Aug 11, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Joe Biden picks Kamala Harris as running mate

Sen. Kamala Harris passionately speaks at a podium with the Joe Biden campaign sign at an event

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he has chosen Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate.

Why it matters: It's a historic pick. Harris is both the first Black woman and first Asian American woman to be named to a major-party U.S. presidential ticket, and potentially the first woman vice president if Biden defeats President Trump.

The big picture: Harris was probably the safest choice Biden could have made among his running mate finalists. She has a national profile and experience with elected office, was vetted and tested in the Democratic presidential primaries and can boost Biden's fundraising.

  • To get to the decision, Biden had to move past residual tensions and make peace with a fierce primary competitor.
  • The decision elevates Harris among the next generation of Democratic leaders and could give her a big advantage in 2024, if Biden were elected and decided not to run for a second term.

What he's saying: "I need someone working alongside me who is smart, tough, and ready to lead. Kamala is that person," Biden announced in a statement.

  • "I need someone who understands the pain that so many people in our nation are suffering. Whether they've lost their job, their business, a loved one to this virus. This president says he 'doesn't want to be distracted by it.' He doesn't understand that taking care of the people of this nation — all the people — isn't a distraction —it's the job. Kamala understands that."
  • "I need someone who understands that we are in a battle for the soul of this nation. And that if we’re going to get through these crises — we need to come together and unite for a better America. Kamala gets that."
  • "I first met Kamala through my son Beau. They were both Attorneys General at the same time. He had enormous respect for her and her work. 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."
  • "Her record of accomplishment — fighting tooth and nail for what’s right — is why I’m choosing her. There is no door Kamala won't knock on, no stone she’ll leave unturned, if it means making life better — for the people."

Harris tweeted after the news broke: "Joe Biden can unify the American people because he's spent his life fighting for us. And as president, he'll build an America that lives up to our ideals. I'm honored to join him as our party's nominee for Vice President, and do what it takes to make him our Commander-in-Chief."

What's next: Biden's campaign said he and Harris will deliver remarks in Wilmington, Delaware, on Wednesday on "working together to restore the soul of the nation and fight for working families to move the country forward."

Between the lines: The pick gives Biden a running mate with strong prosecutorial skills, as Harris has proven at Senate hearings and during her strongest debate moments. That could help them make the case against Trump in the fall.

  • But some Democrats will be watching her political skills closely, after her presidential bid fizzled and a New York Times piece depicted a campaign full of bad decisions and backbiting.
  • She has also faced public and private questions from some Democrats about whether she'd be too focused on running for the presidency again, although other Democratic operatives have said the questions about her ambitions have been sexist and inappropriate.

The backstory: Harris, who at 55 is more than 20 years younger than Biden, was born to an Indian mother and Jamaican father who immigrated to California.

  • She attended Howard University — a historically Black college — and went on to become district attorney of San Francisco, attorney general of California and U.S. senator from California in 2017.
  • Harris solidified her national profile when she grilled Trump administration nominees and administrators, including Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 2018.
  • President Obama recognized her talent early on, in 2013 famously calling her "brilliant," "dedicated" and "tough."

She had been seen as a front-runner when she announced her presidential campaign in January 2019, but she was never able to capitalize on the early momentum — except for a brief spike in public attention after her confrontation with Biden over federally mandated school busing at a June debate.

As a presidential candidate, Harris campaigned on a $500-a-month tax credit that she called "the largest working and middle-class tax cut in a generation." She started out as a supporter of Medicare for All, but then switched to an alternative that would have preserved a role for private insurance.

  • In an October interview with "Axios on HBO," she explained her decision: "I heard from people, 'Kamala, don't take away my choice if I want a private plan. Please don't take away my choice.' And I said, you know what? That is fair."
  • "I said to my team, I know we're going to take a political hit for it. ... I knew I'd be called a flip flopper for that."
  • She also said in that interview that "of course" it's different to run for president as a Black woman because in Americans' experience there is "not a reference point for who can do what, there is a lack of ability or a difficulty in imagining that someone who we have never seen can do a job that has been done, you know, forty-five times by someone who is not that person."

Harris has also faced some criticisms based on cases she argued and policies she enacted as California's attorney general:

  • She defended the death penalty as attorney general, despite being personally against it.
  • She didn't take a position on Proposition 47, approved by voters, that reduced some felonies to misdemeanors.
  • She opposed a bill that would have required her office to investigate police shootings.

Reality check: It will be Biden who sets the policies if he wins — but Harris' record will be relevant if she's elected vice president, especially if she takes ownership of specific issues and projects as Biden did when he was Barack Obama's vice president.

  • It will be also be relevant to her own political future.

What to watch: Harris' speech accepting the nomination at the Democratic convention will be her chance to introduce herself to an audience of general election voters — and to show how well she and Biden will be able to work as a team.

Go deeper: Kamala Harris on the issues

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