VIDEO: Howard Welcomes President Joe Biden to the Stern Show

Commander-in-Chief opens up about his middle-class roots, finding two great loves, and how his family convinced him to accept Barack Obama’s offer to join the ticket and run for Vice President

April 27, 2024

It was a special day in the Stern Show studio on Friday as Howard sat down with Joe Biden, the 46th president of the United States, for a candid, long-form interview. The Commander-in-Chief was an open book, discussing everything from his family and middle-class upbringing to how the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. compelled him to leave his job at a prestigious law firm and become a public defender. He walked Howard through a remarkable life filled with love — for his family, his community, and his country — and unimaginable loss. President Biden opened up about the tragic deaths of his first wife and 1-year-old daughter in 1972, and the 2015 passing of his son Beau. Howard and his guest also spoke politics, including Biden’s long and decorated U.S. Senate career and his eight years as Vice President under Barack Obama. But first, Howard wanted to credit President Biden for all the exemplary work he’s done since being sworn in as president on Jan. 20, 2021.

Just this week, the Biden administration issued new consumer-protection rules to airlines, making it easier for Americans to get refunded after canceled or delayed flights and requiring airlines to disclose all fees up front so consumers can make informed decisions before purchasing tickets.

“I think that’s a huge deal,” Howard told the president.

“The fact is that when you’re raised and you come up in a middle-class family, all this stuff matters to you,” President Biden told Howard on Friday. “Those little items where they say, ‘It only costs this, it only costs that,’ — it matters.”

“There’s a lot of junk fees, too,” Biden continued, explaining how his administration has strived to protect consumers in a range of ways. “For example, banks can’t charge you 35 bucks for overdrafts anymore. It only costs you three or eight dollars.”

Two Great Loves

Speaking about his family and upbringing, President Biden revealed he learned empathy for others while enduring a childhood stutter and inherited many of his other working-class values from his parents. He told Howard all about the first love of his life, Neilia Hunter, whom he met on spring break during college. Biden was a man of modest means back in those days — and indeed throughout much of his political career (“I was listed for 10 years as the poorest man in the U.S. Senate,” he told Howard on Friday. “I didn’t feel poor. It was a Senator’s salary, which is more than I ever made.”) — but he took his $85 tax return and traveled to South Florida. Then, he and his friends hopped on a cheap flight down to the Bahamas.

“We thought … there’d be college girls there,” the president told Howard with a laugh.

As President Biden recalled it, the public beaches in Nassau were empty. So, they snuck into a high-end resort. That’s where he met his first wife Neilia, lounging by the pool. “I said ‘Hi, my name is Joe Biden. I’m from Delaware.’ She said, ‘Hi, my name is Neilia Hunter. I’m from Syracuse,’” Biden said. “And I started talking to her.”

That night he took Neilia out to a fancy dinner, but the $22 he had left over from his tax return wasn’t nearly enough to cover the tab. “She was very gracious,” Biden told Howard, explaining she slipped him $40 under the table to help him pay.

“You had to fall in love right in that moment,” Howard said.

“I did,” President Biden responded, telling Howard what he blurted out walking her back to her room. “It’s a stupid thing to say, [but] I said, ‘You know, I think I’m going to marry you.’ And she looked at me — and my word as a Biden — she said, ‘I think maybe.’”

Biden was so smitten that when he got back to school he quit the football team so he could spend every weekend with Neilia in Syracuse. “I quit. I didn’t go back because I just fell ass over tin cups in love with her,” he said.

Joe and Neilia were married in 1966. They had three children and lived an idyllic life until tragedy struck in late 1972, just a few weeks before Joe Biden was about to be sworn into the U.S. Senate. Neilia and their children Beau, Hunter, and Naomi were in a devastating car accident that killed Neilia and 13 month-old Naomi and left Hunter and Beau with severe injuries.

Biden was shattered.

“I don’t know how you recover from something like that,” Howard told him.

“Family,” Biden responded, explaining his entire family rallied around him at the time to help him through the ordeal. “I didn’t want to stay in the U.S. Senate,” he continued, saying it was his colleagues — including Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana and Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts — who talked him into keeping his seat. “And I started commuting back and forth on the train to Delaware, 300-miles roundtrip every day.”

He commuted to stay close to his family and because he couldn’t afford childcare. “That’s why I’m so empathetic to people who need childcare,” he told Howard.

Moving on was understandably difficult, but Joe was eventually set up on a blind date with a lovely teacher named Jill. The two fell in love and married in 1975, much to Hunter and Beau’s delight. Looking back at his life with First Lady Jill Biden, the president could only smile. “No man deserves one great love, let alone two,” he said.

Remembering Beau

When the conversation turned to Biden’s late son Beau — who died at the age of 46 from a form of brain cancer — he spoke candidly, as a proud and grieving father. “My son Beau should be sitting here instead of me,” he said point blank.

President Biden recalled when his son joined the Delaware National Guard and eventually paused his duties as attorney general of the state to serve in Iraq. “‘Somebody’s got to do this,’” he remembered Beau proclaiming before adding, “It didn’t surprise me.”

The younger Biden was stationed there for a little over a year. “The problem was, he lived next to one of those burn pits,” the president said of the sites where a variety of toxic waste was frequently burned. “He came back with a Bronze Star … but he also came back with stage four glioblastoma … He had come home, and it just kept getting worse and that’s when he realized.”

