Jill Biden gives every indication she will be a very activist FLOTUS, following the example of Lady Bird Johnson and others; she’s been thinking about it for a long time.
Indeed, she’s been thinking about it since 1987, when she spoke at a forum on first ladies in Iowa, according to a C-SPAN video. Biden said there’s no one specific “right role” for a first lady but there is one objective.
“That is to make Americans feel proud of their first lady as someone who is in some way a reflection of their lives and values,” she said then. “She should respond to the interests and concerns of today’s American women, who are mothers, spouses and wage earners and struggling to balance all three. I think they will identify with a first lady who also is trying to balance all three roles.”
“Biden has been around Washington longer than any FLOTUS in history, and she should have a full Rolodex of people to help her,” Caroli said. “I expect her to quickly appoint a large, competent staff to develop her projects and do whatever she thinks will add to her husband’s legacy.”
McBride and Andersen Brower say Biden is more prepared to be first lady than most of her recent predecessors with the exception of Barbara Bush and her daughter-in-law, Laura Bush.
“The amount of time of exposure to this world, eight years plus his (36) years in the U.S. Senate, makes her uniquely equipped to handle the job, and to balance teaching with the opportunity to change people’s lives with this major megaphone as FLOTUS,” Andersen Brower says.
“She is used to having a good team and staff, a good infrastructure around her so she can carve out a new chapter of this role (of first lady),” McBride says. “I think she will figure out a way to make it work – it’s not without its heavy demands. I think her experience will make it easier to transition to a working (FLOTUS).”
Biden, born in Hammonton, New Jersey, and raised in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, was getting divorced when she met her husband (she married Bill Stevenson after graduation from high school but they had drifted apart by their junior year at the University of Delaware).
According to the story, the then-U.S. senator from Delaware, a widower with two young sons who had lost his wife and baby daughter in a car accident, saw her picture in an ad (she did a little local modeling), and sought her out; their first date was in spring 1975.
It took five proposals before she agreed to marry him (she wanted to be sure; she didn’t want Beau and Hunter to lose another mother). The couple married In 1977, and had daughter Ashley in 1981. Married to a plastic surgeon, Ashley campaigns against the death penalty and for criminal justice reform, and founded her own charity-based clothing brand.
Since their children are adults, it appears the Biden White House will be mostly without young children living there full time, as Barron Trump did and Malia and Sasha Obama did before him.
The Bidens now have five grandchildren (ages 25 to 14) old enough to appear occasionally on the campaign trail.
When she moved into the vice-presidential residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington in 2009, Biden continued to teach while playing a low-key and supportive role to the Obamas.
She and Michelle Obama launched Joining Forces to help military families with educational, health and job resources, and made frequent joint appearances to promote their initiative. In 2010, Biden hosted the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges with President Obama.
Michelle Obama has long been a big fan of Jill Biden.
“I’m lucky enough to call Dr. Jill Biden a dear friend, and I’ve seen up close the kindness, empathy, and humor she brings to even the most difficult of situations,” Obama said in an emailed statement to USA TODAY. “Through our work together in the White House, I’ve seen Jill’s passion, hard work and dedication. As a military mom and an educator, Jill has always led by example, treating everybody she meets with the sort of genuine warmth and care that sticks with you. She is going to be a terrific First Lady.”
In their joint exit interview with People magazine in 2016, Obama commented admiringly that Biden often pulled out student papers to peruse on the plane as they traveled together.
“Jill is always grading papers,” Obama said. “Which is funny because I’d forget, ‘Oh yeah, you have a day job!’ And then she pulls out her papers and she’s so diligent and I’m like, ‘Look at you! You have a job! Tell me! Tell me what it’s like!’”
“Michelle Obama commanded attention because she was so historic as a first lady; Jill Biden was more low-key (as second lady) but still effective,” Andersen Brower says.
Both Bidens are devoted to the “Cancer Moonshot” program, launched by President Obama “to end cancer as we know it.” It wasn’t just due to Beau’s death at age 46; both of Jill Biden’s parents died of cancer.
“Cancer is a brutal disease; it shatters our hearts and steals our joy,” she wrote in a column for The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2019. “But what Joe and I have learned is that even if we don’t have medical degrees or science backgrounds, we aren’t helpless in the face of cancer.”
“There are stories about her on the campaign trial connecting with people who lost loved ones, reaching out to people getting chemotherapy,” Andersen Brower says. “She is famous for her empathy, she keeps in touch with people she’s met who are dealing with cancer.”
So even if Biden carries out the role of first lady with the unprecedented twist of pursuing her career, she has already demonstrated qualities prized for the “traditional” part of the FLOTUS job and what has long been assumed to be the first lady’s No. 1 goal: humanizing her husband and promoting his agenda.
Myra Gutin, a first-lady historian and professor of communication at Rider University in New Jersey, says that a press secretary for former first lady Betty Ford wrote years ago that FLOTUS can provide a window into the White House.
“From this window, we can develop a sense of the character of the president and his family,” Gutin says, predicting Biden will use her White House podium to provide those insights and “make life a little better for Americans.”