Who is Joe Biden?

Joe Biden served as Barack Obama’s Vice President from 2009 to 2017. He established himself as a loyal second-in-command and the two men had a solid relationship, as demonstrated when they were filmed together on a video called Couch Commander where they were caught discussing whether the then Vice President’s sunglasses looked “cool” on him. Obama mocked Biden for having to choose between two pairs of sunglasses that were the same.

Obama’s former deputy raced ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on the path to becoming the Democrats’ 2020 presidential candidate. Although the former Vice President experienced a poor start to his campaign by failing to top the polls in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, the South Carolina primary transformed everything for him and he experienced brilliant results in states like Texas, Maine and Massachusetts on Super Tuesday. Now that Sanders has officially dropped out of the primaries, Biden is the official Democratic Party candidate for the 2020 US presidential election.

But who is Joe Biden? What is his background? What shaped his politics? And how did he get to this stage?

Biden was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania on November 20, 1942. He grew up in Scranton which is a city known for its blue-collar character and is located in northeast Pennsylvania. Biden is named after his father who worked as a used car salesman and cleaning furnaces. Biden’s mother was Catherine Eugenia “Jean” Finnegan.

Biden Senior frequently said to his son: “Champ, the measure of a man is not how often he is knocked down, but how quickly he gets up.” The former Vice President said he learnt about the value of hard work from his parents.

When Biden was 13, his parents moved to Mayfield, Delaware. During his time at the St. Helena School, he learnt to overcome a frustrating speech impediment by reciting long passages of poetry in front of a mirror. He later gained acceptance into the prestigious Archmere Academy.

Biden’s deepest desire was to attend college, which he often said was his “Oz.” After graduating from Archmere in 1961, he studied history and political science at the University of Delaware. John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration inspired his interest in politics.

On a break in the Bahamas, the former Vice President met Neilia Hunter and took a strong romantic interest in her. He subsequently applied himself more to his studies with renewed motivation. He was accepted into Syracuse University Law School in 1965 and he graduated from there in 1968. Biden married Neilia a year later and moved to Wilmington, Delaware, to begin practicing at a law firm. He then set up his own firm in 1971.

Biden also became an active member of the Democratic Party from 1970 onwards and he was elected as a city councilor on New Castle County Council the same year.

The former Vice President and Neilia had three children: Joseph Biden III (born in 1969), Hunter (born in 1970) and Naomi (born in 1971).

In 1972, Biden ran against the popular Republican incumbent J. Caleb Boggs for the US Senate. He mounted a tireless campaign with help from his sister, Valerie Biden Owens, who served as his campaign manager. Against all odds, Biden won an unexpected victory and became the fifth-youngest senator in American history.

Shortly after his entrance into the Senate, Biden experienced an unexpected tragedy in the form of a car crash. It killed his wife Neilia and daughter Naomi, and severely injured both his sons Hunter and Joseph. He took the oath of office for the US Senate from his sons’ hospital room in order to spend as much time with them as possible.

The Delaware Senator later got remarried to Jill Jacobs in 1977 and they are still wedded to this day and have a daughter Ashley Biden as well as the late Beau Biden.

During his time at the Senate, Biden established himself as a foreign policy expert. He served as Chairman of the Committee of Foreign Relations for several years and he called for American intervention to end the genocide in Darfur. He also spoke out against George W. Bush’s handling of the 2003 Iraq War.

Biden attempted to become the Democratic presidential nominee for his party in three different years: 1988, 2008 and 2020.

During his first bid, the Delaware Senator competed against some distinguished candidates like former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, who went on to win the Democratic nomination in 1988 and was beaten by Ronald Reagan’s Vice President George H.W. Bush.

He was also up against Tennessee Senator Al Gore, who later went on to become Bill Clinton’s Vice President between 1993-2001. Gore then lost the controversial 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush when the Supreme Court voted to award Florida’s Electoral College votes to the latter when it became clear that the Florida recount violated the Equal Protection Clause.

The 1988 Democratic nomination was a watershed moment for US politics because one year prior to the event, Colorado Senator Gary Hart, who was considered to be the favorite to win the race, dropped out of the contest due to revelations that he had an extramarital affair. He withdrew his bid in May 1987. 

Biden also fell victim to the string of controversies that were emerging from this race when high profile articles in the New York Times and The Des Moines Register reported that the Delaware Senator plagiarized a speech written by former British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock. A video of Biden’s speech was leaked to the press by one of Dukakis’s staffers. They were then sacked by the former Massachusetts Governor. Yet the incident caused so much embarrassment for Biden that he cancelled his own presidential bid in September 1987.

