Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. (/ˌrɒbɪˈnɛt ˈbaɪdən/; born November 20, 1942) is an American politician who served as the 47th Vice President of the United States from 2009 to 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, he represented Delaware as a U.S. Senator from 1973 to 2009.
Joe Biden was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1942, and lived there for ten years before moving with his family to Delaware. He became an attorney in 1969, and was elected to the New Castle County council in 1970. He was first elected to the Senate in 1972, and became the sixth-youngest senator in American history. Biden was reelected to the upper house of Congress six times, and was the fourth most senior senator at the time of his resignation to assume the Vice Presidency in 2009. He was a long-time member and former chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He opposed the Gulf War in 1991, but advocated U.S. and NATO intervention in the Bosnian War in 1994 and 1995. He voted in favor of the resolution authorizing the Iraq War in 2002, but opposed the surge of U.S. troops in 2007. He has also served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, dealing with issues related to drug policy, crime prevention, and civil liberties, and led the legislative efforts for creation of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, and the Violence Against Women Act. He chaired the Judiciary Committee during the contentious U.S. Supreme Court nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.
Biden unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and in 2008, both times dropping out after lackluster showings. In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama chose Biden to be his running mate in the race, which they won.
As Vice President in the Obama administration, Biden oversaw the infrastructure spending aimed at counteracting the Great Recession, and U.S. policy toward Iraq up until the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011. His ability to negotiate with congressional Republicans helped bring about legislation such as the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 that resolved a taxation deadlock, the Budget Control Act of 2011 that resolved that year's debt ceiling crisis, and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 that addressed the impending "fiscal cliff". In 2011, he opposed going ahead with the military mission that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden. Obama and Biden were re-elected in 2012. In October 2015, after months of speculation, Biden chose not to run for President of the United States in 2016. In December 2016, he refused to rule out a potential bid for President in 2020, but announced on January 13, 2017, that he would not run, only to seemingly backtrack just four days later, again refusing to rule out a potential bid. On January 12, 2017, Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom with distinction—the only time Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom with the additional honor of distinction. After leaving office, Biden was named the Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
|47th Vice President of the United States|
January 20, 2009 – January 20, 2017
|Preceded by||Dick Cheney|
|Succeeded by||Mike Pence|
|United States Senator|
January 3, 1973 – January 15, 2009
|Preceded by||J. Caleb Boggs|
|Succeeded by||Ted Kaufman|
|Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee|
January 3, 2007 – January 3, 2009
|Preceded by||Richard Lugar|
|Succeeded by||John Kerry|
June 6, 2001 – January 3, 2003
|Preceded by||Jesse Helms|
|Succeeded by||Richard Lugar|
|Chair of the International Narcotics Control Caucus|
January 4, 2007 – January 3, 2009
|Preceded by||Chuck Grassley|
|Succeeded by||Dianne Feinstein|
|Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee|
January 3, 1987 – January 3, 1995
|Preceded by||Strom Thurmond|
|Succeeded by||Orrin Hatch|
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.|
November 20, 1942
Scranton, Pennsylvania, U.S.
|Political party||Democratic (1969–present)|
Neilia Hunter (m. 1966; d. 1972)|
Jill Jacobs (m. 1977)
|Children||4 (including Beau, Hunter)|
University of Delaware (BA)|
Syracuse University (JD)
Official website (Archived)|
Biden was born on November 20, 1942, at St. Mary's Hospital in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Catherine Eugenia "Jean" Biden (née Finnegan) and Joseph Robinette "Joe" Biden Sr. He was the first of four siblings in a Catholic family, with a sister, Valerie, and two brothers, James and Frank, following. His mother was of Irish descent, with roots variously attributed to County Louth or County Londonderry. His paternal grandparents, Mary Elizabeth (Robinette) and Joseph H. Biden, an oil businessman from Baltimore, Maryland, were of English, French, and Irish ancestry. His paternal great-great-great grandfather, William Biden, was born in Sussex, England, and immigrated to the United States. His maternal great-grandfather, Edward Francis Blewitt, was a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate.
Biden's father had been very well-off earlier in his life, but suffered several business reversals by the time his son was born. For several years, the family had to live with Biden's maternal grandparents, the Finnegans. When the Scranton area went into economic decline during the 1950s, Biden's father could not find enough work. In 1953, the Biden family moved to an apartment in Claymont, Delaware, where they lived for a few years before moving to a house in Wilmington, Delaware. Joe Biden Sr. was then more successful as a used car salesman, and the family's circumstances were middle class.
Biden attended the Archmere Academy in Claymont, Delaware, where he was a standout halfback/wide receiver on the high school football team; he helped lead a perennially losing team to an undefeated season in his senior year. He played on the baseball team as well. During these years, he participated in an anti-segregation sit-in at a Wilmington theatre. Academically, he was an above-average student, was considered a natural leader among the students, and was elected class president during his junior and senior years. He graduated in 1961.
He earned his BA in 1965 from the University of Delaware, with a double major in history and political science, graduating with a class rank of 506 out of 688. His classmates were impressed by his cramming abilities, and he played halfback with the Blue Hens freshman football team. In 1964, while on spring break in the Bahamas, he met and began dating Neilia Hunter, who was from an affluent background in Skaneateles, New York and attended Syracuse University. He told her that he aimed to become a Senator by the age of 30 and then President. He dropped a junior year plan to play for the varsity football team as a defensive back, enabling him to spend more time visiting out of state with her.
He then entered Syracuse University College of Law, receiving a half scholarship based on financial need with some additional assistance based on academics. By his own description, he found law school to be "the biggest bore in the world" and pulled many all-nighters to get by. During his first year there, he was accused of having plagiarized 5 of 15 pages of a law review article. Biden said it was inadvertent, due to his not knowing the proper rules of citation, and he was permitted to retake the course after receiving an "F" grade, which was subsequently dropped from his record (this incident would later attract attention when further plagiarism accusations emerged in 1987). He received his Juris Doctor in 1968, graduating 76th of 85 in his class. Biden was admitted to the Delaware bar in 1969.
Biden received student draft deferments during this period, at the peak of the Vietnam War, and in 1968, he was reclassified by the Selective Service System as not available for service due to having had asthma as a teenager. He never took part in anti-war demonstrations, later saying that at the time he was preoccupied with marriage and law school, and "wore sports coats ... not tie-dyed".
Negative impressions of drinking alcohol in the Biden and Finnegan families and in the neighborhood led to Joe Biden becoming a teetotaler. Biden suffered from stuttering through much of his childhood and into his twenties, and overcame it by spending many hours reciting poetry in front of a mirror.
On August 27, 1966, while Biden was still a law student, he married Neilia Hunter. They overcame her parents' initial reluctance for her to wed a Roman Catholic, and the ceremony was held in a Catholic church in Skaneateles. They had three children, Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III in 1969, Robert Hunter in 1970, and Naomi Christina in 1971.
