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Joe Biden

44th Vice President of the United States (in office from 2009 to 2017)

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Joe Biden
47th Vice President of the United States
In office
January 20, 2009 – January 20, 2017
PresidentBarack Obama
Preceded byDick Cheney
Succeeded byMike Pence
United States Senator
from Delaware
In office
January 3, 1973 – January 15, 2009
Preceded byJ. Caleb Boggs
Succeeded byTed Kaufman
Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
In office
January 3, 2007 – January 3, 2009
Preceded byRichard Lugar
Succeeded byJohn Kerry
In office
June 6, 2001 – January 3, 2003
Preceded byJesse Helms
Succeeded byRichard Lugar
In office
January 3, 2001 – January 20, 2001
Preceded byJesse Helms
Succeeded byJesse Helms
Chair of the International Narcotics Control Caucus
In office
January 3, 2007 – January 3, 2009
Preceded byChuck Grassley
Succeeded byDianne Feinstein
Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee
In office
January 3, 1987 – January 3, 1995
Preceded byStrom Thurmond
Succeeded byOrrin Hatch
Member of the New Castle County Council
from the 4th district
In office
November 4, 1970 – November 8, 1972
Preceded byHenry Folsom
Succeeded byFrancis Swift
Personal details
Born
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.

(1942-11-20) November 20, 1942 (age 77)
Scranton, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)
Neilia Hunter
(m. 1966; died 1972)

Jill Jacobs (m. 1977)
Children
RelativesEdward Francis Blewitt (great-grandfather)
EducationUniversity of Delaware (BA)
Syracuse University (JD)
Occupation
  • Politician
  • lawyer
  • author
AwardsPresidential Medal of Freedom with distinction (2017)
Signature
WebsiteCampaign website

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. (/ˌrɒbɪˈnɛt ˈbdən/;[1] born November 20, 1942) is an American politician who served as the 47th vice president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. He represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate from 1973 to 2009. A member of the Democratic Party, Biden is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee[nb 1] for the 2020 election, running against the incumbent, President Donald Trump.[2] Biden unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and 2008.

Biden was raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and New Castle County, Delaware. He studied at the University of Delaware before receiving his law degree from Syracuse University.[3] He became a lawyer in 1969 and was elected to the New Castle County Council in 1970. He was elected to the U.S. Senate from Delaware in 1972, becoming the sixth-youngest senator in American history. Biden was a longtime member and eventually chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He opposed the Gulf War in 1991 but advocated for U.S. and NATO intervention in the Bosnian War in 1994 and 1995, expanding NATO in the 1990s, and the 1999 bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo War. He supported the resolution authorizing the Iraq War in 2002 but opposed the surge of U.S. troops in 2007. He also served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995, dealing with issues related to drug policy, crime prevention, and civil liberties. Biden led the efforts to pass the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and the Violence Against Women Act, and oversaw the contentious U.S. Supreme Court nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.

Biden was reelected six times to the U.S. Senate and was the fourth-most senior senator when he resigned after winning the vice presidency alongside Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.[4] Obama and Biden were reelected in 2012. As Vice President, Biden oversaw infrastructure spending in 2009 to counteract the Great Recession. His negotiations with congressional Republicans helped the Obama administration pass legislation including the 2010 Tax Relief Act, which resolved a taxation deadlock; the Budget Control Act of 2011, which resolved a debt ceiling crisis; and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which addressed the impending fiscal cliff. In foreign policy, Biden led the efforts to pass the United States–Russia New START treaty; supported military intervention in Libya, and helped formulate U.S. policy toward Iraq through the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011. Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Biden led the Gun Violence Task Force, created to address the causes of gun violence in the United States.[5]

In October 2015, Biden announced that he would not seek the presidency in the 2016 election. In January 2017, Obama awarded Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom with distinction.[6] Biden announced his 2020 candidacy for president on April 25, 2019, and in June 2020, he met the 1,991-delegate threshold needed to secure the party's nomination.[7]

Joe Biden Intro articles: 40

Early life and education (1942–1965)

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was born on November 20, 1942, at St. Mary's Hospital in Scranton, Pennsylvania,[8]:5 to Catherine Eugenia "Jean" Biden (née Finnegan) and Joseph Robinette Biden Sr.[9][10] The first of four siblings in a Catholic family, he had a sister and two brothers.[8]:9 Jean was of Irish descent, with roots variously attributed to County Louth[11] and County Londonderry.[12][8]:8 Joseph Sr.'s parents, Mary Elizabeth (née Robinette) and Joseph H. Biden, an oil businessman from Baltimore, Maryland, were of English, French, and Irish descent.[13][8]:8 Biden's paternal third great-grandfather, William Biden, was born in Sussex, England, and immigrated to the United States. His maternal great-grandfather, Edward Francis Blewitt,[14] the child of Irish emigrants from Rappagh, Ballina, County Mayo, was a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate.[15][16]

Biden at age 10 in 1953

Biden's father was wealthy but had suffered several financial setbacks by the time his son was born. For several years, the family had to live with Biden's maternal grandparents, the Finnegans.[17] When the Scranton area fell into economic decline during the 1950s, Biden's father could not find sustained work.[18] In 1953, the Bidens moved into an apartment in Claymont, Delaware, where they lived for several years before again moving to a house in Wilmington, Delaware.[17] Joe Biden Sr. later became a successful used car salesman, maintaining the family's middle-class lifestyle.[17][18][19]

