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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Sanders faces brunt of the attacks at South Carolina debate

By STEVE PEOPLES, MEG KINNARD and AAMER MADHANI

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Democrats unleashed a roaring assault against Bernie Sanders and seized on Mike Bloomberg’s past with women in the workplace during a contentious debate that tested the strength of the two men at the center of the party’s presidential nomination fight.

As the undeniable Democratic front-runner, Sanders faced the brunt of the attacks for much of the night, and for one of the few times, fellow progressive Elizabeth Warren was among the critics. The Massachusetts senator pressed the case that she could execute ideas that the Vermont senator could only talk about.

“Bernie and I agree on a lot of things,” she said. “But I think I would make a better president than Bernie.”

A group of moderates, meanwhile, fought to emerge as the chief Sanders alternative.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who is seeking a strong win in South Carolina to keep his campaign afloat, argued only he has the experience to lead in the world. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar repeatedly contended that she alone could win the votes of battleground state moderates. And former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg pointed to Sanders’ self-described democratic socialism and his recent comments expressing admiration for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro’s push for education.

“I am not looking forward to a scenario where it comes down to Donald Trump with his nostalgia for the social order of the 1950s and Bernie Sanders with a nostalgia for the revolutionary politics of the 1960s,” Buttigieg declared.

But the moderates did little to draw separation among themselves, a dynamic that has so far only benefited the Vermont senator. Sanders fought back throughout the night, pointing to polls that showed him beating the Republican president and noting all the recent attention he’s gotten: “I’m hearing my name mentioned a little bit tonight. I wonder why.”

Trump, who returned to Washington early Wednesday after a two-day trip to India, responded to a reporter’s shouted question about whether he’d seen the debate: “I did,” he said while stepping into a car. “Not too good, not too good.”

The intensity of Tuesday’s forum, with candidates repeatedly shouting over each other, reflected the reality that the Democrats’ establishment wing is quickly running out of time to stop Sanders’ rise. Even some critics, Bloomberg among them, conceded that Sanders could build an insurmountable delegate lead as soon as next week.

The 10th debate of the 2020 primary season, sponsored by CBS and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, was just four days before South Carolina’s first-in-the-South primary and one week before more than a dozen states vote on Super Tuesday. The Democratic White House hopefuls will not stand side by side on the debate stage again until the middle of March. That made Tuesday’s debate likely the last chance for some candidates to save themselves and alter the trajectory of the nomination fight.

Though Sanders was at the center of the attacks, the night was actually something of a high point in his political career. After spending nearly three decades as an agitator who delighted in tearing into his party’s establishment, that very party establishment was suddenly fighting to take him down, a clear sign of his rising status as the leading candidate for the nomination.

Bloomberg also faced sustained attacks that gave him an opportunity to redeem himself after a bad debate debut one week earlier. Warren cut hard at his record as a businessman, bringing up reports of one particular allegation that he told a pregnant employee “to kill it,” a reference to the woman’s unborn child. Bloomberg fiercely denied the allegation, but acknowledged he sometimes made comments that were inappropriate.

Bloomberg “cannot earn the trust of the core of the Democratic Party,” Warren said. “He is the riskiest candidate standing on this stage.”

But Bloomberg will likely remain a force in the contest even as other candidates may quickly face tough choices about the sustainability of their campaigns. Bloomberg has already spent more than $500 million on a national advertising campaign, and his fortune ensures he will remain a factor at least through Super Tuesday.

From the earliest moments of the debate, Bloomberg sought to portray a clear contrast with Sanders. He said Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agree that Sanders would be the best outcome for the Democrats.

“Vladimir Putin thinks Donald Trump should be president of the United States and that’s why Russia is helping you get elected so you lose to him,” the former New York mayor said.

Last week, Sanders acknowledged that he’d be been briefed by intelligence officials who said that Russia is attempting to interfere in the elections to benefit him. He responded to Bloomberg on Tuesday with a direct statement for Putin: “Hey, Mr. Putin, if I’m president of the United States, trust me you’re not going to interfere in any more American elections.’”

But the skepticism for Sanders was a constant.

Buttigieg raised concerns that a Sanders nomination would cost Democrats the House and make it harder to retake the Senate.

“We’re not going to win these critical, critical House and Senate races if people in those races have to explain why the nominee of the Democratic Party is telling people to look at the bright side of the Castro regime,” Buttigieg said.

And Bloomberg said Sanders wouldn’t be able to build a winning coalition that includes Republicans unhappy with Trump’s performance in the White House.

“Can anyone in this room imagine moderate Republican going over and voting for him,” he said. “You have to do that or you can’t win.”

Warren, who raised questions about Sanders’ electability earlier in the night, intercepted that criticism, arguing that a “progressive agenda is popular.”

The South Carolina contest offers the first real look at the influence African American voters play in the Democrats’ presidential nomination process. Biden is trying to make a big impression in in the state, where he was long viewed as the unquestioned front-runner because of his support from black voters. But heading into Saturday’s primary after three consecutive underwhelming finishes, there were signs that the former vice president’s African American support may be slipping.

One reason: Tom Steyer. The billionaire activist has been pouring money into African American outreach, which threatens to peel away some of the support Biden badly needs.

Steyer noted Tuesday that he was the only candidate on stage who supported reparations for descendants of slaves.

Bloomberg, who for years defended New York’s stop-and-frisk policing policy that a federal court struck down, made an overt appeal to the nation’s black voters.

“I know that if I were black, my success would have been a lot harder to achieve,” he said. “That’s a fact that we’ve got to do something about.”

