First Lady Jill Biden on What’s at Stake in 2024 (2024)

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By Maya SingerPhotography by Norman Jean RoyStyled by Max Ortega

First Lady Jill Biden on What’s at Stake in 2024 (4)

COVER LOOK
First lady Dr. Jill Biden in a Ralph Lauren Collection dress. Irene Neuwirth earrings. Photographed by Norman Jean Roy, Vogue, August 2024.

Editor’s Note: The debate on June 27 spurred a discussion about whether President Joe Biden should remain the Democratic nominee. Dr. Jill Biden, the first lady and Vogue’s August cover subject, has fiercely defended her husband and stood by him. Reached by phone on June 30 at Camp David, where the Biden family had gathered for the weekend, she told Vogue that they “will not let those 90 minutes define the four years he’s been president. We will continue to fight.” President Biden, she added, “will always do what’s best for the country.” Whatever happens in the weeks and months between now and November, it is Dr. Biden who will remain the president’s closest confidant and advocate.

If you want to know what power feels like, try to get yourself driven around in a motorcade. Flashing police chaperone lights form a perimeter as you blaze down an empty highway, waiting cars backed up on entry ramps as you pass. It’s as if the world is holding its breath. For you. Also, rules don’t apply: On a cool spring day, driving down suburban Minneapolis side streets, we run red lights and whip round curves so fast I can barely take in the commonplace American view. Tract housing, big box stores, churches, office parks, semi-​industrial no-man’s-land. Finally, we arrive at our destination, Nine Mile Brewing, in Bloomington, Minnesota. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,” commands someone—a Secret Service agent, maybe—as the motorcade pulls into a loading dock. Politics, I will come to discover in the next few days, involves a lot of backstage spaces: service entrances, freight elevators, places where Very Important People can slip in and out of events unnoticed. Politics also involves a lot of comically fast walking—to wit, at Nine Mile, an entourage of 30 or so are noisily hustling to follow a trim, blond woman in a pristine white suit as she strides nonchalantly past clanging, gurgling brewing vats, aiming for a back office. This is my first glimpse of first lady Dr. Jill Biden: Exiting the sealed chamber of power into the middle of America, a vision of calm amid uttercacophony.

TOUCHDOWN
Dr. Biden lands in Minneapolis in April. Sittings Editor: Max Ortega.

We’ve come to Minnesota this evening for two campaign events—early election season stuff to get the base excited. The first, in a smallish function room at one end of the brewery, is for the Minnesota chapter of Women for Biden; about 200 people are gathered for the first lady’s address. In the brewery’s main room, meanwhile, another 200 or so are sitting around drinking beers and watching live sports, seemingly unaware that a presidential race is going on, more or less under their noses. Also meanwhile, because we’re running ahead of schedule, and not a moment of FLOTUS’s time can be wasted, the first lady has commandeered the brewery manager’s office, and is dialing into a fundraiser. “Our democracy is on the line in this election,” she declares, straining to make her sense of urgency audible over speakerphone. A rather absurd juxtaposition, this lofty appeal to the central organizing concept of America—democracy—made from a cramped back room, amid time sheets and dented filing cabinets and flyers for local cover bands. By the end of the night, I’d find it fitting.

“We are the first generation in half a century to give our daughters a country with fewer rights than we had,” she tells the Women for Biden crowd a few minutes later. “Book bans. Voting laws gutted. Court decisions that strip away our most basic freedoms. But circ*mstance is not destiny.” The women here are fighting mad. Nice, Midwestern ladies, all of them, but gurgling away inside like those brewing vats—only with righteous fury, instead of beer. That’s what the Biden-Harris campaign is counting on: “We will decide our future,” the first lady tells them. Women gave Joe Biden his margin of victory in 2020, and since the Dobbs decision was handed down by the Supreme Court in June 2022, overturning Roe v. Wade, women have proved the decisive bulwark against this country’s reactionary forces, passing state ballot measures and constitutional amendments enshrining their reproductive rights, and helping limit Republicans’ midterm gains to a vanishingly narrow majority in the House. “When our bodies are on the line, when our daughters’ futures are at stake, when our country and its freedom hang in the balance, we are immovable and unstoppable,” the first lady continues, ramping up to a crescendo. “It’s time we show them, once again, just what we can do!”

We exit amid cheers, hustled out again as she shakes hands along the rope line. Glancing back, I see one young woman clinging to her, eyes brimming with tears, saying words I cannot hear. One of Dr.Biden’s minders tries to hurry her along but she brushes him off, to let the womanspeak.