During 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". He disliked the conservative racial politics of incumbent Democratic Governor of Delaware Charles L. Terry and supported a more liberal Republican, Russell W. Peterson, who defeated Terry in 1968. 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.
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. Balick named him to the Democratic Forum, a group trying to reform and revitalize the state party, and Biden switched his registration to Democrat. He also started his own firm, Biden and Walsh. Corporate law, however, did not appeal to him and criminal law did not pay well. He supplemented his income by managing properties.
Later in 1969, Biden ran as a Democrat for the New Castle County Council on a liberal platform that included support for public housing in the suburban area. He won by a solid, two-thousand vote margin in the usually Republican district and in a bad year for Democrats in the state. Even before taking his seat, he was already talking about running for the U.S. Senate in a couple of years. He served on the County Council from 1970 to 1972 while continuing his private law practice. 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.
Biden's entry into the 1972 U.S. Senate election in Delaware presented a unique 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, U.S. President Richard M. Nixon helped convince Boggs to run again with full party support. No other Democrat wanted to run against Boggs. Biden's campaign had virtually no money and was given no chance of winning. It was managed by his sister Valerie Biden Owens (who would go on to manage his future campaigns) and staffed by other family members, and relied upon handed-out newsprint position papers and meeting voters face-to-face; the small size of the state and lack of a major media market made the approach feasible. He did receive some assistance from the AFL-CIO and Democratic pollster Patrick Caddell. His campaign issues 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". During the summer, he trailed by almost 30 percentage points, but his energy level, his attractive young family, and his ability to connect with voters' emotions gave the surging Biden an advantage over the ready-to-retire Boggs. He won the November 7, 1972 election in an upset by a margin of 3,162 votes.
On December 18, 1972, a few weeks after the election, Biden's wife and one-year-old daughter Naomi were killed in an automobile accident while Christmas shopping in Hockessin, Delaware. Neilia Biden's station wagon was hit by a tractor-trailer as she pulled out from an intersection; the truck driver was cleared of any wrongdoing.[nb 1] 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. Doctors soon said both would make full recoveries. Biden considered resigning to care for them, but was persuaded not to by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. Subsequent to the accident, Biden commented that the truck driver had been drinking alcohol before the collision, but these allegations were denied by the driver's family and were never substantiated by the police.
Biden was sworn into office on January 5, 1973 by Francis R. Valeo, the Secretary of the Senate in a small chapel at the Delaware Division of the Wilmington Medical Center. Beau was wheeled in with his leg still in traction; Hunter, who had already been released, was also there, as were other members of the extended family. Witnesses and television cameras were also present and the event received national attention.
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 senators who took office before reaching the age of 31. But the accident 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." To be at home every day for his young sons, Biden began the practice of commuting every day by Amtrak train for 1½ hours each way from his home in the Wilmington suburbs to Washington, D.C., which he continued to do throughout his Senate career. In the aftermath of the accident, 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. A single father for five years, he left standing orders that he be interrupted in the Senate at any time if his sons called. In remembrance of his wife and daughter, Biden does not work on December 18, the anniversary of the accident.
Biden's elder son, Beau, became Delaware Attorney General and an Army Judge Advocate who served in Iraq; his younger son, Hunter, became a Washington attorney and lobbyist. On May 30, 2015, Beau died at the age of 46 after a two-year battle with brain cancer. At the time of his death, Beau had been widely seen as the frontrunner to be the Democratic nominee for Governor of Delaware in 2016.
In 1975, Biden met Jill Tracy Jacobs, who grew up in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, and would become a teacher in Delaware. They had met on a blind date arranged by Biden's brother, although it turned out that Biden had already noticed a photograph of her in an advertisement for a local park in Wilmington, Delaware. Biden would credit her with renewing his interest in both politics and life. On June 17, 1977, Biden and Jacobs were married by a Catholic priest at the Chapel at the United Nations in New York. Jill Biden has a bachelor's degree from the University of Delaware; two master's degrees, one from West Chester University, and one Villanova University; and a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware. They have one daughter together, Ashley Blazer (born 1981), who became a social worker and staffer at the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth, and Their Families. Biden and his wife are Roman Catholics and regularly attend Mass at St. Joseph's on the Brandywine in Greenville, Delaware.
During his first years in the Senate, Biden focused on legislation regarding consumer-protection and environmental issues and called for greater accountability on the part of government. In mid-1974, freshman Senator Biden was named one of the 200 Faces for the Future by Time magazine, in a profile that mentioned what had happened to his family and characterized Biden as "self-confident" and "compulsively ambitious".
Biden became ranking minority member of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary in 1981. In 1984, he was Democratic floor manager for the successful passage of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act; civil libertarians praised him for modifying some of the Act's provisions, and it was his most important legislative accomplishment at that point in time. He first considered running for president in that year, after he gained notice for giving speeches to party audiences that simultaneously scolded and encouraged Democrats.
Regarding foreign policy, during his first decade in the Senate, Biden focused on arms control issues. In response to the refusal of the U.S. Congress to ratify the SALT II Treaty signed in 1979 by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and President Jimmy Carter, he took the initiative to meet the Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, educated him about American concerns and interests, and secured several changes to address objections of the Foreign Relations Committee. When the Reagan administration wanted to interpret the 1972 SALT I Treaty loosely in order to allow the Strategic Defense Initiative to proceed, Biden argued for strict adherence to the treaty's terms. He clashed again with the Reagan administration in 1986 over economic sanctions against South Africa; he received 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 the apartheid system.
Biden ran for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, formally declaring his candidacy at the Wilmington train station on June 9, 1987. He was attempting to become the youngest president since John F. Kennedy. 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. He raised $1.7 million in the first quarter of 1987, more than any other candidate.
By August 1987, Biden's campaign, whose messaging was confused due to staff rivalries, had begun to lag behind those of Michael Dukakis and Dick Gephardt, although he had still raised more funds than all candidates but Dukakis, and was seeing an upturn in Iowa polls. In September 1987, the campaign ran into trouble when he was accused of plagiarizing a speech that had been made earlier that year by Neil Kinnock, leader of the British Labour Party. 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. But he made no reference to the original source at the August 23 Democratic debate at the Iowa State Fair being reported on, nor in an August 26 interview for the National Education Association. Moreover, while political speeches often appropriate ideas and language from each other, Biden's use came under more scrutiny because he fabricated aspects of his own family's background in order to match Kinnock's. Biden was soon found to have earlier that year lifted passages from a 1967 speech by Robert F. Kennedy (for which his aides took the blame), and a short phrase from the 1961 inaugural address of John F. Kennedy; and in two prior years to have done the same with a 1976 passage from Hubert H. Humphrey.
A few days later, Biden's plagiarism incident in law school came to public light. Video was also released showing that when earlier questioned by a New Hampshire resident about his grades in law school, he had stated that he had 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, each of which was untrue or exaggerations of his actual record.
