MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Some of America’s top public leaders — including Vice President Joe Biden and former President Jimmy Carter — are in Washington, D.C. Tuesday to honor former Vice President Walter Mondale.

The day-long event, sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, credits Mondale for changing the vice presidency from a ceremonial political office to an important part of the presidency.

Among the Mondale fans present is Biden, who is the target of speculation about whether he is planning a run for the presidency.

Biden had veiled criticism of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with whom he served in the Obama Administration, for her recent remarks referring to Republicans as “enemies.”

“I really respect the members up there and I still have a lot of Republican friends,” Biden said. “I don’t think my chief enemy is the Republican Party. This is a matter of making things work. I don’t consider Republicans enemies. They’re friends.”

Biden revealed Mondale was the first call he made when Barack Obama asked him to be his number two. And he remembered the kindness of another Minnesota vice president, Hubert Humphrey, after the death of Biden’s young wife and daughter in 1979.

“And he’d end up on my couch and he’d be crying, and I’d be consoling him, for real!” Biden said. “‘It’s OK, boss, it’s all right!'”

All of the vice presidents since Mondale say he made the office consequential. At their very first meeting in Plains, Georgia, Mondale says he got a promise from Jimmy Carter to be part of all Oval Office decisions.

“When Carter and I got together, walking through his small town, I understood it,” Mondale, who grew up in the small, southern Minnesota town of Elmore, said. “And when we talked about these issues, I think we hit it off.”

At age 87, Mondale still keeps hours at a Minneapolis law firm, and teaches classes at the Humphrey School.

Over the years, he has nurtured a new generation of Minnesota Democrats, including the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Gov. Mark Dayton in the 1970s. The governor calls Mondale “the platinum standard.”

“Just a wonderful human being,” Dayton said. “Minnesota’s very, very proud of him.”

Mondale is uncomfortable with the acclaim he is getting for a lifetime of public service, but proud of what he says is the “Carter-Mondale legacy.”

“We told the truth, we obeyed the law and we kept the peace,” Mondale said. “It may not sound like much, but that’s a lot.”

Carter, 91, will make a rare public appearance to honor Mondale Tuesday night. The former president is undergoing treatment for brain cancer.

Pat Kessler

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