody messes with Joe."
That may be — except for Saturday Night Live, David Letterman, Jay Leno and Craig Ferguson.
In his first 100 days on the job, Biden has taken his share of hits for the Obama team. And the snarky late-night jokes keep rolling, targeting everything from Biden's shiny white teeth and devotion to Amtrak to his tendency to say just about anything.
Even the Obama family's decision to get a dog unleashed a Biden yukfest.
"Right now, the dog and Joe Biden are working out who brings in the morning paper," David Letterman joked on the "Late Show with David Letterman."
But seriously, folks, despite the court-jester portrayals, Biden's first months as vice president have hardly been a comic strip.
Dubbed "the sheriff" by Obama, Biden, 66, is overseeing distribution of billions in stimulus money.
He's leading a White House task force on the middle class, whose success is a top priority for the administration.
And he delivered the administration's first major foreign policy speech in Munich, Germany, making headlines with his call to press "the reset button" with Russia.
"A freshman vice president wouldn't be ready for that," said former Vice President Walter Mondale, who served under Democratic President Jimmy Carter. "But Joe's had those years in the Senate."
Biden also drew an early distinction between his role and that of former Vice President Dick Cheney, whom Biden has called "the most dangerous vice president " for the degree of power he commanded.
"He's clearly the first vice president in our history who has taken pride in the fact that he'll have a lesser role than his predecessor," said Joel Goldstein, a vice presidential scholar at St. Louis University School of Law.
Their office doors are about 12 steps apart, and Biden and Obama typically spend several hours together on days they're both at the White House, said Ron Klain, Biden's chief of staff.
They have lunch once a week in the Oval Office and are together for meetings in the Cabinet and Situation rooms. Biden typically gets to have the last word among the people attending, Klain said.
Because he spent 36 years representing Delaware in the Senate, Biden is seen as a natural choice to cut deals with congressional lawmakers. When the administration was corralling votes to pass the stimulus bill, Biden courted three key Republicans, calling Sen. Susan Collins repeatedly on her cell phone when the signal kept fading as she traveled in her home state, Maine.
"He's very strong on the Hill," Mondale said. "This agenda that the president has, he's going to need a lot of help."
Klain said Obama also looks to Biden to "carry a lot of load" in foreign policy, given his expertise as former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In addition to Germany, he has gone to Belgium and Central and South America.
Reginald Dale, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, minimized the importance of Biden's trips.
"He's obviously somebody that the administration will turn to deliver a message from time to time," Dale said. "But that doesn't mean he has a strong role in foreign policy formation."28 comments on this story
Obama's team includes other powerful foreign-policy players such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Adviser James L. Jones and United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice.
But Mondale said Biden's influence is apparent, particularly in Obama's portrayal of the war in Afghanistan as a response to security threats rather than as a chance to spread democracy. Obama's push for non-military aid to Pakistan also is something Biden has advocated for years.
"It shows within the private discussions he speaks up, he's heard ... his experience is valued," Mondale said.