The Kinnock and school revelations were magnified by the limited amount of other news about the nomination race at the time, when most of the public were not yet paying attention to any of the campaigns; Biden thus fell into what The Washington Post writer Paul Taylor described as that year's trend, a "trial by media ordeal". He lacked a strong demographic or political group of support to help him survive the crisis. He withdrew from the nomination race on September 23, 1987, saying his candidacy had been overrun by "the exaggerated shadow" of his past mistakes.
After Biden withdrew from the race, it was revealed that the Dukakis campaign had secretly made a video highlighting the Biden–Kinnock comparison and distributed it to news outlets. 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".
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; the situation was serious enough that a priest had administered last rites at the hospital. While recuperating, he suffered a pulmonary embolism, which represented a major complication. Another operation to repair a second aneurysm, which had caused no symptoms but was also at risk from bursting, was performed in May 1988. The hospitalization and recovery kept Biden from his duties in the U.S. Senate for seven months. Biden has had no recurrences or effects from the aneurysms since then. In retrospect, Biden's family came to believe that the early end to his presidential campaign had been a blessing in disguise, for had he still been campaigning in the midst of the primaries in early 1988, he might well have not have stopped to seek medical attention and the condition might have become unsurvivable.
Biden was a long-time member of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. He chaired it from 1987 until 1995 and he served as ranking minority member on it from 1981 until 1987 and again from 1995 until 1997.
While chairman, Biden presided over the two most contentious U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings in history, those for Robert Bork in 1987 and Clarence Thomas in 1991. In the Bork hearings, he stated his opposition to Bork soon after the nomination, reversing an 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 dispassionately. At the close, he won praise for conducting the proceedings fairly and with good humor and courage, as his 1988 presidential campaign collapsed in the middle of the hearings. Rejecting some of the less intellectually honest arguments that other Bork opponents were making, 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. Bork's nomination was rejected in the committee by a 9–5 vote, and then rejected in the full Senate by a 58–42 margin.
In the Thomas hearings, Biden's questions on constitutional issues were often long and convoluted, sometimes such that Thomas forgot the question being asked. Viewers of the high-profile hearings were often annoyed by Biden's style. Thomas later wrote that despite earlier private assurances from the senator, Biden's questions had been akin to a beanball. The nomination came out of the committee without a recommendation, with Biden opposed. In part due to his own bad experiences in 1987 with his presidential campaign, Biden was reluctant to let personal matters enter into the hearings. Biden initially shared with committee, but not the public, Anita Hill's sexual harassment charges, on the grounds she was not yet willing to testify. After she did, Biden did not permit other witnesses to testify further on her behalf, such as Angela Wright (who made a similar charge) and experts on harassment. Biden said he was striving to preserve Thomas's right to privacy and the decency of the hearings. The nomination was approved by a 52–48 vote in the full Senate, with Biden again opposed. During and afterwards, Biden was strongly criticized by liberal legal groups and women's groups for having mishandled the hearings and having not done enough to support Hill. Biden subsequently sought out women to serve on the Judiciary Committee and emphasized women's issues in the committee's legislative agenda.
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. It also included the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which contains a broad array of measures to combat domestic violence. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Morrison that the section of VAWA allowing a federal civil remedy for victims of gender-motivated violence exceeded Congress's authority and therefore was unconstitutional. Congress reauthorized VAWA in 2000 and 2005. 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." In 2004 and 2005, Biden 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.
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 is granted the same powers. Biden voted to acquit on both charges during the impeachment of President Clinton.
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 controversial Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act, also known as the RAVE Act. He continued to work to stop the spread of "date rape drugs" such as flunitrazepam, and drugs such as Ecstasy and Ketamine. In 2004, he worked to pass a bill outlawing steroids like androstenedione, the drug used by many baseball players.
Biden's "Kids 2000" legislation established a public/private partnership to provide computer centers, teachers, Internet access, and technical training to young people, particularly to low-income and at-risk youth.
Biden was also a long-time 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 through 2003. When Democrats re-took control of the Senate following the 2006 elections, Biden again assumed the top spot on the committee in 2007. Biden was generally a liberal internationalist in foreign policy. He collaborated effectively with important Republican Senate figures such as Richard Lugar and Jesse Helms and sometimes went against elements of his own party. Biden was also co-chairman of the NATO Observer Group in the Senate. A partial list covering this time showed Biden meeting with some 150 leaders from nearly 60 countries and international organizations. Biden held frequent hearings as chairman of the committee, as well as holding many subcommittee hearings during the three times he chaired the Subcommittee on European Affairs.
Biden became interested in the Yugoslav Wars after hearing about Serbian abuses during the Croatian War of Independence in 1991. 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. Both the George H. W. Bush administration and Clinton administration were reluctant to implement the policy, fearing Balkan entanglement. In April 1993, Biden spent a week in the Balkans and held a tense three-hour meeting with Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević. Biden related that he told Milošević, "I think you're a damn war criminal and you should be tried as one." Biden wrote an amendment in 1992 to compel the Bush administration to arm the Bosnians, but deferred in 1994 to a somewhat softer stance preferred by the Clinton administration, before signing on the following year to a stronger measure sponsored by Bob Dole and Joe Lieberman. The engagement led to a successful NATO peacekeeping effort. Biden has called his role in affecting Balkans policy in the mid-1990s his "proudest moment in public life" that related to foreign policy. In 1999, during the Kosovo War, Biden supported the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia and Montenegro, and co-sponsored with his friend John McCain the McCain-Biden Kosovo Resolution, which called on President Clinton to use all necessary force, including ground troops, to confront Milosevic over Serbian actions in Kosovo. 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.
Biden had voted against authorization for the Gulf War in 1991, siding with 45 of the 55 Democratic senators; he said the U.S. was bearing almost all the burden in the anti-Iraq coalition. Biden was a strong supporter of the 2001 war in Afghanistan, saying "Whatever it takes, we should do it." Regarding Iraq, Biden stated in 2002 that Saddam Hussein was a threat to national security, and that there was no option but to eliminate that threat. In October 2002, Biden voted in favor of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq, justifying the Iraq War. While he soon became a critic of the war and viewed his vote as a "mistake", he did not push to require a U.S. withdrawal. 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.
By late 2006, Biden's stance had shifted, and he opposed the troop surge of 2007, saying General David Petraeus was "dead, flat wrong" in believing the surge could work. Biden was instead a leading advocate for dividing Iraq into a loose federation of three ethnic states. 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. 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. In September 2007, a non-binding resolution passed the Senate endorsing such a scheme. However, the idea was unfamiliar, had no political constituency, and failed to gain traction. Iraq's political leadership united in denouncing the resolution as a de facto partitioning of the country, and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued a statement distancing itself.