ON THE CLOCK
Working in a brewery manager’s office in Bloomington, Minnesota, minutes before a campaign appearance. Michael Kors Collection coat and dress.

The next time I see the first lady, it’s about 20 minutes later, and she’s stepping onstage at the ballroom of a nearby hotel. She has executed a remarkably swift wardrobe change—atotal one-eighty, emerging to raucous applause at the launch event for Educators for Biden-Harris in a black T-shirt, black jeans, and black knee-high boots. She looks like she’s ready to party, and in a way, she is—these are her people. Teachers. Two days a week, Dr. Jill Biden shrugs off her FLOTUS identity and heads to Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA, for short), where she is a professor in the English department. Tonight, up on the dais with teachers union leaders and a diverse group of Minnesota educators, Dr.B (as her students refer to her) wears the kind of ear-to-ear grin you can’t fake. And when she commiserates with the crowd about having to figure out Zoom schooling “overnight” and dealing with students’ post-​pandemic mental health issues, she’s speaking from livedexperience.

Something hits me then, listening to Jill Biden talk, not as first lady, but as a teacher. It’s hard to explain, but here goes. I knew, before I began working on this piece, that Jill Biden had broken new ground by insisting on keeping her job when she and her husband moved into the White House. To be honest, it didn’t strike me as that big a deal—more like a natural evolution. Women work; why not the first lady? Then I entered the White House bubble. And comprehended how easily, how quickly, it could become airless—a high-security world of motorcades and photo ops and handlers managing your priorities, your interactions, your time. What struck me in that hotel ballroom in Bloomington is that it is in fact a huge, monumental big deal that our current first lady makes a point of exiting that bubble twice a week to inhabit the America where the rest of us live. And to engage, through the work she considers her calling, with people doing their best to get by, who may or may not give a damn about politics.

Right in the midst of this revelation, I realized that Dr. B had shifted back into FLOTUS mode. “Democracy is on the line,” she said again. My mind returned to the brewery manager’s office. Such an everyday place. Full of the flotsam and jetsam of everyday affairs. What makes Jill Biden unique in current US politics, I mused, is that she is distinctively capable of speaking to, and from, two Americas. Not red and blue, the which-side-are-you-on divide shouted over on cable news, but rather, America, the exalted USA whose founding principles are under threat, and, ’Merica, as I like to think of it, that crazy quilt nation of Cheesecake Factories and cannabis dispensaries, pickleball courts and peewee football games, dirt roads and six-lane highways, where 336million people are just, like, living their lives. And where, mostly, they just want their country to work. For themselves, for their families, for their communities. They want to be able to buy groceries and gas, send their kids to good, safe schools, obtain medical care when necessary, take a vacation now and then, drive on highway overpasses that aren’t crumbling and don’t have homeless encampments below, and wake up in the morning without a sense of dread that the climate is about to collapse. Is that too much to ask? And now they have to worry about democracy too?

Jill Biden’s pitch, I take it, is that these Americas, abstract and quotidian, are two sides of the same coin—that this country only works if it’s true to its core values, and that the point of those core values is to meet the needs of its citizenry. Soaring FLOTUS rhetoric on the one hand; on the other, down-to-earth Dr. B.

As we leave the ballroom that night, I finally get a chance to introduce myself to the first lady. I’m not sure how best to address her, so I stumble a bit over my words. “Please,” she says, brushing off my hesitation with a wave of a hand. “Call me Jill.”

“So, today, a kid I haven’t seen in three weeks, he comes in to take the final essay, and he says, ‘Dr. B, can I talk to you after class?’ And I say, ‘Sure.’ ” A few days later, back in DC, the first lady is recounting an anecdote about her morning at NOVA. “Well, I knew why he hadn’t been in class,” she continues, explaining that the student in question had recently lost his mother. “He probably hasn’t been able to get out of bed. And I said, ‘I wish you would have called me, because there is help.’ And he said, ‘Well, I need help.’ So now I’m scrambling to find help for him.”

Were I to close my eyes, I’d take Jill Biden for just about any teacher unburdening in a drab break room. As it happens, however, the view before me is of her well-appointed East Wing office, and through the window beyond, the South Lawn. We’re drinking honey-​ginger tea—delicious—out of dainty china cups. The atmosphere is genteel, redolent of bygone civilities. Mass shootings, MAGA, the war in Gaza, it all feels so very far away. I ask the first lady what books she assigns her students. She reels off a few titles—Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime is a perennial favorite, she says—then notes that, of late, she prefers to assign articles “because books areexpensive.”

