Vice President Joe Biden knew how to flatter an old friend.
He had been sitting in the Oval Office in May 2014, in his telling, convening privately with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Barack Obama when another commitment demanded his attention: Christopher Dodd, the former Connecticut senator turned movie industry lobbyist, was expecting Biden imminently at a trade conference nearby.
The vice president said he bid the chancellor farewell.
“Angela Merkel looked at me like, ‘What in the hell is he talking about?’ ” he recounted a short while later, talking up Dodd’s clout before his colleagues at the Motion Picture Association of America.
The vice president noted the “rumors,” dating to their time as legislative peers, that Dodd “controlled” him despite Biden’s Senate seniority.
“I’ve given new life to those rumors,” he joked.
Six years later, Biden would appear to be doing so again. With the biggest decision of his long campaign life looming — choosing a running mate before accepting the Democratic presidential nomination in less than two weeks — he has tasked Dodd with helping to lead the selection process.
The choice is about comfort and trust for Biden, his friends and allies say: Dodd, a fellow septuagenarian Irish Catholic from the Northeast, has known Biden for decades and is intimately familiar with the corridors of power. As a legislator, Dodd was regarded as canny and effective by bipartisan consensus, traits that could serve him, and the former vice president, well in a role that necessarily entails seeking agreement from disparate groups.
Yet his involvement in 2020 has struck some Democrats as curious, at minimum, from the moment it was announced in April. As Biden pledges to name a woman to the ticket and works to convince progressive voters that he hears their calls for wide-scale change, he has elevated, in Dodd, a Washington uber-veteran long trailed by allegations of personal and financial indiscretion.
Criticisms of Dodd, lobbed quietly in some Democratic circles for months, spilled into open view late last month after Politico reported that Dodd had privately complained about a lack of “remorse” from Senator Kamala Harris of California, a top vice presidential contender, over her attacks on Biden when she ran for president last year.
While former staff members have defended Dodd as a champion of women and he issued a statement saying the remarks as reported “do not represent my view on Sen. Harris,” some younger Democratic women have accused him of conveying a retrograde vision of female political ambition. “The 1980s called,” tweeted Jess O’Connell, a former top adviser to Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, “and wants Sen. Dodd back.”
But then, so did Biden, a fact as reflective of his political instincts as any vice presidential pick he might make.
In many ways, Biden, who is often publicly wistful about a bygone era of Senate harmony, has identified in Dodd a kind of avatar of the Washington he loved, when lawmakers got along and the chamber retained a sheen of statesmanship. He once called Dodd his “single best friend” in Congress.
But in naming Dodd one of four selection committee co-chairs, Biden has also revived examinations of his friend’s own checkered résumé.
This includes a politically damaging controversy over whether Dodd received preferential treatment on Countrywide loans. A Senate ethics panel cleared him of serious wrongdoing in 2009 but scolded him for not taking greater care to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
There was also a long-standing accusation that Dodd participated in an episode of sexual misconduct involving a waitress and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, his close friend, in the mid-1980s.
Tales of Dodd’s womanizing as a then-unmarried senator were so legion that veterans of Capitol Hill at times invoked his name in private last spring after Biden faced his own accusation of sexual assault.
Yes, there were lawmakers who had a reputation for lasciviousness, they allowed. But Biden was not one of them. He was no Chris Dodd.
Both men reached the Capitol in their early 30s — Biden as a senator, Dodd as a congressman until his promotion in 1981 — growing into caucus eminences and collaborators.
Dodd and Biden found themselves at last on divergent professional paths after their twin 2008 campaign failures.
Biden became vice president. Dodd became a lame duck, though not before co-writing what is his most cited legislative legacy: the Dodd-Frank regulatory overhaul of 2010, expanding federal oversight of the financial system.
Dodd’s return to the political fore this year was both unexpected and unsurprising to former colleagues, given the presumptive Democratic nominee.