The White House is known to everyone, but the vice president’s residence far less so. It was a real thrill to go there with my family last Friday as guest of Vice President Joe Biden for a Christmas party.
We had been at the White House the previous evening for a wonderful press party thrown by the Obamas, and had the opportunity to meet them in a receiving line. As a Christmas location, the beautifully decorated White House is impossible to match.
That is … unless you are going to the vice president’s digs the following night. The residence is nestled amid the compound at the U.S. Naval Observatory site in North West Washington where scientists study data from space.
When night stirs on the seas the observatory comes alive and the telescopes come out.
|The Vice President's residence glows with Christmas warmth.|
The house itself was originally intended for the superintendent of the observatory, but it was so lovely that in 1923, the chief of naval operations kicked out the superintendent so he could move in himself.
Historically, vice presidents and their families lived in their own homes, but the cost of securing these private residences grew substantially over the years. Finally, in 1974, Congress agreed to refurbish the house at the Naval Observatory as an official home for the vice president.
I’m glad they did.
It is a beautiful Victorian residence that mixes warmth, charm and history in equal measure. It is far smaller than the White House but exudes a lived-in feel that contrasts with the often museum-like feel of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
|A portrait of John F. Kennedy hangs over the fireplace.|
In that respect it is a perfect home for Biden and his wife Jill. He has that lived in feel himself and suffered many slings and arrows in his long political life, none more so than when his first wife and infant daughter were killed in a dreadful car crash.
That would have finished lesser men but not Joe Biden.
That he recovered, served decades in the Senate and is now vice president of the United States with a shot at the big job in 2016 says volumes about the man.
He’s 71, looks 60 and acts like a man who can’t believe that a kid from Scranton, Pennsylvania has made it so far in the world.
There is a genuine modesty and interest in others about Biden that is usually knocked out of politicians at his level.
|The Biden family's Christmas tree.|
On several occasions during the evening he grabbed cell phones and called relatives of attendees, in the process giving people like my wife’s aunt, Nora Murphy, who is 87 and from Co. Kerry, one of the most pleasant shocks of her life when he called to say hello.
Biden has been exceedingly loyal to Obama, even when it was reported that replacing him with Hillary Clinton on the 2016 ticket had been discussed.