After Hart dropped out of the race, the Delaware Senator was considered to be the favorite to win the 1988 Democratic nomination, but Biden’s withdrawal from the race only made it easier for Dukakis to win. Biden did not dare to enter a Democratic presidential contest again until 2008.

The 2008 contest was always going to be a difficult race for Biden to compete in because of the momentum that Obama brought to the contest. Obama was the first black senator to nominate himself to become a presidential candidate and was a charismatic speaker who rallied the progressive base. Nonetheless it was also widely anticipated that year that New York Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton would win the competition and this soon took the spotlight off candidates like Biden.

Although Obama became the Democrats’ 2008 presidential nominee, he did not make Hillary his running mate that year to heal the divisions that his contest with the former First Lady caused. Instead, Biden would become the Illinois Senator’s running mate. Nonetheless, Hillary later became Obama’s Secretary of State until 2014, which helped expand her national profile ready for the memorable 2016 presidential election.

During the 2008 presidential election, Republican candidate Senator John McCain attempted to distance himself from the Bush years and tried to compete with the highly popular Obama by choosing a woman as his running mate. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, though charismatic, proved to be a strange choice in hindsight. Her debate with Biden helped propel the Delaware Senator to further fame.

When they approached each other on the stage before the debate, Palin was recorded saying to Biden “can I call you Joe?” But her surprise performance threw the Obama campaign off course, if only temporarily.

Regardless, both Obama and Biden won the 2008 presidential election, meaning that the latter became Vice President for an administration led by America’s first black president. The pair also won again in the 2012 presidential election against the Republicans’ joint ticket of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and then House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The then Vice President was instrumental in ensuring that key pieces of legislation, particularly Obamacare, were voted through Congress during Obama’s first term as president. He also played a leading role in ensuring that Congress voted for an extension of the Bush tax cuts to provide relief to many Americans who had suffered during the 2008-09 Recession.

In addition, Biden convinced Senator Arlen Specter to switch from the Republicans to the Democrats. Following Obama’s re-election, Biden reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. This law led to the creation of the White House Council on Women and Girls, as well as the White House Task Force To Protect Students From Sexual Assault, begun in 2014 with the then Vice President as co-chair along with Valerie Jarrett.

When ISIS started to occupy Iraq in 2014-15, Biden pushed for the US to arm Syria’s rebel fighters.

Considering Biden served as Vice President to one of the most popular presidents in US history, this should have provided him with a platform to win the 2016 Democratic nomination as Hillary’s popularity ratings started to decline, and to then win the presidential election that year against Donald Trump, whose popularity was also rather low.

The former Vice President was also seen as the frontrunner to become the Democratic nominee for Governor of Delaware in 2016 as well.

However, the death of Biden’s second oldest son, Beau, caused him to cast his presidential aspirations to one side. On May 30 2015, Beau died at the age of 46 after having battled brain cancer for several years.

The then Vice President said that “nobody has a right to seek office unless they are willing to give it 110 percent of who they are.” In June 2016, both Obama and Biden endorsed Hillary as the Democratic presidential nominee.

Although former Arizona Senator John McCain wanted Al Gore’s former running mate Senator Joe Lieberman on his presidential ticket in 2008, he also developed a “bromance” with another Democrat during his lifetime: Biden.

Both men served together in Congress for three decades, though they knew each other before they entered politics. During a December 2017 appearance on The View, the former Vice President sat alongside McCain’s daughter, Meghan, and he shed light on the special friendship that the two heavyweights developed over the years.

He called the former Arizona Senator “one of his best friends” and said that they were like “two brothers.”

When McCain eventually passed away in August 2018, Biden gave his own eulogy alongside Bush Junior, Obama and Lieberman. The former Vice President famously said “I’m a Democrat and I love John McCain,” and he also said “I trusted John with my life.”

Following the end of his vice presidency in 2017, Biden became a vocal critic of the Trump administration. Whilst attending the launch of the Penn Biden Center for Global Diplomacy and Global Engagement on March 30, 2017, the former Vice President said he “had some advice for Trump” and told him to cease his tweeting and focus on his job.

While speaking at a Florida Democratic Party fundraiser in Hollywood, Biden criticised Trump for cozying up to “dictators” like Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

On June 11, 2019, the former Vice President also criticised Trump’s trade war with China, which he called “damaging.”

He also spoke out against the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Climate Agreement and attacked the Trump tax cuts and the Republicans’ attempt to repeal Obamacare.

When Chechnya’s authorities decided to round up and torture individuals “who are believed to be gay,” the former Vice President stated his hopes that the US President would confront Russia’s leaders on this issue. On June 21, 2017, during a speech at a Democratic National Committee LGBT gala in New York, Biden said the audience should “hold Trump accountable” for his claims that he is on the LGBT community’s side.