Politics

Across the years, Biden’s path to the presidency

Joe Biden on Jan. 20 will be sworn in as the 46th president, the culmination of a lifelong career in politics that spans more than five decades. He has overseen Supreme Court hearings, drafted sweeping legislation and worked with eight presidents. Here’s a look at his long career, from being elected as one of the nation’s youngest senators in 1972 to becoming the nation’s oldest president in 2021.

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Jean Biden with her four children in an undated photo. Joe is the oldest among the four siblings, which also include sister Valerie and brothers Frank and Jim.

Courtesy of Biden Campaign

Courtesy of Biden Campaign

Valerie Biden celebrates her First Communion with brothers Joe and Jim by her side.

Courtesy of Biden campaign

Courtesy of Biden campaign

Joe Biden, here with sister Valerie, won a seat on the New Castle County Council in 1970.

Courtesy of Biden campaign

Courtesy of Biden campaign

Nov. 3, 1970: As a young lawyer recruited by local Democrats, Biden wins a seat on the New Castle County Council. It is his first stint in elected office, and even before being sworn into the county seat he quickly sets his sights toward higher office.

Courtesy of Biden campaign

Nov 7, 1972: Biden wins narrowly in a major upset over popular Republican incumbent Sen. J. Caleb Boggs. He had struggled to raise money, was down significantly in the polls, but campaigned aggressively by driving around the small state, and on election night won by just over 3,000 votes. He turned 30, the minimum age for a U.S. senator, less than two weeks after Election Day.

Courtesy of Biden campaign

Future U.S. senator Joe Biden holds sons Beau and Hunter in the summer of 1972. Neilia Biden, center, died months later in a car accident. Also pictured are future Delaware governor Sherman W. Tribbitt and his wife, Jeanne.

AP

AP

Dec. 18, 1972: While in Washington setting up his Senate office, Biden’s wife and children were in a car accident in Hockessin, Del. His wife, Neilia, and his daughter, Naomi, died and his two boys, Beau and Hunter, were hospitalized. He was sworn into office from his sons’ hospital bedside.

AP

Joe Biden offers words of encouragement to son Beau weeks after the car accident that claimed the senator's wife and daughter. Biden's father-in-law, Robert Hunter, holds Hunter.

Brian Horton/AP

Brian Horton/AP

Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, right, shakes hands with Sen. Adlai Stevenson III (D-Ill.) in 1974. At center is Miss Ruth Dean of Washington.

AP

AP

January 1975: Biden is appointed as a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. His work on foreign affairs would be a defining aspect of his Senate career, and he would later become chairman of the committee.

AP

1975: Biden becomes the most prominent Democrat opposing court-ordered busing as a way to integrate schools. “It’s an asinine concept, the utility of which has never been proven to me,” he said in one interview. He filed and supported several pieces of legislation on the issue, in some cases working with segregationist senators.

AP

President Jimmy Carter, left, and Joe Biden greet supporters of the senator at a fundraising reception in Wilmington, Del., in 1978.

AP

AP

June 17, 1977: He marries Jill, a marriage that he said came in part at the urging of his sons, Beau and Hunter. Four years later, he and Jill have a daughter, Ashley.

AP

Nov. 7, 1978: Biden wins reelection. Unlike his first win, this race was not close and would solidify his grip on a Senate seat he would hold for 36 years.

AP

Sens. William Roth (R-Del.), left, Thomas Eagleton (D-Mo.) and Joe Biden (D-Del.) meet with reporters in 1979 regarding a bill that would provide federal loan guarantees to Chrysler Corp.

AP

AP

Sens. Charles Mathias (R-Md.), left, and Joe Biden (D-Del.) receive some finishing touches before appearing on “This Week with David Brinkley” in 1984.

AP

AP

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) holds his daughter Ashley while taking a re-enacted oath of office from Vice President George Bush during a ceremony on Capitol Hill in 1985. Biden’s sons Beau and Hunter hold the Bible.

Lana Harris/AP

Lana Harris/AP

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) waves to supporters from a train after announcing his candidacy for president on June 9, 1987. At right, Biden’s son Beau carries daughter Ashley. Next to Biden is his wife, Jill, and son Hunter.

George Widman/AP

George Widman/AP

June 9, 1987: Biden, who had been rumored in past years as a presidential candidate, announces his first run for the presidency. He got off to a quick and promising start, running as a new generation who could take over after Ronald Reagan left office, but his campaign collapsed over a plagiarism scandal and he dropped out on Sept. 23, 1987.

George Widman/AP

From left, 1988 Democratic presidential candidates included Sen. Joe Biden (Del.), Gov. Michael Dukakis (Mass.), the Rev. Jesse Jackson, former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt, Sen. Al Gore (Tenn)., Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) and Sen. Paul Simon (Ill.)

Charles Tasnadi/AP

Charles Tasnadi/AP

Sens. Joe Biden and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts have a discussion during confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork.

John Duricka/AP

John Duricka/AP

February 1988: Biden has emergency surgery and is treated for two brain aneurysms. The situation was so dire that a Catholic priest was called to his bedside to administer the last rites. He would return to work in the Senate later in the year.

John Duricka/AP

Sen. Joe Biden gestures to reporters after being welcomed back to work following emergency surgery for two brain aneurysms seven months earlier.

