'It’s Surreal but It's Comfortable': Intimate Scenes from the Early Days of Joe Biden's White House
PEOPLE gets an exclusive look at the new president's first weeks in office — and special photos from inauguration night
President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden pose for a photo in their first interview post-inauguration with PEOPLE on Jan. 28, touching on everything from policy and prayer to their dogs and, of course, their love story.
"She has a backbone like a ramrod," Biden says of his wife. "Everybody says marriage is 50/50. Well, some- times you have to be 70/30. Thank God that when I’m really down, she steps in, and when she’s really down, I’m able to step in. We’ve been really supportive of one another."
"It’s surreal ... but it’s comfortable," Biden says of the family's new life in the White House residence, adding they brought some furniture from their house in Delaware — plus a crib for baby grandson Beau — to make it feel more like home.
Biden walks to the West Wing on Jan. 21, his first full day as President.
"The whole day seemed so surreal, but it hit me at that moment when they opened those doors that Joe walked out to go and be sworn in," Jill says of inauguration day, Jan. 20. "I could feel this lump in my throat, and two of my grandkids said, 'Nana, we saw that it hit you.' That was so funny because I thought I was hiding it so well, but that was the moment it became real for me."
Biden family members from left: Son-in-law Dr. Howard Krein; granddaughters Natalie, 16, and Maisy, 20; daughter Ashley, 39; Joe; Jill; and grandchildren Finnegan, 21, Naomi, 27, and Robert “Hunter,” 14.
“All the kids are involved” in social justice, says their “Nana.” Their “Pop” adds, “They all care a lot. That really makes me feel good.”
Biden throws on a log in the Oval Office. “If there’s a fireplace,” says an aide, “he always wants a fire.”
Vice President Kamala Harris has drop-in privileges at the White House, Biden says.
"I made the same deal with her that [former President Barack Obama] and I made: I wanted her available to participate in everything that I did; I wanted her to be the last person in the room on every important decision," says Biden. "We have lunch alone once a week — that’s the deal — when we’re both in-country, which we’ll be for a while because of COVID. I see her all the time."
After an Inaugural parade muted by the pandemic and security concerns, the Bidens (from right, Hunter; his second wife, Melissa Cohen; Joe; Jill; Beau’s children Robert and Natalie) savor their first moment in the White House as First Family.
The Bidens’ German shepherds — 1-year-old rescue Major (rear) and Champ, 14 — moved in to the White House on Jan. 24. The next day, reporters could hear them barking in the background of a press conference.
Former President Barack Obama penned a moving message to his friend and former VP as inauguration day wound down.
"While our country still faces no shortage of challenges, there is no one I have more faith in to lead us out of them than Joe. This is a man whose life is defined by resilience—who has mastered the art of transforming pain into purpose. And I know he will do the same for our country."
"My religion, for me, is a safe place," says Biden. "I never miss mass, because I can be alone. I mean, I’m with my family but just kind of absorbing the fundamental principle that you’ve got to treat everyone with dignity."
"Jill came along at a really important point and put my family back together," says Biden. "She’s the glue that held it together, and I knew that I wanted to marry her shortly after I met her."
The Bidens got Champ around Christmas 2008 and brought the beloved pet with them to the vice presidential residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory during former Vice President Joe Biden's two terms with former President Barack Obama. Champ got his name from the nickname Biden's father gave him when he was a boy.
"I think it’s important to — and Jill does the same thing — let each other know that no matter how much time has gone by, she comes down the steps, and [his hand taps his chest] my heart still goes a little boom boom boom boom. For real," Biden says of keeping the spark in the couple's 43-year marriage alive.
The First Lady tours Whitman-Walker Health in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 22. Despite her official duties, she's keeping her daytime teaching job. "That’s my passion, that’s my life," she says.
Champ (front) is “extremely well-trained by the Canine Corps ... he thinks he’s Secret Service,” jokes Biden.
With her doctorate in education, Jill Biden is the first First Lady in modern memory to juggle a separate career — teaching community college — with her unpaid work from the East Wing to promote education; cancer care and research; and, with a relaunch of Joining Forces (her 2011-2017 initiative with then First Lady Michelle Obama), the needs of military families.
"I thought [inauguration day] was really uplifting — from the musical talent to the poet to Joe’s speech offering hope to all Americans," says Jill. "So even though we were in a pandemic, it just felt so positive to me."
“The only rule Jill has [for the dogs] — and they follow it — is do not get up on the furniture or beds,” says Biden.
Though inauguration day was without the traditional fanfare and nighttime parties, the Bidens were fine with the intimacy of the day.
"From the time each of [our grandchildren] were born, their grandfather had been either a United States senator or a Vice President, their dad [Beau] had been the [Delaware] attorney general or abroad as a major in the United States military. And they had to learn to be happy and grieve in public," Biden shares. "There is no private time for them. So when we got in the White House [on inauguration night], I remember opening the door and walking through, and it was like, 'Okay, it’s us. It’s us.' "
Of their rock-solid marriage, says Jill, "All that we’ve been through together — the highs, the lows and certainly tragedy and loss — there’s that quote that says sometimes you become stronger in the fractured places. That’s what we try to achieve."
Read more from the president and first lady's first sit-down interview of their term in the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.
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