Joe Biden Candidate Profile

One of the main candidates running for the Democratic Presidential nomination is former Vice President Joe Biden

Background

Joe Biden developed an interest in politics from an early age and was inspired to pursue a career in public policy by the likes of President John F. Kennedy.

Joe Biden was born on November 20, 1942, in Scranton Pennsylvania to a middle-class, Irish Catholic family. His father, Joseph, Biden Sr., had a variety of jobs ranging from cleaning furnaces to selling used cars, and his mother, Catherine Eugenia “Jean” Finnegan was a housewife who took care of Biden and his three other siblings. In 1955, the Biden family moved to Mayfield, Delaware, a rapidly growing middle-class community sustained primarily by the nearby DuPont chemical company. Biden attended the St. Helena School and later on, the Archmere Academy, graduating in 1961. Joe Biden Biden attended the 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 Presidency of John F. Kennedy. After graduating from the University of Delaware in 1965, Biden enrolled in Syracuse law school, graduating in 1968. During this time, Biden also met his first wife, Neilia Hunter and married her in 1966.

Early Political Career (1968-1972)

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.

Joe Biden during his first Senate campaign, 1972.

In 1972, the Delaware Democratic Party encouraged the 29-year-old Biden to run against the popular Republican incumbent J. Caleb Boggs for the US Senate. Although few thought he had any chance of winning, 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 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. The accident killed his wife and daughter and severely injured both of his sons. 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.” 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. 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.

Senate Career (1972-2008)

During his time in the Senate, Joe Biden established a reputation as a leader on foreign policy and legal issues and earned the respect of politicians from both political parties.

From 1972 to 2008, Joe Biden served a distinguished Senate career. During his time in the Senate, Biden won respect as one of the body’s leading foreign policy experts, serving as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations for several years. His many foreign policy positions included advocating for strategic arms limitation with the Soviet Union, promoting peace and stability in the Balkans, expanding NATO to include former Soviet-bloc nations and opposing the First Gulf War. In later years, he called for American action to end the genocide in Darfur and spoke out against President George W. Bush’s handling of the Iraq War, particularly opposing the troop surge of 2007, and Middle Eastern foreign policy in general. In addition to foreign policy, Joe Biden was an outspoken proponent of tougher crime laws. In 1987, Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s failure to receive confirmation was largely attributed to harsh questioning by Biden, who was then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In 1994, Biden sponsored the Clinton Administration’s Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act to add 100,000 police officers and increase sentences for a host of crimes.

Joe Biden first ran for the Presidency in the 1988 Democratic presidential primary, but his campaign gained little traction.

In 1987, having established himself as one of Washington’s most prominent Democratic lawmakers, Joe Biden decided to run for the Presidency. He dropped out of the Democratic primary after reports surfaced that he had plagiarized part of a speech. Biden had been suffering severe headaches during the campaign, and shortly after he dropped out in 1988, doctors discovered that he had two life-threatening brain aneurysms. Complications from the ensuing brain surgery led to blood clots in his lungs, which, in turn, caused him to undergo another surgery. Always resilient, Biden returned to the Senate after surviving a seven-month recovery period.

In 2007, 20 years after his first unsuccessful presidential bid, Biden once again decided to run for the Presidency yet again. 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, Barack Obam, 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 the 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 by a 7% margin, willing back several states that had not voted Democratic for decades such as Virginia, Indiana, and North Carolina.

Vice Presidency (2009-2017)

Joe Biden established a reputation as an active and effective Vice President under Barack Obama and helped to redefine the role for the first time in many decades.

On January 20, 2009, Obama was sworn in as the 44th U.S. president and Joe Biden 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.

Running for re-election in 2012, the Obama-Biden team faced Republican challengers Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. 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.

Joe Biden has been married to his second wife, Jill Biden, since 1977. The couple’s daughter, Ashley, was born in 1981. On May 30, 2015, Biden suffered another personal loss when his son Beau died at the age of 46, after battling brain cancer. “Beau Biden was, quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known,” Biden wrote in a statement about his son. Following this tragedy, Biden considered a run for the presidency, but he put the speculation to rest in October 2015 when he announced that he would not seek the 2016 Democratic nomination. In the White House Rose Garden with his wife Jill and President Obama by his side, Biden made his announcement, referring to his son’s recent death in his decision making: “As my family and I have worked through the grieving process, I’ve said all along what I’ve said time and again to others, that it may very well be that the process by the time we get through it closes the window. I’ve concluded it has closed.”

Joe Biden receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.

On January 12, 2017, President Obama presented Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom with distinction, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in a surprise ceremony at the White House. Obama called Biden “the best vice president America’s ever had” and a “lion of American history,” and told him he was being honored for ‘‘faith in your fellow Americans, for your love of country and a lifetime of service that will endure through the generations.’’

