Jill Biden is on a new mission in her second year as first lady

WASHINGTON — Jill Biden stormed the country during her debut year as first lady as if on a one-woman mission to help her husband’s administration tackle the problem of the moment: vaccinating people and boosting against the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

New headwinds blowing in the second year — President Joe Biden’s low public profile and November elections that could return control of Congress to Republicans — have steered her to a new mission: working to elect Democrats who can help to her husband.

She doesn’t hide her frustration with Washington.

“Joe really believes in working with Congress and getting things done, but obviously the Republicans are coming together and not backing down.” They don’t budge,” the first lady said at one of four fundraisers she has spearheaded in the past month.


“Who would have thought AR-15s would make any sense for anything? Who doesn’t believe in the need to address climate change?” she said at a July fundraiser in Nantucket, Mass., referring to Republican opposition to the president’s call for a ban on assault weapons and more spending on climate change.

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 as she tests possible fall campaign messages with 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 audience to demand tougher gun laws from Congress.


“We have to fight now for the lives of our children and for the safety of our schools,” she told the National PTA Convention in June, shortly after they visited Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, where 19 students and two teachers were killed by a man. firing an AR-15.

Congress represents “the will of the people,” she said, “and that’s why we need the people to speak. Parents and teachers. We all.”

She raised the issue of guns later at the American Federation of Teachers convention in Boston in July, saying “we believe that the AR-15, the weapon that tore apart 19 children and two teachers in their classroom, has no place in our streets.’

And she turned the Supreme Court decision striking down 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 abortion rights into federal law, but lacks support in Congress, where Democrats hold a slim majority.


“Each of us has a teacher’s voice when things go off the rails, and now is the time to use it,” she said in Boston.

In Nantucket, the first lady defended her husband of 45 years, saying “so many things have just been thrown at him” that were not expected, including the decision on abortion and Russia’s war on Ukraine.

“He had so many hopes and plans for things he wanted to do, but every time I turned around, he had to deal with the problems of the moment,” she told a group of about two dozen donors.

She said she has also become “the first lady of the moment,” responding to issues and not pushing a separate agenda.

Tammy Vigil, a communications professor at Boston University, said it’s typical for the first lady to defend the president, and for that reason complaints against the Republican opposition sound better coming from her than from President Biden. He would risk undermining his authority and looking “whiny” if he talked about GOP roadblocks more often than he does, she said.


“If it’s going to be said, she’s the better person to say it,” said Vigil, who has written a book about former first ladies Michelle Obama and Melania Trump.

Jill Biden’s summer has been busy — and uncharacteristically uneven at times.

She went on two solo trips abroad in May, traveling to Romania and Slovakia in Eastern Europe to meet with Ukrainian refugees. The trip included an unannounced detour to western Ukraine to meet with First Lady Olena Zelenska. She also traveled through Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.

But in June, she upset AIDS activists by hosting a White House event to unveil a postage stamp honoring first lady Nancy Reagan. Activists noted Reagan’s indifference to gays and lesbians at the start of the AIDS crisis that erupted during Ronald Reagan’s presidency.


Last month, she was forced to apologize, through a spokesperson, for offending Latinos by describing their diversity as “as different as a Bronx bodega, as beautiful as the colors of Miami, and as unique as breakfast tacos here in San Antonio.” .

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists tweeted back, “We are not tacos.”

The first lady was also assaulted last month while entering an ice cream parlor in Connecticut. A man in the crowd on the sidewalk yelled, “Your husband is the worst president we’ve ever had” and “You owe us gas money.” A new CNN poll pegged her approval rating at a low 34 percent, though only 29 percent had an unfavorable opinion of her. An additional 28% say they have no opinion of the first lady, and 9% say they haven’t heard enough about her.


The president’s positive tests for COVID-19 forced the couple to remain separated for about two weeks while he isolated himself in the White House and she remained at their home in Wilmington, Delaware.

She welcomed Zelenska to the White House just before the president’s diagnosis.

Jill Biden, 71, is the first first lady to work outside the White House. She is expected to resume teaching in September and combine these demands with a campaign. She signed a new contract with Northern Virginia Community College the morning of her speech to the AFT, she said.

She has done seven fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee so far this year, and the party is glad to have her.

“Jill Biden is one of the Democratic Party’s most important surrogates because she is igniting grassroots supporters across the country,” Democratic Party Chairman Jaime 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 aisle.”


Robert Watson, a professor of history 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 surprising not to see more of Jill Biden in the run-up to the Nov. 8 election.

“She’s a strong advocate,” said Watson, who studies the presidency. “Nobody’s interested in asking about her holiday cookie recipe.”

Whatever the outcome, the Bidens still have a happy occasion to look forward to after the election: the first White House wedding in nearly a decade.

Granddaughter Naomi Biden will marry Peter Neill on the South Meadow on November 19.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.

Jill Biden is on a new mission in her second year as first lady

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