As Congressional Democrats become increasingly strident in their demands for Donald Trump’s tax returns, at least one prominent Democratic presidential candidate has yet to release his: former VP Joe Biden, or self-styled ‘Middle Class Joe.’
Since he left office, Biden has become a millionaire and bestselling author. He inked an $8 million book deal with Flatiron Books. He commands $100,000 in speaking fees per event. He owns multiple million-dollar homes.
Yet Biden still refers to himself as ‘Middle Class Joe,’ a moniker that was always questionable at best. As vice president, Biden earned $230,000 a year, and his federal pension may be worth as much as $248,000 annually.
The median middle class household in the US in 2016 was approximately $78,000 per year, while the median upper-income household earned $188,000, according to the Pew Research Center. In a 2018 survey, 50 percent of Americans said a household making between $50,000 and $99,000 per year was ‘middle class.’ These figures disqualify anyone who serves in Congress or the White House from claiming the mantle ‘middle class.’
As Democrats gleefully pour over Trump’s debts and bankruptcies, it is worth pointing out that Biden was also substantially in debt, in proportion to his much more modest income, when he joined Obama’s ticket in 2008. Financial disclosures reveal that he and his community college professor wife Jill were indebted between $165,000 to $465,000. By 2014, Biden was worth negative $947,987, according to OpenSecrets.org.
‘I don’t own a single stock or bond. … I have no savings accounts, but I got a great pension and I got a good salary,’ Biden told the White House’s Working Summit on Working Families in 2014.
That all changed after he left office. Like many politicians in recent memory, Biden’s net worth swelled, thanks to million-dollar book deals and $100k speaking fees. In addition to the $2.7 million vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, the Bidens’ $350,000 home purchased in 1996 is now worth almost $1.9 million, according to real estate estimate by Zillow. They also rent a third home in Virginia.
Despite all this, Biden hasn’t let his newfound wealth change his self-description.
As recently as 2018 in Kentucky, Biden said: ‘I know I’m called Middle Class Joe. It’s not meant to be a compliment. It means I’m not sophisticated. But I know what made this country what it is: ordinary people doing extraordinary things.’
He’s been repeating that mantra for years since he left office. In 2017, appearing on the Today show, Biden claimed that Rust Belt voters would prefer him to Donald Trump because he understands their blue-collar and middle class needs. ‘They love me more,’ he said. ‘Donald Trump has no notion what those people are going through. It’s not a criticism; it’s an observation. They call me ‘Middle Class Joe’ – it’s not meant as a compliment in Washington, it means I’m not sophisticated. But I understand what built this country. The only thing I know is the middle class, their hopes and aspirations, because it’s where I come from. It’s what I am.’
Perhaps it’s no surprise that newly minted millionaire Joe Biden doesn’t want to give up his self-proclaimed ‘middle class’ status, even if the title was always a questionable one. The Democratic presidential candidates of 2020 are running on a platform allergic to wealth. After a 2016 presidential campaign that famously railed against millionaires and billionaires, Sen. Bernie Sanders recently had to ‘plead guilty’ to being a millionaire. Like Biden, Sanders made millions after writing a bestselling book. Sanders’s newfound wealth was discovered after he publicly released 10 years of tax returns.
That could explain the 76-year-old former vice president’s reluctance to do the same, even as Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and many of the other candidates release their 2018 tax returns.