In Historic Pick, Joe Biden Taps Kamala Harris To Be His Running Mate

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Updated at 4:22 p.m. ET

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has picked California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate.

The selection will make Harris just the third woman — and first African American — to be nominated for vice president by a major political party.

Kamala Harris will become the first African American to be nominated for vice president by a major political party.
Kamala Harris will become the first African American to be nominated for vice president by a major political party.

“You make a lot of important decisions as president. But the first one is who you select to be your Vice President,” Biden said in an email to supporters Tuesday afternoon. “I’ve decided that Kamala Harris is the best person to help me take this fight to Donald Trump and Mike Pence and then to lead this nation starting in January 2021.”

‘These aren’t normal times,” Biden added. “I need someone working alongside me who is smart, tough, and ready to lead. Kamala is that person.”

The two are set to hold a virtual fundraiser Wednesday. The coronavirus pandemic prevents Biden and Harris from rolling out their new ticket in the usual format: a boisterous introductory rally in a key swing state.

The Harris pick creates a Democratic ticket that in many ways mirrors the one Biden ran on in 2008 with then-Sen. Barack Obama: An older white man and Washington lifer with deep foreign policy experience is paired with a younger, Black running mate with immigrant roots who has been in the Senate just four years, yet still managed to carve out a national profile. Only this time, Biden is occupying the top spot.

Biden’s advanced age, and the fact that the 77-year-old has repeatedly referred to himself as a “transitional” candidate, will almost certainly place increased focus on the 55-year-old Harris as the likely future leader of the Democratic Party.

The ticket is being formed despite a moment of tension between Biden and Harris during the Democratic primary. While Biden regularly criticized Obama’s lack of experience when he was also running in the 2008 Democratic primary, Biden never attacked Obama in the high-profile, personal way that Harris did during a televised debate in 2019.

Biden and Harris hug after she endorsed and introduced him at a March 9 campaign rally in Detroit.
Biden and Harris hug after she endorsed and introduced him at a March 9 campaign rally in Detroit.

Harris, whose own campaign saw Black voters in South Carolina as key to her chances of winning the primary, criticized Biden for previously opposing federal busing mandates. “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools,” Harris said on the Miami stage. “And she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.” The attack briefly cost Biden support and surged Harris toward the top of the polls, but those numbers quickly reversed themselves, especially after Harris conceded that she and Biden held similar views on whether busing decisions should be made on the local or federal level.

Harris ultimately endorsed Biden and campaigned for him, after suspending her own presidential campaign in late 2019.

Ahead of the running mate selection, several Biden allies and donors warned in the press that the debate attack was too personal, and too harsh, for Harris to serve as Biden’s vice president.

The critiques raised cries of sexism — particularly a Politico report claiming former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, a member of Biden’s vice presidential selection committee, was surprised that Harris had no “remorse” for the attack.

Many Democrats pointed out that Biden, George H.W. Bush, John Edwards and other men who became running mates of people they had faced in a presidential primary rarely faced questions about whether they had any “remorse” for campaign critiques, or whether they were too “ambitious” for the No.2 job.

As the Harris criticisms ticked up in the weeks before the pick, Biden’s campaign tried to diffuse them. “Ambitious women make history, change the world, and win. Our campaign is full of ambitious women going all out for Joe Biden,” tweeted Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, in late July.

Ahead of Harris’ selection, a group called We Have Her Back — which includes former Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and leaders from Planned Parenthood and the National Women’s Law Center — sent a letter to various media outlets demanding fair coverage of the vice presidential candidate.

“Women have been subject to stereotypes and tropes about qualifications, leadership, looks, relationships and experience. Those stereotypes are often amplified and weaponized for Black and Brown women,” the letter reads, urging the media to resist popular coverage tropes like “likeability” and “electability” for candidates who happen to be women — analysis they say that is hardly ever applied to male candidates.

A longtime prosecutor

Harris was born in Oakland, Calif., and grew up in Berkeley. She’s the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, and attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., and the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.

She worked as a prosecutor in the Alameda County and San Francisco district attorney’s offices, before running for San Francisco district attorney in 2003. She went on to win election as California attorney general in 2010.

In 2016, Harris became just the second Black woman in U.S. history to be elected to the U.S. Senate. She was assigned to the Intelligence Committee, which held several nationally televised hearings on Russia’s efforts to interfere in the presidential election, and how President Trump’s campaign and the Department of Justice responded to those efforts.

The longtime prosecutor also sat on the Judiciary Committee, which oversaw the confirmation of two U.S. Supreme Court justices: Neal Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The multiple high-profile hearings that each committee held quickly helped Harris develop a national reputation as a sharp, aggressive questioner who could unnerve opposing witnesses. She generated headlines and energized progressives across the country with her questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Attorney General William Barr and, most notably, Kavanaugh.

In January 2019, Harris launched a bid for the White House. She was initially seen as a serious contender for the Democratic nomination, drawing over 20,000 people to her kickoff rally in Oakland. But Harris struggled to articulate a clear reason for her candidacy in a crowded field, and her campaign experienced bouts of infighting.

Since returning full time to the Senate, Harris has played a lead role in Senate Democrats’ response to both the coronavirus crisis, and the increased focus on systemic racism and police brutality.

Biden’s pick came amid intense pressure from Democrats to not only pick a woman, which he promised to do in March, but to pick a woman of color. That drumbeat began well before George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police, but intensified amid sustained protests across the country.

Harris will be the fourth woman on a major party’s national ticket. All three women to previously run for president and vice president have lost: Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin in 2008 and Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.

The only previous African American on a presidential ticket, Obama, won the White House with Biden at his side in 2008.

With additional reporting by NPR’s Barbara Sprunt

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