Post-Vice Presidency (2017-2019)

Defying the traditional role of most former Vice Presidents, Joe Biden refused to remain quiet even after leaving office. Known for his fervent opposition to Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, Biden occasionally surfaced to criticize the 45th president. At an October 2017 campaign event for NJ Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Phil Murphy, he declared that Trump “doesn’t understand governance,” and the following month he blasted the White House incumbent for his seeming defense of white nationalist groups.

Additionally, Joe Biden occasionally revealed his mixed feelings on bypassing the chance to run for president in 2016. In March 2017, he said he “could have won,” and in November, he elaborated on those thoughts in an interview with Oprah Winfrey. “No woman or man should announce they’re running for president unless they can answer two questions,” he said. “One, do they truly believe they’re the most qualified person for that moment? I believed I was — but was I prepared to be able to give my whole heart, my whole soul, and all my intention to the endeavor? And I knew I wasn’t.”

2020 Presidential Campaign

On April 25, 2019, Joe Biden delivered the expected news that he was running for president in 2020. In his 3 1/2-minute video announcement, the former Vice President referenced President Trump’s attempt to equate people on both sides of the violent, racially charged clash in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, saying he knew then that “the threat to our nation was unlike any I’d ever seen in my lifetime.”

Although he has easily led in a majority of Democratic primary polls at the time he entered the race, Joe Biden’s candidacy soon became a litmus test for a party with an increasingly progressive base. Underscoring the challenges of presenting himself as a moderate, Biden drew criticism regarding his record on foreign policy, abortion rights, and his role in implementing “tough on crime” policies at the federal level during the 1990s that many critics claim directly resulted in the rise of the prison-industrial complex and mass incarceration. Despite this criticism, Joe Biden remains the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination, with the support of anywhere from 20% to 35% of likely Democratic primary voters. Additionally, Joe Biden is currently leading President Donald Trump by roughly 8-15% in most polls and is ahead in numerous swing states such as Arizona, Texas, North Carolina, and Florida.

Overall, Joe Biden is running as a more moderate Democrat in the mold of Presidents John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama reminiscent of his prior two Presidential campaigns in 1988 and 2008. Here are his positions on the key issues (as compiled from his campaign website, voting record, and public statements):

Joe Biden’s policies are aligned with the centrist wing of the Democratic Party.

Economic Policy

  • Joe Biden supports increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, arguing that higher minimum wage will do much to reduce income inequality.
  • Joe Biden is in favor of closing the gender wage-gap and compelling businesses to abolish policies that discriminate against their employees based on gender.
  • Joe Biden notes that the tax code is excessively friendly to investors as opposed to workers and has called for higher taxes on rich busienss owners passive income to finance things including a tripling of the Child Tax Credit and other benefits for working-class individuals. 
  • Joe Biden notes that regional inequality is a major economic issue facing the US and has pledged to promote development in areas of the country facing much inequality.
  • Joe Biden has called for “laws that allow labor unions to flourish and fight for basic worker protections” but also for a suite of new kinds of protections that operate outside the scope of traditional union-focused labor law. 
  • Joe Biden wants a ban on non-compete agreements, a suite of measures to ensure that workers can discuss their pay without fear of retaliation, and stronger measures against wage theft. 

Foreign Policy

  • Joe Biden wants to implement a more multi-lateral approach to foreign policy in direct contrast to the bilateralism and neo-conservative foreign policy position promoted by the Trump Administration.
  • Joe Biden wants to “forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East” by removing the “vast majority of troops” from the region. 
  • Joe Biden has pledged to end support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the Yemen war, which is guilty of committing genocide against the Shi’a Muslims of Yemen
  • Joe Biden strongly supports re-entering the 2015 Iranian Nuclear Deal and would work to strictly enforce the provisions of the agreement.
  • Work to empower negotiators to work on denuclearizing North Korea with the help of regional powers such as Japan, South Korea, and China.
  • A more interesting aspect of Joe Biden’s foreign policy platform is his idea of convening a “summit of the world’s democracies” to strengthen the ties between leaders of foreign democracies, private industry executives, and heads of US technology companies. 
  • Joe Biden wants to challenge social media companies to take responsibility in upholding Democratic values, including addressing the abuse of technology by “surveillance states facilitating oppression and censorship, spreading hate, stirring people to violence.” 

