Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. (/ˌrɒbɪˈnɛt ˈbaɪdən/; born November 20, 1942) is an American politician who served as the 47th vice president of the United States from 2009 to 2017 and represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate from 1973 to 2009. A member of the Democratic Party, Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president in the 2020 election. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and in 2008.
Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was born on November 20, 1942, at St. Mary's Hospital in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Catherine Eugenia "Jean" Biden (née Finnegan) and Joseph Robinette Biden Sr. The first of four siblings in a Catholic family, he had a sister and two brothers. Jean was of Irish descent, with roots variously attributed to County Louth and County Londonderry. Joseph Sr.'s parents, Mary Elizabeth (née Robinette) and Joseph H. Biden, an oil businessman from Baltimore, Maryland, were of English, French, and Irish descent. Biden's paternal third great-grandfather, William Biden, was born in Sussex, England, and immigrated to the United States. His maternal great-grandfather, Edward Francis Blewitt, the child of Irish emigrants from Rappagh, Ballina, County Mayo, was a member of the Pennsylvania State Senate.
Biden's father was wealthy but had suffered several financial setbacks by the time his son was born. For several years, the family had to live with Biden's maternal grandparents, the Finnegans. When the Scranton area fell into economic decline during the 1950s, Biden's father could not find sustained work. In 1953, the Bidens moved into an apartment in Claymont, Delaware, where they lived for several years before again moving to a house in Wilmington, Delaware. Joe Biden Sr. later became a successful used car salesman, maintaining the family's middle-class lifestyle.
Biden attended the Archmere Academy in Claymont, where he was a standout halfback and wide receiver on the high school football team; he helped lead a perennially losing team to an undefeated season in his senior year. He played on the baseball team as well. Academically, he was a poor student but was considered a natural leader among the students and elected class president during his junior and senior years. He graduated in 1961.
He earned his bachelor's degree in 1965 from the University of Delaware, with a double major in history and political science, graduating with a class rank of 506 out of 688. He impressed his classmates with his cramming abilities, and played halfback for the Blue Hens freshman football team. In 1964, while on spring break in the Bahamas, he met and began dating Neilia Hunter, who was from an affluent background in Skaneateles, New York, and attended Syracuse University. He told her he aimed to become a senator by the age of 30 and then president. He dropped a junior-year plan to play for the varsity football team as a defensive back, enabling him to spend more time visiting her.
On August 27, 1966, while still a law student, Biden married Neilia Hunter. They overcame her parents' initial reluctance for her to wed a Roman Catholic, and the ceremony was held in a Catholic church in Skaneateles, New York. They had three children, Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III in 1969, Robert Hunter in 1970, and Naomi Christina in 1971.
He then entered Syracuse University College of Law, later saying he found law school "the biggest bore in the world" and that he pulled many all-nighters to get by. During his first year there, Biden was accused of having plagiarized five of 15 pages of a law review article. He said it was inadvertent, because he did not know the proper rules of citation. He was given an F and required to retake a course. This incident was cited in 1987, when plagiarism accusations arose during his first run for president. Biden received his Juris Doctor in 1968, graduating 76th of 85 in his class. He was admitted to the Delaware bar in 1969.
In 1968, Biden clerked for six months at a Wilmington law firm headed by prominent local Republican William Prickett and, as he later said, "thought of myself as a Republican". He disliked incumbent Democratic Delaware Governor Charles L. Terry's conservative racial politics and supported a more liberal Republican, Russell W. Peterson, who defeated Terry in 1968. The local Republicans tried to recruit him, but he resisted due to his distaste for Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon, and registered as an Independent instead.
Biden was raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and New Castle County, Delaware. He studied at the University of Delaware before receiving his law degree from Syracuse University. He became a lawyer in 1969 and was elected to the New Castle County Council in 1970. He was elected to the U.S. Senate from Delaware in 1972 when he became the sixth-youngest senator in American history. Biden was reelected six times and was the fourth-most senior senator when he resigned to assume the vice presidency in 2009.
In 1969, Biden resumed practicing law in Wilmington, first as a public defender and then at a firm headed by Sid Balick, a locally active Democrat. Balick named him to the Democratic Forum, a group trying to reform and revitalize the state party, and Biden registered as a Democrat. He also started his own firm, Biden and Walsh. Corporate law, however, did not appeal to him and criminal law did not pay well. He supplemented his income by managing properties.
Later in 1969, Biden ran to represent the 4th district on the New Castle County Council with a liberal platform that included support for public housing in the suburban area. He won by 2,000 votes in the usually Republican district and a bad year for Democrats in the state. Even before taking his seat, he was already talking about running for the U.S. Senate in a couple of years. He served on the County Council from 1970 to 1972 while continuing his private law practice. Among issues he addressed on the council was his opposition to large highway projects that might disrupt Wilmington neighborhoods, including those related to Interstate 95.
Following his first election in 1972, Biden was reelected to six more Senate terms, in 1978, 1984, 1990, 1996, 2002, and 2008, usually getting about 60% of the vote. He did not face strong opposition; Pete du Pont, then governor, chose not to run against him in 1984. Biden spent 28 years as a junior senator due to the two-year seniority of his Republican colleague William Roth. After Tom Carper defeated Roth in 2000, Biden became Delaware's senior senator. He then became the longest-serving senator in Delaware history and, as of 2018 , was the 18th-longest-serving senator in U.S. history. In May 1999, Biden became the youngest senator to cast 10,000 votes.
On December 18, 1972, a few weeks after the election, Biden's wife Neilia and their one-year-old daughter Naomi were killed in an automobile accident while Christmas shopping in Hockessin, Delaware. Neilia Biden's station wagon was hit by a tractor-trailer truck as she pulled out from an intersection. Biden's sons Beau and Hunter survived the accident and were taken to the hospital in fair condition, Beau with a broken leg and other wounds, and Hunter with a minor skull fracture and other head injuries. Doctors soon said both would make full recoveries. Biden considered resigning to care for them, but Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield persuaded him not to. In later years, Biden often said the truck driver had drunk alcohol before the collision, but the driver's family has denied that claim and the police never substantiated it.
Biden was sworn into office on January 5, 1973, by secretary of the Senate Francis R. Valeo in a small chapel at the Delaware Division of the Wilmington Medical Center. Beau was wheeled in with his leg still in traction; Hunter, who had already been released, was also there, as were other members of the extended family. Witnesses and television cameras were also present and the event received national attention.
Biden has been characterized as a moderate Democrat. He supported the fiscal stimulus in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009; the increased infrastructure spending proposed by the Obama administration; mass transit, including Amtrak, bus, and subway subsidies; abortion rights; same-sex marriage; and the reduced military spending in the Obama administration's fiscal year 2014 budget. His views regarding abortion have changed over the years, with him initially opposing federal funding for abortion and supporting the Hyde Amendment, stating in 1974 that the Supreme Court's decision of Roe v. Wade "went too far" and "that a woman [does not have] the sole right to say what should happen to her body." In a 2006 interview, he said "I do not view abortion as a choice and a right. I think it's always a tragedy[.]" However, in 2019, he dropped support of the Hyde Amendment, calling Roe v. Wade the "law of the land", and stating that he would work to codify the decision into federal law.
