Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D)|
Last Updated May 29, 2001
seat up 2002
Born: Nov. 20, 1942,
Education: U. of DE, B.A. 1965, Syracuse U., J.D. 1968
Marital Status: married
- Political: New Castle Cnty. Cncl., 1970-72.
- Professional: Practicing atty., 1968-72.
DC Office: 221 RSOB
202-224-5042; Fax: 202-224-0139; Web site: www.senate.gov/~biden
302-678-9483; Georgetown,302-856-9275; Wilmington,302-573-6345.
- Foreign Relations (Chmn.): European Affairs (Chmn.); International Operations & Terrorism; Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, Narcotics Affairs.
- Judiciary: Crime & Drugs (Chmn.); Technology, Terrorism & Government Information.
Joseph Biden, Delaware's senior senator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was first elected in 1972, at age 29 (he reached the constitutional age of 30 by the time he took office); in January 2003 he will have spent most of his life as a senator. Biden grew up in the suburbs of Wilmington in a middle class home; his father was a car salesman and one grandfather was a state senator in Pennsylvania. As a teenager he had a stutter, but taught himself to deliver a speech to his whole school; he is now one of the Senate's most fluent orators. He married and started a family while still in law school. After school he moved back to the Wilmington suburbs, practiced law, and in 1970, at 27, was elected to the New Castle County Council. In 1972 he ran for the Senate, against a popular incumbent who seemed ready to retire, while this young challenger had energy, an attractive extended family and an ability to connect with voters' emotions. He won 51%-49%. A month later his wife and daughter were killed in an auto accident; his two young sons were injured. He thought about resigning, but was persuaded to serve, and began his practice, kept to this day, of commuting from his home near Wilmington on Amtrak, 80 minutes to and from Washington every day. He remains a familiar figure in, and one familiar with, his constituency.
In the Senate, Biden has a moderate-to-liberal voting record. For many years he did much of his most visible work on the Judiciary Committee, which he chaired from 1987-95 and served as ranking Democrat on from 1981-87 and 1995-97. The issues that arise here--abortion, flag-burning, capital punishment, crime control--cut deeply, and for years the cultural liberals in the Democratic Party differed sharply on most of them from the constituents Biden saw in Delaware every day. As chairman, Biden presided over the most contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearings in history. In his 1987 hearings, nominee Robert Bork set a high standard for intellectual seriousness, but some of his opponents used his candor to vote against him for disgracefully dishonest reasons, from which Biden's attempts to construct an honestly based, anti-Bork rationale proved politically indistinguishable; no other nominee since has testified so frankly. The 1991 hearings on Clarence Thomas exploded when someone leaked charges of sexual harassment by Anita Hill against the nominee. Biden was bitterly criticized for covering up this information, but he had shared it with committee members, who agreed that Hill's initial unwillingness to testify publicly meant that any reference to it would be unfair to Thomas. Once the story was out though, Hill and then Thomas testified to fascinated television audiences. Despite the strong pro-Hill bias of the press, Thomas was confirmed, over Biden's opposition.
In the middle of the Bork hearings came a climactic moment for Biden, who in 1987 started running for president. He hoped to inspire a new generation as John Kennedy had inspired his. But Biden decided to leave the race when a Michael Dukakis staffer leaked an ''attack video'' showing similarities between Biden's stump speech about his background and a speech by British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock. Paraphrasing someone else's words is not a political crime--most political discourse is conducted in familiar shorthand terms--but Biden in dramatizing his background actually distorted it, for unlike Kinnock he did not rise from working class roots, and unlike in Britain, upward social mobility is a common experience in the United States. In 1988, Biden nearly died of an aneurysm, but recovered fully.
After the Thomas hearings, Biden seemed defensive about attacks from the feminist left, the greatest source of activism in the Democratic Party, as the religious right is in the Republican Party; he sought out women to serve on Judiciary and worked hard on the 1994 Violence Against Women Act; he helped renew it in 2000, although part of it was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. He worked hard on the 1994 crime bill, which came very close to being whipsawed between liberals who prefer therapy to harsh punishment and conservatives who oppose gun control and favor tough sentences. In later years, Biden helped pass a methamphetamine control law, a nationwide tracking system for sex offenders, a bill to crack down on Rohypnol, the ''date rape'' drug, and death penalties for many offenses (though in June 2000 he called for a moratorium on executions). In 2000 Biden, addressing "the digital divide," successfully sponsored a public-private partnership to provide 27,000 computers with Internet access to Boys and Girls Club. He was the sponsor in Judiciary of the bankruptcy reform legislation, backed strongly by Delaware's MBNA and other credit card issuers, which was vetoed by Bill Clinton in 2000 but due to be signed by George W. Bush in 2001.
