Joe Biden runs on building back better

Joe Biden speaks at a community event Jan. 21 at the Gateway Conference Center in Ames.

Michael Craighton

Joe Biden, 77 years old

Biden was born Nov. 20, 1942, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His father, while hailing from a fairly wealthy business family, suffered a series of financial setbacks prior to Biden’s birth, which ultimately led the family to move to Wilmington, Delaware, where his father became a used car salesman.

Biden attended the University of Delaware in Newark where he graduated in 1965 with a C average, earning a bachelor’s degree with double majors in political science and history. He then attended Syracuse Law School, graduating in 1968 ranked 76th in a class of 85. As mentioned during the vice presidential debate, it was during his first year of law school he was accused of plagiarizing a portion of a paper, resulting in his having to retake a class.

His political career began on the New Castle City Council before running for the U.S. Senate in 1972 and serving six terms. He was running against an incumbent Republican, and his candidacy was considered a long shot. He ran a largely grassroots campaign staffed mostly by family members. Despite being shown down 30 points in early polls, he ultimately won the seat by a few thousand votes.

Throughout his long Senate career, Biden worked on a number of issues. He has primarily served on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee. His positions and the legislation he championed during his six terms have been met with mixed reactions in the minds of many Americans with the passage of time. 

In the early 1970s, despite championing civil rights issues and running on a platform of integration, Biden supported legislation that opposed busing students to schools in order to enforce integration. He opposed busing largely due to protests by many of his white constituents.

Biden also helped spearhead the passage of the 1994 crime bill, which included the since-expired Federal Assault Weapons Ban as well as provisions encouraging harsher sentences for federal crimes. The crime bill’s legacy has been hotly debated, with many considering it responsible for increasing the rate of federal incarceration.

As part of the crime bill, Biden also authored and championed the Violence Against Women Act, which contained a broad array of measures to combat domestic violence.

In 1997, Biden became the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Over the next decade in this role, Biden would become a key player in many foreign policy issues, ranging from arms control to religious violence abroad to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although Biden voted in favor of military action in both instances, he subsequently became a vocal critic of the war in Iraq.

Biden ran for president twice before 2020, once in 1988 and once in 2008. He dropped out of the 1988 race when plagiarism allegations resurfaced after a campaign rival compared lines from his speeches to those given by other politicians. He dropped out of the 2008 presidential race but was then named as Barack Obama’s running mate and became the 47th vice president of the United States.

A notable feature of Biden’s career has been a penchant for gaffes, often saying things that are irksome for his staff at inopportune times, such as calling the passage of the Affordable Care Act “a big f*cking deal” on a live microphone during the bill’s signing. Biden has also struggled with a stutter for much of his life.

Biden has been accused by multiple women of inappropriate touching, hugging and kissing, which Biden has broadly apologized for by saying social norms change and he will be more respectful of personal space. Recently, former Senate aide Tara Reade accused Biden of sexual assault, which he strongly denied.

Biden’s personal life has been marked by tragedy. Shortly after winning his Senate seat in 1972, his family was involved in a car crash. His then-wife Neilia and his daughter Naomi were killed, and his sons were badly injured. During his vice presidency, in 2015, his son Beau died at age 46 after a yearslong battle with brain cancer.

Identifying with working-class voters has long been a key point of pride for Biden, and in his first Senate term, he was ranked as the second-poorest member of Congress, with a net worth of less than $400,000. His net worth has since increased to $9 million. In keeping with the tradition begun by Richard Nixon, Biden released his tax returns, showing that in 2019 he and wife Jill paid $288,000 in federal income taxes.

After four years since last holding public office, Biden is seeking the presidency for a third time. His is running on the premise that President Donald Trump has been a failure, calling him during the first presidential debate “the worst president America has ever had.” In contrast to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, Biden promises to “Build Back Better.” Here is where Biden stands on major issues.


Biden’s plan to respond to COVID-19 is twofold, addressing both public health and economic concerns. He calls for a decisive public health response, including the wide availability of free testing and the elimination of all cost barriers to treatment, the safe development of a vaccine and deploying all available resources to mount a national emergency response. 

He also calls for a robust economic response, providing additional relief and support to workers, families and small businesses that have been affected by the pandemic. His plan calls for spending “whatever it takes” for both responses. Biden also plans to reestablish executive level organizations to monitor and prepare for future health emergencies, as well as reengage with international health organizations.

Taxes and the Economy 

Biden has promised he will not raise taxes on a single American making less than $400,000 annually and will institute further tax cuts for middle-class Americans. 

His tax plan instead seeks to increase the amount of taxes paid by the wealthy and by corporations. He proposes a corporate tax rate increase from 21 percent to 28 percent, although prior to Trump’s tax cuts the corporate tax rate was 35 percent. This will include taxes on foreign income earned by American corporations. 

His plan would also restore the highest individual tax rate to 39.6 percent from the current 37 percent, as well as tax those making more than $1 million annually to pay the same tax rate on investments as they do on wages.

He also plans to take economic action to address the pandemic. Emergency action includes using government’s authority to increase production of things such as coronavirus tests and personal protective equipment, as well as launching a task force to ensure funds appropriated for relief go to funding the measures they are intended. It also includes direct financial relief to individuals, such as additional payments and student loan forgiveness, as well as additional payments to states.

Health care

Biden’s health care plan rests on defending the Affordable Care Act. He also plans to provide a public option akin to Medicare as an alternative option to private insurance while stopping short of eliminating private coverage altogether. It would also sidestep state governments that have not expanded Medicaid by offering cost-free public insurance from the federal government to low-income Americans not eligible for state Medicaid.

