LAS VEGAS (AP) — Her husband has campaigned to help unite the country, but Jill Biden says “healing” a nation hurt by a deadly pandemic, natural and other disasters and deep political polarization is also one of her main roles in as first lady.
Ending 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 had landed a role that “I didn’t expect, that was like a healing role.” because we’ve faced a lot as a nation.”
Jill Biden spoke as she sat in the sun by the pool at a Las Vegas hotel, a day after she and the president consoled families in Louisville, Colorado, where a wildfire burned to the ground in late December. She hugged people as they stood in front of the charred ruins of their lives, and later publicly offered her condolences to the dogs and other pets that died in the fire.
Such trips offer increasingly rare opportunities for the White House to break the partisan stalemate that has plagued Washington. For the most part, Jill Biden is not caught up in the metropolitan frenzy, leaving her free to instead serve as something of an ambassador between her husband’s administration and communities across the country, regardless of their political leanings.
She said her visits to Colorado and meetings with the victims of the fatal Christmas parade crash in Waukesha, Wisconsin, as well as a trip last Friday to tornado-hit Kentucky areas, are “a prime example” of the responsibility she feels. This is what she would like, as an ordinary person who has experienced a natural disaster or other tragedy.
“I would like to know that my president and first lady are taking care of me,” Biden said. “I think this is an important part of what I do. I mean, just helping people through hard times.”
Biden, 70, has had her fair share of hard times.
She and Joe Biden married less than five years after his first wife and young daughter died in a car accident in 1972, and at 26, she became the mother of his two surviving young sons. In 2015, the couple buried one of these boys, Bo, after he died of brain cancer at the age of 46.
The first lady lost several close friends to breast cancer and sympathized with the people of Colorado because her own house in Delaware once caught fire after being struck by lightning.
“I know what we’ve been through in life, and I know how much good deeds mean to me and to Joe,” Biden said. “So I just know what difference it makes when you show up. I think appearance is really important.”
She has appeared in many places in the past year, traveling in the midst of a pandemic at speeds far faster than the president’s, all while continuing her other full-time job: as a professor of English and writing at Northern Virginia Community College. . He has been teaching there since 2009.
Biden is the first lady to continue her career — she’s a lifelong teacher — and land a paid job outside of the White House.
Born in New Jersey and raised in Pennsylvania, the first lady has spent the past year visiting schools, COVID-19 vaccination sites, military bases, Native American reservations and other locations in 35 states. This includes a dozen mostly southern states that did not vote for her husband for president. In contrast, he landed in 24 states, not counting trips home to Delaware.
“The pandemic didn’t really limit her much, and she was able to move forward and do all these things: educate people and advocate for their vaccination, and visit military installations and cancer centers,” said Myra Gutin, a professor at Ryder University, who writes about the first ladies. – It is very important.
At the vaccination points, Jill Biden urged people to protect themselves and hold hands when adults and children receive vaccinations. At schools, she attended classes and talked to students about how to write for magazines to help them cope with the pandemic. At military bases, she thanked military spouses and other family members for making sacrifices along with their loved ones in military uniform.
On the political front, Joining Forces, the First Lady’s White House Military Families Initiative, and the National Security Council last year announced a first round of administrative commitments to help military spouses with employment, child care, and other issues.
But she suffered a political setback when the president dropped a free community college proposal — something she had championed for years — from a sweeping welfare and climate change bill after some key Democratic senators objected to the size of the package.
The wives of other presidents also played the role of traditional healer. Katherine Jellison, an Ohio University history professor who studies first ladies, recalled the actions of Lucy Webb Hayes after the Civil War and during Reconstruction.
Hayes, wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes, showcased American plants and wildlife, “something that Americans from every region can support,” by displaying them on White House china, Jellison said. Hayes also invited representatives of states that were on opposite sides of the Civil War to social events.
“She has worked hard to bring the country together in various interesting ways,” Jellison said.
In addition to her role as a healer, Jill Biden also served in the traditional role of first lady, representing the United States abroad.
She flew off on a solo overseas trip to Tokyo to cheer for American athletes at the postponed 2020 Olympics. She also accompanied the president on foreign trips to England and Rome.
Her husband’s inauguration, following his two previous failed presidential bids, “was simply breathtaking,” recalls Jill Biden.
For her, the White House is “a magical place.” When she wakes up, she thinks, “Wow, look where I am.” But she also feels that there is a lot of work in the country, and because of this, she cannot “make herself coffee, sit in bed and watch the news.”
“I have always said that if I was ever given this platform, I would never waste it. Not a single day,” the first lady said. “That’s why when I wake up every day I think, ‘What can I do today? … What am I doing? Where am I going? What is the strategy? What’s the plan?
Her plans for 2022 include a focus on education, military families, and active work to advance cancer research. She will continue to teach.
“But then I want to add one more thing,” Jill Biden added, describing her desire to bring art and artists to the White House and her hope that the pandemic will recede enough for the White House to reopen to tourists and more socializing. .
“This is going to be an exciting year. This should be the best year ever with the pandemic,” the first lady said. “I mean everyone, I think everyone in this country is like, ‘Come on, this year should be better.’