August 13, 2020
When former Vice President Joe Biden began thinking about potential running mates this spring, one of the first people to come to mind, insiders told The Hill this week, was Senator Kamala Harris (D-California).
Harris, a first-generation American who is the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica—and who previously had served as the district attorney for the City and County of San Francisco, as well as the very first female, Black attorney general of her home state—was both an historical and logical choice for VP.
According to The Hill, “She was a friend to [Biden’s] late son Beau Biden, a former top prosecutor for the state of California and the kind of fighter needed in a campaign against President [Donald] Trump. On top of all that, she already had been through the slugfest of a presidential primary campaign, which included several direct confrontations with Biden, himself.”
And she is the second Black woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate, where she currently is serving her first term.
Over the weekend, upon making his final decision, Biden finished where he began.
“She was always in the narrative from the beginning,” one source who is close to Biden told The Hill. “And even after that, it was always Kamala and this person and Kamala and that person. She was never ever out of the picture. She was always in the mix.”
Another confidant characterized Biden’s final decision as “classic Joe.”
“He did what he always does,” the source said. “Whenever there’s a discussion about policy or the issues of the day, he would come in with what he thought; but he will and does entertain everyone’s opinions.”
“At certain points, it seems like he may change his mind, but typically he ends up where he starts,” the confidant added.
After pledging to pick a woman as his running mate, Biden brought in various Democrats, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Senator Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, former national security adviser Susan Rice, and Representatives Karen Bass (California) and Val Demings (Florida).
“I think he wanted to consider every qualified woman out there,” the confidant said. “Whitmer definitely was having a moment with COVID, Keisha Lance Bottoms also caught his attention, Val Demings also looked good for a while there; he liked Elizabeth Warren’s ideas. He basically wanted to try all of that on for size and see how it added up.”
“But I think he felt like [Harris] was not only the best person for the campaign, but the best partner to govern the country,” the confidant added.
Biden talked at length about nominating someone he is close with—a partner that he said would be “simpatico” with him personally and professionally. He also wanted assurance that Harris, who had been adversarial during the debates, would “have his back”—both during the campaign and, if they won, in the White House.
But in the end, it was the emotional tug of his son Beau Biden that may have tipped the scales, The Hill contends. Beau died of brain cancer in 2015 at the age of 46. Biden was devastated by his son’s death and declined to run for president in 2016 as he mourned.
Now, as the presumptive Democratic nominee, Biden cast his selection of Harris in part as a tribute to his late son, remembering how Beau introduced him to her. At the time, Harris was attorney general of California and Beau was attorney general of Delaware.
“[Beau] had enormous respect for her and her work,” Biden said. “I thought a lot about that as I made this decision. There is no one’s opinion I valued more than Beau’s and I’m proud to have Kamala standing with me on this campaign.”
There were, of course, political considerations for Biden as well.
Democrats say it was imperative he choose a woman of color following the May 25 police killing of George Floyd that provoked a national conversation about race.
During the selection process, a group of influential Black women pressed Biden to choose a Black running mate. A source close to the campaign said Biden’s conversations with renowned Democratic advisers Minyon Moore, Donna Brazile, Leah Daughtry and Karen Finney “stuck with the VP” during an important moment in the country’s history.
A white vice presidential pick, many Democrats said, would have risked low turnout among Black voters on Election Day, one of the reasons why Hillary Clinton lost in 2016.
“Had he not picked a person of color, it would have been a slap in the face to the entire community on top of just being a terrible political move,” one Democrat who has raised money for Biden advised The Hill.
Still, those who know Harris well say the senator grew increasingly nervous about her standing in the final weeks of the process, particularly as Bass started to make headlines for receiving key endorsements.
“I think in some respects, she thought, ‘I’m a national figure. I’ve run a national campaign, I’ve been vetted.’ And here she is, a senator from California in a race against a congresswoman from California,” said one Harris ally.
Throughout the process, Harris was also seen as the “safe” pick among those on Biden’s shortlist.
“Internal polling showed she was risk-averse,” said one Biden ally. “She was the least polarizing choice. Of course she has baggage, but who doesn’t?”
Indeed, while Harris has some clear drawbacks—she said she believed women who accused Biden of unwanted touching, has been criticized on the left for prosecuting racial minorities for low-level drug offenses; and embraced single-payer healthcare during the primaries — Biden insiders view those as manageable.
And Biden World seems content with Harris.
“He’s running a campaign of low risk, and she was the best choice,” said one Biden ally. “And the fact of the matter is, she’s the best complement to him of all the contenders. So that’s how she won the race.”
Research contact: @thehill