The attacks against Sanders did not slow as the night went on.

He was forced to defend his position on Israel, having condemned the American ally for its treatment of Palestinians.

“Sadly, tragically in Israel, through Bibi Netanyahu, you have a reactionary racist, who is now running that country,” said Sanders. who would be the country’s first Jewish president. He added: “What you cannot ignore is the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

And Biden slammed Sanders for his record on gun control, seizing on the Vermont senator’s support of the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, legislation that protects gun manufacturers and sellers from laws that attempt to hold them liable for dealing firearms that end up in the hand of criminals.

“My friend to my right, and others, have in fact also given in to gun manufacturers absolute immunity,” said Biden. “Imagine if I stood here and said, ‘We give immunity to drug companies. We give immunity to tobacco companies.’

“That has caused carnage on our streets. “

Sanders proudly highlighted his “D minus” rating from the pro-gun organization. And just last week, several gun control advocates who survived the Parkland, Florida, school shooting endorsed him.

Moving forward from the fiery debate, there are questions about the Democratic Party’s ability to unify behind a nominee .

Klobuchar perhaps summed up her party’s challenge best: “If we spend the next 10 months tearing our party apart, Donald Trump is going to spend the next four years tearing this country apart.”

 

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Sanders edges Buttigieg in New Hampshire, giving Democrats 2 front-runners

By STEVE PEOPLES, KATHLEEN RONAYNE and HUNTER WOODALL

MANCHESTER, N.H.) — Bernie Sanders won New Hampshire’s presidential primary, edging moderate rival Pete Buttigieg and scoring the first clear victory in the Democratic Party’s chaotic 2020 nomination fight.

In his Tuesday night win, the 78-year-old Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, beat back a strong challenge from the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana. The dueling Democrats represent different generations, see divergent paths to the nomination and embrace conflicting visions of America’s future.

As Sanders and Buttigieg celebrated, Amy Klobuchar scored an unexpected third-place finish that gives her a road out of New Hampshire as the primary season moves on to the string of state-by-state contests that lie ahead.

Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden posted disappointing fourth and fifth place finishes respectively and were on track to finish with zero delegates from the state.

The New Hampshire vote gives new clarity to a Democratic contest shaping up to be a battle between two men separated by four decades in age and clashing political ideologies. Sanders is a leading progressive voice, having spent decades demanding substantial government intervention in health care and other sectors of the economy. Buttigieg has pressed for more incremental change, preferring to give Americans the option of retaining their private health insurance while appealing to Republicans and independents who may be dissatisfied with Trump.

Their disparate temperaments were on display Tuesday as they spoke before cheering supporters.

“We are gonna win because we have the agenda that speaks to the needs of working people across this country,” Sanders declared. “This victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump.”

Buttigieg struck an optimistic tone: “Thanks to you, a campaign that some said shouldn’t be here at all has shown that we are here to stay.”

Both men have strength heading into the next phase of the campaign, yet they face very different political challenges.

While Warren made clear she will remain in the race, Sanders, well-financed and with an ardent army of supporters, has cemented his status as the clear leader of the progressive wing of the party.

Meanwhile, Buttigieg must prove he can attract support from voters of color who are critical to winning the nomination. And unlike Sanders, he still has multiple rivals in his own ideological wing of the party to contend with. They include Klobuchar, whose standout debate performance led to a late surge in New Hampshire and a growing national following. While deeply wounded, Biden promises strength in upcoming South Carolina. And though former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg was not on Tuesday’s ballot, he looms next month when the contest reaches states offering hundreds of delegates.

After a chaotic beginning to primary voting last week in Iowa, Democrats hoped New Hampshire would help give shape to their urgent quest to pick someone to take on Trump in November. At least two candidates dropped out in the wake of weak finishes Tuesday night: moderate Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet and political newcomer Andrew Yang, who attracted a small but loyal following over the past year and was one of just three candidates of color left in the race.

The struggling candidates still in the race sought to minimize the latest results.

Warren, who spent months as a Democratic front-runner, offered an optimistic outlook as she faced cheering supporters: “Our campaign is built for the long haul, and we are just getting started.”

Having already predicted he would “take a hit” in New Hampshire after a distant fourth-place finish in Iowa, Biden essentially ceded the state. He traveled to South Carolina Tuesday as he bet his candidacy on a strong showing there later this month boosted by support from black voters.

Still, history suggests that the first-in-the-nation primary will have enormous influence shaping the 2020 race. In the modern era, no Democrat has ever become the party’s general election nominee without finishing first or second in New Hampshire.

Sanders and Buttigieg were on track to win the same number of New Hampshire delegates with most of the vote tallied, with Klobuchar a few behind. Warren, Biden and the rest of the field were shut out, failing to reach the 15% threshold needed for delegates.

The AP allocated nine delegates each to Sanders and Buttigieg and six to Klobuchar.

The action was on the Democratic side, but Trump easily won New Hampshire’s Republican primary. He was facing token opposition from former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld.

With most of the vote in, Trump already had amassed more votes in the New Hampshire primary than any incumbent president in history. His vote share was approaching the modern historical high for an incumbent president, 86.43% set by Ronald Reagan in 1984. Weld received about 9% of the vote of New Hampshire Republicans.

The political spotlight quickly shifts to Nevada, where Democrats will hold caucuses on Feb. 22. But several candidates, including Warren and Sanders, plan to visit other states in the coming days that vote on Super Tuesday, signaling they are in the race for the long haul.

Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein and Zeke Miller in Washington, Will Weissert, Holly Ramer and Thomas Beaumont contributed from New Hampshire.

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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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