Washington Examiner/First lady Jill Biden’s not new to Washington, D.C., or the White House, but she’s busy reintroducing herself to the country as the new president’s wife and as her own woman.
Jill Biden, 69, was a fixture at President Biden’s side during last week’s inaugural activities, at times appearing to steady her husband, 78, who twisted his ankle last November.
It was a continuation of the support she offered him during his campaign, where on multiple occasions she physically stopped protesters from getting near him, and almost half-a-century in politics, first as a senator and then as vice president. But now Jill Biden is finding her own feet, stepping out of his shadow and that of former first lady Michelle Obama.
Biden was a visible second lady. And her eight years partnering with Obama probably better prepared her for the highs and lows of being first lady than having tea with ex-first lady Melania Trump. The Trumps didn’t extend the traditional invitation during the transition period.
Biden’s first few days have unfolded relatively smoothly, other than her new press office forgetting to include the video link to her very first event. That was a virtual gathering last Thursday with teachers and teachers’ unions to “honor educators.” Her team quickly corrected their mistake.
She generated positive headlines by making a surprise visit to give National Guard members deployed to D.C. to deliver inauguration cookies. That was before she dropped into Whitman-Walker Health, a gay and HIV-focused community health center, to highlight its work with COVID-19 and cancer patients.
And after a quiet weekend that included setting up the Biden’s German Shepherds in the White House, Biden upped her event clip on Monday. She pre-recorded remarks for the American Library Association’s 2021 Midwinter Meeting, spoke with governors’ spouses, and hosted a “Charla” with young Latinos. She held similar charlas, Spanish for “chats,” during the campaign to boost her husband’s appeal among minority voters.
Biden’s packed schedule echoes Trump’s after her delayed move to D.C. in June 2017 following the end of son Barron’s school year, but before she disappeared from the political spotlight for three weeks in May 2018 to recover from an “embolization” procedure to treat a benign kidney condition.
Mocked during the campaign over allegations she plagiarized Obama’s 2008 Democratic convention speech, Trump seemed to rehabilitate her image with a small but effective staff, including eventual White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.
Trump was more popular than her divisive husband, but the former model did notch several high-profile snafus. One of them was concentrating on cyberbullying, despite the ex-president’s incendiary tweeting habit. Another was wearing a “I Really Don’t Care, Do U?” jacket on a tour to a Texas migrant child detention center at the height of the family separation furor.
In comparison, Democratic strategist Tracy Sefl praised Biden, herself a former model, for “immediately telegraphing her experience and understanding of being in the public eye.”
“When she thanked the National Guard troops at the Capitol last week and told them, ‘I’m a National Guard mom,’ her warmth and understanding immediately re-calibrated the role of first lady into an accessible one,” Sefl said. “Her early schedule has also highlighted her professional experience as an educator, to the delight of education advocates.”
But even Obama, considered one of the most compelling voices in the Democratic Party, wasn’t immune to criticism.
During her husband’s first campaign, Obama was scrutinized for saying his political rise had made her “proud of her country for the first time.” And as first lady, she drew fire for focusing on obesity and military families. Some critics suggested she should’ve been a more forceful first lady like Hillary Clinton given her Ivy League credentials and law degree.
Biden has so far escaped harsh assessments, other than embarrassing claims from her ex-husband that she and the president started their relationship when he was still married. There was a viral Wall Street Journal opinion piece, too, deriding her for her “Dr.” title that denotes her educational doctorate.
Biden’s choice of aides and her first few days indicate she’ll be a more active first lady than Trump. She’s likely to be more similar to Obama and Clinton, as well as Laura Bush and Nancy Reagan, over more private Rosalynn Carter and Bess Truman, according to first lady historian Andrew Och.
Och, an author and speaker who styles himself as “The First Ladies Man,” said Biden’s desire to “hit the ground running” reflects the broader administration’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn. She’s aided by the fact that she can carry over her old initiatives, including Joining Forces, her and Obama’s program assisting military and veteran families, since they were only disbanded four years ago, Och told the Washington Examiner. She also doesn’t have young children, meaning she doesn’t have to spend time making sure they’re adjusting to public life as Trump and Obama did.
Och, though, was confident Biden would face scrutiny over her decision to continue teaching English and writing at Northern Virginia Community College. She held the post as second lady, the first second lady to have an outside job. She’ll be the first first lady to do the same.
“Anytime you do something different you can raise attention, raise criticism. And I think keeping her day job could hurt the president with his critics. It could hurt the first lady with her critics,” he said.
Och added, for instance, it’s yet to be revealed how the Secret Service will handle the situation.
“I think that she will get criticism for, you know, ‘Are you not focusing on your duties as first lady?’ But again, first lady is not a paid or elected position. We just expect them to put their lives on hold for four years and take on this role of first lady because every other one has,” he continued.
Original Author: Naomi Lim