In his first Senate campaign, Biden expressed support for the Supreme Court's 1971 Swann decision, which supported busing programs to integrate school districts to remedy de jure segregation, but opposed it to remedy de facto segregation, as in Delaware. He said Republicans were using busing as a scare tactic to court Southern white votes, and along with Boggs voiced opposition to a House of Representatives constitutional amendment banning busing. In 1974, Biden voted to table an amendment to an omnibus education bill promoted by Edward Gurney (R-FL) that contained anti-busing measures and anti-school desegregation clauses. In May, Senator Robert Griffin (R-MI) attempted to revive an amended version of the amendment. Minority Leader Hugh Scott (R-PA) and Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D-MT) offered to leave the text of Griffin's amendment intact but add the qualifier that such legislation was not intended to weaken the judiciary's power to enforce the 5th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Biden voted for this compromise, angering his local voters.
During his first years in the Senate, Biden focused on consumer protection and environmental issues and called for greater government accountability. In mid-1974, Time magazine named him one of the 200 Faces for the Future in a profile that mentioned what had happened to his family, calling him "self-confident" and "compulsively ambitious". In a June 1, 1974, interview with the Washingtonian, Biden described himself as liberal on civil rights and liberties, senior citizens' concerns and healthcare, but conservative on other issues, including abortion and the draft.
In 1975, Biden met Jill Tracy Jacobs, who had grown up in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, and would become a teacher in Delaware. They met on a blind date arranged by Biden's brother, although Biden had already noticed a photograph of her in an advertisement for a park in Wilmington. Biden credits her with renewing his interest in both politics and life. On June 17, 1977, Biden and Jacobs were married by a Catholic priest at the Chapel at the United Nations in New York. Jill Biden has a bachelor's degree from the University of Delaware; two master's degrees, one from West Chester University and the other from Villanova University; and a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware. They have one daughter together, Ashley Blazer (born 1981), who became a social worker and staffer at the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth, and Their Families. Biden and his wife are Roman Catholics and regularly attend Mass at St. Joseph's on the Brandywine in Greenville, Delaware.
Biden supported a measure Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) sponsored that forbade the use of federal funds to transport students beyond their closest school. This was adopted as part of the Labor-HEW Appropriations Act of 1976. In 1977, Biden co-sponsored an amendment with Thomas Eagleton (D-MO) to close loopholes in Byrd's amendment. A 1977 status report on school desegregation by the federal Civil Rights Commission in Washington, D.C., said, "the enactment of Eagleton-Biden would be an actual violation, on the part of the Federal Government, of the fifth amendment and Title VI" of the Civil Rights Act. President Carter signed the amendment into law in 1978. Biden repeatedly asked for, and received, the support of Senator James Eastland (D-MS) on anti-busing measures.
In 1978, when Biden was seeking reelection to the Senate, Wilmington's federally mandated cross-district busing plan generated much turmoil. Biden's compromise solution between his white constituents and African-American leaders was to introduce legislation to outlaw the court's power to enforce certain types of busing, while allowing it to end segregation school districts had deliberately imposed. White anti-integrationists seized on a comment Biden made that he would support the use of federal helicopters if Wilmington's schools could not be voluntarily integrated, and Delaware NAACP head Littleton P. Mitchell later said Biden "adequately represented our community for many years, but he quivered that one time on busing." The compromise nearly alienated him from both working-class whites and African-Americans, but tensions ended after the end of a teachers' strike that began over pay issues raised by the busing plan.
Regarding foreign policy, during his first decade in the Senate, Biden focused on arms control issues. In response to Congress's refusal to ratify the SALT II Treaty signed in 1979 by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and President Jimmy Carter, Biden took the initiative to meet with Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, educate him about American concerns and interests, and secure several changes to address the Foreign Relations Committee's objections. When the Reagan administration wanted to interpret the 1972 SALT I Treaty loosely to allow the Strategic Defense Initiative to proceed, Biden argued for strict adherence to the treaty's terms. He clashed again with the Reagan administration in 1986 over economic sanctions against South Africa, receiving considerable attention when he excoriated Secretary of State George P. Shultz at a Senate hearing because of the administration's support of that country, which continued to practice apartheid.
Biden became ranking minority member of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary in 1981. In 1984, he was a Democratic floor manager for the successful passage of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. Over time, the law's tough-on-crime provisions became controversial on the left and among criminal justice reform proponents, and in 2019 Biden called his role in passing the legislation a "big mistake". His supporters praised him for modifying some of the law's worst provisions, and it was his most important legislative accomplishment at that time. He first considered running for president that year, after gaining notice for speeches he gave to party audiences that simultaneously scolded and encouraged Democrats.
After Biden withdrew, it was revealed that the Dukakis campaign had secretly made a video highlighting the Biden–Kinnock comparison and distributed it to news outlets. Later in 1987, the Delaware Supreme Court's Board of Professional Responsibility cleared Biden of the law school plagiarism charges regarding his standing as a lawyer, saying Biden had "not violated any rules".
While chairman, Biden presided over two of the most contentious U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings in history, Robert Bork's in 1987 and Clarence Thomas's in 1991. In the Bork hearings, he stated his opposition to Bork soon after the nomination, reversing his approval in an interview of a hypothetical Bork nomination he had made the previous year and angering conservatives who thought he could not conduct the hearings fairly. At the close, he won praise for conducting the proceedings fairly and with good humor and courage, despite his presidential campaign's collapse in the middle of them. Rejecting some of the less intellectually honest arguments that other Bork opponents were making, Biden framed his discussion around the belief that the U.S. Constitution provides rights to liberty and privacy that extend beyond those explicitly enumerated in the text, and that Bork's strong originalism was ideologically incompatible with that view. Bork's nomination was rejected in the committee by a 9–5 vote, and then rejected in the full Senate, 58–42.
Biden ran for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, formally declaring his candidacy at the Wilmington train station on June 9, 1987. He was attempting to become the youngest president since John F. Kennedy. When the campaign began, he was considered a potentially strong candidate because of his moderate image, his speaking ability on the stump, his appeal to Baby Boomers, his high-profile position as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the upcoming Robert Bork Supreme Court nomination hearings, and his fundraising appeal. He raised $1.7 million in the first quarter of 1987, more than any other candidate.
