Joe Biden (1942-) became vice president of the United States after spending 36 years as a U.S. senator from Delaware. Democratic nominee Barack Obama selected him as a running mate for the 2008 election, and the pair entered office in January 2009 following their defeat of Arizona Senator John McCain and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. As a two-term vice president, Biden focused largely on economic and foreign policy issues. In August 2020, he became the Democratic Party nominee for the 2020 presidential election against President Trump.
Joe Biden’s Early Years
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was born on November 20, 1942, in the blue collar city of Scranton, Pennsylvania. At age 10 he moved with his family to the Wilmington, Delaware, area, where his father found work as a car salesman. The first of four siblings, Biden attended a series of Catholic schools, including the elite preparatory high school Archmere Academy. Though he excelled at sports, Biden received mediocre grades and struggled with a stutter. In 1965 he graduated from the University of Delaware with a double major in history and political science, and three years later he earned a law degree from Syracuse University. Meanwhile, in 1966, Biden married Neilia Hunter, with whom he would have three children.
Upon finishing law school, Biden returned to the Wilmington area and worked as an attorney for the next four years. In 1970 he won his first election to the New Castle County Council. Then, two years later, at age 29 he pulled off a surprising upset of Republican incumbent J. Caleb Boggs in a race for the U.S. Senate. Tragedy struck, however, before he was sworn in as the fifth-youngest senator in U.S. history. That December, his wife and 13-month-old daughter were killed and his two sons were hospitalized when a tractor-trailer plowed into their station wagon. Rather than move to Washington, D.C., a devastated Biden decided to commute by train every day so that he could spend more time with his sons. Biden remarried in 1977 to schoolteacher Jill Jacobs, with whom he would have one more daughter.
Senator Biden and First Presidential Run
Biden won reelection in 1978 and five times after that. Overall, he spent 36 years in the U.S. Senate, including eight years as chair of the Judiciary Committee and four years as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. Despite generally supporting civil rights, Biden opposed the forced busing of students to end de facto segregation. Later on, he presided over the contentious confirmation hearings of U.S. Supreme Court nominees Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. (Bork was ultimately rejected by the Senate while Thomas was narrowly approved.)
Biden also worked to preserve Delaware’s favorable corporate climate, legislated against domestic violence and crafted an anti-crime bill that provided for 100,000 more cops on the nation’s streets, banned assault weapons and mandated tougher penalties for drug dealers. Known for his foreign policy work, the well-traveled senator purportedly called Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic a war criminal to his face during a 1993 visit to Belgrade. Nearly a decade later, Biden voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq. Nonetheless, he eventually became a critic of the way George W. Bush’s administration handled the conflict.
Having raised a solid amount of campaign cash, Biden launched his first presidential bid in June 1987. On the campaign trail, he took to paraphrasing British Labour politician Neil Kinnock. Although he had appropriately credited Kinnock in prior speeches, he failed to do so during an appearance at the Iowa State Fair and even borrowed facts from Kinnock’s life, stating inaccurately, for example, that he was the first in his family to go to college and that his ancestors were coal miners. Soon after, reports surfaced that Biden had likewise allegedly lifted passages from Robert F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, and he was caught on camera exaggerating his academic credentials. With his candidacy on the defensive, Biden withdrew that September to concentrate on the Bork hearings. He then collapsed the following February from a life-threatening brain aneurysm, underwent two surgeries and took a seven-month leave from the Senate.
Joe Biden as Vice President
Biden kicked off his second attempt at the White House 20 years later, during the 2008 primary, but dropped out after securing only 1 percent of the delegates in the Iowa Democratic caucuses. Barack Obama tapped him to be his running mate after winning the Democratic nomination. In the November 2008 presidential elections, Obama and Biden bested their Republican opponents, John McCain and Sarah Palin, with 52.9 percent of the popular vote. In 2012 they defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan.
After taking office in January 2009 as the 47th vice president of the United States, Biden was charged with overseeing a $787 billion economic stimulus package, running a middle-class task force and reviving an arms reduction treaty with Russia. He also played a strong advisory role with respect to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2015, Biden's eldest son Beau died of brain cancer. Biden considered a presidential run in 2016, but ultimately decided against it.
Joe Biden's 2020 Presidential Run
On April 25, 2019, Biden announced his candidacy in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries. As a popular former vice president, he immediately entered the race with high name recognition.
Biden ran alongside 28 other Democratic candidates in a crowded primary that pitted Biden's more establishment policies against those of progressive candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The former vice president eventually became the official Democratic Party nominee on August 17, 2020. He chose California senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. Harris became the first Black and Asian American woman to be named on a major party's ticket.
If elected, 77-year-old Biden will be the oldest president ever to take office.