Like many, I’m ecstatic about Joe Biden’s historic victory in the presidential race this week. It’s made me want to share a brief interaction with Biden many years ago. It's a short story, but it speaks to who Biden is in a very human way.
Picture it. Washington, D.C. July 1994. Hot and humid as hell outside. Forrest Gump is all the rage. Bill Clinton is in his first term. I’m a 20-year-old Senate intern who favors ill-fitting blazers paired with ugly ties.
I will admit the hearings were a bit dull. Breyer was a qualified, uncontroversial nominee, and the Democrats in the Senate majority were inclined to be nice to him. In fact, Breyer ended up being confirmed by the full Senate 87-9. The outcome was never in doubt.
Still, for a political geek like me, just being in that hearing room was heady stuff. Many of the senators had a degree of fame from the Clarence Thomas confirmation or other events. Ted Kennedy, Paul Simon, Strom Thurmond, Orrin Hatch, Arlen Specter, Howell Heflin, Carol Moseley-Braun, Diane Feinstein, Alan Simpson, and more. Big names were everywhere. At the center of it all, chairing the committee, was Joe Biden of Delaware.
The hearing was so packed that I didn’t get a seat. I had to lean against a wall next to a rope line. That rope line separated spectators like me from Breyer, his team, the senators, and their aides. Eventually, Biden called a break, and everyone stood up and started milling around.
“Excuse me, can you help me?” asked a woman who had walked up to me. “I’m from Delaware, I’ve always wanted to meet Senator Biden, and his office said if I came here during a break I might be able to catch him. Could you ask if he will see me?”
I had an intern badge on, but I wasn’t a Biden intern or a Judiciary Committee intern. So, the appropriate response would have been to decline to help. But she seemed nice. And, to be honest, I wanted to meet Biden too. So, I said I would see what I could do.
The woman suggested that she write down her name and hometown for me to take to Biden. She began rummaging through her purse. She had a pen, but neither of us had anything to write on. Eventually, she found a matchbox. She dumped the matches into her purse, wrote inside the matchbox, closed it, and handed it to me.
You would think the idea of handing a note written inside a matchbox to a Senate committee chair would have seemed insane. But, my 20-year-old brain just went with it.
I confidently let myself through the rope line, walked past numerous lions of the Senate, and managed to reach Biden right as one of his aides stepped away. He was seated in his committee chair and glanced up at me.
I introduced myself, explained that one of his constituents was asking to meet him, and offered him the matchbox.
Biden didn’t take the matchbox right away. He stared at it for a moment, gave me a hard look, and finally took it. He opened it, read it, and snapped it closed.
“I have a question for you...” a pause as Biden read my badge. “...Marc. And I need a serious answer. Does this woman seem mentally stable to you?”
It took me a moment to realize the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee was cracking a joke with me. I smiled and said that she seemed stable to me.
“Well,” he said, laughing. “Why don’t you bring her back then?”
I went among the senators again and returned with the woman. Biden flashed a dazzling smile and gave her a hug. She was clearly bowled over, almost giddy to meet him.
They began to chat about her life in Delaware. I was struck by how Biden was genuinely interested in the conversation. It wasn’t just a surface contact with a potential voter. He was truly engaged with her.
At that point, I decided I’d pressed my luck far enough and left them to talk. And that’s my Biden story. He’s a lovely, sincere guy who was far nicer to an intern than he had to be. That’s Joe Biden. And, thankfully, that’s also the kind of person we need to be president right now.
Main blog image by Gage Skidmore.