A Guide to President-Elect Joe Biden's Sprawling Family
From incoming First Lady Dr. Jill Biden to Major, the first-ever rescue dog slated to move into the White House, a guide to the people and pets at the heart of who Joe Biden is.
You may have been wondering something as you were taking in the joyous celebration on the night of Nov. 7, when President-Elect Joe Biden addressed the nation for the first time after being named the winner of the 2020 presidential race.
Namely, who are all those people?!
Being the president of the United States seems like an inherently lonely job, even with all the meetings, phone calls, events, travel, speeches and photo ops that come with the territory. When things go wrong, it's your fault. When things go right, that's great, but what have you done for us lately? Similarly, it can be awfully easy to forget that someone who's running for president, also a full-time job, has a whole life behind the scenes that doesn't involve glad-handing and sound bites.
So, the answer to your question: Joe and incoming first lady Jill Biden have a huge family!
Leading up to this moment, the outline of Biden's simultaneously tragic and triumphant personal story is fairly well known by now.
Joseph Robinette Biden II was born in Scranton, Pa., moved to Delaware and won a longshot race for the U.S. Senate in 1972 just a couple of weeks before his 30th birthday. Barely a month after the election, his wife of six years, Neilia, and their 1-year-old daughter Naomi were killed in a car crash. Their sons, 3-year-old Beau Biden and 2-year-old Hunter Biden, were hospitalized for several months with serious injuries.
Biden met Jill Stevenson (née Jacobs), who was about to finish her degree in English at the University of Delaware, on a blind date set up by his brother Frank in 1975. She was separated at the time from husband Bill Stevenson, owner of a successful local college bar, and she finalized her divorce later that year.
Although Biden had to propose a few times—Jill knowing that she would be saying yes not just to Joe, but to becoming a mom to Beau and Hunter as well, so she wanted to be 110-percent sure—they were eventually married on June 17, 1977, in a Catholic ceremony.
Jill, a life-long teacher, returned to school in her 50s and got her doctorate in education in 2007. The following year, Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States and Biden—who had a few failed bids for the top job under his belt—became vice-president.
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Biden considered running for president again to succeed Obama, but the death of Beau from brain cancer in May 2015 factored heavily into his decision to step aside, the career public servant torn between the opportunity and his grief, but ultimately doubting he'd be able to devote the energy needed to what the endeavor would entail.
And now, after the strangest presidential race in pretty much every living person's memory, the Bidens will be moving into the White House themselves in January, the nation's first couple at last. And here's a guide to all the people (plus a few others) you saw on that stage, celebrating their patriarch's winning moment.
Joe and Jill welcomed daughter Ashley on June 9, 1981. She attended Tulane and later got her master's degree in social work from University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy and Practice in 2010. First drawn to activism to protect animals, she became a social worker and went to work for the Delaware Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families. She then spent more than seven years as associate director of the Delaware Center for Justice. She founded the clothing brand Livelihood in 2017, partnering with Gilt on a line of hoodies that sold out, to raise money for community programs focused on eliminating income inequality. The logo is an LH being pierced by an arrow—a tribute to her late brother, Beau.
It's a reference to how "we have to sometimes be pulled all the way down to shoot forward," Ashley explained to The Lily in June. "He was my bow. His cancer brought me to my knees. I had no choice but to shoot forward, keep going, keep aiming at my own dreams." Naturally, her father was at New York Fashion Week to support her when she debuted the garment.
"I'm extremely proud of her," Joe told E! News at the NYFW event, flashing a huge grin. "She's been trying to change the world since she's been 3 years old, and I think she's going to do it."
As The Lily pointed out this past summer, so far the only Livelihood item to be produced was that hoodie (in different colors, etc.), but she's working on some new pieces, a blazer hopefully among them.
She met her husband—a plastic surgeon, professor of otolaryngology and chief medical officer of the venture capital firm StartUp Health—through Beau.
Howard asked his future father-in-law for his permission (granted) and popped the question atop a cliff in Big Sur, Calif., at sunset. He and Ashley married in June 2012 at the same Catholic church in Delaware where she was baptized and now make their home in Philadelphia.
"I think to myself, aw, God, my little girl! This can't have passed so quick," the father of the bride told People before the wedding. But, he added, "This is the right guy. And he's getting a helluva woman."
