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Assigned to forge crucial congressional budget deal, Joe Biden instead visits Finland en route to Moldova

March 8, 2011 |  3:02 am

the Bidens and granddaughter Finnegan arrive in Finland 3-7-11

President Obama's press secretary Jay Carney, who used to perform essentially the same job for Vice President Joe Biden, was forced to defend both of them Monday as questions rose about the VP's weeklong overseas absence during crucial budget talks that he was supposed to be heading.the Bidens and granddaughter Finnegan shoe-Shop in Finland 3-7-11

As we noted here last week, Obama has detailed Biden to undertake many major assignments, except classroom visits and golf outings at Andrews Air Force Base:

Overseeing the non-recovery recovery spending program, helping House Democrats lose their majority last year, wrapping up the war in Iraq and crediting Obama, meeting with top labor union heads about Wisconsin and, most recently, heading bipartisan talks to cut the spending cut gap between congressional parties.

The sides met once with no agreement.The Senate will defeat some ideas Tuesday. The two-week Federal spending authority runs out next week. And the week after, Obama has dibs on a long trip to South America.

Last year Obama twice postponed an Asian trip due to the press of domestic affairs. But he's just the president and his destinations were minor countries like India and Indonesia.

The vice president hadn't been to Scandinavia until Monday and, after all, International Women's Day is this week.

Biden was about 15 minutes late for his Tuesday meeting with President Tarja Halonen. But, hey, it's only Finland.

And no president or vice president has ever visited Moldava, if you can believe that. So what better time than the week before the next federal budget crisis?

Biden will also visit leaders and some business people in Moscow because, why not?

Because of the pressing nature of this mission, the vice president took his wife, Jill, and granddaughter Finnegan along for the travel experience.

In fact, the official trio squeezed a gym shoe-shopping trip at a....

... Helsinki mall into their otherwise impossible Monday schedule. Like any experienced American male dragged along on such a shopping trip, the vice president of the United States stood by uselessly, but obediently.

So, the question came up at Monday's White House briefing, with the federal government facing a complete shutdown next week, who'Obama press secretary jay Carney not answering questions 3-7-11s running these talks that were so crucial they required the president to delegate the vice president to take charge last week but this week Biden's presence is required in Moldava?

Well, Carney claimed the negotiating continues at the staff level, but he would not or could not specify who was doing all the negotiating.

"There are," Carney claimed, "continued conversations at the staff level that have continued through the weekend and through today, and will continue as the Senate begins to take action on the bills that are on the table, which, I think will be an important milestone as we make progress in these negotiations."

Got it?

The rookie Carney may have thought that no-cal Coke Zero reply would suffice.

But then this exchange ensued:

Q. I wanted to go back to the impact of the Vice President’s trip on the budget negotiations. It seems like an unfortunate timing for those talks. In his absence, who is the administration point person, and is there any effort to keep the Vice President involved in conversations by phone and from Finland?

MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say that, again, I would point you to my answer to Athena’s question. The staff-level conversations are continuing. The Congress, specifically the Senate, is taking up proposals by -- produced by the House on the one hand, the Senate Democrats on the other, and we all are waiting to see the outcome of those votes.

And then I would simply say that in the era of modern communications, it’s certainly possible that the Vice President could get on the phone with anyone here in Washington who needed to speak with him.

Q   Who on the staff is the point person while he’s gone?

MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to specify, simply to say that a variety of staff members, senior staff members, have been in conversations with folks on the Hill about this.

A puzzled senior Republican staffer on the Hill said those alleged talks must be among fellow Democrats because they haven't involved the GOP.

Related:

Now Biden takes lead on budget talks; what's left for Obama?

Full text of Biden's remarks on crucial budget talks between congressional parties

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photos: Kimmo Mantyla / Reuters (Bidens and granddaughter arrive in Helsinki March 7, 2011); Pekka Sakki / Associated Press (Bidens and granddaughter shop for new gym shoes in Helsinki, March 7, 2011); Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press (Carney, March 7, 2011).

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