Biden attended the Archmere Academy in Claymont,[8]:27, 32 where he was a standout halfback and wide receiver on the high school football team; he helped lead a perennially losing team to an undefeated season in his senior year.[17][20] He played on the baseball team as well.[17] Academically, he was a poor student but was considered a natural leader among the students and elected class president during his junior and senior years.[8]:40–41[21]:99 He graduated in 1961.[8]:40–41

He earned his bachelor's degree in 1965 from the University of Delaware, with a double major in history and political science.[22][21]:98 He played halfback for the Blue Hens freshman football team.[20] In 1964, he met and eventually married Neilia Hunter.[17][23] He played varsity football as a defensive back.[20][24]

Biden graduated from Syracuse University College of Law, where he earned a law degree in 1968. He later said he found law school "the biggest bore in the world".[25][26] He was admitted to the Delaware bar in 1969.[27]

During his first year at Syracuse, Biden was accused of plagiarizing five of fifteen pages of a law review article. He said it was inadvertent, and that he did not know the proper rules of citation. As a result, he failed the course and had to retake it. The plagiarism incident resurfaced in 1987 during his first run for president.[28][29]

Biden received student draft deferments during this period.[30] After he completed his studies, the Selective Service System classified him as unavailable for service due to a history of asthma.[30][31]

He has had a problem with stuttering throughout his life, especially in his childhood and his early twenties,[32] and says he has helped reduce the problem by spending many hours reciting poetry in front of a mirror.[21]:99 But he continues to have problems with stuttering, and it has been suggested that this has affected his performance in Democratic debates during his 2020 campaign for the presidency.[33]

Negative impressions of drinking alcohol in the Biden and Finnegan families and in the neighborhood led Biden to be a non-drinker.[17][34]

Joe Biden Early life and education (1942–1965) articles: 29

Early political career and family life (1966–1972)

Biden in the University of Delaware's 1965 yearbook

On August 27, 1966, while still a law student, Biden married Neilia Hunter.[22] They overcame her parents' initial reluctance for her to wed a Roman Catholic, and the ceremony was held in a Catholic church in Skaneateles, New York.[35] They had three children, Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III in 1969, Robert Hunter in 1970, and Naomi Christina in 1971.[22] He told her he aimed to become a senator by the age of 30 and then president.[36]

In 1968, Biden clerked for six months at a Wilmington law firm headed by prominent local Republican William Prickett and, as he later said, "thought of myself as a Republican".[36][37] He disliked incumbent Democratic Delaware Governor Charles L. Terry's conservative racial politics and supported a more liberal Republican, Russell W. Peterson, who defeated Terry in 1968.[36] The local Republicans tried to recruit him, but he resisted due to his distaste for Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon, and registered as an Independent instead.[36]

In 1969, Biden resumed practicing law in Wilmington, first as a public defender and then at a firm headed by Sid Balick, a locally active Democrat.[26][36] Balick named him to the Democratic Forum, a group trying to reform and revitalize the state party,[8]:86 and Biden registered as a Democrat.[36] He also started his own firm, Biden and Walsh.[26] Corporate law, however, did not appeal to him, and criminal law did not pay well.[17] He supplemented his income by managing properties.[38]

Later in 1969, Biden ran to represent the 4th district on the New Castle County Council with a liberal platform that included support for public housing in the suburban area.[26][39] He won by 2,000 votes in the usually Republican district and a bad year for Democrats in the state.[26][8]:59 Even before taking his seat, he was already talking about running for the U.S. Senate in a couple of years.[8]:59 He served on the County Council from 1970 to 1972[27] while continuing his private law practice.[40] Among issues he addressed on the council was his opposition to large highway projects that might disrupt Wilmington neighborhoods, including those related to Interstate 95.[8]:62

1972 U.S. Senate campaign

Results of the 1972 U.S. Senate election in Delaware

Biden's candidacy in the 1972 U.S. Senate election in Delaware presented an unusual circumstance—longtime Delaware political figure and Republican incumbent senator J. Caleb Boggs was considering retirement, which would likely have left U.S. Representative Pete du Pont and Wilmington Mayor Harry G. Haskell Jr. in a divisive primary fight. To avoid that, President Nixon helped convince Boggs to run again with full party support. No other Democrat wanted to run against Boggs.[26] Biden's campaign had almost no money and was given no chance of winning.[17] His sister Valerie Biden Owens managed his campaign (as she would his future campaigns) and other family members staffed it. The campaign relied upon handed-out newsprint position papers and meeting voters face-to-face;[41] the state's smallness and lack of a major media market made that approach feasible.[38] He did receive some help from the AFL–CIO and Democratic pollster Patrick Caddell.[26] His campaign focused on withdrawal from Vietnam; the environment; civil rights; mass transit; more equitable taxation; health care; the public's dissatisfaction with politics as usual; and "change".[26][41] During the summer, he trailed by almost thirty percentage points,[26] but his energy level, his attractive young family, and his ability to connect with voters' emotions gave him an advantage over the ready-to-retire Boggs.[19] Biden won the November 7 election by 3,162 votes.[41]

