The Highs and Lows of Joe Biden's Political Life - OZY | A Modern Media Company

The Highs and Lows of Joe Biden's Political Life

The Highs and Lows of Joe Biden's Political Life

By Sara Witt

Joe Biden speaks to supporters of Sen. Claire McCaskill at a "get out the vote" rally in 2018 in Bridgeton, Missouri.
SourceScott Olson/Getty


Will Democrats reward Uncle Joe in the primaries or look to a younger generation?

By Sara Witt

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has announced that he will run for president next year, becoming the 20th Democrat to join the crowded field. The veteran politician has the longest political résumé of any of the hopefuls aiming for the White House in 2020 and immediately becomes the front-runner for the Democratic nomination.

But Biden’s long career in Washington can be viewed as both valuable experience and a handicap marking him as a tired establishment figure.

We take a look at some of the defining moments of his career.

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Joe Biden, circa 1980.

Source Nancy Shia/Archive Photos/Getty

A Washington insider


Biden is elected to the U.S. Senate at the age of 29, one of America’s youngest-ever senators. He goes on to win reelection six times, spending 36 years in the Senate and becoming Delaware’s longest-serving senator. He serves on the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, twice as its chair, and on the Judiciary Committee, also serving a stint as its chair.

A devoted father

Six weeks after Biden is elected to the Senate, his first wife and daughter die in a car crash that severely injures both his sons. As his sons recover, Biden commutes from his home in Delaware to Washington, D.C., by rail every day, and continues to do so for the whole of his Senate career, leading to the nickname “Amtrak Joe.”


1988 — a blunder

Biden’s first presidential bid implodes before the key Iowa caucuses after it emerges that he plagiarized a speech by Neil Kinnock, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, then in opposition to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives.

1991 — a controversy

As chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden presides over the congressional appearance of Anita Hill, who testifies against the nomination of Clarence Thomas as Supreme Court justice, claiming her former boss sexually harassed her. During the hearing, Hill’s trustworthiness is questioned and many blame Biden for not doing more to stop the attacks on her character. Despite Hill’s allegations, the appointment of Thomas is confirmed.

1994 — a legislative triumph

After six years of work, Biden shepherds a landmark gun control and anti-crime bill through the Senate. It imposes a ban on assault weapons and puts 100,000 more police on the streets.

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Biden and Barack Obama in 2007.

Source Justin Sullivan/Getty

Barack Obama’s vice president

2007 — campaign gaffes

Biden announces he will run for president. But his campaign for the Democratic nomination is thrown off track by comments he makes about his rival, Barack Obama, whom he describes as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean.” Months later, Biden is mocked for saying, “Stand up, Chuck,” at a Missouri campaign rally before realizing state Sen. Chuck Graham is paralyzed.

2008 — veep

After failing to win the Democratic presidential nomination — he drops out after getting less than 1 percent of the vote — Biden is chosen as Obama’s running mate, partly to counteract Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience.

Following Obama’s historic election triumph, Biden becomes America’s 47th vice president.

2009 — the art of the deal

Biden convinces three Republican senators to vote for Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package that helped prevent the U.S. economy from sliding further into recession. It passed by one vote. Had it not passed, Obama would have stood little chance of reelection.

Second term as second in command

2012 — Uncle Joe

The gaffe-prone Biden is seen as something of a risk to Obama’s reelection bid and he is sidelined in the 2012 campaign. Supporters view Biden’s gaffes as part of his wanting-to-be-loved “Uncle Joe” personality that goes down well with voters. Obama and Biden win a second term at the White House, defeating the Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

2016 — health care initiative

In the waning days of the Obama administration, Biden helps shepherd the 21st Century Cures Act through Congress. The legislation earmarks $6.3 billion for biomedical research and treatment, including $1.8 billion for the Beau Biden Cancer Moonshot, a research program named in honor of Biden’s son who died of cancer in 2015.

The comeback kid

2015 — sitting it out

Biden decides against running in the 2016 presidential election, saying his family is recovering from his son’s death. He says he has also concluded there is no window left to mount a credible challenge against the four Democrats already in the race. Biden’s decision is a relief to Hillary Clinton, who may have struggled in the face of the former vice president’s folksy charm.

2019 — inappropriate behavior?

Biden is accused of being inappropriately affectionate with a female state lawmaker at a political campaign stop in Nevada in 2014. In a lengthy article published in The Cut, Lucy Flores, who was running for lieutenant governor at the time of the alleged incident, says Biden kissed the back of her head.

Biden denies acting improperly, saying in his many years on the campaign trail he has “offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately.”

April 2019 — presidential candidate

Biden announces he will run for the presidency next year, becoming the 20th Democratic hopeful to throw his hat into the ring.

By Sara Witt

OZY partners with the U.K.'s Financial Times to bring you premium analysis and features. © The Financial Times Limited 2020.

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