Biden Keeping Seat Warm for His Son?

ABC News' Rick Klein Reports: Vice-president-elect Joe Biden is a busy man these days, wading through transition matters as he and President-elect Barack Obama try to fill out their new administration.

And unlike Obama, Biden, D-Del., is still a member of the United States Senate -- though he didn’t appear at this week’s post-election session, and has shown no signs of returning to Senate business.

The Obama-Biden transition office refuses to explain or elaborate on why Biden feels it is appropriate to continue to serve in the Senate. Obama, meanwhile, tendered his resignation effective Sunday.

Elizabeth Alexander, a Biden spokeswoman with the transition office, issued this statement:  “Vice President-elect Biden is consulting with leaders in Delaware and will make an announcement on his plans soon.”

The lack of resolution has stoked speculation in Delaware and beyond that the only reason Joe Biden is still in office has everything to do with Beau Biden.

The younger Biden is headed to Iraq with his National Guard unit, and this week took his name out of the running to serve as his father’s direct replacement. But whoever is chosen by Delaware’s governor to replace Joe Biden will only serve until a special election is held, in 2010 -- by which time Beau Biden will be stateside again.

That’s where the games begin. Delaware’s current governor, Ruth Ann Minner, leaves office on Jan. 20 -- the same day that Sen. Biden is set to become vice president. If Biden were to resign his seat before Jan. 20, Minner would get to name a replacement.

If, on the other hand, Biden waits for the new governor to take office, selecting a new senator would be among the first tasks of the incoming governor, Jack Markell.

Things are lining up that way: Markell this week announced that he will take the oath of office at 12:01 am on Jan. 20 -- giving him a 12-hour window in which Biden could resign and allow Markell could name a replacement.

Minner and Markell are both Democrats, so who makes the choice won’t impact the balance of power in the Senate. But Minner has something of an independent streak, and Markell is viewed in some circles as more likely to be swayed by Sen. Biden’s wishes regarding his seat.

Joe Rogalsky, a Markell spokesman, said the governor-elect hasn’t communicated with Biden about his timeframe or preferences, and said it’s up to Biden as to when to resign his seat.

“Jack is really 100 percent focused on the transition process, and the problems facing the state. He hasn’t thought about who to pick, if he has that opportunity,” said Rogalsky said. “Jack has a ton of respect for Sen. Biden, but he hasn’t given this any thought.”

Rogalsky said the midnight swearing-in is designed to allow Delaware residents -- including Markell himself -- to attend the gubernatorial swearing-in as well as witness the presidential inauguration 12 hours later.

But the thinking in Delaware and national political circles is that Markell will appoint a placeholder who will promise, either explicitly or implicitly, to serve only two years.

That would presumably leave Beau Biden -- Delaware’s 39-year-old attorney general, who delivered a well-received introduction for his father at this summer’s Democratic National Convention -- with a clear primary field in 2010.

Such a move would be perfectly legal. And there’s precedent: A similar maneuver was used to keep John F. Kennedy’s Senate seat in the family, and 48 years later, Ted Kennedy is still representing Massachusetts in the Senate.

But the timing of installing a Biden replacement could harm Delawareans: The newly elected senators will take office Jan. 3, and all will have seniority over Biden’s replacement if Biden stays in office beyond then.

The new senator is also missing out on orientation and training sessions, while Delaware has only half of the voice of other states in the Senate as other matters are considered, said Samuel B. Hoff, a political science professor at Delaware State University.

“They’re going to lose time in getting up to speed if they keep playing this political shell game,” Hoff said. “It’s created drama that just doesn’t need to be there. When it comes to representing the people, this isn’t the best way to do it.”

Alex Conant, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said such political maneuvering doesn’t fit with the Obama-Biden ticket’s promise of a new kind of politics.

“It’s important for our leaders to put the country ahead of their personal political interests, but it’s not clear Obama and Biden are doing that,” Conant said. “There’s no place for political games that benefit Joe Biden’s family and political interests at the expense of Americans.”

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe contributed to this report.

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