Joe Biden didn't scold or lecture or lay blame for the unrest gripping America's cities on the mayors who run them. But in an event Monday, he did offer the nation a glimpse at what things might look like inside the White House were he in charge.
There was diligent listening, a lot of empathy, and some furious scribbling of notes as the former vice president dove into the policy weeds with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the leaders of Atlanta, Chicago and St. Paul, who joined him to discuss a response to the mass protests and violence set off by the killing last week of George Floyd in Minneapolis
The virtual roundtable was extraordinary in its ordinariness, an effort to offer a real time example of Biden's signature campaign promise: a return to normalcy and collaboration.
It played out in sharp contrast to President Donald Trump, who spent his morning berating the nation's governors as "weak" and calling for protesters to be imprisoned for lengthy terms.
After a period of weeks when Trump commandeered media oxygen, using his White House briefings to take credit for taming a pandemic that has continued to rage, to excoriate China and to lambaste the World Health Organization, Trump has been absent from the public stage, leaving a void for Biden to fill.
The presumed Democratic nominee is taking the opportunity to stand in as healer-in-chief -- a role for which Trump has shown little interest.
"I spoke to his family," Biden said of his conversation with George Floyd's relatives. "They weren't looking for revenge. They were looking for justice, looking for finally saying this subject matters."
Biden turned the virtual floor over to the mayors for the bulk of the meeting, but jumped back in repeatedly to sift through policy options with them on everything from the effectiveness of consent decrees for reforming police departments to the shortcomings of the federal recovery packages passed to address the pandemic's economic fallout.
"We are no better than other places, but we went through this earlier than other places, a couple of times," Garcetti said of the mass protests and violence triggered by police abuse. He lamented the sliding back of Obama-era policing reforms.
"We have national leadership that is pushing backwards to 20th century policing, when crime rates were higher and people were killed without a video camera to document it," the mayor said. "You need a Department of Justice that doesn't walk away from consent decrees."