The president-elect invokes his late son frequently, the attorney and Army officer's courage and devotion to his family still an inspiration to his father. Beau died of glioblastoma in 2015, the devastation wrought on the whole family influencing Biden's choice not to run for president in 2016—but also his decision to go for it in 2020.
In his 2017 memoir Promise Me, Dad, Joe Biden reflects on his eldest son's cancer battle, among other things about the vice-presidency and his own presidential ambitions. He told the New York Times that he wrote the book for his kids and grandchildren, who always wanted to hear stories about Beau.
"I wanted to celebrate Beau's life and the people he touched," Joe explained. "Beau had a strict code of honor. That may sound silly, but it's true. My Dad had an expression: 'Never explain and never complain.' I never once heard Beau complain. Not once."
Joe continued, "One night, when it was clear that the odds weren't good, he asked me to stay after dinner at his house, about a mile from here. He said: 'Dad, I know you love me more than anyone in the world. But promise me you'll be O.K. I'll be O.K., Dad.' He had come face to face with his mortality. He watched me go through the loss of his mother and sister. And he didn't want me to turn inward. He didn't want me to give up on the robustness of life."
In his eulogy for his brother, Hunter recalled his first memory of Beau: Waking up in the hospital next to him in 1972 after the car wreck that killed their mom and sister.
Their father told the New York Times in 2017, "Hunt had a skull fracture, almost every bone in his body was broken. And Beau, just 4, in the next bed, held his hand and kept saying: 'Hunt, I love you. Look at me. I love you, I love you, I love you.' At the funeral Hunt said in 42 years that 'he has never stopped holding my hand.'"
Beau (born Joseph Robinette Biden III) married Hallie Biden (née Olivere) in 2002. They welcomed daughter Natalie Naomi Biden (her middle name paying tribute to Beau's late sister) in 2004 and son Robert Hunter Biden II (after brother Hunter) in 2006.
The four of them lived with Joe and Jill for a year in Delaware while they were building a home. "I wished they'd never move," Joe recalled to the New York Times.
After Beau died, Hallie's dad Ron Olivere, told Delaware's News Journal in 2015 that Joe Biden consulted his daughter first before he made any decision about whether to run for president at that time. "He did discuss this with family," Olivere said. "He discussed it with my daughter and her response was, 'Pop, we're behind you all the way. We're behind you 100 percent.'"
The president-elect's younger son—who has been candid about his various personal struggles, including his battle with drug addiction and a paternity suit—became a controversial target of his father's political opponents.
With headlines swirling, Hunter steered clear of most of Joe's campaign events, even before COVID rendered so much of the operation virtual or social-distanced.
"Beau and I have been there since we were carried in baskets during his first campaign," Hunter told the New Yorker in 2019. "We went everywhere with him. At every single major event and every small event that had to do with his political career, I was there. I've never missed a rally for my dad. The notion that I'm not standing next to him in Philadelphia, next to the Rocky statue, it's heartbreaking for me. It's killing me and it's killing him. Dad says, 'Be here.' Mom says, 'Be here.' But at what cost?"
But ultimately the majority of the American people wanted Joe Biden to be the president regardless of any past wrongdoings or salacious theories about his family, and Hunter was right there on Nov. 7 for his dad's victory speech.
Not that Hunter—born Robert Hunter Biden—hasn't merited his share of scandalous headlines.
The Yale Law School graduate married Kathleen Buhle in 1993 and they have three daughters together: Naomi (again, in tribute to their late sister), born in 1993; Finnegan, born in 1998; and Maisy, born in 2010. The longtime couple split up in 2015 and divorced in 2017, with Kathleen citing drug use and infidelity among her husband's shortcomings in her divorce filing.
Hunter went on to have a relationship with Hallie, his brother's widow. "Hallie and I are incredibly lucky to have found the love and support we have for each other in such a difficult time, and that's been obvious to the people who love us most," he said in a statement to Page Six when that news got out. "We've been so lucky to have family and friends who have supported us every step of the way."
Then, in 2019, he was sued for child support by Lunden Alexis Roberts, who claimed Hunter was the father of her child—referred to in court documents by the initials NJR—born in August 2018. Hunter at first denied having a sexual relationship with the woman, but in January 2020 an Arkansas judge signed off on an order of paternity, a DNA test having proven that he was the child's biological dad. Hunter subsequently agreed to pay an undisclosed amount of monthly child support, according to CNBC.
