Jill Biden’s path from reluctant politico to possible FLOTUS

By ALEXANDRA JAFFE | Associated Press

WILMINGTON, Del. — Jill Biden is a prankster.

It’s the first thing most of her friends and former aides say when asked about her character. She once sneaked into a close aide’s birthday party dressed as catering staff and surprised him with a drink. She has dressed up as the Grinch to toy with colleagues during Christmas. And she likes to put on a red wig with a bob to pop up unnoticed at events or make her husband, Joe Biden, laugh.

That sense of humor has helped Joe Biden navigate decades in public life that have been marked by achievements, defeats and considerable personal loss. As she prepares to speak Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention, those who have worked closely with Jill Biden say her warmth will appeal to Americans confronting tough times of their own.

“She has a very good sense of, especially in these times, that bringing a little smile, some joy, some levity into moments is important,” said Courtney O’Donnell, who served as Jill Biden’s communications director during her husband’s first term as vice president.

Jill Biden married the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee in 1977, more than four years after his first wife and young daughter were killed in a car accident. She helped raise his surviving sons, Beau and Hunter, before giving birth to daughter Ashley in 1981.

As Joe Biden commuted from Delaware to Washington while serving as a senator, Jill Biden built a career as a teacher, ultimately earning two master’s degrees and then a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware in 2007.

Along the way, former coworkers say, Jill Biden, 69, became one of her husband’s most valuable political advisers, someone whose opinion was paramount in most of his biggest decisions, both political and personal. She was skeptical of his 1988 presidential campaign, but pushed him to run again in 2008, according to her memoir.

After Joe Biden became the presumptive nominee this year, she played a prominent role in auditioning many of the vice presidential candidates, appearing with them at various events. During a recent interview on CBS, Jill Biden acknowledged that she and her husband “talked about the different woman candidates.”

“But it’s gotta be Joe’s decision,” she added.

But those who know Jill Biden best say she’s slightly perplexed at being called one of her husband’s most significant “advisers,” insisting that her relationship with her husband is far deeper and more nuanced than such a label would suggest.

“He’s got plenty of political advisers. That’s not what she is,” said Cathy Russell, who was Jill Biden’s chief of staff during the Obama administration and is now a vice chair on the campaign. “She is his spouse, and she loves him and she talks to him about all sorts of things, but she has a unique role, and it’s not being a political adviser. That’s not her thing.”

Jill Biden does remain one of her husband’s closest confidantes — particularly now, at a time when both Bidens are largely confined to their Wilmington home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Aides say the Bidens often pass each other in the halls during the day as they head from a briefing to a virtual event to a fundraiser.

“They see each other a lot, but there’s a lot of passing and crossing each other. In the evening they try to sit together and just kind of regroup and chat about things,” Russell said. “They’ve got grandkids and kids and two dogs. They’ve got family and lives that are sort of spinning around them, and I think they just try to always find time for each other.”

A self-described introvert, Jill Biden was initially a reluctant political wife. In her memoir, she writes of giving her first political speech and having no desire to “give any speeches, anytime, anywhere — just the thought of doing so made me so nervous I felt sick.”

But after eight years as the vice president’s wife and then giving speeches and appearing at events after her husband left office, Jill Biden has become one of her husband’s most prominent surrogates. She has appeared in virtual events in more than 17 cities since May, and is one one of the campaign’s primary surrogates to Latino voters, headlining town halls and holding frequent calls with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

In one week this month, Jill Biden appeared at everything from a science-focused fundraiser to an event with Joe Biden’s faith coalition to one focused on LGBTQ youth, speaking with emotion and fluency about her husband’s plans for each constituency.

She’s also one of his most protective surrogates, a quality she writes about in her memoir — and one that was on full display during a Super Tuesday speech Joe Biden gave in March when a handful of protesters rushed the stage. Jill moved between the protesters and her husband, pushing a protester away.

But the resistance to being called an “adviser” on Biden’s team reflects Jill Biden’s persistent and successful efforts to carve out her own career and identity independent of her husband’s political ambitions, something she prioritized even during his time in the Senate.

“They lived in Delaware always, through all those Senate campaigns, and she had her own life. She was raising her children, she was teaching, she was going to school at night at different times,” said Russell. “She was never a part of the Washington scene. That political life just wasn’t her life.”

Jill Biden continued to teach at a community college while her husband was vice president, against the advice of multiple aides at the time.

“Being a teacher is not what I do but who I am,” she wrote in her memoir, and described “scrambling into a cocktail dress and heels” in the bathroom at her school to make it to a White House reception, or grading papers on Air Force Two, with relish.

Indeed, she has said she plans to continue teaching if she becomes first lady.

