WASHINGTON ― Ending months of speculation, former Vice President Joe Biden announced Thursday that he’s running for president in 2020, joining a crowded field of Democrats eager to take on President Donald Trump.
“The core values of this nation, our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that has made America — America — is at stake,” Biden said in a video announcing his candidacy. The video was distributed across social media platforms. “That’s why today I’m announcing my candidacy for president of the United States.”
Biden has steadily led the race for the Democratic nomination in early polling, and he’s not lacking in confidence. He declared in December that he was “the most qualified person” to be president and said the issues facing the country “are the issues that have been in my wheelhouse, that I’ve worked on my whole life.”
Biden all but confirmed his run during a speech on April 5, when he defended himself with tone-deaf responses to nearly 10 women who have come forward in recent weeks with allegations of inappropriate and unwanted touching.
“I’m sorry I didn’t understand more,” he told reporters, after twice joking about the touching during his speech to laughs from the predominantly male audience. “I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done. I’ve never been disrespectful, intentionally, to a man or a woman.”
The allegations spotlighted Biden’s mixed legacy on women’s rights issues, a political liability in the Me Too era.
Biden’s run seemed like a foregone conclusion as he teased his prospective campaign for several months. He reportedly floated the idea of choosing Democratic rising star Stacey Abrams as his running mate in an attempt to assuage criticisms of himself as an old white man amid the diverse field of 2020 Democrats. (Abrams has repeatedly denied they had any such conversation.)
In the 3.5-minute video announcing his 2020 bid, Biden cited the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 and Trump’s response to it as a reason for his candidacy. Trump notoriously claimed there were “very fine people” attending the rally and protesting it.
“We are in the battle for the soul of this nation,” Biden said in his campaign video, a reference to an op-ed he wrote for The Atlantic in the aftermath of the rally.
“I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time,” he continued in the video. “But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation ... and I cannot stand by and watch that happen.”
“President Obama has long said that selecting Joe Biden as his running mate in 2008 was one of the best decisions he ever made,” Katie Hill, a spokeswoman for Obama, said in a statement Thursday. “He relied on the Vice President’s knowledge, insight, and judgment throughout both campaigns and the entire presidency.”
Biden is well-versed in foreign policy and judicial matters, having chaired both Senate committees on these issues. He helped write and pass the Violence Against Women Act. As Obama’s second-in-command, he was a key negotiator with Republican leaders in Congress and helped resolve the debt ceiling crisis in 2011 and the impending fiscal cliff in 2012.
But he has obvious weak spots in his political record. At 76, Biden could easily be the oldest president elected in U.S. history. As a senator representing Delaware, he supported the Iraq War and helped author the 1994 crime bill, which fueled an epidemic of mass incarceration. He still defends the crime bill, which he praised in his 2017 memoir, “Promise Me, Dad.”
Biden has also been criticized for failing to protect law professor Anita Hill after she accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991. As the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden would not call witnesses to corroborate Hill’s story and did little to stop personal attacks from Republicans.
As the Me Too movement has taken hold, Biden has expressed regret for how Hill was treated. But he has absolved himself of any responsibility for it and has issued a series of nonapologies to Hill, which she has criticized as insufficient.
Addressing the issue again in March, Biden lamented that “I wish I could have done something.”
“To this day, I regret that I couldn’t get her the type of hearing she deserved,” he said at an award ceremony in New York honoring students working to combat sexual assault on college campuses.
Biden’s announcement comes after more than a dozen other Democratic contenders have announced their entries into the race, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D), former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg are also running.
This is Biden’s third time running for president. He ran in 1988 and then again in 2008. He considered a run in 2016 but opted against it after losing his son Beau to cancer.
In a December interview, he said he’s prepared to address all of his potential weaknesses as a candidate ― including his tendency to commit gaffes ― but said they pale in comparison to Trump’s worst qualities.
“I am a gaffe machine, but, my God, what a wonderful thing compared to a guy who can’t tell the truth,” Biden said. “I’m ready to litigate all those things. The question is, what kind of nation are we becoming? What are we going to do? Who are we?”
Hayley Miller contributed reporting.
CORRECTION: Biden says in his video that he thinks history will regard the Trump era as “an aberrant moment in time,” not abhorrent.