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Jill Biden: I didn’t expect a ‘healing role’ as first lady

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Jill Biden: I didn’t expect a ‘healing role’ as first lady

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Her husband campaigned to help unite the country, but Jill Biden says “healing” a nation wounded by a deadly pandemic, natural and other disasters and deep political polarization is also among her top priorities. roles as first lady.

Capping off a year in which she saw herself as a key member of President Joe Biden’s team, the first lady told The Associated Press that she found herself taking on a role that “I don’t care about.” wasn’t expecting at all, which was like a healing role.” , because we have faced so much as a nation.

Jill Biden spoke while sitting in the sun by a pool at a Las Vegas hotel a day after she and the president comforted families in Louisville, Colorado, where a huge strip of homes burned down in a late December fire. She hugged people as they stood in front of the charred ruins of their lives and then offered her public condolences for the dogs and other pets killed in the fire.

First lady Jill Biden wraps up the production as she and President Joe Biden volunteer with hunger relief organization Philabundance in Philadelphia on Sunday.

Such trips offer increasingly rare opportunities for the White House to break the partisan impasse that defines Washington. For the most part, Jill Biden is not caught up in the frenzy of the capital, instead giving her the opportunity to serve as an ambassador between her husband’s administration and communities across the country, regardless of their political leanings.

His visits to Colorado and to see victims of a fatal Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wis., and a trip last Friday to tornado-ravaged areas of Kentucky are a “great example” of the responsibility she feels, she said. That’s what she would want as an ordinary person who survived a natural disaster or other tragedy.

“I would like to know that my president and my first lady care about me,” Biden said. “I think it’s an important part of what I do. I mean, just helping people through the tough times.

Biden, 70, has had his share of tough times.

Jill Biden: I didn’t expect a ‘healing role’ as first lady

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First Lady Jill Biden delivers remarks at the FEMA State Disaster Recovery Center in Bowling Green, Ky., January 14 after the area was hit by deadly tornadoes.

She and Joe Biden were married less than five years after his first wife and baby daughter were killed in a car accident in 1972, and at 26 she became the mother of his two surviving young sons. In 2015, the couple buried one of those boys, Beau, after he died of brain cancer at 46.

The first lady lost several close friends to breast cancer and sympathized with the people of Colorado because her own home in Delaware caught fire after a lightning strike.

“I know the hard things we’ve been through in our lives and I know how much acts of kindness have meant to me and to Joe,” Biden said. “So I just know what a difference it makes when you show up. I think showing up is really important.

She’s shown up in many places over the past year, traveling amid a pandemic at a pace that far exceeds that of the president – while continuing her other full-time job: as a English and writing teacher at Northern Virginia Community College. She has been teaching there since 2009.

Biden is the first first lady to continue her career — she is a teacher for life — and to take paid employment outside of the White House.

Jill Biden: I didn’t expect a ‘healing role’ as first lady

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First Lady Jill Biden meets with the community in the Creekwood neighborhood of Bowling Green, Kentucky on Jan. 14 while monitoring recovery efforts after tornado devastation.

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The New Jersey-born, Pennsylvania-raised first lady has spent the past year visiting schools, COVID-19 vaccination sites, military bases, Native American reservations and other locations in 35 states. That includes a dozen states, mostly in the South, that did not vote for her husband for president. In contrast, he landed in 24 states, excluding return trips to Delaware.

“The pandemic really didn’t constrain her much and she was able to go ahead and do all of these things: teach and advocate for people to get vaccinated and do a few visits to military installations and cancer centers.” said Myra Gutin, a professor at Rider University who writes about first ladies. “It’s quite significant.”

At vaccination sites, Jill Biden encouraged people to shield themselves and hold hands as adults and children get vaccinated. In schools, she visited classrooms and spoke with students about writing in journals to help them cope with the pandemic. At military bases, she thanked military spouses and other family members for the sacrifice alongside their loved ones in uniform.

On the policy side, Joining Forces, the first lady’s White House initiative to support military families, and the National Security Council last year announced a first round of administrative commitments to help spouses of military on employment, child care and other matters.

But she suffered a political defeat when the president dropped a tuition-free community college proposal – something she has spent years advocating – from a sweeping welfare and climate change bill after that some key Democratic senators objected to the size of the package.

Jill Biden: I didn’t expect a ‘healing role’ as first lady

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President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden greet local residents during a tour of a neighborhood destroyed by the Marshall Fire in Louisville, Colorado on January 7.

SAUL LOEB via Getty Images

The wives of other presidents have also acted as national healers. Katherine Jellison, a history professor at Ohio University who studies first ladies, recalled Lucy Webb Hayes’ actions after the Civil War and during Reconstruction.

Hayes, wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes, introduced American plants and wildlife, “something Americans in every region could get,” by having them depicted on White House china, Jellison said. Hayes also invited representatives of states opposed to the Civil War to social events.

“She’s worked hard to unify the country in a variety of interesting ways,” Jellison said.

Besides her role as a healer, Jill Biden has also fulfilled the traditional function of first lady of representing the United States abroad.

She flew on a solo overseas trip to Tokyo to cheer on American athletes at the delayed 2020 Olympics. She also accompanied the President on overseas trips to England and Rome.

Her husband’s inauguration, after his previous two failed bids for the presidency, “just took my breath away,” recalls Jill Biden.

Jill Biden: I didn’t expect a ‘healing role’ as first lady

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Joe Biden is seen being sworn in as the 46th President of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Jill Biden holds the Bible on January 20, 2021. Their children Ashley and Hunter look on.

For her, the White House “is a magical place”. When she wakes up, she thinks, “Wow, look where I am. But she also feels there’s a lot of work to be done in the country, and because of that, she can’t “have my coffee and sit up in bed and watch the news.”

“I’ve always said that if I was ever given that platform, I would never waste it. Not a day,” the first lady said. “That’s why when I wake up every day, I think, ‘What can I do today? … What am I doing? Where am I going? What is the strategy? What is the plan?'”

His plans for 2022 include continuing to focus on education, military families and doing more work to promote cancer research. She will continue to teach.

“But then I want to add other things,” added Jill Biden, describing her desire to bring art and artists to the White House and her hope that the pandemic will recede enough to allow the White House to reopen. to tourists and more socializing. .

“It’s going to be an exciting year. It must be a better year with the pandemic,” the first lady said. “I mean everyone, I think everyone across this country is saying, ‘Come on, this must be a better year. “”

Jill Biden: I didn’t expect a ‘healing role’ as first lady

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