In May 2019, Hunter married Melissa Cohen, a documentary filmmaker from South Africa, in a rooftop ceremony in Los Angeles after a whirlwind courtship. Case in point: According to the New Yorker, just days after their first date, Hunter had "shalom" (Hebrew for hello, goodbye and peace) tattooed on the inside of his left bicep to match one that Melissa has. And then a few days after that, he proposed.
Then they tied the knot, all in the same month.
After the ceremony, Hunter told the magazine, "I called my dad and said that we just got married. He was on speaker, and he said to her, 'Thank you for giving my son the courage to love again.' And he said to me, 'Honey, I knew that when you found love again that I'd get you back.'" And my reply was, I said, 'Dad, I always had love. And the only thing that allowed me to see it was the fact that you never gave up on me, you always believed in me.'"
Hunter and Melissa welcomed a son in March, and the 8-month-old was in his dad's arms when they were onstage with the whole family on Nov. 7.
Hunter wasn't kidding about the whole family being in the habit of coming together for every significant family-friendly event on Joe's political calendar. Here, at a DNC meeting in 2007, his daughters Finnegan and Naomi, with their cousin Natalie (in Naomi's arms), sat beside their Uncle Beau.
Jill made an appearance with her five grandchildren and new daughter-in-law Melissa in May 2019.
Joe told Anderson Cooper a virtual CNN town hall in March, "Every single day, I speak to all five of my grandkids. Either on the phone, or I text with them."
Natalie and Robert lived nearby, he shared, and—with social distancing the order of the day—"we sit on our back porch and they sit out on the lawn with two chairs there, and we talk about everything that is going on in their day. And talk about being home from school. And who's driving whom crazy, and so on."
Naomi Biden, who graduated from Columbia Law School this summer, tweeted out a photo of the five older grandkids hugging their grandpa when they found out he had won the 2020 election on the morning of Nov. 7.
Her pinned tweet, from Oct. 22, reads, "Anyone who wants to get to @JoeBiden, will have to get past us first…We may not look intimidating, but remember, our Nana is
In it's a small world after all news, Naomi and Tiffany Trump were undergraduates at University of Pennsylvania together (future President Donald Trump and future President-Elect Joe Biden both attended the graduation in 2016), and Tiffany shared a photo of her and Naomi hanging out in the Hamptons in the summer of 2018.
Joe is the eldest of four siblings, and sister Valerie Biden Owens has been a familiar figure on (all the) campaign trails in her brother's life. In fact, she's been his closest political advisor for almost half a century.
"We all know him as a great talker," she told Axios in an interview after her big brother was declared the winner of the 2020 election. "I mean: There goes Biden again—as I'm doing right now—talking and talking. But my brother's even a better listener."
Asked what she'd call him once he officially became president, Valerie said, "Joey. Joe." Or, "if he calls me First Sister, I'll call him Mr. President."
Don't underestimate the general excitement over the return of dogs to the White House after four years of there not being any first pets to coo over.
The Bidens have two German shepherds—Champ, adopted in December 2008 from a Pennsylvania breeder when he was about six weeks old and named by granddaughters Finnegan and Maisy; and Major, who will be the first-ever rescue dog to ascend to the West Wing.
According to the Washingtonian, Joe and Jill started fostering Major in March 2018 after daughter Ashley shared a post on Facebook about a litter of German shepherd puppies that had been exposed to toxins in the house where they were born, and officially adopted him about eight months later from the Delaware Humane Association.
During the campaign, all four of Joe's granddaughters crowded onto a couch for an interview with PBS News Hour, in which they acknowledged their Pop's well-documented love of ice cream and confirmed that he really does call everyday.
"He'll pick up our calls no matter where he is," Naomi Biden said. "He'll be onstage, giving a speech, and we'd call him and he'd be like, 'What's wrong?!'" Giggles all around.
"We've grown up together," Hunter's eldest daughter (and Joe's first grandchild, for that matter) explained. "He's made sure that every single tradition, every holiday, we're all together…I don't think there's been any decision, no matter how big or small, that we haven't decided as a family."
When their grandfather was considering throwing his hat in the ring for president yet again, Naomi was the one to call the family meeting. "He thought we were calling a meeting sort of to, like, discuss whether or not we wanted him to," she said, "but really we were calling him to be like, 'Get in that race!'"
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