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. In May 2008, Biden sharply criticized President George W. Bush for his speech to Israel's Knesset in which he suggested that some Democrats were acting in the same way some Western leaders did when they appeased Hitler in the runup to World War II. Biden stated: "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." Biden later apologized for using the expletive. Biden further stated, "Since when does this administration think that if you sit down, you have to eliminate the word 'no' from your vocabulary?"
Biden was a familiar figure to his Delaware constituency, by virtue of his daily train commuting from there, and generally sought to attend to state needs. Biden was a strong supporter of increased Amtrak funding and rail security; he hosted barbecues and an annual Christmas dinner for the Amtrak crews, and they would sometimes hold the last train of the night a few minutes so he could catch it. 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 over 7,000 trips he made from there). He was an advocate for Delaware military installations, including Dover Air Force Base and New Castle Air National Guard Base.
In 1975, Biden broke from liberal orthodoxy when he took legislative action to limit desegregation busing. In doing so, 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. Three years later, Wilmington's federally mandated cross-district busing plan generated much turmoil, and in trying to legislate a compromise solution, Biden found himself alienating both black and white voters for a while.
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. The seminar was one of Widener's most popular, often with a waiting list for enrollment. 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.
Biden was a sponsor of bankruptcy legislation during the 2000s, which was sought by MBNA, one of Delaware's largest companies, and other credit card issuers. Biden 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; the overall bill was vetoed by Bill Clinton in 2000 but then finally passed as the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act in 2005, with Biden supporting it.
Following his initial election in 1972, Biden was re-elected to six additional terms, in the elections of 1978, 1984, 1990, 1996, 2002, and 2008, usually getting about 60 percent of the vote. He did not face strong opposition; Pete du Pont, then governor, chose not to run against him in 1984. Biden spent 28 years as a junior senator due to the two-year seniority of his Republican colleague William V. Roth Jr. After Roth was defeated for re-election by Tom Carper in 2000, Biden became Delaware's senior senator. He then became the longest-serving senator in Delaware history. In May 1999, Biden set the mark for youngest senator to cast 10,000 votes.
With a net worth between $59,000 and $366,000, and almost no outside income or investment income, Biden was consistently ranked as one of the least wealthy members of the Senate. Biden stated that he was listed as the second poorest member in Congress, a distinction that he was not proud of, but attributed to being elected early in his career. Biden realized early in his senatorial career how vulnerable poorer public officials are to offers of financial contributions in exchange for policy support, and he pushed campaign finance reform measures during his first term.
During his years as a senator, Biden amassed a reputation for loquaciousness, with his questions and remarks during Senate hearings being especially known for being long-winded. He has been a strong speaker and debater and a frequent and effective guest on the Sunday morning talk shows. In public appearances, he is known to deviate from prepared remarks at will. According to political analyst Mark Halperin, he has shown "a persistent tendency to say silly, offensive, and off-putting things"; The New York Times writes that Biden's "weak filters make him capable of blurting out pretty much anything". Nor is Biden known for modesty; journalist James Traub has written that "Biden's vanity and his regard for his own gifts seem considerable even by the rarefied standards of the U.S. Senate."
Political writer Howard Fineman has said that, "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." 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." Traub concludes that "Biden is the kind of fundamentally happy person who can be as generous toward others as he is to himself."
Biden had thought about running for president again ever since his failed 1988 bid.[nb 2]
Biden declared his candidacy for president on January 31, 2007, after having discussed running for months prior, and first made a formal announcement to Tim Russert on Meet the Press on January 7, stating he would "be the best Biden I can be." In January 2006, Delaware newspaper columnist Harry F. Themal wrote that Biden "occupies the sensible center of the Democratic Party." Themal concludes that this is the position Biden desires, 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."
During his campaign, Biden focused on the war in Iraq and his support for the implementation of 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 on foreign policy. Despite speculation to the contrary, Biden rejected the notion of accepting the position of Secretary of State, focusing only on 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.'" Other candidates' comments that "Joe is right" in the Democratic debates were converted into a Biden campaign theme and ad. 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." Biden also said that Obama was copying some of his foreign policy ideas. 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." Overall, Biden's debate performances were an effective mixture of humor, and sharp and surprisingly disciplined comments.
Biden made remarks during the campaign that attracted controversy. 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."[nb 3] This comment undermined his campaign as soon as it began and significantly damaged his fund-raising capabilities; it later took second place on Time magazine's list of Top 10 Campaign Gaffes for 2007. Biden had earlier 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." Biden later said the remark was not intended to be derogatory.[nb 4]
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; he never rose above single digits in the national polls of the Democratic candidates. In the initial contest on January 3, 2008, Biden placed fifth in the Iowa caucuses, garnering slightly less than one percent of the state delegates. Biden withdrew from the race that evening, saying "There is nothing sad about tonight.... I feel no regret."
Despite the lack of success, Biden's stature in the political world rose as the result of his campaign. 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 having resented Obama's quick rise to political stardom, and Obama having viewed Biden as garrulous and patronizing. Now, having gotten to know each other during 2007, Obama appreciated Biden's campaigning style and appeal to working class voters, and Biden was convinced that Obama was "the real deal".
Since shortly following Biden's withdrawal from the presidential race, Obama had been privately telling Biden that he was interested in finding an important place for him in a possible Obama administration. Biden declined Obama's first request to vet him for the vice presidential slot, fearing the vice presidency would represent a loss in status and voice from his Senate position, but subsequently changed his mind. In a June 22, 2008, interview on NBC's Meet the Press, Biden confirmed that, although he was not actively seeking a spot on the ticket, he would accept the vice presidential nomination if offered. In early August, Obama and Biden met in secret to discuss a possible vice-presidential relationship, and the two hit it off well personally. On August 22, 2008, Barack Obama announced that Biden would be his running mate. The New York Times reported that the strategy behind the choice reflected a desire to fill out the ticket with someone who has foreign policy and national security experience—and not to help the ticket win a swing state or to emphasize Obama's "change" message. Other observers pointed out Biden's appeal to middle class and blue-collar voters, as well as his willingness to aggressively challenge Republican nominee John McCain in a way that Obama seemed uncomfortable doing at times. In accepting Obama's offer, Biden ruled out to him the possibility of running for president again in 2016 (although comments by Biden in subsequent years seemed to back off that stance, with Biden not wanting to diminish his political power by appearing uninterested in advancement). Biden was officially nominated for vice president on August 27 by voice vote at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado.