As longtime friend and teaching colleague Mary Doody described it, the classroom offers Jill Biden a bit of an escape.

“When you’re in a classroom, for an hour and a half or two hours or however long you’re with those students, it’s just you and them, and you build this rapport. It’s like you build a little family,” Doody said. “And I think that’s why it’s so important for her to teach.”

Aides say she’ll continue to advocate for many of the same issues she championed as the vice president’s wife if she returns to the White House as first lady. During her eight years in the Obama administration, she focused on military spouses and families, advocated for community colleges and sought to raise awareness around breast cancer prevention.

All the while, Doody notes, Jill Biden is known for being impeccably dressed, always offering up a good book recommendation, writing small notes or sending flowers to friends, family and staff who need a pick me up, and making sure to get to all her grandkids’ sports games. Doody expects her to continue it all.

“If I could figure out how she does all that, I would have a really good secret to share,” Doody said.

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In embarrassing twist, Democrats have no Iowa caucus results

By STEVE PEOPLES, THOMAS BEAUMONT and ALEXANDRA JAFFE

DES MOINES, Iowa  — Democratic party officials in Iowa worked furiously Tuesday to deliver the delayed results of their first-in-the-nation caucus, as frustrated presidential candidates claimed momentum and plowed ahead in their quest for the White House.

Technology problems and reporting “inconsistencies” kept Iowa Democratic Party officials from releasing results from Monday’s caucus, the much-hyped kickoff to the 2020 primary. It was an embarrassing twist after months of promoting the contest as a chance for Democrats to find some clarity in a jumbled field with no clear front-runner.

Instead, caucus day ended with no winner, no official results and many fresh questions about whether Iowa can retain its coveted “first” status.

State party officials said final results would be released later Tuesday and offered assurances that the problem was not a result of “a hack or an intrusion.” Officials were conducting quality checks and verifying results, prioritizing the integrity of the results, the party said in a statement.

The statement came after tens of thousands of voters spent hours Monday night sorting through a field of nearly a dozen candidates who had spent much of the previous year fighting to win the opening contest of the 2020 campaign and, ultimately, the opportunity to take on President Donald Trump this fall.

The candidates didn’t wait for the party to resolve its issues before claiming, if not victory, progress and moving on to next-up New Hampshire.

“It looks like it’s going to be a long night, but we’re feeling good,” former Vice President Joe Biden said, suggesting the final results would “be close.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said he had “a good feeling we’re going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa” once results were posted. “Today marks the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” he predicted.

“Listen, it’s too close to call,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said. “The road won’t be easy. But we are built for the long haul.”

And Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was most certain.

“So we don’t know all the results, but we know by the time it’s all said and done, Iowa, you have shocked the nation,” he said. “By all indications, we are going on to New Hampshire victorious.”

Democrats faced the possibility that whatever numbers they ultimately released would be questioned. And beyond 2020, critics began wondering aloud whether the Iowa caucuses, a complicated set of political meetings staged in a state that is whiter and older than the Democratic Party, are a tradition whose time had passed.

The party has tried to accommodate critics, this year by promising to report three different data points about voters’ preferences, presumably improving transparency. But the new system created new headaches.

State party spokeswoman Mandy McClure said it had “found inconsistencies in the reporting of three sets of results,” forcing officials to try to verify results with “underlying data” and the paper trail.

Some of the trouble stemmed from issues with a new mobile app developed to report results to the party. Caucus organizers reported problems downloading the app and other glitches.

Des Moines County Democratic Chair Tom Courtney said the new app created “a mess.” As a result, Courtney said precinct leaders were phoning in results to the state party headquarters, which was too busy to answer their calls in some cases.

Organizers were still looking for missing results several hours after voting concluded.

Shortly before 2 a.m., the state party was making plans to dispatch people to the homes of precinct captains who hadn’t reported their numbers. That’s according to a state party official in the room who was not authorized to share internal discussions publicly.

Earlier in the night, Iowa Democrats across the state cast their votes, balancing a strong preference for fundamental change with an overwhelming desire to defeat Trump. At least four high-profile candidates vied for the lead in a contest that offered the opening test of who and what the party stands for in the turbulent age of Trump.

It’s just the first in a primary season that will span all 50 states and several U.S. territories, ending at the party’s national convention in mid-July.

For Democrats, the moment was thick with promise for a party that has seized major gains in states since Trump won the White House in 2016. But instead of clear optimism, a growing cloud of uncertainty and intraparty resentment hung over the election as the prospect of an unclear result raised fears of a long and divisive primary fight in the months ahead.

One unsurprising development: Trump won the Republican caucus, a largely symbolic victory given that he faced no significant opposition.

The president eagerly seized on the Democrats’ problems.

