How tragedy shaped man poised to be America's new president

How tragedy shaped man poised to be America’s new president: After a life dogged by family trauma and political failure, Joe Biden – a used car salesman’s son from Pennsylvania – closes in on the White House

  • Joe Biden poised to be new president of the United States after a tight vote
  • The former Vice-President under Barack Obama would inherit a divided country 
  • However, personal tragedy and failure will stand him in good stead if he wins

He looks set to inherit a country wracked with stark divisions in the midst of a deadly pandemic that has so far claimed the lives of more than 230,000 Americans.

But an ability to overcome profound tragedy and heal deep wounds is a skill Joe Biden has had to acquire long before his presidency bid. 

The Democrat looks poised to succeed on his third attempt to become president, and at the age of 77, could become the nation’s oldest ever leader. 

Aside from his previously thwarted political ambitions, it is his family trauma which has indelibly marked the potential new leader of the free world.

Just a month after being elected for the first time in 1972, Biden lost his first wife Neilia and their one-year-old daughter Amy in a car crash, with sons Beau and Hunter also injured.  

In 2015, Beau died just 10 days after being admitted to hospital with brain cancer. He had previously undergone surgery for the illness in 2013. 

Son Hunter has also struggled with substance abuse, while drawing controversy for his relationship with brother Beau’s widow. 

Joe Biden’s life has been marked by personal tragedy as well as a number of thwarted political ambitions

Biden was born in 1942 in the Rust Belt town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Jean and Joseph, a used car salesman whose wealth fluctuated much throughout his life.

He was the oldest of four siblings in the Irish Catholic family and spent the first few years of his life at the home of his maternal grandparents, with the family suffering financial difficulties. 

‘My dad always said, “Champ, when you get knocked down, you get back up,”‘ Biden says. 

Who is Joe Biden, the man set to become the new president of the United States? 

Name: Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.

Age: 77

Born: November 20, 1942 in Scranton, Pennsylvania

Partner: Jill Jacobs (married in 1977)  First wife Neilia Hunter (married in 1966) died in 1972

Children: Beau (died in 2015). Hunter. Naomi and Ashley (died in 1972)

Education: Education University of Delaware (BA) 

Syracuse University law school

Career: After graduating from law school, Biden moved to Wilmington, Delaware, to begin practicing at a law firm. 

He joined the Democrats and in 1970 was elected to the New Castle County Council.

Despite being a heavy underdog, he upset popular Republican incumbent J. Caleb Boggs in Delaware and was elected to the Senate, becoming the fifth youngest Senator in US history. 

During a long distinguished career in the Senate, Biden was known as a leading expert on foreign affairs, serving as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations for several years.

In 1987, he decided to run for president before dropping out of the race amid accusations he had plagiarised a speech.  

He continued serving in the Senate and in 2007 ran again for the presidential nomination, but dropped out again after poor results. A few months later, he agreed to serve as Barack Obama’s Vice-President, the two combining to win the 2008 election. 

The combination continued in 2012, defeating Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential bid. 

In 2015, he declined the opportunity to run as Obama’s replacement, following the tragic death of his son Beau. 

However, after Donald Trump’s victory, he spoke about how he would’ve beaten the Republic an announced his candidacy in 2019. 

On August 11, 2020 he announced Kamala Harris as his VP candidate.  

Biden earned the Democratic nomination in August before beating Trump after a long and protracted battle.  

The youngster started to make a name for himself as a sportsman at school, playing American football and baseball for his high school team.

But he did not excel at school and struggled with a stutter, which led to bullies nicknaming him Dash as well as a nun mocking him while in the seventh grade.

When struggling to read a passage aloud, she replied: ‘Mr Buh-Buh-Buh-Biden, what’s that word?’

The preteen Biden rose from his desk and walked out of the classroom in protest and headed straight home.

His mother later drove him back to school, only to confront the nun and threatened to ‘knock the bonnet off her head’ if she ever teased his stutter again.

Despite his difficulties, Biden was popular and was elected class president in junior and senior years before his sporting success took him to the University of Delaware where he played freshman football. 

He earned a double major in English and political science and minored in English, but his C average placed him 506th in his class of 688.

A year after graduating in 1965, Biden met his first wife Neilia Hunter in the Bahamas while he was on spring break.

They married two years later and had three children together in successive years after 1969, Joseph ‘Beau’, Robert ‘Hunter’, and Naomi.

In his professional life, he started to show his burgeoning ambition, graduating from Syracuse University College of Law in 1968 and he was admitted to the Delaware bar the following year.

While at school, Biden received five student draft deferments to the Vietnam War, one more than his later presidential rival Donald Trump.

