Joe Biden and Barack Obama's Close Bond Through the Years
The new president and former president have supported and encouraged each other through a number of challenges, both public and personal, since their time in the White House together
On Wednesday, Jan. 20, Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.
Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and increased post-insurrection security measures in Washington, D.C., Biden's inauguration looked different than those of years past. The tradition proceeded, with smaller crowds and a focus on virtual ceremonies and celebrations. Among those there to support him in-person was former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president from 2008-2016.
During that time, the two famously developed a close bond, both when it came to governing and to their personal lives. Despite getting off to a rocky start — the two have markedly different styles, Obama being the more methodical and pragmatic of the pair, and Biden the more emotional and off-the-cuff — their differences ultimately helped to balance each other out, as in any healthy partnership.
Below, we’ve rounded up some of Biden and Obama’s most memorable moments together.
Biden was always "the last one in the room" when it came to decision making
At the start of Obama's presidency, he and Biden agreed upon five rules when establishing the parameters of their working relationship, according to journalist Kate Andersen Brower's book First in Line: Presidents, Vice Presidents, and the Pursuit of Power. The biggest, Biden explained to Brower, was that he "be the last guy in the room" during all major decision-making.
While they didn't always agree on decisions, they pushed each other to make the most informed choices possible.
One of the most notable examples of their collaborative decision making was during the May 2011 mission that ultimately killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
In his memoir A Promised Land, Obama said that Biden urged caution. "Joe weighed in against the raid," he wrote.
"As had been true in every major decision I'd made as president," Obama continued, "I appreciated Joe's willingness to buck the prevailing mood and ask tough questions, often in the interest of giving me the space I needed for my own internal deliberations."
Obama showed immense support through Beau Biden's illness
After Joe Biden's eldest son Beau suffered a stroke in 2010, Obama showed his support for the Biden family in myriad ways, from emotional lunches to financial assistance.
Joe revealed in a January 2016 interview with CNN that Obama offered to pay off the Bidens' mortgage at the time, when they were considering selling their house to help cover medical bills while Beau had brain cancer.
"Don't do that," Obama told him, as Biden recalled in his memoir, Promise Me, Dad. "I'll give you the money. I have it. You can pay me back whenever."
In the emotional speech, Obama spoke lovingly of Beau and of the Biden family at large, and described his own family as "honorary members" of the Biden clan who would "always" be there for the family. He honored both Joe and Beau in the speech, saying, "[Beau] learned how to make everybody else feel like we matter — because his dad taught him that everybody matters."
Biden seemingly encouraged the president on marriage equality
In 2012, Biden's off-the-cuff remarks on Meet the Press about feeling "absolutely comfortable" with the prospect of same-sex marriage seemed to nudge Obama's decision to speak out on the subject, which he ultimately came forward in favor of. Same-sex marriage was later legalized nationwide in the landmark 2015 case Obergefell v. Hodges.
Obama awarded Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom
In January 2017, the duo were both overcome with emotion when Obama surprised his second in command with the ultimate tribute: the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
In the heartfelt speech, Obama described Biden as “the best vice president America has ever had,” “a lion of American history” and a “brother.”
In return, a choked-up Biden added, “Mr. President, you have crept into our heart, you and your whole family, and you occupy it.” He continued, “I am indebted to you. I am indebted to you and your family.”
And yes they had a 'bromance'
From exchanging friendship bracelets to snacking on sandwiches together, the pair displayed a bromance for the ages during their time in office. Obama made light of their closeness during the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in 2015, saying he wanted to "set the record straight."
"I tease Joe sometimes, but he has been at my side for seven years. I love that man," he said, continuing on to the joke. "He's not just a great vice president, he is a great friend. We've gotten so close, in some places in Indiana, they won't serve us pizza anymore." The punchline hit particularly hard amid controversy over an Indiana law — signed by 45th vice president Mike Pence, then the state's governor — that allowed discrimination against gay people based on religious objection.
When the pair were preparing to leave office after their second term, their wives joked about their everlasting bond to PEOPLE. "They will find each other," Michelle Obama said. "They'll go for long walks, looking into each other's eyes."
Laughing, Dr. Jill Biden added, "They're going to be eating ice cream together somewhere, I'm sure."
Obama championed Biden on the campaign trail in 2020
While then-Democratic nominee Biden campaigned for the presidency, Obama showed up to support him along the way, including at an October 2020 drive-in rally in Flint, Michigan.
There, Obama spoke candidly about the differences between Biden and Trump, focusing on his confidence that Biden would be dedicated to his role as president just as he was as vice president.
"I can tell you that the presidency doesn't change who you are. It shows who you are. It reveals who you are," Obama explained. "And for eight years, Joe was the last one in the room when I made a big decision."
The pair celebrated Biden's inauguration
As President Joe Biden arrived at his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021, he and Obama exchanged a jovial (and COVID-appropriate) fist bump before Biden was sworn in as the 46th President.
Obama shared a tribute to President Biden on Twitter, posting an old photo of the pair with their arms around each other. "Congratulations to my friend, President Joe Biden!" he wrote. "This is your time."