Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee and a political veteran who knows firsthand what it is like to compete against President Trump, threw her support behind Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Tuesday, the latest party leader to make the case for returning the White House to Democratic hands in November.
“I’ve been not only a colleague of Joe Biden’s, I’ve been a friend, and I can tell you that I wish he were president right now but I can’t wait until he is — if all of us do our part to support the kind of person that we want back in the White House,” Mrs. Clinton said on Tuesday afternoon during a virtual town hall-style event with Mr. Biden about the impact of the coronavirus on women.
Accepting her support, Mr. Biden said: “I really appreciate your friendship. What a, just a wonderful personal endorsement.”
The Biden campaign had advertised that the event would feature a “special guest,” and on her Twitter account Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton all but confirmed the endorsement as she disclosed that she would be appearing with Mr. Biden.
As the woman who got closest to the White House, Mrs. Clinton remains a singular figure in Democratic presidential politics, and a complicated one. Both beloved and blamed for her narrow loss to Mr. Trump in 2016, she retains a loyal and powerful constituency of supporters, many of whom have argued that Russian interference cost her the election.
Her re-emergence in presidential politics also serves as an implicit reminder to the Democratic left about the dangers of a divided party. While a wide array of factors contributed to Mrs. Clinton’s loss, one element was the refusal of some on the left to coalesce behind her candidacy against Mr. Trump.
For progressives now skeptical about Mr. Biden, Mrs. Clinton’s endorsement, among other things, is an invitation to reflect upon whether they want to risk four more years of the Trump presidency because they are uncomfortable with the former vice president. Mr. Biden has argued since last year that he is best positioned to defeat Mr. Trump — but that he would need a united party to do it. No one knows better than Mrs. Clinton that there is no room for error or a lack of unity among Democrats in a closely fought general election.
Mrs. Clinton’s relationship with Mr. Biden hasn’t always been easy: The two developed a respectful relationship over their decades in Washington, though one marked by slights and awkward rivalries. Mr. Biden was resentful of the attention Mrs. Clinton received when they ran against each other in the 2008 primary race, but he was the one eventually chosen as former President Barack Obama’s running mate.
They became more friendly through weekly meetings while they both served in the Obama administration. But tensions deepened after Mr. Biden considered running against Mrs. Clinton for the 2016 nomination. After her loss, he was fairly open with his critique that she had failed to talk to middle-class voters. For her part, Mrs. Clinton seriously weighed whether to run against Mr. Biden last year.
Now they will be partners again, this time on the campaign trail, as Mr. Biden tries to do what Mrs. Clinton could not. Given her three debates against Mr. Trump in 2016, and her daily strategy and fortifications dealing with his punches and counterpunches in the heat of a campaign, her counsel to Mr. Biden has the value of firsthand experience.
Her endorsement follows similar ones from Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Mr. Obama, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Vice President Al Gore and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington. The fast and carefully orchestrated rollout of endorsements for Mr. Biden is a sign of the value that his campaign is putting on Democratic unity against Mr. Trump.
Mrs. Clinton’s support is not, perhaps, as strategically important as that of Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren, who had been 2020 candidates and whose supporters — progressive and, especially in Mr. Sanders’s case, largely young — Mr. Biden is trying to win over. Some progressive Democrats are skeptical about Mr. Biden, and the Sanders and Warren endorsements were major overtures to those voters.
As Democrats have searched for a way forward in the Trump era, some have become more open with their criticism of Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton. The party’s left wing has repudiated some of Mr. Clinton’s main achievements, including the 1994 crime bill and the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which allowed the rise of big banks, and is eager to distance itself from the scandals that defined Mr. Clinton’s second term. Some have said they’ve regretted how the party treated Monica S. Lewinsky and the controversy that followed.