Family deaths

On December 18, 1972, a few weeks after the election, Biden's wife Neilia and their one-year-old daughter Naomi were killed in an automobile accident while Christmas shopping in Hockessin, Delaware.[22] Neilia Biden's station wagon was hit by a tractor-trailer truck as she pulled out from an intersection. Biden's sons Beau and Hunter survived the accident and were taken to the hospital in fair condition, Beau with a broken leg and other wounds, and Hunter with a minor skull fracture and other head injuries.[8]:93, 98 Doctors soon said both would make full recoveries.[8]:96 Biden considered resigning to care for them,[19] but Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield persuaded him not to.[42] In later years, Biden often said the truck driver had drunk alcohol before the collision, but the driver's family has denied that claim and the judge in the case said there was no indication alcohol was involved.[43][44][45][46]

Joe Biden Early political career and family life (1966–1972) articles: 22

United States Senate (1973–2009)

Recovery and remarriage

Biden in 1973

Biden was sworn into office on January 5, 1973, by secretary of the Senate Francis R. Valeo in a small chapel at the Delaware Division of the Wilmington Medical Center.[47][8]:93, 98 Beau was wheeled in with his leg still in traction; Hunter, who had already been discharged, was also there, as were other members of the extended family.[47][8]:93, 98 Witnesses and television cameras were also present and the event received national attention.[47][8]:93, 98

At age 30 (the minimum age required to hold the office), Biden became the sixth-youngest senator in U.S. history, and one of only 18 who took office before turning 31.[48][49] But the accident that killed his wife and daughter left him filled with both anger and religious doubt: "I liked to [walk around seedy neighborhoods] at night when I thought there was a better chance of finding a fight ... I had not known I was capable of such rage ... I felt God had played a horrible trick on me."[50] To be at home every day for his young sons,[51] Biden began commuting every day by Amtrak train 90 minutes each way from his home in the Wilmington suburbs to Washington, D.C., which he continued to do throughout his Senate career.[19] In the accident's aftermath, he had trouble focusing on work and appeared to just go through the motions of being a senator. In his memoirs, Biden notes that staffers were taking bets on how long he would last.[23][52] A single father for five years, he left standing orders that he be interrupted in the Senate at any time if his sons called.[42] In remembrance of his wife and daughter, Biden does not work on December 18, the anniversary of the accident.[53]

Biden met his second wife, Jill, in 1975. They married in 1977.

In 1975, Biden met Jill Tracy Jacobs, who had grown up in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, and would become a teacher in Delaware.[54] They met on a blind date arranged by Biden's brother, although Biden had already noticed a photograph of her in an advertisement for a park in Wilmington.[54] Biden credits her with renewing his interest in both politics and life.[55] On June 17, 1977, Biden and Jacobs were married by a Catholic priest at the Chapel at the United Nations in New York.[56][57] Jill Biden has a bachelor's degree from the University of Delaware; two master's degrees, one from West Chester University and the other from Villanova University; and a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware.[54] They have one daughter together, Ashley Blazer (born 1981),[22] who became a social worker and staffer at the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth, and Their Families.[58] Biden and his wife are Roman Catholics and regularly attend Mass at St. Joseph's on the Brandywine in Greenville, Delaware.[59]

Biden's elder son Beau became Delaware Attorney General and an Army Judge Advocate who served in Iraq;[60] he died at age 46 after a two-year battle with brain cancer on May 30, 2015.[61][62] His younger son, Hunter, became a Washington attorney and lobbyist.[63]

Early Senate activities

Biden with President Jimmy Carter in the Oval Office
Biden (right) greets President Ronald Reagan, 1984

During his first years in the Senate, Biden focused on consumer protection and environmental issues and called for greater government accountability.[64] In mid-1974, Time magazine named him one of the 200 Faces for the Future in a profile that mentioned what had happened to his family, calling him "self-confident" and "compulsively ambitious".[64] In a 1974 interview with the Washingtonian, Biden described himself as liberal on civil rights and liberties, senior citizens' concerns and healthcare, but conservative on other issues, including abortion and the draft.[65]

Biden became ranking minority member of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary in 1981. In 1984, he was a Democratic floor manager for the successful passage of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. Over time, the law's tough-on-crime provisions became controversial on the left and among criminal justice reform proponents, and in 2019 Biden called his role in passing the legislation a "big mistake".[66][67] His supporters praised him for modifying some of the law's worst provisions, and it was his most important legislative accomplishment at that time.[68] He first considered running for president that year, after gaining notice for speeches he gave to party audiences that simultaneously scolded and encouraged Democrats.[69]:216

In 1993, Biden voted in favor of 10 U.S.C. §654, a section of a broader federally mandated policy that deemed homosexuality incompatible with military life thereby banning gay Americans from serving in the United States armed forces in any capacity without exception.[70][71][72] The law was subsequently modified by President Clinton through the issuance of DOD Directive 1304.26 (subsequently nicknamed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" or DADT) which accommodated "closeted" service to the extent that a servicemember's homosexual sexual orientation was neither discovered nor disclosed.[73]