“And whatever I give them,” she adds, “it has to be short. Because they leave my class and go straight to work, many of them. They may work until eight o’clock, then they have to do my homework, and they might have kids, too, or parents to take care of.” Some of the first lady’s students are immigrants, still polishing their English skills. Others are older women looking to reenter the workforce. A motley bunch, whose varied tales travel back into this ornate room, and from here, not infrequently, to the Executive Residence, and the ear of the president.

“When you’ve spent your life as an educator, grounded in the needs of students, it affects you,” notes Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest labor union. The job entails a certain attunement to the lives of others, and a sense of care. “She gets it,” Pringle adds, simply.

MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED
Dr. Biden at her alma mater, Upper Moreland High School in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. Coach trench coat.

The first lady is a longtime member of the NEA. Pringle first connected with her late in the COVID-plagued 2020 campaign—by happenstance, at a socially distanced rally at Upper Moreland High School, the first lady’s alma mater, where a few of the portraits for this story were shot. There’s been such a glut of news since then—the election itself, and January6, and the invasion of Ukraine, and on and on, that it may be hard to recall the sheer scale of devastation COVID wrought on the American education system, with marginalized communities hit particularly hard by drawn-out school closures. Jill Biden, Pringle believes, helped make emergency funding for compensatory measures, such as tutoring, a top priority as soon as the new administration took office.

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“She saw the gaps that emerged during the pandemic, especially with students of color, and her firsthand knowledge of that no doubt had a role to play with support for in-school help,” says Pringle, referring to features of the $1.9trillion American Rescue Plan for schools, signed by President Biden in March 2021. “So that’s just one example, where her stories connected with real solutions. And that was a five-alarm crisis.”

The stories-to-solutions pipeline isn’t limited to the first lady’s experience in the classroom. She’s long been an advocate for military families—her elder son, Beau, served in Iraq, and she takes the matter personally—and one recent initiative is helping frustrated spouses who have told her how hard it is to hold down a job when their partners get transferred from base to base. She’s pushed to make it easier for those with certain government jobs to work remotely—a small thing, grand scheme, but game-​changing in the context of someone’s actual life. “I said to Joe, ‘This is ridiculous, this is antiquated—what would I do if I couldn’t work?’ And he said, ‘Okay, let’s figure it out.’ ”

“Really, in so many different areas,” she says, “I tell him what I’m seeing, what I’m hearing—and he gets it. And this is where the magic happens.”

“I see her as a first lady in the Eleanor Roosevelt mold—getting out into the community, making sure those voices are getting heard in Washington,” says Dr. Jane O’Meara Sanders, wife of Senator (and ex-​presidential contender) Bernie Sanders, and cofounder of progressive think tank the Sanders Institute. “We’ve worked together on many issues over the years; she’s very compassionate, but she’s also practical. There’s an eye toward: What exactly is the need here? How can we help people?”

“When we were on the campaign trail in 2020, and it got down to our two husbands,” Dr. O’Meara Sanders adds with a laugh, “I used to think, Well, I’d vote for Jill for first lady.”

ON THE ROAD
At a campaign stop in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Lately, many of the stories Jill Biden has been hearing are focused on women’s health. At his State of the Union address earlier this year, the president announced that the first lady would be leading a new drive to supercharge research into women’s health—historically, an underfunded and understudied area of medicine. He called on Congress to invest $12billion in the plan, which covers all aspects of female biology, from the teensiest endometrial cell to complex autoimmune disorders.

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Dr. Carolyn Mazure, chair of the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, is a veteran in the field, and she has been crisscrossing the country with the first lady, meeting with researchers and other experts. She credits Dr. Biden with being a quick study, and for her knack for rallying far-flung stakeholders in and out of government. “You can already see the interest that’s been galvanized, the pace of change—it’s palpably different,” Dr. Mazure notes. “And, truly, that’s thanks to the first lady.”

One spur for this policy is, of course, Dobbs—the ruling made women’s bodies, and their access to medical care, a matter of frantic public debate. But as Dr. Mazure points out, reproduction is just one aspect of women’s health, and over the span of a lifetime, a rather small part. All cis women go through menopause, for example, and apparently the subject comes up a lot when people meet the first lady—“probably because of my age,” Dr. Biden comments with a smile. A recurring theme is confusion. “How do we deal with hair loss? And bones thinning? And insomnia? Where are our answers? And I went to Joe, and I said, ‘You’ve got to put money into this.’ And you know, he heard it, and he went into action.”

