Vice President Biden and Wife Defend Washington Marriages

Vice president and wife discuss secrets for long-term commitment.

ByKAREN TRAVERS via via logo
February 11, 2010, 6:42 PM

Feb. 12, 2010— -- It seems these days that if a Washington marriage is in the headlines, it because a politician has been caught cheating.

John Edwards' affair and separation from his wife, Elizabeth, and the cheating scandals of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and former N.Y. Gov. Elliot Spitzer, had the tabloids churning and Americans wondering what it is that makes a politician stray from his spouse?

But Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, said that political marriages have gotten a bad name recently, and those examples are not indicative of every relationship in Washington.

"People say, you know, 'Oh, everybody cheats in Washington,' and that's not the truth," she said in an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America's" Juju Chang. "You have to have a strong marriage to survive it.

"A lot of the couples we know and spent time with have really solid marriages, and I think this lifestyle is too tough not to really stick together," she said. "It's just the ones that are, you know, so newsworthy that sort of get blown out of proportion."

Biden pointed to the first couple's relationship as an example of a partnership.

"Look at the Obamas," she said. "I mean really. Look at their marriage and how strong it is."

Before their favorite holiday, Valentine's Day, the Bidens sat down with Chang to discuss their courtship, marriage and how they have made their relationship work for nearly 35 years.

The vice president said that theirs "is no great love story," and both he and his wife agreed that their relationship has been shaped by the examples set by their parents.

"They truly loved one another, but they had fun together," Jill Biden said. "And they respected one another, and I think that's what we look to marriage to be."

As Joe Biden tells it now, when he met Jill Jacobs in 1975, it was love at first sight. He knew instantly that he would marry her.

"I wanted to marry her," he said. "I didn't know she would marry me."

Before he met her, Biden first saw photographs of Jacobs in an ad campaign for a Delaware park system, and he was instantly smitten.

"She was blond and gorgeous," he wrote in his autobiography, "Promises to Keep." "I remember thinking to myself, 'That's the kind of woman I'd like to meet.'"

As luck would have it, his brother told him he wanted to fix him up with a woman who wasn't interested in politics. When Joe Biden showed up for their first date, it turned out that Jacobs was the mystery woman in the ad photos.

The vice president said that on their second date he asked her for a favor: "Would you not go out with anyone again for a while, and she says she didn't have any interest in me but she agrees.

"To the best of my knowledge, she kept the agreement," he told "Good Morning America."

When Biden met his future wife, he was a widower with two young sons. His wife, Nelia, and infant daughter were killed in a car accident in 1972 while Christmas shopping.

The newly elected senator devoted all of his time to his job in Washington and coming home each night to be with his two boys. He wrote in his book that at the time he met Jill, he had "sworn off dating."

Biden's sons, Beau and Hunter, played a key role in pushing the relationship along -- both directly, with some prodding of their father, and indirectly, by making Jacobs see what a family would be like if she married then-Sen. Biden.

"Beau came in, he's the oldest," Joe Biden said. "He's a year and a day older than Hunter, and he said, 'Daddy, Hunter has something to tell you.' And Hunter said, 'No, Dad, Beau has something to tell you.' ... And I said, 'Guys what is it?' Finally, Beau said, 'Daddy we were talking and we think we should marry Jill.'"

Jill Biden joked that her sons were "the easiest part of the marriage."

"When I met Joe, I think you know I fell in love with the boys, and I think everyone wanted a family," she said. "I mean, it was obvious, and they were just so easy to love."

Jill Biden gave up her teaching career to become a full-time mother to Beau and Hunter and, in 1981, to daughter Ashley.

"I did the mom things, you know," she said. "I did hot dog day at the school, worked at the library and all those sorts of things. And it worked."

Given the tragedy in his life, Joe Biden said that he and his wife have taught their children not to take anything for granted and never go to sleep angry.

"We have a deal," he said.. We can never go to bed angry, because in my life experience you don't want to be. You don't want to leave one another.

"I will not leave the house, I swear to God, until she kisses me and gives me a hug when we've had a fight," he said, "because you never know what's going to happen.

"I know in my own life experience, I think to myself what would have happened in my previous circumstance had I had a big fight and then something happened," he said.

Both Bidens agreed that one of the keys to a successful marriage was putting it ahead of a career.

"Once you think your career is more important than your marriage, then it leads you [down] a path," the vice president said. "Because if your career's that important, then ... it's just trouble."

Since the start of the Obama administration, the Bidens are able to spend more time together at work and at home.

That Joe Biden commuted back and forth daily between the Senate in Washington and his home in Wilmington, Del., to be with his family is well known -- but because of the long hours, he noted, he was seldom home in time for dinner.

One of the advantages of living and working in Washington full-time, he said, is "almost every night we get to have dinner together."

"She jokes, the reason a marriage works so well [was that] I wasn't home every night," Biden said.

Jill Biden keeps an office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. When she is there, her husband often tries to sneak over for a few minutes and have lunch or say hello.

"I just drive her nuts, because she needs some space," he said. "But when she's in, I say, 'Well, why don't I go over and have lunch with her,' and they say, 'No, she's got something to do ... no, she's kind of busy right now,'

"It's like, 'Well why can't -- look, it's only across the street. Why can't I go eat my soup over there?'" he said.

"And my staff says, 'He's coming over again,'" his wife said.

Joe Biden: Jill Is 'Drop-Dead Gorgeous'

At the event announcing his name on the Obama presidential ticket, Biden introduced wife Jill to the nation, and as it sometimes does, his candid nature landed him in some trouble.

Biden called his wife "drop-dead gorgeous" and jokingly referred to his wife's Ph.D. as a "problem." He soon took some heat from people who said his remark was sexist.

But looking back, Jill Biden said she did not see what the fuss was about.

"Now what's so bad? I mean that wasn't so bad, really," she said. "Of all the things he could have said! I meant that wasn't so bad."

Biden said that while he did face some criticism for his impromptu remark, "There was an awful lot of men and women who were from neighborhoods we came from who went ... 'She is drop-dead gorgeous.'"

Valentine's Day Surprises

Jill Biden said that Valentines' Day is her favorite holiday, and she enjoys planning surprises for her husband and children.

Last year's surprise involved a decoration surprise for the vice president when he arrived at his new office in the White House's West Wing overlooking the driveway outside the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which houses administration staff.

"There's these big windows that are probably 10, 12 feet high, and on almost every pane of glass, Jill had lipstick," he said.

Jill Biden quickly interrupted her husband to note that it was not, in fact, lipstick but poster paint.

"Is that what it was?" he asked. "It looked like, you usually do on my mirror lipstick. That's why I thought that was lipstick. ... And all in red were, you know, Jill loves Joe, and all these hearts and Valentines and ... it pleased me but it didn't surprise me."

They each have a surprise in store for the other this Valentine's Day, but their lips are sealed for now.

"Mine are seldom as good as hers," he said, "but lots of times they sparkle, you know, which helps."

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