Biden became ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee in 1997 and, to the surprise of many, entered into a constructive working relationship with Chairman Jesse Helms. Once part of a Democratic majority wary of another Vietnam and of the extension of American power, Biden was now part of a Democratic minority who, after the U.S. victory in the Cold War, has sought to maintain American involvement in the world. He worked hard to preserve Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty and to establish Radio Free Asia, and he is the author of the law setting up a separate international broadcasting agency, apart from the State Department or USIA. He favored NATO expansion, while remaining concerned about whether Europeans would share burdens equally, and with Helms led the move to approve expansion. When democracy in the former Yugoslavia was thwarted by state-led terrorism and when multilateral instrumentalities proved ineffective, Biden was among the strongest voices--and the best positioned, with his high-ranking seat on Foreign Relations--to call for lifting the arms embargo on Bosnia and training Bosnian Muslims, demanding that the United States and NATO investigate war crimes there, and arguing for NATO air strikes. He once called Slobodan Milosevic a "war criminal" to his face, and in 1999 pushed the Senate to approve the use of U.S. air power in Kosovo. With John McCain and Chuck Hagel, he co-authored the resolution authorizing the ground war in Kosovo.
Of course Biden and Helms have not always agreed. He opposed Helms' Taiwan legislation in 1999--"the equivalent of waving a red cape at the Chinese and inviting them to charge." He fought hard for the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Treaty in 1998. He supported the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1999, and was one of the Democrats who called for it to be reported to the floor. When it was in September 1999, it turned out that Jon Kyl had already lined up almost every Republican in opposition, and Biden and others demanded that it be pulled back. It was defeated in October despite Biden's warning. "When we reject this treaty, we are rejecting American leadership in the world, and embracing Fortress America. We're embracing a return to nuclear testing around the world." He said in early 2000 that Bill Clinton should leave the decision on deploying missile defense to the next president, but left no doubt that he thought that "the shield of dreams" would fail to protect the United States, would provoke Russia and China, and if it were needed we should get Russia to agree to modify the ABM treaty and convince China that it doesn't threaten its deterrent. "This system is not ready for prime time. No president--this one or the next one, unless things change drastically--should in fact deploy this system." But Biden and Helms together achieved some goals that most thought unreachable. They won a long-delayed reorganization of foreign policy agencies, plus an increase in the State Department budget. Biden backed Helms' effort to have the U.S. share of UN dues reduced in return for U.S. repayment of most back UN dues and reform of the swollen UN bureaucracy. This was of course stoutly resisted. But Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke took Helms' charge seriously, and achieved a near total acceptance of his demands; Helms agreed on repaying the back dues, and Biden paid handsome tribute to them both.
Biden remains a familiar everyday figure in Delaware and has tended to its most local needs. He is proud of having achieved the designation of White Clay Creek as Delaware's only National Wild and Scenic River in 2000, and of gaining $1.5 million to restore Pea Patch Island at Fort Delaware, blocking the Army Corps of Engineers from removing the St. George Bridge, getting $6.7 million of Army research projects at the University of Delaware, $7 million for the 148-person Army National Guard Readiness Center in Smyrna and $3.5 million for replenishment of Delaware's beaches. And naturally he has supported Amtrak funding. On his daily commutes, he has come to know the Amtrak crew members personally and hosts an annual Christmas dinner for the crews; crew members in turn keep track of his seniority--he was 7th in seniority among senators in early 2001, but only about 65th among the Amtrak crew.
Biden's most visible gift is an articulateness that can verge on the mellifluous; he can inspire, but can also drone on at great length (being elected a senator at 29 does not curb a tendency to verbosity). But this has not reduced the appreciation most Delawareans have for his admirable personal qualities. He was re-elected by wide margins in 1984 (60%-40%), 1990 (63%-36%) and 1996 (60%-38%). His 1996 opponent was a Naval Academy graduate and businessman who walked, rode a bicycle and rollerbladed through the state, raised $1 million and questioned the sale of Biden's house to an executive of MBNA, the big credit card company whose top executives gave generously to Biden's campaign. But Biden won by his accustomed majority.
Will he run for president again? In 1997 he said, ''The honest-to-God truth is that I have no desire to run for president, no plans to run for president and I've taken no action to run for president. But who knows what will happen in four years or eight years if I'm still around?'' In August 2000, when he was asked if he would run if Al Gore lost, he said, "Would I consider running for president again? Yes. Am I going to run for president again? I don't know." In early 2001 he was taking a tough line on the incoming Bush administration, taking the lead in opposing the nomination of John Ashcroft for attorney general and charging that the Bush tax cut "will eat our seed corn." Asked about running for president in January 2001, he said, "Assuming I'm re-elected, I'll take a look at it then."
Safe. There are no indications that Biden is in any trouble and Republicans are regrouping after losing gubernatorial and Senate races in 2000. With a likely third-tier opponent, Biden can focus his efforts on a potential White House bid in 2004.
|National Journal Ratings|
Key Votes of the 106th Congress
|1. Educ. Savings Accts.
|2. Prescrip. Drug Benefit
|3. Delay Ergonomic Standards
|4. Phase Out Estate Tax
|5. Review Movie Violence
|6. Gun Show Bckgrnd. Checks
| 7. Ban Part.-Birth Abortion
| 8. Broaden Hate Crimes List
| 9. NATO War in Serbia
|10. Table Cuba Travel Ban
|11. Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty
|12. Perm. Trade with China
||Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D)
|Raymond J. Clatworthy (R)
||Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D)
||Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D)
|M. Jane Brady (R)
|1996||Receipts||Receipts from PACs||Expenditures|
|Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D)
|Raymond J. Clatworthy (R)
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