Aug 12, 2020 - Politics & Policy

How it happened: Inside Biden's vetting for VP

Biden and Harris
Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris debate in Detroit on July 31, 2019. Photo: Paul Sancya

Joe Biden's initial list of possible contenders was roughly 20 governors, senators, congresswomen, mayors and other Democratic stalwarts — young and old; Black, Hispanic, white, Asian; straight and gay, AP reports.

How it works: Harris was among the party's most popular figures, a deft debater and a fundraising juggernaut.

  • Harris' potential downsides were well-known: Her record as a prosecutor in California was already viewed skeptically by some younger Democrats during the primary, and would face even more scrutiny against the backdrop of a national debate over inequality in the criminal justice system.

In one of Harris' conversations with the vetting committee, Chris Dodd — a longtime Biden friend, who served with him in the Senate — asked if she had remorse for her debate stage attack on his busing record.

  • Harris, as she had previously done so publicly, brushed it aside as simply politics. Dodd, a member of the running mate selection committee, was put off and let that be known. The incident was first reported by Politico and confirmed to AP by a person with direct knowledge.
  • The public disclosure of Dodd's comments angered some of the highest-ranking women on Biden's campaign team. Some of Harris' allies mobilized to defend her, including California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who organized a call with Biden's vetting team about two weeks ago to assuage any doubts.

Biden held conversations with 11 women in the final nine days before his pick — a mixture of in-person meetings and video teleconferences:

  • Susan Rice — who had perhaps the closest personal relationship with Biden, because of their White House years — spoke with him twice in recent days.
  • Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois had a formal interview over the weekend, as did Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams.
  • Yesterday, Biden called each of those women — including Sen. Elizabeth Warren — to inform them that they had not been selected.

In some of the conversations, Biden left open an opportunity: Please consider joining me in another role in the administration.

Go deeper