Joseph R. Biden: A Long Road to the Presidency
When Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States on Jan. 20, it will mark a monumental capstone to a more than four-decade career in Washington.
Biden’s journey to career politician began in Pennsylvania, born as the oldest of four siblings in 1942. Biden has long spoken about his father’s financial struggle during the early years of his childhood, before the family relocated to Delaware for work.
Despite the family’s hardships, it was Biden’s speech impediment that affected him most as a child. A young Biden was often ridiculed by his classmates for his stutter, and earned the nickname “Dash” for his halting speech. Still, Biden excelled as a student athlete and high school class president, and decades later would speak of overcoming his speech impediment as a feat of strength.
At 24, Biden married his first wife, Neilia Hunter Biden, and had three children: sons Joseph “Beau” and Hunter Biden, and daughter Naomi.
Biden made political history for the first time in 1972, when he beat out a two-term republican incumbent in a major upset for a Delaware U.S. Senate Seat in one of the closest races of the election year. Upon his inauguration at 30 years old, Biden became the sixth-youngest senator in U.S. history.
But tragedy struck the family less than a month after Biden’s victory, when his wife and daughter were killed in an automobile collision. Hunter and Beau, who were also in the car at the time of the crash, were severely injured.
The loss derailed Biden, who prepared to resign from his newly won position in the Senate as he cared for his two surviving sons. His new colleagues — Republican and Democratic alike — rallied around him to stay on course. In January of 1973, Biden was sworn in as Senator from Delaware next to son Hunter’s hospital bed.
For the remainder of his career, Biden maintained balance between his Washington duties and his family.
Biden met his second wife — then Jill Tracy Jacobs — on a blind date in 1975, and has long credited her for renewing his passion in politics. The two went on to get married in 1977, and had a daughter, Ashley Biden.
With over a decade of experience under his belt, Biden launched his first presidential campaign in 1987.
It was a short-lived bid for the White House. Within three months, Biden was shamed by accusations of plagiarism in his stump speeches and records of being reprimanded for plagiarism in college, and withdrew his candidacy.
But Biden quickly redeemed his reputation, chairing the Senate Judiciary Committee’s effort to block conservative Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in 1988.
Biden would go on to chair another high-profile Supreme Court nomination: That of Clarence Thomas, who was accused of making unwelcome sexual advances against former colleague Anita Hill. As chair of the judiciary committee, Biden made the decision not to include corroborating testimonies from other witnesses alleging sexual harassment and the nomination was ultimately approved.
Biden’s influence didn’t end at the bench of the Supreme Court: Amid rising crime rates and pressure on Democrats to be tough on crime in the early ‘90s, Biden spearheaded a sweeping Crime Bill.
The legislation included the federal assault weapons ban and the Violence Against Women Act, but also increased jail time and punishments for lesser crimes. Critics say the fallout from the bill disproportionately impacted black and brown communities, especially in terms of rates of incarceration.
Biden was reelected to serve as Delaware’s senator in 1996, 2002, and 2008, when he also announced his intention to run for president in the 2008 election. During his presidential campaign, Biden stressed his experience with foreign policy over that of then-candidate Barack Obama, saying: “I think he can be ready, but right now I don’t believe he is.”
Biden ultimately pulled out of the presidential race after the Iowa caucus, leading Obama to select Biden as his number two.
The political pairing evolved into a self-described bromance, immortalized with friendship bracelets and selfie videos, among more notable achievements. Obama would go on to award Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom to his vice-president, calling Biden his “brother” in an address that brought tears to the vice president’s eyes.
During Biden’s second term as vice president, tragedy struck again, when his eldest son, Beau Biden, passed away from brain cancer. The tragedy had a lasting impact on the vice president, who still often invokes his son’s name during public events.
Biden’s path to the oval office has not been smooth, marred by personal tragedy and political mistakes. But the president-elect has learned to use his sorrow for political gain, as could be seen with his personal interactions on the campaign trail with grieving families who lost a loved one to the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden has also owned up to his role in mass incarceration rates, pledging during his 2020 presidential campaign to reverse to put racial justice at the forefront of his administration — with focus on an overall push for diverse representation, starting within his own White House
via New York Times