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All in the Family: Hunter Biden
Pink rose on Hunter Biden’s cheeks and then spread quickly to cover his entire face as he was presented with the interview question his father, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, had planted the night before: “Are you ‘portant yet?”
A small grin turned to a full tooth spread as he responded, “No, not quite yet. I haven’t reached that goal.”
When Hunter was young, he and his father took a ride in a convertible.
“It was a beautiful day for that ride,” Senator Biden said at a house party the night before the scheduled interview with his youngest son. “Robert Hunter told me that he planned to be ‘portant’ so you should ask him if has made it yet.”
The Senator, known for both his passion and humor on the Iowa campaign trail, was certain this would serve as a good ice breaker for the interview. He also suggested Hunter be asked how much he loved his father.
“I love my dad more than anything,” Hunter said and laughed again. “I know the answer to that one.”
Hunter, now a married father of three, was 17-years-old the first time he came to Iowa to campaign for his father.
“In our family, it’s hard not to be active [in the campaign] because we all spend so much time together,” he said. “If there’s a campaign, then we’re all on the campaign trail together.”
One of the main differences between this campaign and the previous presidential bid is the duration, he said.
“That time frame was so much more compressed,” he said. “I remember we announced in June and then the campaign started. I don’t think that half the other candidates have even announced yet. It wasn’t nearly as full blown campaigning as it seems to have been since January of this year.”
When he is not campaigning, however, Hunter, like all of the Biden children, has spent time providing community and public service.
“My mom says we’ve listened to too many of my dad’s speeches,” he said. “It was kind of expected of us and also — I think more than anything — something that we aspired to. I’ve always felt that it was a responsibility of anyone who could to spend some of his or her time giving back. So, whether it was my brother working at the Justice Department or my sister working as a social worker or whatever it was — We looked at what our dad did as service. As much as it is an honor to be a United States Senator, I always looked at what he did as the highest calling. That’s why I’ve never been really cynical about politics — even though there is a lot to be cynical about in politics. The the best sense of the word, a politician — an elected official — holds a sacred trust and I always looked at what he did as being a noble thing.”
After graduating from college Hunter worked with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, a program rooted in the Roman Catholic tradition that works with the homeless, unemployed, abused and mentally or physically ill. It was during this service that he met his wife, Kathleen, who is originally from Chicago. Making $80 per month, he ran an emergency services center in Portland, Oregon that helped families with utilities, government, groceries or with other immediate needs. His wife was also working with JVC, running a social center for mentally ill adults, many of whom were Vietnam veterans.
“I think my dad has always had an idealism about what he does and he has passed that on to us,” Hunter said. “I think he feels more than anything if you can wade through the bad parts of politics, that what you really have an opportunity to do is help people. One thing I did learn is that you don’t have to be a United States Senator to help people. You don’t have to be an elected official to serve.”
In addition to his father, Hunter says he learned a lot about public service from his maternal grandfather, Robert Neil Hunter, his namesake, who owned and operated the Hunter Diner in Auburn, N.Y.
“Here’s this guy who ran a diner and I think he ran the concessions at the local community college,” he said. “He wasn’t elected to anything, but when he died more people came up to me at his funeral — people that I’d never met before and people I think my grandmother had never met before. They told me that my grandfather paid for their first year of college or convinced them to go into this or that field of study. What it taught me was that you don’t need to be important to affect people’s lives.”
In May 2006, Hunter, a founding partner of Oldaker, Biden & Belair, was nominated by President George W. Bush to serve on the AMTRAK Reform Board. His father is well known for riding the AMTRAK rails from Delaware to D.C. when the Senate is is session. Hunter also serves on the National Prostate Cancer Coalition, an organization that advocates for research funding.
“I was asked by a person who ended up becoming a friend to serve on the board,” he said. “It made me very aware of the people that I knew — no one in my family directly — but friends whose fathers or people who were friends with my father had prostate cancer. It made me realize that it is a disease that is very rarely talked about. In terms of the way it is talked about or not talked about it, it is quite like breast cancer was 15 years ago. And — this is a horrible way to say it — but it is not a ‘sexy disease,’ not that many diseases are.”
One of the services the coalition provides is a mobile assessment unit that goes into under-served neighborhoods and provides prostate cancer exams.
“They go out into areas of people who not only aren’t educated about prostrate cancer, but people who aren’t going to the doctor generally,” he said. “You’d be surprised with how many men show up for this testing. It’s really a great thing.”
Because his father has been such a major and positive influence on his own life in terms of giving back to community and more, Hunter said he knows his father can do the same for the entire country. He’s so convinced that he and his entire family “vacationed” in Iowa, spending just as much time at campaign events as they did with leisure activities.
“I don’t really have a role, per say, with the campaign,” he said. “What I see it as is just me being here to talk about my dad as a dad. One of the things that made it easier as a family to decide to do this again — and we really did decide this as a family — was knowing that Iowa would play such an important role, as it always does. After 1987 there were so many people out here who remained loyal — not just loyal in terms of the politics of it, but as friends. We have so many friends out here that we’ve kept in touch with for 20 years. The experience was nothing but wonderful. Out of every bad thing, something good comes. And, one of the great things that came out of getting out of that race in 1987 was the friends we had made in Iowa that remained wonderful friends.
“For me, it’s just to be out here as often as I can and to speak to as many people as I can. I just need to tell the story of my dad. I don’t necessarily have to be a surrogate or talk about a particular issue, but just to talk to people about my dad. I help them realize that Joe Biden is exactly what he seems when you meet him, he’s exactly who he says he is when you get to hear him talk. There are a lot of people who say they know him, but what they know is that really smart guy who looks good on Sunday morning television. I think they believe he just stepped out of some Ivy League tower and don’t realize he grew up in Claremont, Delaware and his father managed auto dealerships. He’s a real guy.”
He said his thankful for the opportunity to vacation in Iowa, because certain realities have been reinforced in his own mind.
“I’ve been so encouraged by being out in Iowa,” he said. “One hundred million dollars is not going to buy you one Iowan caucus-goer. Period. Iowa caucus-goers are the leveling mechanism for this campaign. What they are able to do is sift through all this star power and all this money and bring everything back to the ideas and the issues. As much as dad has been out here and has come back and said, ‘I tell ya what, we’re in this. We’re absolutely in this.’ Logically you know it is true, but it is something you can feel when you come here. We have a chance of actually winning this thing — right here in Iowa. That’s what I believe.”