Can "a proud Democrat" reach out to become the "Uniter in Chief?"

"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. Biden was also one of the youngest Senators in U.S. history at the age of 29, serving the state of Delaware from 1973 to 2009, longer than anyone else. That record still stands today.

Biden previously ran for president in two failed attempts in 1988 and 2008 before winning in 2020. Prior to that, he served two terms as vice president under Barack Obama, from 2009 until Jan. 20, 2017. Here's a look at the life of Joe Biden.

Key Takeaways

  • 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 supports public housing, mass transit, health care, and civil rights.
  • Biden reversed his opposition to abortion and called his support for crime legislation in the '90s a "big mistake."
  • He is widely considered to be an expert in diplomacy and an influential negotiator.
Joe Biden

Investopedia / Ellen Lindner

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 parents had three more children after him—Valerie, James, and Frank. The family moved to Claymont, Delaware in 1953, where the Biden children attended school.

Biden enrolled at the University of Delaware in 1961. He graduated four years later with an undergraduate degree in history and political science. After graduating, he attended Syracuse University and earned his law degree from the school's College of Law in 1968.

Biden did a short stint 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 to this day.

Biden's Political Career

U.S. Senator

Biden became the junior U.S. senator from Delaware in 1973 after defeating Republican incumbent, J. Caleb Boggs, in a surprise win 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." At 29, he was one of the youngest senators to be elected to the U.S. Senate.

His longevity in the Senate resulted in his membership on the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1981 to 1997. He served as chair from 1987 to 1995. During this time, he presided over two contentious Supreme Court confirmations, those of both Robert Bork and later Clarence Thomas. Biden also wrote and helped pass the Violence Against Women Act, legislation that criminalizes violence against women.

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, among other issues.

Vice President

Biden ran for president in 2008 but dropped out in January after failing to get the support he needed to continue. Soon after that, Barack Obama asked Biden to be his running mate. The two men won the election, beating John McCain and Sarah Palin. As America's 47th vice president,

During his time as vice president, Biden was tasked with overseeing the $840 billion economic stimulus package, running the Middle-Class Task Force, and helping to negotiate the START treaty with Russia, which will expire on his watch as president. Biden also played an advisory role regarding conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Biden's Road to the White House

Two Failed Runs

Biden's first run for the White House came in 1987. He was initially considered a strong candidate, in no small part due to his high profile as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. As a testament to his popularity, the Biden campaign raised more money than any other candidate in the first quarter of 1987.

The tide turned, as accusations of plagiarism arose later in the year. This was followed by several false claims and exaggerations, including that he earned three college degrees and that he graduated in the top half of his law school class—he actually graduated near the bottom.

On Sept. 23, 1987, Biden withdrew from the race after fumbling what many considered a half-hearted apology. Years later 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's second run came in 2008 with a plan to achieve political success in Iraq while using his many years in the Senate to tout his experience in foreign policy. As noted above, he withdrew from the race that January after failing to get the support he needed to continue. He continued on the campaign trail as Obama's running mate. The two won with Biden being elected as vice president.

A Third Run

Biden decided not to run for president during the 2016 election. He made the announcement at the White House after weeks of speculation about whether he would hit the campaign trail. One of the major reasons behind the decision was the death of his eldest son, Beau, who died in 2015 from brain cancer. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary but lost the election to Donald Trump.

Things changed, though, just before the 2020 election. Following months of speculation, Biden released a video on Apr. 25, 2019, announcing his intention to run for president a third time. The announcement focused on what Biden called "a battle for the soul of our nation" using the white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, as his call to action.

Biden secured enough delegates by June 2020 to grab the nomination. On August 11, he announced Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. The two officially became the nominees of the Democratic Party a week later. They would challenge incumbent President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and win in November.

