WASHINGTON — Joe Biden's wife said Monday that he had his pick of being Barack Obama's running mate or the secretary of state nomination that eventually went to Hillary Rodham Clinton, a slip that the vice president-elect immediately tried to shush.
Jill Biden's comment came during an appearance with her husband on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," taped at Washington's Kennedy Center on the eve of the inauguration.
"Joe had the choice to be secretary of state or vice president," she said. Her husband turned to his wife with his finger to his lips and a "Shhhh!" that sent the audience into laughter. "OK, he did," Jill Biden said in her defense.
The vice president-elect blushed, grimaced and gave his wife a hug while the audience continued to erupt in laughter. "That's right," he finally said to his wife. "Go ahead."
Mrs. Biden said she told him vice president would be better for the family.
"If you're secretary of state, you'll be away, we'll never see you, you know," she said. "I'll see you at a state dinner once in a while."
After the exchange aired on television three hours later, Biden spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander denied Jill Biden's account in a statement e-mailed to reporters.
"To be clear, President-elect Obama offered Vice President-elect Biden one job only _ to be his running mate," the statement said. "And the vice president-elect was thrilled to accept the offer."
While the statement denies that Obama ever offered Biden the secretary of state job, it doesn't rule out that the two discussed the possibility. Obama's transition office did not respond to questions about their private discussions.
Clinton's spokesman declined to comment about the suggestion that she was the second choice.
Obama made no reference to the comments Monday night, when he praised the Bidens at a dinner honoring his running mate at Washington's Union Station. Obama invited the two on stage, where he kissed Jill Biden's cheek and hugged her husband.
On Winfrey's program, Joe Biden said he didn't immediately take the vice presidential offer since he wasn't sure it was the best place for him to serve. But Biden, who ran against Obama in the Democratic primary race, said he agreed after getting some assurances from Obama about his role.
"This is a partnership," Biden said. "He's president of the United States, but as I said to him when he asked me, I said, `Barack, don't ask me unless the reason you're asking me is you're asking me for my judgment. I get to be the last guy in the room when you make every important decision. You're president. Any decision you make, I will back.'
"He said he wanted to have a confidant and somebody who wouldn't be a yes man. He's pretty sure about that last part," Biden said with a laugh.
Alexander's statement said, "Like anyone who followed the presidential campaign this summer, Dr. Jill Biden knew there was a chance that President-elect Obama might ask her husband to serve in some capacity and that, given his background, the positions of vice president and secretary of state were possibilities. Dr. Biden's point to Oprah today was that being vice president would be a better fit for their family because they would get to see him more and get to participate in serving more."
The Bidens made a surprise appearance on Winfrey's show. The celebrity-filled show also included the premiere of "America's Song," performed by Faith Hill, Seal, Bono, Mary J. Blige, Will.i.am and David Foster in honor of the occasion and available for free download on Winfrey's Web site for 24 hours.
Winfrey also interviewed movie star couple Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher about how Obama has inspired them to pledge to help end slave labor around the world and encourage other people to make a pledge to improve their communities. Other celebrities, including Scarlett Johansson, Justin Timberlake and Forest Whitaker appeared by videotape to talk about what Obama's election means to them.
Winfrey, who made her first ever presidential endorsement for Obama, heralded the significance of the moment particularly coming the day after Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
"I feel like I am better because of his being elected," Winfrey said. "And I think that the country is going to be better. I feel like it is a beautiful thing, and we all start to see ourselves differently, the possibility."
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