The first time Representative Karen Bass heard Joe Biden talk about the car crash that killed his wife and infant daughter, she dropped into her chair, overwhelmed.

It was 2008, and Bass was watching the Democratic National Convention video introducing Biden as the party’s vice-presidential nominee. Less than two years earlier, Bass’s daughter and son-in-law had died in a car crash on the 405. Bass, then in her 50s, had thrown herself into her job as the speaker of the California assembly and hoped to get past the pain. But there was Biden, 36 years after the tragedy that shattered his family, still talking about the magnitude of his loss. “I had this moment,” Bass told me, “where I had to come to grips with the fact that losing my daughter and son-in-law was always going to be a part of the narrative of who I am.”

Four years later, as Biden and Barack Obama were being reelected, Bass won a seat in the House, representing parts of Los Angeles. But she didn’t tell Biden what he’d meant to her until this March, when she introduced him at a Super Tuesday chicken-and-waffles event. “We both just shared that you learn how to get up in the morning,” she told me. “You learn how to live, but your life is fundamentally changed, dramatically changed.”