biden coronavirus funeral town hall
Biden chokes up while addressing families planning funerals
02:10 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Nearly every top Democrat says the same thing about former Vice President Joe Biden when they make their endorsement: He is a man defined by his decency and empathy.

Endorser after endorser – including former President Barack Obama and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren this week – has lauded Biden’s ability to connect with what someone else is feeling and pointed to that characteristic as making him uniquely qualified to lead the country, particularly during a time of crisis like the coronavirus pandemic.

The focus on empathy and decency draws a not-so-subtle contrast with President Donald Trump, who has struggled to show compassion at times during his presidency.

Biden mentioned Trump’s difficulties with empathy during a town hall on Wednesday.

“Have you heard him offer anything that approaches a sincere expression of empathy for the people who are hurting?” Biden asked. “Have we seen any sign that he grasps just how hard it will be for people to recover from this?”

Warren backed the former vice president on Wednesday by saying the “unspeakable tragedy” Biden has faced “animate the empathy he extends to Americans who are struggling – no matter what their story.”

“Empathy matters,” Warren said. “And, in this moment of crisis, it’s more important than ever that the next president restores Americans’ faith in good, effective government. Joe Biden has spent nearly his entire life in public service. He knows that a government run with integrity, competence, and heart will save lives and save livelihoods.”

Warren’s praise echoed Obama, who said a day earlier that Biden has the “honesty and humility; empathy and grace” to lead the country.

“He’s someone whose own life has taught him how to persevere; how to bounce back when you’ve been knocked down,” Obama said. “When Joe talks to families who’ve lost a hero, we hear another parent of an American veteran; a kindred spirit; somebody whose faith has endured the hardest loss there is.”

Obama endorses Biden
Obama endorses Biden in video message
01:59 - Source: CNN

Biden’s empathy were forged by a string of tragedies that have defined his professional and personal life. Biden’s first wife and infant daughter were killed in a 1972 car crash, right after the young Democrat had first won his US Senate seat. Tragedy returned to Biden in 2015 when his son Beau, an Iraq War veteran who served as the attorney general of Delaware, died from brain cancer at the age of 46.

Biden has worn those moments on his sleeve throughout the campaign, often growing visibly emotional when asked to reflect on how personal tragedy has shaped him into the man he is today. One moment came in late February when Biden told a pastor who lost his wife in a 2015 mass shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, that the only way he was able to get through the tragedy was by realizing those who had died were “part of my being.”

“It took a long time to get to the point to realize that that purpose is the thing that would save me,” Biden said of how his son urged him to stay in public life. “And it has.”

Democrats believe that, after four years of Trump, voters will be hungry for an empathetic leader, especially as the country struggles to overcome the coronavirus pandemic that has killed thousands in the United States.

“Voters across the country trust Joe Biden because he understands what they’re going through,” said Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, before mentioning his upbringing in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and the fact that he lost his son, Beau. “His own experiences … have given him the empathy to lead us forward. Voters know when you’re genuine and they know when you’re full of it. Only one candidate in this race has the genuine empathy voters are looking for.”

Republicans refute the idea that Biden is more prepared to understand what voters are going through.

“Every American can be confident President Trump is fighting to protect their safety and safeguard the economy,” said Sarah Matthew, a Trump campaign spokeswoman. “He understands these are challenging times for the American people, which is why he is leaving no stone unturned and leading an unprecedented, whole of America approach to defeat this virus.”

Biden’s empathy also played a central role in the trio of endorsements the former vice president picked up before Super Tuesday. The day that amounted to the one of the most significant of his primary campaign came when former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke – all former presidential candidates – backed him.

“We need a politics that’s about decency, politics that brings back dignity,” Buttigieg said at an event with Biden. “That’s what Joe Biden has been practicing his entire life.”

Klobuchar, later in the night, added that Trump has “no empathy” and “cannot put himself in the shoes of the people of this country.”

“Well, guess who can do that,” she asked rhetorically. “That is Joe Biden.”

And O’Rourke told CNN late on March 2 that he backed Biden, in part, because of the former vice president’s exchange on tragedy with the South Carolina pastor.

“I just was struck by his ability to connect with that one person, and then with all of us, simultaneously,” O’Rourke said. “We need to come together, and we need someone who can speak to us in that way and lead in that way.”

Even Sanders, who rarely speaks about people in flowery, glowing terms, has repeatedly lauded Biden’s decency, including around his endorsement on Monday.

“Joe and I have our disagreements for sure,” Sanders told CNN’s Ryan Nobles. “Joe is a decent guy.”

CNN’s Ryan Nobles, Annie Grayer and Eric Bradner contributed to this report