I saw first­hand how Bi­den val­ues women

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - El­iz­a­beth Alexan­der was Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den’s press sec­re­tary in the Sen­ate, on the Tran­si­tion Team and in the White House. El­iz­a­beth E. Alexan­der

From 2006 to 2011, I worked closely with Joe Bi­den on both his Sen­ate and White House staff. I trav­eled the coun­try and the world with him, cer­tainly log­ging more miles and some­times feel­ing as if I spent more time with him than I did with my own fam­ily. Wher­ever he was dur­ing those years, be it Wilm­ing­ton or Bagh­dad, I wasn’t far away. I saw him at his best and his worst, in quiet mo­ments and on the world’s largest stages. Through it all, in big ways and in the small ways that some­times matter even more, he was, is and al­ways has been a cham­pion for women and equal­ity.

I write this piece not to dis­count the writ­ings of any other women or ques­tion their right to be heard, but sim­ply to add more in­for­ma­tion to the un­writ­ten story of Joe Bi­den.

With a quick Google search, ev­ery­one can read about his coura­geous work on the Vi­o­lence Against Women Act, be­gin­ning in the days when some ques­tioned whether spousal abuse was re­ally its own kind of crime. You can read about how he worked to re­cruit women to run for the U.S. Sen­ate in the early 1990s and then im­plored them to join the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. Ev­ery­one can read about his work fight­ing cam­pus sex­ual as­sault by start­ing the It’s On Us cam­paign in the White House, and con­tin­u­ing it to­day.

But it’s right to ask whether those in pub­lic life walk the talk be­hind closed doors. Not many peo­ple get the chance to see a politi­cian away from the crowds and cam­eras; not many get the chance to see what they’re re­ally like and what they do when no one is look­ing. I’ve had that chance. And the Joe Bi­den who is on the pages of his­tory is the same per­son I knew when no one was writ­ing it down.

What you won’t read about is how Joe Bi­den took the rare step of pay­ing staffers through their en­tire ma­ter­nity leaves, a rare ben­e­fit even now in the Sen­ate (or else­where). What you won’t read about is how he re­cruited women who had worked for him in the Sen­ate, and had “gaps” in their paid work his­tory be­cause of fam­ily de­mands, to be se­nior staff in the White House. Those years were just as valu­able to him as any tra­di­tional work ex­pe­ri­ence.

What you won’t read about it is how he sup­ported staff (like me) when they wanted to go to law school at night or needed time off to study for the bar exam, or when they asked to work one day a week from home, or work a re­duced sched­ule so they could re­li­ably pick up kids from school or be at the din­ner ta­ble. You won’t read about the way he’d de­bate and dif­fer with staffers with the same in­ten­sity, re­gard­less of gen­der.

You won’t read about how he’d tell male staffers and sen­a­tors who were re­peat­edly in­ter­rupt­ing a woman to pipe down, so he could hear what she was try­ing to say. You won’t read about the time an­other sen­a­tor asked one of his fe­male staffers to make cof­fee. Bi­den’s re­sponse, that fe­male staffer later told me, was that he’d make the cof­fee.

Don’t get me wrong. No one is per­fect, no leg­isla­tive record is per­fect. Joe Bi­den thrives on per­sonal con­nec­tions; he emotes and he em­pathizes like no other. When he reaches out to you, man or woman, he’s reach­ing out to touch your heart. If that’s a fail­ing, I’ll take it.

Though I haven’t talked with him about it, the Joe Bi­den I know would feel horrible and sin­cerely sorry if at any time, even for a split se­cond, he made any­one feel any­thing less than com­pletely sup­ported or em­pow­ered.

Be­fore any­one hastily dis­counts or dis­cards the leg­isla­tive record or ex­pe­ri­ence that made him Barack Obama’s choice for vice pres­i­dent, it’s worth look­ing at his life’s work in its to­tal­ity. It’s not hard to see, time and time again, whose side he’s on. I hope he runs for pres­i­dent, be­cause I’d like to see Amer­ica’s women and men get to know the Joe Bi­den I al­ready do.

AP

In the U.S. Sen­ate.

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