First daughter Ashley Biden has been a regular presence in President Joe Biden’s White House – she quit her job before the 2020 campaign partly to be near the man she calls her “best friend” – but until this fall, she stayed carefully behind the scenes.
Now the normally private social worker, 41, is suddenly doing public appearances and making very personal statements, talking about everything from police reform and mental health to life as “a White woman with White privilege.” She’s also talking about the travails of her brother Hunter, an admitted longtime drug addict now in recovery.
It’s not clear whether the new openness is part of a grander White House strategy, or if it signals a new attitude within the Biden family about their patriarch’s political plans. Ashley Biden’s public debut is unfolding without the usual tight choreography of a White House production, and she has appeared in public without political staffers in attendance or reaching out eagerly to reporters with the customary spin. The White House declined to comment for this story, as did Ashley Biden.
But Biden is making it clear she’s ready to tell her own story, no small matter for a person whose personal diary was once stolen and peddled for sale to her father’s political detractors.
“I finally feel like I’m in a place where I really know who I am, I know my worth, I know my family – who are honestly some of the most incredible, kind, compassionate humans, who have given up their life, really, for service to the American people,” said Biden, speaking on the record last week to a small group of invited guests at a question-and-answer event at a hip DC hotel.
The public confessions come at a moment important for Ashley Biden, whose father and mother, Dr. Jill Biden, continue to weigh a reelection run in a country that remains roiled by political division. The gloves-off campaign style of the last several years has not gone unnoticed by Ashley Biden.
“I grew up with Dad kind of always – I always saw him work with the other side of the aisle,” said Biden last week. “Now, since (former President Donald) Trump, I’m sorry, but this is just a whole disgusting ballgame. It is like nothing I’ve ever seen because he gave air to hate. And it’s always been there, right? But it was not as visible as it is today.”
Ashley Biden’s most recent remarks are the most forthcoming, lengthy and personal since her father took office, but her public momentum has been building. Last month, she stepped out at a splashy magazine party in Washington, headlined by supermodel Christy Turlington; several days later, Biden was in San Francisco, hosting a roundtable on mental health and traumatic recovery centers, and participating in an interview with the Bay Area NPR station.
On October 24, Biden joined her parents at the White House for a reception to celebrate the Indian holiday Diwali, standing beside the first lady as she made remarks. Jill Biden wore a green, printed dress; Ashley Biden wore a three-piece, peach-colored sari.
She had previously popped up from time to time – that was her this summer on the beach in Rehoboth, Delaware, pulling her father away from the press during a walk with a sharp, “Nope, like, no more – no more questions.” Biden joked, “That’s my press secretary daughter.”
But she is not a ubiquitous West Wing presence like her presidential first daughter predecessor, nor is she consistent tabloid fodder, like her older brother, Hunter Biden.
“When I was growing up, kids were off limits, right?” said Biden at last week’s event, discussing an earlier time when campaigns practiced more civility. “You weren’t allowed. It was kind of a mutual understanding that you just didn’t really go after people’s children. You know? … I-I- don’t – that’s not what I signed up for.”
A ‘strategic’ public emergence
Four people familiar with Ashley Biden and her family told CNN it’s not clear to them why she is choosing now to make a more public emergence with politically charged statements.
“She has had periods of being more vocal,” says one person who worked with the Bidens for several years. “But she has also had times of being almost reclusive, and not participating.”
Another person added that while Ashley Biden’s parents are supportive of her and her convictions, there is always a “bit of stress” when either of their children are in the public eye.
Asked whether the recent comments from Biden are being sanctioned, or even monitored, by the White House – as is the tendency for most administrations when presidential family members make public speaking engagements – another person was doubtful. “She has always been her own person,” said the source.
“I’m authentic, I’m kind, I’m honest. I care, I’m compassionate. And I’m really strategic,” Biden said last week, exaggerating the Ls in “really.”
A third person who has known Ashley Biden and the Biden family for more than a decade said it is typically not like the Biden family to “restrict” or “censor” their children. However, a presidential daughter discussing, for example, the ongoing Department of Justice investigation into her brother’s contacts and financial dealings is not exactly the kind of going rogue an administration would feel comfortable with, said a political strategist who has worked with White House Democrats.
Federal prosecutors are weighing possible charges for Hunter Biden related to tax violations, as well as for making a false statement related to a gun purchase, CNN has previously reported.
