"America is an idea ...
It instills in every person in this country the belief that no matter where you start in life, there's nothing you can't achieve if you work at it." Joseph R. Biden, April 25, 2019
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. became the 46th President of the United States on Jan. 20, 2021. Known to most people as Joe Biden or simply Joe, he is the oldest person ever elected to the White House.
Joe Biden was one of the youngest Senators in U.S. history at 30, serving the state of Delaware from 1973 to 2009. He previously ran for president in two failed attempts in 1988 and 2008. Biden served two terms as vice president under Barack Obama, from 2009 until Jan. 20, 2017.
- Joseph R. Biden's career in national politics began in 1973 in the Senate.
- Biden won the presidency in 2020, becoming America's 46th president on Jan. 20, 2021.
- He is widely considered an expert in diplomacy and an influential negotiator.
Early Life and Education
Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. was born on Nov. 20, 1942, to Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden and Joseph Robinette Biden, Sr., in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His siblings include Valerie, James, and Frank. In 1953, the family moved to Claymont, Delaware, where the Biden children attended school.
Biden enrolled at the University of Delaware in 1961 and graduated with an undergraduate degree in history and political science. He attended Syracuse University and earned his law degree in 1968. Biden worked as an attorney before turning his attention to politics in 1970 when he ran for and won a seat on Delaware's New Castle County Council. His platform included support for public housing, an area he continues to champion.
Biden's Political Career
Biden became the junior U.S. senator from Delaware in 1973 after defeating Republican J. Caleb Boggs, based on a platform that focused on withdrawing from Vietnam, environmental issues, civil rights, mass transit, tax reform, health care, and public unhappiness with "politics as usual." His longevity in the Senate resulted in his membership on the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1981 to 1997, where he served as chair from 1987 to 1995.
He presided over two contentious Supreme Court confirmations, Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. Biden also wrote and helped pass the Violence Against Women Act. As chair or ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for 12 years, Biden helped shape U.S. foreign policy on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and the end of apartheid.
Biden ran for president in 2008 but withdrew after failing to get the support he needed to continue. Barack Obama then asked Biden to be his running mate. The two men won the election, beating John McCain and Sarah Palin.
Biden oversaw the $840 billion economic stimulus package, ran the Middle-Class Task Force, and helped to negotiate the START treaty with Russia. Biden also played an advisory role regarding conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Road to the White House
Two Failed Runs
Joe Biden first ran for the presidency in 1987 and was considered a strong candidate as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Biden campaign raised more money than any other candidate in the first quarter of 1987. The tide turned as accusations of plagiarism, false claims, and exaggerations grew that he earned three college degrees and graduated in the top half of his law school class. He graduated near the bottom.
On Sept. 23, 1987, Biden withdrew from the race. In his 2008 memoir,?Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics, Biden wrote, "When I stopped trying to explain to everybody and thought it through, the blame fell totally on me.” Biden attempted a second run in 2008, withdrew due to lack of support, and continued as Barack Obama's running mate.
A Third Run
Joe Biden declined to run for president during the 2016 election following the death of his eldest son, Beau, who died from brain cancer in 2015. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary but lost the election to Donald Trump.
On Apr. 25, 2019, Biden announced his intention to run for president a third time. The announcement focused on what Biden called "a battle for the soul of our nation." Biden secured enough delegates by June 2020 to grab the nomination. Biden chose Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. They would challenge incumbent President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and win in Nov. 2020.
2020 Presidential Debates
Several issues prevailed during the presidential debates between Joe Biden and President Donald Trump, notably:
- COVID-19: Biden disputed Trump's handling of the pandemic. Trump defended his administration's response.
- National Security: Biden argued that a country that interfered in American elections should pay a price. Trump claimed that Biden enriched himself through relationships with Russia and China.
- Crime and Climate Change: Biden acknowledged that his support for laws related to drugs in the past was a mistake. He rejected Trump's claims that his climate plan was an endorsement of the Green New Deal.