After his selection as a vice presidential candidate, Biden was criticized by his own Roman Catholic Diocese of Wilmington Bishop Michael Saltarelli for not opposing abortion. The diocese confirmed that even if elected vice president, Biden would not be allowed to speak at Catholic schools. Biden was soon barred from receiving Holy Communion by the bishop of his original hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, because of his support for abortion rights; however, Biden did continue to receive Communion at his local Delaware parish. Scranton became a flash point in the competition for swing state Catholic voters between the Democratic campaign and liberal Catholic groups, who stressed that other social issues should be considered as much or more than abortion, and many bishops and conservative Catholics, who maintained abortion was paramount. Biden said he believed that life began at conception but that he would not impose his personal religious views on others. Bishop Saltarelli had previously stated regarding stances similar to Biden's: "No one today would accept this statement from any public servant: 'I am personally opposed to human slavery and racism but will not impose my personal conviction in the legislative arena.' Likewise, none of us should accept this statement from any public servant: 'I am personally opposed to abortion but will not impose my personal conviction in the legislative arena.'"
Biden's vice presidential campaigning gained little media visibility, as far greater press attention was focused on the Republican running mate, Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin. During one week in September 2008, for instance, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that Biden was included in only five percent of the news coverage of the race, far less than for the other three candidates on the tickets. Biden nevertheless focused on campaigning in economically challenged areas of swing states and trying to win over blue-collar Democrats, especially those who had supported Hillary Clinton. Biden attacked McCain heavily, despite a long-standing personal friendship;[nb 5] he would say, "That guy I used to know, he's gone. It literally saddens me." As the financial crisis of 2007–2010 reached a peak with the liquidity crisis of September 2008 and the proposed bailout of United States financial system became a major factor in the campaign, Biden voted in favor of the $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which passed the Senate 74–25.
On October 2, 2008, Biden participated in the campaign's one vice presidential debate with Palin. Post-debate polls found that while Palin exceeded many voters' expectations, Biden had won the debate overall. On October 5, Biden suspended campaign events for a few days after the death of his mother-in-law. During the final days of the campaign, Biden focused on less-populated, older, less well-off areas of battleground states, especially in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, where polling indicated he was popular and where Obama had not campaigned or performed well in the Democratic primaries. He also campaigned in some normally Republican states, as well as in areas with large Catholic populations.
Under instructions from the Obama campaign, Biden kept his speeches succinct and tried to avoid off-hand remarks, such as one about Obama's being tested by a foreign power soon after taking office, which had attracted negative attention. Privately, Obama was frustrated by Biden's remarks, saying "How many times is Biden gonna say something stupid?" Obama campaign staffers referred to Biden blunders as "Joe bombs" and kept Biden uninformed about strategy discussions, which in turn irked Biden. Relations between the two campaigns became strained for a month, until Biden apologized on a call to Obama and the two built a stronger partnership. Publicly, Obama strategist David Axelrod said that any unexpected comments had been outweighed by Biden's high popularity ratings. Nationally, Biden had a 60 percent favorability rating in a Pew Research Center poll, compared to Palin's 44 percent.
On November 4, 2008, Obama was elected President and Biden Vice President of the United States. The Obama-Biden ticket won 365 Electoral College votes to McCain-Palin's 173, and had a 53–46 percent edge in the nationwide popular vote.
Biden had continued to run for his Senate seat as well as for Vice President, as permitted by Delaware law.[nb 6] On November 4, Biden was also re-elected as senator, defeating Republican Christine O'Donnell. Having won both races, Biden made a point of holding off his resignation from the Senate so that he could be sworn in for his seventh term on January 6, 2009. He became the youngest senator ever to start a seventh full term, and said, "In all my life, the greatest honor bestowed upon me has been serving the people of Delaware as their United States senator." Biden cast his last Senate vote on January 15, supporting the release of the second $350 billion for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Biden resigned from the Senate later that day;[nb 7] in emotional farewell remarks on the Senate floor, where he had spent most of his adult life, Biden said, "Every good thing I have seen happen here, every bold step taken in the 36-plus years I have been here, came not from the application of pressure by interest groups, but through the maturation of personal relationships."
As the presidential transition of Barack Obama began, Biden said he was in daily meetings with Obama and that McCain was still his friend. The U.S. Secret Service codename given to Biden is "Celtic", referencing his Irish roots.
Biden chose veteran Democratic lawyer and aide Ron Klain to be his chief of staff, and Time Washington bureau chief Jay Carney to be his director of communications. Biden intended to eliminate some of the explicit roles assumed by the vice presidency of his predecessor, Dick Cheney, who had established himself as an autonomous power center. Otherwise, Biden said he would not model his vice presidency on any of the ones before him, but instead would seek to provide advice and counsel on every critical decision Obama would make. Biden said he had been closely involved in all the cabinet appointments that were made during the transition. Biden was also named to head the new White House Task Force on Working Families, an initiative aimed at improving the economic well being of the middle class. As his last act as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Biden went on a trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan during the second week of January 2009, meeting with the leadership of those countries.
Biden became the 47th Vice President of the United States on January 20, 2009, when he was inaugurated alongside President Barack Obama. Biden is the first United States Vice President from Delaware and the first Roman Catholic to attain that office. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens administered the oath of office to Biden.
In the early months of the Obama administration, Biden assumed the role of an important behind-the-scenes counselor. One role was to adjudicate disputes between Obama's "team of rivals". The president compared Biden's efforts to a basketball player "who does a bunch of things that don't show up in the stat sheet." Biden played a key role in gaining Senate support for several major pieces of Obama legislation, and was a main factor in convincing Senator Arlen Specter to switch from the Republican to the Democratic party. Biden lost an internal debate to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding his opposition to sending 21,000 new troops to the war in Afghanistan. His skeptical voice was still considered valuable within the administration, however, and later in 2009 Biden's views achieved more prominence within the White House as Obama reconsidered his Afghanistan strategy.
Biden made visits to Iraq about once every two months, including trips to Baghdad in August and September 2009 to listen to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and reiterate U.S. stances on Iraq's future; by this time he had become the administration's point man in delivering messages to Iraqi leadership about expected progress in the country. More generally, overseeing Iraq policy became Biden's responsibility: the president is said to have put it as "Joe, you do Iraq". Biden said Iraq "could be one of the great achievements of this administration." Biden's January 2010 visit to Iraq in the midst of turmoil over banned candidates from the upcoming Iraqi parliamentary election resulted in 59 of the several hundred candidates being reinstated by the Iraqi government two days later. By 2012, Biden had made eight trips there, but his oversight of U.S. policy in Iraq receded with the exit in 2011 of U.S. troops.
Biden was also in charge of the oversight role for infrastructure spending from the Obama stimulus package intended to help counteract the ongoing recession, and stressed that only worthy projects should get funding. He talked with hundreds of governors, mayors, and other local officials in this role. During this period, Biden was satisfied that no major instances of waste or corruption had occurred, and when he completed that role in February 2011, he said that the number of fraud incidents with stimulus monies had been less than one percent.
