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Can Joe Biden Make Politics Boring Again? – POLITICO




Donald Trump won the White House in 2016 because he wasn’t a conventional politician. Joe Biden won the White House in 2020 because he was. After four years of presidential rage-tweeting, name-calling, gaslighting, race-baiting and all-around norm-breaking, an exhausted electorate decided this week that it was ready to return to politics as usual.

Former Vice President Biden ran on a detailed policy agenda, a long record of Washington service, and a poignant narrative of pain and endurance. But his central promise was more basic: to restore decency, civility, empathy and most of all stability to the White House, so Americans wouldn’t have to think about their president every day, or wake up worrying about his tweets.

Trump tried to portray his 77-year-old opponent as a radical extremist and doddering geriatric who would destroy America, but the over-the-top insults never seemed to resonate beyond his most dedicated followers. Trump called Biden “the most boring human being I’ve ever seen,” and a majority of the country seemed OK with that.

Ultimately, Biden’s election was less about what he’ll do than who he isn’t. Trump summed up the race at one of his final rallies, when he started reading some self-deprecating political boilerplate that had been written for him, then made it clear that he didn’t believe a word of it: “This isn’t about — well, yeah, it is about me, I guess, when you think about it.”

Trump’s approach was always about Trump, ever since the reality-TV star descended that golden escalator to announce his first political campaign in June 2015. He quickly learned that he could dominate the political landscape just by launching politically incorrect outrages: calling Mexicans rapists, fat-shaming a Miss Universe, pledging to ban Muslim immigration. His rants sucked all the oxygen out of a huge Republican primary, drawing eyeballs and clicks every time he suggested Justice Antonin Scalia had been murdered or accused Ted Cruz’s father of participating in the Kennedy assassination. Jeb Bush complained that Trump was a chaos candidate, but that sounded just fine to Republican voters.

Hillary Clinton then provided Trump with the perfect foil for his attacks on scripted Beltway politicians who parroted dull talking points. He promised something different, like ass-kicking and fun. He refused to kowtow to the gatekeepers who enforced Washington’s traditional rules, who insisted a candidate couldn’t refuse to release his tax returns or mock his opponent’s health. He made it clear he could do and say whatever he wanted, which to his fans felt daring and thrilling. And many voters who weren’t fans but shared his disdain for Clinton figured he’d pivot to a more sober and “presidential” approach in the White House.

Trump never pivoted, of course, but he was the president, so he got to decide what was presidential. And that meant four years of unrelenting middle-finger politics — a style that had been growing at the edges of Republican politics, but which Trump took to a new extreme, with all the power of the White House to amplify it. He trashed popular enemies like John McCain and John Lewis while pardoning extremist supporters like Dinesh D’Souza and Joe Arpaio; he bashed democratic allies like Canada and Germany, while embracing monstrous dictators in North Korea and Russia. He defied the scientific warnings about climate change and the coronavirus and looking directly at an eclipse. He got impeached for trying to get Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, then publicly urged China to dig up dirt on Biden. When his former aides got indicted, which happened often, he defended them; when his former aides denounced him as unfit to lead, which happened even more often, he bullied them. When fact-checkers called out his fictions, which happened daily, he unapologetically repeated the fictions, over and over.

Through it all, his loyal supporters remained loyal. They loved how he skewered the liberals and immigrants and condescending eggheads they resented. They love his unrestrained war on Blue America, his portrayal of Democrats as effete traitors and Democratic states as foreign adversaries. They didn’t mind his brazen flip-flops and swashbuckling lies — claiming credit for laws passed before his presidency, libeling bureaucrats who testified about his transgressions, calling all kinds of real things hoaxes — because they believed he spoke a larger truth, or at least that he was lying on their behalf.

And he continued to expose the pretenses of conventional politics, the fibs that vote-hungry suck-ups routinely tell. Part of Trump’s closing message in Iowa and Michigan was that he’d never return to those states if they didn’t break his way. He inverted the disingenuous candidate trope about the importance of voting no matter whom you support. He urged voters who didn’t support him to stay home.

That one didn’t work. As it turns out, they voted.

Biden had no army of die-hard fans, and no talent for monopolizing the nation’s attention. But he had a secret weapon: the unpopularity of the incumbent.

