Joe Biden

Remarks at a Campaign Event in Racine, Wisconsin

May 08, 2024

The President. Good to see you. How are you, man?

Hey, folks, I want to know where Jamie is.

Audience members. Jamie! [Applause]

The President. Jamie, come here. Where's your mom? No, no, no. Mom, God love you. Mom—is it—this is Mom, right here?

Audience member. That's Art's mom.

The President. You're Art's mom?

Audience member. Yes.

The President. By the way, we have a tradition in the Biden family. Actually, it's my wife's tradition, and I'll get in trouble if I don't exercise it. Both their birthdays today. And by the way, you have to sing "Happy Birthday." Are you ready?

[At this point, the President led the audience in singing "Happy Birthday" to Annie Howell, mother of former Racine Police Department Chief Arthel "Art" Howell. He then continued his remarks as follows.]

Now you have to let me wife know that I did what I was supposed to do, right? [Laughter]

God love you. It's hell turning 60, isn't it? [Laughter]

Ms. Howell. I don't know. [Laughter]

The President. You haven't gotten there yet.

Ms. Howell. I've never been there.

The President. [Laughter] God love you.

Ms. Howell. Love you too.

The President. Well, I tell you what, I—my name is Joe Biden. I'm——

Audience members. We know!

Audience member. We know you, Joe! We know who you are! [Laughter]

The President. I'm 40 times 2 plus 1. [Laughter] I can't even say it anymore, man. [Laughter] I can't even say it anymore.

Oh, I forgot all the press is here. I'd better be careful here. [Laughter]

Well, thanks for having me. Thanks for—I really appreciate you letting me come by.

One of the few times I walked in with a chief—former chief of police and not arrested. [Laughter]

Anyway, thank you, thank you, thank you. Look, I can't tell you how much I appreciate you letting me come by.

You can smile, kiddo. I'm good. [Laughter] She's looking at me like, "Who is this guy?" [Laughter] "What's he doing?"

What's your name?

Audience member. [Inaudible]

The President. How old are you?

Audience member. Eighteen.

The President. Eighteen. You're getting old, kid. [Laughter] You know that guy?

Audience member. Yeah.

The President. Is he okay? [Laughter]

What's your name?

Racine, WI, resident Jakari Oliver. Jakari Oliver.

The President. Jakari.

Mr. Oliver. Yes.

The President. Well, good to see you, man.

Mr. Oliver. Nice to meet you too.

The President. Keep the faith.

Anyway, I—you know, this reminds me of when I first started running for office 180 years ago. [Laughter] I got elected to the United States Senate when I was 29 years old. And I come from a very modest family. We lived in a three-bedroom split-level home with—in a neighborhood that was in a suburban area they were building and—with four kids and a grandpop. And—but we thought we were okay. We thought everything was all right.

And—but my State of Delaware—I got involved in politics because of the African American community. I got to—we have the eighth largest Black population as a percentage in America. And to our great shame, Delaware was a slave State.

We have all the vestiges—the State sort of divided two-thirds to one-third. One-third top—we have a canal that separates the entire State, connects the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware River. And anything above the canal is basically more northeast or central States.

Everything south of the canal is Southern. And, I mean, for real.

[The President briefly imitated a regional accent.]

We're going to talk at you like this. You know what I mean? And—for real. [Laughter] And—the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the Delmarva Peninsula, et cetera.

Everybody thinks that the DuPont Company is the biggest thing in Delaware. The biggest thing in Delaware are chickens. [Laughter] No, I'm serious. It's the single biggest—$400 million industry.

But my point is that I got involved because when I first got—when I got out of law school—and I went to law school. I had to get some financial help to get there. And I got to law school. When I got back, I got a job with a fancy firm—the biggest, oldest firm in the State that—and it was called Prickett, Ward, Burt, and Sanders. And I got the job.

But unfortunately, in my State—show how old I am—Wilmington, Delaware, is the only city in America occupied by the National Guard since the Civil War because when Dr. King, who is one of my heroes—when he got assassinated, we had riots in Delaware.

And so the Southern Governor—he was a Democrat, but he was a Southerner in terms of his attitudes—he put the National Guard on the streets for 10 months on every corner with drawn bayonets. Only city in America ever occupied since the Civil War.

