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Joe Biden's election to presidency caps five decades in politics

By
Jonna Lorenz
 Joe Biden speaks during the final presidential debate with President Donald Trump at Belmont University in Nashville on October 22. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
 Joe Biden speaks during the final presidential debate with President Donald Trump at Belmont University in Nashville on October 22. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Joe Biden's election as the 46th president of the United States caps a 50-year career in public service, marked by victory and personal tragedy.

Biden, who served as vice president under President Barack Obama, will be 78 at his inauguration, the oldest U.S. president -- after starting his career as one of the youngest people elected to U.S. Senate.

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Born in Scranton, Pa., on Nov. 20, 1942, Biden moved with his family to Delaware as a child. His political career began in 1970, when he was elected to the New Castle County Council in Delaware. The 1968 graduate of Syracuse University Law School started his own law firm in 1971.

In 1972, at age 29, Biden became the fifth-youngest person ever elected to the U.S. Senate by upsetting Republican incumbent J. Caleb Boggs with a shoestring campaign supported by his sister and parents.

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The joy of that victory was clouded by personal tragedy when his wife, Neilia, and daughter, Naomi, died in a car accident while shopping for a Christmas tree just weeks after his Senate election.

"I thought about what it would be like just to go to the Delaware Memorial Bridge and just jump off and end it all," Biden told CNN for a documentary. "But I didn't ever get in the car and do it or wasn't ever even close."

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Biden's two young sons, Beau and Hunter, who were age 3 and 2 at the time and injured in the accident, kept him going. Supporters encouraged him to fulfill his term in the Senate, and he went on to serve six terms from 1973 to 2009. He launched bids for the Democratic nomination for president in 1988 and 2008 before serving two terms as vice president.

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Biden followed his role in the administration of the first Black U.S. president with a historic choice for running mate in Sen. Kamala Harris, who becomes the first female vice president and the first Black and South Asian woman on the ticket of a major political party.

Biden married his second wife, Jill, in 1977 and the couple welcomed daughter, Ashley, in 1981.

Tragedy in Biden's personal life struck again in 2015, when his son, Beau, who was attorney general of Delaware and preparing a run for governor, died of brain cancer at age 46.

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Biden chronicled that loss in his book Promise Me, Dad, titled after a conversation the two men had during which the ailing son implored his father to "promise me, Dad, that no matter what happens, you're going to be all right. Give me your word, Dad, that you're going to be all right."

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Biden credits his parents with instilling values of hard work and perseverance. His father, Joseph Biden Sr., cleaned furnaces and sold used cars. His mother, Catherine Eugenia "Jean" Finnegan, encouraged him to stand up to bullies who mocked him for a stutter that challenged him as a child.

Biden's health concerns have included life-threatening brain aneurysms that led him to abandon his presidential ambitions in 1988 and undergo brain and lung surgeries to correct the problems.

Foreign policy has been a cornerstone of Biden's career, which included serving as chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, lead positions on issues such as forging arms-control agreements with the Soviet Union, seeking to end the conflict in the Balkans and opposing the Persian Gulf War launched in 1991.

Biden initially supported the 2002 invasion of Iraq, but later criticized President George W. Bush for his handling of the conflict and opposed the 2007 troop surge.

He is credited with helping Obama widen his appeal to White blue-collar voters in key swing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. The Obama-Biden ticket beat Sen John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in 2008 and Sen. Mitt Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan in 2012.

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Biden served as an adviser to Obama on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also was key in leading negotiations with Republicans in the Senate, helping the Obama administration pass legislation, including the 2010 Tax Relief Act, the Budget Control Act of 2011, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, the Affordable Care Act.

In announcing his run for president last year, Biden characterized himself as a civil rights advocate motivated by President Donald Trump's comments claiming there were "very fine people on both sides" of violent clashes in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

"In that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime," Biden said in his video announcement. "I wrote at the time that we're in a battle for the soul of this nation. ... If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation.

"I cannot stand by and watch that happen. ... Everything that makes America America is at stake."

On the campaign trail, Biden has promised a pandemic response including free testing and treatment, a healthcare proposal with a Medicare-like public option, and tax increases for the wealthy and corporations that won't affect people earning less than $400,000.

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Biden, who sponsored one of the first climate change bills in the Senate in 1986, also said he will rejoin the Paris climate agreement and has called climate change "the No. 1 issue facing humanity."

President Joe Biden's 48-year career in government

A young Sen. Joe Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, is seen in this undated photo at a press conference in Washington, D.C. His political career began in 1970, when he was elected to the New Castle County Council in Delaware at age 26. UPI File Photo | License Photo

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