On November 4, 2008, Joseph Biden, Jr. became Vice President of the United States on the Democrat Party ticket headed by Barack Obama. Prior to that, Biden had been a U.S. Senator from Delaware for 36 years. He has served as Chairman of both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Joseph Robinette "Joe" Biden, Jr. was born in November 1942 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and lived there for ten years before moving to, and growing up in New Castle County, Delaware. He graduated from Archmere Academy in Claymont, Delaware in 1961. In 1965 he earned his undergraduate degree (with majors in history and political science) from the University of Delaware in Newark, and in 1968 he earned his Juris Doctor degree from Syracuse University College of Law. Biden then found work as a public defender in Wilmington, Delaware.
In 1972 Biden ran successfully for one of Delaware’s seats in the U.S. Senate, beating Republican incumbent J. Caleb Boggs. Prior to his swearing in, Biden’s then-wife Neilia Hunter and the couple's three children were involved in an automobile accident. Neilia and daughter Naomi died from the injuries they sustained, while Biden’s two sons, Beau and Hunter, eventually made full recoveries. When Biden was sworn in to office at his son’s hospital bedside in Wilmington, Delaware on January 5, 1973, he became the fifth-youngest senator in American history. Biden would win each of his reelection bids -- in 1978, 1984, 1990, 1996, and 2002 -- with relative ease, becoming the longest-serving U.S. Senator in Delaware’s history.
Shortly after he was first elected to the Senate, Biden voted against funding to help the South Vietnamese government stave off its North Vietnamese Communist invaders. This vote, which was in line with the votes of most in Congress' new Democrat majority, paved the way for the ultimate fall of Saigon (in April 1975) and the subsequent mass slaughter of Indochinese peasants.
Biden became a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January 1975, and of the Senate Judiciary Committee two years later.
On June 17, 1977, Biden married schoolteacher Jill Tracy Jacobs.
In 1979 Senator Biden shared President Jimmy Carter's belief that the fall of the Shah in Iran and the advent of Ayatollah Khomeini’s rule represented progress for human rights in that country. Throughout the ensuing 444-day hostage crisis, during which Khomeini's extremist acolytes routinely paraded the blindfolded American captives in front of television cameras and threatened them with execution, Biden opposed strong action against the mullahs and called for dialogue.
Throughout the 1980s, Biden opposed President Ronald Reagan's proactive means of dealing with the Soviet Union. Biden instead favored détente -- which, in practice, meant Western subsidies that would have enabled the moribund USSR to remain solvent much longer than it ultimately did. He also opposed Reagan’s effort to fund the Contras, an anti-Communist rebel group in Nicaragua.
Biden was a leading critic of the Reagan defense buildup, specifically vis a vis the MX missile, the B-l bomber, and the Trident submarine. He criticized Reagan for his “continued adherence” to the goal of developing a missile defense system known as the Strategic Defense Initiative, calling the President's insistence on the measure “one of the most reckless and irresponsible acts in the history of modern statecraft.”
Biden first ran for U.S. President in 1987. He was considered a strong contender for the Democratic Party’s nomination, but in April of that year controversy descended on Biden’s campaign when he told several lies about his academic record in law school. In an April 3, 1987 appearance on C-SPAN, a questioner asked Biden about his law school grades. In response, an angry Biden looked at his questioner and said, “I think I have a much higher I.Q. than you do.” He then stated that he had gone “to law school on a full academic scholarship -- the only one in my class to have a full academic scholarship”; that he had “ended up in the top half” of his law school class; and that he had “graduated with three degrees from college.”
But each of those claims proved to be untrue. In reality, Biden had attended law school on a half scholarship that was based on financial need; he had graduated 76th in a class of 85; and he had earned only two college degrees -- in history and political science. “I exaggerate when I'm angry,” Biden would later concede, “but I've never gone around telling people things that aren't true about me.”
Then, in August 1987 Biden plagiarized a portion of a speech made by British politician Neil Kinnock. Before long, revelations surfaced that Biden also had plagiarized extensive portions of an article in law school and consequently had received a grade of “F” for the course. (He eventually was permitted to retake the course, and the failure was removed from his transcript.)
As a result of these embarrassing examples of dishonesty, Biden withdrew from the presidential campaign on September 23, 1987 and resumed his duties as a U.S. Senator.
Following is an overview of Biden’s policy positions and his voting record on key pieces of legislation during his years in the Senate.
Senator Biden received a 91 percent rating from the National Education Association (NEA), indicating that more than nine-tenths of his votes were satisfactory to America’s largest labor union. Like the NEA, Biden opposes merit pay for teachers and a voucher system which would permit parents to redirect a portion of their tax dollars away from the public schools and toward private-school tuition for their children. He voted “No” on a voucher proposal in 1997.
