Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden travelled to Plains, Georgia on Thursday, hours after the president’s first address to a joint session of Congress to debut his expansive domestic agenda, to meet with his longtime ally Jimmy Carter.
Their meeting marked the first time the president has met with the nation’s 39th president and former First Lady Rosalyn Carter in person since the start of Mr Biden’s presidency.
The Carters did not attend the inauguration ceremony on 20 January because of the coronavirus pandemic, the first time he missed the ceremony since his own in 1977, and after a series of health issues that have limited his mobility.
The visit also follows the recent death of Mr Carter’s vice president Walter Mondale, who died on 19 April in Minneapolis.
Their 45-minute visit marked a a full-circle event – the nation’s longest-living president, at 96 years old, meeting with his long-time colleague and now the country’s oldest sitting president, at 78 years old.
They did not appear together outside the Carters’ home, but the Bidens were photographed with Rosalynn Carter, who was supported by a walker as she escorted them to the front door of their home and said goodbye.
A crowd of people welcomed the presidential motorcade to downtown Plains, where a banner read “Plains, Georgia – Home of Jimmy Carter our 39th President”, according to White House pool reporters.
The White House said the couples have a “longstanding friendship” and would “stop by and say hello” during their Georgia trip.
On his 100th day in office, the president – after appealing to the nation and members of Congress in his hourlong address on Wednesday – will rally in Duluth to pitch Americans directly on his sweeping economic agenda, including trillions of dollars in spending to expand and support federal safety nets, education, childcare and infrastructure.
“For decades, he has been my loyal and dedicated friend,” Mr Carter said in a filmed statement during the 2020 Democratic National Convention securing Mr Biden’s nomination. “He understands that honesty and dignity are essential traits that determine not only our vision but our actions. More than ever, that’s what we need.”
In 1976, then-US Senator Biden was the first senator to endorse Mr Carter in his presidential campaign.
The president recently participated in a tribute to the Carters as part of the premiere of the documentary Carterland, which will debut at the Atlanta Film Festival.
“President Carter, you’ve shown us what we can be as individuals, as a nation: courageous, compassionate and humble,” he said in remarks. “And Mrs Carter, Rosalynn, as first lady and ever since, you’ve done much to advance and address so many of society’s greatest needs.”
Mr Carter also joined a public service campaign in March urging Americans to get one of three available Covid-19 vaccines, joining all remaining living former presidents Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama – excluding Donald Trump.
His Carter Center organisation, which has advanced democratic efforts and observed elections abroad, also took the rare step of launching its first-ever US elections campaign in 2020, citing an “erosion” of democracy in the country.
Their visit marks at least the fourth time Mr Biden has met or spoken with a former president or vice president since taking office, resuming an informal tradition – largely abandoned under Trump, who regularly trashed his predecessors – of presidents maintaining some kind of relationship with the small fraternity of living presidents.
That may include discussions or conversations, comparing notes, or seeking advice or understanding among a small group of living men who held the office – with the exception of Mr Trump. Mr Biden has not spoken to him since their last televised debate in October. The former president has spent the following months falsely insisting that the election was stolen from him.
Mr Biden is reportedly in frequent conversion with Barack Obama, and he had a brief conversation with George W Bush before his announcement that he would fully withdraw American troops from Afghanistan.