2020 Presidential Debates

Several key issues prevailed during the presidential debates between Biden and Trump, notably:

  • COVID-19: Biden accused Trump of not having a plan in place to deal with the pandemic. Trump, on the other hand, defended his administration's response.
  • National Security: Biden said any country that interfered in elections should pay a price. Trump used the time to raise the conspiracy theory that Biden enriched himself through corruption with Russia and China.
  • Crime and Climate Change: Biden acknowledged that his support for certain laws related to drugs in the past was a mistake. He also rejected Trump's claims that his climate plan amounted to an endorsement of the Green New Deal.
  • Health Care: Biden said he supported a public option for health care but would not back Medicare for All. On the other hand, Trump criticized the Affordable Care Act (ACA), noting that he eliminated the individual mandate set by his predecessor.

The first presidential debate, which took place on Sept. 29, 2020, was more of a slugfest as Biden and Trump struggled to score points between interruptions by their opponent. The final debate on Oct. 22, 2020, was more productive as both candidates stayed mostly on topic. Organizers took a preemptive strike, though, by installing a mute button before the event.

The Election

Joseph R. Biden and Kamala D. Harris secured enough of the popular and the Electoral College votes to win the election. The final tally was 81,268,754 votes for Biden-Harris. The Trump-Pence team won 74,216,721 votes. The Electoral College total was 306 to 232 in favor of Biden-Harris.

Some of the most notable points during the election were:

  • Both Biden and Trump managed to bring new voters to the polls.
  • Gains in favor of Biden with suburban voters, where 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 gained among Hispanic voters even though Biden earned more votes among this demographic.

Biden addressed the nation on Nov. 7, 2020, saying he would work with both sides of the aisle to achieve what he promised on the campaign trail. He had an ambitious plan for his first 100 days, which included the first of two major stimulus packages and the pandemic.

But the results of the election didn't come without controversy. Trump challenged the election, alleging mass voter fraud, citing the delay in election results because of local rules involving the tabulation of mail-in ballots. Additional claims by others were made across social media and during protests as votes were being counted. Many of the claims were debunked.

On Jan. 6, 2021, a group of Trump supporters interrupted the Electoral College vote when they attacked the U.S. Capitol, protesting the results. Not only did the attack delay the vote, but there was also significant damage and vandalism. More than 100 people were injured and five people died.

The Biden Presidency

As noted above, Biden promised to tackle a series of issues and signed a series of executive orders during his first 100 days. The latter was meant to overturn some of the policies put into place by the Trump administration, including:

  • 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
  • Equal access to LGBTQIA+ refugees seeking asylum
  • Eliminating the process of separating asylum-seeking families at the border and creating a task force of reuniting families who were separated
  • Paving the way for a federal minimum wage of $15

The following are some of the notable strides made by the Biden administration:

  • Three key bills, including a $1.9 trillion 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, which is aimed at responding to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking
  • Falling unemployment and an uptick in job creation

But he has not been able to follow through with his promises of banning assault weapons, paid family leave, implementing universal pre-K, and expanding affordable housing. And inflation rose to record highs in 2022.

One of the most notable challenges his administration faces is student loan forgiveness. Biden extended student loan forbearance because of the pandemic. But his promise to cancel up to $20,000 for certain federal student loan borrowers was stalled when federal courts blocked the plan.

On Nov. 15, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which allocates $1.2 trillion to fund the rebuilding of roads, bridges, water infrastructure, internet, and more.

Biden's Political Positions

Biden has generally 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. Some of Biden's positions have changed over time, while others have not.

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."

This position changed over time and 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 both his strong religious beliefs and his desire not to be painted as a far-left liberal. "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."

The Biden Agenda for Women now includes this: "Stop state laws violating Roe v. Wade. Biden will work to codify Roe v. Wade, and his Justice Department will do everything in its power to stop the rash of state laws that so blatantly violate Roe v. Wade."

School Busing

Biden was a leading opponent of busing in the 1970s, a civil rights issue where he was not so liberal. At the time he tried to walk a fine line by saying he supported busing to end legalized segregation in the South and he supported court-ordered busing, but that he opposed it to remedy the de facto segregation that took place due to housing discrimination elsewhere.