- Health Care: Biden supported a public option for health care but would not back Medicare for All. Trump criticized the Affordable Care Act (ACA), noting that he eliminated the individual mandate set by his predecessor.
Highlights of the 2020 election include:
- Biden and Trump both brought more voters to the polls.
- Biden received 54% of suburban votes compared to 45% in favor of Clinton in 2016.
- The Biden-Harris team gained votes among men while Trump's female voter base increased.
- Trump increased his share of Hispanic voters, but Biden earned more votes among this demographic.
The final tally was 81,268,754 votes for the Biden-Harris ticket. The Trump-Pence team won 74,216,721 votes. The Electoral College total was 306 to 232 in favor of Biden-Harris. On Nov. 7, 2020, Biden detailed a plan that included one of two major stimulus packages and the pandemic.
Donald Trump challenged the election, alleging mass voter fraud. Additional claims by others were made across social media and during protests as votes were counted. On Jan. 6, 2021, a group of Trump supporters interrupted the Electoral College vote when they attacked the U.S. Capitol, protesting the election results.
The Biden Presidency
Changes to Trump Administration Policies
- Overturning a ban on refugees from certain parts of the world and increasing the 15,000-cap placed by the Trump administration.
- Revoking policies by the previous administration that eased regulatory requirements.
- Ensuring equal access to LGBTQIA+ refugees seeking asylum.
- Eliminating the process of separating asylum-seeking families at the border and creating a task force reuniting families who were separated.
- Paving the way for a federal minimum wage of $15.
Biden Administration Goals
- COVID-19 relief package, an infrastructure bill, and a climate-and-health spending bill
- A gun safety bill requiring expanded background checks
- Strengthening the Violence Against Women Act
- Banning assault weapons
- Paid family leave
- Implementing universal pre-K
- Expanding affordable housing
- Student loan forgiveness
Success and Failure
Joe Biden has strengthened the Violence Against Women Act and added extensive background checks to gun purchases. Biden has yet to complete his promises of banning assault weapons, implementing paid family leave, adding universal pre-K, and expanding affordable housing. In 2022, the administration saw inflation rise to record highs.
On Nov. 15, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which allocates $1.2 trillion to fund roads, bridges, water infrastructure, internet, and more. President Biden extended student loan forbearance because of the pandemic.
On June 30, 2023, the Supreme Court struck down President Biden’s attempt to forgive more than $400 billion in student loan debts. In response to the decision, President Biden launched the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) Plan. SAVE is an income-driven repayment (IDR) plan which includes the following benefits for borrowers:
- Calculates a monthly payment amount based on income and family size and provides the lowest monthly payments.
- As monthly payments are made, the loan balance does not grow due to unpaid interest.
- The plan eliminates the need for a spouse to cosign an IDR application.
Biden's Political Positions
Biden has been characterized as a moderate centrist Democrat. His ideological score his first year in the Senate, according to UCLA's Voteview pegged him as more liberal than 70% of his fellow Senators and more conservative than 53% of Democrats. His last score in 2009 put him 69% more liberal than the rest of the Senate and more conservative than 50% of Democrats. He once described himself as a liberal on civil rights, senior citizens, and health care but conservative on abortion and the draft.
In an interview in 1974, Biden said, "...if you still think I’m a liberal, let me tell you that I support the draft. I’m?scared to death of a professional army." In 2020 he told the Military Officers Association of America, "The United States does not need a larger military, and we don’t need a draft at this time. The all-volunteer force has been a source of strength for decades."
Biden's position in the 1970s reflected his strong religious beliefs. "But when it comes to issues like abortion, amnesty, and acid," he said, "I’m about as?liberal as your grandmother. I don’t like the Supreme Court's decision on abortion. I think it went too far."
When elected, the Biden Agenda for Women intended to stop state laws violating?Roe v. Wade. In 2022, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling of Roe v. Wade and eliminated the constitutional right previously upheld.?President Biden issued a third Executive Order in 2023 to strengthen access to affordable contraception, a critical aspect of reproductive health care.?