Trump is the first modern president whose approval rating never topped 50 percent. And if his daily servings of what-did-he-do-now alienated voters while the economy remained strong, helping the Democrats take back the House in 2018, his provocations became especially annoying as the country became mired in a pandemic, a recession and a fraught racial and social reckoning. It was notable that Trump’s “all about me” observation was delivered at a packed rally in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the flashpoint where a police shooting had inspired social unrest that had in turn inspired a Trump supporter to shoot protesters. It symbolized the chaos of the Trump era — and so did the president’s mockery of public health restrictions at a moment when Wisconsin’s Covid-19 hospitalizations had reached a new high.

Trump narrowly won Wisconsin in 2016, and he narrowly lost it this week. The difference wasn’t any disappointment from his MAGA base, who came out even stronger against Sleepy Joe than it had against Crooked Hillary. It was exhaustion from college-educated white suburbanites who had figured a businessman couldn’t do any worse than a politician in 2016. Biden was in some ways an even better foil for Trump’s war on traditional politics, a back-slapping Washington insider who had already spent 44 years as a senator and vice president, but swing voters were sick of the war. They were like the guy in the cartoon who says he wants things to be different, then smashes up his room with a bat, then surveys the wreckage and says: “Oh no.”

Last summer, I spent an afternoon with a fifth-generation Iowa corn and soybeans farmer named Dirk Rice, a 57-year-old Republican who had voted for Trump in 2016. He was tired of Trump’s constant trade wars, which were depressing demand for his products, even though Trump was sending farmers billions of dollars in handouts to offset the damage.

Mostly, though, he was just tired of Trump, tired of having to check his phone constantly to see if the president had said anything that would discombobulate the grain futures market, tired of seeing his face on TV all the time.

“As this wears on month after month, there’s just a certain fatigue that a lot of us feel,” Rice said. “The constant bombardment of news, all the drama, it just gets hard to take.”

Nov. 3 might go down in history as a revolution against all the drama. While Trump’s great-again message evoked a certain kind of nostalgia for an America before diversity workshops and gender-neutral bathrooms, Biden evokes a different kind of nostalgia for an older brand of politics. He is a throwback pol who actually believes what long-ago Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield taught him about seeing the good side in extremist adversaries like Jesse Helms. He is a moderate pragmatist who actually believes in the art of the deal, which is why current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted on negotiating with him during the Obama administration, rather than enduring lectures from Barack Obama himself.

Biden is a creature of the Senate who actually appears to believe it’s the world’s greatest deliberative body, and it’s easy to caricature him as a back-slapping blowhard who gave the eulogy at Strom Thurmond’s funeral. But whatever else he does, he won’t declare war on Red America, or dismiss sexual harassment victims as too ugly to harass, or bash his fist into the establishment’s face.

Biden is, after all, the establishment. He respects the norms that Trump has violated, and a majority of Americans now seem to wish those norms were norms again.

Unlike Trump, Biden is a true child of the working class, a Scranton kid who grew up with a stutter and went to a state school. While Trump is a cynic who alternatively portrays America as a sucker nation that’s always been taken to the economic cleaners and a brutal nation that’s never been any purer than its foreign rivals, Biden is an optimist who genuinely sees America as an exceptional nation, a beacon of goodness to the world. He’s corny about his faith in America’s ability to come together and overcome adversity and achieve whatever cliché suits the particular speech he happens to be giving.

Younger political insiders often mock Biden’s tongue-twisting gaffes, his “malarkey” and “literally” and “c’mon man” and other folksy Bidenisms, his tendency to drone on and on as if he were filibustering legislation on the Senate floor. Once while Biden was holding forth during a committee hearing, then-Sen. Obama passed an aide a note that read: Shoot. Me. Now. And it’s hard to think of a new idea that Biden has developed or even championed in more than four decades in politics, with the possible exception of the Violence Against Women Act. He is not an entrepreneurial politician or an unpredictable politician or a particularly exciting politician.

