Joe, Jill and the Bidens: who are America's new first family?

Daniel Strauss in Washington
·6-min read
<span>Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential election means a new “first family” will be stepping into the White House, and will include a mix of figures who are already household names or upcoming social media stars, as well as relatives who like to keep a lower profile.

Besides Biden himself, the person most involved in the president-elect’s political career is his wife, Jill Biden, an educator and “military mom”. The pair have been married since 1977.

Jill is expected to break with tradition and keep her day job as a professor, while also immersing herself in education policy. That’s an unusual move, even for a first lady with four degrees.

“For American educators, this is a great day for y’all,” Biden said in his victory speech on Saturday. “You’re gonna have one of your own in the White House. And Jill’s gonna make a great first lady. I’m so proud of her.”

Joe and Jill Biden greet supporters in Wilmington, Delaware
Joe and Jill Biden greet supporters in Wilmington, Delaware, on Saturday. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

As public figures go, Jill, 69, has kept a relatively low profile considering her spouse was a US senator for almost four decades and spent two terms as vice-president to Barack Obama. The pair lived three miles down the road from the White House at the Naval Observatory in Washington DC, the same mansion that vice-president-elect Kamala Harris and her husband are expected to move to.

During the Obama administration, Jill, then the second lady, bonded with Michelle Obama, traveling together and working on their Joining Forces military families project. Jill continued to teach at Northern Virginia Community College during the Obama years, and has spoken about how she asked that her Secret Service detail dress like students and carry laptops to blend in.

During the 2020 election campaign, Jill Biden has played an integral role in some of her husband’s biggest decisions, including narrowing down the search for his running mate.

Jill and Joe Biden during his previous run for president in 1987
Jill and Joe Biden during his previous run for president in 1987. Photograph: George Widman/AP

Jill also delivered a speech in support of her husband during this year’s Democratic national convention, acted as a surrogate on the campaign trail, served on the education taskforce for the Biden campaign and helped to develop policy proposals.

Together, the Bidens have one daughter, Ashley Biden, 39, a philanthropist and social worker who also prefers to keep out of the spotlight. Ashley Biden’s husband, Howard Krein, has come under national scrutiny over his venture capital business and advising the campaign on coronavirus policy.

The Biden family are no strangers to tragedy. Through his first marriage to Neilia Hunter, Biden had three children: Hunter, Beau and Naomi. Naomi and Neilia died in a car crash in 1972, days after he was first elected to the US Senate. Beau Biden, the former attorney general of Delaware and a rising star within the Democratic party, died of a brain tumor in 2015.

Biden’s younger son, Hunter, has been the preferred target of Donald Trump and his Republican allies in trying to frame Biden and Democrats as “corrupt” and in secretive alliances with China for personal gain.

Joe Biden hugs one of his granddaughters as he stands with grandson and son Hunter Biden (L) and wife Jill Biden on Saturday
Joe Biden hugs one of his granddaughters as he stands with grandson and son Hunter Biden (left) and wife Jill Biden on Saturday. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

In the first presidential debate in September, Trump mocked Hunter Biden for his struggles with drug addiction, which was widely seen as ill-judged.

Trump and his campaign have also repeatedly argued, without concrete evidence, that Hunter Biden, 50, leveraged his father’s position as vice-president for monetary gain.

In October, laptops and text messages purportedly from Hunter Biden surfaced under strange circumstances. Republicans used that material to argue that their accusations about corrupt dealings among the Bidens were true. But investigations by serious news outlets dismissed those claims.

Hunter has had very little public involvement with his father’s campaign, aside from recording a video voicing his support that was played at the Democratic national convention (DNC).

Watch: Joe Biden has won the US election: What happens now?

Several of Biden’s grandchildren, who call him “Pop,” also appeared in a recorded clip played at the DNC, describing him as doting, and joking about how he phones them every day to check-in.

Biden’s granddaughter, Naomi Biden, a 26-year-old graduate of Columbia Law School, has a substantial online following and has posted several pictures of the president-elect in recent days. In one tweet from August, she joked that anyone “who wants to get to @JoeBiden, will have to get past us first,” with a picture of his grandchildren.

The couple also have two German shepherds, Champ and Major, who will presumably move to the White House with them.

In almost five decades in politics, Biden has maintained an inner circle of about eight key advisers and family members. That is unlikely to change as president.

“Joe’s always had a relatively small circle,” Bill Daley, a former chief of staff to Barack Obama, told the Guardian. As examples, Daley ticked off longtime advisers: Valerie Biden Owens (Biden’s younger sister), Tom Donilon (who worked on Biden’s 1988 run for president and was national security adviser during the Obama-Biden administration), Steve Ricchetti (Biden’s former chief of staff), Bruce Reed (another former chief of staff), Ted Kaufman (former Delaware senator and longtime Biden adviser), and Ron Klain (another former chief of staff).

“I think part of it is you come from a smaller state. There’s a smaller group of people that you’re with,” Daley said.

Valerie Biden Owens has been a mainstay of her brother’s political life for most of his years in office. She was a top aide for most of Biden’s campaigns, serving as campaign manager for his two previous presidential campaigns. This year, she has largely maintained a behind-the-scenes role but an influential one nonetheless.

In a rare interview with the Associated Press in August, she contrasted Biden’s life story with that of Trump.

Joe Biden (centre) with wife Jill Biden (right) and sister Valerie Biden Owens (left) in March
Joe Biden (centre) with wife Jill Biden (right) and sister Valerie Biden Owens (left) in March. Photograph: Mario Tama/Getty Images

“Everything that Donald Trump is, my brother is the polar opposite. I don’t have to make him bigger than he is,” Valerie Biden Owens said when asked if her brother grasped the gravity of this moment in time.

“He’s good enough as he is, and he is prepared and I believe he’s uniquely qualified right now to lead … All of this has come together. My brother appreciates it. He can feel it.”

  • This article was amended on 8 November 2020 to correct Jill Biden’s age.

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