“People don’t mention her when they talk about Biden’s key advisers, but she’s his gut check and his closest confidant,” notes Katie Rogers, White House correspondent for The New York Times and author of the recently published American Woman: The Transformation of the Modern First Lady, From Hillary Clinton to Jill Biden. “And she really believes in her husband’s ability to get things done for the American people—whether they’re his supporters or not. That’s why she’s fighting so hard for him to get a second term, because there are things they’ve got left on the agenda. And she’s told me she’ll travel twice as much, and fight twice as hard, because of the threats she sees—especially to women.”

“Every campaign is important, and every campaign is hard,” the first lady allows, over our afternoon tea. “Each campaign is unique. But this one, the urgency is different. We know what’s at stake. Joe is asking the American people to come together to draw a line in the sand against all this vitriol.”

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Jill Biden believes we can step back from this brink. And see beyond our differences, as she’s always trying to do—in the classroom, and on the trail in this last campaign she’ll undertake on her husband’s behalf. “We don’t need more chaos,” she continues. That’s a story of America she refuses to tell. “Fundamentally, Americans care about each other. And this anger and animosity and divisiveness…it’s not who we are. We’re good people.”

What do we want from a first lady?

The more time I spend around Jill Biden, the more the question bedevils me. There’s no job description; first lady isn’t, technically, a “job.” Everyone who assumes the role makes up its contours for herself. Then we decide whether she’s met the moment.

In the early chapters of her memoir, Where the Light Enters, the young Jill Biden, née Jacobs, doesn’t come across as future first lady material, perse. Smart, willful, but a bit scattershot, like she wasn’t quite sure what to do with her brains or her mettle. Married at 18, blown sideways by divorce. Making her own way in the world, until she met Joe Biden, and took on a charge she wasn’t entirely certain she was capable of: becoming the wife of an ambitious US senator, and mom to two boys still grieving the sudden deaths of their mother and sister. From then on, her life has been a series of such takings-on, navigating headlong through challenges. Never more so, she must have thought at the time, than when she watched her son Beau march off to war in 2008—until, seven years later, when she watched him die. She’s still standing. Usually, in four-inch heels. What I am trying to say is that Jill Biden is very good at meeting a moment.

“You know, Joe’s really the talker, I’m more quiet,” the first lady mentions at one point, during our East Wing chat. For some reason, the comment stays with me, bouncing around my head on the Acela back to New York. Quiet. That word. We live in such loud times. An endless reverberation chamber. So many opinions. So much trauma, so much anger. So many people jockeying to be heard. And no one listening. Except, it seems, Jill Biden.

Wherever we went, I’d see people approach the first lady and open their hearts. They’d tell her about the children they worried about, the bills they struggled to pay. One particular incident stands out to me. We’d gone to Colorado for a roundtable at the Ludeman Family Center for Women’s Health Research in Aurora; it so happened that the event coincided with the 25th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School, not many miles away. So after saying our goodbyes to the worthy scientists, we piled back into the motorcade to make an unannounced stop at the Columbine Memorial, a placid spot in a suburban park. It had been snowing all day, and en route to the Ring of Remembrance, where plaques for each of the victims are mounted, we filed past an older woman in a knit beanie, who was letting flakes pelt down on her as she slumped beside a row of crosses staked in the grass. She eyed us curiously—a large group, with Secret Service agents in tow—then joined our procession.

PAYING RESPECTS
At the Columbine Memorial in Littleton, Colorado.

As the first lady circled inside the ring, laying flowers, the woman in the beanie approached me.

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“Who’s that?”

The first lady, I tell her.

“Can I talk to her?”

I wasn’t sure what to say. I was the wrong person to ask. And this woman—her energy, well, it was weird. A pair of Secret Service agents were ogling her warily. Maybe you should ask them, I suggested; I don’t know the protocol. By this point, the first lady was heading in our direction.

“What, she’s like three feet away and I can’t talk to her?!” She was getting aggressive.

Calm, gentle, the first lady walked up and introduced herself. Shook the woman’s hand. Held it, as the woman told her—in a burst, like she’d been holding it in—how she comes daily to tend those crosses, her private memorial, she’s been doing it for years, and that’s it, that’s all she wanted to say. And Jill Biden listened, gaze steady, taking it in. And then she replied, simply: Thank you. Because that was all that woman needed to hear.