But America no longer seems to be yearning for a blow-stuff-up guy. It’s more interested in a put-stuff-back-together guy. And it’s seen the downsides of politics as 24-hour entertainment. Biden lacks Trump’s outsize performative talents but also his outsize personal flaws. His speeches are usually pretty forgettable, but they don’t usually spark global freakouts. His talent is personal connection, which doesn’t always translate on TV, but his warmth and compassion is obvious enough. Politically, he’s always been a middle-of-the-road Democrat, wherever the middle of the Democratic road has been at the time.

Trump ran in 2016 as a photographic negative of Obama, and Biden ran as the ultimate anti-Trump. When it comes to the pandemic that has killed 230,000 Americans, Biden promised that unlike Trump, he’ll do what the scientists recommend and take responsibility for the response. When it comes to the recession that has wiped out 7 million jobs, he promised that unlike Trump, he’ll be a steady and active negotiator to help Congress work out an ambitious new stimulus bill. And when it comes to the day-to-day workings of government, he promised that unlike Trump, he’ll appoint competent people and manage them effectively so that ordinary Americans don’t have to think about what’s happening in Washington all the time.

Most Americans dislike politics, and it’s understandable that many of them gravitated toward Trump’s promises to drain the swamp and make everything great again. Objectively, though, he didn’t. The swamp got swampier and just about everything got worse, and some Americans got tired of all the not-winning. But Trump’s worst political sin may have been dragging a nation of political agnostics into his never-ending political battles — and dragging apolitical American institutions like the NFL, Harley Davidson, General Motors and even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention into his us-vs.-them political culture war.

On Election Day, the Miami Herald interviewed 28-year-old Alex Garcia, who woke up planning to vote for Trump but changed his mind in the voting booth, deciding to support Biden so America could “go back to normal.”

“I just want my Instagram to be about me again, and how good I look,” Garcia said.

Americans may be self-obsessed, but that doesn’t mean we want a self-obsessed leader constantly inserting his furies and insecurities into our feeds. Normal is underrated in politics, and norms are underappreciated until they’re gone. That’s when Americans realize that the stilted conventions of politics, where senators refer to their enemies as “my friend from Texas” and candidates at least pretend that elections aren’t all about them, help keep the system from falling apart. It’s easy to mock “the experts,” but there’s a reason you don’t want a loud critic of cardiology to perform your open-heart surgery. Biden is a career politician who likes politics, cares about managing the government, and has proven over his career that he’s pretty good at both.

In November 2016, America was enjoying solid growth, low unemployment, record-high graduation rates and record-low uninsured rates and crime rates, but Trump successfully portrayed the country as a dystopian hellscape that he alone could fix. He said inner-city minorities should vote for him because their neighborhoods were savage killing fields: “What have you got to lose?” But his four-year assault on conventional Washington turned out to be an excellent advertisement for conventional Washington. It answered his own question.

It was exactly a century ago that Warren Harding won the presidency after promising “A Return to Normalcy” after World War I, a slogan as uninspiring as it was ungrammatical. “America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration,” he declared. A century later, many Americans who once thought they wanted heroics and revolution decided they wanted healing and restoration. They certainly hope Biden will do better than Harding, an ineffective president who oversaw a corrupt administration. But they mostly hope he’ll make Washington boring again, so they can go back to ignoring politics.

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Politics Chat: Breaking Down The Presidential Transition Of Power – NPR



NPR’s Sarah McCammon asks Time Magazine national political correspondent Molly Ball about the presidential transition and congressional politics.

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Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante releases graphic novel detailing political journey –



“For me the graphic novel format was always what I wanted,” she said in a recent interview at her publisher’s offices.

“I think it’s accessible, it can be fun, and I love graphic novels myself.”

The book is based on Plante’s own sketches and anecdotes she began jotting down in 2013, during her first run for a seat on city council. Four years later, she became the first woman elected mayor of Montreal after her surprise defeat of experienced incumbent Denis Coderre.

While the writing and drawings were initially a form of self-care to help her “stay balanced,” she said she eventually came to see that her story might inspire others, especially young girls.

“I wanted to show, and maybe tell, people it’s OK not to have all the keys and codes to do something you think would be a good thing to do or you believe in,” she said.

“Just go for it.”

She began working with Cote-Lacroix on evenings and weekends, taking about two years to finalize the story and illustrations.