And I quit this fancy law firm and became a public defender, because I wanted to be——

Audience member. Woo! [Laughter]

The President. And so I—and the year I—so I ran as a—they came to me and said they wanted me to run—the local people—run for the State senate as a State senator. And I said: "I can't do that, because I'm just—I'm working part time as a public defender and part time setting up a law practice. And I can't go to Dover because I wouldn't be able to make a living."

And so then they came back to me 3 days later and said, "Want to run for county council?" I said, "County council, I can't do that." And then they walked over to the window in my office and said: "Right over there, that's the courthouse. It meets there twice a week. You can make it." [Laughter]

So I checked this—true story—so I checked it out, and no one had ever won the district they wanted me to run in. So I figured, "What the hell, I'll do it, because I won't win." [Laughter] But I'll make the effort—[inaudible].

Audience member. [Inaudible]

The President. No, I really—I didn't think it would, because I thought we'd, you know, begin to build—I kept arguing more people should get engaged and run to change the nature of the Democratic Party.

Audience member. That's right!

The President. So what happened was, I made a mistake. My best friend in the world, my sister——

Audience member. [Inaudible]

The President. That's okay——

Audience member. I'm sorry.

The President. ——managed my campaign. [Laughter]

My sister is 3 years younger—used to be 3 years younger than me. Now she's 23 years younger. [Laughter] By the way, there is no man in the Biden household that is any younger than any woman in the household. [Laughter] That's the family rule. You think I'm kidding? [Laughter]

Anyway, she managed my campaign, and I won. And I won a 4-year term. And I didn't want to go initially, seriously. And—but turns out the decennial Census—every 10 years, there's a new—you know, they redo the districts. And so I got reapportioned from a 4-year term to a 2-year term because Republicans saw something in me I didn't see—that they thought I was going to run for higher office. [Laughter]

So this is—no, this is the God's truth. So I'm 28 years old now. [Laughter] So I'm going around the State trying to get people to run, and a group of senior members of the Democratic Party, the ones who were mainstream Democrats——

Audience member. Here we are.

The President. ——were—that's right—[laughter]—came to me and said—one day, I was—went to the Democratic Convention down in Dover, Delaware, the off-year convention.

And I was trying to get other people to run for office. We were—I just joined a small group of a Democratic coalition to get mainstream, pro-choice, pro-liberal, pro-Black, pro—the typical Northeast Democrat.

And so I went down to the convention with three of the guys that I had come down with. One had a radio talk show—his name was Bob Cunningham—and a few others. Anyway.

And so, after the afternoon session, I went back to the motel. You know, one of these motels you drive up. There is no building in Dover taller—larger—more than four stories, at least in those days. Not a joke.

And so I go into the—I decide I'm going to take a shower and shave to go back that night. So I'm in one of those 9—8 by 10 showers—you know, I mean—restrooms in a motel and—with a shower—with a toilet, a bath, and a shower and a sink. And I have a towel around me and shaving cream, and I'm shaving. And I hear, "Bam, bam, bam," on my—on the door of the hotel room—I mean the motel room.

So I figured it's the guys that I came down with—you know, get me in trouble. I said, "Oh, come in." I opened—opened the door. I had a razor in my hand, shaving cream, and a towel around me. And there's four senior Democrats standing there. [Laughter]

The former Chief Justice of the State of Delaware, who had more people in his family, as a U.S. Senator—when they used to vote through the legislature—than any family in American history—than, I should say, in Delaware history. The State chairman. And the Congressman, who was the good guy who had lost three terms ago because he was too progressive. And a guy named Elbert N. Carvel, a big guy.

[The President briefly imitated a regional accent.]

Talked at you like this.

Former Governor. [Laughter] And—I know I'm—I should—am I boring you here with this story? Anyway—[laughter].

So I'm embarrassed as hell. I'm standing there with a towel around me in a hotel room that has the headboards nailed to the wall. You know what kind I mean. It was clean but—and two twin bed—two—two beds and desk nailed to the wall. And I'm—so I said: "Come in, gentlemen. Give me—give me a minute." [Laughter] And I ran in the bathroom, thinking I could change.

Well, there was nothing to change into. So I wiped off the—all the shaving cream, and I walked out. And I'm sitting there, and I leaned against that desk—I'll never forget it. I'm looking at four of these—to me, two of them, I'd never met and knew of—never met in my life.

And they said—and the Chief Justice said, "We just came from dinner, Joe." And then the Governor is going, "And, Joe, we think you should run for the Senate." I said, "What?" I swear to God. True story. [Laughter] And—because I—because they had asked me to go try to recruit people to run for the Senate.

