After serving eight years as vice president under Barack Obama, next Jan. 20 Joseph R. Biden, Jr. is set to return to the White House, but this time to serve in his boss’ old job, as the US’ 46th president
The victory of Joe Biden, 77, over incumbent Donald Trump makes him first former vice president to win the Oval Office since George H. W. Bush, who won in 1988 after eight years under Ronald Reagan.
Unlike Bush, however, Biden spent four years outside of government office before winning the White House.
Bush lost his re-election bid four years later, making him a one-term president, and Biden himself has indicated he may voluntarily serve just a single term, describing himself as a “transition candidate.”
Biden is also the oldest person in American history to lay claim to the mantle of president-elect, as he will turn 78 on Nov. 20, two months to the day before his Jan. 20 inauguration.
The oldest president to date was the late Reagan, who was 77 when he left office in 1989.
Biden’s eight years as “veep” was highlighted by Obama awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the two highest civilian awards in the US, in the final days of the administration.
At a Jan. 12, 2017 White House ceremony, Obama hailed Biden as “the best vice president America’s ever had” and a “lion of American history.”
“To know Joe Biden is to know love without pretense, service without self-regard, and to live life fully,” he said.
Biden was Obama’s point man in Ukraine in the face of Russia’s illegal 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and support for separatist rebels in the east. Biden sought to improve bilateral relations and help Kiev root out corruption.
Re-elected to Senate six times
Biden was born in 1942 in the blue-collar city of Scranton, Pennsylvania, but was largely raised in the state of Delaware, where he attended university before earning his law degree in 1968 from New York’s Syracuse University.
In an incident which left deep scars, on Dec. 18, 1972, Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and the couple’s one-year-old daughter Amy were killed in a car accident in Delaware, while his sons Beau and Hunter both suffered injuries.
More than a month earlier, on Nov. 7, he had been elected to become the sixth-youngest senator in US history, and went on to serve 36 years in the chamber, including being a longtime member of its powerful Foreign Relations Committee, eventually becoming its chairman in 2001.
In another key post, he was also chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995.
Biden won re-election to the Senate six times before becoming vice president in 2009.
His triumphant campaign with Obama followed two unsuccessful runs for the Democratic presidential nomination, in 1988 and 2008.
As part of Obama’s team, Biden was responsible for overseeing infrastructure spending to jump-start the economy after the 2007 financial crisis, and also led negotiations with congressional Republicans that produced the 2010 Tax Relief Act.
On the military front, he helped pass the new START Treaty between the US and Russia, supported NATO-led efforts to depose Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi, as aided with the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq in 2011.
Iran nuclear deal
During Biden’s tenure as vice president, the US along with several key negotiating partners sought to establish curbs on Iran’s nuclear program, as well as an unprecedented inspections regime to ensure the country’s compliance with a prospective accord.
Negotiations lasted until July 2015, when a final agreement was made to limit and monitor Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for relief from harsh international sanctions.
The deal was one of the most prominent foreign policy achievements of the Obama administration until President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the deal in May 2018.
As incoming president, Biden said he wants to return the US to compliance with the agreement. But that depends on not only what Iran will seek in return after Trump unilaterally imposed sanctions that have sent Iran’s economy into a nosedive, but also on Israel, which has long criticized the deal while praising Trump’s efforts.
When Ukraine’s then-President Petro Poroshenko took office in June 2014, Obama made Biden his point man to help improve relations between the two countries and help Kiev fight domestic corruption.
Years later, in 2019, however, the activities of Biden and his son, Hunter, made headlines as Republicans spread unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, partially in an effort to blunt Democratic efforts to impeach President Trump.
In a July 25, 2019 telephone call that figured in the impeachment drive, Trump pressed Poroshenko’s successor Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son, saying that their activities in Ukraine sound “horrible to me.”
The younger Biden, who is now 50, had joined the Board of Directors of Ukraine’s largest private natural gas producer Burisma Holdings, in May 2014 – almost one month before Poroshenko took office – according to a press release by the company.
He reportedly received a salary of $50,000 a month until stepping down from the board in April 2019.
Allegations of withholding loan
Trump argued that the elder Biden had improperly used his influence during his time in the White House to oust Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, to help his son avoid corruption investigations in the country.
For weeks, thousands of Ukrainian protestors called for Shokin to resign for failing to fight corruption, but it was Biden’s threat to withhold a $1 billion loan from Ukraine if Shokin was not fired that led to his dismissal. Biden acknowledged the fact in 2018.
“I had gotten a commitment from Poroshenko and from [then Prime Minister] Yatsenyuk that they would take action against the state prosecutor. And they didn’t,” Biden told the Council on Foreign Relations think-tank in January 2018.
“I said, you’re not getting the billion. I’m going to be leaving here in, I think it was about six hours. I looked at them and said: I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money,” he said, according to a transcript posted on the group’s website.
Critics claimed that it was a conflict of interest for Hunter Biden to work for a Ukrainian company while his father was actively working with that government; however, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing.
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