Plante said that, much like her character in the book, she had been looking for a new challenge before her entry into politics. Then she received a phone call from left-wing municipal party Projet Montreal, which was looking to diversify its slate of candidates.

In the book, Plante doesn’t shy away from the challenges faced by women who put themselves in the public eye. At one point, one of her character’s posters is defaced by sexist graffiti. In another, her character’s husband gets effusive praise for helping to care for the couple’s children — something the book points out is a given for female political spouses. 

While the book “won’t change sexism,” Plante said she hopes it will help highlight the double standards women face.

Three years into her mandate, Plante has had a bumpy year, marked by a global pandemic that has devastated the city’s economy and criticism over her administration’s failure to implement its big visions for affordable housing and transportation. She has also faced anger over what some have described as an anti-car agenda, which includes building bike lanes, eliminating parking spots and temporarily closing some streets to vehicle traffic to create “sanitary corridors.” 

At times, that criticism has escalated to the level of death threats.

While some criticism is to be expected, Plante attributes much of the public anger directed her way to the anxiety wrought by the pandemic.

“Not to minimize their actions of being very aggressive, violent or doing death threats, but I like to hope in the future, when people are less stressed and in a better position, things will calm down,” she said.

She also faced criticism earlier this year over her novel itself, with some high-profile commentators questioning her decision to “draw cartoons” as the city was embroiled in the COVID-19 crisis.

Plante dismissed this as unfounded, especially since she says the writing process wrapped up in late 2019.

“People were just kind of trashing the book (without) even reading it, which I thought was sad, because it wasn’t about the content, it was about criticizing the author,” she said. However, she did push back the book’s publication for a few months when the pandemic’s second wave began.

Plante said she would still recommend politics to young people who want to make a difference, even as she acknowledges it’s a “tough” career that comes with unusual levels of public exposure. 

“But hopefully people see in the book, the love that you get from your volunteers, it’s a community, it’s people working together,” she said.

“It’s worth it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2020.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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Joe Biden’s Catholic faith has shaped his life and approach to politics. How will it shape his presidency? – The Boston Globe



President-elect Joe Biden left St. Joseph on the Brandywine church in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 8.ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — On the morning of one of the most consequential days in his life, and maybe the nation’s history, too, Joe Biden attended Mass at the unassuming Roman Catholic church near his Delaware home.

The trip wasn’t a photo-op, just part of the normal routine for a man who will become only the second Catholic ever to be US president.

Biden always carries a rosary in his pocket and laces speeches with scripture. On the campaign trail, he was known to stop for a moment of quiet prayer, sometimes alone, sometimes with someone he had just met. Throughout his political career, it was not uncommon for Biden to attend a Saturday morning event with churchgoers and still make an evening service, his longtime friends and staffers say.

Indeed, his central pitch to voters as he paved his path to the White House this year carried a religious overtone: Americans were in “a battle for the soul of the nation.”

“I don’t think you go to Mass on Election Day to make a political statement,” said Margaret McGuinness, a professor of religion at La Salle University in Philadelphia. “We don’t have a tradition of that in this country. I think you go because you care and it means a lot to you.”

Despite breaking with Catholic doctrine on key issues such as abortion, Biden is expected to draw on a branch of his faith that is strongly rooted in social justice and reform for his governing philosophy. Rather than being in conflict, religious observers say these beliefs complement his worldview and permeate his deal-making approach to politics — a strength, supporters say, as he attempts to unify a splintered country.

But much like the rest of America, Catholics are polarized. Biden will have to build trust and bridge divides as he seeks to bring people of faith into the Democratic fold, despite those who see his desire for compromise and calls for unity as belonging to a bygone era.

“Anytime you see the good in people, you get called naive, and Joe has seen a lot of good in people,” said Sister Carol Keehan, the former president of the Catholic Health Association, a ministry of the Roman Catholic Church that encompasses hundreds of hospitals and health care facilities.

Biden’s comfort with his faith — and his willingness to talk about it — contrasts with most presidents and certainly the current one, historians said.

