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“My job is to try to heal the country and move us forward," Biden tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story

By Sandra Sobieraj Westfall and Sean Neumann
February 03, 2021 08:30 AM
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President Joe Biden has a very Biden answer when asked about the country he inherited from his predecessor — and what he thinks about forgiveness after a campaign that saw Donald Trump target his family in ever-more-public fashion.

"I don't hold grudges," Biden, 78, tells PEOPLE in his first interview in the White House, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden by his side.

"I mean for real, I don't," President Biden adds. "I just take people for where they are and what they do and try to move on. I think that it's not worth the time."

He tells this story: of being followed by journalist Richard Ben Cramer in Washington, D.C., when Biden saw that "a guy who had really lied about me was walking down the street on the other side, and I waved to him."

"He [Cramer] turned to me and he said, 'You're Irish?' and I said, yeah, he said, 'What the hell's the matter? That's the guy that did such and such.' It's always kind of a joke in the family and even on the staff: I don't hold grudges."

"I'm not looking for any retribution," Biden says. "My job is to try to heal the country and move us forward because I think we have so many opportunities as a country, I really do."

In their interview as the first couple, the Bidens open up about their family, the challenges of and hopes for the future, acclimating to life at the White House and the contentious 2020 race which led them back there.

• For more from Joe and Jill Biden's first White House interview, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands Friday. 

joe and jill biden
Credit: Celeste Sloman
first presidential debate
Donald Trump (left) and Joe Biden debate on Sept. 29 in Cleveland.
| Credit: Morry Gash/Getty Images

Trump, 74, made the Biden family a focus of his unsuccessful presidential campaign, arguing they were corrupt insiders abetted by his opponent. He repeatedly questioned Biden's mental acuity, deriding him for his age.

The roots of the fixation on Biden's son Hunter — whom Trump and his allies attempted to tie to evidence-free theories of illegality over Hunter's controversial business deals while lambasting him for his personal problems — led to Trump's first impeachment in the Ukraine scandal.

During September's presidential debate, Trump accused Biden's son Hunter of getting dishonorably discharged from the military for drug use — something Biden quickly clarified was "not true," while highlighting his son's recovery later and shooting down Trump's corruption claims.

Hunter did test positive for cocaine and was subsequently discharged from the Navy in 2014, but it was administrative rather than dishonorable. "It was the honor of my life to serve in the U.S. Navy, and I deeply regret and am embarrassed that my actions," he said at the time.

"Like a lot of people we know at home, my son ... had a drug problem," Biden said during the September debate. "[Hunter] worked on it. He fixed it. And I'm proud of him. But he wasn't given tens of millions ... that is totally discredited."

RELATED VIDEO: In First White House Interview, Joe & Jill Biden Talk Marriage, Family, Prayer — and the Challenges Ahead

• Watch the full episode of People Cover Story: President Biden and Dr. Biden streaming now on PeopleTV.com, or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite device.

President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden
Credit: Celeste Sloman

Elsewhere in that debate, which saw Trump notoriously interrupt and heckle Biden and moderator Chris Wallace, Biden dismissed Trump as a "clown."

Dwelling on any animosity with the twice-impeached former president would just be "wasted energy," Dr. Biden, 69, tells PEOPLE. She sums up her and her husband's return to the White House as "busy."

"We have a lot to do but we have a lot ahead of us and we feel good about it," she says. "We feel like people have hope that we're moving the country forward."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has said multiple times in recent weeks that Trump, who has been focused on his second impeachment trial this month after relocating to Florida, is no longer on their mind.

"This may be hard to believe," Psaki, 42, told reporters on Monday. "We don't spend a lot of time talking about or thinking about President Trump here — former President Trump, to be very clear."