As a veteran politician, Joe Biden spent much of his career as a senator of Delaware. Starting in 1972, Biden won his first race as senator and became “the fifth-youngest senator in U.S. history,” per History. Biden continued to win, repeating through the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s. In his Senate seat for 36 years, Biden was a part of milestone decisions, like when he and the other senators dealt with the repercussions of a scandal that shocked the White House — the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. In 1999, the Senate acquitted President Clinton — Biden voted “not guilty” to both impeachment articles, CNN reported. Biden also voted in favor of the Iraq War in 2002, a vote that future president Barack Obama opposed, per the Los Angeles Times.
Outside of politics, Biden appeared to live a relatively normal home life. According to UVA Miller Center, after his son Beau’s untimely death in 2015, he lost his “appetite” for politics briefly, and instead “created the Biden Foundation and the Biden Cancer Initiative” with his wife, until his run for presidency. But Biden’s life hasn’t been easy on the road to becoming president in 2020, including scandals and tragedies over his decades in the public eye. This is the transformation of Joe Biden from his childhood to 2021.
Joe Biden's childhood years
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was born November 20, 1942, in the midst of World War II. Biden grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, as the oldest of four kids. When Biden was ten years old, “he moved with his family to the Wilmington, Delaware, area, where his father found work as a car salesman,” per History. According to US News, Biden’s dad was a working-class man who “cleaned furnaces and sold used cars.” While in Delaware, Biden went to Catholic schools before attending Archmere Academy, an “elite preparatory high school.” But while in school, Biden struggled a bit with his grades but struggled even more with a stutter. Classmates allegedly referred to the young man as “Dash” and “Joe Impedimenta.”
In a promotional video titled, “11 Things You May Not Know About Joe Biden,” the president revealed this setback with a stutter caused him to improve. Reportedly, he “would recite Yeats and Emerson to work on his public speaking,” referencing two famous poets. In a town hall speech for CNN, Biden also revealed that his mother’s support helped guide him. She reportedly told him, “Joey, don’t let this define you. Joey, remember who you are. Joey, you can do it.” The future president described how he remained an advocate for people who stutter and admitted that he still stutters sometimes. “You know, stuttering, when you think about it, is the only handicap that people still laugh about. That still humiliate people about,” Biden said.
Inside Joe Biden's teenage years
For higher education, Joe Biden stayed close to home and attended the University of Delaware. One of his friends at school, Fred Sears, described Biden at the time as “a good-looking guy with a gift of gab,” (via The New York Times). Biden was reportedly “an aspiring football running back” and in his freshman year, “Biden was elected president of his class.” A fellow football player with Biden remembered him as a charming young man. Biden reportedly didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, and often drove around in a convertible.
While at school, Biden also worked as a lifeguard in Wilmington, Delaware. Reportedly, “Biden was the only white lifeguard at a public pool in an African-American neighborhood.” And as Maurice Pritchett, an education leader in Wilmington at the time told The New York Times, Biden “was always right there. And we accepted him.” Biden stood up for what he felt was right, and reportedly “once walked out of a Wilmington restaurant that refused to serve a Black student from his high school.”
By the end of his time as an undergraduate, Biden graduated with a double major in political science and history, according to the University of Delaware.
Joe Biden found love in college
While attending the University of Delaware, Joe Biden was known “as the teetotaling semi-jock with a sweater around his neck — the type who seemed more consumed with date nights than civil rights,” according to The New York Times. And once, while Biden was on a date, he allegedly threatened “to break off an evening with a woman who lit a cigarette in his borrowed convertible.” But Biden ultimately found his perfect match off-campus. In 1964, he and his friends took a spring break trip to Florida. The guys then decided to visit Nassau in the Bahamas. While on the island, Biden snuck into a hotel pool “by wrapping a guest towel around his waist and walking past the guards with confidence.” It was there that Biden first spotted Neilia Hunter, a young woman from Syracuse. The two were married a few years later.
While serving as vice president, Biden shared a photo of himself during these early days. He posted the picture on the official @vp Instagram account with the caption, “short sleeve button-downs are making a comeback, but health care has never gone out of style.” This shot of young Biden in a short sleeve, red shirt with palm trees behind him created a stir on the internet (via GQ).
Inside Joe Biden's life in New York
After meeting Neilia Hunter on vacation, Joe Biden wanted to be closer to her. Hunter and her family were from upstate New York, so Biden applied to Syracuse University Law School, per The New York Times. Biden and Hunter were married in 1966 while Biden was still in graduate school.