“The Democrat Caucus is an unmitigated disaster,” Trump tweeted early Tuesday. “Nothing works, just like they ran the Country.” He added: “The only person that can claim a very big victory in Iowa last night is ‘Trump.’”

Pre-caucus polls suggested Sanders entered the night with a narrow lead, but any of the top four candidates — Sanders, Biden, Warren and Buttigieg — was positioned to score a victory. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who represents neighboring Minnesota, was also claiming momentum, while outsider candidates including entrepreneur Andrew Yang, billionaire activist Tom Steyer and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard could be factors.

“We know one thing: We are punching above our weight,” Klobuchar said late Monday, promising to keep fighting in New Hampshire.

New voters played a significant role in shaping Iowa’s election.

About one-quarter of all voters reported that they were caucusing for the first time, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of voters who said they planned to take part in Monday’s Democratic caucuses. The first-timers were slightly more likely to support Sanders, Warren or Buttigieg, compared with other candidates.

At the same time, VoteCast found that roughly two-thirds of caucusgoers said supporting a candidate who would fundamentally change how the system in Washington works was important to their vote. That compared to about a third of caucusgoers who said it was more important to support a candidate who would restore the political system to how it was before Trump’s election in 2016.

Not surprisingly, nearly every Iowa Democrat said the ability to beat Trump was an important quality for a presidential nominee. VoteCast found that measure outranked others as the most important quality for a nominee.

The 2020 fight has already played out over myriad distractions, particularly congressional Democrats’ push to impeach Trump, which has often overshadowed the primary and effectively pinned several leading candidates to Washington at the pinnacle of the early campaign season.

Meanwhile, ultrabillionaire Mike Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is running a parallel campaign that ignored Iowa as he prepares to pounce on any perceived weaknesses in the field come March.

The amalgam of oddities was building toward what could be a murky Iowa finale before the race pivoted quickly to New Hampshire, which votes Feb. 11.

For the first time, the Iowa Democratic Party planned to report three sets of results: a tally of caucusgoers’ initial candidate preference; vote totals from the “final alignment” after supporters of lower-ranking candidates were able to make a second choice; and the total number of State Delegate Equivalents each candidate receives.

There is no guarantee that all three will show the same winner when they’re ultimately released.

The Associated Press will declare a winner based on the number of state delegates each candidate wins, which has been the traditional standard.

 

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Rep. Harley Rouda endorses Mike Bloomberg for president

Rep. Harley Rouda is endorsing billionaire Mike Bloomberg as Democratic candidate for president, citing the former New York City mayor’s business experience and track record fighting climate change.

“He has the ability to not only beat Donald Trump but, more importantly, to bring our country together, and restore America to its place as the leader of the free world,” Rouda said in a statement slated to go public Friday.

Bloomberg gave at least $4 million to support Rouda, D-Laguna Beach, in 2018 when he flipped Orange County’s coastal 48th District to blue for the first time.

Rouda told Politico that he liked what he heard Thursday when the billionaire businessman — who’s been a Democrat, a Republican and an independent in the past — sold himself as a centrist during closed-door meetings on Capitol Hill.

Republicans still have a 6.4 percentage point voter registration advantage in Rouda’s district. While the congressman has been vocal about climate change issues, and voted to impeach Trump, the former Republican also has spoken out against the Democratic party going too far to the left.

“Like myself, Mike Bloomberg believes in smart capitalism coupled with good government,” Rouda said.

“He’s a legendary businessman who also ran one of the nation’s largest and most complex cities, a city with a population larger than 39 states. He’s met payrolls, knows how to balance budgets, and understands the intricacies of our economy.”

Bloomberg entered the presidential race late, but has already poured more than $100 million into TV ads and adding hundreds of staffers across the county.

Bloomberg said he’s honored to have Rouda’s support, which comes less than two weeks after the media magnate opened his first California campaign office in Riverside. Rouda is the third Democratic House member to endorse Bloomberg this week, joining Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy and New York Rep. Max Rose.

When asked Jan. 7 who he was backing for president, Rouda would only say that he was supporting “whoever can beat President Trump.”

The next morning, news leaked that Rouda was billed with Rep. Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, and others to co-host a private fundraiser in Irvine for former Vice President Joe Biden. Correa formally endorsed Biden in August and joined his campaign trail last week.

But neither Rouda nor Correa showed up to the Biden fundraiser in Shady Canyon on Jan. 9, since they were stuck voting in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Katie Porter, D-Irvine, has been stumping for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren since she became a co-chair of the senator’s campaign in the fall.

The other four local House representatives haven’t endorsed anyone for president, with Reps. Mike Levin, D-San Juan Capistrano, and Linda Sanchez, D-Whittier, saying they likely won’t back anyone before the March 3 primary.

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