Barack Obama Endorses Joe Biden for President

Former President Barack Obama emerged from political hibernation on Tuesday to endorse Joseph R. Biden Jr. and urge the Democratic Party — including, explicitly, supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont — to unite behind its presumptive presidential nominee in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a lengthy video announcing his support, one day after Mr. Sanders himself endorsed Mr. Biden, Mr. Obama praised Mr. Sanders for setting a new agenda for the party and signaled that more progressive ideas would be reflected in Mr. Biden’s campaign going forward. At the same time, he urged fortitude in the face of the coronavirus, sounding less like a campaign-trail endorser at points than a president addressing a nation in crisis.

His goal could not have been clearer: to energize the many younger and more progressive voters who dislike or distrust Mr. Biden, and bridge the party’s ideological divisions in a way that he may be uniquely positioned to do.

Appealing directly to Mr. Sanders’s supporters, he underscored the pivot Mr. Biden has been trying to make since wrapping up the nomination: from an argument, essentially, for restoring the pre-Trump status quo to an argument that this is insufficient. It is the argument Mr. Sanders and other progressive candidates — like Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, whose call for “big structural change” Mr. Obama overtly echoed — made all along.

“To meet the moment, the Democratic Party will have to be bold,” Mr. Obama said. “I could not be prouder of the incredible progress that we made together during my presidency. But if I were running today, I wouldn’t run the same race or have the same platform as I did in 2008. The world is different. There’s too much unfinished business for us to just look backwards. We have to look to the future.”

Mr. Sanders’s ideas and his supporters’ enthusiasm would be critical in November, Mr. Obama said, before discussing several of the issues that drove Mr. Sanders’s campaign. Americans, he said, needed student debt relief that did “more than just tinker around the edges,” health care access that went beyond the Affordable Care Act, climate policies bolder than the Paris Agreement, and policies to address “the vast inequalities created by the new economy” — inequalities that he acknowledged had been evident long before now.

“Of course Democrats may not always agree on every detail of the best way to bring about each and every one of these changes, but we do agree that they’re needed,” he said. “And that only happens if we win this election.”

At points in his video announcement, which ran more than 12 minutes, Mr. Obama seemed to be doing more than endorsing his former vice president, more even than trying to unite his party. From his first words — “these aren’t normal times” — it was something like an Oval Office address to a battered nation, designed for maximum contrast with the office’s current occupant.

“Michelle and I hope that you and your families are safe and well,” he said. “If you’ve lost somebody to this virus, or if someone in your life is sick, or if you’re one of the millions suffering economic hardship, please know that you’re in our prayers. Please know that you’re not alone. Because now is the time for all of us to help where we can, to be there for each other as neighbors, as co-workers and as fellow citizens.”

The general election is shaping up to be a referendum on Mr. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 580,000 Americans and killed more than 23,000. Efforts to combat the virus have happened largely at the state and local level, and The New York Times reported over the weekend that Mr. Trump had received warnings about the virus weeks before he acted.

Mr. Obama made the argument explicit, saying that “moments of great crisis” revealed the need for strong leadership.

“The kind of leadership that’s guided by knowledge and experience, honesty and humility, empathy and grace — that kind of leadership doesn’t just belong in our state capitals and mayor’s offices. It belongs in the White House,” he said. “That’s why I’m so proud to endorse Joe Biden for president of the United States.”

While the Democratic race was competitive, Mr. Obama remained publicly neutral and offered advice to all comers, even as multiple candidates tried to link themselves to him. But behind the scenes, he has been involved for some time and played a key role in persuading Mr. Sanders to end his campaign and endorse Mr. Biden.

Over the past several weeks, he reached out to Mr. Sanders on at least four occasions to reassure him that he had already achieved his goal of moving the Democratic Party to the left, according to people with direct knowledge of their exchanges.

At the same time, Mr. Obama began discussing the terms of his engagement on behalf of Mr. Biden, counseling caution even as Biden aides and party officials pressed him to help them bolster their lagging fund-raising operations immediately.

Mr. Obama’s announcement was timed to follow Mr. Sanders’s endorsement on Monday, and both were delayed for a few days by the Passover and Easter holidays — contrary to Mr. Trump’s false claim that Mr. Obama was having second thoughts.

Mr. Biden, while relieved to have Mr. Obama’s help, is also intensely proud of his own comeback — from fourth- and fifth-place finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire to his perch as the presumptive nominee.

Still, on the campaign trail, Mr. Biden referenced his work with Mr. Obama constantly, and many voters ultimately said they were comfortable with Mr. Biden because they saw him as a familiar figure who could restore the perceived predictability and stability of the Obama era. His association with the nation’s first black president was a factor in the strong support Mr. Biden received from many African-American voters during the primary.

Mr. Biden spoke frequently about the strong partnership the two men had in the White House, making clear that he would want a similar dynamic with his future running mate. He and Mr. Obama have discussed how the former president conducted his vice-presidential search process, and the importance of selecting a partner with experience.

“The most important thing, and I’ve actually talked to Barack about this — the most important thing is that there has to be someone who, the day after they’re picked, is prepared to be president of the United States of America if something happened,” Mr. Biden said at a fund-raiser last month.

Glenn Thrush contributed reporting.

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