In 1996, Biden voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act (1 U.S.C. §7), which prohibited the federal government from recognizing any same-sex marriage, barring individuals in such marriages from equal protection under federal law, and allowing states to do the same.[74] In 2013, Section 3 of DOMA was ruled unconstitutional and partially struck down in United States v. Windsor. The Obama Administration did not defend the law and congratulated Windsor.[75] In 2015, DOMA was ruled unconstitutional in totality in Obergefell v. Hodges.[76]

Regarding foreign policy, during his first decade in the Senate, Biden focused on arms control issues.[77][78] In response to Congress's refusal to ratify the SALT II Treaty signed in 1979 by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and President Jimmy Carter, Biden took the initiative to meet with Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, educate him about American concerns and interests, and secure several changes to address the Foreign Relations Committee's objections.[79] When the Reagan administration wanted to interpret the 1972 SALT I Treaty loosely to allow the Strategic Defense Initiative to proceed, Biden argued for strict adherence to the treaty's terms.[77] He clashed again with the Reagan administration in 1986 over economic sanctions against South Africa,[78] receiving considerable attention when he excoriated Secretary of State George P. Shultz at a Senate hearing because of the administration's support of that country, which continued to practice apartheid.[36]

Opposition to desegregation busing

In the mid-1970s, Biden was one of the Senate's leading opponents of desegregation busing. His white Delaware constituents strongly opposed it, and such opposition nationwide later led his party to mostly abandon school desegregation policies.[80]

In his first Senate campaign, Biden expressed support for the Supreme Court's 1971 Swann decision, which supported busing programs to integrate school districts to remedy de jure segregation, as in the South, but opposed it to remedy de facto segregation, as in Delaware. He said Republicans were using busing as a scare tactic to court Southern white votes, and along with Boggs voiced opposition to a House of Representatives constitutional amendment banning busing.[81] In May 1974, Biden voted to table an amendment to an omnibus education bill promoted by Edward Gurney (R-FL) that contained anti-busing measures and anti-school desegregation clauses. The next day, Senator Robert Griffin (R-MI) attempted to revive an amended version of the amendment. Minority Leader Hugh Scott (R-PA) and Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) offered to leave the text of Griffin's amendment intact but add the qualifier that such legislation was not intended to weaken the judiciary's power to enforce the 5th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Biden voted for this compromise, angering his local voters.[82]

Following this, some Delaware residents met at the Krebs School in Newport to protest integration. Biden spoke to the auditorium and said his position on school busing was evolving, emphasizing that busing in Delaware was in his opinion beyond court restrictions. The crowd was unconvinced, and heckled him until he yielded the microphone.[83] This, along with the prospect of a busing plan in Wilmington, led Biden to align himself with civil rights opponent Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) in opposing busing. Biden and anti-busing senators wanted to limit the scope of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with respect to the federal government's power to enforce school integration policies.[80] After 1975, Biden took a harsher line on further legislative action to limit busing.[68] That year, Helms proposed an anti-integration amendment to an education bill that would stop the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) from collecting data about students' or teachers' races and thereby prevent it from defunding districts that refused to integrate. Biden supported this amendment, saying: "I am sure it comes as a surprise to some of my colleagues ... that a senator with a voting record such as mine stands up and supports" it.[84] He said busing was a "bankrupt idea [that violated] the cardinal rule of common sense", and that his opposition would make it easier for other liberals to follow suit.[68] But he had also supported integrationist Senator Edward Brooke's (R-MA) initiatives on housing, job opportunities and voting rights.[82] Civil rights lawyer and NAACP Legal Defense Fund director Jack Greenberg criticized Biden's support for the bill, saying it "heave[d] a brick through the window of school integration", with Biden's hand on the brick.[85]

Biden supported a measure Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) sponsored that forbade the use of federal funds to transport students beyond their closest school. This was adopted as part of the Labor-HEW Appropriations Act of 1976. In 1977, Biden co-sponsored an amendment with Thomas Eagleton (D-MO) to close loopholes in Byrd's amendment. A 1977 status report on school desegregation by the federal Civil Rights Commission in Washington, D.C., said, "the enactment of Eagleton-Biden would be an actual violation, on the part of the Federal Government, of the fifth amendment and Title VI" of the Civil Rights Act.[86] President Carter signed the amendment into law in 1978.[87] Biden repeatedly asked for, and received, the support of Senator James Eastland (D-MS) on anti-busing measures.[88]

1988 presidential campaign

Biden's 1988 campaign logo
Biden in 1987

Biden ran for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, formally declaring his candidacy at the Wilmington train station on June 9, 1987.[89] He was attempting to become the youngest president since John F. Kennedy.[36] When the campaign began, he was considered a potentially strong candidate because of his moderate image, his speaking ability on the stump, his appeal to Baby Boomers, his high-profile position as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the upcoming Robert Bork Supreme Court nomination hearings, and his fundraising appeal.[90][21]:83 He raised $1.7 million in the first quarter of 1987, more than any other candidate.[90][21]:83

By August 1987, Biden's campaign, whose messaging was confused due to staff rivalries,[21]:108–109 had begun to lag behind those of Michael Dukakis and Dick Gephardt,[90] though he had still raised more funds than any candidate but Dukakis, and was seeing an upturn in Iowa polls.[91][21]:83 In September 1987, the campaign ran into trouble when he was accused of plagiarizing a speech that had been made earlier that year by British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock.[92] Kinnock's speech included the lines:

Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? [Then pointing to his wife in the audience] Why is Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because all our predecessors were thick?