Ron Edmonds/AP

Ron Edmonds/AP

Sen. Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, confers with staff director Diana Huffman during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee David Souter. At right, Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) looks on.

John Duricka/AP

John Duricka/AP

Sen. Joe Biden, left, swears in Anita Hill, who was called in to testify about sexual harassment allegations related to Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991.

Arnie Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

Arnie Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

Oct. 11, 1991: Anita Hill is called to testify about sexual harassment allegations related to Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden oversaw the controversial hearings.

Arnie Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

Sen. Joe Biden whispers into Ruth Bader Ginsburg's ear shortly before her confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court in 1993.

Jennifer Law/AFP via Getty Images

Jennifer Law/AFP via Getty Images

Sept. 13, 1994: President Clinton signs into law the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. It was a sweeping crime bill that Biden helped push through Congress and it included the Violence Against Women Act, one of Biden’s signature pieces of legislation.

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Joe Biden, chairman of the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, shares a laugh with an Afghan child during a visit to Kabul in 2002.

Enric Marti/AP

Enric Marti/AP

Oct. 11, 2002: Biden, a longtime member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, supported the resolution authorizing military force in Iraq and, as the committee chairman, helped assure its passage. It was a vote he later regretted.

Enric Marti/AP

Sen. Joe Biden disembarks the train from Wilmington, Del., on his way to Capitol Hill in July 2005.

Melina Mara/The Washington Post

Melina Mara/The Washington Post

Jan. 31, 2007: Biden announces his second presidential campaign, this one focused on his long record of experience. But he struggled against the higher wattage, history-making candidacies of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and, after a dismal fifth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, dropped out of the race on Jan. 3, 2008.

Melina Mara/The Washington Post

Democratic candidates Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton talk before their first debate of the 2008 presidential campaign.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Aug. 22, 2008: Biden is named as Obama’s running mate, bringing to a ticket a longer record in Washington and an ability to reach the White working-class voters in the industrial Midwestern swing states. He would debate against GOP vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, and campaign against his longtime friend and Senate colleague John McCain.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

President-elect Barack Obama and wife Michelle, and Vice President-elect Joe Biden and wife Jill, celebrate their victory in 2008.

Linda Davidson/The Washington Post

Linda Davidson/The Washington Post

Joe Biden is sworn in as vice president by Justice John Paul Stevens at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2009.

Ron Edmonds/AP

Ron Edmonds/AP

Jan. 20, 2009: Biden is sworn into office as the 47th vice president. A few days earlier, in a farewell address to the U.S. Senate, where he was one of the longest-serving senators in history, he said, “Every good thing I have seen happen here, every bold step taken in the 36-plus years I have been here, came not from the application of pressure by interest groups, but through the maturation of personal relationships.”

Ron Edmonds/AP

March 23, 2010: During a ceremony signing the Affordable Care Act into law, Biden leaned over and whispered into Obama’s ear a comment that the microphones caught, calling the accomplishment “a big [expletive] deal.” It was a symbol of Biden’s role with Obama, one that was a little more blunt and a lot more off script.

Ron Edmonds/AP

President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former president Bill Clinton attend a memorial service for Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia in 2010.

Charles Dharapak/AP

Charles Dharapak/AP

May 6, 2012: During an interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press,” Biden said that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage. He became one of the highest-profile politicians to take the stance, which had irked some aides to Obama, who had been moving in that direction but hadn’t stated so publicly.

Charles Dharapak/AP

Vice President Joe Biden makes his entrance at the University of Iowa in 2012.

Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post

Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post

Oct. 11, 2012: Biden debates Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan. The exchange happened five days after Obama’s widely panned first debate with Mitt Romney and Biden’s strong performance boosted Democrats who had grown concerned about their reelection chances.

Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post

Vice President Joe Biden meets with staff in his office at the White House in 2013.

Melina Mara/The Washington Post

Melina Mara/The Washington Post

Vice President Joe Biden, accompanied by his family, holds his hand over his heart as he watches an honor guard carry a casket containing the remains of his son, former Delaware attorney general Beau Biden, in 2015.

Patrick Semansky/AP

Patrick Semansky/AP

Oct. 21, 2015: In remarks delivered in the Rose Garden, Biden announces that he will not run for president in 2016, ending months of speculation about whether he would get into the race. The announcement came amid a time of family grief, about five months after his son Beau died of brain cancer.

Patrick Semansky/AP

President Barack Obama presents an emotional Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom shortly before leaving office in January 2017.

Susan Walsh/AP

Susan Walsh/AP

April 25, 2019: Biden announces he will launch his third presidential campaign. He entered as a front-runner in a crowded Democratic field, but his lead would dwindle. After losing the first three nominating contests, he used a resounding win in South Carolina to gain what became unstoppable momentum that carried him to the nomination.

Susan Walsh/AP

Presidential candidate Joe Biden poses for pictures following a debate in Atlanta in 2019.

Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post

Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post

Biden greets voters as he makes his way to a stage at the Iowa State Fair in August 2019. Biden finished fourth in the Iowa caucuses last year before rallying to earn the Democratic nomination.

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

Salwan Georges/The Washington Post

Presidential nominee Joe Biden delivers remarks to a socially distant audience at Mountain Top Inn & Resort in Warm Springs, Ga., in October.

Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post

Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post

President-elect Joe Biden and future first lady Jill Biden wave to supporters after Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post

Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post

Jan. 20, 2021: Biden will be sworn into office as the nation’s 46th president.

Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post