Biden believes that global warming is caused by industrial and automotive pollution, and that broad and immediate action must be taken to curb its effects. In 2007 he co-sponsored the Boxer-Sanders Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, perhaps the most stringent climate bill in the history of the Senate. Labeling the U.S. as the world's “largest emitter of greenhouse gases,” the bill sought to implement a cap-and-trade system requiring the U.S. to reduce its emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Biden also has called for the raising of fuel-economy standards for automobiles to an average of 40 miles per gallon by 2017.
During a September 2008 vice presidential debate against his Republican opponent Sarah Palin, Biden said: “I think it [climate change] is manmade. It's clearly manmade. If you don't understand what the cause is, you cannot come up with a solution.”
In the midst of the Arab oil embargo of 1973, Biden was one of only five U.S. senators to vote against the first Alaskan pipeline bill. That pipeline has since yielded more than 15 billion barrels of oil, almost 20 percent of America's total production.
In more recent times, Biden consistently opposed all bills seeking to open Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. In 2006 he voted against a bill “providing for exploration, development, and production activities for mineral resources in the Gulf of Mexico.” And in 2007 he voted against a bill that would have allowed for natural gas exploration and extraction off the coast of Virginia.
Regarding the use of coal, Biden has said: “We're not supporting clean coal,” and “no coal plants here in America.”
His Roman Catholic beliefs notwithstanding, Biden believes that abortion should remain legal in the United States, and that the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision should not be overturned. “The best policy for our country on the question of abortion is a policy of government neutrality,” he says. “Put another way: I do not believe that the government should be involved in making judgments on whether a woman can, or should have an abortion, or -- if she chooses to do so -- in paying for that abortion.”
In 1997 Biden voted against the continuance of a policy stipulating that federal health insurance plans would not pay for abortions except in cases where the woman's life was in danger or the pregnancy was the result of incest or rape.
In 2004 Biden voted against a bill that would have attached criminal penalties to the killing or injuring of a fetus while carrying out a violent crime on a pregnant woman.
In July 2006 he voted against parental notification laws and against punishing those who would transport minors across state lines to get an abortion.
In 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2003, Biden voted in favor of bills to prohibit the procedure commonly known as partial-birth abortion.
Biden received an “F” rating from the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund, for his consistent record of voting to limit the rights of gun owners and manufacturers. He also voted in favor of exposing the firearms industry to potentially crippling lawsuits.
In 2007 Biden voted against a bill permitting the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General “to authorize foreign intelligence acquisition concerning those reasonably believed to be outside of the U.S., provided that written certification is presented that the procedure does not constitute electronic surveillance under existing law, the surveillance is made with the assistance of a communications provider, and the significant purpose of the acquisition is to obtain foreign intelligence information.”
Biden voted “Yes” on allowing illegal aliens to participate in Social Security, and “Yes” on allowing more foreign workers into the U.S. for farm work.
In 2006 he voted in favor of erecting a fence on the U.S./Mexico border, but later explained that for him, the vote was an anti-drug trafficking vote, not one aimed at curbing illegal immigration. “I voted for the fence related to drugs,” Biden said. “A fence will stop 20 kilos of cocaine coming through that fence. It will not stop someone climbing over it or around it.”
In 2007 Biden voted against a bill to prohibit illegal aliens convicted of serious crimes -- such as aggravated felonies, domestic violence, stalking, violation of protection orders, crimes against children, or the illegal purchase or sale of firearms -- from gaining legal status.
That same year, he voted to scrap a point-based immigration system (i.e., a system which seeks to ensure that people with skills that society needs are given preference for entry into the United States). He advocates instead a system focusing on the reunification of family members, even if that means permitting the foreign relatives of illegal aliens to join the latter in America.
Biden also voted in favor of continuing to send federal funds to sanctuary cities; against requiring a photo ID from people registering to vote; and “No” on declaring English the official language of the United States.
Senator Biden received an 8 percent rating from the U.S. Border Control (a nonprofit lobbying organization dedicated to ending illegal immigration and securing our America’s borders), signifying that his voting record reflected an open-borders stance.
Throughout his Senate career, Biden, with few exceptions, generally supported higher taxes, though he did vote against specific tax increases which were advanced by Republican presidents.
When President Reagan pushed for across-the-board-tax cuts in 1981, Biden twice voted for bills that would have watered down Reagan’s proposal. When the full Reagan tax cuts came up for a final vote, however, Biden voted in favor of them, as did 88 of his 99 Senate colleagues.
In March 1983 Biden voted for a $40 billion increase in Social Security taxes.
In June 1986 Biden supported Democrat Senator George Mitchell’s effort to raise the top income tax rate to 35 percent.