Biden was classified as unavailable for military service due to his asthma, while Trump avoided service because of the bone spurs in his heels.

After graduation, Biden clerked at a Wilmington law firm before he started practising law at a public defender, then joining a firm headed by a locally active Democrat.

This sparked the political aspirations of the young man, registering as a Democrat and successfully standing for the county council in a traditionally Republican area in 1969.

He ran on a liberal platform that included support for public housing in the suburbs and served until 1972.

That year proved to be a huge turning point for Biden as he hit the national stage at just 29 with a surprise US Senate win in Delaware in 1972.

He was the only Democrat challenging the incumbent J Caleb Boggs and campaigned with very little money and few gave him chance of success.

Family members staffed his team and he narrowly defeated the Republican with 50.5 per cent of the vote, becoming the fifth youngest person ever elected to the Senate at the time.

Biden was born in 1942 in the Rust Belt town of Scranton, Pennsylvania, to Jean and Joseph, a used car salesman whose wealth fluctuated much throughout his life

Biden started to make a name for himself as a sportsman at school, playing American football and baseball for his high school team

Biden married Neilia Hunter in 1967 and had three children together, Hunter, Beau and Naomi (pictured in 1972, months before Neilia and Naomi’s deaths)

Biden gained national attention in 1972, becoming the fifth youngest person ever elected to the Senate at the time

Tragedy struck when Neilia and their one-year-old daughter Naomi were killed in a car crash as they were Christmas shopping in Delaware

Family members staffed his team and he narrowly defeated the Republican with 50.5 per cent of the vote

But just one month later, tragedy struck: his wife Neilia and their one-year-old daughter Naomi were killed in a car crash as they were Christmas shopping in Delaware.

She pulled the car past a stop sign and directly into the path of a tractor-trailer which sent her vehicle flying 150 yards. 

Beau and Hunter were the only survivors, suffering a broken leg and a minor skull fracture respectively, but Neilia and Naomi were killed.

Biden even considered resigning to care for the two surviving children.

The newly elected senator took his oath of office beside his son Beau in hospital shortly after the horrific car crash

After the death of his wife and daughter, Biden continued to work in the Senate, travelling 90 minutes each way by train to and from his Delaware home to Washington DC every day (pictured alongside Margaret Thatcher in 1975)

During his time in the Senate, he was associated with a number of policies that came to be seen unfavourably by Democrats in later years

Such was his grief, Biden said he even contemplated suicide in the early days following the tragedy, but decided he could not abandon his two sons. 

Who is Jill Biden, the potential new First Lady of the United States?  

Dr Jill Biden is the new First Lady of the United States after her husband defeated Donald Trump in the presidential election.

She is often described as her husband’s biggest defender and is one of his most trusted political advisers

The 69-year-old has been married to Biden for 43 years, becoming a stepmother to Beau and Hunter Biden, his two sons from his first marriage, after their mother and baby sister died in a car accident in 1972.

Yet, despite the high profile which will come with her new role in life, the future First Lady describes herself as an introvert and has maintained a low-key presence during Joe’s political career.

By the time she met then-Senator Joe Biden in March 1975, she had already been married and divorced. 

She was 24 and he was 33 and met after going on a blind date set up by Joe’s brother Frank, whom Jill knew from college.

Jill didn’t accept Joe’s first proposal of marriage, instead revealing he asked five times before she said yes. 

In a speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, Jill said: ‘Joe often tells people that I didn’t agree to marry him until the fifth time he asked me.

‘The truth is, I loved him from the start.’ 

Jill earned four degrees while raising her family, including a docorate in education from the University of Delaware. 

During her time as Second Lady in Barack Obama’s administration, she broke from tradition by continuing to teach English full-time at community college.     

Writing in her 2019 memoir, Where the Light Enters, she wrote: ‘Being a teacher is not what I do but who I am.’ 

She said she intends to continue teaching alongside her duties as First Lady if her husband makes it to the White House.

The teacher has spoken openly about the importance of taking on the role of stepmother within her husband’s family when she was in her twenties. 

She went on to raise the boys as her own, alongside Ashley, the daughter she had with Joe in 1981. 

Jill has a clear love of fashion, and was often seen donning the vibrant dresses and sky high heels on the campaign trail.   

The teacher has maintained a love of classic styles and shapes in bright colours, with sharp accessories and shoes that are to die for.  

He said: ‘I thought about it, not doing it. I thought about what it would be like just to go to the Delaware Memorial Bridge and just jump off and end it all.’

But Biden continued working, taking oath beside his sons’ hospital beds, and travelling 90 minutes each way by train to and from his Delaware home to Washington DC every day. 

A renewed zest for life was sparked by him meeting his second wife Jill Jacobs in 1975 on a blind date.

