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  • Writer's pictureShahara Jaghoo

Kamala Harris Is Biden’s Choice for Vice President

ByAlexander Burns and Katie Glueck

Joseph R. Biden Jr. selected Senator Kamala Harris of California as his vice-presidential running mate on Tuesday, embracing a former rival who sharply criticized him in the Democratic primaries but emerged after ending her campaign as a vocal supporter of Mr. Biden’s and a prominent advocate of racial-justice legislation after the killing of George Floyd in late May.

Ms. Harris, 55, is the first Black woman and the first person of Indian descent to be nominated for national office by a major party, and only the fourth woman in U.S. history to be chosen for a presidential ticket. She brings to the race a far more vigorous campaign style than Mr. Biden’s, including a gift for capturing moments of raw political electricity on the debate stage and elsewhere, and a personal identity and family story that many find inspiring.

Mr. Biden announced the selection over text message and in a follow-up email to supporters: “Joe Biden here. Big news: I’ve chosen Kamala Harris as my running mate. Together, with you, we’re going to beat Trump.” The two are expected to appear together in Wilmington, Del., on Wednesday.

After her own presidential bid disintegrated last year, many Democrats regarded Ms. Harris as all but certain to try for another run for the White House in the future. By choosing her as his political partner, Mr. Biden, if he wins, may well be anointing her as the de facto leader of the party in four or eight years.

A pragmatic moderate who spent most of her career as a prosecutor, Ms. Harris was seen throughout the vice-presidential search as among the safest choices available to Mr. Biden. She has been a reliable ally of the Democratic establishment, with flexible policy priorities that largely mirror Mr. Biden’s, and her supporters argued that she could reinforce Mr. Biden’s appeal to Black voters and women without stirring particularly vehement opposition on the right or left.

While she endorsed a number of left-wing policy proposals during her presidential bid, Ms. Harris also showed a distinctly Biden-like impatience with what she characterized as the grand but impractical governing designs of some in her party. “Policy has to be relevant,” Ms. Harris said last summer in an interview with The New York Times. “That’s my guiding principle: Is it relevant? Not, ‘Is it a beautiful sonnet?’” In a Twitter post on Tuesday, Ms. Harris said she was honored to join Mr. Biden on the ticket. “Joe Biden can unify the American people because he’s spent his life fighting for us,’’ she wrote.

A barrier-breaking prosecutor with a love for grilling — “I will repeat —” and music. “One nation under a groove.” She ran for president — “I am running for president of the United States.” — going head to head with Biden over school busing. “You know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools. And she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.” But she later endorsed him. Now, California Senator Kamala Harris is Joe Biden’s pick for vice president. “As I said, Joe, when you called me, I am incredibly honored by this responsibility. And I’m ready to get to work. I am ready to get to work.” So, who is she? Harris has a history of being the first. “You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you’re not the last.” She was the the first black person and first woman to become district attorney of San Francisco and later attorney general of California. “I decided to become a prosecutor because I believed that there were vulnerable and voiceless people who deserved to have a voice in that system.” And in 2016, she was elected the first Black senator from California. Now, she is the first Black woman and first person of Indian descent to be nominated for national office by a major party.

So what is she known for in Washington? “So my question to you —” Harris serves on four Senate committees and is perhaps best known for her tough questions. “It makes me nervous —” “Is that a ‘no’?” “Is that a ‘yes’?” “Can I get to respond please, ma’am?” “No, sir. No, no.” And some of her policy priorities? Criminal justice reform and racial justice legislation. “Racial justice is on the ballot in 2020.” After the killing of George Floyd in police custody, Harris returned to the Senate with new purpose. “Black Americans want to stop being killed.” She found clarity here that she was missing as a presidential candidate. “We should have things like a national standard for excessive use of force.” But she’s faced criticism from progressive activists over her record as a prosecutor, including her push for higher cash bails for certain crimes and for refusing to support independent investigations for police shootings as recently as 2014.

