‘Honest to God,’ Joe Biden tells Utah, ‘I don’t know’ whether to run for president in 2020

The former vice president tells Salt Lake City that he would “not be coy” if he did seek the White House.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Rutgers University last month in New Brunswick, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

When asked whether he would run for president in “three short years,” former Vice President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, made the sign of the cross over his heart and laughed. But he didn’t rule it out entirely.

“Yes, I think I’m qualified, but that doesn’t mean I should be president or that I will run for president,” Biden told a Salt Lake City audience Monday night. “The honest to God answer is that I don’t know.”

If he did decide to run, Biden added, he would “not be coy” about it. And he seemed to prove that much during the 90-minute affair at Abravanel Hall, where he shared his candid, off-the-cuff critiques of the current White House administration and his unfiltered fears on “the breakdown of our political system.”

He also wasn’t shy to say whom, in place of President Donald Trump, he’d rather see in office: former Utah governor and now-U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman.

“I wish he were president,” Biden said. “He is truly, truly a good man.”

Huntsman escorted the vice president during his visit to the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute in February 2016 as part of Biden’s “moonshot” campaign to cure cancer. Biden again visited the state this year, speaking at Mitt Romney’s annual Park City summit in June and encouraging the former GOP presidential candidate to run for the Senate seat now held by Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Dr. Jewel Samadder, left, speaks with Vice President Joe Biden as former Utah Gov. Jon M. Huntsman looks on during a tour of the research lab at the Huntsman Cancer Institute Friday, Feb. 26, 2016, in Salt Lake City, as part of the White House's cancer "moonshot," an ambitious effort to double the rate of progress toward curing cancer. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, Pool)

More than 1,000 attendees cheered, clapped and whispered “Uncle Joe” while he spoke downtown Monday as part of the ongoing Wasatch Speaker Series.

His remarks came two days after The Washington Post reported that Donna Brazile, former head of the Democratic National Committee, had considered replacing Hillary Clinton — who suffered a fainting spell during the campaign — with Biden as the party’s 2016 presidential nominee. He didn’t mention the revelation but did suggest he “could’ve won the nomination” if he ran.

Mostly, Biden delivered slightly veiled criticisms of Trump (whom he hardly mentioned by name and with whom he says he’s tried to refrain from faulting).

He called out the president’s tweeting habit. He censured him for suggesting a federal judge was biased because he was “Mexican.” He denounced his “moral equivalence” between the neo-Nazis rallying in Charlottesville, Va., and the protesters there speaking out against alt-right ideologies. And he questioned his tactics in responding to threats from North Korea.

“The kinds of things that are being said are just not rational,” Biden said.

He blamed a large portion of what he sees as disruption on the “half-baked nationalism and phony populism” budding across the nation — echoing a speech made by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Oct. 16, when Biden presented him with the Liberty Medal. Both urged residents to reject, challenge and expose hate.

Biden also spoke about his son Beau Biden, who died in 2015 of the same form of brain cancer that McCain was diagnosed with this year. All politics, he said, are personal.

He hopes more lawmakers will see that and find consensus during “a very difficult moment for the country.” Biden pointed to his relationship with former Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, as an example of bipartisanship (while setting up former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon as the opposite).

“It’s time to get up. It’s time for us to put our heads up again,” Biden sang into the microphone.

Former first lady Michelle Obama also visited Utah this year. Without mentioning Trump by name, Obama suggested during her September speech that she “continues to be hopeful” despite a climate of fear created by the current president — a leader who’s spent much of his early tenure trying to erase the legacy of her husband, Biden’s former boss President Barack Obama.

Biden, too, ended his discussion by pointing out what he sees as the biggest difference between the two administrations.

“The thing I’m proudest of in eight years?” he said, responding to a question about his time in office. “Not a single hint of scandal.”