It took some time for the cautious Obama and the blunt, rambling Biden to work out ways of dealing with each other. In late April 2009, Biden's off-message response to a question during the beginning of the swine flu outbreak, that he would advise family members against travelling on airplanes or subways, led to a swift retraction from the White House. The remark revived Biden's reputation for gaffes, and led to a spate of late-night television jokes themed on him being a loose-talking buffoon. In the face of persistently rising unemployment through July 2009, Biden acknowledged that the administration had "misread how bad the economy was" but maintained confidence that the stimulus package would create many more jobs once the pace of expenditures picked up. The same month, Secretary of State Clinton quickly disavowed Biden's remarks disparaging Russia as a power, but despite any missteps, Biden still retained Obama's confidence and was increasingly influential within the administration. On March 23, 2010, a microphone picked up Biden telling the president that his signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was "a big fucking deal" during live national news telecasts. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs replied via Twitter "And yes Mr. Vice President, you're right..." Senior Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett said that Biden's loose talk "[is] part of what makes the vice president so endearing ... We wouldn't change him one bit." Former Senate colleague Lindsey Graham said, "If there were no gaffes, there'd be no Joe. He's someone you can't help but like." Biden gained a long-running alter ego persona, "The President of Vice", on the satirical news site The Onion, which parodied his job title. Despite their different personalities, Obama and Biden formed a friendship, partly based around Obama's daughter Sasha and Biden's granddaughter Maisy, who attended Sidwell Friends School together.
Biden's most important role within the administration was to question assumptions, playing a contrarian role. Obama said that "The best thing about Joe is that when we get everybody together, he really forces people to think and defend their positions, to look at things from every angle, and that is very valuable for me." Another senior Obama advisor said Biden "is always prepared to be the skunk at the family picnic to make sure we are as intellectually honest as possible." On June 11, 2010, Biden represented the United States at the opening ceremony of the World Cup, attended the England v. U.S. game which was tied 1–1, and visited Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa. Throughout, Joe and Jill Biden maintained a relaxed atmosphere at their official residence in Washington, often entertaining some of their grandchildren, and regularly returned to their home in Delaware.
Biden campaigned heavily for Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, maintaining an attitude of optimism in the face of general predictions of large-scale losses for the party. Following large-scale Republican gains in the elections and the departure of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, Biden's past relationships with Republicans in Congress became more important. He led the successful administration effort to gain Senate approval for the New START treaty. In December 2010, Biden's advocacy within the White House for a middle ground, followed by his direct negotiations with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, were instrumental in producing the administration's compromise tax package that revolved around a temporary extension of the Bush tax cuts. Biden then took the lead in trying to sell the agreement to a reluctant Democratic caucus in Congress, which was passed as the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010.
In March 2011, Obama detailed Biden to lead negotiations between both houses of Congress and the White House in resolving federal spending levels for the rest of the year and avoid a government shutdown. By May 2011, a "Biden panel" with six congressional members was trying to reach a bipartisan deal on raising the U.S. debt ceiling as part of an overall deficit reduction plan. The U.S. debt ceiling crisis developed over the next couple of months, but it was again Biden's relationship with McConnell that proved to be a key factor in breaking a deadlock and finally bringing about a bipartisan deal to resolve it, in the form of the Budget Control Act of 2011, signed on August 2, 2011, the same day that an unprecedented U.S. default had loomed. Biden had spent the most time bargaining with Congress on the debt question of anyone in the administration, and one Republican staffer said, "Biden's the only guy with real negotiating authority, and [McConnell] knows that his word is good. He was a key to the deal."
In October 2010, Biden stated that Obama had asked him to remain as his running mate for the 2012 presidential election. With Obama's popularity on the decline, however, in late 2011 White House Chief of Staff William M. Daley conducted some secret polling and focus group research into the idea of Secretary of State Clinton replacing Biden on the ticket. The notion was dropped when the results showed no appreciable improvement for Obama, and White House officials later said that Obama had never entertained the idea.
Biden's May 2012 statement that he was "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex marriage gained considerable public attention in comparison to President Obama's position, which had been described as "evolving". Biden made his statement without administration consent, and Obama and his aides were quite irked, since Obama had planned to shift position several months later, in the build-up to the party convention, and since Biden had previously counseled the president to avoid the issue lest key Catholic voters be offended. Gay rights advocates seized upon the Biden stance, and within days, Obama announced that he too supported same-sex marriage, an action in part forced by Biden's unexpected remarks. Biden apologized to Obama in private for having spoken out, while Obama acknowledged publicly it had been done from the heart. The incident showed that Biden still struggled at times with message discipline; as Time wrote, "everyone knows [that] Biden's greatest strength is also his greatest weakness." Relations were also strained between the campaigns when Biden appeared to use his to bolster fundraising contacts for a possible run on his own in the 2016 presidential election, and the vice president ended up being excluded from Obama campaign strategy meetings.
The Obama campaign nevertheless still valued Biden as a retail-level politician who could connect with disaffected, blue collar workers and rural residents, and he had a heavy schedule of appearances in swing states as the Obama re-election campaign began in earnest in spring 2012. An August 2012 remark before a mixed-race audience that proposed Republican relaxation of Wall Street regulations would "put y'all back in chains" led to a similar analysis of Biden's face-to-face campaigning abilities versus tendency to go off track. The Los Angeles Times wrote, "Most candidates give the same stump speech over and over, putting reporters if not the audience to sleep. But during any Biden speech, there might be a dozen moments to make press handlers cringe, and prompt reporters to turn to each other with amusement and confusion." Time magazine wrote that Biden often goes too far and that "Along with the familiar Washington mix of neediness and overconfidence, Biden's brain is wired for more than the usual amount of goofiness."
Biden was officially nominated for a second term as vice president on September 6 by voice vote at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. He faced his Republican counterpart, Representative Paul Ryan, in the lone 2012 vice presidential debate on October 11 in Danville, Kentucky. There he made a feisty, emotional defense of the Obama administration's record and energetically attacked the Republican ticket, in an effort to regain campaign momentum lost by Obama's unfocused debate performance against Republican nominee Mitt Romney the week before.
On November 6, 2012, the president and vice president were elected to second terms. The Obama-Biden ticket won 332 Electoral College votes to Romney-Ryan's 206 and had a 51–47 percent edge in the nationwide popular vote.
In December 2012, Biden was named by Obama to head the Gun Violence Task Force, created to address the causes of gun violence in the United States in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Later that month, during the final days before the country fell off the "fiscal cliff", Biden's relationship with McConnell once more proved important as the two negotiated a deal that led to the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 being passed at the start of 2013. It made permanent much of the Bush tax cuts but raised rates on upper income levels.
Biden was inaugurated to a second term in the early morning of January 20, 2013, at a small ceremony in his official residence with Justice Sonia Sotomayor presiding (a public ceremony took place on January 21). He continued to be in the forefront as, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Obama administration put forth executive orders and proposed legislation towards new gun control measures (the legislation failed to pass).
During the discussions that led to the October 2013 passage of the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014, which resolved the U.S. federal government shutdown of 2013 and the U.S. debt-ceiling crisis of 2013, Biden played little role. This was due to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democratic leaders cutting the vice president out of any direct talks with Congress, feeling that Biden had given too much away during previous negotiations.