So what’s her dynamic with President Trump? She’s called Trump’s border wall — “His vanity project.” — and him — “That guy in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ you know, when you pull back the curtain, it’s a really small dude.” Most recently, Harris criticized Trump for ordering an aggressive military response to peaceful protesters in Washington for a photo op. “Turning the U.S. military on its own people. This is not the America that people fought for.” Trump tweeted an attack ad on

Harris shortly after the V.P. pick was announced, calling her a “phony” and accusing her of rushing to the radical left during her presidential run. “Slow Joe and Phony Kamala.” Harris ran an unsteady presidential campaign that ended before the first primaries. “We are all in this together.” But she is among the best-known Black women in American politics — “This is our house.” — and may appeal to both moderates and liberals. Her proponents hope her experience in law enforcement will help her face the unique challenges of the moment — “I voted.” — but her previous public feud with Biden could cast a shadow on their united front.

For all the complexity of Mr. Biden’s vice-presidential search, there is a certain foreordained quality to Ms. Harris’s nomination. She has been regarded as a rising figure in Democratic politics since around the turn of the century, and as a confident representative of the country’s multiracial future.

Throughout her rise, Ms. Harris has excited Democrats with a personal story that set her apart even in the diverse political melting pot that is California: She is the daughter of two immigrant academics, an Indian-American mother and a father from Jamaica. Ms. Harris was raised in Oakland and Berkeley, Calif., attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., and pursued a career in criminal justice before becoming only the second Black woman ever elected to the Senate.

Still, Ms. Harris was far from a shoo-in for the role of Mr. Biden’s running mate, and some of Mr. Biden’s advisers harbored persistent reservations about her because of her unsteady performance as a presidential candidate and the finely staged ambush she mounted against Mr. Biden in the first debate of the primary season.

In an attack that left Mr. Biden reeling, Ms. Harris outlined his history of working with right-wing Southerners in the 1970s to oppose busing as a means of integrating public schools. At the same time, Ms. Harris said, there was a little girl in California who was part of an early integrated class in her own school. “That little girl was me,” she said.

Mr. Biden offered only a sputtering response and, for a few weeks, his polling numbers dived. His political advisers were incensed at what they viewed as a cynical ploy, especially as she later struggled to articulate her own position on mandated busing; Jill Biden called Ms. Harris’s attack on her husband a “punch to the gut.”

Mr. Biden also stumbled into an embarrassing moment with Ms. Harris at a later debate, claiming at one point that he had the support of the only Black woman ever elected to the Senate — Carol Moseley Braun — and prompting an exasperated response from Ms. Harris. “I’m right here!” she responded.

In the end, however, Mr. Biden may have come to see the panache Ms. Harris displayed in that first debate as more of a potential asset to his ticket than as a source of lingering grievance. Indeed, even in the bleaker periods of her presidential candidacy last year, Ms. Harris maintained an ability to excite Democratic voters with the imagined prospect of a debate-stage clash between her and President Trump and her spirited interrogations of Trump appointees as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Minutes after the announcement, the Biden campaign released what they called a fact sheet noting that Ms. Harris served as attorney general of California when Mr. Biden’s son Beau was attorney general of Delaware. Beau Biden died in 2015.

“The two grew close while fighting to take on the banking industry,” the bullet points said. “Through her friendship with Beau, she got to know Joe Biden. From hearing about Kamala from Beau, to seeing her fight for others directly, Joe has long been impressed by how tough Kamala is.”

Republicans have long signaled that they intended to portray Mr. Biden’s eventual running mate as a radical, a label they have struggled to attach to the center-left Mr. Biden. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump indicated that he was prepared to follow through on that approach, lacing into Ms. Harris over issues ranging from health care (“she’s in favor of socialized medicine’’) to taxes (“she’s very big into raising taxes”) to the environment, and seeking to cast her as an ultra-liberal.

“She was my No. 1 pick,” Mr. Trump claimed, suggesting that he had hoped to run against a ticket that included Ms. Harris. “She was my No. 1 draft pick. We’ll see how she works out.” Mispronouncing Ms. Harris’s first name, Mr. Trump also described Ms. Harris as “nasty” for her opposition to the nomination of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, using the kind of harshly derogatory language that he has routinely applied to women.

