Jill Biden stormed the country during her debut as first lady as if she were on a one-woman mission to help her husband’s administration tackle the problem of the moment: getting people vaccinated and fortified against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. 19.
New headwinds blowing in her second year — President Joe Biden’s low public standing and a November election that could return Republican control of Congress — have set her on a new mission: to help elect Democrats who can to help her husband.
She doesn’t hide her frustration with Washington.
“Joe truly believes in working with Congress and getting things done, but obviously the Republicans are coming together and not backing down. They don’t shake,” the first lady said at one of four fundraisers that made headlines last month.
“Who would have thought AR-15s would make sense for anything? Who doesn’t believe in the need to address climate change?” she said at a July fundraiser in Nantucket, Mass., citing Republican opposition to the president’s call for an assault weapons ban and more climate change spending.
With school out for the summer, the teacher-first lady has been free to travel again in her role as chief deputy to the president, highlighting the administration’s accomplishments and showing a more political side while testing out potential fall campaign messages on audiences large and small. .
She gave voice to the urgency she and the president feel about unfinished aspects of his agenda.
After accompanying him to the scene of deadly mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, the first lady – a community college professor – urged the public to demand stricter gun laws from Congress.
“We have to fight, now, for the lives of our children and for the safety of our schools,” he told the National PTA Conference in June, shortly after the Bidens visited Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, where 19 students and two teachers were . killed by a man shooting an AR-15.
Congress represents “the will of the people,” he said, “and that’s why we need the people to speak. Parents and teachers. All of us.”
He addressed the gun issue later at the American Federation of Teachers conference in Boston in July, saying “we believe that AR-15s, the gun that tore apart 19 kids and two teachers in their classroom, have no place on our streets.”
And he turned the Supreme Court decision overturning the constitutional right to abortion into an argument for sending more Democrats to Congress in November. President Biden has promised to sign a bill enshrining the right to abortion into federal law, but there is not enough support for it in Congress, where Democrats have a slim majority.
“We all have a teacher’s voice for when things go off the rails, and now is the time to use it,” he said in Boston.
In Nantucket, the first lady defended her husband of 45 years, saying they “just threw so many things at him” that were unexpected, including the abortion decision and Russia’s war on Ukraine.
“He had so many hopes and plans for things he wanted to do, but every time you turned around, he had to deal with the problems of the moment,” he told a group of about a dozen donors.
He said she had also become a “first lady of the moment”, reacting to problems and not pushing her own separate agenda.
Tammy Vigil, a communications professor at Boston University, said it’s typical for a first lady to defend the president, and because of that, complaints about the Republican opposition sound better to her than to President Biden. He would risk undermining his authority and looking like a “whiner” if he sounded the GOP’s barricades more often than he has, he said.
“If it’s going to be said, he’s the best person to say it,” said Vigil, who wrote a book about former first ladies Michelle Obama and Melania Trump.
Jill Biden’s summer has been busy — and uncharacteristically bumpy at times.
He went on a pair of solo trips abroad in May, traveling to Romania and Slovakia in eastern Europe to meet Ukrainian refugees. The trip included an unannounced detour to western Ukraine to meet first lady Olena Zelenska. He also traveled through Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.
But by June, he had upset AIDS activists by holding a White House event to unveil a stamp honoring first lady Nancy Reagan. Activists noted the Reagans’ indifference to gays and lesbians at the start of the AIDS crisis, which exploded during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Last month, he was forced to apologize, through a spokesperson, for insulting Latinos, describing their diversity as “as unique as the bodegas of the Bronx, as beautiful as the flowers of Miami, and as unique as the breakfast tacos here in San Antonio.” .
The National Association of Hispanic Journalists tweeted in response: “We are not tacos.”
The first lady was also mobbed last month while on her way to an ice cream parlor in Connecticut. A man in the sidewalk crowd yelled, “Your husband is the worst president we’ve ever had” and “You owe us gas money.” A new CNN poll put her favorability at a low of 34%, though only 29% have an unfavorable opinion of her. A further 28% said they had no opinion of the first lady and 9% said they had not heard enough about her.
The president’s positive COVID-19 tests forced the couple to stay apart for about two weeks, while he isolates at the White House and she stays at their home in Wilmington, Delaware.
He had welcomed Zelenska to the White House shortly before the president’s diagnosis.
Jill Biden, 71, is the first lady to work outside the White House. He is expected to resume teaching in September and address those demands with the campaign. She signed a new contract with Northern Virginia Community College the morning of her AFT speech, she said.
So far this year, she has done seven fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee, and the party is happy to have her.
“Jill Biden is one of the Democratic Party’s most important surrogates because he inspires grassroots enthusiasm across the country,” Democratic Party Chairman Jamie Harrison said in a statement to The Associated Press. “We are grateful for the first lady’s commitment to electing Democrats up and down the ticket.”
Robert Watson, a history professor at Lynn University, said modern first ladies have become effective fundraisers in their own right, popular with the party faithful, especially women. He said it would be a surprise not to see more of Jill Biden ahead of the Nov. 8 election.
“He’s a strong advocate,” said Watson, who studies the presidency. “No one cares to ask about her holiday cookie recipe.”
Whatever the outcome, the Bidens still have one happy opportunity to look forward to after the election: the first White House wedding in nearly a decade.
Granddaughter Naomi Biden is set to marry Peter Neal on the South Lawn on November 19.