When Richard Nixon Called Joe Biden to Express Condolence at Tragic Deaths of First Wife and Daughter
On December 18, 1972, President Joe Biden lost his first wife, Neilia Hunter, and their infant daughter, Naomi Christina, in an automobile accident. His two young sons, Beau and Hunter, who were aged 3 and 2, had also sustained serious injuries. The young lawmaker from Delaware experienced tragedy a week before Christmas. “I could not speak,” the future president had written with much emotion in his memoir, Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics, and “only felt this hollow core grow in my chest, like I was going to be sucked inside a black hole.” As reported by Washington Post 50 years have passed since the tragic event unfolded for Biden as of 2022. The Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Museum has documentation indicating the former late president contacted Biden to express his respect and offer the young and newly elected senator his sympathies. The presidential library still has a copy of the recording of their brief conversation.
Back then Nixon had defeated the Democratic nominee, George McGovern, in a landslide to win reelection for a second term. Biden had just turned 30. Although he had been chosen to be a senator, he had not yet taken the oath of office. On the fateful day, he was doing staff interviews in a rented office on Capitol Hill in Washington with his younger sister Valerie. His wife was at home in Wilmington, Delaware, where she was going to have breakfast with James Biden. The future president noted in his memoir that she had plans to purchase a tree and go Christmas shopping. “Val and I were sitting in the office … when Jimmy called from Wilmington,” Biden wrote. “He wanted to talk to Val. When she hung up the phone, she looked white. ‘There’s been a slight accident,’ she said. ‘Nothing to be worried about. But we ought to go home.’” He had a sudden sense of dread about his wife. “I could already feel Neilia’s absence,” Biden revealed in his book. “‘She’s dead,’ I said, ‘isn’t she?’” In Hockessin, Delaware, a truck had crashed into his wife's car on a country road. The power couple had been married for only six years.
According to White House tapes, Nixon, who had previously voiced support for Biden's campaign, learned of the tragedy the following morning while reading the newspaper. "Good God," he had expressed. Nixon gave Biden a call at 12:21 p.m. Where Biden was at the time is unknown. He said that he was a regular presence in his sons' room at the hospital, so he might have been there. The following is a transcript of the call, which lasted one minute and seven seconds, provided by the Nixon library: Operator: "Mr. President, Senator-Elect Biden for you". Nixon: "Yes" Nixon: "Hello?" Operator 2: "Just one minute Mr. President". Biden: "Hello, Mr. President, how are you?" Nixon: "Senator, I know this is a very tragic day for you, but I wanted you to know that all of us here at the White House were thinking about you, and praying for you and also for your two children, and —"
Biden: "I appreciate that very much". Nixon: "I understand you were on the Hill at the time, and your wife was just driving by herself". Biden: "Yes, that’s correct". Nixon: "In any event, looking at it as you must in terms of the future, because you have the great fortune of being young, I remember I was two years older than you when I went to the House. But the main point is you can remember that she was there when you won a great victory, and you enjoyed it together. And now, I’m sure that she’ll be watching you from now on. Good luck to you". Biden: "Thank you very much, Mr. President. I appreciate your call. I appreciate it". A month later, at Wilmington's hospital in front of his sons, Biden took the oath of office. Nixon resigned from the presidency in disgrace two years later, on August 9, 1974, as a result of the Watergate crisis and the threat of impeachment.
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