The AP Interview: Biden ready to run, US first lady says
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — U.S. first lady Jill Biden gave one of the clearest indications yet that President Joe Biden will run for a second term, telling The Associated Press in an exclusive interview on Friday that there’s “pretty much” nothing left to do but figure out the time and place for the announcement.
Although Biden has long said that it’s his intention to seek reelection, he has yet to make it official, and he’s struggled to dispel questions about whether he’s too old to continue serving as president. Biden would be 86 at the end of a second term.
“How many times does he have to say it for you to believe it?” the first lady said in Nairobi, the second and final stop of her five-day trip to Africa.
She added, “He says he’s not done. He’s not finished what he’s started. And that’s what’s important.”
Granddaughter Naomi Biden, who is on the trip, cheered the first lady’s comments after the interview.
“Preach nana,” she said on Twitter.
The president himself was asked about his wife’s comments just hours later in an interview with ABC News, and laughed when told of her remarks, adding, “God love her. Look, I meant what I said, I’ve got other things to finish before I get into a full-blown campaign.”
Biden aides have said an announcement is likely to come in April, after the first fundraising quarter ends, which is around the time that President Barack Obama officially launched his reelection campaign.
The first lady has long been described as a key figure in Biden’s orbit as he plans his future.
“Because I’m his wife,” she laughed.
She brushed off the question about whether she has the deciding vote on whether the president runs for reelection.
“Of course he’ll listen to me, because we’re a married couple,” she said. But, she added later, “he makes up his own mind, believe me.”
The wide-ranging interview took place on the anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Jill Biden recalled her trip into the country last May to meet the besieged country’s first lady, Olena Zelenska.
They visited a school that was being used to help migrants who fled the fighting. Some of the families, Jill Biden said, had hid underground for weeks before making their escape.
“We thought then, how long can this go on? And here we are, a year later,” she said. “And look at what the Ukrainian people have done. I mean, they are so strong and resilient, and they are fighting for their country.”
“We’re all hoping that this war is over soon, because we see, every day, the damage, the violence, the horror on our televisions,” the first lady added. “And we just can’t believe it.”
Jill Biden also spoke extensively for the first time about her skin cancer diagnosis, which led doctors to remove multiple basal cell lesions in January.
“I thought, oh, it’s just something on my eye, you know,” she said. “But then they said, no, we think it’s basal cell.”
Then doctors checked her chest, she said, and they said “that’s definitely basal cell.”
“So I’m lucky,” the first lady said. “Believe me, I am so lucky that they caught it, they removed it, and I’m healthy.”
Raising awareness about cancer screening has been a cornerstone of her advocacy efforts for years, even before her son, Beau, died from a brain tumor almost a decade ago. She often says the worst three words anyone can hear are “you have cancer.”
When it was her turn to hear a doctor say that, Jill Biden said, “it was a little harder than I thought.”
Now, she said, she’s “extra careful” about sunscreen, especially when she’s at the beach, which she described as “one of my favorite places in the world.”
Jill Biden is the only first lady to continue her career in addition to her ceremonial duties, teaching writing and English to community college students. At 71 years old, she said she’s not ready to think about retirement.
“I know that I will know when it’s enough,” she said. “But it’s not yet.”
She said she left detailed lesson plans for a substitute teacher while she was on her trip, and she’s been texting with students as she was traveling. She plans to be back in the classroom at 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning, after arriving home from Africa around 3 a.m. Monday.
Education has been a flashpoint in American politics, especially with conservative activists and politicians trying to limit discussion of race and sexuality in classrooms.
“I don’t believe in banning books,” she said.
She added: “I think the teachers and the parents can work together and decide what the kids should be taught.”
During the interview, Jill Biden reflected on the legacy of former President Jimmy Carter, who recently began home hospice care. The Carter Center, which the former president founded after leaving the White House, was key in helping to eliminate the Guinea worm parasite in African countries.
“That’s the perfect example,” she said. “He’s such a humble man. He didn’t go out and shout, ‘Look what I’ve done.’ He just did the work.”
Jill Biden recalled Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, reaching out on the eve of Joe Biden’s inauguration two years ago.
“They called and said congratulations,” she said. “And it meant so much to me and to Joe.”
She also talked about visiting the Carters at their home in Plains, Georgia, early in Biden’s presidency.
“It’s not just that here are two presidents. It’s here are two friends,” she said. “Actually four friends, who have really supported one another over the years.”
Associated Press writer Chris Megerian in Washington contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Darlene Superville has covered the White House and first ladies since 2009 and is co-author, with AP Executive Editor Julie Pace, of a 2022 biography of Jill Biden.