What You Didn't Know About Joe Biden

Joe Biden. Uncle Joe. The former Delaware senator has been in politics since 1973, but he became a household name when Barack Obama selected him to be his running mate for the White House in 2008. During his two terms in the White House as Vice President, Biden's bromance with the 44th President launched countless hilarious memes, and the friendship was real. "He's genuinely my friend. I'd do anything for him, and I think he would for me," Biden told NBC News in 2016.

Biden is also a self-described "gaffe machine," whose long list of slip-ups during his almost four decades in office are sometimes endearing and sometimes cringe-worthy, but behind the Ray-Bans is a man who's lived a complicated, often tragic life. In April 2019, Biden announced that was making yet another run for the Oval Office, so let's take a closer look at some things you may not know about Joe Biden.

He has an uncommon middle name

Here's a fun fact that will likely win you points at your next trivia night: Biden's middle name is Robinette. It's a little offbeat, but there happens to be a lot of history behind it.

"It's my grandmother Biden's maiden name," he told C-SPAN (via New York magazine). "It's French. And it goes back a long, long way. Allegedly, the Robinettes came over with Lafayette and never went home. I don't know that. We can't guarantee that."

He's a car guy

The Onion famously parodied Biden in 2009 when it depicted him washing a Trans Am shirtless in the White House driveway. Although the article didn't quite nail Biden's persona — "You think I'd drive a Trans Am?" he quipped to Car and Driver magazine — it turns out he is, indeed, a car fanatic.

"I bought a '51 Studebaker. My dad thought it was nice and calm, but it had that overdrive, and it was fast," he told Car and Driver. "Then I bought a 1952 Plymouth convertible, candy-apple red with a split windshield. I think that was my favorite. I had a '56 Chevy, then in college I bought a 100,000-mile Mercedes 190SL with those Solex carburetors that never functioned. And I still have my 1967 Goodwood-green Corvette, 327, 350-horse, with a rear-axle ratio that really gets up and goes."

Unfortunately for Biden, he wasn't allowed to drive as vice president. "The Secret Service won't let me drive it," he said of his beloved convertible. "I'm not allowed to drive anything. It's the one thing I hate about this job." The only time he reportedly got permission to drive was at the end of his second term, for an episode of Jay Leno's Garage.

He used to stutter

You might find it hard to believe that a man who talks as much as Joe Biden grew up with a stutter, but such was the case. To overcome it, Biden said he "would look in the mirror [of his bedroom] and ... repeat over and over again [the words of W.B.] Yeats and [Ralph Waldo] Emerson." "When you stutter, it's the most debilitating thing," Biden said on an episode of The View, adding that he didn't gain confidence in his speaking abilities until he began taking public speaking classes in college.

The experience of having a stutter would go on to play a pivotal role in Biden's life in public office. Though reluctant at first, he eventually worked with the American Institute for Stuttering, and he also helped a young boy overcome his stutter by writing an inspirational letter to him in 1994. According to TIME, the boy took his message to heart and grew up to be a prosecutor in Biden's home state of Delaware.

He doesn't drink

Although they are polar opposites politically, Joe Biden and President Donald Trump do have one thing in common: neither one drinks alcohol. 

"I'm not a drinker. I can honestly say I never had a beer in my life. It's one of my only good traits," Trump joked during a 2018 press conference (via CNN). "I never had a glass of alcohol. I never had alcohol, for whatever reason," he said. "Can you imagine if I had? What a mess I would be. I would be the world's worst."

Biden's reasons for abstaining are more clear-cut. "There are enough alcoholics in my family," he told The New York Times. A friend of Biden's also noted that the former vice president's family members had "more than their fare share" of alcohol-related issues while Biden was growing up.

He had two brain aneurysms

According to The New York Times, Joe Biden suffered from two brain aneurysms in 1988. "I had two cranial aneurysms, and they literally had to take the top of my head off," Biden said at the White House National Conference on Mental Health (via CNS News). He added, "I remember going down [to the operating room], and asking the doc ... 'Doc, what are my chances [of living]?' ... He said, 'Well, they're in the 35 to 50 percent range.'"

Doctors informed him that, if everything went well, Biden might have trouble speaking, to which he thought: "'Why in the hell didn't they tell me this before [my 1998 campaign for president]?' It could have saved us all a lot of trouble; you know what I mean?" 

Hey, at least he can laugh about it now.

He's faced horrific tragedy

Joe Biden has endured more family tragedies than most people will experience in their lives. According to People, his first wife, Neilia, and their 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, were killed in a horrific car accident in 1972, shortly after Biden's first election to the Senate. "I remember looking up and saying, 'God,' as if I was talking to God myself, 'You can't be good, how can you be good?'" he remembered (via People). "For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide. Not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts, because they had been to the top of the mountain, and they just knew in their heart they would never get there again."

Biden's two sons, Beau and Hunter, were also in the car and "badly injured" in the accident, according to People. He was sworn into the Senate in 1973 at Beau's bedside because he was still recovering from the crash.

