Vice President Joe Biden gave an emotional interview on Stephen Colbert’s Late Show Thursday night in which the two men talked about Catholicism, death, grief, and how to know if you’re ready to run for president. Colbert asked about Biden’s son, Beau, who died in May of brain cancer, and Biden opened up about his grief and the role of religion in his life, and the difficulty of deciding whether to run for the Oval Office in 2016, which Beau, in the last days of his life, had urged his father to do.
An earlier family tragedy played a formative role in Joe Biden’s political career before he was sworn into office in the U.S. Senate. He’d won his seat in the 1972 election and was set to join the body the following January when his wife and children, out for Christmas shopping, were struck by a tractor-trailer in their car. Biden’s first wife and his daughter did not survive and his two sons, Hunter and Beau, faced long, painful rehabilitation.
During Beau’s recovery from the accident and indeed, throughout his life, Biden said, “I never one single time, my word as a Biden, heard my child complain.” When Colbert, who lost his father and two of his brothers in a plane crash when he was 10 years old, said that he partially “raised his mother” during her time of grief, Biden said that “my sons honest to God did” raise him in the aftermath of losing his wife and daughter.
The conversation was touching, not least because of the two men’s obvious connection over their shared faith and their understanding of each other’s grief. Biden chose not to make news by announcing a decision about his presidential run, instead admitting he wasn’t sure if he was in the right place for a national campaign. Colbert seemed determined to nudge the vice president toward jumping into the primary, telling him near the end of the interview that “your experience and your example of suffering and service is something that would be sorely missed in the race.”
Biden had a different idea, encouraging Colbert to run so Biden could jump on board as his VP candidate.