And I said: "I'm—I'm—I'm too young. I'm only 29." And the Chief Justice said, "Joe, you obviously didn't do very well in constitutional law." [Laughter] Absolutely true. And I said—he said: "You have to be 30 to be sworn in, but you can be elected earlier. You've just got to wait." And he said, "You only have to wait 17 days to be eligible." And so I thought, "This is the craziest thing I've ever heard in my life." So I said thank you, and they left.

I went back and rode home with a group that I went down with—the three guys I went down with. But what I did before that: On the way up, I called my—I had a political philosophy professor—you all have one professor, one high school teacher you really respect?

Audience member. Yes.

The President. And his name was David Ingersoll. And I called him ahead of time. I said, "Can I stop and see you?" Because Dover, Delaware, is below Newark, Delaware, and below where my home was near Wilmington.

And so I stopped, and I said—I told him what happened, and he said, "What do you think?" I said, "What do I say?" He said, "Joe, remember what Plato said." I'm thinking, "What the hell did Plato say?" [Laughter] I'm serious. True story.

He said: "Plato said the penalty—to paraphrase Plato: The penalty that good people pay for not being involved in politics is being governed by people worse than themselves. You should run." I said, "Oh, God."

Anyway, so I went home and talked it over with my wife. She said: "Look, Joe, you're working 40 hours a week trying to get this law firm going, and you're a public defender. And at the same time, you're doing 20 hours or 30 hours a week as a county councilman. Either get in or get out."

Audience member. That's right!

Audience member. Wife knows best!

The President. But there were a whole lot of things I was worried about back then. I didn't support the Vietnam war—a lot of things going on. And so I ran. But I made the mistake of asking my sister to manage my campaign. [Laughter]

Nixon got 60—59.8 percent of the vote in Delaware—almost 60 percent. And I won by 3,100 votes. [Applause] And here I am.

And I only got elected because I got—when I run in Delaware—not a joke—I get 90 percent of the African American vote in off-years and—[inaudible]—years because you're the most loyal constituency because I've been loyal to my constituency.

And so—and things are changing. Guess what? Now, Delaware is blue, blue, blue, blue, blue. [Applause] Oh, you think I'm kidding? I'm not. We are as blue as you can get. [Laughter]

And with a little bit of luck and you all making sure that we change things here in Wisconsin as well——

Audience member. That's right.

Audience member. We're going to do it.

Audience members. Yes!

The President. Well, I—you've got some Senators I would like to see change too.

And if we do, we're going to make some—and, look, I'll—I'm going to hush up. As my grandfather would say, "Hush up."

But one of the things that I think—you know, and I'll be very serious for just 1 second and stop and talk—answer any questions you have or just walk around meeting each one of you individually.

You know, I really think democracy is at stake here.

Audience member. It is. It is.

Audience member. Absolutely.

Audience member. No doubt about it.

The President. Not—not a joke.

When I ran the first time, I made a speech at Independence Hall on democracy. And the press—and they're all smart as hell, the press back here—wondered why I was talking about democracy back then in 2020. And 60 percent of our polling showed people were worried about what was at stake. And we ended up winning.

But one thing I want you to be wary of—aware of: Trump means what he says.

Audience member. Yes, he does.

The President. He means what he says. And he says he's going to get rid of all the stuff that we've done, which is making sure that people don't have to pay 400 bucks a month for insulin for their diabetes instead of $35 a month. Make sure—I'll just go down the whole list.

And I was asked—I just did an interview with a national reporter at the last stop I made. She asked the question whether or not I thought that the—would Trump—did he mean what he said when he said, basically, he's not sure he's going to accept the results of the election. And I said: "He won't. He won't."

So—but we really have to—we can do a lot because I think the public is really ready to see some change.

And, anyway. I'm talking too much. Like I said, my mother would say: "Hush up, Joey. Stop the talking."

Audience member. Keep going, Joe! [Laughter]

The President. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at approximately 1:45 p.m. at the Dr. John Bryant Community Center. In his remarks, he referred to former President Donald J. Trump; and Erin Burnett, anchor, CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront" program. He also referred to his sister Valerie Biden Owens and brothers Francis W. and James B. Biden. The transcript was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on May 9.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks at a Campaign Event in Racine, Wisconsin Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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