When announcing that Biden will head up the new task force on the middle class, Obama cited Biden's upbringing and work ethic as supporting evidence for his first big assignment.
"There is no one who brings to bear the same combination of personal experience and substantive expertise. Joe's come a long way and has achieved a great deal, but he's never forgotten his roots as a working-class kid from Scranton, Pa.," Obama said. "He's lived the American dream, and lived and worked to make that dream a reality for others."
The task force will give Biden a visible role on an issue of critical importance to the administration. It will focus on economic policies to benefit the middle class, bringing together the administration's economic advisers and key Cabinet members to focus on three key areas: job creation, job training and work-life balance.
"With this task force, we have a single, highly visible group with one single goal: to raise the living standards of the people who are the backbone in this country -- the middle class," Biden said. "Because when they, in fact, their standard is raised, the poor do better. ... And by the way, the wealthy do better as well. Everyone does better."
Biden will not have specific authority to change policy, but rather will coordinate consensus among the task force members and take that to the president. He will chair monthly meetings that will take place around the country in order to spotlight problem areas as well as success stories. The first meeting will take place in Philadelphia on Feb. 27 and will focus on environmentally friendly jobs.
Interestingly, Biden himself said in December that he did not want to have a specific assignment on one big issue, as Gore did with a task force on reforming the federal government in the first Clinton term.
"I don't want to be the guy that goes out and has a specific assignment to -- an important assignment to reinvent government, which Al Gore did a great job of, of, you know, dealing with some specific discrete item," Biden said on ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." "I said I want a commitment from you that on every important decision you'll make, every critical decision, economic and political as well as foreign policy, I'll get to be in the room."
But White House officials note that by putting the vice president in charge of this first key Obama task force, it elevates the issues of the middle class above a Cabinet level discussion and puts it directly into the White House.
"It shows the trust he has in the vice president," an official said.
Biden's years in the Senate are clearly an asset he brings to the West Wing, but he will not be running to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue several times a week.
Biden aides say that the vice president does not see himself as an overseer of his party's caucus, even with his influence and decades of experience in the legislative branch. Biden will go to Capitol Hill when he is invited, but he has no intention of serving as the White House's chief liaison.
"They call him. He's their man in the Senate, for both parties," a White House official said.
Biden had a strong reputation for working across the aisle with Republicans and has counted some of the most conservative members of the Senate as friends, exemplified by his speaking at the funeral service for South Carolina Republican Strom Thurmond.