Joe Biden hired a speech coach, known for his work with President Bill Clinton, one day after the former vice president’s poor performance at the first Democrat presidential debate.
Biden’s presidential campaign paid Sheehan Associates $5,300 on June 28 for “strategic consulting services,” as first reported by CNBC. The company is run by Michael Sheehan, a “communications trainer and strategist” who boasts of having coached “more presidents, vice presidents, first ladies, cabinet secretaries, governors, mayors and Members of Congress than anyone else in the country.”
Sheehan has long been a fixture in helping political candidates hone their message and speaking skills. In particular, Sheehan played a large role in helping Bill Clinton prepare for speaking engagements and debates during the president’s 1996 reelection campaign. He also reportedly coached then-Senate candidate Barack Obama before his much praised national debut as the keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
Biden’s campaign seems to have hired Sheehan one day after the former vice president struggled to respond properly after being confronted by Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) regarding his record on civil rights. Harris centered her criticism on Biden’s recent decision to praise the “civility” of two segregationist Democrats, the late-Sens. James Eastland (D-MS) and Herman Talmadge (D-GA), while touting his record of forging “consensus” in Congress.
“I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground,” Harris said, “but I also believe and it’s personal and it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senator who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country.”
Despite having invoked the segregationist Democrats before, Biden never discussed exactly what they were able to accomplish together. Harris, though, was quick to point out at the debate that both Talmadge and Eastland were allies in his campaign against busing to integrate public schools.
“It was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose bussing,” she said. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bussed to school every day. That little girl was me. So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate… we have to take it seriously.”
Biden attempted to defend himself by claiming Harris had mischaracterized his record. Instead of providing evidence to dispute the mischaracterizations, however, the former vice president only muddled his position on busing and inaccurately claimed to never have offered praise for racists.
After the debate, Biden’s own team was reportedly “freaking out” about his poor performance. The former vice president’s team appeared correct to worry. Most political observers agreed that Biden underperformed and was caught off the guard by the brunt of Harris’s criticism. Some, like Rev. Jesse Jackson, even claimed that Biden had missed an opportunity presented by the debate to make amends for his past.
It is unclear if Biden’s campaign was working with Sheehan prior to his entry into the presidential race, especially given the former vice president’s 40-year record of gaffes and verbal mistakes. Biden’s most recent campaign filings show payments to Sheehan prior to the conclusion of the first debate. As noted by CNBC, Biden had hired Sheehan previously for debate preparation during his 2008 presidential campaign.
Even though the time table is uncertain, Sheehan likely has more work on his hands. Just last week, Biden gaffed while discussing immigration in New Hampshire, telling a group of activists “we need more family separation.”