McGuinness often starts her lessons on John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, by noting that his wife, Jacqueline, once called him “a bad Catholic.” Kennedy, who won the White House after years of anti-Catholic sentiment, was so self-conscious about appearing to be influenced by the pope that he gave a speech during the 1960 campaign before a group of Protestant ministers pledging to resign should he ever be forced to “either violate my conscience or violate the national interest.”

President Trump has spoken little of his own faith, rarely goes to church, and is seen by many as morally flawed, even among his most ardent Christian followers. He was roundly criticized last summer after law enforcement officers forcibly cleared mostly peaceful racial justice protesters near the White House so he could stage a photo-op with a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

Biden, meanwhile, has long threaded his religious beliefs with his politics and could be more explicit still in how he blends those principles with his governing priorities, historians said.

In that vein, Biden is like Jimmy Carter, who saw his deep Baptist faith as enriching his presidency, not interfering with it, said Thomas H. Groome, professor in theology and religious education at Boston College.

Biden’s “whole life is permeated with the values and especially the social values of his faith,” Groome said. And yet, “he also knows he can’t impose the moral teachings of his faith unless people are willing to embrace them.”

In a 2015 interview with late-night TV host Stephen Colbert, Biden described his brand of Irish Catholicism, cultivated through his family and Catholic grade school education, not so much as a practice or a system of beliefs but as “a place you can go” and that brings “just an enormous sense of solace.”

“Some of that relates to ritual, some of that relates to this comfort of what you’ve done your whole life,” Biden said, whether by saying a rosary or being alone with your thoughts in a crowded Mass. “All the good things that have happened have happened around the culture of my religion and theology of learning.”

Not that he hadn’t grappled with doubt. “The faith doesn’t always stick with you,” he said, nodding to members of the audience, who like himself, had experienced tragedy.

Delaware Senator Chris Coons, who first met Biden as a young lawyer more than 30 years ago, remembers when Biden was not so open about his faith or his personal losses. Coons said Biden rarely spoke of the car crash that took the lives of his first wife, Neilia, and his infant daughter, Naomi, near Christmas in 1972.

Another tragedy — the death of his son Beau, from brain cancer in 2015 — changed that, Coons said.

“When something shattering happens to you, you either turn away from God or you turn toward God, and Joe, after Beau’s death, has demonstrably turned toward God,” Coons said.

Like others close to Biden, Coons has seen the president-elect in his most pensive moments grasp the rosary beads that once belonged to Beau. Biden still carries a small rosary in his pocket, which theologians such as Groome describe as “a very concrete way that Catholics have of taking their faith out of their heads and bringing it into their hands.”

In recent months, Biden’s motorcade has remained a regular sight at St. Joseph’s on the Brandywine, an unadorned church in Greenville, Del., with walls of pale yellow stucco, white trimming and silver steeple. Neilia, Naomi, and Beau are buried in the church’s cemetery.

Like many Irish Catholics, Biden’s faith is more grounded in family and local parishes than in strict adherence to the hierarchies of the Roman Catholic Church. He attended Catholic schools in his hometown of Scranton, Pa., and in Wilmington, Del., where his family moved when he was 10. Nuns and priests were a constant presence in Scranton, where he would roam the streets with friends while on weekend visits with his grandparents. It was there where his grandfather taught him to pray the rosary and “church always felt like an extension of home,” Biden wrote in his 2007 memoir, “Promises to Keep.”

He briefly considered entering the seminary to become a priest. His religious studies were steeped in Catholic social teaching, a doctrine that emerged in the 1890s and evolved into 10 principles centered on social justice and the common good, the most central being that all people are created with inherent dignity.

Under these guiding rules, it is not enough to feed the hungry, theologians said, but to also address the cause of their hunger. Biden spoke of this in an interview with the Christian Science Monitor in 2007.

“The animating principle of my faith, as taught to me by church and home, was that the cardinal sin was abuse of power,” he said. “It was not only required as a good Catholic to abhor and avoid abuse of power, but to do something to end that abuse.”

Still, Biden, like other Democratic Catholic politicians, has been scrutinized for his stances on issues such as abortion, LGBTQ rights, and so-called religious freedom. Breaking from traditional Catholic teaching, Biden in 2012 became the first national leader to support same-sex marriage and has said he believes “reproductive rights are a constitutional right” that should be accessible to every woman. Last summer, he reversed his decades-long support for a measure barring federal funding for most abortions after facing intense pressure from Democratic rivals.

