From NBC's Mark Murray and Ken Strickland
Obviously not the way he wanted to kick off his presidential campaign, Sen. Joe Biden's conference call with reporters this afternoon announcing his White House bid was dominated by questions about his comments to the New York Observer regarding fellow Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards.
In the New York Observer article, Biden called Clinton's plan for Iraq "nothing but disaster"; said Edwards doesn't know "what the heck he is talking about" on Iraq; and said this about Obama: "'You got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy... I mean, that's a storybook, man.'"
In the conference call, Biden didn't question the accuracy of those quotes, but said they were being taken out of context. He said Clinton is "clearly qualified to be president," but that he disagreed with her plan for Iraq (especially the provision to cut off funding for Iraqis). "I think her policy is a serious mistake."
He also said he disagreed with Edwards call to withdraw troops from Iraq. "I don't understand the logic of that," Biden said on the call.
And regarding his comment about Obama, which some have interpreted to be offensive to African Americans, Biden said he spoke with Obama about it -- and that Obama "knew what I meant by it." What he meant to say, Biden stated, is that Obama "is something brand new, that no one has seen before... Clean as a whistle, sharp as a tack. That's the context." He went on to say this about his relationship with African Americans: "I have a long, long relationship with these folks. No one is going to misunderstand it."
Meanwhile, Obama was swarmed by reporters just outside the senate chamber, asking for comment about Biden's remark. "I don't think he intended to offend and I'll leave it at that," Obama said. "He called me. I told him it wasn't necessary. We have more important things to think about. We've got Iraq. We've got health care. We've got energy. This is low on the list."
Did he apologize? Obama didn't answer, but said, "He was very gracious. I have no problems with Joe Biden."