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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 05 - 12 January 2018 > Mourning Joe

Mourning Joe

Photoillustration by GLUEKIT

Five months—five agonizing months. That’s how long it had been since Joe Biden’s eldest son, Beau, died of an aggres an Iraq War veteran and Delaware’s attorney general, but by the spring of 2015 he was gone. The pain of his son’s death was still raw for the vice president as he stepped behind a microphone in the White House’s Rose Garden in October 2015, flanked by his wife, Jill, and President Barack Obama. You could see Joe Biden’s hurt; his normally ebullient smile was gone, replaced by a fatigued grimace. Facing a small crowd and live cameras, Biden announced what many had long expected: He would not be running for president in 2016. The longtime senator was not emotionally ready. The “grieving process,” Biden said, “doesn’t respect or much care about things like filing deadlines or debates and primaries and caucuses.”

What few in Washington knew then was that Biden had come very close to running. As the former vice president writes in his new book, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, Steve Ricchetti, his White House chief of staff, and Mike Donilon, a campaign strategist, among others, had secretly been planning his presidential campaign. They knew how they were going to raise money, get him on the ballot and make a strong bid for the nomination. Donilon, with help from others, had even penned a 2,500-word speech announcing Biden’s candidacy. “We’re one America,” it read. “And everyone— I mean everyone—is in on the deal.”

The plan was in place, but the night before Biden’s Rose Garden speech, Donilon suddenly reversed course. “You shouldn’t do this,” he told Biden, who had to admit he was right. For months, he had been wrestling with Beau’s death, sometimes welling up in public, and he’d come to believe he wasn’t capable of giving all his energy to a presidential bid.

This was the second family tragedy for Biden during his long tenure in D.C. In December 1972, just after he had been elected to the Senate at age 29, Biden’s wife, Neilia, and their 4-year-old daughter, Naomi, were killed when a tractor-trailer hit their car. Biden’s sons, Beau and Hunter, then just 2 and 4, survived but were hospitalized for months.

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