The newlyweds lived together in a first-floor apartment in Syracuse from 1966 to 1968, per Syracuse. Biden was taking classes while Hunter was a teacher at a nearby elementary school. The two, plus their German shepherd, were well-liked in the community. For example, according to neighbors and friends of the Bidens, the couple hosted Sunday dinners, Biden enjoyed cars (unsurprising with a father who sold cars), and he owned a green 1967 Stingray Corvette (it was a wedding gift from his father). As of 2020, Biden still owned that same car, but back then, he reportedly drove around Syracuse in the classic whip with friends.
Biden also was a protector in the community. Allegedly, “when a neighbor kid was attacked for stuttering, it was Biden who appeared from nowhere to shout down the bullies.” The young boy, Kevin Coyne, remembered the future president went chasing after the kids who were teasing. “He really lit into them,” Coyne detailed, adding that he didn’t realize Biden stuttered himself.
A happy and tragic day for Joe Biden
After graduating in New York, Joe Biden returned to Delaware and worked “as an attorney for the next four years,” according to History. Then, in 1970, Biden decided to run in his first political election. He won a seat on the New Castle County Council and stayed in the position for two years. Before even turning 30, Biden went up against “Republican incumbent J. Caleb Boggs in a race for the U.S. Senate.”
Biden won in a surprising victory but soon afterward, disaster struck in Biden’s personal life. His wife, two sons, and daughter were on their way to pick up a Christmas tree for the family, per US News. During the trip, a “tractor-trailer plowed into their station wagon,” which killed Biden’s “wife and 13-month-old daughter.” Biden’s sons both survived but were both critically injured. “Biden was sworn into the U.S. Senate at his sons’ hospital bedsides,” according to his White House profile.
Francis Valeo, who was the Secretary of the Senate at the time, explained in an interview about swearing Biden into the Senate. “He would not come down to be sworn in at the regular session. He said he couldn’t leave the children,” Valeo noted. He then received authorization to travel to Wilmington for the ceremony. Valeo remembered Biden said a few words and claimed: “he wasn’t at all sure that he was going to run again, that he might be just a one term senator.”
How did Joe and Jill Biden meet?
Though he was still dealing with the tragic death of his wife and daughter, Joe Biden unexpectedly found love. In a video for the Democratic National Convention, he revealed, “My brother said, ‘There’s this woman — you’ll really like her, Joe.’ So, I gave her a call and she had a date that night.” But her first response was even more comical. “‘How did you get this number?’ Those were the first words I spoke to Joe when he called me out of the blue on a Saturday in 1975,” Jill Biden posted on her Instagram. As Jill recalled in the DNC video, Joe asked her to skip the date and go out with him instead. “I called and told the guy that I had a friend in from out of town and went out with Joe,” she revealed.
“I wasn’t big on the whole date scene thing. But when I met Jill, I fell in love with her when I saw her,” Joe said. The two began dating and Joe said his two boys were also enamored with Jill. He recalled his boys telling him, “we think it’s time we married Jill.” Joe felt the same and asked Jill to marry him. But it took a few tries until Joe received the response he hoped for. He asked her to marry him five times and finally, she said, “okay.”
Joe Biden continued to grow his family
Soon after Joe Biden married Jill Biden in 1977, the couple had their daughter, future activist Ashley Biden, in 1981, per Harper’s Bazaar. In a video for Democratic National Convention, Jill said after the birth of Ashley, “our family was complete.” That same year, Biden was part of a historic supreme court nomination. It’s then that President Ronald Reagan proposed Sandra Day O’Connor as the candidate to join the Supreme Court. She became the first woman to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court after a 99 to 0 vote in the Senate.
In a speech to fellow senators preceding the vote, Biden “said he ”enthusiastically” supported the nomination because Judge O’Connor had demonstrated legal skill, moral character and judicial temperament,” The New York Times reported. “That is all I have to ask,” Biden added. He even asked if any of the visitors, or “tourists,” in the session wanted to say anything about the nomination.
