Joe Biden’s chief protector, Jill Biden to step up as first lady

Laurie Kellman
Associated Press

Washington — She’s fended off protesters who made a run at her husband. She’s moved him farther from reporters during the coronavirus pandemic. She’s supported his presidential ambitions again and again — except in 2004, when she deployed a novel messaging technique to keep Joe Biden from running.

“No,” Jill Biden, then clad in a bikini, wrote in Sharpie across her stomach and then marched through a strategy session in which advisers were trying to talk her husband into challenging Republican President George W. Bush.

In this Oct. 5, 2020 file photo, Jill Biden moves her husband, Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, back from members of the media as he speaks outside his campaign plane at New Castle Airport in New Castle, Del., to travel to Miami for campaign events. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Protecting Joe stands out among Jill Biden’s many roles over their 43-year marriage, as her husband’s career moved him from the Senate to the White House as President Barack Obama’s vice president.

She’s a wife, mother, grandmother and educator with a doctoral degree — as well as a noted prankster.

Now, with her husband on the brink of becoming the 46th president, Jill Biden is about to become first lady and put her own stamp on a position that traditionally is viewed as a model of American womanhood — whether that means hewing to old ways or finding new, activist ones, in the manner of Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, for example.

She intends to keep working as a college professor, which would make her the only first lady to keep her day job outside the home. And if four decades in the public eye are any indication, she’ll continue being Biden’s chief protector.

The role isn’t completely unfamiliar territory for Jill Biden. She’s been a political wife the entire time she’s been married to Joe Biden. Plus, she had a bird’s-eye view of what a first lady does during Obama’s two terms.

But the scrutiny level will change. And all eyes are on the incoming Biden administration to deliver what both Joe and Jill have promised — getting the coronavirus pandemic raging across the country under control.

Myra Gutin, a professor at Rider University and the author of several books about first ladies, recalled Barbara Bush telling her: “You know, when I was second lady, I could say anything I wanted, and no one really paid much attention. But the minute I became first lady, everything became newsworthy.”

Still, Jill Biden won’t have the learning curve most other new first ladies faced. “She’s been in the public eye for a long time,” Gutin said. “She’s going in eyes wide open.”

She’s quick to rally to her husband’s side, sometimes physically.

In New Hampshire in February, a man tried to cross into the roped-off area near Joe Biden. In a flash, Jill Biden crossed behind her husband and put her arms around the man, turned him around and helped push him away.

She’s also been protective during the pandemic.

On Oct. 5 at New Castle Airport in Delaware, she moved her husband back from members of the media as he spoke outside his campaign plane before a trip to Miami.

Look, too, for Jill Biden to try to keep things light.

“She’s not your average grandmother,” granddaughter Naomi said on a video shown at the Democratic National Convention, recalling that Jill Biden once woke her up at 5 a.m. on Christmas morning to go “soul cycling.”

“She’s a prankster, she’s very mischievous,” Naomi added with a grin. “When she goes on a run, sometimes she’ll find, like, a dead snake and she’ll pick it up and put it in a bag and use it to scare someone.”