By August 1987, Biden's campaign, whose messaging was confused due to staff rivalries, had begun to lag behind those of Michael Dukakis and Dick Gephardt, though he had still raised more funds than any candidate but Dukakis, and was seeing an upturn in Iowa polls. In September 1987, the campaign ran into trouble when he was accused of plagiarizing a speech that had been made earlier that year by British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. Kinnock's speech included the lines:
The limited amount of other news about the race amplified these revelations, when most of the public was not yet paying attention to the campaigns; Biden thus fell into what The Washington Post writer Paul Taylor called that year's trend, a "trial by media ordeal". Lacking a strong group of supporters to help him survive the crisis, he withdrew from the race on September 23, 1987, saying his candidacy had been overrun by "the exaggerated shadow" of his past mistakes.
In 1988, Biden suffered two brain aneurysms, one on the right side and one on the left. Each required surgery with high risk of long-term impact on brain functionality. In February 1988, after suffering from several episodes of increasingly severe neck pain, Biden was taken by long-distance ambulance to Walter Reed Army Medical Center and given lifesaving surgery to correct an intracranial berry aneurysm that had begun leaking. While recuperating, he suffered a pulmonary embolism, a major complication.
In retrospect, Biden's family came to believe the early end to his presidential campaign had been a blessing in disguise, for had he still been campaigning in 1988, he might well not have stopped to seek medical attention and the condition might have become unsurvivable. In 2013, Biden said, "they take a saw and they cut your head off" and "they literally had to take the top of my head off." He also said he was told he would have less than a 50% chance of full recovery.
Another operation to repair a second aneurysm, which had caused no symptoms but was at risk of bursting, was performed in May 1988. The hospitalization and recovery kept Biden from his duties in the Senate for seven months.
As a senator, Biden was a longtime member and eventually chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He opposed the Gulf War in 1991 but advocated for U.S. and NATO intervention in the Bosnian War in 1994 and 1995, expanding NATO in the 1990s, and the 1999 bombing of Serbia during the Kosovo War. He argued and voted for the resolution authorizing the Iraq War in 2002 but opposed the surge of U.S. troops in 2007. He has also served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, dealing with issues related to drug policy, crime prevention, and civil liberties, as well as the contentious U.S. Supreme Court nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. Biden led the efforts to pass the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act and the Violence Against Women Act.
Beginning in 1991, Biden served as an adjunct professor at the Widener University School of Law, Delaware's only law school, teaching a seminar on constitutional law. The seminar was one of Widener's most popular, often with a waiting list for enrollment. Biden typically co-taught the course with another professor, taking on at least half the course minutes and sometimes flying back from overseas to make one of the classes.
Biden became interested in the Yugoslav Wars after hearing about Serbian abuses during the Croatian War of Independence in 1991. Once the Bosnian War broke out, Biden was among the first to call for the "lift and strike" policy of lifting the arms embargo, training Bosnian Muslims and supporting them with NATO air strikes, and investigating war crimes. The George H. W. Bush administration and Clinton administration were both reluctant to implement the policy, fearing Balkan entanglement. In April 1993, Biden spent a week in the Balkans and held a tense three-hour meeting with Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević. Biden related that he had told Milošević, "I think you're a damn war criminal and you should be tried as one." Biden wrote an amendment in 1992 to compel the Bush administration to arm the Bosnians, but deferred in 1994 to a somewhat softer stance the Clinton administration preferred, before signing on the following year to a stronger measure sponsored by Bob Dole and Joe Lieberman. The engagement led to a successful NATO peacekeeping effort. Biden has called his role in affecting Balkans policy in the mid-1990s his "proudest moment in public life" related to foreign policy.
Biden voted against authorization for the Gulf War in 1991, siding with 45 of the 55 Democratic senators; he said the U.S. was bearing almost all the burden in the anti-Iraq coalition.
In 1993, Biden voted in favor of 10 U.S.C. §654, a section of a broader federally mandated policy that deemed homosexuality incompatible with military life thereby banning gay Americans from serving in the United States armed forces in any capacity without exception. The law was subsequently modified by President Clinton through the issuance of DOD Directive 1304.26 (subsequently nicknamed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" or DADT) which accommodated "closeted" service to the extent that a servicemember's homosexual sexual orientation was neither discovered nor disclosed. The ban was held unconstitutional in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States for violation of First and Fifth Amendment rights.
In March 2019, former Nevada assemblywoman Lucy Flores alleged that Biden had touched her without her consent at a 2014 campaign rally in Las Vegas. In an op-ed, Flores wrote that Biden had walked up behind her, put his hands on her shoulders, smelled her hair, and kissed the back of her head, adding that the way he touched her was "an intimate way reserved for close friends, family, or romantic partners—and I felt powerless to do anything about it." Biden's spokesman said Biden did not recall the behavior described. Two days later, Amy Lappos, a former congressional aide to Jim Himes, said Biden touched her in a non-sexual but inappropriate way by holding her head to rub noses with her at a political fundraiser in Greenwich in 2009. The next day, two more women came forward with allegations of inappropriate conduct. Caitlin Caruso said Biden placed his hand on her thigh, and D.J. Hill said he ran his hand from her shoulder down her back. In early April 2019, three women told The Washington Post that Biden had touched them in ways that made them feel uncomfortable. Also in April 2019, former Biden staffer Tara Reade said that she had felt uncomfortable on several occasions when Biden touched her on her shoulder and neck during her employment in his Senate office in 1993. Biden apologized for not understanding how people would react to his actions, but said his intentions were honorable. He went on to say he was not sorry for anything he had ever done, which led critics to accuse him of sending a mixed message.
In March 2020, Tara Reade, who had formerly accused Biden of inappropriate physical contact, accused Biden of sexual assault, saying that he pushed her against a wall and digitally penetrated her against her will on Capitol Hill in 1993. Biden denied the allegation. While investigating the story, The New York Times did not find any other allegation of sexual assault and found no pattern of sexual misconduct.
In 1996, Biden voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act (1 U.S.C. §7), which prohibited the federal government from recognizing any same-sex marriage, barring individuals in such marriages from equal protection under federal law, and allowing states to do the same. In 2013, Section 3 of DOMA was ruled unconstitutional and partially struck down in United States v. Windsor. The Obama Administration did not defend the law and congratulated Windsor. In 2015, DOMA was ruled unconstitutional in totality in Obergefell v. Hodges.
Biden was a longtime member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In 1997, he became the ranking minority member and chaired the committee in January 2001 and from June 2001 to 2003. When Democrats retook control of the Senate after the 2006 elections, Biden again assumed the top spot on the committee. He was generally a liberal internationalist in foreign policy. He collaborated effectively with important Republican senators such as Richard Lugar and Jesse Helms and sometimes went against elements of his own party. Biden was also co-chairman of the NATO Observer Group in the Senate. A partial list covering this time showed Biden meeting with 150 leaders from nearly 60 countries and international organizations. He held frequent hearings as chairman of the committee, as well as many subcommittee hearings during the three times he chaired the Subcommittee on European Affairs.
In 1998, Congressional Quarterly named Biden one of "Twelve Who Made a Difference" for playing a lead role in several foreign policy matters, including NATO enlargement and the successful passage of bills to streamline foreign affairs agencies and punish religious persecution overseas.
