Joe Biden briefly practiced law before entering politics. He became the sixth-youngest senator in history and Delaware’s longest-serving senator. His 2008 presidential campaign never gained traction, but Democratic contender Barack Obama chose him as his running mate, and Biden went on to spend two terms as the United States’ 47th vice president.
Obama awarded Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the end of his presidency in 2017. Biden launched his presidential campaign two years later and was elected as the 46th President of the United States. He is now seeking re-election in 2024.
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., born on November 20, 1942, grew up in the blue-collar community of Scranton in northeast Pennsylvania before ascending to one of the nation’s highest political offices. His father, Joseph Biden Sr., cleaned furnaces and sold used cars. Catherine Eugenia “Jean” Finnegan was his mother.
Biden attributes his toughness, hard work, and perseverance to his parents. He recalls his father telling him often, “Champ, the measure of a man is not how often he is knocked down, but how quickly he gets back up.” He’s also said that when he came home depressed after being tormented by one of the neighborhood’s bigger kids, his mother would tell him, “Bloody their nose so you can walk down the street the next day!”
In Scranton, Biden attended St. Paul’s Elementary School. When he was 13, his family relocated to Mayfield, Delaware, a rapidly rising middle-class community mostly supported by the nearby DuPont chemical business.
Biden battled with stuttering as a child, and kids mocked him by calling him “Dash” and “Joe Impedimenta.” He eventually overcome his speech impairment by memorizing large poetry sections and speaking them aloud in front of a mirror.
Biden attended the St. Helena School before being admitted to the elite Archmere Academy. Despite having to wash the school windows and trim the gardens to help his family pay tuition, Biden had long wished to attend the school, which he referred to as “the object of my deepest desire, my Oz.” Biden was a good student at Archmere and, despite his diminutive stature, a brilliant receiver on the football team. “He was a skinny kid,” recalls his mentor, “but he was one of the best pass receivers I had in 16 years as a coach.” In 1961, Biden graduated from Archmere.
College, Marriage, and Law School
Biden studied history and political science at the adjacent University of Delaware, where he also played football. He would subsequently admit that he was significantly more interested in football, girls, and partying during his first two years of college than in academics. During these years, he also developed a keen interest in politics, fueled in part by the inspiring inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961.
During his junior year, during a spring break trip to the Bahamas, Biden met a Syracuse University student named Neilia Hunter and, in his words, “fell ass over tin cup in love—at first sight.” Encouraged by his new love, he focused harder on his studies and was admitted into Syracuse University Law School after graduating from Delaware in 1965. The following year, in 1966, Biden and Hunter married.
Biden was a lousy law student at best. He failed a class during his first year at Syracuse for failing to properly cite a reference to a law review article. Despite his assertion that it was an unintentional lapse, the episode would come back to haunt him later in his career.
Early Political Career
After graduating from law school in 1968, Biden relocated to Wilmington, Delaware, to begin his legal career. He also became a member of the Democratic Party and was elected to the New Castle County Council in 1970. In 1971, while still a councillor, Biden established his own law company.
Biden had three children, in addition to his increasingly hectic business life: Joseph “Beau,” born in 1969, Robert “Hunter,” born in 1970, and Naomi “Amy,” born in 1971. “Everything was happening faster than I expected,” Biden remarked at the moment of his life.
In 1972, the Delaware Democratic Party recruited a 29-year-old Biden to run for the United States Senate against popular Republican incumbent J. Caleb Boggs. Despite the fact that few felt he had a chance, Biden launched a diligent campaign, primarily orchestrated by family members. Valerie Biden Owens, his sister, was his campaign manager, and both of his parents campaigned on a regular basis. That November, in a close campaign with a strong turnout, Biden scored an upset victory to become the nation’s sixth youngest senator elected.
Biden was hit by a tragic catastrophe just when all of his highest goals seemed to be coming true. Biden’s wife and three children were engaged in a tragic car accident while out shopping for a Christmas tree a week before Christmas in 1972. His wife and daughter were murdered in the disaster, while his sons Beau and Hunter were critically injured. Biden was distraught and contemplated suicide. “I began to understand how despair led people to simply cash in; how suicide wasn’t just an option, but a rational option,” he recalls. I felt God had played a cruel joke on me, and I was furious.”
Nonetheless, with the encouragement of his family, Biden resolved to keep his promise to represent Delaware in the Senate. He skipped Washington’s inauguration ceremony for new senators and instead took the oath of office from his sons’ hospital bedside. To spend as much time as possible with his sons, Biden elected to stay in Wilmington, commuting to and from Washington each day by Amtrak train, a routine he continued throughout his long Senate career.
Biden was a member of the Senate from 1973 to 2009. During his time in the Senate, Biden established himself as one of the body’s foremost international policy specialists, chairing the Committee on international Relations for numerous years. He advocated for strategic weapons limitation with the Soviet Union, promoted peace and stability in the Balkans, expanded NATO to include former Soviet-bloc nations, and opposed the First Gulf War. Later in life, he advocated for American intervention to end the slaughter in Darfur and criticized President George W. Bush’s conduct of the Iraq War, notably the 2007 troop surge.
In addition to international policy, Biden was a vocal supporter of stricter criminal legislation. In 1987, the failure of Supreme Court candidate Robert Bork to be confirmed was generally ascribed to hard questioning by Biden, who was then the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Biden sponsored the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994, which increased the number of police officers by 100,000 and increased penalties for a variety of offences.
After establishing himself as one of Washington’s most renowned Democratic politicians, Biden decided to run for President of the United States in 1987. He dropped out of the Democratic primary after it was revealed that he had plagiarized a portion of a speech.