While Biden's speech included the lines:

I started thinking as I was coming over here, why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university? [Then pointing to his wife in the audience] Why is it that my wife who is sitting out there in the audience is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright? Is it because I'm the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree that I was smarter than the rest?

Biden had in fact cited Kinnock as the source for the formulation on previous occasions.[93][94] But he made no reference to the original source at the August 23 Democratic debate at the Iowa State Fair being reported on,[69]:230–232 or in an August 26 interview with the National Education Association.[94] Moreover, while political speeches often appropriate ideas and language from each other, Biden's use came under more scrutiny because he changed aspects of his own family's background to match Kinnock's.[19][95] Biden was soon found to have lifted passages from a 1967 speech by Robert F. Kennedy earlier that year (for which his aides took the blame), and a short phrase from the 1961 inaugural address of John F. Kennedy; and to have done the same with a 1976 passage from Hubert H. Humphrey two years earlier.[96]

A few days later, Biden's plagiarism incident in law school came to public light.[28] Video was also released showing that when earlier questioned by a New Hampshire resident about his grades in law school, he had said he graduated in the "top half" of his class, that he had attended law school on a full scholarship, and that he had received three degrees in college,[25][97] each of which was untrue or an exaggeration.[25] Advisers and reporters pointed out that he falsely claimed to have marched in the civil rights movement.[98]

The limited amount of other news about the race amplified these revelations,[99] when most of the public was not yet paying attention to the campaigns; Biden thus fell into what The Washington Post writer Paul Taylor called that year's trend, a "trial by media ordeal".[21]:86, 88 Lacking a strong group of supporters to help him survive the crisis,[91][21]:88–89 he withdrew from the race on September 23, 1987, saying his candidacy had been overrun by "the exaggerated shadow" of his past mistakes.[100]

After Biden withdrew, it was revealed that the Dukakis campaign had secretly made a video highlighting the Biden–Kinnock comparison and distributed it to news outlets.[101] Later in 1987, the Delaware Supreme Court's Board of Professional Responsibility cleared Biden of the law school plagiarism charges regarding his standing as a lawyer, saying Biden had "not violated any rules".[102]

Brain surgeries

In 1988, Biden suffered two brain aneurysms, one on the right side and one on the left. Each required surgery with high risk of long-term impact on brain functionality. In February 1988, after suffering from several episodes of increasingly severe neck pain, Biden was taken by long-distance ambulance to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and given lifesaving surgery to correct an intracranial berry aneurysm that had begun leaking.[103][104] While recuperating, he suffered a pulmonary embolism, a major complication.[104]

Another operation to repair a second aneurysm, which had caused no symptoms but was at risk of bursting, was performed in May 1988.[104][105] The hospitalization and recovery kept Biden from his duties in the Senate for seven months.[53]

In retrospect, Biden's family came to believe the early end to his presidential campaign had been a blessing in disguise, for had he still been campaigning in 1988, he might well not have stopped to seek medical attention and the condition might have become unsurvivable.[106][107] In 2013, Biden said, "they take a saw and they cut your head off" and "they literally had to take the top of my head off." He also said he was told he would have less than a 50% chance of full recovery.[108]

Senate Judiciary Committee

Biden in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 1993

Biden was a longtime member of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. He chaired it from 1987 to 1995 and served as ranking minority member from 1981 to 1987 and from 1995 to 1997.

While chairman, Biden presided over two of the most contentious U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings in history, Robert Bork's in 1987 and Clarence Thomas's in 1991.[19] In the Bork hearings, he stated his opposition to Bork soon after the nomination, reversing his approval in an interview of a hypothetical Bork nomination he had made the previous year and angering conservatives who thought he could not conduct the hearings fairly.[109] At the close, he won praise for conducting the proceedings fairly and with good humor and courage, despite his presidential campaign's collapse in the middle of them.[109][110] Rejecting some of the less intellectually honest arguments that other Bork opponents were making,[19] Biden framed his discussion around the belief that the U.S. Constitution provides rights to liberty and privacy that extend beyond those explicitly enumerated in the text, and that Bork's strong originalism was ideologically incompatible with that view.[110] Bork's nomination was rejected in the committee by a 9–5 vote,[110] and then rejected in the full Senate, 58–42.[111]

In the Thomas hearings, Biden's questions on constitutional issues were often long and convoluted, to the point that Thomas sometimes forgot the question being asked.[112] Biden's style annoyed many viewers.[113] Thomas later wrote that despite Biden's earlier private assurances, his questions had been akin to beanballs.[114] The nomination came out of the committee without a recommendation, with Biden opposed.[19] In part due to his own bad experiences with his presidential campaign, Biden was reluctant to let personal matters into the hearings.[112] He initially shared with the committee, but not the public, Anita Hill's sexual harassment charges, on the grounds she was not yet willing to testify.[19] After she did, Biden did not permit other witnesses to testify further on her behalf, such as Angela Wright (who was present, waiting to testify, and who had made a similar charge) and experts on harassment.[115] Biden said he was striving to preserve Thomas's right to privacy and the hearings' decency.[112][115] The full Senate confirmed Thomas by a 52–48 vote, with Biden again opposed.[19] During and afterward, liberal legal groups and women's groups strongly criticized Biden for mishandling the hearings and not doing enough to support Hill.[115] Biden later sought out women to serve on the Judiciary Committee and emphasized women's issues in the committee's legislative agenda.[19] In April 2019, he called Hill to express regret over how he treated her; after the conversation, Hill said she remained deeply unsatisfied.[116]

Biden spoke at the signing of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994.