In 1999, during the Kosovo War, Biden supported the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia and Montenegro, and co-sponsored with John McCain the McCain-Biden Kosovo Resolution, which called on President Clinton to use all necessary force, including ground troops, to confront Milošević over Serbian actions in Kosovo. In 2016, Biden paid a state visit to Serbia where he met with Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić and expressed his condolences for the civilian victims of the bombing campaign.
Biden was involved in crafting many federal crime laws. He spearheaded the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, also known as the Biden Crime Law, which included the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004 after its ten-year sunset period and was not renewed. It also included the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which contains a broad array of measures to combat domestic violence. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Morrison that the VAWA section allowing a federal civil remedy for victims of gender-motivated violence exceeded Congress's authority and was therefore unconstitutional. Congress reauthorized VAWA in 2000 and 2005. Biden has said, "I consider the Violence Against Women Act the single most significant legislation that I've crafted during my 35-year tenure in the Senate." In 2004 and 2005, he enlisted major American technology companies in diagnosing the problems of the Austin, Texas-based National Domestic Violence Hotline, and to donate equipment and expertise to it in a successful effort to improve its services.
During the 2000s, Biden sponsored bankruptcy legislation that was sought by MBNA, one of Delaware's largest companies, and other credit card issuers. He allowed an amendment to the bill to increase the homestead exemption for homeowners declaring bankruptcy and fought for an amendment to forbid anti-abortion felons from using bankruptcy to discharge fines; President Clinton vetoed the bill in 2000 but it finally passed in 2005 as the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, with Biden supporting it. A vociferous supporter, Biden was one of only 18 Democratic senators to vote with the Republicans in favor of the legislation, while leading Democrats and consumer rights organizations came out in opposition.
As head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden said in 2002 that Saddam Hussein was a threat to national security and there was no option but to "eliminate" that threat. In October 2002, he voted in favor of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq, approving the U.S. invasion of Iraq. More significantly, as chair of the committee, he assembled a series of witnesses to testify in favor of the authorization. They gave testimony grossly misrepresenting the intent, history of and status of Saddam and his Sunni government, which was an openly avowed enemy of al-Qaida, and touting Iraq's fictional possession of weapons of mass destruction.
As chairman of the International Narcotics Control Caucus, Biden wrote the laws that created the U.S. "Drug Czar", who oversees and coordinates national drug control policy. In April 2003, he introduced the Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy (RAVE) Act. He continued to work to stop the spread of "date rape drugs" such as flunitrazepam, and party drugs such as ecstasy and ketamine. In 2004, he worked to pass a bill outlawing steroids like androstenedione, the drug many baseball players used.
In March 2004, Biden secured the brief release of Libyan democracy activist and political prisoner Fathi Eljahmi, after meeting with leader Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli. In May 2008, Biden sharply criticized President George W. Bush for his speech to Israel's Knesset, where he suggested some Democrats were acting the way some Western leaders did when they appeased Hitler in the run-up to World War II. Biden said, "This is bullshit. This is malarkey. This is outrageous. Outrageous for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, sit in the Knesset ... and make this kind of ridiculous statement ... Since when does this administration think that if you sit down, you have to eliminate the word 'no' from your vocabulary?" He later apologized for using the expletive.
Biden thought about running for president again ever since his failed 1988 bid. He declared his candidacy for president on January 31, 2007, after having discussed running for months. Biden made a formal announcement to Tim Russert on Meet the Press, saying he would "be the best Biden I can be". In January 2006, Delaware newspaper columnist Harry F. Themal wrote that Biden "occupies the sensible center of the Democratic Party". Themal concluded that that was the position Biden desired, and that in a campaign "he plans to stress the dangers to the security of the average American, not just from the terrorist threat, but from the lack of health assistance, crime, and energy dependence on unstable parts of the world."
Biden made controversial remarks during the campaign. On the day of his January 2007 announcement, he spoke of fellow Democratic candidate and Senator Barack Obama: "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy—I mean, that's a storybook, man." This comment undermined his campaign as soon as it began and significantly damaged his fund-raising capabilities; it later took second place on Time magazine's list of Top 10 Campaign Gaffes for 2007. Biden had also been criticized in July 2006 for a remark he made about his support among Indian Americans: "I've had a great relationship. In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking." Biden later said the remark was not intended to be derogatory.
While he eventually became a critic of the war and viewed his vote and role as a "mistake", he did not push for U.S. withdrawal. He supported the appropriations to pay for the occupation, but argued repeatedly that the war should be internationalized, that more soldiers were needed, and that the Bush administration should "level with the American people" about the cost and length of the conflict. By late 2006, Biden's stance had shifted considerably, and he opposed the troop surge of 2007, saying General David Petraeus was "dead, flat wrong" in believing the surge could work. Biden instead advocated dividing Iraq into a loose federation of three ethnic states. In November 2006, Biden and Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, released a comprehensive strategy to end sectarian violence in Iraq. Rather than continuing the present approach or withdrawing, the plan called for "a third way": federalizing Iraq and giving Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis "breathing room" in their own regions. In September 2007, a non-binding resolution endorsing such a scheme passed the Senate, but the idea was unfamiliar, had no political constituency, and failed to gain traction. Iraq's political leadership denounced the resolution as de facto partitioning of the country, and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued a statement distancing itself from it.
In 2007, Biden requested and gained $67 million worth of projects for his constituents through congressional earmarks.
During his campaign, Biden focused on the war in Iraq and his support for implementing the Biden-Gelb plan to achieve political success. He touted his record in the Senate as the head of major congressional committees and his experience in foreign policy. Despite speculation to the contrary, Biden rejected the notion of becoming Secretary of State, focusing on only the presidency. At a 2007 campaign event, Biden said, "I know a lot of my opponents out there say I'd be a great secretary of state. Seriously, every one of them. Do you watch any of the debates? 'Joe's right, Joe's right, Joe's right.'" Other candidates' comments that "Joe is right" in the Democratic debates were converted into a Biden campaign theme and ad. In mid-2007, Biden stressed his foreign policy expertise compared to Obama's, saying of the latter, "I think he can be ready, but right now I don't believe he is. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training." Biden also said Obama was copying some of his foreign policy ideas. Biden was noted for his one-liners on the campaign trail, saying of Republican then-frontrunner Rudy Giuliani at the debate on October 30, 2007, in Philadelphia, "There's only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, and a verb and 9/11." Overall, Biden's debate performances were an effective mixture of humor, and sharp and surprisingly disciplined comments.
In 2008, Biden received Working Mother magazine's Best of Congress Award for "improving the American quality of life through family-friendly work policies". Also in 2008, he shared with fellow senator Richard Lugar the Government of Pakistan's Hilal-i-Pakistan award "in recognition of their consistent support for Pakistan". In 2009, Kosovo gave Biden the Golden Medal of Freedom, the region's highest award, for his vocal support for its independence in the late 1990s.
