November 4, 2008

Religion and Politics ’08: Joe Biden

profile_large_biden

Background

Hometown
Scranton, PA.: Claymont, Del.

Age
67

Religion
Roman Catholic

Education
Syracuse University College of Law, J.D., 1968
University of Delavware, B.A., 1965

Candidate Website
biden.senate.gov

Candidacy Status
Named Barack Obama’s vice presidential running mate on Aug. 23, 2008. Obama and Biden elected president and vice president on Nov. 4, 2008.

Political Experience
U.S. Senator from Delaware, 1972-present
New Castle (Del.) County Council, 1970-72

Professional Experience
Adjunct Professor, Widener University School of Law, 1991-present
Attorney, private practice, 1968-1972

Family Information
Spouse: Jill Jacobs Biden
Children: Joseph “Beau” Biden III, Robert Biden, Naomi “Amy” Biden (d.1972), Ashley Biden

Biden Religious Biography

In His Own Words

“I’m very proud to be Catholic. It’s part of my spirituality, part of my identity. When John Kennedy ran for president, I remember being so proud that he was Catholic. But he had to prove that he wasn’t ruled by his beliefs. I’m with John Kennedy on the role religion ought to play in politics.”
Interview, August 2005

Born to Irish-Catholic parents, Biden briefly considered becoming a priest when he was a young student. Biden attended Holy Rosary parochial school and Archmere Academy, a Catholic prep school in Claymont, Del. His interest in politics was sparked as early as 10th grade by the civil rights movement and the presidency of John F. Kennedy; “I remember being so proud that he was Catholic,” he told The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., in 2005.

In 1972, shortly after being elected to the Senate at age 29, Biden lost his wife and one-year-old daughter in a car crash in which his two sons were also injured; he later remarried and had another daughter. He was given last rites by a priest in 1988 before recovering from a life-threatening aneurysm and brain surgery; he described his recovery as “a second chance in life.”

Biden attends Mass at St. Patrick’s Church or St. Joseph on the Brandywine Church, both parishes in the Diocese of Wilmington; he recommended St. Patrick’s former priest, the Rev. James Trainor, to serve as a guest chaplain in the Senate in 2001. Biden had an hour-long private audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 1980 on the subject of Poland’s position in the former Communist bloc. Biden met Pope John Paul II three more times. He attended the pope’s 2005 funeral and told The News Journal that the presence of religious leaders from other traditions made the event “much more meaningful.”

When former Diocese of Wilmington bishop Michael Saltarelli came under pressure in 2005 to deny Communion to Biden and other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, Saltarelli refused to do so, saying through a diocesan spokesman that he preferred “prayer and active engagement” on the issue. Biden declined to comment.

On the Issues

Abortion
Biden “strongly support[s] Roe v. Wade.” He said he is “prepared to accept” the Catholic Church’s teaching that life begins at conception but said Roe v. Wade “is as close to we’re going to be able to get as a society” to incorporating diverging religious views on the issue. Although he voted in favor of the bill to ban late-term abortions, Biden said the Supreme Court’s April 2007 decision to uphold the ban was “intellectually dishonest,” saying its language undermined Roe v. Wade.
Compare McCain and Obama

Church and State
In 1994, Biden voted against a failed amendment that would have withheld federal funding from schools that deny students the right to voluntary prayer. After President Bush endorsed the teaching of intelligent design alongside evolution, Biden told The News Journal in 2005 that the separation between church and state should not be “messed with.”
Compare McCain and Obama

Death Penalty
The Biden-authored Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 expanded the federal death penalty to cover 60 offenses, including terrorist homicides, murder of federal law enforcement officials, large-scale drug trafficking, drive-by shootings resulting in death and car jackings resulting in death. In 1996, Biden voted against limiting appeals of those facing the death penalty.
Compare McCain and Obama

