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On Inauguration Day, Revisiting Joe Biden's Very Personal Connection To Idaho

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As Joe Biden becomes the 46th President of the United States, it's important to remember that near the beginning of his political career, it was Idaho's U.S. Senator Frank Church that took the then-youngest senator to be elected to the Senate under his wing.

And when Biden lost his wife and daughter in a horrible accident, again, it was Church who encouraged him to move forward with a career in public service.

Former Idaho Congressman Larry LaRocco, who was a staffer to Church in the 1970s, visits with local Morning Edition host George Prentice on Inauguration Day to recall those critical moments and how they helped forge the leader that Biden would become.

“They wrapped their arms around him physically and emotionally and with love. And [Sen. Church] actually gave some staff over to the young senator to help get his operation up and running.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. January 20th, 2021: here we are, and in just a couple of hours, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. And you'll hear that live right here, later this morning. Larry LaRocco is here: former U.S. Congressman for Idaho and a co-sponsor of a big Boise fundraiser for then-candidate Joe Biden. He was with the campaign early on. His Biden connection is worth visiting on this Inauguration Day. Larry LaRocco, good morning to you.

LARRY LAROCCO: Good morning, George. Thanks for having me on your program on this special day.

PRENTICE: Your connection goes back to when Joe Biden was the youngest person ever to be elected to the U.S. Senate. And correct me if I'm wrong, you were working for Idaho's own Senator, Frank Church.

LAROCCO: I worked for Senator Church in the 70s. And I was well aware that Senator Church and his wife, Bethine were very instrumental in reaching out to young Joe Biden after his tragedy, and encouraged him to stay in the Senate and stay with it. And they wrapped their arms around him physically and emotionally and with love. And [Sen. Church] actually gave some staff over to the young senator to help get his operation up and running.

PRENTICE: My goodness. What do you recall of those years?

LAROCCO: Well, those years were just amazing from the standpoint that Senator Church was a leader on foreign affairs and the Foreign Relations Committee. And when Biden first went into the Senate, he was on the Foreign Relations Committee. Church had a common fact with Biden because up until the time that Biden was elected, Church was the youngest citizen elected to the United States Senate. So, he certainly knew what it was like to start as a young man. But, of course, that tragedy that we just discussed hit him. And… just thinking back on that time… what guts it took to just recover and then then take on the job as a senator. But the leadership in the Senate, including Frank Church, were very helpful to Biden at that time and told him that he had a career ahead of them. He was duly-elected and he should serve out his term. And here we are.

PRENTICE: It's important to remember that a year ago at this time, the wheels were a bit wobbly on Joe Biden's bandwagon. So, where were you a year ago?

LAROCCO: A year ago? Almost to the day, George, I was in Ames, Iowa, spending a week going door-to-door in the snow for Joe Biden. I was a Biden volunteer. I just flew there on my own, got a hotel and checked in with the headquarters in Ames and got my sheets and went out knocking door-to-door. I was precinct captain in Prairie City, Iowa, population 1,700. And believe me, I did feel the wheels were coming off, because we came in a distant fourth or fifth that night. It didn't look good, it didn't feel good at the time. And I was terribly committed to him. And actually, as you mentioned, I was a co-sponsor of a fundraiser for him in the August before that, here in Boise.

PRENTICE: Well, let's fast-forward to Election Night. What would you say to the majority of voters in Idaho who chose not to vote for Joe Biden? What is your message to them on this Inauguration Day?

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Larry LaRocco served in the U.S. House of Representatives 1991-1995

LAROCCO: I'd say what we're looking forward to, after today, is an administration based on truth and science. And we're going to see a man who is President, who is committed to healing America. He knows there are divisions in America. Nothing has made those divisions more clear than the coronavirus because it shows the most exposed elements of our society and our country. We're going to see him on a dual track here. One is to restore truth and integrity to the office of Presidency, and the other is to defeat coronavirus and get this economy back on track. I think in the 100 days we're going to see some things that are going to please Idahoans. I think we're going to see agricultural policies that are going to open up free markets, not have protectionist policies that turn our farmers into welfare recipients and getting subsidized. And I think we're going to see a Justice Department that is going to be focused on serving all Americans and not just be the legal firm of the presidency. For the young people that are listening, I think they'll be pleased… everybody should be pleased, actually, with his policies on climate change. And then as we restore our reputation around the world, he knows the leaders around the world. I think they've been waiting for him to take the reins and I think we'll be able to restore our reputation and move forward as a power based on our economic policy, and our traditions, our approach to democracy and morality and government and human rights,

PRENTICE: Well, so much of today will be process and very formal. But I also have to imagine for you, it will also be a bit emotional this Inauguration Day.

LAROCCO: It's been a bit of a roller coaster over the last four years, the attacks on democracy and the press, the judiciary, the use of emotion and fear and sort of the “big lie,” if you will. So, it's emotional because I think we dodged a bullet. But for Joe Biden taking over the reins, it brings a big smile on my face as well, because I am very optimistic about where we're going as a country. I think that better times are ahead for America. We have a strong economy, and we have the institutions intact. But we just must remember how fragile democracy is. And it's not really based on a lot of laws. It's based on traditions and norms and safeguards and so forth, that we have built in. We must be mindful of them as a country and in our individual communities.

PRENTICE: He is Larry LaRocco. Larry, happy Inauguration Day to you. And thank you  very much.

LAROCCO: Thank you, George. It's a great day and I think there are good times ahead for Idaho and our country. Thank you.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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