In October 1990 Biden voted against President George H.W. Bush’s proposed 5-year, $164-billion tax hike. That same year, he supported an amendment sponsored by then-Senator Al Gore to raise the income-tax rate on middle-class Americans (i.e., married couples earning more than $78,400 a year and individuals earning more than $47,050) from 28 percent to 33 percent.
In August 1993 Biden voted in favor of Bill Clinton’s proposed $241 billion in new taxes over five years.
In May 2001 Biden voted against both of President George W. Bush’s major tax cut proposals -- one for $350 billion and another for $1.35 trillion over a ten-year period.
In all but three of the 16 years spanning 1992 to 2007, the non-partisan National Taxpayers Union (NTU) -- which grades each member of Congress on taxing and spending issues -- gave Biden an “F.” In 2007, NTU gave him a 4 percent rating and ranked him 94th out of 100 senators.
On September 18, 2008, Biden (who was then Barack Obama's vice presidential running mate) said this about Obama’s proposed tax hike on people earning more than $250,000 per year: “We want to take money and put it back in the pocket of middle-class people…. It’s time [for high earners] to be patriotic ... time to jump in, time to be part of the deal, time to help get America out of the rut.”
In 1987 Biden was a key player in preventing the confirmation of President Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, warning that Bork would strip minorities, women, and children of their civil rights. In later years, Biden similarly (though unsuccessfully) sought to derail the Supreme Court nominations of Clarence Thomas, William Rehnquist, John Roberts, and Samuel Alito, who, like Bork, were all strict constructionists who opposed judicial activism; i.e., they subscribed to the tenet that a Justice's duty is to interpret the law and the Constitution as it is written, and not to legislate from the bench.
The First Gulf War
In 1990 Biden opposed President George H.W. Bush's decision to forcibly drive Saddam Hussein's army of occupation out of Kuwait. He stated that the U.S. had no “vital interests” in repelling the invasion, and he predicted, wrongly, that American casualties would be astronomical in number.
Iraq War (2003)
Prior to the Iraq War, Biden consistently spoke out about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. “He’s a long-term threat and a short-term threat to our national security,” Biden said of Hussein in 2002. “… We have no choice but to eliminate the threat. This is a guy who is an extreme danger to the world.” Also in 2002, Biden said: “Saddam must be dislodged from his weapons or dislodged from power.”
Consequently, in October 2002 Biden voted “Yes” on authorizing the use of military force against Iraq. He continued to express his resolve on the matter in 2004, emphatically stating: “I voted to give the President the authority to use force in Iraq. I still believe my vote was just.”
In 2005 Biden told the Brookings Institution: “We can call it quits and withdraw from Iraq. I think that would be a gigantic mistake. Or we can set a deadline for pulling out, which I fear will only encourage our enemies to wait us out -- equally a mistake.”
In April 2007 Biden appeared with the late newsman Tim Russert and defended Vice President Dick Cheney and the international community’s assessment of Saddam’s WMD (weapons of mass destruction) program. “[E]veryone in the world thought he had them [WMD]…. This was not some, some Cheney, you know, pipe dream.”
But later in 2007, while running for the Democratic presidential nomination, Biden said that his 2002 vote authorizing the use of force against Iraq “was a mistake” that he regretted. “I vastly underestimated the incompetence of this administration,” Biden said during a 2007 Democratic primary debate in Carson City, Nevada.
In June 2007 Biden told the Boston Globe that General David Petraeus’s “surge” strategy of sending an extra 20,000 troops to Iraq “is not going to work either tactically or strategically” in terms of quelling the insurgency. On Meet the Press, Biden said that while Petraeus “believes that it [the surge] is a good idea,” “[v]irtually no one else believes it’s a good idea.”
Biden is a defender of affirmative action (i.e., race-, ethnicity-, and sex-based preferences) in academia and the business world. He was also a supporter of the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Biden's response to a November 2006 U.S. Airways incident involving six Islamic imams is instructive. The imams in question were removed from a plane shortly before takeoff because several passengers and crew members had become alarmed by what they perceived to be their (the imams') suspicious behavior. The Council on American-Islamic Relations subsequently filed a lawsuit on behalf of the imams, against both the airline and the complaining passengers. In response to the suit, two Republican congressman, Peter King and Steven Pearce, crafted an amendment seeking to create legal immunity for citizens who report suspicious behavior in good faith. The amendment was initially approved by lawmakers in March 2007, but Senator Biden voted against it.
America’s Moral Standing in the World
In 2004 Biden told an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that the U.S. had no moral authority to preach about the need for democracy in the Middle East. “We don’t have much of a democracy ourselves,” he said mockingly. “Remember our own presidential election; remember Florida!” -- a reference to the disputed ballot recount in 2000.