After leaving the presidential race in December, Ms. Harris turned her attention back to the Senate and found new purpose amid a wave of nationwide protests this spring against racism and police brutality. She marched beside protesters and forcefully championed proposals to overhaul policing and make lynching a federal crime, often speaking with a kind of clarity that had eluded her in the presidential primaries on economic issues like health care and taxation.

Ms. Harris is likely, however, to face some skepticism from the left — and attacks from Mr. Trump — over her record as district attorney of San Francisco and attorney general of California. She has struggled in the past to defend her handling of some highly sensitive cases, including one involving a death-row inmate seeking to obtain DNA evidence for his case, as well as her decision to defend California’s death penalty in court despite her stated opposition to capital punishment.

In perhaps her worst moment of the 2020 primary race, Ms. Harris during a debate appeared entirely unable to rebut searing criticism from an obscure rival, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who demanded that Ms. Harris apologize for having prosecuted so many people for marijuana infractions.

But if Mr. Biden’s selection of Ms. Harris is met with a cold shoulder by some on the left, she is likely to be embraced by Mr. Biden’s most important electoral constituency within the Democratic Party: Black voters.

Indeed, his choice reflects an emphatic recognition of the diversity of the Democratic political coalition and the foundational role that Black women in particular play within the party. Without their overwhelming support, Mr. Biden would have been unlikely to secure the Democratic nomination in the first place. By nominating a Black woman for national office, Mr. Biden appears to be acknowledging the immensity of that political debt.

He considered at least five Black women for the job, including Susan Rice, who served as the national security adviser under President Barack Obama, and Representative Karen Bass of California, before ultimately settling on Ms. Harris.

Mr. Biden faced only limited pressure from voters and Black elected officials to select an African-American running mate, and polls found that even liberals and Black voters themselves mostly believed that race should not be a factor in his decision. But the political atmosphere that took hold after the killing of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis seemed to demand a running mate who could speak with great authority on matters of systemic racism, law enforcement and social inequity — and there is little doubt that Ms. Harris will be called upon to do just that.

It remains an open question how much Ms. Harris will help Mr. Biden and his party in terms of the electoral map: Last year, she never garnered strong support in the diverse states of South Carolina and Nevada, and opinion research conducted by Mr. Biden’s team in recent weeks suggested she was not especially compelling to Black voters. The immediate political impact of Ms. Harris’s selection could be relatively muted in a campaign shaped so heavily by forces of extraordinary scale, most of all a global pandemic that has disrupted millions of lives. Yet it has been clear for months that Mr. Biden’s vice-presidential decision would have unusually weighty implications for the Democratic Party, and for national politics in general.

If he wins in November, Mr. Biden would become the oldest president ever to hold the office, and few senior Democrats believe he is likely to seek a second term that would begin after his 82nd birthday. As a result, when Democrats formally approve Ms. Harris as Mr. Biden’s running mate this month, they may well be installing her as a powerful favorite to lead their party into the 2024 presidential race.

The field of women considered was certainly the most diverse array of vice-presidential candidates in history, beginning with a pool of more than a dozen contenders that included governors, senators, members of the House, a former United Nations ambassador, the mayor of Atlanta and a decorated combat veteran. By the end of June, a smaller cluster of candidates had emerged as strong contenders; among that group were Ms. Harris, Ms. Bass, Ms. Rice, Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Representative Val Demings of Florida and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico.

Yet more than in any other recent vice-presidential process, it was also plain enough from the start that this one would be decided by one person, and one person alone, with an unusually well-developed sense of the vice presidency and firm convictions about how to do the job right. Mr. Biden was insistent that his running mate would need to be “simpatico” with him on critical issues of the day, as well as on a broader vision for how to lead the nation — the same kind of trusting, candid relationship that he had with Mr. Obama.

“We disagreed on some tactical approaches,” Mr. Biden recalled at a fund-raiser in April. But, he went on, “It has to happen in private. You always have to have the president’s back.” Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting from Wilmington, Del.

This story originally appeared in The New York Times. Check it out here!

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