Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has announced Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate.
Harris is in her first term as California’s junior senator, and prior to that served two terms as California’s Attorney General. The first Black woman to be tapped as a vice-presidential nominee, she will be, if elected in November, the first female vice president as well as the first Black woman in that office.
Biden had faced months-long pressure to pick a progressive star like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and in the final few weeks of the search, concerted lobbying by prominent Democrats on behalf of California Rep. Karen Bass and former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice. But Harris’s experience as a battle-tested presidential candidate, her efforts leading major law enforcement offices as Attorney General of California, and her political track record of three statewide election wins plus previous races in San Francisco helped her overcome a crowded list of contenders.
“You make a lot of important decisions as president. But the first one is who you select to be your Vice President,” said Biden in an email to supporters. “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.”
The decision is of great consequence, not only for Democrats’ immediate political prospects but for the future of the party.
Biden, who, at 77, would be the oldest person ever elected, has pitched himself as a “transitional candidate” and a “bridge” to a new generation of leaders, fueling speculation that should he be elected, he would be a one-term president.
In selecting Harris, a 55-year-old Democratic star, he may not only be naming a partner but a potential successor who could become the nation’s first female president.
Biden added. “I need someone working alongside me who is smart, tough, and ready to lead. Kamala is that person.”
A tough-on-crime progressive
As California’s highest law enforcement officer, Harris drew criticism for her tough-on-crime stances—a record that might displease some on the left but will be an invaluable shield from the expected right-wing attacks on her as being “soft on crime” or an advocate of eliminating law enforcement.
But she has also long championed progressive tax reform and healthcare reform to make the economic system more just and balanced. She has been a strong advocate for establishing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and for restoring and strengthening the DREAM Act benefiting youth who were brought to the United States as minors. And like many progressives she has supported a federal ban on assault weapons, and the removal of cannabis from the schedule of dangerous drugs.
The Republican establishment, and in particular President Donald Trump’s attack machine, will be relentless in trying to paint her as a far-left liberal, but she has proven to be both a powerful adversary and a profoundly institutional constitutionalist.
Even tougher on liars
Harris doesn’t take lies and evasions kindly, as seen in her questioning of Attorney General William Barr, a man notorious for his slippery, dishonest, hard-to-pin down non-answers. As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, she has been very visible in her sharp legal questioning of Barr, his predecessor Jeff Sessions, and Supreme Court nominee (now Justice) Brett Kavanaugh, all of whom faced serious questions about their judgment, morality, ethics, and understanding of the Constitution. In the words of one political commentator, “there is a pugilist aspect to her” when she goes up against her foes.
That pugilism will serve her well in the campaign, as one traditional aspect of vice-presidential politics has been to serve as an “attack dog” so that the presidential candidate can always appear positive, approachable, and “nice.” That expectation makes it doubly hard for any woman running for high office, as women are called “harsh,” “shrill,” “too assertive,” and other denigrating terms when using the exact same words and even tone of voice as male candidates. Indeed, one of the criticisms of Harris has been that she is “too ambitious”—though no one has ever suggested such a thing about any male running for any office.
But in Harris’s favor is her personality: she is funny, smart, charming, and seemingly born with a smile on her face, but in an instant can turn tough as nails and relentless if needed.
Personal chemistry, professional expertise
Harris’s standing up to VP Biden in the Democratic primary debates gives her added cachet, as she challenged his past stance on busing. Despite criticism, she neither flinched nor backed down.
She was also a very close friend and ally of Beau Biden, the vice president’s late son who was Attorney General of Delaware. The two worked together on criminal justice reform and other issues as members of the National Association of State Attorneys General. Biden’s choosing her to be his running mate demonstrates the high respect he has for her as both a worthy competitor and a valued partner.
Harris’s major committee assignments in the Senate also stand her in good stead. She serves on the Judiciary Committee, which is concerned with the nation’s entire legal and justice system, where she has established her knowledge and professionalism in a highly visible manner. She also serves on the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee and the Intelligence Committee, making her privy to the most serious global challenges facing the country. Should anything happen to a President Biden, it is clear that Harris will be, as any vice president must be, “ready on Day 1” to step into the president’s shoes.
Harris, 55, is married to entertainment lawyer Doug Emhoff and is the stepmother of his two children.