Education
During his 2008 primary campaign, Biden, whose wife is a teacher, said that if elected president he would increase tax deductions for college tuition payments while expanding federal grant coverage for low-income students at public colleges. In 2003, he introduced the Tuition Assistance for Families Act in the Senate, which contained similar provisions; the bill did not pass. At the primary and secondary levels, he supports increased teacher pay and reduced class sizes.
Compare McCain and Obama

Environment
In a bipartisan resolution in 2006, Biden called on President Bush to negotiate an international agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions by the United States and other countries. As part of an effort to achieve energy independence, Biden wants the U.S. to use ethanol and biodiesel fuels, while “dramatically increasing” research into climate change technologies and alternative energy sources. In 2005, Biden voted to ban drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In the 2008 campaign, Biden has expressed both support and opposition to offshore oil drilling.
Compare McCain and Obama

Faith-Based Initiatives
Biden expressed reservations about President Bush’s faith-based initiative in 2001, commenting, “They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and I’m not sure we’re not going to break something that’s already fixed.” In 2004, Biden co-sponsored the Second Chance Act; the bill, which still hasn’t passed in the Senate, would, among other things, provide $15 million in federal grants to community and faith-based groups that help former prison inmates.
Compare McCain and Obama

Gay Marriage
In the 2008 vice presidential debate, Biden said that he does not support gay marriage. However, he also said that in an Obama-Biden administration, “there will be absolutely no distinction from a constitutional standpoint or a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple.” He went on to specify that he supports making sure that committed same-sex couples “are guaranteed the same constitutional benefits as it relates to their property rights, their rights of visitation, their rights to insurance, their rights of ownership as heterosexual couples.” Biden voted for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits same-sex marriage under federal law. In 2003, he said gay marriage is “probably” inevitable and that if marriage “brings stability” to gay couples, “I don’t know why we should be frightened of that.” Biden voted against a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and also voted in favor of expanding the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation.
Compare McCain and Obama

Health Care
During his 2008 primary campaign, Biden said that if elected president he would immediately insure every child under 18, “move for catastrophic health coverage” and push health care providers to use electronic record keeping for better cost savings. He said he would give more leeway to states experimenting with full coverage: “States are the incubators for this,” he said. In 2002, he sponsored a bill that would allow Delawarean small businesses and individuals to band together to purchase insurance at group discounted rates.
Compare McCain and Obama

Immigration
During his 2008 primary campaign, Biden said that if elected president his first step would be to “deal with Mexico,” which he described as a “rich country” with a “dysfunctional distribution of opportunity” that drives illegal immigrants into the United States. He favors “earned citizenship” for illegal immigrants currently in the country, tougher employer sanctions and a guest-worker program. Biden voted yes on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006, which would have increased border security and would have created a path to citizenship for long-time illegal immigrants.
Compare McCain and Obama

Iraq War
Biden, whose oldest son is scheduled to deploy to Iraq later this year, voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq in 2002, but he has questioned whether it is still valid and opposed President Bush’s “troop surge.” Biden, chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and Leslie Gelb, a foreign policy expert, have proposed a five-point plan that would create “ethno-religious” federal regions in Iraq, with a central Iraqi government distributing oil revenue. The plan also calls for withdrawal of most U.S. troops by 2008. “The only rational purpose for troops in Iraq now [is to] train Iraqis [and] prevent al Qaeda from occupying large chunks of territory, and we should begin to decentralize the government,” he said. In September 2007, the Senate voted 75-23 to adopt Biden’s nonbinding measure that endorses the division of Iraq into Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions.
Compare McCain and Obama

Poverty
Biden voted for the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, which raised the minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour. Biden broke with his party to vote in favor of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, which makes it harder for people to erase debt by declaring bankruptcy.
Compare McCain and Obama

Stem Cell Research
Biden voted in favor of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005, which was vetoed by President Bush. The bill would have allowed federal funding for research on stem cell lines obtained from discarded human embryos originally created for fertility treatments.
Compare McCain and Obama