Biden had been suffering from severe migraines during the campaign, and doctors revealed that he had two life-threatening brain aneurysms shortly after he dropped out in 1988. Complications from the subsequent brain surgery resulted in blood clots in his lungs, necessitating yet another surgery. Biden, ever the fighter, returned to the Senate after a seven-month rehabilitation break.
U.S. Vice President
Biden chose to run for President of the United States again in 2007, 20 years after his first unsuccessful presidential effort. Despite his years of Senate experience, Biden’s candidacy failed to gain traction in a field dominated by fellow Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Biden withdrew after garnering fewer than 1% of the vote in the key Iowa caucuses.
However, after a hard-fought battle against Clinton, Obama won the Democratic nomination and chose Biden as his running mate. With his working-class roots, Biden assisted the Obama campaign in communicating the message of economic recovery to blue-collar voters in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
On November 2, 2008, Barack Obama and Joe Biden easily defeated Arizona Senator John McCain and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s Republican ticket. On January 20, 2009, Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, while Biden was appointed as the 47th Vice President.
While Biden largely acted as a behind-the-scenes counsel to the president, he was especially involved in developing government policy for Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, the vice president leveraged his well-established Senate ties to help achieve the adoption of the United States-Russia Federation New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
Biden appeared to welcome the chance to play an important role in the Obama administration. “This is a historic moment,” he stated after the 2008 election. I began my career fighting for civil rights, and to be a part of what is both a moment in American history where the best people, the best ideas, the single best reflection of the American people can be called upon—to be at that moment, with a guy who has such incredible talent and is also a breakthrough figure in multiple ways—that excites me. It’s a different America. It’s the image of a new America.”
Reelection and Second Term
In 2012, the Obama-Biden ticket faced Republican rival Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, and Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. In the 2012 election, Obama defeated Romney, receiving a second term as president and Biden a second term as vice president. President Barack Obama garnered approximately 60% of the electoral vote and won the popular vote by over 1 million votes.
Later that year, Biden shown how powerful a vice president he could be. He played a key role in reaching a bipartisan deal on tax increases and spending cuts in order to avert the fiscal cliff issue. With a deadline approaching, Biden was able to reach an agreement with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. After months of difficult talks, the fiscal cliff bill was enacted by the Senate on January 1, 2013. Later that day, the House of Representatives approved it.
Around the same time, Biden emerged as a key actor in the national debate over gun control. After a horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, he was chosen to lead a special task force on the subject. In January 2013, Biden presented proposals to Obama for lowering gun violence across the country. He assisted in the development of 19 steps that the president may take on the problem via executive order, among other proposals.
Jill Biden, Biden’s second wife, has been his wife since 1977. Ashley, the couple’s daughter, was born in 1981. Biden suffered another personal loss on May 30, 2015, when his son Beau died at the age of 46 from brain cancer. “Beau Biden was, quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known,” Biden said of his son in a statement.
Following the tragedy, Biden pondered running for president, but in October 2015, he stated that he would not seek the Democratic nominee in 2016. “As my family and I have worked through the grieving process, I’ve said all along what I’ve said time and again to others, that it may very well be that the process by the time we get through it closes the window,” Biden said in the White House Rose Garden with his wife, Jill, and President Obama by his side. I’ve come to the conclusion that it has closed.”
Biden added: “While I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent. I intend to speak out clearly and forcefully, to influence as much as I can where we stand as a party and where we need to go as a nation.”
In a surprise event at the White House on January 12, 2017, Obama presented Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction, the nation’s highest civilian honor. Obama referred to Biden as “the best vice president America has ever had” and a “lion of American history,” and said he was being honored for his “faith in your fellow Americans, love of country, and a lifetime of service that will endure through the generations.” Biden delivered an emotional spontaneous statement in which he thanked President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, his wife, Jill, and his children.
Even after leaving office, Biden refused to remain silent, as promised. He was well-known for his opposition to Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, and he appeared on occasion to oppose the 45th president. At an appearance in October 2017, he said that Trump “doesn’t understand governance,” and the following month, he chastised the president-elect for his apparent support for white supremacist groups.
2020 Election Win
With numerous states counting mail-in ballots well after polling places closed on November 3, 2020, the race remained too close to call into the next day. However, with the announcements of his victories in Wisconsin and Michigan, as well as reports of his leads in Arizona, Nevada, and Georgia, the tide began to turn in Biden’s favor. Meanwhile, Trump filed a slew of lawsuits alleging election fraud and attempting to prevent voting in key states.
Biden was declared the 46th President-elect on November 7, 2020, four days after the election, after winning Pennsylvania. Along with receiving a record 81 million votes, the soon-to-be 78-year-old was set to become the country’s oldest president.
“America, I’m honored that you have chosen me to lead our great country,” Biden tweeted. “The work ahead of us will be hard, but I promise you this: I will be a president for all Americans—whether you voted for me or not. I will keep the faith that you have placed in me.”
On December 14, 2020, all 538 Electoral College electors voted, confirming Biden’s victory over Trump in the presidential election. Trump received 232 votes, while Biden received 306 votes. Despite moving forward with the selection of Cabinet members and other personnel, Biden’s transition preparations were hampered at first by Emily Murphy, the head of the General Services Administration, who refused to release federal funds for the process until November 23.
On January 6, 2021, just after the commencement of a congressional session to finalize the Electoral College results, a mob of Trump fans stormed the Capitol and overwhelmed police, forcing members to flee for their safety.
On January 20, 2021, Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.