Shortcuts / 25 June 2020

Joe Biden

He’s the Democratic candidate running against Donald Trump in November’s presidential election. A former vice president, Biden’s been around American politics a long time. So, get geared up for lots of election news as we take a look at Joe Biden’s background, his family, his politics and how he came to be the man up against Trump come November.

How old is he?
Joe Biden is 77 years old, which if elected would make him the oldest ever President of the United States.

What was his early life like?
Joseph Biden Jr. was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania (which fans of the US version of The Office would recognise as the place where the fictitious Dunder Mifflin Paper Company branch office was based). Biden’s grandfather was in oil and his father, Joseph Sr, had wealth as he started a family with his wife Jean, Biden’s mother. But they fell on hard times and relocated to Wilmington, Delaware, where his father got a job as a used car salesman. There he attended a private Catholic School – Joe Biden is a Roman Catholic himself. However, a young Biden had one formative obstacle to overcome in his younger years – stuttering. He’s talked about his Uncle Ed who lived with his family growing up, who also had a stutter and never dealt with it, and ended up having a rather sad life. So as a kid, he says he worked hard to “practice getting your mouth unstuck”. Even today it’s something he works on.

What was his young adulthood like?
Like many in politics, Biden had number of leaderships positions at school. He studied law at college, and eventually practised criminal law. And during that time he was getting his political bearings. He described his starting point as a liberal Republican – which is sort of what we could consider Australia’s Liberal Party – but it was the era of Richard Nixon and that turned him off. He then considered himself a supporter of neither party, and ultimately registered as a Democrat voter.

Who is his family?
Biden met his first wife, wealthy New Yorker Neilia Hunter, in 1964. They married while he was still at law school and had three children together – Joseph “Beau” Biden III – he was known as Beau; Robert Hunter Biden – known as Hunter, and Naomi Christina Biden. But sadly it was December 1972 when Neilia and 1yo Naomi were killed in a car accident. Beau and Robert were both also in the car but survived the crash. But the family tragedy doesn’t end there for Joe Biden. If we jump forward to 2015, Beau, who became the Attorney General of Delaware, died of brain cancer in his mid-40s. It’s Joe Biden’s experience of tragedy and dealing with grief that many say has given him he has almost a superpower-like ability to comfort and listen and connect with people who are in pain.

To go back to the mid-70s, Joe Biden is now a single dad of two young boys. He then heads out on a blind date and meets Jill Jacobs, a teacher. This hit it off, marry and They have one child together, Ashley, who was born in 1981. And his relationship with Jill is what he credits being able to put his life back together. Biden was elected to the US Senate just a few weeks before Neilia and Naomi’s deaths, and he was reelected not long after his marriage to Jill. And from there he was able to forge a political career that he’s still pursuing more than 40 years later – he says because of Jill’s support.

What’s the story with Hunter Biden?
Hunter had a guest starring role in the impeachment of President Donald Trump. Hunter was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company with ties to an oligarch and former president Viktor Yanukovych. And as right-wing conspiracy theories concerning his business dealings in Ukraine swirled, Trump asked the incumbent Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate. And if they didn’t, America would withhold its defence aid. And it was that call that triggered that process. Broadly, the reason Hunter’s involvement was pursed was political, with Trump wanting to track him down for ammunition against Joe Biden because there was a sense that he would be Trump’s opponent in this year’s presidential election.

What’s Joe Biden’s political experience?
Joe Biden is a six-term senator from Delaware; he is the 47th vice president of the United States; and this time around was his third go at asking the Democratic to endorse him as their presidential candidate – first in 1988 and then again in 2008.

Where does he sit on the political spectrum?
He considers himself to be liberal on things like civil rights and healthcare, but more on the conservative side when looking at abortion, support for the military. When you look at the candidates that he beat from the left of the Democratic Party like Bernie Sanders, and then look at the right-leaning agenda of President Trump, Biden is the moderate candidate.

What’s his legacy from his time as VP in the Obama administration?
Biden was all for asserting and defending America’s role as a leader on the global stage, and was a big supporter of the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act. It’s an issue he often discusses in the context of his family’s personal tragedies. That’s because he was open about being able to access quality health care for his son when he was suffering brain cancer – care that millions of American’s can’t access. And of course at the heart of Obamacare is extending health care coverage to low-income Americans. He is also widely regarded as someone who has been a longtime champion of civil rights for African Americans and other marginalised groups. While his voting record isn’t perfect on backing civil rights measures, broadly, it’s been something he’s championed for many years.

He’s also credited with introducing the first climate change bill in Congress back in 1986. And during this campaign, he’s unveiled a $1.7 trillion climate policy plan aiming to eliminate America’s net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Which is why he’s said “If I’m able to pass what I’m talking about, my administration would go down in history as one of the most progressive administrations in American history.”

What has his presidential campaign been like so far?
A feature of this presidential campaign will inevitably be coronavirus. Outside of the management of the virus itself, America is very focused on the economy. While Biden is currently leading Trump in the big media company’s polls, it’s worth keeping in mind the polls got it badly wrong in the Trump v Hillary Clinton election race for president in 2016. But one measure he’s not tracking so well on is the question of who would be better for the economy. And in these economically challenged times, that’s one to look out for.

There’s also been allegations across his career of Biden making women uncomfortable by touching their shoulders or kissing their heads, as well as claims of serious sexual assault. Last year, a former staffer Tara Reade joined other women to say he’d behaved inappropriately towards her. But she’s since said that in 1993, he pushed her against a wall and assaulted her. He says it never happened, and staff from the time also can’t recall her making a complaint.

And of course, coronavirus is affecting everything, including presidential campaigns… neither Biden nor Trump have been able to hold big rallies or even intimate fundraisers because of the restrictions which some say, is an advantage for Trump. That’s because he’s been able to stage campaign events thinly disguised as presidential events. Meanwhile, Biden has been stuck broadcasting out of his basement. But it has saved his campaign some money, and as we know, these campaigns cost into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

What’s Biden’s campaign style?
He can become tangled up in his own words – it’s what President Barack Obama famously referred to as his verbal “flourishes.” And commentators at the moment are saying he’s coming across as steady and experienced and familiar, even a little boring. Which could be an attribute in this extraordinary year.

What role has Obama played in Biden’s presidential campaign?
The President-Vice President relationship can be a tricky one but Obama and Biden were recognised for their strong friendship. It didn’t start out that way, but over the eight years they became quite the pairing. To date Obama hasn’t done a lot, but he’s onboard and is positioned to do more in the coming months as the effort to defeat Donald Trump gathers steam.

Squiz Recommends:
Vanity Fair Obama-Biden friendship

Squiz Shortcuts - A weekly explainer on a big news topic.

Get the Squiz Today newsletter

It's a quick read and doesn't take itself too seriously. Get on it.