Biden supported antibusing legislation and constitutional amendments in 1975, 1976, and 1977. His antibusing history came back to haunt him during the 2020 Democratic primary debates when his-then opponent Senator Kamala Harris took him to task for his stance.

The Environment

The environment has been important to Biden earning him a lifetime score of 83% from the League of Conservation Voters. He is credited with introducing one of the first climate change bills in Congress in 1986. Though that bill died in the Senate, President Reagan, in 1987, signed it into law as an amendment to a State Department funding bill.

Biden's current far-reaching agenda for dealing with climate change demonstrates just how much he has expanded on his original concerns. The Biden plan changed from a $1.7 trillion investment over 10 years to a $2 trillion investment in environmental issues over 4 years.

Arms Control

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 in hopes of convincing the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty. Despite press reports that changes were agreed to, the mission ultimately failed when the Senate failed to ratify the treaty. It was eventually replaced with START.

The START treaty will expire on Biden's Presidential watch. Russia has said it wants to extend the treaty. It will be up to President Biden and his administration to decide on how long it wants to extend. Given the relationship Trump forged with Putin's Russia over the past four years, it remains to be seen how negotiations will go this time around.

Law and Order

As ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1981, 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.

During the 2020 Presidential campaign Biden was charged by the Trump campaign with wanting to "defund the police." 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.

Since then, Biden's evolution on LGBTQ rights has been as striking as any in his years as a public figure. One has only to read "Biden's Plan to Advance LGBTQ Equality in America and Around the World" on his website which opens with a Biden quote from 2012, "Who do you love? Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love? And that’s what people are finding out is what all marriages, at their root, are about.”

On the website Biden touts the "historic strides toward LGBTQ+ equality" made by the Obama-Biden administration including the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and his own support of marriage equality in 2012 that led to Obama's change of heart shortly thereafter.

Personal Life

Biden met Neilia Hunter while on a trip to the Bahamas during his spring break in 1964. She was attending Syracuse University at the time. The two married in 1966, a year after Biden received his law degree. The couple had three children: Beau born in 1969, Robert Hunter (1970), and Naomi (1971). The family was becoming accustomed to his life in politics, especially when he made the jump from local to national politics.

The joy of victory following his Senate win was short-lived when Neilia and their daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car crash just weeks after the election. He considered resigning his Senate seat, but instead opted to commute by train between Delaware and Washington each night so he could be with his sons Beau and Hunter, a practice he followed for the rest of his Senate career spanning 36 years.

In 1977, he married Jill Jacobs. The couple had a daughter, named Ashley, in 1981. In 2007, Jill Biden received a Doctorate in Education. She's been teaching at Northern University Community College since 2009.

Biden's eldest son, Beau, died of brain cancer in 2015—toward the end of Obama's second term. Beau strongly urged his father to make another run for the presidency. Although Biden considered running in 2016, he ultimately decided against it.

What Has Joe Biden Accomplished as President?

Joe Biden has signed a number of key 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. The unemployment rate dropped during his first year as the economy created new jobs. In 2022, he signed gun control legislation requiring extensive background checks and strengthened the Violence Against Women Act. In addition, Biden extended the student loan forbearance that the Trump administration enacted when the pandemic hit.

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 extended student loan forbearance because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan, which was put into place during Donald Trump's presidency, allowed payments to be deferred for federal student borrowers, stopped interest from accumulating, and ceased collection activity.

Biden promised to eliminate up to $20,000 in debt for qualifying federal student loan borrowers but it was blocked by federal courts in October 2022 until further notice. Forbearance was extended until 60 days after the outcome of the court decision or 60 days after June 30, 2023—whichever comes first.

The Bottom Line

Joseph R. Biden is the 46th President of the United States, having taken office on January 20, 2021. He has a long history in politics, serving 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. He has reversed previous opposition to abortion and has expressed regret for supporting crime legislation in the 1990s, but has not changed his position on school busing. 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.

Article Sources
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