In 2008, Biden was the running mate of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. As vice president, he oversaw infrastructure spending to counteract the Great Recession and helped formulate U.S. policy toward Iraq through the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011. His negotiations with congressional Republicans helped the Obama administration pass legislation including the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, which resolved a taxation deadlock; the Budget Control Act of 2011, which resolved that year's debt ceiling crisis; and the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, which addressed the impending fiscal cliff. Obama and Biden were reelected in 2012.
Overall, Biden had difficulty raising funds, struggled to draw people to his rallies, and failed to gain traction against the high-profile candidacies of Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton; he never rose above single digits in national polls of the Democratic candidates. In the first contest on January 3, 2008, Biden placed fifth in the Iowa caucuses, garnering slightly less than one percent of the state delegates. He withdrew from the race that evening, saying, "There is nothing sad about tonight. ... I feel no regret."
Shortly following Biden's withdrawal from the presidential race, Obama privately told him he was interested in finding an important place for Biden in his administration. Biden declined Obama's first request to vet him for the vice-presidential slot, fearing the vice presidency would represent a loss in status and voice from his Senate position, but later changed his mind. In a June 22, 2008, interview on NBC's Meet the Press, Biden confirmed that, although he was not actively seeking a spot on the ticket, he would accept the offer if it came. In early August, Obama and Biden met in secret to discuss the possibility, and developed a strong personal rapport. On August 22, 2008, Obama announced that Biden would be his running mate. The New York Times reported that the strategy behind the choice reflected a desire to fill out the ticket with someone with foreign policy and national security experience—and not to help the ticket win a swing state or to emphasize Obama's "change" message. Others pointed out Biden's appeal to middle-class and blue-collar voters, as well as his willingness to aggressively challenge Republican nominee John McCain in a way that Obama seemed uncomfortable doing at times. In accepting Obama's offer, Biden ruled out running for president again in 2016, but his comments in later years seemed to back off that stance, as he did not want to diminish his political power by appearing uninterested in advancement. Biden was officially nominated for vice president on August 27 by voice vote at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.
Biden's vice-presidential campaigning gained little media visibility, as far greater press attention was focused on the Republican running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. During one week in September 2008, for instance, the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that Biden was included in only five percent of coverage of the race, far less than the other three candidates on the tickets received. Biden nevertheless focused on campaigning in economically challenged areas of swing states and trying to win over blue-collar Democrats, especially those who had supported Hillary Clinton. Biden attacked McCain heavily despite a long-standing personal friendship; he said, "That guy I used to know, he's gone. It literally saddens me." As the financial crisis of 2007–2010 reached a peak with the liquidity crisis of September 2008 and the proposed bailout of the United States financial system became a major factor in the campaign, Biden voted in favor of the $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which went on to pass in the Senate 74–25.
On October 2, 2008, Biden participated in the vice-presidential debate with Palin at Washington University in St. Louis. Post-debate polls found that while Palin exceeded many voters' expectations, Biden had won the debate overall. On October 5, Biden suspended campaign events for a few days after the death of his mother-in-law. During the campaign's final days, he focused on less populated, older, less well-off areas of battleground states, especially Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, where polling indicated he was popular and where Obama had not campaigned or performed well in the Democratic primaries. He also campaigned in some normally Republican states, as well as in areas with large Catholic populations.
On November 4, 2008, Biden was elected Vice President of the United States as Obama's running mate.
On November 4, 2008, Obama was elected president and Biden was elected vice president. The Obama–Biden ticket won 365 electoral votes to McCain–Palin's 173, and won 53% of the popular vote.
Biden is an inductee of the Delaware Volunteer Firemen's Association Hall of Fame. He was named to the Little League Hall of Excellence in 2009.
In the early months of the Obama administration, Biden assumed the role of a behind-the-scenes counselor, often adjudicating disputes among Obama's "team of rivals". Obama compared Biden's efforts to a basketball player "who does a bunch of things that don't show up in the stat sheet". Biden played a key role in gaining Senate support for several major pieces of legislation, and was a main factor in convincing Senator Arlen Specter to switch from a Republican to a Democrat. Biden lost an internal debate to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding his opposition to sending 21,000 new troops to the war in Afghanistan, but his skepticism was still considered valuable in the administration, and in 2009 Biden's views gained more influence as Obama reconsidered his Afghanistan strategy.
Biden chose veteran Democratic lawyer and aide Ron Klain as his chief of staff, and Time Washington bureau chief Jay Carney as his director of communications. He intended to eliminate some of the explicit roles assumed by his predecessor, Dick Cheney, who had established himself as an autonomous power center. Otherwise, Biden said he would not emulate any previous vice presidency, but would instead seek to provide advice and counsel on every critical decision Obama would make. He said he was closely involved in all the cabinet appointments made during the transition. Biden was also named to head the new White House Task Force on Working Families, an initiative to improve the middle class's economic well-being. In his last act as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Biden went on a trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan during the second week of January 2009, meeting with the leadership of those countries.
Biden had continued to run for his Senate seat as well as for vice president, as permitted by Delaware law. On November 4 he was also reelected to the Senate, defeating Republican Christine O'Donnell. Having won both races, Biden made a point of holding off his resignation from the Senate so he could be sworn in for his seventh term on January 6, 2009. He became the youngest senator ever to start a seventh full term, and said, "In all my life, the greatest honor bestowed upon me has been serving the people of Delaware as their United States senator." Biden cast his last Senate vote on January 15, supporting the release of the second $350 billion for the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Biden resigned from the Senate later that day; in emotional farewell remarks on the Senate floor, where he had spent most of his adult life, Biden said, "Every good thing I have seen happen here, every bold step taken in the 36-plus years I have been here, came not from the application of pressure by interest groups, but through the maturation of personal relationships."
At noon on January 20, 2009, Biden became the 47th vice president of the United States, sworn into the office by Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. He is the first U.S. vice president from Delaware and the first Roman Catholic to serve in that office.
In late April 2009, Biden's off-message response to a question during the beginning of the swine flu outbreak, that he would advise family members against traveling on airplanes or subways, led to a swift retraction by the White House. The remark revived Biden's reputation for gaffes. Confronted with rising unemployment through July 2009, Biden acknowledged that the administration had "misread how bad the economy was" but maintained confidence the stimulus package would create many more jobs once the pace of expenditures picked up. On March 23, 2010, a microphone picked up Biden telling the president that his signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was "a big fucking deal" during live national news telecasts. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs replied via Twitter "And yes Mr. Vice President, you're right ..." Despite their different personalities, Obama and Biden formed a friendship, partly based around Obama's daughter Sasha and Biden's granddaughter Maisy, who attended Sidwell Friends School together.
Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner appointed longtime Biden adviser Ted Kaufman to complete his term. Kaufman chose not to run for a full term, allowing Democrat Chris Coons to succeed him after a special election in 2010.