Biden was involved in crafting many federal crime laws. He spearheaded the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, also known as the Biden Crime Law, which included the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004 after its ten-year sunset period and was not renewed.[117][118] It also included the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which contains a broad array of measures to combat domestic violence.[119] In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Morrison that the VAWA section allowing a federal civil remedy for victims of gender-motivated violence exceeded Congress's authority and was therefore unconstitutional.[120] Congress reauthorized VAWA in 2000 and 2005.[121] Biden has said, "I consider the Violence Against Women Act the single most significant legislation that I've crafted during my 35-year tenure in the Senate."[122] In 2004 and 2005, he enlisted major American technology companies in diagnosing the problems of the Austin, Texas-based National Domestic Violence Hotline, and to donate equipment and expertise to it in a successful effort to improve its services.[123][124]

Biden was critical of the actions of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr during the 1990s Whitewater controversy and Lewinsky scandal investigations, and said, "it's going to be a cold day in hell" before another Independent Counsel would be granted the same powers.[125] He voted to acquit on both charges during the impeachment of President Clinton.[126]

As chairman of the International Narcotics Control Caucus, Biden wrote the laws that created the U.S. "Drug Czar", who oversees and coordinates national drug control policy. In April 2003, he introduced the Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy (RAVE) Act. He continued to work to stop the spread of "date rape drugs" such as flunitrazepam, and party drugs such as ecstasy and ketamine. In 2004, he worked to pass a bill outlawing steroids like androstenedione, the drug many baseball players used.[19]

Biden's "Kids 2000" legislation established a public-private partnership to provide computer centers, teachers, Internet access, and technical training to young people, particularly low-income and at-risk youth.[127]

Senate Foreign Relations Committee

Senator Biden accompanied President Clinton and other officials to Bosnia in December 1997

Biden was a longtime member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In 1997, he became the ranking minority member and chaired the committee in January 2001 and from June 2001 to 2003. When Democrats retook control of the Senate after the 2006 elections, Biden again assumed the top spot on the committee.[128] He was generally a liberal internationalist in foreign policy.[77][129] He collaborated effectively with important Republican senators such as Richard Lugar and Jesse Helms and sometimes went against elements of his own party.[128][129] Biden was also co-chairman of the NATO Observer Group in the Senate.[130] A partial list covering this time showed Biden meeting with 150 leaders from nearly 60 countries and international organizations.[131] He held frequent hearings as chairman of the committee, as well as many subcommittee hearings during the three times he chaired the Subcommittee on European Affairs.[77]

Biden gives an opening statement and takes questions at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq, 2007

Biden voted against authorization for the Gulf War in 1991,[129] siding with 45 of the 55 Democratic senators; he said the U.S. was bearing almost all the burden in the anti-Iraq coalition.[132]

Biden became interested in the Yugoslav Wars after hearing about Serbian abuses during the Croatian War of Independence in 1991.[77] Once the Bosnian War broke out, Biden was among the first to call for the "lift and strike" policy of lifting the arms embargo, training Bosnian Muslims and supporting them with NATO air strikes, and investigating war crimes.[77][128] The George H. W. Bush administration and Clinton administration were both reluctant to implement the policy, fearing Balkan entanglement.[77][129] In April 1993, Biden spent a week in the Balkans and held a tense three-hour meeting with Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević.[133] Biden related that he had told Milošević, "I think you're a damn war criminal and you should be tried as one."[133] Biden wrote an amendment in 1992 to compel the Bush administration to arm the Bosnians, but deferred in 1994 to a somewhat softer stance the Clinton administration preferred, before signing on the following year to a stronger measure sponsored by Bob Dole and Joe Lieberman.[133] The engagement led to a successful NATO peacekeeping effort.[77] Biden has called his role in affecting Balkans policy in the mid-1990s his "proudest moment in public life" related to foreign policy.[129]

In 1998, Congressional Quarterly named Biden one of "Twelve Who Made a Difference" for playing a lead role in several foreign policy matters, including NATO enlargement and the successful passage of bills to streamline foreign affairs agencies and punish religious persecution overseas.[134]

In 1999, during the Kosovo War, Biden supported the 1999 NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia,[77] and co-sponsored with John McCain the McCain-Biden Kosovo Resolution, which called on President Clinton to use all necessary force, including ground troops, to confront Milošević over Yugoslav actions in Kosovo.[129][135] In 2016, Biden paid a state visit to Serbia where he met with Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić and expressed his condolences for the civilian victims of the bombing campaign.[136]

Biden was a strong supporter of the 2001 war in Afghanistan, saying, "Whatever it takes, we should do it."[137]

As head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden said in 2002 that Saddam Hussein was a threat to national security and there was no option but to "eliminate" that threat.[138] In October 2002, he voted in favor of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq, approving the U.S. invasion of Iraq.[129] More significantly, as chair of the committee, he assembled a series of witnesses to testify in favor of the authorization. They gave testimony grossly misrepresenting the intent, history of and status of Saddam and his Sunni government, which was an openly avowed enemy of al-Qaida, and touting Iraq's fictional possession of weapons of mass destruction.[139]

