The Georgian-style home — from the front a brick version of the White House — once belonged to Alexander Haig, the former secretary of state. Nestled on a wooded lot in McLean, the nearly 12,000-square-foot residence has five bedrooms and 10 bathrooms, marble fireplaces, a gym and a sauna.
“Surrounded by Washington elite and sitting high above the Potomac River, there is an undeniable grandeur in the design of this home,” said the British-accented agent in a video released when it went on the market in 2015. “This property makes an imposing statement with parking for over 20 cars and creates a perfect setting for the most lavish of events.
“This may have already been the residence to a very important person,” he continued. “But I suspect it will be home to many more.”
It is currently home to Joe Biden. He and his wife, Jill, rented it after leaving the vice presidential quarters at the Naval Observatory in 2017. The house had been purchased for $4.25 million in June 2016 by Mark Ein, a wealthy venture capitalist who lives next door.
Biden points out on the presidential campaign trail that he was often the poorest member of the U.S. Senate and, for at least a decade, has referred to himself as “Middle Class Joe.” But since leaving office he has enjoyed an explosion of wealth, making millions of dollars largely from book deals and speaking fees for as much as $200,000 per speech, public documents show.
As Biden traveled the country before announcing his presidential campaign this spring, his sponsors provided VIP hotel suites, town cars and professional drivers, chartered flights and travel expense reimbursements that for some of his appearances reached at least $10,000 per event, according to contracts obtained by The Washington Post through public records requests.
The Post found at least 65 instances in which Biden gave a speech or appeared at a book event; in at least 10 instances he did not take a fee, although in some of those cases he was reimbursed for travel expenses. Biden’s campaign said he has given less than 50 paid speeches, but it declined to be more specific about how many he delivered or how much he earned in total.
Biden, whose campaign declined to comment on the record for this report, appears to have taken care to avoid the backlash that haunted Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Democratic primary, as she faced questions about her private speeches to Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street interests. He appears to have limited his appearances to less politically sensitive venues, public documents show.
For his speeches — whether in Benton Harbor, Mich., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Buffalo or Salt Lake City — Biden’s hosts were obligated to serve him the same Italian meal, according to several contracts obtained through public records requests: angel hair pomodoro, a caprese salad, topped off with raspberry sorbet with biscotti.
Since leaving the vice presidency, Biden has rented the McLean home and purchased a $2.7 million, 4,800-square-foot vacation house near the water in Rehoboth Beach, Del., to go along with his primary residence, the nearly 7,000-square-foot lakeside home he built more than two decades ago in Wilmington, Del.
Biden’s accelerated income and the lifestyle it has financed have placed the former vice president in a much more rarefied world than the one he formerly occupied. Although many politicians are wealthy, Biden’s new circumstances run the risk of cutting against a core message of his campaign: that, unique among the presidential candidates, he can connect with and represent the middle class.
Some details about Biden’s new circumstances remain unknown. Biden’s campaign said the former vice president was paying “substantial monthly rent” for the McLean home but would not disclose additional information about the financial arrangement. Zillow, the real estate site, estimates monthly rent for the home to be nearly $20,000.
Ein, the home’s owner, is a well-connected, politically active donor — he twice gave money to George W. Bush but has mostly helped fund Democrats. In 2017, he and Biden sat courtside at a Washington Wizards game. Ein owns the Washington Kastles tennis team and Kastle Systems, which handles security systems for commercial office buildings. About two years ago, he bought the Washington City Paper.
Biden released his tax returns in the past but has not done so since 2016, his last year as vice president. He has vowed to release the current ones as part of this campaign. A financial disclosure required of presidential candidates would have provided the first window into the financial boost he has received since leaving the vice presidency. The deadline for that document was set for last month, but Biden filed for an extension until July 9.
The 2016 election ended an unbroken 44-year career for Biden as a federal government employee. In its aftermath, Biden went about doing something he had been unable to achieve in public service: make a significant amount of money.
“I’ve never been gainfully employed in my life,” Biden joked before an audience a few months before the election, as he contemplated life out of office. “I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. You know, I mean, I’ve never cashed a paycheck in my entire life. You think I’m joking, I’m not.”
It has become a standard line for Biden to refer to others calling him “Middle Class Joe.” He undeniably has spent much of his life with far less wealth less than most top elected officials, often ranking last during nearly four decades as a senator. But it also appears that Middle Class Joe is a name he bequeathed to himself.
The first instance that the phrase appears in news coverage reviewed by The Post is when Biden himself says it, remarking during a labor conference in 2009 that he had been placed in charge of a task force on the middle class.
“When we got sworn in, the president of the United States asked me to chair — you know, old middle-class Joe,” he joked. “If I heard one more thing about the scrappy kid from Scranton, Pennsylvania, and carrying a lunch bucket — I never carried a lunch bucket, but I guess I’m the middle-class guy. By the way, I’m proud of that. I’m proud of that.”
Biden supporters point to his hardscrabble upbringing as something that still influences how he sees himself. When he was a child, the family moved from Scranton, home to his mother’s family, to Delaware, where his father was in search of a better job.
While campaigning, Biden frequently recalls how he approached his father — who ran a Chevrolet dealership in Delaware — on the car lot to borrow a new car for the prom. His dad was pacing, upset, after being denied a loan to send him to college.
It remains the emotional core of his stump speech, the place where his voice drops dramatically: “Think of all the people you know who have been in that situation. It’s about dignity. The dignity of work. Being able to be in a position where you have affordable education, affordable health care.”
