After thinking about it for months, Vice President Joe Biden concluded Wednesday that his window “has closed” on a potential run for president.
Biden has had a long and colorful life and career. Here are five things to know about him, some of which might have complicated a run for president:
1. Biden is no stranger to tragedy
A week before Christmas 1972, Biden lost his first wife and daughter in a car crash. His young sons, Beau and Hunter, were badly injured in the accident. That was just a month after Biden was elected to the Senate. He was just 30 years old and very nearly decided against becoming a senator because of the accident. Instead, he was sworn in in his sons’ hospital room. Forty-three years later, in May of this year, tragedy struck again. His eldest son, Beau, a rising star in Democratic politics, died of brain cancer. The New York Times‘ Maureen Dowd reported that Beau wanted Joe to run. Politico reported the veep was her source.
2. He spent his wedding night with Jill and his sons taking in ‘Annie’ on Broadway
Five years after the accident, Biden remarried. But instead of a romantic honeymoon with Jill, they got married at the United Nations chapel, went to see Annie on Broadway with Beau and Hunter and all stayed in the same hotel. They saw the wedding as “all four of us getting married,” Biden writes in his memoir, Promises to Keep. The backstory of how Biden and then Jill Jacobs met is an interesting one, too. Biden’s brother, who knew Jill — a senior English major at the University of Delaware — set them up. She had done some modeling, and Joe recognized her from an ad at the airport.
But there was a big wrinkle — Joe was nine years older, and she was skeptical. “I had been dating guys in jeans and clogs and T-shirts,” she told Vogue in 2008, “and he came to the door, and he had on a sport coat and loafers, and I thought, ‘God, this is never going to work, not in a million years.’ ” Joe asked her five times to marry him. Finally, she said yes. Yes, Biden is persistent.
3. He ran twice for president before and, well, he’s not president
If Biden got in the race for president, it wouldn’t have been the first time. And neither run went so well. He did become vice president after his spirited 2008 bid, but he got less than 1 percent of the vote in Iowa and dropped out after his fifth-place finish there. He also ran 20 years earlier but dropped out amid a plagiarism scandal. Back then, he was taken with a video his aides showed him of a powerful, up-from-the-bootstraps speech by British Labor leader Neil Kinnock. (Here’s a comparative excerpt.)
Biden used the speech, had cited his source for a while, but then didn’t, as Rutgers professor David Greenberg recounted in Slate. Biden was also found to have taken excerpts from others and admitted plagiarizing a law review article while in law school. He also got testy on the trail in 1987, telling a heckler he probably had a higher IQ than the man and then added, “I went to law school on a full academic scholarship.” But that and other claims were not true. It got so bad for Biden, as Evan Osnos noted in a 2014 New Yorker profile, that congressional staffers began passing around a fake Biden résumé noting that he was the “inventor of polyurethane and the weedeater” and “Member, Rockettes (1968).” Biden also had serious health issues after his 1988 run. After dropping out, he underwent surgery for two brain aneurysms within three months of each other.
4. Despite what it looked like, that lady biker was not sitting on his lap
Everyone knows Biden is a hands-on kind of guy. And a viral photo of him (see above) from Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, rubbing the shoulders of a woman biker, was quintessential Biden — almost life imitating The Onion caricature. (See: “Shirtless Biden Washes Trans Am In White House Driveway.”) Here’s the back story of the biker moment, per the Washington Post: Biden was at Cruisers Diner in Seaman, Ohio, when he sat down between two male bikers. He “then called over their female companion saying, ‘I know who runs the show.’ Biden pulled a chair in front of him (no, she’s not sitting on his lap), then leaned over to whisper in her ear.” It’s the kind of thing that cuts two ways for Biden. For some, it was a light “Biden being Biden” regular guy moment. For others, it’s embarrassing and not presidential. It explains both his appeal — and vulnerability.
5. He authored the Violence Against Women’s Act, but the Clarence Thomas hearings and the crime bill could have hurt him in a Democratic primary
Biden was President Obama’s 11th-hour liaison to Congress on a number of issues, and that’s for good reason. Obama had served just two years in the Senate before running for president, but Biden had a long history — and deep relationships — in the Senate, where he served 36 years. Biden chaired the foreign relations and judiciary committees. On foreign policy, Biden spoke out sharply against the Iraq war as it descended into chaos, but he voted to authorize it. (He’s traveled the world, and one of his favorite lines with unfamiliar foreign politicians: “If I had hair like yours, I’d be president.” NPR’s Don Gonyea confirms that it’s a line he has used on the campaign trail, too.) The Iraq War vote would have likely not affected Biden, given Hillary Clinton voted for it, too.
But it’s a different story on domestic policy. Biden’s signature achievement was the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which did a number of things, including keeping battered women’s changes of address confidential and recognizing protection orders across jurisdictions. That same year, though, Biden helped pass the Violent Crime Control Act, otherwise known as the crime bill. It was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton. As NPR’s Carrie Johnson reported on the 20th anniversary of the bill, it “paid to put more cops on the beat, trained police and lawyers to investigate domestic violence, imposed tougher prison sentences and provided money for extra prisons.”
Crime was up across the country, and Democrats were accused of being soft on crime. But the bill today is blamed for mass incarcerations and calls for reform, especially in the Democratic primary. Biden also chaired the Judiciary Committee when Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings took place. Anita Hill, who accused Thomas of sexual harassment, blames Biden for not calling witnesses who could have corroborated her story. Others blame him for not being tough enough on Thomas and easing his way onto the Supreme Court, where he’s one of the most conservative jurists.