While he eventually became a critic of the war and viewed his vote and role as a "mistake", he did not push for U.S. withdrawal.[129][133] He supported the appropriations to pay for the occupation, but argued repeatedly that the war should be internationalized, that more soldiers were needed, and that the Bush administration should "level with the American people" about the cost and length of the conflict.[128][135] By late 2006, Biden's stance had shifted considerably, and he opposed the troop surge of 2007,[129][133] saying General David Petraeus was "dead, flat wrong" in believing the surge could work.[140] Biden instead advocated dividing Iraq into a loose federation of three ethnic states.[141] In November 2006, Biden and Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, released a comprehensive strategy to end sectarian violence in Iraq.[142] Rather than continuing the present approach or withdrawing, the plan called for "a third way": federalizing Iraq and giving Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis "breathing room" in their own regions.[8]:572–573 In September 2007, a non-binding resolution endorsing such a scheme passed the Senate,[142] but the idea was unfamiliar, had no political constituency, and failed to gain traction.[140] Iraq's political leadership denounced the resolution as de facto partitioning of the country, and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued a statement distancing itself from it.[142]

In March 2004, Biden secured the brief release of Libyan democracy activist and political prisoner Fathi Eljahmi, after meeting with leader Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli.[143][144] In May 2008, Biden sharply criticized President George W. Bush for his speech to Israel's Knesset, where he suggested some Democrats were acting the way some Western leaders did when they appeased Hitler in the run-up to World War II. Biden said, "This is bullshit. This is malarkey. This is outrageous. Outrageous for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, sit in the Knesset ... and make this kind of ridiculous statement ... Since when does this administration think that if you sit down, you have to eliminate the word 'no' from your vocabulary?" He later apologized for using the expletive.[145]

Delaware matters

Biden tours a new facility at Delaware's Dover Air Force Base, October 1997

Biden was a familiar figure to his Delaware constituency, by virtue of his daily train commute from there,[19] and generally sought to attend to state needs.[146] He strongly supported increased Amtrak funding and rail security;[146] he hosted barbecues and an annual Christmas dinner for the Amtrak crews, who sometimes held the last train of the night a few minutes so he could catch it.[38][146] He earned the nickname "Amtrak Joe" as a result (and in 2011, Amtrak's Wilmington Station was named the Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station, in honor of the 7,000-plus trips he made from there).[147][148] He was an advocate for Delaware military installations, including Dover Air Force Base and New Castle Air National Guard Base.[149]

In 1978, when Biden was seeking reelection to the Senate, Wilmington's federally mandated cross-district busing plan generated much turmoil. Biden's compromise solution between his white constituents and African-American leaders was to introduce legislation to outlaw the court's power to enforce certain types of busing, while allowing it to end segregation school districts had deliberately imposed. White anti-integrationists seized on a comment Biden made that he would support the use of federal helicopters if Wilmington's schools could not be voluntarily integrated, and Delaware NAACP head Littleton P. Mitchell later said Biden "adequately represented our community for many years, but he quivered that one time on busing." The compromise nearly alienated him from both working-class whites and African-Americans, but tensions ended after a teachers' strike that had begun over pay issues raised by the busing plan.[150]

Beginning in 1991, Biden served as an adjunct professor at the Widener University School of Law, Delaware's only law school, teaching a seminar on constitutional law.[151][152] The seminar was one of Widener's most popular, often with a waiting list for enrollment.[152] Biden typically co-taught the course with another professor, taking on at least half the course minutes and sometimes flying back from overseas to make one of the classes.[153][154]

During the 2000s, Biden sponsored bankruptcy legislation that was sought by MBNA, one of Delaware's largest companies, and other credit card issuers.[19] He allowed an amendment to the bill to increase the homestead exemption for homeowners declaring bankruptcy and fought for an amendment to forbid anti-abortion felons from using bankruptcy to discharge fines; President Clinton vetoed the bill in 2000 but it finally passed in 2005 as the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, with Biden supporting it.[19] A vociferous supporter, Biden was one of only 18 Democratic senators to vote with the Republicans in favor of the legislation, while leading Democrats and consumer rights organizations came out in opposition.[155]

Biden held up trade agreements with Russia when that country stopped importing U.S. chickens. The downstate Sussex County region is the nation's top chicken-producing area.[146]

In 2007, Biden requested and gained $67 million worth of projects for his constituents through congressional earmarks.[156]

Reputation

Biden's official Senate photo, 2005

Following his first election in 1972, Biden was reelected to six more Senate terms, in 1978, 1984, 1990, 1996, 2002, and 2008, usually getting about 60% of the vote.[146] He did not face strong opposition; Pete du Pont, then governor, chose not to run against him in 1984.[68] Biden spent 28 years as a junior senator due to the two-year seniority of his Republican colleague William Roth. After Tom Carper defeated Roth in 2000, Biden became Delaware's senior senator. He then became the longest-serving senator in Delaware history[157] and, as of 2018, was the 18th-longest-serving senator in U.S. history.[158] In May 1999, Biden became the youngest senator to cast 10,000 votes.[134]

