Mar 2, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Jill Biden staffs up, hits the road

Jill Biden is seen waving while President Biden salutes before they board Air Force One.

Jill Biden waves before she and the president fly to Texas last week. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Jill Biden will travel to Connecticut and Pennsylvania on Wednesday with newly confirmed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, a testament to a first lady well on the move.

Why it matters: Biden already is the only first lady to hold a full-time job. She also has a portfolio focused on education, cancer and veterans' issues. Now, she’s built a robust staff in the East Wing and is planning a busy travel schedule of her own.

  • Biden will visit schools reopening under her husband's first-100-days pledge, reviewing practices and taking note of what does and doesn't work, a source familiar with her plans tells Axios.
  • She'll lay the foundation Wednesday when she visits Waterford, Pennsylvania, and Meriden, Connecticut — Cardona's hometown, and where he spent two decades as a public educator.
  • Her focus will be an extension of her strategy during the general election campaign, when she launched a multi-state educational tour to review school safety practices.

Managing two full-time titles is nothing new for Biden, who continued teaching the eight years she was second lady. Her work now comes with a much bigger spotlight as wife of the president of the United States.

  • Biden has been candid about her role as a political spouse, noting it hasn't come naturally to her.
  • She set the stage for her tenure as first lady as one of her husband's most forceful campaign surrogates, offering personal testimony about his character.
  • Independent and fiercely protective, the self-proclaimed “Philly girl” even pushed away hecklers several times as they tried to interrupt then-candidate Joe Biden on the trail.

The first lady worked quickly to fill out the East Wing, bringing on seven commissioned staffers, including a chief of staff, speechwriter and policy director.

  • Her eagerness to travel and promote her agenda is a change from Melania Trump, who didn't move to Washington until a few months after the inauguration because of her son's schooling and who had relatively few public appearances afterward.
  • It also contrasts with Michelle Obama and Laura Bush, who ratcheted up their activities as their school-age daughters aged.

Biden made her first solo trip last week, when she visited VCU Health's Massey Cancer Center in Richmond, Virginia. She advocated for cancer research, another of her major priorities as first lady.

  • She also accompanied her husband to Houston last week to survey storm damage and help fill food pantry orders.
  • When the couple returned to Washington amid pouring rain, the president stopped to speak with a commander at Joint Base Andrews. His wife's penchant for setting her own agenda became evident.
  • "Dr. Biden seemed to think they'd been out there long enough. She and the umbrella headed to the limo," pool reporter Todd J. Gillman wrote.
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