Biden visited Iraq about every two months, becoming the administration's point man in delivering messages to Iraqi leadership about expected progress in the country. More generally, overseeing Iraq policy became Biden's responsibility: Obama was said to have said, "Joe, you do Iraq." Biden said Iraq "could be one of the great achievements of this administration". His January 2010 visit to Iraq in the midst of turmoil over banned candidates from the upcoming Iraqi parliamentary election resulted in 59 of the several hundred candidates being reinstated by the Iraqi government two days later. By 2012, Biden had made eight trips there, but his oversight of U.S. policy in Iraq receded with the exit of U.S. troops in 2011.
Members of the Obama administration said Biden's role in the White House was to be a contrarian and force others to defend their positions. Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff, said that Biden typically countered groupthink in the administration. Jay Carney, Biden's former communications director appointed White House press secretary, said Biden played the role of "the bad guy in the Situation Room". Another senior Obama advisor said Biden "is always prepared to be the skunk at the family picnic to make sure we are as intellectually honest as possible." Obama said, "The best thing about Joe is that when we get everybody together, he really forces people to think and defend their positions, to look at things from every angle, and that is very valuable for me." On June 11, 2010, Biden represented the United States at the opening ceremony of the World Cup in South Africa, attended the England v. U.S. match, and visited Egypt and Kenya. The Bidens maintained a relaxed atmosphere at their official residence in Washington, often entertaining some of their grandchildren, and regularly returned to their home in Delaware.
In October 2010, Biden said Obama had asked him to remain as his running mate for the 2012 presidential election. But with Obama's popularity on the decline, White House chief of staff William M. Daley conducted some secret polling and focus group research in late 2011 on the idea of replacing Biden on the ticket with Hillary Clinton. The notion was dropped when the results showed no appreciable improvement for Obama, and White House officials later said Obama had never entertained the idea.
Biden campaigned heavily for Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections, maintaining an attitude of optimism in the face of predictions of large-scale losses for the party. Following big Republican gains in the elections and the departure of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Biden's past relationships with Republicans in Congress became more important. He led the successful administration effort to gain Senate approval for the New START treaty. In December 2010, Biden's advocacy for a middle ground, followed by his negotiations with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, were instrumental in producing the administration's compromise tax package that revolved around a temporary extension of the Bush tax cuts. Biden then took the lead in trying to sell the agreement to a reluctant Democratic caucus in Congress. The package passed as the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010.
Biden was a familiar figure to his Delaware constituency, by virtue of his daily train commute from there, and generally sought to attend to state needs. He strongly supported increased Amtrak funding and rail security; he hosted barbecues and an annual Christmas dinner for the Amtrak crews, who sometimes held the last train of the night a few minutes so he could catch it. He earned the nickname "Amtrak Joe" as a result (and in 2011, Amtrak's Wilmington Station was named the Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station, in honor of the 7,000-plus trips he made from there). He was an advocate for Delaware military installations, including Dover Air Force Base and New Castle Air National Guard Base.
In foreign policy, Biden supported the NATO-led military intervention in Libya in 2011. He has supported closer economic ties with Russia.
Biden was also in charge of the oversight role for infrastructure spending from the Obama stimulus package intended to help counteract the ongoing recession, and stressed that only worthy projects should get funding. He talked with hundreds of governors, mayors, and other local officials in this role. During this period, Biden was satisfied that no major instances of waste or corruption had occurred, and when he completed that role in February 2011, he said the number of fraud incidents with stimulus monies had been less than one percent.
In March 2011, Obama delegated Biden to lead negotiations between Congress and the White House in resolving federal spending levels for the rest of the year, and avoiding a government shutdown. By May 2011, a "Biden panel" with six congressional members was trying to reach a bipartisan deal on raising the U.S. debt ceiling as part of an overall deficit reduction plan. The U.S. debt ceiling crisis developed over the next couple months, but it was again Biden's relationship with McConnell that proved a key factor in breaking a deadlock and finally bringing about a deal to resolve it, in the form of the Budget Control Act of 2011, signed on August 2, 2011, the same day an unprecedented U.S. default had loomed. Biden had spent the most time bargaining with Congress on the debt question of anyone in the administration, and one Republican staffer said, "Biden's the only guy with real negotiating authority, and [McConnell] knows that his word is good. He was a key to the deal."
Some reports suggest that Biden opposed to going forward with the May 2011 U.S. mission to kill Osama bin Laden, lest failure adversely affect Obama's chances for a second term. He took the lead in notifying Congressional leaders of the successful outcome.
Biden's May 2012 statement that he was "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex marriage gained considerable public attention in comparison to Obama's position, which had been described as "evolving". Biden made his statement without administration consent, and Obama and his aides were quite irked, since Obama had planned to shift position several months later, in the build-up to the party convention, and since Biden had previously counseled the president to avoid the issue lest key Catholic voters be offended. Gay rights advocates seized upon Biden's statement, and within days, Obama announced that he too supported same-sex marriage, an action in part forced by Biden's unexpected remarks. Biden apologized to Obama in private for having spoken out, while Obama acknowledged publicly it had been done from the heart. The incident showed that Biden still struggled at times with message discipline; as Time wrote, "everyone knows [that] Biden's greatest strength is also his greatest weakness." Relations were also strained between the campaigns when Biden appeared to use his position to bolster fundraising contacts for a possible run for president in 2016, and he ended up being excluded from Obama campaign strategy meetings.
The Obama campaign nevertheless still valued Biden as a retail-level politician who could connect with disaffected, blue-collar workers and rural residents, and he had a heavy schedule of appearances in swing states as the Obama reelection campaign began in earnest in spring 2012. An August 2012 remark before a mixed-race audience that Republican proposals to relax Wall Street regulations would "put y'all back in chains" led to a similar analysis of Biden's face-to-face campaigning abilities versus his tendency to go off track. The Los Angeles Times wrote, "Most candidates give the same stump speech over and over, putting reporters if not the audience to sleep. But during any Biden speech, there might be a dozen moments to make press handlers cringe, and prompt reporters to turn to each other with amusement and confusion." Time magazine wrote that Biden often went too far and that "Along with the familiar Washington mix of neediness and overconfidence, Biden's brain is wired for more than the usual amount of goofiness."
On November 6, 2012, Obama and Biden were elected to second terms. The ticket won 332 Electoral College votes to Romney–Ryan's 206 and 51% of the popular vote.
In December 2012, Obama named Biden to head the Gun Violence Task Force, created to address the causes of gun violence in the United States in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Later that month, during the final days before the United States fell off the "fiscal cliff", Biden's relationship with McConnell once more proved important as the two negotiated a deal that led to the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 being passed at the start of 2013. It made many of the Bush tax cuts permanent but raised rates on upper income levels.
