SALT LAKE CITY — The late Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett and Democratic President-elect Joe Biden often exchanged religious books about their respective faiths when they served in the U.S. Senate together.
Jim Bennett recalls catching his father, a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reading books about Catholic history and theology.
“I would ask him that’s an odd book for you to be reading and he’d say, ‘Oh, Joe Biden gave it to me and I gave him this other book,’” he said. “I always felt like it was a long-running and ultimately unsuccessful attempt for each man to convert the other. But they had great respect for each other.”
When Biden takes office in January, he will become only the second Catholic president in U.S. history, following John F. Kennedy. Biden is the projected winner of the Nov. 3 election, but President Donald Trump is contesting the results in several battleground states.
Bennett and Biden talked religion more than they would talk politics, the younger Bennett said.
One of the books Bob Bennett shared with Biden was one he wrote himself titled, “Leap of Faith: Confronting the Origins of the Book of Mormon.”
The younger Bennett doesn’t think his father gave Biden a copy of the Book of Mormon, though he recalls former Senate President Harry Reid, also a Latter-day Saint, passing out copies of the book at a Senate prayer breakfast.
“Joe Biden called Dad ‘Bishop.’ That was his nickname. He thought it was pretty fun to be in the Senate with a bishop even though a Latter-day Saint bishop is very different than a Catholic bishop,” Bennett said.
The elder Bennett served as a lay bishop in a Latter-day Saint congregation before being elected to the Senate in 1992.
Biden topped Bennett’s list of Democratic friends in the Senate early in his first term and remained a confidant of his after he became vice president. Bennett, a moderate Republican, and Biden continued to talk after Utah GOP delegates ousted him in 2010 in favor of tea party candidate Mike Lee, who is now in his second term in the Senate.
President Barack Obama was the first person to call Bennett after that convention loss, the younger Bennett said. Obama and Biden talked about bringing him into the administration but couldn’t figure out a way to make it work.
“Dad was still very much a loyal Republican,” the younger Bennett said.
Whatever political differences the two men had, they had a respect for each other that extends to their families, he said.
“It was a personal relationship more than it was a political relationship,” the younger Bennett said.
When Bennett died in 2016, Biden chose not to attend the funeral in Washington, D.C., to avoid the Secret Service having to screen those attending, the younger Bennett said. But he called the senator’s wife, Joyce, and they talked for 45 minutes.
The younger Bennett recalled a story about an archbishop in Washington, D.C., wanting to excommunicate every pro-choice Catholic politician starting with Biden. Asked why Biden first, the archbishop replied that he’s the only one who would care.
“Joe Biden is very much a believing Catholic. My father had respect for his personal faith, and you see that in the way Joe Biden conducts himself,” he said. “This is not a pretense of Joe Biden. He is a man of deep and profound faith.”
Bennett said he is certain his father would have voted for Biden in the presidential election. Although the senator repudiated Trump in the last few months of his life, the younger Bennett said it would not have been a protest against the president but an affirmative vote for Biden.