Biden was a leading opponent of busing in the 1970s, a civil rights issue. He supported court-ordered busing but opposed it to remedy the de facto segregation due to housing discrimination elsewhere. Biden supported antibusing legislation and constitutional amendments in 1975, 1976, and 1977.
Biden is credited with introducing one of the first climate change bills to Congress in 1986. Though that bill died in the Senate, President Reagan signed it into law as an amendment to a State Department funding bill in 1987. Following his election, President Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement, supported initiatives such as the Department of Energy's Better Climate Challenge, and created the first National Climate Task Force to meet the following goals:
- Reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030
- 100% carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035
- Net-zero emissions economy by 2050
Through the Better Climate Challenge, organizations partner with the Department of Energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Biden spent much of his early Senate career concentrating on arms control negotiations, meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in 1979 at the behest of President Jimmy Carter. He and fellow Senators were tasked with securing changes to the then recently signed SALT II treaty, which was replaced with START. The START treaty will expire during the Biden presidency.
Law and Order
As ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1980s, Biden supported and helped pass the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, tough-on-crime legislation he would later call some parts of a "big mistake."
He later helped pass the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which included the Federal Assault Weapons Ban and the Violence Against Women Act. In a USA Today op-ed in June 2020, Biden said, "While I do not believe federal dollars should go to police departments violating people's rights or turning to violence as the first resort, I do not support defunding police."
In 1993, Biden voted for a provision that effectively banned gays from serving in the armed forces. He followed that up in 1996 by voting for the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the government from recognizing same-sex marriages. That law was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015. Biden's evolution on LGBTQ rights is evident on his website, which includes "Biden's Plan to Advance LGBTQ Equality in America and Around the World."
Joe Biden and Neilia Hunter married in 1966, a year after Biden received his law degree. The couple had three children, Beau, born in 1969, Robert Hunter, and Naomi.The joy of Biden's Senate victory in 1973 was short-lived when Neilia and their daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car accident weeks after the election. He considered resigning his Senate seat but opted to commute by train between Delaware and Washington each night to be with his sons Beau and Hunter, a practice he followed for the rest of his 36-year Senate career.
In 1977, he married Jill Jacobs. The couple had a daughter, Ashley, in 1980. In 2007, Jill Biden received a Doctorate in Education. Biden's eldest son, Beau, died of brain cancer in 2015.
What Has Joe Biden Accomplished As President?
Joe Biden has signed several bills during his presidency. These include a $1.9 COVID-19 relief package and a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. He also signed a climate-and-health spending bill into law. In 2022, he signed gun control legislation requiring extensive background checks and strengthened the Violence Against Women Act.
Why Didn't Joe Biden Run During 2016 Presidential Election?
Joe Biden opted not to run for the Democratic primary race during the 2016 election cycle. One of the main reasons behind his decision was the death of his eldest son Beau, who died in 2015 of brain cancer.
What Happened to Joe Biden's Student Loan Forgiveness Program?
The Biden administration attempted to forgive $430 billion in student loans under the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003 (HEROES Act). The plan would have forgiven up to $20,000 in debt, wiping out student loan balances of roughly 20 million student loan borrowers and significantly reducing the amount owed for 23 million others. After six states sued the Biden administration, the Supreme Court on June 30, 2023, struck down the plan. In August 2023, the Biden administration launched the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan, an income-driven repayment option that lowers monthly payments for student loan borrowers.
The Bottom Line
Joseph R. Biden is the 46th President of the United States and took office on January 20, 2021. He served as a Senator from Delaware from 1973 to 2009 and as Vice President under Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017. Biden has consistently supported public housing, mass transit, healthcare, and civil rights and is considered an expert in diplomacy and a top negotiator. During his presidency, Biden has signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, pardoned federal marijuana possession offenders, and given his support to Ukraine in its effort to repel the Russian invasion of its territory.