Remembering Joe Biden's first try to be president
To be elected into the Senate at such a young age meant Joe Biden had impressive political characteristics. According to Time, starting with his 1972 appointment, Biden “was already seen as White House material.” By 1987, Biden declared he would run for president in the 1988 election. At the time, “he was considered by quite a few people as a bright new hope, different from other Democrats.” As one of seven Democratic candidates, who collectively were called the “Seven Dwarfs,” Biden’s reception amongst voters was mixed. But a plagiarism scandal essentially put the end to his hopes as a nominee. Biden was caught copying British politician Neil Kinnock’s speech without quoting. And the press “found earlier cases in which Biden had failed to give proper citation to Humphrey and Robert Kennedy.” And finally, news broke that while at Syracuse University Law School, “Biden failed a course because he wrote a paper that used five pages from a published law-review article without quotation marks or a proper footnote.”
Biden dropped out of the race after the scandal but his troubles weren’t over. Soon after, the senator “had a headache that turned out to be a brain aneurysm.” After surgery, doctors found another aneurysm, which again required surgery. According to Biden, “There is no doubt — the doctors have no doubt — that had I remained in the race, I’d be dead.”
Joe Biden's landmark act
Rolling into the 1990s, Joe Biden returned to his political roots and focused on the Senate. He was elected once again as a Senator of Delaware, per the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives. Biden was also the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a position he had since 1987. With this important role, the senator introduced a progressive bill. “I introduced the Violence Against Women Act in 1990. We started out believing that the only way to change the culture was to expose the toll of domestic violence on American families,” Biden told Time. To convince the other senators, Biden invited men and women to share their tragic stories of domestic violence and abuse. The act took nearly four years to become a reality but finally passed in 1994 after President Bill Clinton signed the act. And according to Biden, he called this his “proudest legislative accomplishment.”
In these years, the senator was also heavily involved with foreign politics. For example, in 1991 “he had voted against authorization for the Persian Gulf War,” the Los Angeles Times reported. And Biden also showed courage on an international stage. During a work trip, Biden came face-to-face with Slobodan Milosevic, the leader of Serbia at the time. Allegedly, Biden “called him a ‘damned war criminal'” straight to his face, per The Washington Post.
Joe Biden was a well-traveled senator
Through Joe Biden’s years as a senator, one thing that remained constant was his way to get to work. Every day, Biden would take the Amtrak train from Delaware to Washington D.C., and then return by train at night. He started in 1972 and after decades of the same routine, Biden earned the nickname “Amtrak Joe.” As Biden wrote for the Huffington Post, “I began making the 110-mile commute shortly after I was sworn in as a Senator. It was the only way that I could have been a Senator at all. I had to be able to get home to spend evenings with my two sons after we lost their mother and sister in an auto accident a month earlier.”
Biden detailed an adorable story when it was his birthday on a workday. Biden’s daughter planned a party but the senator needed to be present in Washington D.C. for a vote. According to Biden, he left early in the evening, “boarded the train and, in Wilmington, my daughter was standing there on the middle platform. She and my wife sang ‘Happy Birthday,’ I blew out the candle, took a piece of cake, opened her gift, gave her a kiss,” then hopped back on the train to go vote.
Biden rode the train for 36 years, only stopping when he became Vice President. By that time, Biden said, “I’ve taken more than 7,000 round trips on Amtrak over the course of my career.”
Joe Biden's path to veep
2008 started off like many other years for Joe Biden. He was once again running to be a senator for Delaware — and was victorious — the Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives reported. But this was also a presidential election year. And Biden decided to run for president again, despite his failed attempt in the 1980s. The senator was up against tough competition amongst other Democratic candidates during the primaries. For the Iowa Caucus, Biden didn’t receive more than one percent of the vote “in the intensely competitive contest won by freshman Illinois Sen. Barack Obama,” per Politico.
Before dropping out of the race, Biden caused controversy for his comments directed at Obama. While the two were competing as Democratic candidates, Biden claimed that Obama was “not yet ready” to become president. Even worse, Biden called Obama “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” The New York Times reported. But despite these “racially insensitive” comments, Obama chose Biden to be the Vice President candidate on his ticket. Biden’s selection was partly for his veteran experience in politics. At the time, Obama was a new senator, while Biden had “a familiarity with the way the city and Congress works.” Additionally, putting someone experienced as Vice President could help ease the minds of voters — there would be a competent politician ready in the unlikely event Biden needed to take over as president.
