I was with Joe Biden when no one was looking, and he was always a champion for women

Elizabeth E. Alexander
I write not to discount the writings of any other women or question their right to be heard, but to add to the unwritten story of Joe Biden.

From 2006 to 2011, I worked closely with Joe Biden on both his Senate and White House staff. I traveled the country and the world with him, certainly logging more miles and sometimes feeling as if I spent more time with him than I did with my own family. Wherever he was during those years, be it Wilmington or Baghdad, I wasn’t far away. I saw him at his best and his worst, in quiet moments and on the world’s largest stages. Through it all, in big ways and in the small ways that sometimes matter even more, he was, is and always has been a champion for women and equality.

I write this piece not to discount the writings of any other women or question their right to be heard, but simply to add more information to the unwritten story of Joe Biden. 

With a quick Google search, everyone can read about his courageous work on the Violence Against Women Act, which required repeated legislative authorizations time and again, beginning in the days when some still questioned whether spousal abuse was really its own kind of crime. You can read about how he worked to recruit more women to run for the U.S. Senate in the early 1990s and then implored them to become members of the Judiciary Committee. Everyone can read about his work fighting campus sexual assault by starting the It's On Us campaign in the White House, and continuing it today.

Then-Vice President Joe Biden with child survivors of March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Natori on Aug. 23, 2011.

But it’s right to ask whether those in public life walk the talk behind closed doors. Not many people get the chance to see a politician away from the crowds and cameras; not many get the chance to see what they’re really like and what they do when no one is looking. I’ve had that chance. And the Joe Biden who is on the pages of history is the same person I knew when no one was writing it down. 

How Biden valued and respected women

What you won’t read about is how Joe Biden took the rare step of paying staffers through their entire maternity leaves, an uncommon benefit even now in the Senate (or elsewhere). What you won’t read about is how he recruited women who had worked for him in the Senate, and had “gaps” in their paid work history because of family demands, to be (very) senior staff in the White House. Those years in between compensated work were just as valuable to him as any traditional work experience. 

What you won’t read about it is how he supported staff (like me) when they wanted to go to law school at night or needed to take time off to study for the bar exam, or when they asked to work one day a week from home, or work a reduced schedule so they could reliably pick up kids from school or be present each night at the dinner table. You won’t read about the way he’d debate and differ with staffers with the same intensity, regardless of gender. 

You won’t read about how he’d tell male staffers and senators who were repeatedly interrupting a woman to pipe down, so he could hear what she was trying to say. You won’t read about the time another senator asked one of his female staffers to make coffee. Biden's response, that female staffer later told me, was that he’d make the coffee instead. 

Look at Biden's life's work in its totality

Don’t get me wrong. No one is perfect, no legislative record is perfect. Joe Biden thrives on personal connections; he emotes and he empathizes like no other, and when he reaches out to you — man or woman — he’s reaching out to touch your heart. If that’s a failing, I’ll take it. 

Though I haven’t talked with him about it, the Joe Biden I know would feel horrible and sincerely sorry if at any time in his career, even for a split second, he ever made anyone feel anything less than completely supported or empowered.

Before anyone hastily discounts or discards the legislative record or experience that made him Barack Obama’s choice for vice president, it’s worth looking at his life’s work in its totality. It’s not hard to see, time and time again, whose side he’s on. I hope he runs for president, because I’d like to see America’s women and men get to know the Joe Biden I already do.  

Elizabeth Alexander was Vice President Joe Biden’s press secretary in the Senate, on the Transition Team and in the White House. Follow her on Twitter: @EAlexander332 

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: I was with Joe Biden when no one was looking, and he was always a champion for women