Which brings me back to democracy. There’s a reason all this listening matters: It reflects a belief that all these people matter, every single person across the vast landscape of America, regardless of race or sex or class or creed. And that, by extension, their votes shouldn’t be suppressed, their rights shouldn’t be curtailed, nor their opportunities to flourish hamstrung by policies that favor the select few. And on the other side? Pick your poison. Christian nationalist, nativist, racist, misogynist, queerphobic, neofascist, techno-authoritarian—they boil down to the same idea, which is that some group or other ought to dominate everyone else. All they differ on is who occupies the magic circle. Or, in TV terms, sits on the Iron Throne.

HELLO FROM DENVER
“You have to remember, she’s really not a creature of Washington,” says Mary Doody, one of the first lady’s oldest and closest friends.

So that’s what Jill Biden is talking about when she says that democracy is on the line in this election. And I guess some folks are willing to roll the dice that they’ll wind up on top in the domination lottery. And perhaps others figure they’ve got nothing to lose. What do you say, I ask the first lady, to people who respond to a “we’ve got to protect democracy” pitch by asking, “Well, what’s democracy done for me lately?”

It’s the first and only time I see her temper spark.

“If people knew what Joe’s done—with the recovery act, and infrastructure, and CHIPS,” she starts, reeling off a few of the president’s first-term accomplishments: the American Rescue Plan of 2021, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (passed the same year), and the CHIPS and Science Act, signed in 2022, crafted to spur domestic manufacture of semiconductors. “If they knew all of that—I mean, the bridge is being built in their city and they don’t know who did it. They don’t know who’s getting the lead out of their water. They don’t know who’s stopping the pipeline going through the parklands. They don’t know.” She seems bewildered by this. But then, where do people even get their news now? TikTok? Some guys’ podcast? “That’s why I’m trying to be out there,” the first lady goes on. “Why we’re all trying. To say, ‘This is what we’ve achieved, and this is how it affects your life.’  ”

She’s not wrong, of course, when she goes on to point out that people can’t expect her husband to do everything. And he’s managed to do quite a bit more than you’d think possible with a Congress that seems perpetually poised to blow itself up. Nor is she wrong when she reminds me that when the Bidens moved into the White House, COVID was still at full blast. “We were so slammed,” she says. “We’d never experienced anything like that. Financially, emotionally, socially—every aspect of our lives was affected. And Americans want things fixed fast. Well, it’s happening. Look at where we are now. Things are better. They’re still getting better. It takes time to stand things up again."

If her frustration is palpable, so is her empathy for Americans who are frustrated, too. “Look, I know that food prices are up,” she goes on. “I go to the grocery store when I’m in Wilmington. And I raised three kids, and did the food shopping for how many years before we got to this job? It’s not like I don’t know.”

It so happens that the same week I was traveling with the first lady, the Labor Department issued a new rule expanding overtime coverage to 4.3million additional workers—the first meaningful change to the policy in decades. This probably didn’t make it into your X-formerly-known-as-Twitter feeds, but it goes to show that there are ways of addressing cost-of-living crunches aside from swatting down headline inflation.

“Joe Biden has been a very effective president for the working class,” says Dr. O’Meara Sanders. “And on a lot of other fronts too—he’s put a ton of money into renewables, he’s taken on student debt and the cost of prescription drugs. He’s made a lot of great appointments. I could go on.”

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While I’ve got her on the phone, I ask Dr. O’Meara Sanders about the protesters calling for a ceasefire in Gaza who were present at several of the first lady’s campaign events—and how she responds to people on the left who intend to sit out this election over the issue. She sighs.

“Look, protest is essential in our democracy. And that’s what we’re fighting for—to have a democracy that supports that. You’ve got to think ahead.” That said, she adds, the same strategic and moral calculus applies to Democrats angry at Joe Biden for not supporting Israel enough. Everyone is entitled to vote their conscience, but if/when chips fall, can they live with the consequences?

“We could have an authoritarian country,” Dr. O’Meara Sanders continues. “That’s what’s up for a vote. So I guess what I’d say is—out of the frying pan, into what?”