Biden's Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized again in 2013. The act led to related developments, such as the White House Council on Women and Girls, begun in the first term, as well as the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, begun in January 2014 with Biden and Valerie Jarrett as co-chairs. Biden discussed federal guidelines on sexual assault on university campuses while giving a speech at the University of New Hampshire. He said, "No means no, if you're drunk or you're sober. No means no if you're in bed, in a dorm or on the street. No means no even if you said yes at first and you changed your mind. No means no."
Biden was inaugurated to a second term on January 20, 2013, at a small ceremony in his official residence with Justice Sonia Sotomayor presiding (a public ceremony took place on January 21). He continued to be in the forefront as, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the Obama administration put forth executive orders and proposed new gun control measures (they failed to pass).
Biden played little part in discussions that led to the October 2013 passage of the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014, which resolved the federal government shutdown of 2013 and the debt-ceiling crisis of 2013. This was because Senate majority leader Harry Reid and other Democratic leaders cut him out of any direct talks with Congress, feeling Biden had given too much away during previous negotiations.
Biden favored arming Syria's rebel fighters. As Iraq fell apart during 2014, renewed attention was paid to the Biden-Gelb Iraqi federalization plan of 2006, with some observers suggesting Biden had been right all along. Biden himself said the U.S. would follow ISIL "to the gates of hell". In October 2014, he said Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had "poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Al-Assad, except that the people who were being supplied were al-Nusra, and al-Qaeda, and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world."
Beginning in 2019, Trump and his allies falsely accused Biden of getting the Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin fired because he was ostensibly pursuing an investigation into Burisma Holdings, which employed Hunter Biden. Biden was accused of withholding $1 billion in aid from Ukraine in this effort. In 2015, then-vice president Biden pressured the Ukrainian parliament to remove Shokin because the United States, the European Union and other international organizations considered him corrupt and ineffective, and in particular was not assertively investigating Burisma. The withholding of the $1 billion in aid was part of this official policy.
In 2015, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell invited Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress without notifying the Obama administration. This defiance of protocol led Biden and more than 50 congressional Democrats to skip Netanyahu's speech. But in March 2016, Biden spoke at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., saying, "We're all united by our unyielding—I mean literally unyielding—commitment to the survival, the security, and the success of the Jewish State of Israel."
By 2015, a series of swearings-in and other events where Biden had placed his hands on women and girls and talked closely to them attracted attention both in the press and on social media. In one case, a senator issued a statement afterward saying of his daughter, "No, she doesn't think the vice president is creepy." On January 17, 2015, Secret Service agents heard shots fired as a vehicle drove near Biden's Delaware residence at 8:28 p.m. outside the security perimeter, but the Bidens were not home. An agent observed a vehicle speeding away.
Biden's elder son Beau became Delaware Attorney General and an Army Judge Advocate who served in Iraq; he died at age 46 after a two-year battle with brain cancer on May 30, 2015. His younger son, Hunter, became a Washington attorney and lobbyist.
On May 30, 2015, Biden's son Beau Biden died at age 46 after having battled brain cancer for several years. In a statement, the Vice President's office said, "The entire Biden family is saddened beyond words." The nature and seriousness of the illness had not been previously disclosed to the public, and Biden had quietly reduced his public schedule to spend more time with Beau. Before his death, Beau had been widely seen as the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic nomination for governor of Delaware.
In October 2015, after months of speculation, Biden announced he would not seek the presidency in the 2016 election. In January 2017, Obama awarded Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom with distinction. After completing his second term as vice president, Biden joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was named the Benjamin Franklin Professor of Presidential Practice. He announced his 2020 candidacy for president on April 25, 2019, joining a large field of Democratic candidates pursuing the party nomination. Despite poor showings in the first three state contests, Biden won the South Carolina primary decisively, and several center-left candidates dropped out of the race and endorsed him before Super Tuesday. Biden went on to win 18 of the next 26 contests. With the suspension of the campaign of Bernie Sanders on April 8, 2020, Biden became the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee for the presidential election.
On December 8, 2015, Biden spoke in Ukraine's parliament in Kiev in one of his many visits to set U.S. aid and policy stance on Ukraine. On February 28, 2016, he gave a speech on sexual assault awareness at the 88th Academy Awards; he also introduced Lady Gaga.
On October 21, speaking from a podium in the Rose Garden with his wife and Obama by his side, Biden announced his decision not to run for president in 2016. In January 2016, Biden affirmed that it was the right decision, but admitted to regretting not running for president "every day".
As of the end of January 2016, neither Biden nor Obama had endorsed anyone in the 2016 presidential election. Biden missed his annual Thanksgiving tradition of going to Nantucket, opting instead to travel abroad and meet with several European leaders. He took time to meet with Martin O'Malley, having previously met with Bernie Sanders, both 2016 candidates. Neither of these meetings was considered an endorsement, as Biden had said he would meet with any candidate who asked.
After Obama endorsed Clinton on June 9, 2016, Biden endorsed her later the same day. Though Biden and Clinton were scheduled to campaign together in Scranton on July 8, Clinton canceled the appearance in light of the shooting of Dallas police officers the previous day.
On June 25, 2016, Biden received the Freedom of the City of County Louth in the Republic of Ireland.
On December 8, 2016, Biden went to Ottawa to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
In 2017, Biden was named the Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he intended to focus on foreign policy, diplomacy, and national security while leading the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. He also wanted to pursue his "cancer moonshot" agenda, calling the fight against cancer "the only bipartisan thing left in America" in March 2017.
With a net worth between $59,000 and $366,000, and almost no outside income or investment income, Biden was consistently ranked one of the least wealthy members of the Senate. Biden said he was listed as the second-poorest member in Congress; he was not proud of the distinction, but attributed it to having been elected early in his career. He has said he realized early in his senatorial career how vulnerable poorer public officials are to offers of financial contributions in exchange for policy support, and pushed campaign finance reform measures during his first term. Biden earned $15.6 million in 2017–18. By 2019, Biden called his middle-class status a "state of mind". His assets increased to between $2.2 million and $8 million.
During much of his second term, Biden was said to be preparing for a possible bid for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. At age 74 on Inauguration Day in January 2017, he would have been the oldest president on inauguration in history. With his family, many friends, and donors encouraging him in mid-2015 to enter the race, and with Hillary Clinton's favorability ratings in decline at that time, Biden was reported to again be seriously considering the prospect and a "Draft Biden 2016" PAC was established.
On January 12, 2017, Obama surprised Biden by awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom with Distinction during a farewell press conference at the White House honoring Biden and his wife. Obama said he was awarding Biden the Medal of Freedom for "faith in your fellow Americans, for your love of country and a lifetime of service that will endure through the generations". It was the first and only time Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom with the additional honor of distinction, an honor his three predecessors had reserved for only President Ronald Reagan, Colin Powell and Pope John Paul II, respectively.
