Joe Biden heaps praise on Sanders for his work on income inequality: "Hillary's focus has been other things up to now ... no one questions Bernie's authenticity on those issues"

"Even when income inequality wasn't as serious as it is today, it was his drumbeat," Biden said of Sanders

By Sophia Tesfaye
Published January 12, 2016 2:32PM (EST)
  (Reuters/Yuri Gripas/Jonathan Ernst/Photo montage by Salon)
(Reuters/Yuri Gripas/Jonathan Ernst/Photo montage by Salon)

On Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden found himself in the awkward position of having to belatedly add faint praise upon Hillary Clinton after gushing over rival Bernie Sanders' longtime commitment to the issue of income inequality -- an issue the vice president acknowledged was "relatively new" for Clinton.

"Bernie is speaking to a yearning that is deep and real. And he has credibility on it," the vice president told CNN's Gloria Borger during an interview on Monday. "And that is the absolute, enormous concentration of wealth with a small group of people and with the middle class, now being able to be shown, being left out."

"There used to be a basic bargain," Biden continued, "if you contributed to the profitability of enterprise, you got to share in the profit. That's been broken. Productivity is up, wages are stagnant."

Borger interjected: "But Hillary is talking about that, as well."

"Well, it's relatively new for Hillary to talk about that," Biden offered in contrast. Clinton, he conceded, has "come forward with some really thoughtful approaches to deal with the issue," but "Hillary's focus has been other things up to now, and that's been Bernie's -- no one questions Bernie's authenticity on those issues."

"If Bernie Sanders never said he was a democratic socialist, based on what he's saying people wouldn't be calling him a democratic socialist," Biden said of the Vermont senator's populist appeal. On the other hand, Clinton, Biden argued, unfairly had an "awful high bar for her to meet."

"I never thought she was a prohibitive favorite," he said. "I don't think she ever thought she was a prohibitive favorite. So I think it's, you know, everything's sort of coming down to Earth."

In an interview with NBC's Savannah Guthrie on "Today" Tuesday morning, the vice president was forced to further clarify his assessment of Clinton's commitment to the issue of income inequality.

"What I meant was, for the last five years, she's been engaged in foreign policy," Biden said of the former secretary of state. "This has been Bernie's mantra from the time he's gotten involved. Even when income inequality wasn't as serious as it is today, it was his drumbeat. And so that's what I meant."

"Bernie is pushing the envelope on this for everyone involved," Biden told Guthrie, adding that Clinton is also "coming up with some very good ideas."

The Sanders campaign, which also picked up the endorsement of the progressive group MoveOn on Tuesday, touted Biden's interview on Twitter:

During a recent interview with NBC affiliate WVIT, Biden admitted that he did, in fact, regret his October decision not to run for president in 2016 "everyday," but called the move the "right decision for my family and me."

Despite his enthusiastic praise for Sanders' longtime fight against income inequality, the vice president acknowledged that the challenger has a difficult path to the nomination. "Even if Hillary loses votes -- I've thought this through -- it's a long way to go in the nomination," Biden said during the same interview, acknowledging that Sanders has a real shot of winning the first two voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, before calling the Vermont senator's chances of winning the third voting state of South Carolina "tough sledding."

Watch Biden's interview, via CNN:

Joe Biden's Message For Young People

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

MORE FROM Sophia TesfayeFOLLOW @SophiaTesfaye