Biden and Bill Clinton enjoy light moments as 42nd president returns to White House to celebrate family leave anniversary
Former president Bill Clinton drew laughs from a capacity crowd in the White House East Room on Thursday when he appeared to lose track of the speech notes that had been placed on the iconic lectern he’d spoken from so many times during his eight years in office.
The 42nd chief executive was back at his former home three decades to the day after he’d signed his first piece of legislation as president, a landmark bill then known as the Family Medical Leave Act, which guaranteed Americans the right to take up to six months of unpaid leave to care for a family member or deal with an illness.
After an introduction from Vice President Kamala Harris, Mr Clinton stepped up to the microphone, but looked up after a beat and appeared slightly bewildered.
“Somewhere, I’m supposed to have some notes here,” he said. “These are President Biden’s”.
Mr Biden, who was seated next to him alongside Ms Harris, interjected, telling Mr Clinton: “Why don’t you just deliver mine?”
The former president seemed to like the idea, and asked: “Why don’t I just give your speech and you can deliver mine?”
But Mr Clinton found his own remarks a short time later, and launched into a short history of the bill he signed in the Rose Garden three decades ago.
He also recalled how on his first trip back to Washington after his term ended in 2001, he was taken aside by a flight attendant who told him how the FMLA allowed her and her sister to care for their dying parents.
Mr Clinton recounted her words to the assembled dignitaries, a group that included former Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd and House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi.
“She said: ‘I've heard all these politicians give speeches about family values ... I know how your family — how your parents die — is important family value,” he said.
A short time later, Mr Biden noted how during his time as a senator, he’d learned that a member of his Senate Judiciary Committee staff was coming to work instead of caring for a family member at home during the confirmation process for a Supreme Court nominee. He recalled how he’d told the staffer that if he came in to work rather than take care of his relative, he’d be fired.
He told the attendees in the East Room that he did that because he’d been given the flexibility to fit caring for his two sons into his job as a new senator after his wife and infant daughter were killed in a car crash just weeks after he was first elected to the upper chamber.
“I was able to continue to work and continue to be paid because ... I had a family that was so supportive,” he said.
“Being there for your family, is often the most consequential thing you can do.
The president said the FMLA gave “a majority of working Americans” the ability to “take time off work, care for somebody to love and care for themselves, without fear of losing their job” and to “have a little dignity when they needed it most”.
Mr Biden also pointed out that the US has more to do because America is still the only major country that doesn’t guarantee workers paid leave for family or illness. But he closed with another lighthearted quip aimed at Mr Clinton, who he implied had kicked him out of the Oval Office for the day.
“We got a lot of work to do a lot of work, but I'm so happy to be able to welcome my president back to the United States’ capital, and he's promised me that I'll be able to sit at my desk tomorrow,” he said.