On March 22, 2017, during his first appearance on Capitol Hill since Trump's inauguration, Biden called the Republican healthcare bill a "tax bill" meant to transfer nearly $1 trillion used for health benefits for the lower classes to wealthy Americans. On May 4, after the House of Representatives narrowly voted for the American Health Care Act, Biden tweeted that it was a "Day of shame for Congress", lamenting the loss of preexisting condition protections. On June 24, in response to Senate Republicans' revealing an American Health Care Act draft the previous day, Biden tweeted that the bill "isn't about health care at all—it's a wealth transfer: slashes care to fund tax cuts for the wealthy & corporations." On July 28, in response to the Republican Senate healthcare bill failing, Biden tweeted, "Thank you to everyone who tirelessly worked to protect the healthcare of millions."
While attending the launch of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement on March 30, 2017, a student asked Biden what "piece of advice" he would give Trump. Biden responded that Trump should grow up and cease his tweeting so he could focus on the office. During a speech at a May 29 gathering of Phil Murphy supporters at a community center gymnasium, Biden said, "There are a lot of people out there who are frightened. Trump played on their fears. What we haven't done, in my view—and this is a criticism of all us—we haven't spoken enough to the fears and aspirations of the people we come from." On June 17, 2017, Biden predicted the "state the nation is today will not be sustained by the American people" while speaking at a Florida Democratic Party fundraiser in Hollywood. Biden told CBS This Morning that Trump's administration "seems to feel the need to coddle autocrats and dictators" like Saudi Arabian leaders, Russian president Putin, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte. In October 2018, Biden said if Democrats retook the House of Representatives, "I hope they don't [impeach Trump]. I don't think there's a basis for doing that right now." On June 11, 2019, Biden criticized Trump's "damaging" trade war with China. He also criticized Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, which critics say gave Turkey the green light to launch the military offensive against Syrian Kurds.
On April 14, 2017, Biden released a statement denouncing Chechen authorities for rounding up, torturing, and murdering "individuals who are believed to be gay", and stating his hope that the Trump administration would honor a prior pledge to advance human rights by confronting Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Russian leaders over "these egregious violations of human rights". On June 21, during a speech at a Democratic National Committee LGBT gala in New York City, Biden said, "Hold President Trump accountable for his pledge to be your friend."
During an appearance at the Brainstorm Health Conference in San Diego, California on May 2, 2017, Biden said the public "has moved ahead of the administration [on science]". On May 31, Biden tweeted that climate change was an "existential threat to our future" and remaining in the Paris Agreement was the "best way to protect our children and global leadership". The next day, after Trump announced U.S. withdrawal from the agreement, Biden tweeted that the choice "imperils U.S. security and our ability to own the clean energy future". While appearing at the Concordia Europe Summit in Athens, Greece on June 7, Biden said, referring to the withdrawal, "The vast majority of the American people do not agree with the decision the president made."
On July 26, 2017, after Trump announced a ban of transgender people serving in the military, Biden tweeted, "Every patriotic American who is qualified to serve in our military should be able to serve. Full stop."
On September 5, 2017, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump Administration would rescind Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, Biden tweeted, "Brought by parents, these children had no choice in coming here. Now they'll be sent to countries they've never known. Cruel. Not America."
Biden had been close friends with Senator John McCain for over 30 years. In 2018, McCain died at the age of 81 of the same kind of cancer that Beau Biden died of. Biden gave the eulogy at McCain's funeral service in Phoenix, Arizona. He opened with "My name's Joe Biden. I'm a Democrat. And I loved John McCain." He also called him a "brother". Biden also served as a pallbearer at McCain's memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral alongside Warren Beatty and Michael Bloomberg.
Between 2016 and 2019, media outlets often mentioned Biden as a likely candidate for president in 2020. When asked if he would run, he gave varied and ambivalent answers, saying "never say never." At one point he suggested he did not see a scenario where he would run again, but a few days later, he said, "I'll run if I can walk." A political action committee known as Time for Biden was formed in January 2018, seeking Biden's entry into the race.
On December 11, 2018, the University of Delaware renamed its School of Public Policy and Administration the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy and Administration. The Biden Institute is housed there.
Biden said he would decide whether to run or not by January 2019, but made no announcement at that time. Friends said he was "very close to saying yes" but was concerned about the effect another presidential run could have on his family and reputation, as well as fundraising struggles and perceptions about his age and relative centrism. On the other hand, he was prompted to run by his "sense of duty", offense at the Trump presidency, the lack of foreign policy experience among other Democratic hopefuls, and his desire to foster "bridge-building progressivism" in the party. He launched his campaign on April 25, 2019. He chose Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as his campaign headquarters.
In March 2019, Biden condemned Brunei's new LGBT death penalty law, tweeting: "Stoning people to death for homosexuality or adultery is appalling and immoral. There is no excuse—not culture, not tradition—for this kind of hate and inhumanity." He suggested the Trump administration's hostility to LGBT rights was a poor example for countries like Brunei.
In the Thomas hearings, Biden's questions on constitutional issues were often long and convoluted, to the point that Thomas sometimes forgot the question being asked. Biden's style annoyed many viewers. Thomas later wrote that despite Biden's earlier private assurances, his questions had been akin to beanballs. The nomination came out of the committee without a recommendation, with Biden opposed. In part due to his own bad experiences with his presidential campaign, Biden was reluctant to let personal matters into the hearings. He initially shared with the committee, but not the public, Anita Hill's sexual harassment charges, on the grounds she was not yet willing to testify. After she did, Biden did not permit other witnesses to testify further on her behalf, such as Angela Wright (who was present, waiting to testify, and who had made a similar charge) and experts on harassment. Biden said he was striving to preserve Thomas's right to privacy and the hearings' decency. The full Senate confirmed Thomas by a 52–48 vote, with Biden again opposed. During and afterward, liberal legal groups and women's groups strongly criticized Biden for mishandling the hearings and not doing enough to support Hill. Biden later sought out women to serve on the Judiciary Committee and emphasized women's issues in the committee's legislative agenda. In April 2019, he called Hill to express regret over how he treated her; after the conversation, Hill said she remained deeply unsatisfied.
On July 15, 2019, the nonprofit Biden Cancer Initiative announced it would cease operations for the foreseeable future. Biden and his wife left the initiative's board in April as an ethics precaution before starting his presidential campaign.
In September 2019, it was reported that President Trump had pressured Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate alleged wrongdoing by Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Despite the allegations, as of September 2019, no evidence has been produced of any wrongdoing by the Bidens. The media widely interpreted this pressure to investigate the Bidens as trying to hurt Biden's chances of winning the presidency, resulting in a political scandal and Trump's impeachment by the House of Representatives.
With the suspension of Sanders's campaign on April 8, 2020, Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee. On April 13, Sanders endorsed Biden in a live-streamed discussion from their homes. Former President Barack Obama endorsed Biden the next day.
On May 6, 2020, the Human Rights Campaign endorsed Biden's presidential campaign to achieve LGBTQ equality in the United States. Biden accepted the endorsement and emphasized the importance of continuing to fight for civil rights.