WASHINGTON — Joe Biden officially became the Democratic Party's presidential nominee Tuesday night after a roll call of the state delegations and speeches by former President Bill Clinton and others at the second night of the all-virtual Democratic National Convention.
Biden will accept the nomination with a speech Thursday in Wilmington, Delaware, but the formal party business of his nomination was taken care of Tuesday as representatives of all 57 states and territories sounded off to announce their votes in short videos, often in front of iconic backdrops.
He appeared briefly after the roll call with his wife and grandchildren, who threw streamers behind him. It probably wasn't how Biden, who has been in the politics for five decades and planned presidential runs in almost every one of them, imagined accepting his party's nomination.
Meanwhile, Clinton ripped President Donald Trump's handling of the job he once held.
Clinton said "COVID hit us much harder than it had to" because Trump ignored the advice of experts and spends all day "zapping people on social media" instead of trying to help them.
"At a time like this, the Oval Office should be a command center. Instead, it's a storm center. There's only chaos," Clinton said. "Just one thing never changes — his determination to deny responsibility and shift the blame. The buck never stops there."
Clinton, by contrast, said Biden would be "a go-to-work president."
"A down-to-earth, get-the-job-done guy. A man with a mission: to take responsibility, not shift the blame; concentrate, not distract; unite, not divide. Our choice is Joe Biden," Clinton said. "You know what Donald Trump will do with four more years: blame, bully and belittle. And you know what Joe Biden will do: build back better."
The two-hour program opened with an unusual keynote address.
The spot has typically served to highlight one rising star, such as Barack Obama in 2004, but Democrats used the coronavirus-mandated virtual format to feature 17 up-and-coming Democrats who spoke round-robin style to hit Trump and promote Biden.
"Faced with a president of cowardice, Joe Biden is a man of proven courage. He will restore our moral compass by confronting our challenges, not by hiding from them or undermining our elections to keep his job," said Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate.
Sally Yates, the Obama appointee who was acting attorney general in the early days of the Trump presidency before Trump fired her, warned that the president "treats our country like it's his family business."
"From the moment President Trump took office, he has used his position to benefit himself rather than our country. He's trampled the rule of law, trying to weaponize our Justice Department to attack his enemies and protect his friends," she said.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York reminded the faithful that a President Biden would be able to get little of his sweeping legislative agenda passed unless Democrats can win back the Senate.
"America: Donald Trump has quit on you. He has quit on you," Schumer said. "But if we're going to win this battle for the soul of our nation, Joe can't do it alone. Democrats must take back the Senate."
Clinton is one of three former presidents speaking at the convention, along with Obama and Jimmy Carter, drawing a contrast with Trump. Republicans' only two living presidents at the time, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, stayed away from Trump's 2016 convention, and the younger Bush's relationship with Trump seems to have only deteriorated since.
"Joe has the experience, character and decency to bring us together and restore America's greatness," Carter said. Obama will speak Wednesday.
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Health care, the issue that helped Democrats win the House in 2018, was a major theme of the night, with a focus on Biden's "moonshot" plan to cure cancer and his late son's terminal struggle with brain cancer.
A video told the story of Ady Barkan, a health care activist with ALS who protested Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Now, his disease has confined him to a wheelchair and robbed him of his voice, forcing him to speak through a computer voice.
"Today we are witnessing the tragic consequences of our failing health care system...Our loved ones are dying in unsafe nursing homes. Our nurses are overwhelmed and unprotected, and our essential workers are treated as dispensable," he said. "We live in the richest country in history and yet we do not guarantee this most basic human right."
Former Secretary of State John Kerry stood in front of American flags to speak to foreign policy, warning Trump "doesn't know how to defend our troops" and that "he breaks up with our allies and writes love letters to dictators."
"America deserves a president who is looked up to, not laughed at," Kerry said.
A montage then showed former national security leaders warning Trump has made America weaker overseas and that his deference to Russian President Vladamir Putin is "un-American."
Another high-profile Republican, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, then appeared to endorse Biden.
"Joe Biden will be a president we will all be proud to salute," Powell said. "He will trust our diplomats and our intelligence community, not the flattery of dictators and despots."
And in a surprise, Cindy McCain, the widow of former Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain appeared in a video about the unlikely friendship between Biden and McCain. In a way, it's another note of support for Biden from a Republican who broke with Trump. McCain, as the GOP presidential nominee in 2008, ran against the Obama-Biden ticket and later became one of Trump's most vocal Republican critics.
The night was capped by Jill Biden, who spoke live from the classroom of a Wilmington, Delaware, high school where she once taught English.
Biden, a community college professor, spoke about the impact of the coronavirus crisis on education.
And she spoke movingly of the personal tragedy her husband suffered before they married when his first wife and one-year-old daughter were killed in a car accident — as well of the more recent tragedy in 2015, when Biden's son Beau died of cancer.
"How do you make a broken family whole? The same way you make a nation whole. With love and understanding — and with small acts of compassion. With bravery. With unwavering faith," she said.
After Beau died, she recalled seeing her husband prepare to go back to work as vice president.
"There were times when I couldn't imagine how he did it — how he put one foot in front of the other and kept going," Biden said. "But I've always understood why he did it...He does it for you."
"Joe's purpose has always driven him forward. His strength of will is unstoppable. And his faith is unshakable — because it's not in politicians or political parties — or even himself. It's in the providence of God. His faith is in you — in us," she said.
As she concluded her live remarks, Joe Biden walked in from off-camera to hug his wife.
"I'm Joe Biden's husband," he said. "Just think of your favorite educator who gave you the confidence to believe in yourself — that's the kind of first lady Jill Biden will be."
Joe Biden speaks on the final day of the Democratic convention on Thursday.