Biden's Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized again in 2013. The act led to further related developments in the creation of the White House Council on Women and Girls, begun in the first term, as well as the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, begun in January 2014 with Biden as co-chair along with Jarrett. Biden has a strong stance on sexual assault. For example, Biden stated to a victim of sexual assault at Stanford University, "you did it... in the hope that your strength might prevent this crime from happening to someone else. Your bravery is breathtaking." He has also taken legality into the situation. Biden issued federal guidelines while presenting a speech at the University of New Hampshire. He stated that, "No means no, if you're drunk or you're sober. No means no if you're in bed, in a dorm or on the street. No means no even if you said yes at first and you changed your mind. No means no."
As Iraq fell apart during 2014, renewed attention was paid to the Biden-Gelb Iraqi federalization plan of 2006, with some observers suggesting that Biden had been right all along. Biden himself said that the U.S. would follow ISIL "to the gates of hell."
By 2015, a series of swearings-in and other events where Biden placed his hands on women and girls and talked closely to them had attracted the attention of both the press and social media. In one case, a senator issued a statement afterward saying about his daughter, "No, she doesn't think the vice president is creepy." On January 17, 2015, Secret Service agents heard shots were fired as a vehicle drove near Biden's Delaware residence at 8:28 p.m. outside the security perimeter, but the vice president and his wife, Jill were not home. A vehicle was observed by an agent leaving the scene at a high rate of speed.
On December 8, 2015, Biden spoke in Ukraine's parliament in Kiev in one of his many visits to set USA aid and policy stance for Ukraine. On February 29, 2016, Biden gave a speech at the 88th Academy Awards to do with awareness for sexual assault; he also introduced Lady Gaga.
During his two full terms, Joe Biden never cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate, making him the longest serving Vice President with this distinction.
On May 30, 2015, Biden's son Beau died of brain cancer at age 46, after battling it for several years. The nature and seriousness of the illness had not been previously disclosed to the public, and Biden had quietly reduced his public schedule in order to spend more time with his son, who at the time of his death had been widely seen as the frontrunner to be the Democratic nominee for Governor of Delaware in 2016. The vice president's office issued a statement saying, "The entire Biden family is saddened beyond words."
During much of his second term, Biden was said to be preparing for a possible bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. At age 74 on Inauguration Day in January 2017, he would have been the oldest president on inauguration in history. With his family, many friends, and donors encouraging him in mid-2015 to enter the race, and with Hillary Clinton's favorability ratings in decline at that time, Biden was reported to again be seriously considering the prospect and a "Draft Biden 2016" PAC was established.
As of September 11, 2015, Biden was still uncertain whether or not to run. Biden cited the recent death of his son being a large drain on his emotional energy, and that "nobody has a right ... to seek that office unless they're willing to give it 110% of who they are."
On October 21, speaking from a podium in the Rose Garden with his wife and President Obama by his side, Biden announced his decision not to enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 2016 election. In January 2016, Biden affirmed not running was the right decision, but he admitted to regretting not running for President "every day."
As of the end of January 2016, neither Biden nor President Barack Obama had endorsed any candidate for the 2016 presidential election. Biden did miss his annual Thanksgiving tradition of going to Nantucket, opting instead to travel abroad and meet with several European leaders, and took time to meet with Martin O'Malley, having previously met with Bernie Sanders. Neither of these meetings were considered endorsements, as Biden has said that he will meet with any candidate who asks.
Following Obama's endorsement of Hillary Clinton on June 9, 2016, Biden also endorsed her later the same day. Though Biden and Clinton were supposed to campaign together in Scranton on July 8, the appearance was canceled by Clinton in light of the shooting of Dallas police officers the previous day.
Following his endorsement of Clinton, Biden publicly displayed his disagreements with the policies of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. On June 20, Biden critiqued Trump's proposal to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country as well as his stated intent to build a wall between the United States and Mexico border, furthering that Trump's suggestion to either torture and or kill family members of terrorists was both damaging to American values and "deeply damaging to our security." During an interview with George Stephanopoulos at the 2016 Democratic National Convention on July 26, Biden asserted that "moral and centered" voters would not vote for Trump. On October 21, the anniversary of his choice to not run, Biden said he wished he was still in high school so he could take Trump "behind the gym." On October 24, Biden clarified he would only have fought Trump if he was still in high school, and the following day, October 25, Trump responded that he'd "love that".
During a tour of the U.S. Senate with reporters before leaving office, on December 5, 2016, Biden refused to rule out a potential bid for the Presidency in the 2020 presidential election, after leaving office as Vice President. If he were to run in 2020, Biden would be 77 years old on election day and 78 on inauguration day in 2021. He reasserted his ambivalence about running on an appearance of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on December 7, in which he stated "never say never" about running for President in 2020, while also admitting he did not see a scenario in which he would run for office again. He seemingly announced on January 13, 2017, exactly one week prior to the expiration of his vice presidential term, that he would not run. However, four days later, on January 17, he seemed to backtrack, stating "I'll run if I can walk." A political action committee known as Time for Biden was formed in January 2018, seeking Biden's entry into the race.
In 2017, he was named the Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he will focus on foreign policy, diplomacy, and national security while leading the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. He will also pursue his "Cancer Moonshot" agenda. On March 12, 2017, Biden during a keynote speech at the annual SXSW festival stated, "The only bipartisan thing left in America is the fight against cancer."
On April 21, 2017, amidst speaking to a New York urban planning conference, Biden cited the "infinite wisdom" of Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie as the cause behind the termination of a rail tunnel project and called the Gateway Program "the most important infrastructure project in America."
During a Las Vegas, Nevada hedge fund conference interview on May 18, Biden said that he had never been confident in Clinton's candidacy: "I never thought she was a great candidate. I thought I was a great candidate."
Biden delivered a speech to the graduating class of Colby College on May 21, 2017, calling for a return to "unity and purpose", and three days later expressed confidence in contemporary students being able to handle "the challenges that lie ahead" at Harvard University during the college's Class Day ceremony.
While attending the launch of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement on March 30, 2017, a student asked Biden what "piece of advice" he would give to President Trump, Biden responding that the president should grow up and cease his tweeting so he could focus on the office. During a speech at a May 29, 2017 gathering of Philip D. Murphy supporters at a community center gymnasium, "There are a lot of people out there who are frightened. Trump played on their fears. What we haven’t done, in my view — and this is a criticism of all us — we haven’t spoken enough to the fears and aspirations of the people we come from." On June 17, Biden predicted the "state the nation is today will not be sustained by the American people" while speaking at a Florida Democratic Party fundraiser in Hollywood.