Joe Biden's return to the office
After four years in office, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were the incumbents seeking reelection in the 2012 presidential race. “Obama secured the Democratic nomination without any serious opposition. By contrast, the 2012 Republican scene was fractured,” Politico summarized. Prior to the election of Obama against Mitt Romney, the two vice president candidates went head-to-head in a televised debate. Biden went up against Paul Ryan. As recapped by The Guardian, Biden, “whose high-energy performance — part angry bar-room debater, part condescending elder uncle, part comic mime artist — frequently seemed to leave Paul Ryan overwhelmed.” This included at one point calling Ryan’s claims “malarkey.” And the timing couldn’t have been better for Biden’s performance, coming off Obama’s “abysmal performance in Denver” the week before.
Obama and Biden won in the election and finished out their eight years in office together. Reflecting back on the two terms, Ronald Kessler, a secret service agent at the time, revealed secrets about Biden. In Kessler’s book “The First Family Detail” (via The Atlantic), he claimed Biden loved to go swimming. “Agents say that, whether at the vice president’s residence or at his home in Delaware, Biden has a habit of swimming in his pool nude.” The book also noted, “Female Secret Service agents find the behavior offensive.” And in the author’s opinion, he felt being assigned to protect Biden was “considered the second-worst assignment after Hillary Clinton” because of Biden’s alleged “lack of consideration.”
The second tragedy for Joe Biden
In 1969, Joe Biden had his first son — Joseph Robinette Biden III — who went by Beau. He went into politics just like his father and became Delaware’s Attorney General. Beau stayed in the role for seven years and simultaneously served in the Delaware Army National Guard. Then in 2013, Beau received devastating news. Biden’s oldest son was diagnosed with brain cancer. Less than two years later, Beau died, on May 30, 2015. As recapped by People, Biden’s second son, Hunter, delivered a eulogy at the funeral, describing his earliest memory and recalling Biden’s first tragedy. “The first memory I have is of lying in a hospital bed next to my brother,” Hunter said, referencing the car accident that killed his mother and sister. He remembered, “[Beau was] holding my hand, staring into my eyes, saying, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you’ over and over and over again.” President Barack Obama also delivered a speech at the funeral.
This tragic event changed Biden’s path towards becoming president. He considered running for the position after Obama’s two-term limit but ultimately sat out. “Joe attributed Beau’s death as one of the reasons he did not run for president himself in 2016, saying he wasn’t sure if he had the emotional strength to take on such a task,” People reported.
Joe Biden's life after being vice president
After Donald Trump became the president, Joe Biden was out of a job in politics for the first time in decades. But this didn’t mean he was struggling financially. In fact, after leaving office as vice president, his net worth soared. According to Forbes, Joe and his wife Jill earned a reported “$22.5 million from 1998 to 2019.” And the publication estimated that the couple “earned three quarters of that money since Joe left his post as vice president in 2017.” All this money came from multiple income sources. For example, both Joe and Jill became published authors. Joe wrote a memoir called “Promise Me, Dad,” and Jill wrote her memoir “Where the Light Enters.”
In addition to writing, the Bidens were also professors. Jill taught at Northern Virginia Community College when Joe became vice president. And after leaving office, Joe was “named the Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.” He stayed in this role for two years before starting his presidential run in 2019. And in addition to teaching, the couple delivered speeches across the country. In one instance, Joe “received $190,000 for a speech in Madison, New Jersey, paid for by Drew University.” As of this writing, Joe’s net worth is estimated to be $9 million.
Joe Biden becomes the POTUS
“On April 25, 2019, Biden announced his candidacy for President of the United States,” according to the official White House site. “Biden’s candidacy was built from the beginning around 3 pillars: the battle for the soul of our nation, the need to rebuild our middle class — the backbone of our country, and a call for unity, to act as One America,” the site added. And his battle to implement his strategy meant going up against the incumbent candidate, President Donald Trump. The results of the 2020 elections became one of the most nail-biting moments in political history. According to the Pew Research Center, there was a seven percent increase in voter turnout compared to the 2016 election. And overall “66% of U.S. adult citizens” voted in the 2020 election. Biden won the election, which led to Trump making unsubstantiated voter fraud claims. And it took about a month for Trump to acknowledge that Biden would be taking over as president.
Biden came into office after the emotional victory and had to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “In the days and weeks before entering office, he said his goal was 100 million vaccinations” in his first 100 days in office, NBC reported. Biden was more than successful in his initial goal, and revised his target to reach “200 million vaccinations in his first 100 days.” With one week to go before the 100-day mark, Biden succeeded in his promise for 200 million vaccinations.
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