WASHINGTON — Even my Republican sister isn’t immune to Joe Biden’s gregarious Irish charm.
She met him at media holiday parties over the years and was so impressed that she was lured to the other side for a time, voting for the Obama-Biden ticket in 2008 and writing in on Biden’s behalf for president in 2012. She sent Christmas. card one year with a picture of herself cheek to cheek with Biden — and some of her Republican friends stopped talking to her.
So I was surprised recently when I discovered that my sister wrote a letter to President Biden, a plea that she started in the middle of the night, after thinking about the matter for quite some time.
“I watched as you told the nation that you had six grandchildren and you loved each one of them,” she wrote. “I believe so. What I cannot believe and what I find unjustifiable is that you refuse to admit or accept the fact that there is a beautiful 4-year-old girl named Navy Joan living in Arkansas who is your seventh grandchild.”
Peggy wrote about Hunter’s high-priced lawyers going down to Arkansas to make sure Navy couldn’t use the Biden name and reduce child support payments.
“She’s got the Biden blood running through her veins, and all she’ll have as a reminder of that are some of Hunter’s original paintings; Sounds like a crappy compromise if you ask me,” Peggy wrote, referring to the deal that attributed some of Hunter’s artwork to the daughter he never met, even though DNA testing in 2019 established his paternity.
In his 2021 memoir, Hunter wrote wryly about Navy’s mother, Lunden Roberts, whom he met when he turned to addiction and went to Washington strip clubs. He wrote that the women he had sexual encounters with during his drug “mess” were “barely the dating type.”
“I had no recollection of our encounter,” he said of Roberts. However, he put her on the payroll of his consulting firm as a personal assistant while she was pregnant. About three months after Navy was born, Hunter took away Roberts’ company health insurance.
“As she grows up knowing her father and paternal grandparents wanted nothing to do with her,” Peggy wrote, “she’ll probably be able to see a video or two of her half-sister Naomi getting married on the South Lawn and you watching the fireworks on the balcony with little Beau. And if she misses that, there will be plenty of schoolboys to remind her that she wasn’t wanted. Kids can be mean like that.”
She asked why Hunter couldn’t act like Tom Brady, who treats his son with Bridget Moynahan, the actress he dated before he married Gisele Bündchen, the same as the two children he and Gisele had. (Not to mention Arnold Schwarzenegger, who says in a new Netflix documentary that he has a great relationship with the son he had after dating his family’s housekeeper, who broke up his marriage.)
“Mr. President, many years ago, you lost your daughter in a terrible car accident,” Peggy continued. “I know you still carry that pain with you every day because I’ve watched your face when you talk about her. Please don’t throw your granddaughter away.”
My sister and I often disagree about politics, but this is not a political issue for us. It is human. Joe Biden’s mantra has always been that “the most important thing is your family.” It is the heart of his political story. Empathy, born of family tragedies, was his stock in trade. Critically scarring Navy’s life, just as it begins, undercuts that. As Times White House correspondent Katie Rogers wrote in an angry front-page op-ed last weekend about Hunter’s unwanted child, Biden is so sensitive “that only the president’s most senior advisers talk to him about his son.” Rogers said that “in strategy meetings in recent years, aides have been told that the Bidens have six, not seven, grandchildren.” Jill Biden dedicated her 2020 children’s book to the six grandchildren.
What the Navy story reveals is how dated and inauthentic the 80-year-old president’s view of family is.
For once you could get away with using terms like “out of wedlock” and pretend that children born out of wedlock didn’t exist or were somehow ashamed. But now we are much more accepting of non-traditional families. We live in an Ancestry.com world where people are searching for their birth parents and trying to find relatives they didn’t know they had.
I have sympathy for Hunter going into a “dark, dismal hole,” as he called it. I have sympathy for a father who faces a son who was out of control and who may still be fragile. With Hunter, his father can seem paralyzed about the right thing to do.
But the president can’t defend Hunter on all his other rants and draw the line at accepting one little girl. You can’t punish her for something she had no choice about. The Bidens should embrace the life Hunter brought into the world, even if he didn’t consider her mother “the dating type.”
The president’s cold shoulder — and heart — runs counter to every message he’s sent for decades, and it’s out of sync with the America he wants to continue to lead.