For a hardening faction of conservative Catholics and evangelicals, there has been a growing sense of perceived persecution. This has come as Pope Francis — the first pontiff to hail from the Americas — steers the church in a more liberal direction on issues such climate change, poverty, and the enduring impact of colonization on marginalized people. Historically, there has been a divide among Catholics between those who believe in strict accordance with Catholic doctrine and those who want the church to use the teachings of Jesus Christ to put the needs of the poor and oppressed first.

“In the end, it is a difference of opinion on what we will be judged on when the time comes,” McGuinness said. “It is a difference of opinion on what it means to be a good Catholic.”

In the US, more than half of Catholics now believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to the Pew Research Center. But their views diverge sharply along political lines: Some 55 percent of Catholic Republicans say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, while 64 percent of Catholic Democrats believe the opposite, the Pew research has found.

Biden has long grappled with this evolution. During negotiations over the Affordable Care Act, where the Obama administration had committed to not letting federal funds be used for abortion, Biden pushed to ensure that pregnant women had access to complete prenatal coverage to care for their babies after their birth. It was this sort of understanding of human dignity, Keehan said, that Biden often brought to legislative work to aid the poor, low-income workers, and even middle-class families.

“You can’t say everyone should have good health care, good nutrition, and not do anything about it, particularly when you have the kind of power and influence he held,” she said.

Biden sought to imbue the same principles into his presidential campaign. He and his running mate, Kamala Harris — a Black Baptist from a Hindu family who is married to a Jewish man — made direct appeals to people of faith centered on common good values.

“Faith was integrated across the campaign, not just siloed into one outreach department,” said Josh Dickson, the Biden campaign’s national faith engagement director.

“What stands out to me is … how his authenticity in his faith was just so clear,” Dickson said.

For Catholics such as Nichole Flores, motivated to volunteer for Biden after the Trump administration split apart migrant families at the border, it was the first time they felt their faith was truly seen by the Democratic Party. She still doesn’t agree with the party’s stance on abortion, but said she appreciates Biden’s Catholic approach to so many other issues, including immigration and wealth distribution.

“One thing I think he brings to the conversation is a model for the diverse ways that Catholics live out our values in public life,” said Flores, an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia.

Another Biden volunteer, Grant Tabler, 22, said he came to see his vote for Trump in 2016 as likely “the greatest regret of his life,” one that now compels him to “fight for some sense of equality for all.”

He first heard of Biden in a critical way — when friends and family would argue the former vice president should not receive Holy Communion. But he soon realized that Biden “is pro-life, pro-protecting the migrant, pro-protecting the poor,” Tabler said.

Catholics make up about a fifth of US adults, and exit polls showed they split almost evenly between Biden and Trump; the Republican retained support from conservative evangelical Christian leaders and Catholics for his positions on defending religious freedom and opposing abortion, and for packing the courts with conservative judges.

Some lamented that Biden did not do more to appeal to voters of faith beyond the key battleground states, such as in Texas. “If he came and talked to Latinos about his faith …shared his passion and plans for his future, he would have won” the Rio Grande Valley, said Antonio Arellano, the interim executive director of Jolt, the largest Latino progressive organization in the state.

The political divide among Catholics was clear this month when Biden received a congratulatory call from Pope Francis while Trump was still refusing to concede. Days later, Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, announced a working group to analyze Biden’s support for abortion rights, and experts said this effort could also consider whether to deny him communion.

Biden isn’t likely to be deterred in his calls for unity. In his victory speech on Nov. 7, he turned to the Christian hymn “On Eagle’s Wings,” calling for “faith in America and in each other, with a love of country — and a thirst for justice” in the quest to be a better nation.

“So I remember, as my grandpa said when I walked out of his home when I was a kid up in Scranton, he said: ‘Joey, keep the faith,’” Biden said. “And our grandmother, when she was alive, she yelled: ‘No, Joey, spread it.’ Spread the faith.”

Reach Jazmine Ulloa at or on Twitter: @jazmineulloa.

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