WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden has taken the country by storm in her first year as first lady as if on a one-woman mission to help her husband’s administration solve the problem of the moment: vaccinate and strengthen people against deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
New headwinds blowing in Year 2 — President Joe Biden’s weak reputation with the public and the November election that could put Republicans back in control of Congress — have placed her on a new mission: to work to help elect Democrats who can help her husband.
She does not hide her frustration with Washington.
“Joe really believes in working with Congress and getting things done, but obviously the Republicans are pulling together and they’re not moving. They’re not moving,” the first lady said during one of the four fundraisers she headlined in the past month.
“Who would think AR-15s make sense for anything? Who doesn’t believe in the need to deal with climate change? she said at a July fundraiser in Nantucket, Massachusetts, referring to Republican opposition to the president’s call for an assault weapons ban and more spending on change. climatic.
With school out for the summer, the teacher-first lady was free to travel again in her role as the president’s chief surrogate, highlighting the administration’s accomplishments and showing a more political side while trying to possible fall campaign messages in front of large and small audiences.
She expressed the urgency she and the president feel about the unfinished aspects of his agenda.
After accompanying him to the scene of deadly mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, and at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, the first lady – a community college teacher – urged the public to demand laws stricter rules on firearms in Congress.
“We have to fight, now, for the lives of our children and for the safety of our schools,” she told the PTA National Convention in June, shortly after visiting 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. All of us.”
She raised the issue of firearms later at the American Federation of Teachers convention in Boston in July, saying “we believe the AR-15s, the gun that tore 19 children and two teachers in their class, have no place on our streets”.
And she turned the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the constitutional right to abortion into an argument to send more Democrats to Congress in November. President Biden has promised to sign a bill enshrining abortion rights into federal law, but there isn’t enough support for it in Congress, where Democrats have slim majorities.
“We all have 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 45-year-old husband, saying “he got thrown at so many things” that weren’t expected, including the abortion ruling and Russia’s war on Ukraine.
“He had so many hopes and plans for the things he wanted to do, but every time you turned around, he had to deal with the issues in the moment,” she told a group of about two dozen. of donors.
She said she also became the “first lady of the moment”, reacting to issues and not pushing her separate agenda.
Tammy Vigil, a professor of communications at Boston University, said it’s typical for a first lady to defend the president and, for this reason, complaints against the Republican opposition sound better coming from her than from the president. Biden. He would risk undermining his authority and appearing “groaning” if he spoke about GOP roadblocks more often than he did, she said.
“If it has to be said, she’s the best 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 unusually bumpy at times.
She made two solo overseas trips 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. She has also traveled through Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica.
But in June, she upset AIDS activists by hosting an event at the White House to unveil a postage stamp honoring first lady Nancy Reagan. Activists noted the Reagans’ indifference to gays and lesbians at the start of the AIDS crisis, which exploded under President Ronald Reagan.
Last month, she was forced to apologize, through a spokesperson, for offending Latinos by describing their diversity as “distinct as the bodegas in the Bronx, as beautiful as the flowers in 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 heckled last month on her way to a Connecticut glacier. A man in the sidewalk crowd shouted, “Your husband is the worst president we’ve ever had” and “You owe us money for gas.” A new CNN poll recorded her approval rating at a low 34%, although only 29% had an unfavorable opinion of her. A further 28% said they had no opinion of the first lady and 9% said they hadn’t heard enough about her.
The president’s positive COVID-19 tests have forced the couple to remain apart for about two weeks while he self-isolates at the White House and she stays at their home in Wilmington, Delaware.
She had hosted Zelenska at 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 return to teaching in September and juggle 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 most important surrogates in the Democratic Party as she excites 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 from the top down.”
Robert Watson, a history professor at Lynn University, said modern first ladies have become effective fundraisers in their own right, popular with party loyalists, especially women. He said it would be surprising not to see more of Jill Biden as the Nov. 8 election nears.
“She’s a strong defender,” said Watson, who is studying for the presidency. “No one is interested in asking about her holiday cookie recipe.”
Regardless of the outcome, the Bidens still have a happy opportunity to look forward to after the election: the first White House wedding in nearly a decade.
Little girl Naomi Biden to marry Peter Neal on the South Lawn on November 19.