New President of US, Joe Biden briefly worked as an attorney before turning to politics. He became the fifth-youngest U.S. senator in history as well as Delaware's longest-serving senator. His 2008 presidential campaign never gained momentum, but Democratic nominee Barack Obama selected him as his running mate, and Biden went on to serve two terms as the 47th vice president of the United States. In 2017, at the close of his administration, Obama presented Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Two years later Biden launched his campaign for U.S. president and was elected as the 46th president of the United States.
Long before reaching one of the highest political offices in the nation, Biden — born on November 20, 1942 — grew up in the blue-collar city of Scranton in northeast Pennsylvania. His father, Joseph Biden Sr., worked cleaning furnaces and as a used car salesman. His mother was Catherine Eugenia "Jean" Finnegan.
Biden credits his parents with instilling in him toughness, hard work and perseverance. He has recalled his father frequently saying, "Champ, the measure of a man is not how often he is knocked down, but how quickly he gets up." He's also said that when he would come home sullen because he had been bullied by one of the bigger kids in the neighborhood, his mother would tell him, "Bloody their nose so you can walk down the street the next day!'"
Biden attended St. Paul's Elementary School in Scranton. In 1955, when he was 13 years old, the family moved to Mayfield, Delaware—a rapidly growing middle-class community sustained primarily by the nearby DuPont chemical company.
As a child, Biden struggled with a stutter, and kids called him "Dash" and "Joe Impedimenta" to mock him. He eventually overcame his speech impediment by memorizing long passages of poetry and reciting them out loud in front of the mirror.
Biden attended the St. Helena School until he gained acceptance into the prestigious Archmere Academy. Although he had to work by washing the school windows and weeding the gardens to help his family afford tuition, Biden had long dreamed of attending the school, which he called "the object of my deepest desire, my Oz." At Archmere, Biden was a solid student and, despite his small size, a standout receiver on the football team. "He was a skinny kid," his coach remembered, "but he was one of the best pass receivers I had in 16 years as a coach." Biden graduated from Archmere in 1961.
Biden attended the nearby University of Delaware, where he studied history and political science and played football. He would later admit that he spent his first two years of college far more interested in football, girls and parties than academics. But he also developed a sharp interest in politics during these years, spurred in part by the inspiring inauguration of John F. Kennedy in 1961.
On a spring break trip to the Bahamas during his junior year, Biden met a Syracuse University student named Neilia Hunter and, in his own words, "fell ass over tin cup in love — at first sight." Encouraged by his new love, he applied himself more fully to his studies and was accepted into the Syracuse University Law School upon his graduation from Delaware in 1965. Biden and Hunter married the next year, in 1966.
Biden was at best a mediocre law student. During his first year at Syracuse, he flunked a class for failing to properly cite a reference to a law review article. Although he claimed it was an accidental oversight, the incident would haunt him later in his career.
After graduating from law school in 1968, Biden moved to Wilmington, Delaware, to begin practicing at a law firm. He also became an active member of the Democratic Party, and in 1970 he was elected to the New Castle County Council. While serving as councilman, in 1971, Biden started his own law firm.
In addition to his increasingly busy professional life, Biden had three children: Joseph Biden III (born in 1969), Hunter Biden (born in 1970) and Naomi Biden (born in 1971). "Everything was happening faster than I expected," Biden said about his life at the time.
In 1972, the Delaware Democratic Party encouraged a 29-year-old Biden to run against the popular Republican incumbent J. Caleb Boggs for the United States Senate. Although few thought he stood any chance, Biden ran a tireless campaign organized mostly by family members. His sister, Valerie Biden Owens, served as his campaign manager, and both of his parents campaigned daily. That November, in a tight race with a large turnout, Biden won an upset victory to become the fifth-youngest U.S. senator elected in the nation's history.
Just as all of Biden's wildest dreams seemed to be coming true, he was struck by devastating tragedy. A week before Christmas in 1972, Biden's wife and three children were involved in a terrible car accident while out shopping for a Christmas tree. The accident killed his wife and daughter and severely injured both of his sons, Beau and Hunter. Biden was inconsolable and even considered suicide. He recalls, "I began to understand how despair led people to just cash in; how suicide wasn't just an option but a rational option ... I felt God had played a horrible trick on me, and I was angry."
Nevertheless, at the encouragement of his family, Biden decided to honor his commitment to representing the people of Delaware in the Senate. He skipped the swearing-in ceremony for new senators in Washington and instead took the oath of office from his sons' hospital room. In order to spend as much time as possible with his sons, Biden decided to continue to live in Wilmington, commuting to and from Washington each day by Amtrak train, a practice he maintained through his entire long tenure in the Senate.
U.S. Vice President
In 2007, 20 years after his first unsuccessful presidential bid, Biden once again decided to run for the U.S. presidency. Despite his years of experience in the Senate, however, Biden's campaign failed to generate much momentum in a field dominated by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Biden dropped out after receiving less than one percent of the vote in the crucial Iowa caucuses.
Several months later, though, Obama—having secured the Democratic nomination after a hard-fought campaign against Clinton—selected Biden as his running mate. With his working-class roots, Biden helped the Obama campaign communicate its message of economic recovery to the blue-collar voters crucial to swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
On November 2, 2008, Barack Obama and Joe Biden convincingly defeated the Republican ticket of Arizona Senator John McCain and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. On January 20, 2009, Obama was sworn in as the 44th U.S. president and Biden became the 47th vice president.
While Biden mostly served in the role of behind-the-scenes adviser to the president, he took particularly active roles in formulating federal policies relating to Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, the vice president used his well-established Senate connections to help secure passage of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation.
Biden seemed to relish the opportunity to play a crucial role in the Obama Administration. Following the 2008 election, he said, "This is an historic moment. I started 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 how can I say it?—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 who is also a breakthrough figure in multiple ways—I genuinely find that exciting. It's a new America. It's the reflection of a new America."
Re-Election and Second Term
Running for re-election in 2012, the Obama-Biden team faced Republican challenger Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, and Romney's vice-presidential running mate, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Obama defeated Romney in the 2012 election, earning a second term as president and Biden another term as vice president. President Obama received nearly 60 percent of the electoral vote, and won the popular vote by more than 1 million ballots.
Later that year, Biden showed just how influential a vice president he could be. He was instrumental in achieving a bipartisan agreement on tax increases and spending cuts to avoid the fiscal cliff crisis. With a looming deadline, Biden was able to hammer out a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. On January 1, 2013, the fiscal cliff bill passed in the Senate after months of tough negotiations. The House of Representatives approved it later that day.
Around this time, Biden also became a leading figure in the national debate about gun control. He was selected to head up a special task force on the issue after the school shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school that December. Biden delivered solutions for reducing gun violence across the nation to President Obama in January 2013. He helped craft 19 actions that the president could take on the issue using his power of executive order among other recommendations.