“I’m sorry we didn’t get to exercise,” Jill Biden says to me, from her makeup chair the day of the Vogue photo shoot. It is late April in DC, and we were meant to do a SoulCycle class, but the plan got nixed so she could spend some time at home—home home, in Wilmington—with her husband. “It’s not that often Joe and I get to have a whole morning together, just coffee, you know, talking….” It says something about a decades-long marriage when spouses are genuinely eager to be around each other; in that moment, I feel I’ve gleaned a bit of Jill Biden’s inner life.

VIEW FROM THE GROUND
“Look at where we are now," says Dr. Biden. "Things are better. They’re still getting better. It takes time to stand things up again.”

Here’s the thing: Jill Biden is personable, a great hang, but she’s not immediately personal. I respect that about her. Days ago, we were strangers. Intimacy would be inauthentic. She’s happy to answer questions—go-to clothes for traveling (knit Gabriela Hearst dresses, has ’em in every color); book enjoyed recently (Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver)—but the deep self emerges only in flashes. At one point over tea, for example, we find ourselves talking about the American health care system—how byzantine and intimidating it can be. Yes, she agrees, and of course things have gotten better, because of the Affordable Care Act, but it’s still unfinished business, and that’s something her husband intends to tackle in a second term. “We are well-versed,” she adds, her eyes darting toward a painting by her desk—a watercolor of two half-unlaced combat boots.

“Those are Beau’s boots,” she says. Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015. For a second—just a second—it’s like she’s back there, in that hospital room. Then she returns to the present, and tells me that her memories of being overwhelmed by the medical system, in the course of Beau’s treatment, led directly to new insurance coverage for patient navigation services, so that other people won’t feel quite so lost and alone.

Jill Biden, I begin to suspect, doesn’t want to talk about her feelings. Less out of self-protectiveness than a conviction that at this moment, in this context, her feelings are not the point. The American people are the point. She’s quick to flip the camera around, as it were, as if to say—don’t look at me; look at what I see. Likewise, whatever may roil beneath the surface, she has chosen to respond to attacks on her family by putting the public’s needs first—maintaining a silent dignity as her son Hunter was convicted in a Delaware federal court on gun charges in June, and letting justice take its course.

“At her core, she’s a private person,” says senior adviser to the first lady Anthony Bernal, who has been close to Dr. Biden in some capacity since 2008. “Her family means everything to her—so of course, you could say her ‘Philly’ kicks in when her family gets attacked. It’s cruel. What mother wouldn’t feel that? Especially after everything they’ve gone through, all that tragedy and loss.”

There are loved ones the first lady opens up to, and places she feels totally free to be herself. Her eyes light up talking about the family beach house in Rehoboth, her favorite place in the world; she can cycle outside on the shore there, in the mornings. She’s an early riser. “That really creates a sense of peace for me,” she says, adding, with a gesture out her office window toward the DC skyline beyond, “I want to bring a bike down here, and ride on the canal….”

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“You have to remember, she’s really not a creature of Washington,” says Mary Doody, one of the first lady’s oldest and closest friends. “When she first went to DC when Joe was vice president, she looked at it as an opportunity she didn’t want to waste—and now, even more so, there are so many things they want to accomplish. But she misses ‘normal.’ Going fabric shopping. Having lunch, going to nurseries together and looking at plants. Those kinds of things. She wants him to be reelected, because there’s more to do, but I guarantee you, when he leaves office, they won’t keep an apartment in DC. They’ll be home and happy to be home.”

In the meantime, however, there is one last campaign—and FLOTUS is on the march. Rallying supporters. Launching a revolution in women’s health research. Listening to the people of America—and asking, this once, that they listen back. Because what she’s saying is that the message has gotten through. The change is happening. Maybe not as fast as they’d like, and maybe not in quite the ways they’d imagined, but then, that’s how things work in a big, fractious democracy.

There’s a version of political power that operates the way a motorcade does—slicing through empty roads, flouting rules, making regular folks wait behind barricades. And there’s a version of political power as Jill Biden embodies it, and as she expressed it at the Women for Biden event in Bloomington. This is power from the ground up, built on listening and coalition building. “They underestimate our power because they don’t understand it,” the first lady told the crowd. “They see our empathy and compassion as a vulnerability. But we know they’re what give us the clarity to fight for what’s right.” And in so doing, chip away at the hard problems. That’s the gig. Negotiate, reconsider your assumptions, and sometimes, agree to disagree, agree to lose. Only a tyrant would say otherwise.

The August issue is here featuring Jill Biden. Subscribe to Vogue.

THE LISTENER
Michael Kors Collection shirt. Irene Neuwirth earring.

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