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Meet the Bidens: Who’s who in the first family

Mr Biden lost his first wife Neilia and one-year-old daughter Naomi in a car accident

Joe Sommerlad,Abe Asher
Thursday 14 September 2023 20:49 BST
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2020 election results

Democrat Joe Biden won the presidency after a bitterly fought campaign in 2020 marred by the Capitol riot that followed its conclusion and is now officially gunning for a second term.

Mr Biden, 80, is no stranger to public office. He was first elected to the US Senate in 1972 and has been in Washington almost ever since, leaving public office only for a brief period between the expiration of Barack Obama’s second term as president and the beginning of his own first term.

Mr Biden’s 2020 campaign focused heavily on his character, drawing on his working-class Irish Catholic roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the tragedies he has suffered. Shortly after being elected at the age of 30, Mr Biden lost his first wife Neilia Hunter and their one-year-old daughter Naomi in a car accident.

Mr Biden’s young sons Beau and Hunter were both in the car that day but escaped with minor injuries. Beau Biden, an Iraq war veteran, passed away from a brain tumour in 2015, aged just 46.

Mr Biden is known for his empathy for ordinary people in times of trial and is thought of as a family man throughout Washington. After Mr Biden announced his bid for reelection on 25 April, here is a look at a selection of the family members closest to him.

Mr Biden credits his second wife Jill, 71, with restoring his zest for life after the death of his first wife Neilia, a bereavement that he said left him close to abandoning politics, suffering a crisis of faith and contemplating suicide.

“She put us back together. She gave me back my life. She gave us back a family,” he said of his wife at the Democratic National Convention earlier this year.

Mr Biden met Jill Tracy Jacobs – born in New Jersey but raised in Pennsylvania – in 1975 after his brother Frank set them up on a blind date. She also had been married before, to  a college football star Bill Stevenson.

“I just didn’t think he would appeal to me,” Dr Biden would later tell The Philadelphia Inquirer of that first evening, when they went to see the movie A Man and a Woman at a cinema in Philadelphia.

"When we came home he shook my hand good night,” she recalled. “I went upstairs and called my mother at 1am and said, 'Mom, I finally met a gentleman.'"

After five proposals, she finally accepted and the pair were married in New York in 1977, with Dr Biden becoming stepmother to Beau and Hunter and the couple having a daughter of their own, Ashley, in 1981.

Dr Biden has a bachelor's degree and a doctoral degree from the University of Delaware, as well as master's degrees from West Chester University and Villanova University. She taught English and reading in high schools for 13 years and has also taught adolescents at a psychiatric hospital.

While serving as second lady during the Obama years, she continued to teach at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), with her secret service detail dressing like students to blend in.

As First Lady, Dr Biden has continued teaching at NOVA and travelled widely both inside and outside the United States to promote her husband’s agenda and advocate for a range of causes including education and healthcare. On one of those trips Dr Biden caused a minor controversy by saying that Latino Americans are as unique as tacos; she later apologised through a spokesperson.

Beau Biden

The Democrat’s eldest son was born in 1969 and attended the University of Pennsylvania, after which he clerked for a New Hampshire judge before joining the US Justice Department, serving from 1995 and 2002, including a stint as a federal prosecutor.

He also served a year-long deployment in Iraq during the War on Terror and was awarded a Bronze Star before returning to marry Hallie Olivere in 2002. The couple have two children - Natalie and Robert - born in 2004 and 2006 respectively.

While serving as Delaware’s attorney general, Beau gained national plaudits when he introduced his father at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in 2008 as Mr Biden accepted the nomination to be Mr Obama’s running mate.

Just two years later, he suffered a mild stroke, which proved to be a prelude to the cancer that would tragically end his life in 2015 after a two-year fight.

"Four days after Beau's funeral, I watched Joe shave and put on his suit,” Dr Biden recalled earlier this year. 

“I saw him steel himself in the mirror, take a breath, put his shoulders back, and walk out into a world empty of our son. He went back to work. That's just who he is."

Mr Biden’s surviving son, 53, was just two years old when his mother was killed but says his first memory is of waking up in hospital alongside his brother.

A lawyer and investment consultant in adult life, Mr Biden Jr has played a unwittingly major role in the 2020 campaign. Donald Trump and his supporters, notably Rudy Giuliani, sought to smear the family by claiming Hunter had attempted to exploit his business connections in Ukraine and China by promising access to his vice president father in exchange for favourable treatment.

Their central claim, which is unsubstantiated, was that Joe Biden had pressured Kiev to fire a federal prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, that he accused of being corrupt in 2014 while his son was on the board of Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.

Hunter Biden graduated from Georgetown University in 1992, then spent a year in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Oregon before he pursued a Juris Doctor from Yale Law School.

Hunter Biden

Following his graduation in 1996, he moved to Wilmington, Delaware, to work as vice president for the state’s largest employer MBNA Bank. From there, he was appointed as a director in the Department of Commerce under the Bill Clinton administration, where he worked on e-commerce policy.

He was appointed to an unpaid seat on the Amtrak board and co-founded the lobbying firm Oldaker, Biden and Belair. 

He left both positions in 2008 in the run-up to that year's presidential election after his father was tapped as Mr Obama's deputy, later saying he hoped to give his father “a clean slate” by getting out of DC.

Hunter subsequently launched an international consulting firm, Seneca Global Advisors, then co-founded Rosemont Seneca Partners, which eventually led him to Burisma. He has since founded the venture capital firm Eudora Global.

Mr Biden’s youngest son has certainly attracted more than his fair share of scandal, having been discharged from the Navy Reserves for testing positive for cocaine use and struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. 

He also raised eyebrows by starting a brief relationship with his late brother’s widow, Hallie, in the wake of Beau’s death.

"There's addiction in every family,” he said of his personal issues. “I was in that darkness. I was in that tunnel - it's a never-ending tunnel. You don’t get rid of it. You figure out how to deal with it."

Hunter Biden has three daughters with his first wife Kathleen: Naomi (named after his late sister), Finnegan and Maisy.

Ashley Biden

Mr Biden’s 41-year-old daughter graduated in cultural anthropology from Tulane University in Louisiana. 

She has worked as a pizza waitress and then as a social worker before being appointed executive director of Delaware Center for Justice, a nonprofit dedicated to criminal justice reform from 2014 to 2019.

She has also founded the ethical fashion brand Livelihood.

As a child, Ashley’s passion for environmentalism inspired her father to collaborate with congresswoman Barbara Boxer on the 1990 Dolphin Protection Consumer Information Act.

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