The Truth About Joe Biden And Obama's Relationship

On the surface, Joe Biden and Barack Obama seemed like opposites: Obama brought a fresh perspective to the presidency, while Biden represents the more traditional institutions of American politics. But over time, and through some trying times, the two politicians embraced their differences and formed a harmonious partnership in and out of the White House.

The friendship between Biden and Obama has been well-documented and memed by many. Their "odd couple" dynamic inspired Andrew Shaffer's 2018 bromance novel Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery. In a 2016 Buzzfeed video, Obama made matching friendship bracelets for himself and Biden, adorned with smiley-face and pizza-slice beads. Biden tweeted photos of the bracelets on Obama's 55th birthday in 2016, writing, "A brother to me, a best friend forever," and again on National Best Friends Day in 2019, writing, "Happy #BestFriendsDay to my friend, @BarackObama." 

These retweet-able displays of Obama-Biden friendship may scratch the surface, but the differences and downfalls the friends have overcome show the depth of their bond. Here is the truth about Joe Biden and Barack Obama's relationship.

The Obama-Biden friendship had a rocky start

Joe Biden and Barack Obama didn't instantly connect, according to Steven Levingston's 2019 book Barack and Joe: The Making of an Extraordinary Partnership. "I would not describe them as close in any way," David Axelrod, Obama's chief campaign strategist, said of Biden and Obama's overlap in the Senate. When Biden launched into a rambling speech during the 2005 confirmation hearing for Condoleezza Rice, Obama allegedly jotted three words down and showed them to his adviser: "Shoot. Me. Now."

Before he joined Obama's ticket, Biden expressed his skepticism of the young senator's presidential run. "I don't recall hearing a word from Barack about a plan or a tactic," he told the Observer. In the same interview, he gave Obama a backhanded compliment that many deemed tone-deaf. "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy," he said. Biden later apologized, both publicly to reporters and personally to Obama over the phone. Obama said he thought Biden "didn't intend to offend" anyone (via CNN), and that he had "no problem with Joe Biden," but that Biden's remarks were "historically inaccurate." 

Obama announced Biden as his running mate in August 2008.

Joe Biden and Barack Obama's friendship is sweet... literally

During their administration, Joe Biden and Barack Obama bonded over loading up on calories and then burning them off. When asked what the pair might do post-administration, former First Lady Michelle Obama joked to People, "They'll go for long walks, looking into each other's eyes." Former Second Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, added: "They're going to be eating ice cream together, I'm sure."

When Biden's running mate Kamala Harris sat down with Obama and asked him to "tell [her] about Joe," food was the first thing on Obama's mind. "Ice cream is big," he said. "Pasta with red sauce, he can go deep on that." Biden and Obama often bond over food: When they reunited in 2018 at DC's Dog Tag Bakery, the pals each ordered a ham and gruyere sandwich and then shared a chocolate-chip cookie, a brownie, and a slice of mint-basil olive oil cake for dessert. The friends have also been known to surprise each other with birthday cupcakes

Still, they haven't shied away from burning off the calories, such as the time they jogged around the White House for a promotional video for the first lady's "Let's Move!" initiative.

Biden-Obama friendships run in the famil(ies)

Multiple generations of the Biden and Obama families have formed lasting bonds. At a campaign event in Iowa in 2019 (via The Hill), the former vice president said that his granddaughter Maisy Biden's "best friend" was Barack Obama's daughter Sasha Obama. When Maisy and Sasha both graduated from the Sidwell Friends School in 2019, the Biden and Obama families threw a joint party to celebrate. Joe missed an Iowa event for 2020 candidates for the occasion. "I would skip inauguration for that," he said of the family celebration.

The bond between Dr. Jill Biden and former First Lady Michelle Obama has also lasted beyond their White House days. At the 2017 Trump inauguration, Jill and Michelle sat together and shared an umbrella as the rain began to fall (via Allure). "I love her. We're family," Jill said of Michelle at their final event for Joining Forces, their initiative for supporting military families (via Us Weekly). When Michelle took the stage, she thanked her "partner in crime" with tears in her eyes. "Our families have joined forces in so many ways," she said. "We have cried a lot. We've been there for each other as much as we can throughout this amazing journey."

The Obama administration reportedly looked into replacing Joe Biden

The Barack Obama-Joe Biden ticket allegedly could have expired after its first term. In their 2013 book Double Down: Game Change 2012, writers Mark Halperin and John Heilemann claimed the president's re-election team held focus groups and conducted polls to figure out whether they should replace the vice president in 2012. Hillary Clinton was reportedly a contender for the potential replacement. "When the research came back near the end of the year, it suggested that adding Clinton to the ticket wouldn't materially improve Obama's odds," Halperin and Heilemann wrote.

Former White House chief of staff Bill Daley later confirmed these reports. "It was looked at," Daley told CBS News. "But it was never seriously looked at in the sense that there was a belief that it ought to be done or needed to be done, and the truth is any research that was done confirmed the fact that that was not an issue that the voters cared about or thought that should be done." According to The Wall Street Journal, Daley also said that "he didn't know if Mr. Obama weighed in on the matter and [that he] never discussed it with the president."

Barack Obama and Joe Biden disagreed on Hillary Clinton's presidential run

On January 5, 2015, Barack Obama and Joe Biden sat down for their weekly lunch to discuss the then-vice president's potential 2016 presidential run. According to Biden's 2017 memoir Promise Me, Dad, Obama "had been subtly weighing in against" the prospect. Ultimately, it was the death of Biden's oldest son, Beau Biden, that extinguished Joe's potential run. "Running for the Democratic nomination was all tied up with Beau," Joe wrote.

