Joe Biden brought laughs, gaffes and authenticity to White House


The vice-president will leave office with a favorable image and a reputation as authentic, a rare attribute for a politician, let alone a longtime establishment one

On a sunny October day in 2015, Joe Biden held a news conference in the White House Rose Garden. With the president by his side, he announced that he would not run for president, a decision that seemingly closed the door on a lifelong ambition.

But then Donald Trump won the election and sent the Democratic party careening into a dark period of uncertainty with no obvious leader. In that void, Biden has revisited the possibility.

Im a great respecter of fate, Biden said on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last month. I dont plan on running again, but to say you know whats gonna happen in four years I just think is not rational.

Whatever fate has in store for him, Biden will exit office on 20 January after a long and distinguished career that vaulted him to the highest echelon of American politics.

Hes not riding off into the sunset, Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Bidens home state of Delaware, said of Biden. Hes going to continue his work. I have no doubt that theres another chapter ahead in his public service and leadership career.

Barack Obama embraces Joe Biden after Obama delivered his farewell speech to the nation. Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

In 1972, Biden, a young liberal from Delaware, burst onto the political scene when he became one of the youngest senators in history to be elected to the US Senate. A rising star, his political fortunes shined bright.

But just weeks after his election, his young family was touched by tragedy. A tractor-trailer slammed into the familys station wagon, killing his wife and one-year-old daughter.

I was down in Washington hiring my staff and I got a phone call saying that my family had been in an accident, Biden recalled in a poignant speech to the families of fallen troops in 2012. And just like you guys know by the tone of the phone call, you just knew. You knew when they walked up the path. You knew when the call came. You knew. You just felt it in your bones: something bad happened.

Both sons survived the accident but spent time in the hospital. Biden considered resigning to stay with his sons but was persuaded to stay and at least give it a try. Biden took the oath of office from a chapel in the hospital where his son was being treated.

Every day he commuted an hour and a half each way from his home in Delaware to Washington to be with his sons, a tradition he would keep long after they grew up.

Joe Biden takes a re-enacted oath of office from Vice-President George Bush with his family in 1985. Photograph: Lana Harris/AP

He really is Joe at home, Coons said. Everyone in Delaware knows him by his first name.

Nationally, Biden cultivated a profile as Uncle Joe, the aviator-wearing charmer known for the occasional verbal gaffe. But hes also known for his sharp knowledge of foreign affairs, his advocacy for victims of sexual assault, and his more recent cancer moonshot effort to accelerate a cure.

Biden will leave office with a favorable image and a reputation as authentic, a rare attribute for any politician, let alone a longtime establishment figure.

Joe, you are my brother

The Obama-Biden relationship is rare in modern politics.

They began early as adversaries in the race for the Democratic nomination, with Biden causing a stir early when he called Obama the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. Biden apologized for the remark intended as a compliment and Obama said he took no offense.

Bidens foreign policy expertise and graying hair bolstered the Democratic ticket in 2008 against criticism that Obama was too inexperienced for the job of commander-in-chief. His reputation for having no filter followed him to the White House.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden after they won re-election in 2012. Photograph: Larry Downing/Reuters

At the White House signing ceremony for the presidents landmark healthcare bill in 2010, Biden leaned in to embrace Obama and whispered directly into his microphone: This is a big fucking deal.

Thank God my mother wasnt around to hear, Biden recalled with a laugh in an NPR interview last month.

Two years later, Biden inadvertently pre-empted an announcement by the White House that the president now supports same-sex marriage, saying in an interview that he was absolutely comfortable with gay marriage. Obama later gently chided Biden, saying the vice-president got out a little bit over his skis, but out of generosity and spirit.

Their friendship was immortalized in a series of post-election internet memes that included photographs captioned with imaginary conversations about pranking the incoming president by changing the Wi-Fi password and filling the shampoo bottles with hair removal cream.

Dean E. S. Richard (@deanfortythree)

Biden: Ok here’s the plan: have you seen Home Alone
Obama: Joe, no
Biden: Just one booby trap
Obama: Joe

November 11, 2016

But their friendship is also deep and real. In his speech at the Democratic national convention in 2016, Biden reminisced about accepting the nomination for vice-president and the incredible journey it sparked. He called Obama one of the finest presidents we have ever had and remarked that in eight years they had become more than friends they had become family.

The year before, Obama spoke at the funeral of Bidens eldest son, Beau, who died of brain cancer at age 46.

Joe, Obama said during the eulogy, his gaze on the vice-president, you are my brother, and I am grateful every day you have got such a big heart, and a big soul, and those broad shoulders. I could not admire you more.

Biden later told CNN that the president had offered him financial assistance when he considered selling his home to help support his dying sons family.

Joe Biden enjoyed many treats while he was on the trail, from fudge to ice cream. Photograph: Shutterstock

Recounting the conversation, Biden said: He got up and he said, Dont sell that house. Promise me you wont sell the house.

Run, Joe, run

Biden has long coveted the presidency himself. He ran twice ran for the Democratic nomination, in 1988 and 2008. On his first attempt, Biden entered with promise but was forced to withdraw amid accusations that he had plagiarized part of his speech from Neil Kinnock, the British Labor party leader. In 2008, he failed to gain traction against Obama and Clinton and placed fifth in the Iowa caucuses.

In the twilight of his career, Biden weighed running for president a third time. But bereft by the death of his son, he concluded that he could not mount an effective campaign.

Last week, Obama surprised a stunned Biden by honoring him with the Presidential Medal Of Freedom, the nations highest civilian honor, in an emotional ceremony at the White House. Calling Biden my brother, Obama bestowed the award with distinction for the first time in his presidency.

Read more:


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here