By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
Fatherly, with a zest to spend time with people. But highly efficient in his personal relations. This is how local leaders who know President-elect Joe Biden describe him.
“He is incredibly caring and people-oriented, he will sit down with people, strangers, and really focus on what’s happening in their lives, often to the dismay of his staff, because it sometimes causes him to be late to the next event,” said former Gov. Gary Locke, in an interview.
“This includes little kids to elderly people to people he just met for the first time, he takes a genuine interest in people,” said Locke, who served as secretary of commerce and ambassador to China while Biden was vice president.
Locke speculated that this quality could have come from the “personal tragedies he’s experienced.”
Biden lost his first wife and a daughter after their car was hit by a tractor trailer. Both sons were badly injured. Decades later, one died of brain cancer.
The other has struggled with substance abuse.
Possibly, as a result, “he always wants to make sure people are okay and they feel listened to and heard,” said Locke.
Locke recalled a time when he and his family had recently arrived in China and then-vice president Biden visited. Biden sat down right away with Locke’s kids to ask them how they were adjusting. Both were in high school.
Biden had tea with them and asked them how they liked school.
Biden told Locke’s son, Dylan, to keep an eye on his older sister.
“Your role is to watch out for the boys that might be dating your sister,” Biden said.
“They remember those moments very fondly,” said Locke.
Min Chang, a former neighbor of the Bidens when she lived in Delaware, who is now CEO of Kin On, said they were “very quiet.” But she remembers a power blackout that may have been related to Biden’s emphasis on family.
After Biden’s daughter, Ashley, got married, so many cars were parked along the streets that “the event must have caused a surge and a blackout,” Chang told the Northwest Asian Weekly.
Biden’s sense of hospitality was on display when Locke was sworn in as commerce secretary in 2009. Locke said a large group of his friends and relatives had come from Seattle to attend the ceremony.
“He spent time with all of them,” he said.
Biden was particularly attentive to two twin boys.
“I mean, they weren’t voters,” said Locke.
But his ability to forge personal relationships has made him highly effective as a leader, Locke said.
“I’ve seen him being very firm about policies, but he connects with people personally,” said Locke. “That makes it easier.”
During a dinner in Los Angeles, while Biden was still vice president, the stakes were high as the U.S. government was trying to persuade China to take more American films into its vast market.
“There was a firm deadline. Xi was about to head back to China. And the Chinese were very resistant,” said Locke.
But Biden developed a rapport with his counterpart. And the Chinese government changed its position.
“You could tell it was from the personal relationship,” said Locke. “That was the key to his breakthrough on behalf of the U.S.”
As he faces a deeply divided nation, his ability to forge personal relationships will be crucial.
After the invasion of the Capitol last week and likely further violence in the offing, Locke predicts that Biden will personally engage with more members of Congress. Biden negotiated with Sen. Mitch McConnell on significant legislation during the Obama administration.
More recently, Biden has said as president he believes he can work with Republican leaders.
Locke pointed out that although Sen. Lindsey Graham has said he was opposed to Biden as president, he has traveled with Biden and has a good relationship with him.
Mahlon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.