Even at the very end, Beau — who years earlier had volunteered to set up a criminal justice system in Kosovo while he was an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia — wanted to make sure his father continued his path of service. “He knew his time was up and one night we were having dinner at our home before he was incapacitated,” Biden remembered. “[He said], ‘Promise me, Dad, that you’ll not leave public life. I know when I go, you’ll want to quit … give me your word, as a Biden.’”

The president then told Howard the last words his son ever spoke to him. “[We] were lying in bed with him, and he said, ‘I’m not scared, Dad,’” Biden remembered.

For as much tragedy as he’s experienced, President Biden knows others have had it just as bad if not worse. “There’s a lot of heroes out there that dealt with what I dealt with and more without the family I had,” he said. “There are thousands of heroes that get up every day, walk one foot in front of the other, and they’ve got nobody to help them … and they’re incredible.”

But because of what the president has dealt with, he has a family first policy that extends to those that he works with. “I have a rule that everybody knows in my office,” Biden explained. “If you have any problem relating to family, you don’t have to tell me what it is, just look me in the eye and say, ‘I can’t … I’ve got to take care of things.’”

Why Biden Initially Said No to Joining Barack Obama’s Ticket

When Barack Obama officially became the Democratic nominee for the presidential election in August 2008, it wasn’t long before he contacted then-Senator Biden, who had conceded in the primaries months earlier. “I’m riding on the train as usual and I get a phone call and it’s Barack, and he said, ‘I want to do a background check on you,’” Biden recalled. “I said, ‘Barack, I don’t want to be vice president, I can help you much more as a senior senator,’ … and then he said, ‘It’s only you.’”

Knowing the influence Biden’s family had on him, Obama implored him to get their thoughts. “We get a family meeting and, not to my surprise, Jill says, ‘You know, you ought to do it … otherwise you’ll be asked to be Secretary of State and you’ll be away all the time,’” the president said before noting his sons also gave the nod of approval.

But it was Biden’s late mother, Jean, who reminded her son of what he said about the future president after going head-to-head. “‘You said, “He was bright, he was honest, he was really a capable guy,”’” he recalled her saying. “‘Joey, first Black man in history has a chance to be the president and you told him no?’”

Roe v. Wade, January 6, and Debating Trump

Biden has accomplished a great deal in his first three-plus years as president, but he has even greater ambitions for the next four years.

“If I’m elected president again for a second term, we’re going to be able to make Roe v. Wade the law of the land again,” President Biden assured Howard. While he acknowledged the Supreme Court of the United States is “maybe the most conservative court in modern history,” he also believed a woman’s right to choose would ultimately be protected. “Every state in the union [will] be able to get a majority vote,” he continued. “I think we can do that.”

“I think there’s gonna be a whole lesson learned on the MAGA-Republican side of the aisle,” President Biden added. “We’re gonna see a whole hell of a lot of state referenda, and they’re gonna see they want to restore [Roe vs. Wade], and that’s going to be able to be done.”

Presidential campaigns generally involve nationally televised debates, but as of now President Biden and former President Donald Trump don’t have anything on the books ahead of the Nov. 5 election. On Friday, however, President Biden assured Howard he intends to debate his opponent.

“I am [going to debate him] somewhere,” President Biden said. “I don’t know when. I’m happy to debate him.”

Speaking of Trump, Howard couldn’t understand why so many people still supported the former president after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 — two months after he’d been defeated at the polls.

President Biden didn’t mince any words: “On January 6, when they were storming the Capitol … [Trump] was sitting in that dining area [by] the Oval Office for three hours and said nothing,” he told Howard, adding, “It was derelict. It was almost criminal. He did nothing. He just sat there and watched what was happening. Not a single thing. And now he’s calling them patriots and victims and says he’s going to pardon them all if reelected.”

“How are some of the guys you served with in the Senate — [the] Republicans — how are they going along with this?” Howard asked the president.

“This is not your father’s Republican party,” President Biden acknowledged, explaining that while he disagreed with previous generations of Republicans about a large swath of issues — including, specifically, their opposition of the Civil Rights movement — they still engaged in dialogue across the aisle. “At least you could talk to them … They understood that there’s a need for consensus to run this country,” the president continued, adding, “I gave my word that I’d never say their names, and I never will, but in the last year … seven sitting Republican senators called me to tell me, ‘Joe, I agree with you, but I just can’t do it. [Trump will] get me.’”

Still, Howard seemed hopeful for America’s future and Biden’s chances in the upcoming election. “What do you think’s gonna happen? I can’t imagine you’re gonna lose,” he told Biden.

“Well, look, he’s promised that if he doesn’t win there’s going to be a bloodbath. Things like that,’” President Biden responded. “Here’s what bothers me most. We have a fundamental different value set,” he continued, citing the time then-President Trump reportedly disparaged Americans killed in battle by calling them “losers.” “I’m glad I wasn’t there,” President Biden added. “My son is in one of those graves — in one of the graves back here, not there — and the idea that they’re ‘losers’ and ‘suckers’? … I can’t fathom a President of the United States of America saying the folks who died defending this country were suckers and losers.”

Howard Thanks Biden for All His Hard Work as Commander-in-Chief

Howard was grateful for not only President Biden’s time on Friday, but also for all the work he’s done for America since getting elected. “I want to thank you for providing a calming influence [and] an organized administration,” he told the president before also crediting him on everything from marijuana reform and a growing economy to standing up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

“You know who deserves credit?” President Biden responded. “The American people are relentless. The American people are stepping up. Whoever they vote for, they just never give up. We are the most unique country in the world. We really are.”

“Thank you for doing this,” Howard finished. “Look at me, sitting with the president!”

“Look at me, sitting with Howard Stern!” President Biden said with a laugh.

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