His dying son wanted him to run against Hillary Clinton

In yet another tragic turn of events, Joe Biden lost his son, Beau Biden, to a years-long battle with brain cancer in 2015. His son was 46 at the time of his death. According to The New York Times, "When Beau realized he was not going to make it, he asked his father if he had a minute to sit down and talk ... Beau was losing his nouns and the right side of his face was partially paralyzed. But he had a mission: He tried to make his father promise to run [in 2016], arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values."

Joe chose not to run. "Unfortunately, I believe we're out of time, the time necessary to mount a winning campaign for the nomination," he reportedly said. "But while I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent." 

According to CNN, Biden said his decision not to run left him with daily regret, but that "it was the right decision for my family and for me."

He was the first Roman Catholic vice president

In 2009, Biden became the first Roman Catholic to serve as vice president of the United States, according to NPR. Faith has reportedly played a key role in Biden's life and has helped him battle the many tragedies his family has faced, including the 2015 death of son, Beau Biden. 

"He has a rosary with him all the time and he uses it," friend and former Sen. Ted Kaufmana told People magazine at the time. "He'll never do it in front of people, though. Faith, family, and character are what has enabled him to survive these incredible tragedies."

He was lifelong friends with John McCain

Despite being members of opposing political parties, Joe Biden and John McCain were close friends for about 40 years, dating back to when McCain was a Navy Senate liaison. Their friendship has endured even the toughest of political climates. When McCain was sworn into the Senate by Biden in January 2017, Biden declared, "I'm so glad you ran again, I really am."

"May you well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which you are about to enter, so help you God. I have no doubt. Thank God you're here," he added, according to USA Today.

After John McCain died of brain cancer in 2018, Biden delivered a eulogy at his funeral at North Phoenix Baptist Church in Arizona. He opened with: "My name's Joe Biden. I'm a Democrat. And I loved John McCain." Visibly shaken, Biden continued, "I always thought of John as a brother. We had a hell of a lot of family fights."

He finally addressed Anita Hill

Joe Biden was the Senate Judiciary chair in 1991, when Anita Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexually harassing her in the workplace. As the chair, Biden was in charge of overseeing Hill's testimony and allowing witnesses to corroborate her claims. According to NPR, he failed to do so. Instead, Biden reportedly allowed members of the committee to spend some eight hours attacking Hill's character. Former Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), demanded Thomas' hearing be delayed due to Hill's allegations, but Biden refused. "To have railroaded that through and not listened to the other three women and let his colleagues absolutely tear her apart was absolutely horrible," Schroeder told Politico.

Biden told Teen Vogue in 2017 that he "owed" Hill an apology, but according to Hill, that never happened. "He said he apologized, but he hasn't apologized to me," she said (via The Wrap). "But sometimes when the doorbell rings, and I am not expecting anyone, I think, could that be Joe Biden?" 

Speaking at an event in March 2019, Biden spoke publicly about those hearings. "She faced a committee that didn't fully understand what the hell this was all about. To this day, I regret I couldn't give her the kind of hearing she deserved," he said (via The New York Times). "I wish I could have done something." We're not sure if that counts as an apology, but at the time of this writing, Hill has yet to respond.

Reports of inappropriate touching continue to mount

Joe Biden earned the nickname "Creepy Uncle Joe" for his habit of touching women. Although this issue has dogged him for years — Jon Stewart covered it in 2015 during a segment called "The Audacity of Grope" — the #MeToo movement has brought this issue to light once again through a new lens.

According to an April 2019 report in the Intelligencer, multiple women have accused him of "inappropriate contact." The first allegation, made by former Nevada lieutenant governor nominee Lucy Flores, was detailed in her March 2019 op-ed in The Cut"He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head," she wrote, describing an incident that allegedly occurred during her 2014 campaign. "My brain couldn't process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused."

Amy Lappos discussed an alleged interaction with Biden at a political fundraiser in 2009. "He put his hand around my neck and pulled me in to rub noses with me," she told the Hartford Courant. "When he was pulling me in, I thought he was going to kiss me on the mouth." 

The New York Times published an account from Caitlyn Caruso, who claimed Biden inappropriately touched her when she was 19 at an event about sexual harassment at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He allegedly placed his hand on her thigh "even as she squirmed in her seat to show her discomfort."

He addressed his behavior

After Lucy Flores' allegations, Joe Biden released a statement on Twitter that said, in part: "In many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully."

Flores responded to Biden's comments with a Twitter statement of her own, writing that she's "glad" he "acknowledges that he made women feel uncomfortable with his unsolicited gestures of encouragement." However, she argued that wasn't enough. "Given the work he has done on behalf of women, Vice President Biden should be aware of how important it is to take personal responsibility for inappropriate behavior," she said, "and yet he hasn't apologized to the women he made uncomfortable."

Days later, Biden addressed the allegations once again. "Social norms are changing. I understand that, and I've heard what these women are saying," he said in a video posted on his official Twitter in April 2019. "Politics to me has always been about making connections, but I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future. That's my responsibility and I will meet it."

At the time of this writing, seven women have accused Biden of touching them inappropriately.