2008 Bid for the Presidency
As early as June 2005, Biden first made public his intention to seek the nomination for U.S. President in 2008. On January 31, 2007 he officially entered the presidential race. His campaign failed to gain any traction, however, and on January 3, 2008 he withdrew from the race, which by then was being dominated by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Prior to his selection as Barack Obama’s running mate on August 23, 2008, Biden had been consistently effusive in his praise of John McCain, the Republican Senator who was running for President against Obama. Conversely, Biden had often been critical of Obama and his judgment on matters of import:
- In a February 2007 interview with the New York Observer, Biden expressed
doubts that American voters would elect “a one-term, a guy who has served
for four years in the Senate.” “I don’t recall hearing a word from Barack about
a plan or a tactic,” Biden added.
- Around that same time, Biden, in an interview with the Huffington Post, said: “The more
people learn about them [Obama and Hillary Clinton] and how they handle the
pressure, the more their support will evaporate.”
- In August 2007, Biden was asked during a debate if he stood
by his previous criticism of Obama’s inexperience when he said that “the
presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training.” Biden responded,
“… I stand by that statement.”
- In December 2007, Biden said in a campaign ad: “When this campaign is over, political slogans like ‘experience’ and ‘change’ [the latter was Obama’s signature slogan] will mean absolutely nothing. The next president has to act.”
2008 Vice Presidential Run
During his vice presidential campaign, Biden occasionally exhibited a tendency to exaggerate and misrepresent facts, just as he had done in 1987. At a September 9th fundraiser, for example, he spoke about “the superhighway of terror between Pakistan and Afghanistan where my helicopter was forced down [during a February 2008 fact-finding mission Biden had taken with fellow senators John Kerry and Chuck Hagel]. John McCain wants to know where [Osama] bin Laden and the gates of Hell are? I can tell him where. That's where al Qaeda is. That's where bin Ladin is.” During a speech in Baltimore later that month, Biden said: “If you want to know where al Qaeda lives, you want to know where bin Laden is, come back to Afghanistan with me. Come back to the area where my helicopter was forced down with a three-star general and three senators at 10,500 feet in the middle of those mountains. I can tell you where they are.” Two days after that, in Cincinnati, Biden reiterated that al Qaeda had re-established a safe haven “in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where my helicopter was recently forced down.”
Though Biden’s implication was that his plane had been forced down by enemy fire, in fact the unscheduled landing was due to a severe snowstorm that had suddenly hit the area. “It went pretty blind, pretty fast and we were around some pretty dangerous ridges,” John Kerry told the Associated Press immediately after the incident. “So the pilot exercised his judgment that we were better off putting down there, and we all agreed…. We sat up there and traded stories. We were going to send Biden out to fight the Taliban with snowballs, but we didn't have to do it…. Other than getting a little cold, it was fine.” Biden’s plane was traveling with air cover from an F-16.
In the midst of a major stock-market crisis in late September 2008, Biden told CBS interviewer Katie Couric that it was incumbent upon the U.S President to demonstrate leadership and allay public fears by clearly explaining how the crisis will be solved. Said Biden: “Part of what being a leader does is to instill confidence, is to demonstrate that he or she knows what they are talking about and to communicat[e] to people ... this is how we can fix this…. When the stock market crashed [in October 1929], Franklin D. Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the, you know, the princes of greed. He said, ‘Look, here's what happened.’”
Biden’s error was twofold: First, when the stock market crashed in 1929, Herbert Hoover was the U.S. President; FDR would not take office until March 4, 1933. Nor could any President have addressed the American people on television in 1929, because TV would not be introduced to the public until a decade later, at the 1939 World's Fair.
Vice President Biden:
On November 4, 2008, Barack Obama and Joe Biden were elected President and Vice President of the United States, respectively. The Obama-Biden ticket defeated the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin by a margin of 364 electoral votes to 162. Obama-Biden received a total of 64,538,980 votes (52.5%) from the American public, vs. McCain-Palin's 56,802,609 (46.2%).
In a June 2009 interview on Meet the Press, Biden backed away from the Obama administration’s estimate that the $787 billion stimulus package that had been passed four months earlier would “create or save” 3.5 million jobs. Instead, with unemployment rising and the economy going from bad to worse, Biden was forced to admit: "Everyone guessed wrong."
In March 2009, in the midst of the rancorous political process whereby Democrats sought to pass sweeping healthcare-reform legislation, interviewer Jake Tapper asked Biden: "Do you hear back from venerable members who are worried this bill will cost them their jobs?" Biden replied:
"... [M]y response is, hey, man, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I'm telling you, you know, pre-existing [conditions], they're going to be covered. You know we're going to control the insurance companies. You know people aren't going to lose their health care with their employer like is being advertised. So you've got to, if you really want to make sure that you get the benefit of what you've already done, vote for the bill."