Did Joe Biden just commit political hari-kari with his comment on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday that he's "absolutely comfortable" with married same-sex couples having the same rights as heterosexual couples?
I don't know, but I'm pretty sure President Obama isn't "absolutely comfortable" with his loquacious vice president's comment, which has instantly, and unnecessarily, forced his hand on a controversial domestic issue when he's grappling with a host of sensitive foreign policy issues, including the trial of the 9/11 defendants at Guantanamo Bay, the unresolved effort by blind Chinese dissent Chen Guangcheng to seek asylum in the U.S. and the impact of French President Sarkozy's defeat on the European debt crisis.
Obama, who has refused to endorse gay marriage and said his own view on gay marriage has been "evolving," but Biden's comment is sure to prompt Mitt Romney, who's opposed to same-sex marriage, to demand that Obama declare whether he agrees with his vice president.
Biden, who also predicted that the notoriously unpredictable Chinese officials will honor their commitment to allow Chen and his family to leave China, triggered an immediate crisis mode response from his office and the Obama campaign.
"The vice president was saying what the president has said previously -- that committed and loving same-sex couples deserve the same rights and protections enjoyed by all Americans, and that we oppose any effort to rollback those rights," a Biden spokesperson said. "Beyond that, the vice president was expressing that he too is evolving on the issue."
At the same time, Obama's top political adviser David Axelrod suggested that Biden had gone too far as he defensively tweeted, "What VP said-that all married couples should have exactly the same legal rights-is precisely POTUS's position."
I love Joe Biden, having covered him for years as a senator. But as a former spokesman for another vice president, Walter Mondale, and biographer of yet another veep, Hubert Humphrey, it's clear that Biden has committed the cardinal sin of vice presidents -- thinking they can speak freely and not expect voters to think they're speaking for their boss.
Worse yet, for Biden and his own political future, he sparked renewed speculation that Obama will dump him as his running mate this fall, most likely in favor of Hillary Clinton. Biden joked that he and Clinton may run on a joint ticket in 2016, but added, "I don't know whether I'm gonna run. And Hillary doesn't know whether she's gonna run."
My guess is that Obama will keep Biden as his running mate because of his appeal to blue-collar voters in key states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, but many of those same voters may not like what they just heard Biden say. So better not order any more of those 2012 Obama-Biden bumper stickers just yet.