Vice President Biden, 72, announced Wednesday he would not be a candidate for president in 2016.
Here are some key facts about the vice president and former U.S. senator, whose long career in elective office will likely end when the Obama administration leaves office in January 2017.
Biden is known for his gift of gab, but in high school he was nicknamed “Joe Impedimenta” for his stutter. He overcame it by standing in front of a mirror at night, reciting Yeats and Emerson. Biden has said he considers his stutter “the greatest gift God ever sent my way” because it gave him insight.
In 1988, Biden was absent from the Senate for seven months after undergoing two surgeries for near-fatal brain aneurysms. He’s reported no serious health problems since then. “It just makes you think … you’d better take advantage of the day,” he said in 2008.
In December 1972, just before his first Senate term began, Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and their 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car accident that also injured the couple’s sons, Beau and Hunter. (Biden married his second wife, Jill, now an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College, in 1977, and they had a daughter, Ashley.) On May 30, Biden lost 46-year-old Beau, Delaware’s former attorney general, to brain cancer.
Decades of Senate service
Biden, a self-described “Senate man,” was just shy of his 30th birthday when he was first elected to represent Delaware in the Senate. He went on to serve 36 years, earning the nickname “Amtrak Joe” for commuting between Wilmington and Washington every day by train.
Biden served stints as chairman of both the Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees. He counts among his legislative accomplishments the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which put 100,000 more police officers on the street and established the Violence Against Women Act to target domestic violence and rape. However, criminal justice reform advocates now say the legislation contributed to today’s high incarceration rates that have disproportionately affected minorities. Biden also presided over the hearings in 1991 that vetted Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court and included Anita Hill’s explosive allegation that Thomas had sexually harassed her.
Biden dropped a presidential bid in September 1987 after reports he had plagiarized a speech by British Labour Party Leader Neil Kinnock. (Biden said he forgot to attribute the passage. On previous occasions, he had credited Kinnock.) That led to reports of other unattributed remarks and revelations that as a law school student, Biden wrote a paper that drew heavily from a law review article he cited only once. In that case, the Delaware Supreme Court Board on Professional Responsibility later concluded Biden hadn’t violated any rules.
Capitol Hill negotiator
Biden has been an unusually active vice president, partly because of his long-standing relationships with Capitol Hill lawmakers. He’s been the Obama administration’s go-to guy for negotiating down-to-the-wire agreements on fiscal issues, including proposals to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, legislation to increase the nation’s borrowing limit, and a strategy for avoiding the “fiscal cliff” of spending cuts and tax increases in 2013.
After the December 2012 shootings in Newtown, Conn., Obama put Biden in charge of a gun violence task force. More recently, the White House tapped Biden to lobby members of Congress to support the nuclear agreement with Iran.
Going off script
Biden has a history of unscripted remarks that sometimes have gotten him in trouble. In 2007, Biden called Obama the first “mainstream, African-American (presidential candidate) who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.” Three years later, at the ceremony to sign the Affordable Care Act into law, microphones picked up Biden whispering to Obama “This is a big f-ing deal!” In 2012, Biden said on Meet the Press that he was “absolutely comfortable” with same-sex marriage, upstaging Obama’s plans to announce his own support for gay marriage.