WASHINGTON — A jovial, recently dethroned Joe Biden arrived at an eerily quiet train platform Friday to take his beloved Amtrak from Washington’s Union Station back home to Wilmington, Del.
“Back on Amtrak,” he said with a thumbs-up before entering the rail car.
After traveling more than 2 million miles (the equivalent to four years of his life) on the train, Biden was accompanied by his wife, Jill; Delaware Gov. John Carney; Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons; and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester.
Looking sharp and well-rested in a blue-and-white tie, Biden was penned in by Secret Service agents so he couldn't do his usual meet-and-greet on the train.
Speaking to reporters, Biden expressed optimism over the changing of the guard, noting that the people won't easily relinquish hard-fought civil rights protections. He also noted that there is no inherent conflict between progressive ideology and that of working people.
"This is one of the great hallmarks of American democracy, and it was a peaceful transition of power," he said of the inauguration.
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"I just think we've got to give this administration a chance," he said. After meeting with President Trump and Vice President Pence on foreign policy matters, Biden said: "I know they know the subject, but they may not know the nuance."
Biden said planned to spend the weekend with family, before returning to Washington to handle his post-VP business Monday.
On Inauguration Day, Biden left the vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory for a spectacular homecoming. A public rally is scheduled Friday afternoon at the Chase Center on the Riverfront, with remarks by Carney, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and members of Delaware’s congressional delegation.
At the head of the line, Tracey Vanderloo waited outside the Chase Center for three hours to get first access to the event. She said Biden is a “bright spot” in the nation’s future and she looks forward to his work with the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware.
"It's wonderful to have Joe Biden home,” said Vanderloo.
"He's a giant among men. There'll never be anybody able to replace him," says Wilmington community leader Bernadette Winston.
For Biden, homecoming is a bit of a misnomer. The Washington insider always knew where his home was.
Earlier this month, former president Obama awarded Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, with distinction — a designation previously given only to former president Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II and Gen. Colin Powell.
A buoyant septuagenarian, Biden has occupied the spotlight longer than Kanye West and Kim Kardashian have been alive. Now, opponents of Trump are looking to call on his working-class roots and trademark braggadocio to connect with the disaffected male voters who helped elect a self-described blue-collar billionaire.
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In recent weeks, Biden has implored Trump to “grow up” and warned the commander-in-chief that his public frustration with the intelligence community could undermine national security.
Earlier this month, Biden tweeted he would return to Wilmington on the train: "Jan 20, Jill and I will head home to Delaware the same way I have for 44 years: by train. Serving this country has been our greatest honor."
Jan 20, Jill and I will head home to Delaware the same way I have for 44 years: by train. Serving this country has been our greatest honor. pic.twitter.com/D0g2rEvE9R— VP Biden (Archived) (@VP44) January 10, 2017
Delaware’s longest-serving senator is also a darling of Amtrak, using his pulpit to advocate for increased funding and improvements to America’s railways and blaming train delays for his tardiness at committee meetings. “If they fully funded Amtrak, I would not be late,” he once said.
After Biden’s first wife and infant daughter died in a tragic car crash, the freshman senator made the nearly three-hour roundtrip commute from Delaware to Washington to be home for dinner with his sons, Beau and Hunter, and later for his daughter, Ashley. Occasionally, the 7:30 a.m. Acela to Washington would experience “mechanical delays” so that Delaware’s most famous resident had time to board after dropping the kids off at school.
“Amtrak Joe’s” round trips, totaling roughly 8,000 over his 36-year Senate career, basically ended when he assumed the vice presidency. In 2009, Biden, in a nod to Abraham Lincoln, hopped the train to D.C. with then-president-elect Barack Obama three days before they took the oath of office. Lincoln similarly traveled by rail to the capital before his inauguration in 1861.
Delaware, we're headed home. pic.twitter.com/Bvmz3baL6e— Senator Tom Carper (@SenatorCarper) January 20, 2017
In 2011, Wilmington station was officially renamed the Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station. Last year, Biden announced a $2.45 billion loan to Amtrak from the Department of Transportation, the largest loan in the department’s history.
The Bidens plan to find a small house in Washington to remain close to the Obamas and to Jill Biden’s teaching job at a community college in northern Virginia, according to The New York Times.
But then it’s back to work for the elder statesman, partnering with the University of Delaware on domestic and economic policy issues and the University of Pennsylvania on foreign policy matters. In between, he’ll attempt to find a cure for cancer through the “cancer moonshot” initiative he’s spearheading.