Obama's belief that Hillary Clinton should succeed him also played a role. "Barack had placed his bet on Hillary," Steven Livingston wrote in Barack and Joe: The Making of An Extraordinary Partnership (via Newsweek), "the one who would confirm his revolutionary stamp on American's political culture ... the first black president passing the baton to the first woman president." 

In Promise Me, Dad, Biden calls Obama's favor of Clinton "a coordinated, nonendorsement endorsement." Biden also weighed in on Clinton's 2016 campaign, calling it "so negative, so dreary, so divisive, so personal. So small."

Barack Obama offered Joe Biden financial and emotional support

After Beau Biden's stroke in May 2010, he faced a possible resignation from his position as Delaware's attorney general. Joe and Jill Biden considered selling their home in order to support Beau's family financially. In a 2016 interview with CNN, Joe recalled mentioning this to Barack Obama at one of their weekly lunches. "Jill and I will sell the house and be in good shape," the vice president recalled saying to the president. "[Barack] got up and he said, 'Don't sell that house. Promise me you won't sell the house.' He said, 'I'll give you the money. Whatever you need, I'll give you the money.'"

Financial assistance was ultimately unnecessary when test results proved that Beau had not lost any cognitive abilities and could stay in his job. But Beau's battle wasn't over: In 2013, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He died on May 30, 2015, at age 46. A week later, the president delivered a heartfelt eulogy at Beau's funeral. "Beau Biden brought to his work a mighty heart. Beau Biden brought to his family a mighty heart," Obama said (via People). "He was a good man. A man of character. A man who loved deeply, and was loved in return."

Joe Biden did not follow Barack Obama's focused approach

Barack Obama and his administration officials ridiculed Joe Biden's tendency to ramble. In Obama's first press conference in 2009, he joked, "I don't remember exactly what Joe was referring to, not surprisingly" (via The New York Times). In his 2018 book A Higher Loyalty, former FBI director James Comey wrote that when Biden would interrupt Obama's meetings, the president "would politely agree, but something in his expression suggested he knew full well that for the next five or 10 minutes we would all be heading in Direction Z."

Obama's aides have said that Biden and Obama "took almost polar-opposite approaches to policymaking." While Obama was data-driven and logical, Biden would reportedly often launch into "stories about how a bill would affect the working-class guy in Scranton, Pennsylvania" (via Politico).

"Biden is from a different style," a senior Obama administration official said. "It's an older style, of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson of 'Let's meet, let's negotiate, let's talk, let's have a deal.'"

Joe Biden and Barack Obama had different approaches to political progress

Joe Biden has admitted he believes Barack Obama had a tendency to think too much. "Sometimes I thought he was deliberate to a fault," Biden wrote in his 2017 book Promise Me, Dad. Obama studied political science at Columbia University and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. Biden struggled academically: He earned mostly Cs and Ds in his first three semesters at the University of Delaware, and he graduated 76th out of the 85 students in his Syracuse Law School class (via Politico).

While Obama was inclined to read reports thoroughly, Biden leaned more on people skills than analytical skills. "It's important to read the reports and listen to the experts," Biden wrote in his 2007 memoir Promises to Keep, "[but] more important is being able to read people in power." The former vice president found networking enjoyable and essential, but Obama openly disliked political schmoozing. "Some folks still don't think I spend enough time with Congress," the president said at the 2013 White House Correspondents' Dinner. "'Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?' they ask. Really? 'Why don't you get a drink with Mitch McConnell?' I'm sorry, I get frustrated sometimes."

Barack Obama didn't immediately back Joe Biden's presidential run

"You don't have to do this, Joe, you really don't," Barack Obama said to Joe Biden regarding the former vice president's 2020 run, according to The New York Times. The 2019 article also reported that "Mr. Biden's simmering ambition was a source of unease for both men." In March 2019, Obama reportedly invited Biden's campaign advisers, Kate Bedingfield and Anita Dunn, to his office and asked them to make sure Biden didn't "embarrass himself" or "damage his legacy" during his presidential run.

Though he expressed support for Biden's candidacy, Obama did not formally endorse his former vice president during the primaries. According to Business Insider, Biden told reporters in 2019 that he asked the former president not to endorse him. "And he doesn't want to," Biden said. "Whoever wins this nomination should win it on their own merits." At a leadership event in Singapore in December 2019, Obama said that if more countries were led by women, there would be "significant improvement across the board," and that "old men" needed to get "out of the way" (via USA Today). Some people interpreted this statement as an indirect dig at his former VP.

Barack Obama ultimately became a force in the Biden campaign

Barack Obama formally endorsed Joe Biden for president on April 14, 2020, a week after Senator Bernie Sanders ended his presidential campaign. "This endorsement means the world to Jill and me," Biden wrote on Twitter, addressing the former president. "We're going to build on the progress we made together, and there's no one I'd rather have standing by my side."

At the Democratic National Convention in August 2020, Obama described the bond he had built with the Democratic nominee. "Twelve years ago, when I began my search for a vice president, I didn't know I'd end up finding a brother," he said. "Joe and I came from different places and different generations. But what I quickly came to admire about him is his resilience, born of too much struggle; [and] his empathy, born of too much grief."

Biden and Obama hosted their first joint Biden campaign event on Halloween 2020 in Flint, Michigan. "Joe Biden is my brother," Obama told the crowd. "I love Joe Biden. And he will be a great president."