Jill Biden has taken the nation by storm in her first year as first lady, as if on a one-man mission to help her husband’s administration address the problems of the moment: vaccinating people and stepping up the fight against deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
New headwinds blowing the following year — President Joe Biden’s low standing with the public and the November election that could return Republican control of Congress — set her on a new mission: working to help elections can help Democrats for her husband.
She made no secret of her dissatisfaction with Washington.
“Joe really believes in working with Congress and getting the job done, but obviously the Republicans are pulling together and they’re not giving in. They’re not giving in,” the first lady said at one of four fundraisers she hosted last month.
“Who would think AR-15 would make sense for anything? Who wouldn’t believe in the need to fight climate change?” she said at a July fundraiser in Nantucket, Massachusetts, where Republicans opposed the president’s push to ban aggressive Arms and calls for increased climate change spending.
With school out for the summer, the teacher first lady is free to travel again as the president’s chief surrogate, highlighting executive achievements and showing more political aspects, while testing possible fall campaign messages in front of audiences large and small.
She expressed her and the president’s sense of urgency about the unfinished aspects of his agenda.
After accompanying him to the scene of the deadly mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y., and an elementary school in Uwald, Texas, the first lady – a community college professor – urged viewers to ask Congress to enact more Tough gun laws.
“We need to fight now for the lives of our children and the safety of our schools,” she said at the national PTA convention in June, when the Bidens visited Rob Elementary School in Uwald, home to 19 students and two teacher. Killed by a man who fired an AR-15.
Congress represents “the will of the people,” she said, “that’s why we need the people to speak up. Parents and teachers. All of us.”
She later raised the issue of guns at the American Federation of Teachers convention in Boston in July, saying “we believe in the AR-15 weapon, which tore up 19 children and two teachers in their classrooms, and in our There is no place to stand on the street.”
She turned the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the constitutional abortion right into an argument for sending more Democrats to Congress in November. President Biden has pledged to sign a bill to bring abortion rights into federal law, but the bill has not received enough support in Congress with a narrow Democratic majority.
“We all have a teacher’s voice, and when something happens, it’s time to use it,” she said in Boston.
On Nantucket, the first lady defended her spouse of 45 years, saying “he’s encountered too many unexpected things,” including an abortion ruling and Russia’s war on Ukraine.
“He had a lot of hope and plans for what he wanted to do, but every time you turned around, he had to address the issues of the moment,” she told a group of about two dozen donors.
She said she has also become “the first lady of the moment”, responding to issues rather than pushing her own agenda.
Tammy Vigil, a professor of communications at Boston University, said it’s typical for a first lady to defend a president, so complaints about the Republican opposition sound better than from President Biden. She said he would risk undermining his authority and appearing “groaning” if he talked about the GOP’s obstacles more often than he did.
“She’s the best candidate, if anything,” said Virgil, who has written a book about former first ladies Michelle Obama and Melania Trump.
Jill Biden’s summer has been busy — uncharacteristically bumpy at times.
In May, she made two separate foreign trips to meet Ukrainian refugees in Romania and Slovakia in Eastern Europe. The trip included an unannounced detour to western Ukraine to meet First Lady Olena Zelenska. She has also been to Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.
But by June, she angered AIDS activists by hosting an event at the White House to unveil stamps honoring First Lady Nancy Reagan. Activists point to the Reagans’ indifference to gays and lesbians at the start of the AIDS crisis that erupted during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Last month, she was forced to apologise for offending Latinos through a spokeswoman, calling their diversity “as unique as a wine cellar in the Bronx, as beautiful as a flower in Miami, and as unique as a breakfast taco in San Antonio.”
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists responded on Twitter: “We’re not tacos.”
The first lady was also questioned on her way to an ice cream parlor in Connecticut last month. A man in the sidewalk crowd shouted: “Your husband is the worst president we’ve ever had” and “You owe us gas”. A new CNN poll puts her at just 34 percent favorable, even though only 29 percent have a negative view of her. Another 28 percent said they had no problem with the first lady, and 9 percent said they didn’t know enough about her.
The president tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the couple to be separated for about two weeks during his quarantine at the White House, while she remained at her home in Wilmington, Delaware.
Before the president’s diagnosis, she welcomed Zelenska to the White House.
Jill Biden, 71, is the first first lady to work outside the White House. She is expected to resume teaching in September and to juggle those requirements through a campaign. The morning she spoke to the AFT, she said, she signed a new contract with Northern Virginia Community College.
She has hosted seven fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee so far this year, and the party is happy to have her.
“Jill Biden is one of the Democratic Party’s most important surrogates because she has excited grassroots supporters across the country,” Democratic Party Chair Jamie Harrison said in a statement to The Associated Press. “We appreciate the First Lady’s commitment to the election and the Democrats have moved up and down the vote.”
The modern-day first lady has become an effective fundraiser in her own right, popular with party loyalists, especially women, said Lynn University history professor Robert Watson. He said it would be surprising not to see more Jill Biden on the eve of the Nov. 8 election.
“She’s a strong defender,” said Watson, who studies the presidency. “No one is interested in asking her for her holiday cookie recipe.”
Regardless of the outcome, the Bidens still have one happy moment to look forward to after the election: the first White House wedding in nearly a decade.
Granddaughter Naomi Biden will marry Peter Neal on the South Lawn on November 19.