A review of his previous tax returns show the Bidens’ adjusted gross income at $215,432 in 1998, the first year he has made available. It remained in that neighborhood until 2009, when they added about $55,000 annually in Social Security and pensions.
By Biden’s final years in office, the couple’s gross income totaled around $390,000 annually.
The tax returns showed they had almost no investment income, and they often reported few charitable contributions. For the 10 years preceding 2008, they donated an average of $369 annually to charity — or 0.1 percent of their adjusted gross income. The total increased when Biden served as vice president, with donations of book proceeds to charity, clothing to Goodwill and other contributions.
Financial disclosure forms, which incorporate assets and liabilities, show him often in debt. During those years, their only major asset was their Delaware home, against which they have taken out several loans. Since 1983, and until the most recent filing from 2015, Biden has borrowed against the cash value of life insurance policies, valued at $15,000 to $50,000. From 1989 until at least 2015, he’s had a line of credit, co-signed with his sons, that is renewable every two years. It was once used for college expenses but remained open long after his adult children left college.
The 2015 forms also show that he had taken out a mortgage on his Delaware home in 2013, and owed $500,001 to $1 million on it. He took out a line of credit on the home the next year, and owed $250,001 to $500,000, in addition to the mortgage.
Biden’s Delaware estate became a source of income for several years. In 2005, he and his wife had built a 1,900-square-foot house on the same property as their nearly 6,850-square-foot home. His mother, Jean Biden, lived in the smaller home.
After her death in 2010 , during most of his vice presidency and for several months afterward, he rented out the smaller home to the Secret Service, receiving $2,200 in monthly rent. In total, according to purchasing orders from the Secret Service, the Bidens were paid $171,600.
Still, Biden has recounted a recent stretch of fiscal difficulty, after his son Beau was diagnosed with brain cancer. Joe Biden worried how his son’s family would make ends meet if Beau had to step down as Delaware’s attorney general. He recalled confiding to President Barack Obama that he might sell his Delaware house.
“He’s going to be mad at me saying this,” Biden told CNN in 2016. “He said, ‘I’ll give you the money. Whatever you need, I’ll give you the money. Don’t, Joe. Promise me, promise me.’ ”
The Bidens didn’t sell the house. And soon, they would be on much sounder financial footing.
Biden left office in January of 2017, and in what has become standard for well-known politicians, by April had signed a book deal that Publishers Weekly reported was worth $8 million. It covered three books, two by the former vice president and one from Jill Biden. Two of those books have been published to date.
Joe Biden has also created several other organizations since leaving office, helping establish a Biden Foundation, the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania , the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware , and the Biden Cancer Initiative .
Biden’s campaign said that he did not take a salary from any of those organizations. Jill Biden has kept her professorship at Northern Virginia Community College, where public records show she makes nearly $100,000 a year teaching English.
Paid speeches provided another profitable money stream. Most of Joe Biden’s speaking engagements involved universities or existing lecture series. He appeared in 2017 at a finance and technology conference run by Anthony Scaramucci, who two months later would have a brief stint in the Trump administration, and at a health-care conference run by JPMorgan Chase.
Although Biden’s campaign said his paid speeches amounted to less than 50 since he left the vice presidency, it would not provide a list of them. Four contracts, however, were obtained by The Post through public records requests, some of which have been previously reported. They show that he charged between $150,000 and $200,000 per speech.
As with other well-compensated speechmakers, Biden enjoyed many related perks.
Some contracts included at least $10,000 for travel — which was the agreement with the University of Utah — and organizers were told it was standard practice for Biden and his aides to fly privately. Other contracts — like one with the University of Buffalo — included a stipulation for “a town car and professional driver” for Biden and each of his companions.
Biden had initially provided a discounted rate of $100,000 to the University of Utah, but he later waived the fee, the university announced during his appearance. Biden ended up flying commercial, according to his campaign, although it is unclear who footed the bill.
As he traveled to the various speaking engagements, Biden had some specific requests, according to several riders to his speech contracts, which are used by speakers to outline their requirements in greater specificity.
His dressing room was to be stocked with bottled water, Coke Zero, regular Coca-Cola, Orange Gatorade and black coffee. It needed a full-length mirror, six straight-back chairs and one portable steamer.
At the University of Utah, the school had referred to him as the “former vice president” in a draft news release. Biden’s representatives responded that it needed to be corrected “to include VP Biden’s proper title throughout.” Each time, the aides struck out the word “former.” They did the same later with draft posts to be published on social media.
They also offered suggested talking points for Biden’s introduction, including that “he’s one of the most distinguished public servants alive today” and someone who had “one of the most remarkable careers in the history of the Senate.”
At the University of Buffalo, where he was to appear as part of a series of guests, emails show a request from a Biden representative that “vice president” precede his name on the series poster, even though the title was also below it. None of the others — including former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice — had titles before their names.
“Just between you and I, it’s just something that his team feels strongly about. Sorry if it’s a pain,” wrote Romen Borsellino, Biden’s representative from the Creative Artists Agency.
“Ok — not a good look but will do,” responded William Regan of the University of Buffalo.
Biden as an announced candidate has stopped making paid speeches and has jumped full time into a campaign where, as always, his everyman pitch is a dominant theme. He underscored that on the day of his presidential announcement, riding Amtrak from Washington to Wilmington, and more recently on a trip to New York. Biden allies note another middle-class connection that remains: He still changes the oil in the 1967 Corvette Stingray his father gave him.
Alice Crites contributed to this report.