They married two years later and had a daughter together, Ashley, in 1981. 

After a number of years in the Senate, Biden decided to run for presidency in 1988 at the end of Ronald Reagan’s second term.

Despite a strong start, his campaign came crashing down when he was accused of plagiarising a speech by British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock.

Other revelations then came to light over other speeches he had made which bore strong resemblances to others by political figures.

It was also discovered that one of his law school papers was based almost exclusively on a Fordham Law Review article, despite citing it only once.

Biden also made claims which were found out to be false, including that he had graduated in the top half of his class, he was accepted to college on a scholarship, and that he marched in the Civil Rights movement.

He withdrew from the race in September 1987, saying the ‘exaggerated shadow’ of these errors had clouded his campaign. 

During his time in the Senate, he was associated with a number of policies that came to be seen unfavourably by Democrats in later years.

He sided with known segregationists and in the midst of 1970s desegregation, opposed ‘busing’ policies aimed at transporting Black children to predominantly white schools.

He also caught flak for helping draft a 1994 crime bill which many Democrats believe drove up incarcerations, disproportionately affecting African Americans. Biden recently called the push a ‘mistake.’

Other Senate episodes also threatened to spoil his presidential campaign: his 2003 vote for the Iraq war, and his chairmanship of controversial hearings in 1991 in which Anita Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.

Biden ran again for the top office in 2008 but he hardly fared better, dropping out after mustering less than one per cent of the vote in Iowa’s caucuses.

That year he was ultimately picked as running mate by Obama, who dubbed him ‘America’s happy warrior.’

After their victory Obama quickly assigned Biden to oversee the economic recovery during the last recession.

The two men differed over Afghanistan at the front end of Obama’s first term, with Biden opposing a 30,000-troop ‘surge.’

By this time, son Beau had followed his father into politics, becoming attorney general of Delaware in 2007.

He had previously been in the military and served in Iraq.

But tragedy struck the Biden family again, with Beau suffering a brain tumour ended up killing him in 2015, at the age of 46.  

A renewed zest for life was sparked by him meeting his second wife Jill Jacobs in 1975 on a blind date

After a number of years in the Senate, Biden decided to run for presidency in 1988 at the end of Ronald Reagan’s second term

He withdrew from the Presidential race in September 1987, saying the ‘exaggerated shadow’ of his errors had clouded his campaign

Despite a strong start, his campaign came crashing down when he was accused of plagiarizing a speech by British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock

Lawyer and lobbyist Hunter Biden has had a different trajectory.

He received a lucrative salary serving on the board of a Ukrainian gas company accused of corruption while his father was vice president.

Trump’s push for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens led to the president’s impeachment last December by the Democratically-controlled House of Representatives, but he was acquitted by the Republican-led Senate.

Hunter was not personally accused of any criminal wrongdoing, but Trump hasn’t let the issue die. 

Biden whispers in the ear of Ruth Bader Ginsburg during her confirmation hearing for the position of associate justice of the US Supreme Court in 1993

Beau Biden campaigned with his father during his 1988 presidential run, and later entered politics himself, becoming attorney general of Delaware in 2007

Beau served in Iraq and Biden visited him while he was Vice President under Barack Obama in 2009

Hunter Biden was accused of corruption while his father was vice president and Donald Trump has frequently brought him up in debates

Joe, pictured with his granddaughters Finnegan (left) and Naomi (right), two of Hunter’s daughters from his first marriage to Kathleen

He has also frequently brought up Hunter’s drug problems, battling alcoholism and cocaine for some time.  

Biden often points to Jill, 69, as a powerful asset for his campaign, and recalled recently how she took over as mother to her husband’s two boys.

‘She put us back together,’ Biden has said.  

‘It never goes away,’ Biden said of the pain that lives within him since losing Beau. The tragedy prevented him from launching a presidential bid in 2016.

Even today, he often stops to greet firefighters, recalling that it was they who saved his boys.

Nearly every Sunday Biden prays at St. Joseph on the Brandywine, a Catholic church in his affluent Wilmington neighborhood

Biden often points to Jill, 69, as a powerful asset for his campaign, and recalled recently how she took over as mother to her husband’s two boys

They saved Biden too. In 1988 firefighters rushed him to hospital after an aneurysm.

Biden’s condition was so dire that a priest was called to give him last rites.

Nearly every Sunday Biden prays at St. Joseph on the Brandywine, a Catholic church in his affluent Wilmington neighborhood.

There in the cemetery rest his parents, his first wife and daughter – and his son Beau, under a tombstone decorated with small American flags.

In January Biden confided about Beau and his undeniable influence: ‘Every morning I get up… and I think to myself, ‘Is he proud of me?”

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