During an appearance at the Brainstorm Health Conference in San Diego, California on May 2, 2017, Biden said the public "has moved ahead of the administration [on science]." On May 31, Biden tweeted that climate change was an "existential threat to our future" and remaining in the Paris Agreement was "best way to protect our children and global leadership." The following day, after President Trump announced his withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement, Biden tweeted that the choice "imperils US security and our ability to own the clean energy future." While appearing at the Concordia Europe Summit in Athens, Greece on June 7, Biden said, referring to the Paris Agreement, "The vast majority of the American people do not agree with the decision the president made."
On March 22, 2017, Biden referred to the Republican healthcare bill as a "tax bill" meant to transfer nearly 1 trillion USD used for health benefits for the lower classes to wealthy Americans during his first appearance on Capitol Hill since Trump's inauguration. On May 4, after the House of Representatives narrowly voted for the American Health Care Act, Biden tweeted that it was a "Day of shame for Congress", lamenting the loss of pre-existing condition protections. On June 24, in response to Senate Republicans revealing an American Health Care Act draft the previous day, Biden tweeted that the bill "isn't about health care at all—it's a wealth transfer: slashes care to fund tax cuts for the wealthy & corporations." On July 28, in response to the skinny Republican Senate healthcare bill falling through, Biden tweeted, "Thank you to everyone who tirelessly worked to protect the healthcare of millions."
On September 5, 2017, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump Administration is rescinding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Biden tweeted, "Brought by parents, these children had no choice in coming here. Now they'll be sent to countries they've never known. Cruel. Not America."
On April 14, 2017, Biden released a statement both denouncing Chechnya authorities for their rounding, torturing, and murdering of "individuals who are believed to be gay" and stating his hope that the Trump administration honor a prior pledge to advance human rights by confronting Russian leaders over "these egregious violations of human rights." June 21, during a speech at a Democratic National Committee LGBT gala in New York City, in reference to President Trump's campaign promise to protect the LGBT community, Biden said, "Hold President Trump accountable for his pledge to be your friend." On July 26, after President Trump announced a ban of transgender people serving in the military, Biden tweeted, "Every patriotic American who is qualified to serve in our military should be able to serve. Full stop."
|NAACP||minorities & affirmative action||100%||2006|
|PA||peace and disarmament||80%||2003|
|HRC||gay and lesbian rights||78%||2006|
|ACLU||civil and political rights||80%||91%||2007|
|Cato||free trade and libertarianism||42%||2002|
|US CoC||corporate interests||32%||2003|
|CCA||Christian family values||16%||2003|
|NRLC||restrictions on abortion||0%||2006|
Biden has supported deficit spending on fiscal stimulus in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009; the increased infrastructure spending proposed by the Obama administration; mass transit, including Amtrak, bus, and subway subsidies; same-sex marriage; and the reduced military spending proposed in the Obama Administration's fiscal year 2014 budget.
A method that political scientists use for gauging ideology is to compare the annual ratings by the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) with the ratings by the American Conservative Union (ACU). Biden has a lifetime liberal 72 percent score from the ADA through 2004, while the ACU awarded Biden a lifetime conservative rating of 13 percent through 2008. Using another metric, Biden has a lifetime average liberal score of 77.5 percent, according to a National Journal analysis that places him ideologically among the center of Senate Democrats as of 2008. The Almanac of American Politics rates congressional votes as liberal or conservative on the political spectrum, in three policy areas: economic, social, and foreign. For 2005–2006, Biden's average ratings were as follows: the economic rating was 80 percent liberal and 13 percent conservative, the social rating was 78 percent liberal and 18 percent conservative, and the foreign rating was 71 percent liberal and 25 percent conservative. This has not changed much over time; his liberal ratings in the mid-1980s were also in the 70–80 percent range.
Various advocacy groups have given Biden scores or grades as to how well his votes align with the positions of each group. The American Civil Liberties Union gives him an 80 percent lifetime score, with a 91 percent score for the 110th Congress. Biden opposes drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and supports governmental funding to find new energy sources. Biden believes action must be taken on global warming. He co-sponsored the Sense of the Senate resolution calling on the United States to be a part of the United Nations climate negotiations and the Boxer-Sanders Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, the most stringent climate bill in the United States Senate. Biden was given an 85 percent lifetime approval rating from AFL-CIO, and he voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Biden has received honorary degrees from the University of Scranton (1976), Saint Joseph's University (LL.D 1981), Widener University School of Law (2000), Emerson College (2003), his alma mater the University of Delaware (2004), Suffolk University Law School (2005), and his other alma mater Syracuse University (LL.D 2009)  University of Pennsylvania (LL.D 2013)  Miami Dade College (2014)  Trinity College, Dublin (LL.D 2016)  Colby College (LL.D 2017)  Morgan State University (DPS 2017)  University of South Carolina (DPA 2017) 
Biden also received the Chancellor Medal from his alma mater, Syracuse University, in 1980, and in 2005, he received the George Arents Pioneer Medal—Syracuse's highest alumni award—"for excellence in public affairs."
In 2008, Biden received the Best of Congress Award, for "improving the American quality of life through family-friendly work policies," from Working Mother magazine. Also in 2008, Biden shared with fellow Senator Richard Lugar the Hilal-i-Pakistan award from the Government of Pakistan, "in recognition of their consistent support for Pakistan." In 2009, Biden received the Golden Medal of Freedom award from Kosovo, that region's highest award, for his vocal support for their independence in the late 1990s.
On January 12, 2017, Obama surprised Biden by awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction during a farewell press conference at the White House honoring Biden and his wife. Obama said he was awarding the Medal of Freedom to Biden for "faith in your fellow Americans, for your love of country and a lifetime of service that will endure through the generations." It was the first and only time Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom with the additional honor of distinction, an honor which his three predecessors had reserved only for President Ronald Reagan, Colin Powell and Pope John Paul II, respectively.
U.S. Senators are popularly elected and take office January 3 for a six-year term (except when appointed to fill existing vacancies).
|Year||Office||Election||Votes for Biden||%||Opponent||Party||Votes||%|
|1970||County Councilman||General||10,573||55%||Lawrence T. Messick||Republican||8,192||43%|
|1972||U.S. Senator||General||116,006||50%||J. Caleb Boggs||Republican||112,844||49%|
|1978||General||93,930||58%||James H. Baxter Jr.||Republican||66,479||41%|
|1984||General||147,831||60%||John M. Burris||Republican||98,101||40%|
|1990||General||112,918||63%||M. Jane Brady||Republican||64,554||36%|
|1996||General||165,465||60%||Raymond J. Clatworthy||Republican||105,088||38%|
|2002||General||135,253||58%||Raymond J. Clatworthy||Republican||94,793||41%|
(365 electoral votes)
(173 electoral votes)
(332 electoral votes)
(206 electoral votes)
Even before Obama announced his run for president, Biden was warning that Afghanistan, not Iraq, was the "central front" in the war against Al Qaeda, requiring a major U.S. commitment. "Whatever it takes, we should do it," Biden said in February 2002. "