Social Policy

  • Joe Biden supports a women-right-to-choose and would fight against Republican efforts to overturn this right by codifying the Roe v. Wade precedent into federal law in case the ruling is overturned by the US Supreme Court
  • As a way to address the issue of gun violence, Joe Biden supports the implementation of an assault weapons buyback program, universal background checks, and reinstating the assault weapons ban and high-capacity magazines, which was a piece of policy he helped craft in 1994. Additionally, Biden also calls to ban gun manufacturers from building modifications to their products that make pistols as deadly as rifles and to build smart-gun technology, which has long been opposed by gun manufacturers. 
  • In contrast to many of the other Democratic candidates, Joe Biden has reservations about legalizing marijuana. Instead, he calls for expungement of all past convictions for pot use and would take marijuana off of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s most severe drug classifications list.
  • Joe Biden has pledged to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals in the face of attempts to roll back the 2015 Oberfell v. Hodges decision by the Republicans. Biden supports the Equality Act, which would expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act to ban discrimination in employment, housing, jury selection and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Criminal Justice

  • Joe Biden supports the elimination of mandatory minimum prison sentences for non-violent crimes.
  • Despite hsi past support for the death penality as recently as 1995, Joe Biden is now opposed to the death penalty and would work to abolish the death penality in the US
  • Joe Biden is opposed to the private prison system, the practice of cash bail, and the incarceration of children and would work to eliminate all three practices as President. 
  • Joe Biden would also create a new $20 billion grant program that encourages states to reduce incarceration and crime. And he would direct the savings from less incarceration at the federal level, along with additional federal money, to boost spending on education (including universal pre-K), mental health care, addiction treatment, and other social services.

Healthcare

  •  Joe Biden has pledged to defend and build upon the Affordable Care Act to ensure every American has access to quality, affordable health care.
  • Joe Biden wants to allow every American the right to choose a public option healthcare plan such as Medicare. 
  • The Biden healthcare plan would offer premium-free access to any public option healthcare plan to people who would otherwise qualify for Medicaid, but for the fact they have been denied access to it by governors and state legislatures who have refused the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. 
  • Joe Biden will dedicate the full force of our nation’s expertise and resources to tackle public health challenges such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, opioid addiction, and mental health.

Racial Justice

  • Joe Biden stated that the US needs to “deal with the systemic things” that plague the African-American community over the past 300 years and has made racial justice a centerpiece of his campaign.
  • Joe Biden supports implementing federal programs meant to close the gap between white Americans and racial minorities and to directly address the lingering issues of racial inequalities.
  • Joe Biden has yet to comment whether he would support reparations for slavery but signaled a willingness to explore the issue at the Congressional level.
  • Joe Biden has promised to push for reforms that would allow the federal government to conduct oversight of how some jurisdictions with track records of voter discrimination conduct their elections.

Immigration

  • Joe Biden is strongly opposed to President Donald Trump’s bigoted immigration strategy, calling it “inflammatory rhetoric” that does little than to inflame tensions in the US regarding the immigration system.
  • Joe Biden supports a pathway to citizenship for a majority of undocumented immigrants in the US.
  • The first step of Joe Biden’s immigration reform plan includes recognizing the DREAMers (the children of undocumented immigrants in the US) as American citizens. 
  • Joe Biden also pledged to on addressing the “root causes that push people to flee” their homelands by improving security, reducing inequality and expanding economic opportunity in Central America, citing his success in this area during his time as Vice President.
  • Joe Biden is opposed to the Trump Administration’s proposed border wall, calling it a proposal “divorced from reality.”

Environmental Policy

  • Joe Biden has come out in favor of the “Green New Deal,” a proposed climate change mitigation program in the mold of the New Deal programs implemented by President Franklin Roosevelt during the 1930s.
  • Joe Biden has pledged to ensure that the US will achieve 100% clean energy and reach net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
  • Joe Biden supports making smart infrastructure investments a priority.
  • Joe Biden supports re-entering the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (which President Trump withdrew from at the urging of all Senate Republicans and one Senate Democrat, Joe Manchin) and working aggressively with the global community to solve the issue of climate change.
  • Joe Biden will stand up to the industries and businesses that disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities with pollution and environmental degradation.

Education Reform

  • Joe Biden has been in favor of four years of free college education for all American citizens since at least 2015 and will work to implement this policy as President.
  • Joe Biden calls to triple the money the federal government sends to low-income school districts.
  • Joe Biden also supports increasing mental health care in schools and expanded resources for families, including home visits by nurses for parents of newborns and the creation of “community schools” in low-income areas that offer social services, doctors, and other help. 
  • Joe Biden has called on the Department of Education to create grants to help schools diversify. 
the author

Matt has been studying and analyzing politics at all levels since the 2004 Presidential Election. He writes about political trends and demographics, the role of the media in politics, comparative politics, political theory, and the domestic and international political economy. Matt is also interested in history, philosophy, comparative religion, and record collecting.

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