WASHINGTON (AP) — After months of tortured indecision, Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday he won't be a candidate in the 2016 White House campaign, solidifying Hillary Rodham Clinton's status as the Democratic front-runner and the party's likely heir to President Barack Obama's legacy.
Standing under bright sun in the White House Rose Garden, Biden spoke movingly about mourning the recent death of his son, Beau, a process he said does not match the political calendar. While he said his family was emotionally prepared to undertake a grueling presidential campaign, they arrived at that decision too late for him to mount a credible bid for a job that has long been the north star of his political ambitions.
"Unfortunately, I believe we're out of time," said Biden, flanked by his wife, Jill, and the president.
Biden's decision puts to rest the uncertainty hanging over the Democratic primary. The race now will likely settle into a two-person contest between Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has energized the party's liberal base but lacks Clinton's campaign infrastructure and support from party leaders.
Biden was seen by some Democrats as an ideal blend of Clinton's establishment credentials and Sanders' populist appeal. Interest in his potential candidacy was fueled both by an outpouring of affection after his son succumbed to cancer in May and the persistent questions about Clinton's viability, particularly amid revelations about her controversial email use at the State Department.
However, Clinton appeared to calm nervous supporters with a commanding performance in last week's first Democratic debate. What was already a narrow path to the presidency for Biden appeared to get even smaller.
In a written statement Wednesday, Clinton praised Biden's "unyielding faith in America's promise" and said she expected he would "always be on the front lines, always fighting for all of us." The two spoke by phone shortly after the vice president concluded his remarks.
Biden notably did not endorse a candidate in the Democratic race. Instead, he delivered a 13-minute speech that very well could have been a platform for the campaign he'll never run. He decried the role of big money in politics and touted the importance of reducing income inequality and making college education more accessible, issues with significant support among liberals.
He also repeated a veiled criticism of Clinton that had crept into his speeches in recent days, saying Democrats should not view Republicans as their enemies. Clinton said in the debate that she was proud to count the GOP among the enemies she's made during her political career.
Biden's decision gives Clinton a boost heading into her testimony Thursday before a Republican-led House committee investigating the deadly attack on Americans in Benghazi, Libya, three years ago. With Biden out of the race, Clinton's campaign sees the hearing as a final hurdle before she can fully focus on early voting contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere.
For many Republicans, Biden's decision comes as a disappointment. Party leaders had all but cheered his potential candidacy, eager to see the Democratic race thrown into chaos and perhaps distract attention from a GOP primary that's been roiled by the rise of unorthodox candidates such as Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
Trump praised Biden and took a poke at Clinton in a single tweet: "I think Joe Biden made correct decision for him & his family. Personally, I would rather run against Hillary because her record is so bad."
To be sure, Clinton still faces a challenge from Sanders, the Vermont independent and self-described Democratic socialist. Sanders is drawing big crowds and contributions, but he's seen as unelectable by some Democrats.
Sanders thanked Biden Wednesday for "a lifetime of public service and for all that he has done for our nation."
Biden's announcement follows months of discussions with his family and political advisers about entering the race. He blew through multiple deadlines and appeared to send mixed signals to supporters, including an email from a longtime aide to former staffers last week that appeared to lay out the rationale for a Biden candidacy.
However, those familiar with Biden's deliberations say it became increasingly clear in recent days that he would have faced substantial logistical challenges in mounting a campaign this late in the primary process.
Aides said the vice president made his final decision Tuesday night, capping a political career that began with his election to the Senate in 1972 at age 29.
During his final 15 months as vice president, aides say Biden plans to immerse himself in a new national effort to cure cancer, a cause for which he has an obvious personal attachment. A talented, though gaffe-prone campaigner, he could also be a valuable surrogate for the eventual Democratic nominee.
Even as he signaled the end of his political career, Biden made clear he had no plans to quietly fade into the background.
"While I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent," he vowed.
AP writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.
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