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Fashion magazine Vogue, which studiously avoided Melania Trump, puts carer Jill Biden on the cover Mary Jordan, the Washington Post reporter who’s written a book about Melania Trump, put it to me, “It’s hard to imagine Joe doing this without her.”


When Jill Biden visits community colleges, which is a lot these days, she is received in highly choreographed settings by a governor, say, or members of the public as the nation’s first lady. But to administrators and teachers, she is Dr. Jill Biden, college professor. At Sauk Valley Community College in Illinois, there were pink and white flowers set out everywhere, befitting her visit; they even matched her white dress and pink jacket. But there was also a “Welcome Dr. Biden” sign so huge that the period on the Dr. was as big as her head. It felt like a subtle rebuke to that scolding she was subjected to back in December for using the title she has every right to.

Indeed, in all the places she goes lately she is honored as a woman with several degrees who has worked really hard her whole life at the most relatable job there is. Everyone has a favorite teacher, after all. On her visit to the Navajo Nation in April, Dr. Biden was introduced by someone I came to think of as the Ruth Bader Ginsburg of Indian Country: chief justice of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court JoAnn Jayne, a tiny woman with hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, wearing Doc Martens: “Dr. Biden, millions reap inspiration from your quote ‘Teaching isn’t just what I do; it is who I am.’ ” In Birmingham, Alabama, she was introduced by a lawyer, Liz Huntley, a sexual-abuse survivor whose parents were drug dealers. “I want to thank Dr. Biden from the bottom of my heart for the role that she plays not just as the first lady…but for her heart for educating. She told me she’s grading papers on the plane, y’all! What? Who does that?! You know, they say being an educator is a calling…in your life that you can’t resist, and she just won’t let it go.”

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Photographed in the East Sitting Hall of the White House. Ralph Lauren blouse and skirt. Fashion Editor: Tonne Goodman.
Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, Vogue, August 2021

The December debate over titles seems awfully small in the face of all of this: Jill Biden opening schools, visiting vaccination sites, traveling to red states to sell the American Rescue Plan, telling folks that “help is here.” The role she’s fulfilling on these visits is, in many ways, neither first lady nor professor but a key player in her husband’s administration, a West Wing surrogate and policy advocate. “An underestimated asset,” as Mary Jordan, the Washington Post reporter who’s written a book about Melania Trump, put it to me. “It’s hard to imagine Joe doing this without her.”

Which is not to say that Dr. Biden, who is constitutionally shy, doesn’t take special delight in these visits. She becomes looser, goofier, and more expansive. You generally hear her before you see her because she is often laughing. She is, quite simply, a joy multiplier. As part of her elevator pitch for free community college—part of the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan President Biden proposed to Congress in April—she likes to talk about one of her most dedicated students, a military interpreter from Afghanistan who came to America to start a new life. “A few semesters ago...I got a text from her—it was like six o’clock in the morning. ‘On my way to the hospital to have my baby, research paper will be late.’ To which I replied, Excuses, excuses.” It gets a big laugh, even from the jaded press corps.