LAS VEGAS (AP) — Her husband campaigned to help unite the country, but Jill Biden says “healing” a nation wounded by a deadly pandemic, natural and other disasters, and deep political polarization is among her chief roles as first lady, too.
Wrapping up a year in which she saw herself as a key member of President Joe Biden’s team, the first lady told the Associated Press that she found herself taking on a role that “I didn’t kind of expect, which was like a healing role, because we’ve faced so much as a nation.”
Jill Biden spoke sitting in the sunshine near a swimming pool at a Las Vegas hotel a day after she and the president comforted families in Louisville, Colo., where a huge swath of homes burned to the ground in a late December wildfire. She hugged people as they stood in front of the charred ruins of their lives and later offered public condolences for dogs and other pets killed in the blaze.
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Such trips offer increasingly rare opportunities for the White House to step out of the partisan gridlock that defines Washington. For the most part, Jill Biden isn’t caught up in the capital’s frenzy, giving her the chance instead to serve as something of an ambassador between her husband’s administration and communities across the country, regardless of their political leanings.
Her visits to Colorado and to see victims of a deadly Christmas parade crash in Waukesha, Wis., and a trip last Friday to tornado-ravaged areas of Kentucky are a “prime example” of the responsibility she feels, she said. It’s what she would want as a regular person who survived a natural disaster or other tragedy.
“I would want to know that my president and first lady cared about me,” Biden said. “I think that’s an important part of what I do. I mean, just helping people through the tough times.”
Biden, 70, has experienced her share of tough times.
She and Joe Biden wed less than five years after his first wife and infant daughter were killed in a 1972 automobile crash, and at age 26 she became a mother to his two surviving young sons, Joseph Robinette Biden III, known as Beau, and Hunter Biden. Their daughter, social worker Ashley Biden, was born in 1981. In 2015, the couple buried Beau, a military veteran and former Delaware attorney general, who died of brain cancer at age 46.
The first lady has lost several close friends to breast cancer, and empathized with the people in Colorado because her own home in Delaware once caught fire after a lightning strike.
“I know the tough things that we’ve been through in our life and I know the, how much the acts of kindness have meant to me and to Joe,” Biden said. “So I just know what a difference it makes when you show up. I think showing up is really important.”
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She showed up in a lot of places in the year past, traveling in the middle of a pandemic at a pace that exceeded the president’s — all while continuing her other full-time job: as an English and writing professor at Northern Virginia Community College. She has taught there since 2009.
Biden is the first first lady to continue her career — she’s a lifelong teacher — and hold a paying job outside the White House.
From the archives (September 2021): Jill Biden heads back to the classroom as a working first lady
The New Jersey–born, Pennsylvania-raised first lady spent the past year dropping in at schools, COVID-19 vaccination sites, military bases, Native American reservations and other locations in 35 states. That includes a dozen mostly Southern states that did not vote for her husband for president. By contrast, he touched down in 24 states, excluding trips home to Delaware.