Biden shushes wife after secretary of state slip

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Vice President-elect Joe Biden's wife said Monday that he had a pick of two jobs in the Obama administration, a slip that Biden immediately tried to shush and that his spokeswoman later disputed. Jill Biden's comment came during an appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" on the eve of the inauguration.

"Joe had the choice to be secretary of state or vice president," she said. Her husband blushed bright red, grimaced, laughed and said a loud "shhhh" that sent the audience into laughter. "OK, he did," Jill Biden said.

The vice president-elect didn't deny her claim on the show, but Biden spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander did three hours later in a statement e-mailed to reporters immediately after the exchange aired on television.

"To be clear, President-elect Obama offered Vice President-elect Biden one job only - to be his running mate," the statement said. "And the vice president-elect was thrilled to accept the offer."

The vice president-elect said he only accepted Obama's offer to be his running mate after talking it over with "Jilly," his pet name for his wife. Mrs. Biden said she told him vice president would be better for the family.

"If you're secretary of state, you'll be away, we'll never see you, you know," she said. "I'll see you at a state dinner once in awhile. But I said, if you're vice president, the entire family, because worked so hard for the election, can be involved. They can come to our home. They can go to events, they can be with us all the time. And that's what's important to us."

Joe Biden said he didn't immediately take the vice presidential offer since he wasn't sure it was the best place for him to serve. But Biden, who ran against Obama in the Democratic primary race, said he agreed after getting some assurances from Obama about his role.

"This is a partnership," Biden said. "He's president of the United States, but as I said to him when he asked me, I said, `Barack, don't ask me unless the reason you're asking me is you're asking me for my judgment. I get to be the last guy in the room when you make every important decision. You're president. Any decision you make, I will back.'

"He said he wanted to have a confidant and somebody who wouldn't be a yes man. He's pretty sure about that last part," Biden said with a laugh.

Obama's transition office did not respond to questions about whether he was offered both jobs. Obama gave the secretary of state job to Hillary Rodham Clinton, and her spokesman declined to comment about the suggestion that she was the second choice.

Alexander's statement said, "Like anyone who followed the presidential campaign this summer, Dr. Jill Biden knew there was a chance that President-elect Obama might ask her husband to serve in some capacity and that, given his background, the positions of vice president and secretary of state were possibilities. Dr. Biden's point to Oprah today was that being vice president would be a better fit for their family because they would get to see him more and get to participate in serving more."

The Bidens made a surprise appearance on Winfrey's show, recorded at the Kennedy Center. The celebrity-filled show also included the premiere of "America's Song," performed by Faith Hill, Seal, Bono, Mary J. Blige, Will.i.am and David Foster in honor of the occasion and available for free download on Winfrey's Web site for 24 hours.

Winfrey also interviewed movie star couple Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher about how Obama has inspired them to pledge to help end slave labor around the world and encourage other people to make a pledge to improve their communities. Other celebrities, including Scarlett Johansson, Justin Timberlake and Forest Whitaker appeared by videotape to talk about what Obama's election means to them.

Winfrey, who made her first ever presidential endorsement for Obama, heralded the significance of the moment particularly coming the day after Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

"I feel like I am better because of his being elected," Winfrey said. "And I think that the country is going to be better. I feel like it is a beautiful thing, and we all start to see ourselves differently, the possibility."

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On the Net:

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