"I'm just gonna be like other American citizens — praying for him, hoping for his success," Obama says

It's been a hard year for the country, featuring a hard-fought election to see who will lead it next, but former President Barack Obama says his former right-hand man has all the makings of the person for the job.

President-elect Joe Biden, Obama’s vice president during the latter's eight years in the White House, will take the helm from Donald Trump on Jan. 20 and has said he hopes to start on "day one" leading the country through its overlapping public health and economic challenges. (As of Wednesday, some 260,000 people had been killed in the U.S. by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), as the pandemic has tied itself like an anchor to large parts of the country's economy.)

Obama, who spoke with PEOPLE in an hour-long conversation for this week's cover story, says Biden is the right man for the moment.

“Joe is somebody who I've never seen be anything less than decent,” says Obama, 59. “He is somebody who genuinely cares about other people and is interested in them and treats them with kindness, and respect, and enthusiasm, and curiosity.”

• For more from PEOPLE's interview with former President Barack Obama, including details of the former first family's life together in quarantine this year, subscribe now or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands now.

Barack Obama People Cover
Barack Obama PEOPLE cover
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Joe Biden, Barack Obama
Barack Obama (left) and Joe Biden on the campaign trail in 2020
| Credit: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

Obama calls Biden, 78, “a people person” — the former Delaware senator famously built his career in part on his one-on-one interactions with voters and in his deep relationships with other politicians — and “that core of him is what gives me confidence that he'll be a good president.” (Trump, who unsuccessfully campaigned against Biden, tried to cast him as a careerist insider with nothing to show for it.)

That's not how Obama sees it. “He is constantly asking himself, how does this affect real people? How does this affect families? How is this gonna affect kids?” Obama says. “Because he cares about them, you're not gonna see him make decisions that may be good for a handful of special interests, or be good for short-term politics, but bad for the American people. I trust him there.”

Biden has been meeting with panels of COVID-19 advisers since the election results became clear and he began receiving congratulations from leaders around the world.

But at home, COVID-19 is giving the U.S. its biggest challenge yet. More than 1 million cases of the virus have been discovered in the last week, according to a New York Times tracker, bringing the country’s total to more than 12.4 million confirmed cases.

Joe Biden, Barack Obama
Barack Obama (left) and Joe Biden together on the campaign trail in 2020
| Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama
Joe Biden (left) and Barack Obama in 2009
| Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty

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Obama notes that Biden won’t be going it alone.

“He's got a great team around him,” Obama says, adding that he’s also “got a great partner in Kamala Harris,” who will make history as the first woman to be vice president.

“I'm just gonna be like other American citizens, praying for him, hoping for his success,” Obama says. “I will be confident that he'll be up to the job.”