Jill Biden draws criticism for defending Joe Biden after debate

ALLENTOWN — Four years ago, Jill Biden lunged at a protester who had attacked her husband, drawing mostly positive headlines as a proud and caring wife who told reporters, “I’m a good girl from Philadelphia.”

At the time, the Washington Post called her “character” for protecting her husband. That’s not the mood anymore. Last week, when she greeted her husband on stage after a disappointing debate performance and appeared to support him down the stairs, the footage was used to illustrate calls on him to withdraw from the presidential race.

With a 2024 election looming in which a majority of voters believe Biden is too antique to serve another term, and in the wake of a debate that has only exacerbated those concerns, the first lady is once again facing criticism for her role as her husband’s chief defender.

Biden is her husband’s closest adviser, one of his most busy surrogates and a force behind his re-election bid, even after a arduous debate performance.

This week, she has drawn fire from Democrats and pundits skeptical of Biden’s ability to run for president, who say she should persuade him to reject the nomination. Conservative media outlets have long tried to portray her as an opportunist eager to cling to political power.

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When she became a flashpoint in discussions about Biden’s candidacy, she appeared on the show Vogue cover in an article that staunchly defended her husband. The timing of the article’s publication in the fashion magazine drew some criticism and only served to further highlight her role in the campaign.

The campaign “will not allow these 90 minutes to define his four years as president,” she told Vogue in a statement added to the top of the magazine’s article after it was published. “We will continue to fight.” She added that her husband “will always do what’s best for the country.”

The magazine’s publication had been in the works for months, and Elizabeth Alexander, the first lady’s communications director, called the negative reaction to her appearance in the magazine a symptom of the double standards applied to powerful women.

“Society has put all first ladies, including Dr. Biden, in an impossible position — and Twitter/X is amplifying that on steroids in the modern world,” Alexander said.

During one of the most difficult moments of her husband’s re-election campaign, Biden visited the Allentown campus building Lehigh Carbon Community College on Tuesday.

“Do you work during the summer?” Biden asked the community college staff gathered for her visit. “I work, too, but in a different way.”

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During an event scheduled well before last week’s debate to discuss career and educational opportunities for Latinos with U.S. Rep. Susan Wild (D., Pa.), Biden made no mention of the debate, forcing the campaign to resort to damage control.

Like many White House and campaign events, the Allentown visit was largely planned. Biden read from a prompter a list of some of her husband’s accomplishments that have benefited Latinos. She listened to a roundtable discussion about the benefits of programming in the region, some of which was funded by her husband’s signature American Rescue Plan. She did not take any questions from reporters.

One challenge Biden faces in his reelection bid is waning support among Latino voters, whom he won decisively in 2020 but who, polls show, are shifting away from the president.

“I remember every insult”

While Biden is no stranger to campaigning — she has campaigned with her husband 15 times — she has said repeatedly over the years that she dislikes politics, something that has never come naturally to her.

“The president has a lot of policy and policy advisers — that’s never been her role,” Alexander said. “…She supports his career, and he supports hers.”

Biden, a career teacher for more than 30 years, has had just three years off from teaching and is the only first lady to have held a full-time job while her husband has been in office. She has been an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College since 2009 — a familiar identity as a working woman that the campaign has seized on, along with her middle-class upbringing in Philadelphia.

“Teaching is not just what I do, it’s who I am,” she said Tuesday in Allentown. “And Joe understands that and knows that the key to our future is in our classrooms.”

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As the person closest to the president, Jill Biden was seen by the campaign as best placed to respond to concerns about Biden’s age and health.

She did not speak directly about his health after the debate, but has said for years that he is capable of serving another term in office.

She also described herself as fiercely protective of her family. In her 2019 memoir, she admits to being a resentful family member.

“Joe will be warm and talk to everyone, even if it’s a friend who badmouthed him earlier, she writes. “But that means I end up owning the grudge. I’m the one who wants to climb the hill to confront the cruel kid. I remember every slight against the people I love.”

She often recounts the tragedies and triumphs that have defined the couple’s nearly 50 years of marriage. She was with Biden through three presidential campaigns, six Senate campaigns, the loss of his son, Hunter Biden’s struggles with addiction and the brutal 2020 campaign against then-President Donald Trump. “To say they were in the trenches together doesn’t even begin to explain their bond,” Alexander said.

They went on their first date in Philadelphia in 1975, when she was a 24-year-old college senior. Biden was a freshman senator whose wife and daughter had died in a car crash two years earlier.

At a fundraiser in Chestnut Hill last month, Jill Biden told the story of their courtship and described her husband as “strong and even-tempered.” “Always unwavering,” she said. “Always unyielding.”

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