Biden Institute gets hearty kickoff


Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the University of Delaware for the launch of the Biden Institute. (University of Delaware photo)

NEWARK — Former Vice President Joe Biden, at the University of Delaware Monday for the official launch of a research center named in his honor, expressed regret over the polarization of American politics and urged listeners to give President Donald Trump a chance to govern.

The former vice president, who served eight years before his term expired in January, weighed in on the state of the country and the plans for the Biden Institute in front of an audience of about 200 people.

Mr. Biden, a Democrat known partly for working with Republicans, lamented the decline of bipartisan in American politics but expressed confidence in the strength of the American people.

“I can think of no better group of people to try to (change the world) with than the incredible faculty,” he told the audience gathered into the Roselle Center for the Arts.

The Biden Institute, contained within the university’s School of Public Policy and Administration, will, in the words of UD President Dennis Assanis, “convene the world’s brightest minds and most powerful voices to solve the toughest problems in America.”

Joe Biden shakes hands with UD President Dennis Assanis. (University of Delaware photo)

It will focus on issues that Mr. Biden tackled over his 46 years in public service, first as a New Castle County councilman and then as a U.S. senator and vice president, including domestic violence, the environment, civil rights and middle-class jobs.

“I hope it will become a source of significant pride and some excitement here at my alma mater,” Mr. Biden, a 1965 graduate of the university, said.

While he will not be teaching courses, he said he hopes to drop into some classes and spend time around the students on campus.

As an ex-vice president, he remains busy working on myriad issues. He will lead the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania and will continue to promote efforts to cure cancer, which claimed the life of his eldest son in 2015.

The Penn Biden Center will focus on foreign policy, while Delaware’s institute will primarily involve domestic affairs and more short-term goals.

Mr. Biden said he hopes to bring Democratic and Republican politicians to UD to show that bipartisanship can still exist and the system can still work.

“The public is so sick and tired of the sort of political carnage going on,” he said.

Mr. Biden, referred to by Dr. Assanis as the “most distinguished” Delaware alumnus in history, said he holds a special place in his heart for the institution: “I owe this place, I owe this state and I owe this university. It’s always had my loyalty.”

He will be the founding chair of the Biden Institute, while his sister, Valerie Biden Owens, will be the vice chair. Other staffers include longtime aide Mike Donilon, who has been named managing director.

“I want to be for the students here on campus what the faculty was for me when I was here,” Mr. Biden said.

After speaking for more than half an hour, the former vice president took questions from reporters, and while he was reluctant to criticize President Trump — who he said in January needs to “grow up” — he did caution that the president’s attacks on the media could undermine American democracy.

“Any effort to delegitimize the press is the stuff of which oligarchs are made,” he said, choosing his words carefully when he came to the term “oligarchs.”

While the Biden Institute is not intended as a political body, Mr. Biden said he will still comment on the administration from time to time in his role as a former vice president and current private citizen.

President Trump has been under attack from Democrats since day one, but Mr. Biden has deliberately avoided speaking out. Monday, he said it is too early to judge the performance of the administration, which he judged as playing catch-up.

Asked if he believes the American public — which polls show are disillusioned with politics in tremendous rates — can once again believe in the integrity of the political system, Mr. Biden pointed to an example from his first term in the Senate.

Former President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974 as a result of the Watergate scandal, but America rebuilt itself, he opined.

Outside of his work with UD, Mr. Biden intends to partner with former President Barack Obama to help build the Democratic Party from the ground up, with a much greater focus on local races.

The party lost more than 900 state legislative seats from 2009 to 2017.

Mr. Biden helped campaign last month for Stephanie Hansen, who was running in a special election for a state Senate seat that would determine the balance of power in the chamber. Perhaps bolstered by Mr. Biden’s efforts, Ms. Hansen was victorious.

A broader kickoff event for the institute will take place on campus April 7.

“There are an awful lot of my professors rolling over in their grave right now,” Mr. Biden joked as he stepped before the podium on stage Monday.

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