How Joe Biden Works

Biography of Joe Biden

Joe and Nelia Biden
Senator-elect Joseph Biden and wife Neilia cut his 30th birthday cake at a party in Wilmington, Nov. 20, 1972. His son, Hunter waits for the first piece. Bettman/Getty Images

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was born Nov. 20, 1942, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the son of Joe and Jean Biden. He was the oldest of four in an Irish-Catholic family. His father was a business owner of varying degrees of success. Biden Sr. worked as a car salesman, a sales representative for Amoco Oil, co-owner of a crop-dusting company, an executive in a marine sealant manufacturing firm, a real estate agent and a boiler cleaner for a heating company [source: Chapman].

When Joe Biden was 10, his family moved to a suburb of Wilmington, Delaware, where he attended Archmere, a private Catholic school. He later took a part-time job to help pay for the tuition. As a boy, Biden had a debilitating stutter for which he was bullied by classmates and even a teacher. He stood before a mirror reciting a line from Ralph Waldo Emerson's "The American Scholar" over and over, watching the muscles in his face in order to learn how to control them [source: Brozyna].


Biden had been a lackluster student in college. His first year at the University of Delaware yielded him a grade-point average of 1.9 [source: Brozyna]. When he graduated in 1965 and entered law school, his performance was much the same, ranking 76th out of a class of 85 students. Still, he was convinced his poor academic showing was due to a lack of interest, not intellect. He later wrote in his memoir, "Promises to Keep" (published in 2007), "The work didn't seem so hard, just boring; and I was a dangerous combination of arrogant and sloppy."

In 1964, Biden had gone to the Bahamas for spring break, where he snuck into a hotel pool and met his future wife, Neilia Hunter. In 1966, the couple married and Biden went back to school. He obtained his law degree from Syracuse University in 1968 and practiced law in Delaware until he was elected at 29 years old to the U.S. Senate in 1972, becoming the fifth-youngest senator in U.S. history.

In 1969, Biden's first son, Joseph (nicknamed "Beau"), was born. He was followed by Robert Hunter in 1970 and Naomi in 1971. Tragedy struck the Biden family in December 1972, when Neilia and the three Biden children were involved in an auto accident while out Christmas shopping. Neilia and Naomi were killed; Beau and Hunter were injured.

Biden received the news while at his senate office. He says he considered suicide after suffering such a profound loss [source: Dwyer]. Ultimately, he chose to live. He raised his two sons as a single parent with the help of his sister who moved in with them. And he found love again; in 1977, he married Jill Jacobs. She has a doctorate in education and teaches English at Northern Virginia Community College. In 1981, Joe and Jill Biden welcomed a daughter named Ashley.

The Bidens suffered yet another gut-wrenching loss in 2015 when 46-year-old Beau, then serving as a captain in the National Guard and the two-time attorney general of Delaware, died after a long fight with brain cancer [source: Shear].

Hunter Biden is an attorney and former lobbyist whose tumultuous personal life and lucrative stints with foreign companies landed him at the center of the Ukraine controversy that led to President Trump's impeachment (more on that later) [source: Entous]. Ashley Biden is a social worker and activist who owns a clothing line called Livelihood that donates its proceeds to social welfare organizations [source: Igoe]. The Bidens currently have six grandchildren [source: Phillips].

In addition to his career as a senator, Biden taught constitutional law for 18 years at Widener College, now Widener University. Despite becoming the vice-presidential nominee during the 2008 campaign, he still taught the class when available.

During the 2008 campaign, Biden's medical history raised questions about his ability to serve as vice president. In 1988, he suffered a brain aneurysm that nearly killed him. He had dropped out of the presidential race a few months prior (more on that on the next page), after experiencing what he took to be a pinched nerve and a headache.

After a visit to the doctor, Biden was taken to emergency cranial surgery. He developed a blood clot in his lungs during recovery and suffered a second aneurysm. Biden underwent a subsequent cranial surgery the following May [source: Caputo]. Biden said the experience changed him; he adopted the dichotomous outlook of throwing himself into his role of senator while not sweating the small stuff.