Additionally, Biden plans to address the cost of prescription drugs by limiting launch pricing and price increases and would continue opening the option of purchasing drugs from foreign countries as well. Biden’s plan also includes restoring the requirements for plans to include contraceptive care.


Increasing federal funding for schools is at the top of Biden’s education agenda. This would allow for an increase in teacher’s pay as well as provide more mental health resources to students. He would also target funding to eliminate the gap in resources between schools in high- and low-income areas.

His plan also calls for the creation of vocational education partnership programs between high schools, community colleges and employers. He would also provide universal prekindergarten to all 3- and 4-year-olds.

Racial Equity

Biden committed to using the Department of Justice to address systematic misconduct in police departments and prosecutors offices, as well as implement policies aimed at restoring trust between police departments and minority communities.

His plan also promises to reduce racial inequality in education and employment by enacting policies that ensure fair access to education, as well as place the burden of proof on corporations when accused of discriminatory or unfair payment. Biden’s plan aims to increase access to credit in order to support minority-owned business, as well as to reduce racial disparities in housing.

LGBTQ+ Rights

As vice president in 2013, Biden famously spoke contrary to the Obama administration’s stated policy, which was that the then-president’s views on same-sex marriage were “evolving.” Biden openly supporting same-sex marriage forced Obama to publically support same-sex marraige sooner than they had planned.

Biden has proposed passing the Equality Act to ensure civil rights laws apply to sexual orientation and gender identity. He has also committed to nominate federal officials who represent the diversity of the United States, including LGBTQ+ people. Biden plans to ensure that protections equally apply to transgender and nonbinary individuals and protect their rights in the workplace and elsewhere. He would also ensure the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, which includes provisions classifying LGBTQ+ people as a protected class.

Biden’s plan would also reverse the Trump administration’s ban on transgender people serving in the military, which would bring federal policy back into line with recommendations by the Pentagon. 


Reversing a number of Trump’s border and immigration policies is a central tenet of Biden’s immigration plan. Biden would end policy that separates parents from children, as well as policies limiting members of vulnerable grounds from seeking asylum. Biden would also end the policy of metering, or capping the number of asylum applications accepted per day, as well as end prolonged detention and reinvest in case management systems.

Biden’s plan also calls for ending workplace raids and protecting medical centers, schools and other sensitive locations from immigration enforcement actions. It would also double the number of immigration judges and court staff while also investing in technology and partnerships to increase border security. 

It would provide a pathway to citizenship for those who have been residing and working in the United States for many years and farm workers, expand visa programs and increase protections for undocumented immigrants who report things such as labor violations. 

Biden’s plan commits to call a summit of leaders from countries throughout Central America to address root causes of migration.

Gun Rights

Biden’s plan would address gun violence in a few ways. Biden’s plan repeals protection for gun manufacturers shielding them from liability for deaths caused by the guns they sell. It would also ban the sale of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines and require registration of currently owned weapons. This would include a reauthorization of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that has expired.

Biden also intends to offer a buyback program for people who do not want to register the weapons they own. In order to combat stockpiling of firearms, Biden would limit individuals to purchasing no more than one gun in a single month. Biden’s plan also calls for expanding background checks and closing a number of gun purchase loopholes, as well as ending online sales of firearms and ammunition. 

Biden’s plan would also seek to address gun violence through education and mental health methods and community intervention.

National Security and Foreign Policy

Biden emphasizes the importance of diplomacy in foreign policy. His plan calls for rebuilding the State Department’s diplomatic corps, which had lost a large number of experienced diplomats during the Trump administration. He intends to reenter international agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord, and reengage with allies and international organizations.

Similar to Trump, Biden has also pledged to end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and limit the U.S. military’s mission in the Middle East to fighting al-Qaida and the Islamic State.

Biden also calls for placing a focus on the national security implications of climate change and to make addressing that not only an environmental issue, but a security one.

Land and Agriculture

Of particular interest in Iowa and at Iowa State is agriculture. Biden promises to reverse the Trump administration practice of providing extensive renewable energy waivers to fossil fuel companies and invest in ethanol and other biofuel production. Biden also seeks to provide funding to land-grant universities in an attempt to ensure patents for agricultural breakthroughs are in the hands of the public, rather than private corporations. 

Biden also calls to increase rural access to broadband internet connections, whether through wired or wireless 5G networks. His plan also seeks to improve rural access to health care by providing funding to rural hospitals to keep them open.


Biden believes abortion is a constitutional right and has committed to working to make abortion rights codified law, and that his Department of Justice would do “everything within it’s power” to block state laws seeking to limit abortion access.

Supreme Court

Biden has stated he believes the Supreme Court seat left vacant by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death should not be filled until after the presidential election. However, he has declined recently to answer the question about court packing, or adding additional seats to the Supreme Court to tip its ideological balance.

The Environment and Climate Change

Biden has frequently stated he believes climate science and considers it to be one of the greatest threats facing the United States and the world. He plans to reenter the Paris Climate Agreement and make climate change a core national security priority.

Biden has not endorsed the Green New Deal originally introduced and championed by politicians such as New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and his own vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris. Biden has also explicitly stated he does not plan to ban the controversial oil and gas drilling method known as fracking. 

While not as ambitious as the Green New Deal, Biden’s plan calls for a 100 percent clean energy economy by 2050, while also protecting the benefits coal miners and others in carbon-heavy industrial sectors have earned.