Joe Biden Makes an Emotional Appeal for Paid Family Leave

Vice President Joe Biden spoke about losing his son today in joining Gov. Andrew Cuomo to call for paid family leave.

Vice-President Joe Biden.(Photo Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)
Vice President Joe Biden.(Photo Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images) (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Andrew Cuomo and Joe Biden are best known for their jobs—governor of New York, vice president of the United States—but on a stage in Manhattan today they leaned into other identities: a son who had lost his father, and a father who had lost his son.

Mr. Biden joined Mr. Cuomo at a Manhattan YMCA to lend his support to the governor’s push to mandate three months of paid family leave, funded by employee contributions, in this year’s state budget. The paid leave would allow employees to care for a newborn infant or a sick loved one.

Paid family leave is often an issue often associated with women, who typically shoulder much of the responsibility for child care even as more and more women are also working. But today’s event focused more on fathers and sons—perhaps not a surprise given Mr. Biden’s high-profile loss of his son, Beau Biden, to brain cancer, and Mr. Cuomo’s comments when rolling out paid family leave about regretting not spending more time with his ailing father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, before he died last year.

“As they say in the Senate, excuse the point of personal privilege,” said Mr. Biden who grew emotional at times while discussing his son. “I think the single most difficult thing for a parent or a son or daughter taking care of a parent is to look at that person in need and know there’s not a damn thing you can do to help them. And especially if the only help they want is just the solace of you holding their hand, telling them a story about what you remember when they were a kid, reminiscing with them, just giving them the solace of being able to deal with the thing they’re braving. It’s just simply the right thing to do.”

Mr. Biden said it simply isn’t an option for most Americans to take substantial time off without being paid—and noted taking that time off could lead many to lose their jobs.

“I don’t know anybody that can go three months without a paycheck without fundamentally changing who they are,” Mr. Biden shouted during the rally, to a crowd of many union workers and activists.

Mr. Cuomo meanwhile, spoke once again about his father, who has loomed large over many of the governor’s recent embrace of a slew of progressive issues, from family leave to the minimum wage hike that bears Mario Cuomo’s name.

“There are times in life when you should be with family members. Because that’s what it’s really about at the end of the day. It’s not about work,” Mr. Cuomo said today. “You shouldn’t have to choose between losing your job and being in debt and being a decent human being.”

Some people have argued it is wrong to frame the issue in such emotional terms—and that the focus should be more on the economics of child-rearing and care-taking, another task most often left to women. But the stories of both men seemed to resonate with the crowd, which also cheered along when the politicians spoke more generally about things like protecting the middle class, raising wages, and ensuring equal pay for women. Mr. Cuomo made another plug for his plans to raise the minimum wage in the state to $15 an hour, saying if legislators thought it was too high, they ought to live on it.

“Too many workers are disrespected and taken for granted and treated as a commodity,” Mr. Cuomo said.

And back on the theme of fathers and sons, Mr. Biden offered some high praise for the governor—saying Mr. Cuomo exceeded the expectations of many, including he believed, Mario Cuomo.

Mr. Biden said there was only one person who’d made him think there was someone doing the job of public service better than he was, and it had been Mario Cuomo.

“He was a moral force,” Mr. Biden said. Joe Biden Makes an Emotional Appeal for Paid Family Leave