Joe Biden: From Stutter To Power Over the last 35 years, Joe Biden has held some of the most powerful positions in the Senate. He started life as a stuttering young man in Scranton, Pa., however, with a fear of asking a girl on a date.
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NPR's Ari Shapiro examines Joe Biden’s transition from a young man with a stutter to a powerful politician on 'All Things Considered'

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Joe Biden: From Stutter To Power

NPR's Ari Shapiro examines Joe Biden’s transition from a young man with a stutter to a powerful politician on 'All Things Considered'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Barack Obama has served in the Senate just four years. His choice for a running mate, Joe Biden, has been toiling away in Congress for almost 40. And like a lot of Washington commuters, Joe Biden takes the train home every night. The difference: Biden commutes home from D.C. to Wilmington, Delaware. That's just one aspect of his life that will have to change if he becomes vice president.

NPR's Ari Shapiro has this profile.

ARI SHAPIRO: Today, Joe Biden is known as a gifted, albeit longwinded, orator. But 60 years ago, he was just a kid in Scranton, Pennsylvania with a bad stutter. He described his childhood in an interview on MORNING EDITION.

Senator JOE BIDEN (Democrat, Delaware; Vice Presidential Candidate): I used to stand in front of the mirror in my bedroom. I shared a bedroom, like a lot of people in my era in my neighborhood, with my two brothers and an uncle. And I'd stand there in front of the mirror over the dresser and I would practice meek young men grow up in libraries believing it their duty to accept the views (unintelligible).

Because the most embarrassing part of my stutter was a contour of your face. You know, you don't go up and ask the girl out, hey, would you go to the - prom with me. And it's a killer.

SHAPIRO: Obama has struggled to win the blue collar vote, and Biden's industrial roots may give Obama a boost there. When Biden was first elected to the Senate, Obama was 11 years old. Biden was as young as a senator-elect can possibly be - he was 29. You have to be 30 to be sworn in.

In Delaware, a month after Biden's election, a tractor trailer broadsided Biden's wife and kids. He was in Washington at the time. His wife and daughter died. Firefighters used the Jaws of Life to save his two sons.

In an interview on WHYY's Fresh Air two years ago, Biden told Terry Gross how he made the decision to stay in the Senate after that.

Sen. BIDEN: My greatest concern was I didn't think I could be the kind of father I wanted to be and be the senator I wanted to be. And that's when I started commuting. My two sons were very badly injured and hospitalized. They're fully recovered; they're grown men now.

But it was never one of those decisions. I think like most people listening, Terry, you don't make long-term decisions about your life; you make decisions as they come. And I agreed to stay for six months, and here I am 33 years later.

SHAPIRO: Over those years, he has run for president unsuccessfully twice. .the first time he dropped out after being accused for plagiarism. Biden has also chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Judiciary Committee. As judiciary chairman, he oversaw two of the most fiery Supreme Court confirmation hearings in American history - Robert Bork, who was not confirmed; and Clarence Thomas, who was.

Before the Thomas hearings began, Biden reportedly told the nominee, I'm in your corner, Judge, you have nothing to worry about. But then a woman named Anita Hill accused Thomas of relentless sexual harassment. The Senate postponed the vote and Biden reopened the hearings.

Sen. BIDEN: This is not going to easy to conduct. This is not going to be easy for the members of the committee nor Professor Hill nor the nominee. It is uncomfortable for everyone but it must be done.

SHAPIRO: Thomas called round two of the hearings a high-tech lynching. Biden eventually voted against him but Thomas still won by a vote of 52 to 48. While Obama has been criticized for his lack of foreign policy credentials, Biden has been a Democratic leader on those issues.

Here's a Democratic radio address Biden delivered about Iraq back in April.

Sen. BIDEN: The best that can be said is we've gone from drowning in Iraq to treading water. That's better but you can't keep treading water without exhausting yourself.

SHAPIRO: Biden voted to authorize President Bush to go to war with Iraq. He has said he would not have given the president that authority had he known that this administration would be so incompetent.

Earlier this month, Biden visited the former Soviet Republic of Georgia during its standoff with Russia. He made the uncharacteristic decision not to talk to reporters when he came home from that trip. It seemed an odd choice at the time but he may have just been waiting until he could speak as the Democrats' choice for vice president.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

LYDEN: And you can find in depth profile of Joe Biden and add your thoughts on the just-announced Democratic ticket on our Web site,

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