Jill Biden Pays Tribute to Barbara Bush as She Talks About Challenges of Being First Lady

First lady Jill Biden spoke Wednesday about the unexpected difficulties she has faced in her role as first lady, including the immense scrutiny she has dealt with since her husband, President Joe Biden, took office, the Associated Press reported.

While she had visited the White House before as the vice president's wife when Barack Obama was in office, she said, "there's nothing that can prepare you to be first lady."

During an event for the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy at the Kennedy Center, Biden also paid tribute to the late Barbara Bush, who was first lady from 1989 to 1993 when George H.W. Bush was commander-in-chief. Barbara Bush died in April of 2018, while her husband died less than eight months later in November.

Jill Biden spoke of the Barbara Bush's ability to gracefully wade through controversy. She said she has learned a similar lesson: "There are times when the role of first lady pushes you to show up, even when it's uncomfortable."

Like Biden, Bush had also been a vice president's wife before being first lady.

"We aren't elected, we have to define this role for ourselves. And we are thrust into a national spotlight in a way that I know none of us could have anticipated," Biden said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Jill Biden
First lady Jill Biden spoke Wednesday about the unexpected difficulties she has faced in her role as first lady. Above, Biden speaks at the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy's National Summit on Adult Literacy at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., on October 20, 2021. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Biden recounted how she has now visited 32 states as part of the administration's vaccination campaign, her focus on child poverty and education, and "to listen to people who have often been ignored."

When asked why she visits Republican-leaning states such as Mississippi, Alabama and Alaska, where she knows she will be encounter opposition, she said: "I am their first lady, too."

"There have been times when I'm met with anger or hurt. But I've also found that the common values that unite us are deeper than our divisions," Biden said. "I've seen how a kind word or gesture can relax someone's shoulders just a bit—can open their heart to what you have to say, even if we'll never agree."

Biden has been one of the administration's most prominent and prolific surrogates, frequently traveling outside of Washington on her own, and occasionally with President Joe Biden, to encourage Americans to get vaccinated. A teacher, she often visits schools to push the administration's proposed investments in education.

The role of surrogate is not a new one for Biden. She advocated for military families during her husband's time as vice president and she was a campaign fixture during Joe Biden's 2020 race.

Biden recounted a moment that scrutiny hit home, when she went to a bakery to buy Valentine's Day cupcakes and, to her surprise, her decision to wear her hair in a scrunchie made national news.

"As first lady, everything you do or say carries more weight. And while that can be intimidating at times, it's also what makes the role so special," she said.

Biden also spoke about her surprise and awe at ending up in such a position of power after growing up "spending my summers watching Phillies baseball games and waitressing at the Jersey Shore to make money for college."

"I could never have imagined where my life would take me. That one day I would eat dinner on the China that Bess Truman picked out so many years ago," she said, or "wake up, just surrounded by priceless pieces of history."