“They’re not going to find anything,” she said at the Q&A last week, talking about Hunter Biden, and the investigation. “They’re just trying to do whatever they can, but that’s,” she said, pausing to shrug, “so when that started to happen, when people started to attack me, and I was like, ‘Whoa.’ It just became a widespread thing.”
Ashley Biden said the brouhaha over the Hunter Biden allegations of wrongdoing and influence peddling has become little more than a family inside joke. “I still look at my brother and I’m like, ‘do you know you impeached Donald Trump, basically?’”
From a ‘humble’ home to embracing the spotlight
Ashley Biden was raised, she says, in a “humble” home.
“Growing up, I lived a very normal, down-to-earth life,” she said last week. She was an athlete, excelling at both field hockey and lacrosse during her Wilmington, Delaware, school years.
She took an interest in her father’s grassroots-style of politicking, often accompanying him at campaign events, parades and on the door-to-door visits that were once a hallmark of gathering votes.
“I would travel with him everywhere and I would always question the inequity. I also went to a Quaker school and learned about racism from a very young age,” said Biden during an October 20 interview with KQED in San Francisco. “And it was my mission to tackle structural violence and institutional racism. Why aren’t people healing? Why are the most marginalized the most harmed, yet the least healed?”
Biden became a social worker, working hands-on with cases, mostly in underserved areas of Delaware and parts of Philadelphia. She got her master’s degree in social work from the University of Pennsylvania – a Biden-family favorite for higher education. She eventually became executive director for the Delaware Center for Justice, where she worked until 2019.
In 2016, Biden launched a hooded sweatshirt line dubbed “Livelihood,” and marketed as a socially conscious fashion label. The hoodies retailed for $80-$100, and according to Biden, profits went to various charities in support of social justice and minority entrepreneurship.
As Joe Biden campaigned for the presidency, Ashley would appear from time to time on the campaign trail, stumping beside him, the only daughter of Jill and Joe Biden. When her parents moved into the White House, Ashley Biden sometimes did, too, said two people familiar with the Bidens’ living situation, most recently last winter and early spring.
She had been scheduled to travel on two foreign trips with the first lady – in May, to Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine, and Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica – but pulled out of the trips last-minute. The East Wing cited Covid-19-related issues for both of the cancellations.
‘We are not letting them win’
Biden admits she has shied from the spotlight, which she says got uglier and uglier during the last presidential campaign, when opponents made a frequent target of her and her brother.
“I have to be honest with you, I started to really have a lot of resentment,” said Biden last week in Washington. “It’s cruel, like, honestly, it’s dehumanizing. And so, I have a lot of anger around that.”
She paused and added, “I’m also like, screw this, we are not letting them win.”
The flare of anger is personal for Ashley Biden. She had her own brush with the exposure of her personal life, motivated by political opponents of her father. In August, two people pleaded guilty to stealing her belongings, including her journal, and selling them to a conservative media outlet.
Biden said this month she is now a consultant for the National Alliance of Trauma Recovery Centers, which teaches and assists with building centers around the country with the specific aim of helping victims of traumatic events. Biden recently said she is also “teaching a trauma class for 25 women who are coming out of incarceration.”
With midterm elections less than a week away, a second run for the White House by her father remains undetermined; the president’s age, approval ratings and performance being hammered regularly by critics.
Even still, Ashley Biden appears willing to test some of her own boundaries of vulnerability. She speaks with a sense of urgency around socio-economic and health care issues – as the daughter of a lifelong politician, she knows first-hand the partisan stakes when funding, congressional support, health care and power all come into play.
“Dad is dedicated,” she said during her public radio interview from San Francisco. “We’re going to have some real issues if we don’t win the House and Senate. I mean, it’s over, right? It’s over in the sense of what’s to come. Our rights. Mental health care. All of it.”
On the dais last week in Washington, answering the handful of questions with responses that went on for several minutes, Biden sounded almost like a certain politician.
“I believe we can come to the same results, we can work together, but I think it’s the how we kind of go about it. I’m not saying to not scream from the mountaintops of injustice, but I also think if we really want, I mean, you have to work with the other side,” she said.
Biden said she was sorry to the interviewer, and the audience, for her lengthy answers.
“So, really long-winded. I apologize,” she added. “This is why they don’t let me do interviews.”