With a net worth between $59,000 and $366,000, and almost no outside income or investment income, Biden was consistently ranked one of the least wealthy members of the Senate.[159][160][161] Biden said he was listed as the second-poorest member in Congress; he was not proud of the distinction, but attributed it to having been elected early in his career.[162] He has said he realized early in his senatorial career how vulnerable poorer public officials are to offers of financial contributions in exchange for policy support, and pushed campaign finance reform measures during his first term.[68] Biden earned $15.6 million in 2017–18.[163] By 2019, Biden called his middle-class status a "state of mind".[164] In July 2019, the Bidens reported that their assets had increased to between $2.2 million and $8 million, thanks to speaking engagements and a deal to write a set of books.[165]

The political writer Howard Fineman has said, "Biden is not an academic, he's not a theoretical thinker, he's a great street pol. He comes from a long line of working people in Scranton—auto salesmen, car dealers, people who know how to make a sale. He has that great Irish gift."[38] Political columnist David S. Broder has viewed Biden as having grown since he came to Washington and since his failed 1988 presidential bid: "He responds to real people—that's been consistent throughout. And his ability to understand himself and deal with other politicians has gotten much much better."[38] Traub concludes that "Biden is the kind of fundamentally happy person who can be as generous toward others as he is to himself."[140]

Gaffes

During his years as a senator, Biden acquired a reputation for loquaciousness[166] and "putting his foot in his mouth".[167][168][169][170] He has been a strong speaker and debater and a frequent and effective guest on Sunday morning talk shows.[170] In public appearances, he is known to deviate from prepared remarks.[171] The New York Times wrote that Biden's "weak filters make him capable of blurting out pretty much anything".[168]

2008 presidential campaign

Biden's 2008 campaign logo

Biden thought about running for president again ever since his failed 1988 bid.[nb 2] He declared his candidacy for president on January 31, 2007, after having discussed running for months.[174] Biden made a formal announcement to Tim Russert on Meet the Press, saying he would "be the best Biden I can be".[175] In January 2006, Delaware newspaper columnist Harry F. Themal wrote that Biden "occupies the sensible center of the Democratic Party".[176] Themal concluded that that was the position Biden desired, and that in a campaign "he plans to stress the dangers to the security of the average American, not just from the terrorist threat, but from the lack of health assistance, crime, and energy dependence on unstable parts of the world."[176]

Biden campaigns at a house party in Creston, Iowa, July 2007

During his campaign, Biden focused on the war in Iraq and his support for implementing the Biden-Gelb plan to achieve political success. He touted his record in the Senate as the head of major congressional committees and his experience in foreign policy. Despite speculation to the contrary,[177] Biden rejected the notion of becoming Secretary of State, focusing on only the presidency. At a 2007 campaign event, Biden said, "I know a lot of my opponents out there say I'd be a great secretary of state. Seriously, every one of them. Do you watch any of the debates? 'Joe's right, Joe's right, Joe's right.'"[178] Other candidates' comments that "Joe is right" in the Democratic debates were converted into a Biden campaign theme and ad.[179] In mid-2007, Biden stressed his foreign policy expertise compared to Obama's, saying of the latter, "I think he can be ready, but right now I don't believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training."[180] Biden also said Obama was copying some of his foreign policy ideas.[140] Biden was noted for his one-liners on the campaign trail, saying of Republican then-frontrunner Rudy Giuliani at the debate on October 30, 2007, in Philadelphia, "There's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, and a verb and 9/11."[181] Overall, Biden's debate performances were an effective mixture of humor, and sharp and surprisingly disciplined comments.[182]:336

Biden made controversial remarks during the campaign. On the day of his January 2007 announcement, he spoke of fellow Democratic candidate and Senator Barack Obama: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy—I mean, that's a storybook, man."[183][nb 3] This comment undermined his campaign as soon as it began and significantly damaged his fund-raising capabilities;[182]:336 it later took second place on Time magazine's list of Top 10 Campaign Gaffes for 2007.[185] Biden had also been criticized in July 2006 for a remark he made about his support among Indian Americans: "I've had a great relationship. In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking."[186] Biden later said the remark was not intended to be derogatory.[186][nb 4]

In an unusual move, Biden shared campaign planes with one of his rivals for the nomination, Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut. Dodd and Biden were friends and seeking to save funds during somewhat long-shot efforts at the nomination.[188]

Overall, Biden had difficulty raising funds, struggled to draw people to his rallies, and failed to gain traction against the high-profile candidacies of Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton;[189] he never rose above single digits in national polls of the Democratic candidates. In the first contest on January 3, 2008, Biden placed fifth in the Iowa caucuses, garnering slightly less than one percent of the state delegates.[190] He withdrew from the race that evening, saying, "There is nothing sad about tonight. ... I feel no regret."[191]

Despite its lack of success, Biden's stature in the political world rose as the result of his 2008 campaign.[182]:336 In particular, it changed the relationship between Biden and Obama. Although the two had served together on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, they had not been close, with Biden resenting Obama's quick rise to political stardom[140][192] and Obama viewing Biden as garrulous and patronizing.[182]:28, 337–338 Having gotten to know each other during 2007, Obama appreciated Biden's campaigning style and appeal to working-class voters, and Biden said he became convinced Obama was "the real deal".[192][182]:28, 337–338

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